Feb 17 2017

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Cutting Tracks in Local Woods

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Two back-to-back winter storms dumped 20 inches of snow this week. That’s more snow than we’ve seen in a long while. It’s finally starting to look like Vermont around here.

A couple days ago I did my fair share of shoveling, clearing out a 10 by 12-foot space in the back yard for one thing – a place for my dog Matika to pee. But she looked pathetic when she was out there walking tight circles in her prison yard. She looked as cooped up as I was feeling. So I strapped on my snowshoes yesterday and cut tracks out of the prison yard, across the fresh snow, and into the woods. Matika happily followed.

It wasn’t easy cutting tracks. I broke a good sweat. But the air was clean, all was quiet, and the snow still clinging to naked tree branches looked beautiful. Wouldn’t say I have cabin fever these days, but being outdoors feels a lot better than being indoors. I really get tired of sitting inside, staring at a computer screen all day, don’t you?

After completing a big loop in the woods, I doubled back on my tracks, creating a nice smooth trail. The second time around is always much easier so I able to really enjoy my surroundings. Matika enjoyed it, too. She romped in the snow like a puppy, collecting ice balls in her thick fur. Nordic dog!

This morning I looked out my office window at first light and spotted that snowshoe trail crossing the back yard. It’s calling my name now. How long will I be able to resist it? No doubt I’ll be out there again, tomorrow or the next day, cutting more tracks in local woods. Not quite as good as being in the mountains, but there’s something to be said for snowshoeing right out the back door. Wild nature doesn’t feel very far away at all.

 

 

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Feb 07 2017

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Burroughs Book Finally in Print

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At long last, the Burroughs book is in print. I’ve been reading his essays for decades, and toying with the idea of selecting and publishing excerpts from his work for nearly that long. He wrote over 30 books on nature. I’ve been crazy enough to read most of them.

The full title of this book is Universal Nature: Philosophical Fragments from the Writings of John Burroughs. As the title suggests, the excerpts I have selected tend towards the abstract. While Burroughs was the master of the quaint nature essay – quite often writing about songbirds – he delved deeply into philosophical matters as well.  In his later years he became interested in the tension between science and religion. His was an utterly naturalistic worldview, of course, so he leaned as heavily towards pantheism as I do. Hence my obsession with him.

While Burroughs comes off as a simple, white-bearded countryman observing birds and the like, he was a surprisingly complex character in real life. My biographical introduction puts his work in context, showing how his thoughts emerged from friendships, travels and fruit farming in addition to extensive reading. The excerpts are organized chronologically, making it clear how his perception of wild nature evolved over time from the particular to the universal.

You can get a copy by going to my website WoodThrushBooks.com. It is also available at Amazon. I hope you find the natural philosophy of John Burroughs as intriguing as I have.

 

 

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Jan 27 2017

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The Forest Makes Sense

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Coaxed by my canine companion, I head for the woods in the middle of the day to tramp around for an hour or so. I’m in dire need of it. I work too much, think too much, and pay too close attention to breaking news. The madness of civilization is closing in on me. I need a time out. And the forest always makes sense.

Snow crunches underfoot. A crow calls in the distance. The chilling air and woody silence draws me out of my head and into the here/now. I lay a set of tracks towards nowhere, nowhere in particular. And that’s exactly where I need to be.

The Righteous spill blood in the name of God. Others think torture is a better way to go. Intelligent people tout the wonders of modern medicine that no one can afford. Fools build nuclear weapons when they can’t even feed themselves. The cagy build island fortresses to claim the sea as their own. The naive watch glaciers melt and break out the suntan lotion. Billionaires scramble for ways to make more money. The desperate seek refuge in deadly drugs. The fearful put up walls to keep strangers out, unaware that they are building their own prisons. Everyone acts surprised when computers are hacked and valuable information is stolen. A few devise excursions to other planets, as if that will solve everything. Meanwhile, motorists race to their deaths while more sedentary folk sit before televisions believing everything they see. And people say I’m crazy for hiking alone in the woods.

