Apr 13 2018

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Landscape All Brown and Gray

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“April is the cruelest month,” the poet T. S. Eliot said, and we northern New Englanders know all about that. The funk of winter persists in our hearts despite the first green shoots pushing up through the newly thawed earth. And when the weather forecasters warn us about a coming snowstorm, those among us dreaming about t-shirt temps are outraged. It shouldn’t be this way, some say, but this is par for the course around here.

Snow, or the lack of it, is the main reason why I enjoy a simple walk along the Rail Trail this time of year. The landscape is all brown and gray, but it feels good just being able to move freely again. No slogging through slush, sliding over ice, or post-holing in deep snow. Only a relatively effortless foot-to-the-ground forward movement again. I had almost forgotten about it.

The starkness of April is the mirror image of November, only now the prospects look good for lovers of growing things. The days are getting longer, the birds are back, and soon the grass will be greening. After that, well, we all know what’s coming.

So I’ll take it. The grey skies, morning fog, and all-day rain – yeah, sure, bring it on. Even a little snow thrown into the mix, why not? It won’t last. This time of year, even a hard-nosed realist like me leans towards optimism. The great vernal bloom is inevitable. The growing season is already underway, though one has to look hard to see it. And these brown/gray days have a certain dismal charm. I revel in it.

 

 

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Mar 30 2018

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Snowmelt and Cold Mud

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As I drove over French Hill, dodging frost heaves, the snow closed in around the road. Back home it was nearly gone from my yard so I wasn’t quite prepared to see so much white stuff. What a difference a few hundred feet of elevation makes! By time I reached the town forest parking lot, bare ground was the exception to the rule. Oh well. My dog Matika and I needed a good hike anyway, snow or no snow. We’d been cooped up for a over a week, thanks to a cold virus that I picked up.

At first the trail was several inches of punky snow, but eventually it opened up, becoming stretches of soft, cold mud in places, saturated by small streams overflowing with snowmelt. My boots became thoroughly soaked as I waded across one particularly wet spot. But I didn’t mind it. With temps in the 40s and the forest all to myself, it felt good to be tramping around.

Moss and ferns shouted their over-wintered green at me from rocky slopes. A grey squirrel chattered hello as Matika and I passed. A pair of crows cawed back and forth through the naked trees. Very early spring in the Vermont woods. With all the snow slowly melting away, it’s an altogether pleasant thing to behold.

I broke a sweat and coughed repeatedly as the trail slipped into a particularly deep patch of punky snow. Matika started panting heavily as well. But the big smile on her face mirrored my own. There are those who won’t be happy until the last of the snow is gone, and others who long for fresh verdure that’s still several weeks away. But it’s enough for me to hear the rush of water, smell raw earth again, and feel the give of thawing ground underfoot. Every season has its charms, even this one, when everything is cold, brown and wet. Happy spring!

 

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Mar 15 2018

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Snow Day

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With a foot of wet, heavy snow on the ground and nowhere I had to be, I decided to stay home today. Judy’s car made it out of the driveway this morning, and my car could have done the same, but why bother? Any book orders that needed to go out could wait another day. So I declared it a snow day.

It’s good to stay out of the car every once in a while, no matter how important it is to one’s livelihood. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I drive too much. And all that motorized movement isn’t good for my well being.

I’ve stayed indoors for the most part today, reading and writing. Went outside to shovel snow for a while. Didn’t venture any farther away from the house than my mailbox, and that’s a good thing. My dog Matika would have gone for a longer walk, but I was in no mood to strap on my snowshoes. As anyone who’s done it knows, breaking trail through wet, heavy snow is hard slogging. Better at this point to wait for bare ground. That’s not far away.

The maple sap is still dripping into buckets despite the wintry look to the landscape. And songbirds are chirping excitedly nearby. I don’t need a calendar to tell me how close we are to the Vernal Equinox. The length of the day says it all. Spring is right around the corner. Oh sure, there are still a couple more snowstorms in our future here in northern Vermont, but winter’s back is broken. Soon, very soon, I’ll be tramping through cold mud while it’s raining – the world all brown and stern looking. I can’t wait.

 

 

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Mar 03 2018

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Franklin’s New Fly-Fishing Book Is Now in Print

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With the opening of trout season right around the corner, I have just released Walt Franklin’s new fly-fishing book under the Wood Thrush Books imprint. It’s called Streamwalker’s Journey: Fishing the Triple Divide. As the subtitle suggests, it’s a collection of essays celebrating the fly fishing life, with a focus on the triple divide of watersheds in north-central Pennsylvania and upstate New York: the Genesee River, the Allegheny River and Pine Creek.

Anyone who enjoys fly fishing, and/or the beauty of the riverine environment, will surely enjoy reading this book. Like he did in River’s Edge ten years ago, Franklin writes with skill, passion, and a touch of humor about his experiences on trout streams and in the natural world through which they pass. Only now he’s even more adept with both fly rod and pen.