Snow crunches underfoot. After laying tracks for a while, the heaviness I felt earlier in the day begins to lift. I find woodpecker holes in a dead tree and start considering possibilities that I hadn’t considered before – the endless possibilities of the wild. The forest makes sense. Nature makes sense. And my dog is happier sniffing around than I will ever be. That doesn’t seem right. I’m the sapient creature, aren’t I? Why can’t I be happy all the time? Why isn’t my kind happy all the time?

Returning home, I consider my options. Should I start my own holy war? Or should I ignore the world and seek solace elsewhere? I turn my computer back on instead. There’s work to be done.

 

 

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Jan 17 2017

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Divisiveness

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On the eve of a major shift of power in these dis-United States, I feel the urge to speak out for sanity even though I don’t know much about such things. My own grasp of reality is tenuous, and I struggle daily to maintain it. All the same, I see madness breaking out all around me – exceptional even by the standards of our time.

It is not just a matter of liberal versus conservative. That’s an old argument, as common as the sun rising. No, it goes much deeper than that. When liberals fight with liberals and conservatives fight with conservatives, you know there is big trouble afoot. As Westerners, we watch Arabs fighting with Arabs then shake our heads at the absurdity of their divisiveness, wondering why they don’t see it. Well, now we know. Now we are the same way.

On a bookshelf in my study sits a ceramic log cabin. It’s a recently acquired family heirloom that reminds me of a fantasy I’ve nurtured most of my life: to someday retreat to a cabin deep in the woods. No, not a Thoreauvian experiment in self-sufficiency, but instead an escape from what I call the madness of civilization. Is such an escape even possible in these modern times? How deep would I have to go to escape property taxes, liability insurance, and all the other trappings of civil society? Could it be anything short of an outlaw existence? Would I still be able to access the Internet?

Whether we like it or not, we are all connected now. The world in the 21st century is truly global. The nationalistic urges cropping up all over the place are only longings for the good ol’ days, when us-versus-them was easy, when our tanks met with their tanks on the battlefield and the winner took all. Hmm… Not so easy nowadays, is it? I know the Chinese are up to no good but I still buy their stuff at Walmart. How about you? Do you really believe that you can live your life these days in any way that isn’t globalized?

Cursed with a tendency to philosophize, I can’t help but see the flaws inherent in any worldview that I or anyone else could possibly devise. Like everyone else, I am only human. My reasoning powers are imperfect no matter how hard I try to make sense of things. That said, just imagine the difficulty I have in the voting booth, thrashing about in the quagmire of good and evil while selecting people to run the government. Oh, the righteous have it so easy by comparison. They know exactly who to pick, and who to shoot at when the war breaks out.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no peacenik. I know we can’t all just get along, and I know the difference between right and wrong. I know, for example, that rounding up the millions of people that you don’t like and putting them in gas chambers is a really bad idea. And when a True Believer goes down that dark road, there’s only one way to stop them from creating hell on earth. But the problems that humankind creates for itself cannot ultimately be resolved by armed conflict. That’s a fantasy even greater than my cabin in the woods.

One could argue that globalism is exactly what fuels our divisiveness. When there was plenty of space between the few bands of hominids roaming the earth thousands of years ago, there was a lot less fighting no doubt. With over 7 billion of us crowding the earth now, and technology connecting us, major conflicts are inevitable. We can’t just retreat to our own little corners any more and ignore everyone else. So we must find a way, somehow, to live together. And that begins with tolerance.

Being wild at heart, I still escape to the woods whenever I can, to breathe easy for a while, get a handle on myself, and find my place in the world. But these forays are temporary. I spend most of my days living among my own kind in the developed lowlands where conflicts abound, doing my best to be as civil as possible. And that, I believe, is what all men and women should do: be as civil to each other as possible. The alternative is so ugly that I don’t even want to consider it. That which divides us could easily destroy us all.

 

 

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Jan 08 2017

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A Good Winter Bushwhack

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A few days ago, I drove to a nearby state park for a short walk at dusk after a full day’s work. My dog Matika enjoyed it, but it wasn’t nearly enough for me. So the next day I did only as much work as necessary before stuffing a few essentials in an old rucksack and heading for the mountains. Time for a taste of wild country. Actually, it was long overdue.

The inch of fresh snow covering the icy woods road provided sufficient traction so the Microspikes stayed in my pack. A mile up the road I turned onto a trail hidden beneath a couple inches of crusty snow. I crunched my way down to the brook, which was still open surprisingly enough. Yeah, it has been a squirrelly winter so far: freeze and thaw then freeze again.

The trail petered out beyond a downed tree. Suddenly I was bushwhacking the familiar route to a favorite spot along the brook. There I once buried the ashes of my first German shepherd dog, Jessie. Matika romped through the woods like a pup despite her eleven years. I was happy to see it. Looks like she’ll be hiking with me a while longer.

Just above the campsite, recent storms had ravaged the banks of the brook, creating mudslides and thickets of downed trees. It was rough getting through there, but it felt good to be in the trackless woods again. I took cover from a chilling breeze coming down the mountain then ate a quick lunch with Matika. My wife Judy had given me an energy bar that’s good for both dogs and people, so Matika and I shared that after our respective meals. People food or dog food? – hard to say.

With temps hovering around 20 degrees, I didn’t linger at the lunch spot. I tagged the trace of an old skidder trail leaving the brook then slowly made my way back to the woods road. Matika negotiated the slippery slope with no difficulty. I dropped to all fours once to do the same.

Out came the Microspikes as I descended the woods road. That made the walk easy enough where I could lose myself in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. In the distance the mountain summits looked cold and forbidding. No matter. Here in a heavily forested hollow, I was having no trouble. In fact, I got back to my car a bit sooner than I would have liked.

A good winter bushwhack. Won’t wait so long before getting out again. There’s more to life than work, work, work.

 

 

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Dec 28 2016

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The Wild Book Is Now Available

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Cultivating the Wildness Within, a collection of 18 interlocking, deeply personal essays, is now in print!

It begins with the disorientation that I felt coming out of the Alaskan bush in ’92 then covers the next two decades as I worked through the disparities between what the wild teaches and how we live our lives in this highly complex world of ours. Wildness stirs within us all so I recount how others deal with this disparity as well – family, friends, and humankind in general. Yes, I wax philosophical at times, but these essays are as much from the heart as they are from the head.

Scott King at Red Dragonfly Press accepted CWW for publication last spring. We had planned on releasing it in the fall but a glitch at Amazon held things up. That’s why it’s coming out at such an awkward time. All the same, I think this is one of my better books. Check it out.

The book is available at Amazon, of course, but Scott and I believe that small is beautiful so we ask that you consider getting it from Small Press Distribution instead. CWW is also for sale at the Red Dragonfly Press website. It’ll be a while before it’s available anywhere else.

After reading this book, let me know what you think. I can always be reached by email: walt@woodthrushbooks.com.

 

 

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Dec 16 2016

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Winter Blues

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winter-bluesThe other day Judy showed me this photo that she recently took out our back door in early morning. “Winter blues” she calls it.

There’s a coldness and a darkness to the picture, much in keeping with what many of us are feeling these days, yet there’s warmth and light in it as well. Double meaning. Leave it to my wife to capture both moods of this season in one image.

I find the darkness this time of year hard to take, not to mention the bitter cold, but the charm of winter does not escape me. There are times when I marvel at the beauty of illuminated clouds strewn across a deep blue sky, appreciate the clean simplicity of the earth blanketed by fresh snow, and accept the dormancy of leafless trees as Nature’s way.

I spot several deer slipping through the forest one morning and suddenly I have nothing to complain about. At the end of any walk I take there’s always a warm house with plenty of food in the cupboards. Not everyone has it so easy.

The blues, yes, Judy and I both feel it. We miss the green world, the barefoot days, fresh produce, and those gentle gusts of warm summer air wafting through the window. But that’ll all come back soon enough. Nature cycles round and round…

How’s that saying go? Curse the darkness or light a candle. There are two ways to approach nearly everything – two entirely different attitudes. Not so much the picture as it is how we look at it. The shortest, darkest day of the year is almost upon us. Then things will swing the other way. And that’s reason enough, I think, to celebrate.