Last summer I had the pleasure of meeting up with Franklin again to fly fish the West Branch of the Ausable River in New York’s Adirondacks. The Isonychia mayflies were coming off the water so we caught a few trout that day, but more importantly we grooved on the wild world around us while talking about life, literature, and the pursuit of happiness.

Later, while quaffing a couple beers in a local microbrewery, we worked up a plan for bringing out this book. I had just finished reading it a week earlier so I was excited about the prospect. We agreed that a book of this sort should come out before the first mayfly hatch of the new year. The first shipment of Streamwalker’s Journey came from my printer the day before yesterday. Just in time!

If you’re not familiar with Walt Franklin or his work, check out his blog site: Rivertop Rambles. Or you can visit his author’s page at Amazon.com. Getting a copy of Streamwalker’s Journey is easy. It’s available at both the Wood Thrush Books website and at Amazon. And if you’re anything like me, reading it will make you want to get outdoors. Thank god the spring season isn’t far away.

 

 

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Feb 19 2018

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Snowshoeing in the Mountains

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Even though I enjoy tramping around local woods, there comes a time when I need a day in the mountains. That day came yesterday, after I’d done all the work that I needed to do for the week.

My dog Matika was all excited when I pulled out my pack, of course. It had been a while since we had last escaped the developed lowlands – longer than I care to admit.

After leaving my car at the bottom of Honey Hollow, I strapped on my snowshoes. Only a few inches of powdery snow covered the road leading up into the hollow, but I figured the ‘shoes would come in handy once I left the road. Twenty minutes later, I bushwhacked down to the brook without breaking through the snow crust beneath the powder. Matika, right on my heels, didn’t sink in either.

The rumble of distant traffic faded until there was only the sound of the mountain brook gurgling beneath the ice. While following the brook, I spotted open leads of water here and there. The occasional gust of wind shook snow from the tree boughs. The conifers added a little green to this otherwise brown and white world. The mottled grey clouds overhead broke open every once in a while, exposing patches of blue sky.

I followed a set of wildcat tracks partially obscured by overnight snowfall. It seemed to know the best route through the woods. Once I’d gone far enough, I tossed a foam pad on the snow then sat against a tree, grooving on the pristine beauty of the wintry scene before me. Matika chewed on a stick once the snacks ran out. Always the writer, I jotted a few thoughts in a field journal. Once it was too cold to sit still, I got moving again.

Snowshoeing up into the hollow was tough going, but the way out seemed effortless. I cut my pace, stopping several times to enjoy the snow-covered forest. All the same, the car appeared before I was ready to quit the woods. So I resolved to get into the mountains again, as soon as possible. It’ll probably be spring or close to it by the time I do so.

 

 

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Feb 12 2018

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The Long February Sun

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Over ten hours of daylight now. With the sun shining throughout the day, it was really noticeable. No matter how big the snow piles are, they shrink fast before the long February sun. Soon the sap will be running, and not long after that will come the first signs of spring.

My dog Matika and I went for a walk late this afternoon. Even though I’d put in a full day’s work, there was still enough light left for us to head out. We followed the Rail Trail, groomed for snowmobiles, far enough away from the road to escape the sound of passing cars. Then the simple beauty of late winter took over: blue sky, leafless trees, pristine snow, and that blazing sun.

When I was younger, I didn’t much care for this time of year. That’s because I focused on the cold. But the clean, clear sky – so often on full display here in New England during the winter – has gradually won me over. And while I will always prefer the green world to the white one, this season no longer feels like something I must simply endure.

The long February sun. Over four decades ago I was deeply depressed, and it was this sun that reignited the spark of hope in me. Shortly after that, I was back with the living again, and have been ever since. The sun can work miracles.

Now back indoors, with the last bit of light gone, I go about my business with renewed strength. That’s because the sun still burns deep within me. I am alive and well in an elemental world, and that’s no small thing. I have seen the light.

 

 

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Jan 30 2018

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Pantheism Book Is Now in Print

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Three years after putting the first few words down on paper, A Reluctant Pantheism is now in print. It was officially published at Amazon two weeks ago, but the first shipment of books just arrived at my doorstep this afternoon.

This is a book I’ve wanted to write for decades – a full-length work of religious philosophy. Such things can’t be rushed, though. It has taken me the better part of a lifetime to sift through all the theories, beliefs and hard science regarding the nature of nature, and to conjure up some sensible concept of God as a result. My own spiritual quest, begun as a teenager yet continuing to this day, makes anything I say or write about the matter rather inconclusive. Still, I have dived headfirst into this subject, and it feels good to have done so.

A Reluctant Pantheism is not an easy read, even though my wife Judy says it’s more accessible than my other philosophical writings. Nor is it suitable for those of you who have your vision of the world all cut and dried. In this book I venture into that nebulous realm where natural science and religion meet – a realm where conscientious philosophers and theologians have been scratching their heads for thousands of years. And yes, there’s more of my own story in this book than I care to admit. In short, I doubt it’s like anything you’ve ever read before.