 

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Dec 05 2016

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Snowy Illumination

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snowy-walk-1For days a dismal grey light prevailed as the above-freezing temps slowly melted off Thanksgiving snow. Then this morning we awoke to it: a fresh coat of the white stuff brightening the world. And just in a nick of time for yours truly, sinking into a funk as the days grow shorter and the nights seem to go on forever.

Midday, after doing necessary work and running a few errands, I put on my boots and went for a walk. I kicked up light powder with each step. My dog Matika ran ahead, happy to be out of the house for a change. I slogged down the driveway, along the freshly plowed road, then slipped into the woods.

Snow clung to the branches. Snow kept falling. Snow piled up underfoot, everywhere, but I didn’t mind it. Much better than all that mud brown and sky grey. A winter wonderland? Not how I see the world but, like Matika, I was happy to be out of the house all the same.

Reaching another road, unplowed, I gravitated to the powder to keep from slipping in the packed, icy track of some car that had passed this way. I pulled my hat down around my ears as we turned a corner to face a bitter wind blowing steadily from the west. My eyes teared up. Still better than staying indoors. Plenty of time to thaw out later.

Back into the woods again, closer to home, I suddenly realized how good it felt to be outdoors, moving, and not altogether comfortable.  Hmm…  Explain that to those who have never found the sweetness in a chunk of stale bread, or to those who have never willingly done anything hard.

Note to self: do this more often, only next time head for the hills. Take a real break from the work… or suffer the consequences.

 

 

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Nov 22 2016

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Sudden Winter

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backyard-first-snowEven though the weather forecasters gave us plenty of warning, it still came as something of a surprise. Sunday’s rain turned to snow. When I got out of bed yesterday, there were several inches of the white stuff on the ground and my plow guy was clearing the driveway. And this morning it’s still snowing. Egads!

Because the wind is blowing, it’s hard to say how much snow has fallen. A few stray leaves dance across the field of white that my back yard has become. Snow thrown against tree trunks stays there. Beautiful in a Nordic kind of way. The skiers must be ecstatic.

All bundled up, I shoveled a path to my front door roughly 48 hours after walking around in shirtsleeves, bagging leaves. It was still an unseasonably warm autumn on Saturday. Not any more. Now it looks and feels much like a typical Thanksgiving week here in northern New England. Just enough snow on the ground for the hunters to do their thing.

Never a big one for winter sports, I prefer being indoors this time of year, camped in front of the fire burning steadily in the corner stove. Lots of literary work to do, lots of pondering. That said, I won’t be able to stay inside very long. Eventually the wild will call me out. Either that or my dog will start bugging me. Her thick coat was made for this kind of weather.

No doubt temps will rise again and today’s snow will melt away before winter really strikes with a vengeance. Day-to-day and week-to-week, it’s a roller coaster. But there’s no mistaking what time of year it is. The cold, dark season is underway here in the North Country. The grey light in the late afternoon confirms that. So we brace ourselves for the inevitable. Which reminds me: I should dig out my gloves, and get those winter tires on the car. There’s no time to lose.

 

 

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Nov 08 2016

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Late Autumn Walk

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late-autumn-woodsEven though I have plenty of work to do, it’s simply too nice a day to stay indoors. I ask my dog Matika if she thinks we should go for a walk and, well, she’s all over it. So we head out.

Not in the mood to drive anywhere, I walk through local woods and along back roads. This isn’t the wild forest I prefer, but it’ll do for now.

With temps reaching into the 60s, shirtsleeves is the way to go. Late autumn light illuminates leaves still clinging to tree branches. At midday the sun is pretty bright. Yet long shadows make it clear what time of year it is.

I kick up a few leaves as I walk. It seems the thing to do. The woods are golden brown. Quite beautiful, actually.

I amble along as if I have all the time in the world. In a way I do. The difference between rushing and not rushing on this two-mile loop is only ten minutes. I can certainly spare that.

Back home, I pour myself a cup of cider to celebrate the season properly. Then I open the windows before setting back to work. But there’s a chill in the air that I hadn’t noticed while walking. The windows won’t stay open long.

 

 

 

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