So if you’re in the mood for something different, check out this book. You can order it at my website: woodthrushbooks.com, or you can find it at Amazon.com. Facebook or email me to share your thoughts if you do get into it. I’d like to know how this book is received.

 

 

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Jan 16 2018

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Computer Aggravation vs Snowshoeing

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Earlier this morning, I was having one of those days when everything I did on my computer was glitch-ridden, confusing, or just plain wrong. Website uploads didn’t go smoothly at all, and I started getting frustrated when the little circle thingy in the center of my screen started spinning out. So I did what every troglodyte like me does when the digital world becomes too much. I stepped away from my desk and went outdoors.

I conferred with my dog Matika as I was pulling on my boots. I asked her if she thought laying more tracks in the local woods was a good idea. She was all for it.

I strapped on my snowshoes and away we went – single-digit temps be damned. I had started cutting tracks in the fresh snow yesterday but had left a lot of it undone. This morning I set forth to finish what I’d started. Before long a labyrinth of packed trails criss-crossed the small patch of woods near my house. Pointless, yes, but great fun… and better than staring at a computer screen all day.

Squirrel tracks ran across the snow from tree to tree. Deer tracks went every which way. The snow clinging to the branches overhead was a beautiful sight, and the chilling air carried away my stinky thoughts. By the time I returned to the house, my legs were achy in a good way. I knocked the snow off my snowshoes then went back inside.

Cleaning up my online mess wasn’t so hard after an hour outdoors. Sometimes that’s all it takes. I don’t like snow as much as bare ground for hiking, but given a choice between computer aggravation and snowshoeing, the latter always seems like the better choice.

 

 

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Jan 03 2018

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After the Deep Freeze

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After six days of sub-zero temps my poor dog Matika was bouncing off the walls. I was hankering for a walk as well. So we headed out at noon today (pushing away from the computer) to stretch our legs. Temps were in the balmy teens by then.

Aldis Hill was on the way home from the post office where I ship daily. I parked the car near the trailhead then bolted into the woods. To my surprise, the snowy trail was hard-packed from heavy use. I was slipping and sliding around from the start. Didn’t think to bring my Microspikes. Oh well. Matika motored right past me with ease. She has four-paw drive.

A typical January day with snow on the ground and a partly cloudy sky overhead. The woods quiet, stark and leafless. The gradual climb kept me warm enough. I let go of work thoughts as much as possible. Plenty of time for that tomorrow when the big snowstorm arrives. My right knee ached, more from a lack of use than from overuse. Note to self: get outdoors more. Use it or lose it.

I’m glad the holidays are over so that I can focus on my literary work and the bookselling biz. I have yet another book ready to publish and look forward to getting it ready for the press. All the same, I’ve been feeling an urge lately to get out and go for a long hike, snowshoe, whatever. Soon, real soon.

Funny how winter doesn’t weigh on me as much as it did when I was younger. After 35 years living in the North Country, have I finally become a Vermonter? Well, the other day I returned home from a short trip to the grocery store and told my wife Judy that the near zero temps weren’t that bad. “It’s a dry cold,” I said.

After getting my fill of fresh air, and Matika her fill of sniffing, we returned home. Back to work. I don’t mind this season so much anymore. As long as I can get out every other day or so, I’m good. Pity those poor folks who fly south every year to escape the arctic blasts. They’ll never get used to it.

 

 

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Dec 20 2017

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End Year Reflection

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Daybreak. Looking out the window of my study, I watch the dried leaves still clinging to a beech tree rustle in the wind against a dark grey and bluish-white background. The first light illuminates several inches of snow covering the ground. The denuded trees are motionless.

I have been up for a couple hours, printing out a recently revised manuscript, checking email, and reviewing the records I’ve kept of my activities stretching back through the years. The past year has been a busy one, to say the least. Then again, it seems like I’m always busy doing something. I’m lucky that way, I guess.

Whenever I reflect upon past events, I become a little melancholy. It’s not so much a sadness precipitated by any given event as it is a mounting awareness of the passage of time and a sense that things have happened without me fully experiencing them. This is silly, of course. We all live in the eternal present, and despite our best efforts mindfulness can only take us so far.

The past and the present are two different things. We live in the here/now. Our memories are something else – fractured, distorted, piecemeal, selective. There is always a separation between what I am in this moment and what I once was. And yet there is consistency as well. Memory is, after all, what shapes identity.

Sometimes it’s important to stop and think about where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going. This time of year seems like a good time to do that. The Winter Solstice is a turning of the page – the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. Before striking forth courageously into the future, one should have courage enough to acknowledge the past and what one has become as a result. This is what I try to do this time of year, anyhow, despite the holiday hoopla. It isn’t easy.

 

 

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