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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Dec 04 2017

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Geese Lingering

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A couple weeks ago I noticed that about fifty Canada geese had taken up temporary residence in a nearby quarry. Last week I saw them there again, only their numbers had increased to well over a hundred. Yesterday they were still floating on those placid waters, but this time I counted two hundred of them. What’s up with that? Why haven’t they all gone south by now?

Oh sure, the first two snowfalls of the year didn’t amount to much and they melted off quickly, but it’s December for chrissakes. No matter how mild a winter it’s going to be, northern Vermont is not far enough south for them. Or is it?

I am inclined to seriously question this notion we have of instinct. If wild creatures blindly follow instinct, then why aren’t these geese hundreds of miles south of here? Do they have enough intelligence to make a serious error in judgement?

There is another possibility of course. The birds might know something that we don’t, although the word “know” might not be the best way to explain what’s going on here. We’re the knowing ones – Homo sapiens and all that. Their relationship to the natural world is quite different from ours. So then… who’s making the serious error in judgement here, them or us?

I watched the geese for a while, admiring their wild beauty. They were smart enough to keep a good distance away from me even though I posed no real threat to them. I’m still expecting winter to strike with a vengeance soon. I hope these waterfowl are gone by then. Whether they depart or not, they have already given me much food for thought. Perhaps I will soon know what’s going on.

 

 

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Nov 26 2017

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Woods, Words, Worldviews

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Every once in a while I stop and take a long, hard look at my life. I consider myself perfectly normal, but my wife likes to remind me that I operate way out of mainstream. She’s right, of course. I fill my days with tramps through the woods, writing, publishing and selling books, and philosophical speculation – very little of which is good for the economy.

Lately my mind has been firing on all cylinders. I’ve written a few new essays, put the finishing touches on my pantheism book, and edited a manuscript of Walt Franklin’s that I’ll publish next spring. In addition to this, I’ve been reading lots of books and papers on human nature while working out the intricacies of wildness and being human. All this literary work keeps me busy, to say the least.

What’s it all for? I look at the long row of books my bookshelf that I’ve written and/or published and wonder who cares about my thoughts beyond a small group of faithful readers. Who will care a hundred years from now? More to the point, does the world really need another worldview? Aren’t there enough of those already?

Funny how I break into a fit of self-doubt every time I put on my philosopher’s hat. But response to my work during the past 25 years has made it clear to me that philosophy – my philosophy in particular – doesn’t sell. What the world wants from me are hiking narratives, not rumination. So I drop my pen and go for a hike long enough to get out of my head, to see what the wild has to say about all this. And that’s how it happens. That’s how I become a philosopher of wildness. All nature wants me to forget about economics and focus on what’s real.

As a self-proclaimed philosopher, I have no credentials. I wander, I wonder, I write. That is all. The forest is my university and its inhabitants are my teachers. I dismiss everything I find in books or on the Internet that refutes the wild. I embrace Nature with a capital “N,” and seriously question whether anything exists beyond it. In addition to this, I live my funky life despite what’s good for the economy. And that, I suppose, is what makes me a heretic.

 

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Nov 16 2017

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Validation

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Today I have put the finishing touches on a book-length manuscript that explores the relationship between God, man and nature. After going through it several times, I can now see the argument as a whole. It doesn’t feel like I’ve done the subject justice, though. I question whether it can stand up to serious scrutiny. No matter. I pull on my boots and go for a hike to clear my head…

My dog Matika and I wander about a nearby town forest between bouts of rain, just as the sun breaks through the clouds. The grey trees, stripped of their leaves, cast long shadows across the forest floor at midday. My eyes drink in the remnant green of ferns, moss and clubmoss as the few dry leaves still clinging to branches rattle overhead. The leaves on the ground crunch loudly as I walk.

A pileated woodpecker sweeps through the trees at eye level. Matika catches the scent of something interesting and wanders off trail. I call her back. While standing on the trail waiting for her, I listen intently to the forest silence, marveling at the interplay of order and chaos all around me. And that’s it – all the validation I need. Pushing away from my desk after so many hours of abstract thought this morning, I harbored doubts about my pantheistic worldview. But while tramping through these woods, it makes perfect sense.

“So there is one thought for the field, another for the house,” Thoreau once wrote, “I would have my thoughts, like wild apples, to be food for walkers, and will not warrant them to be palatable, if tasted in the house.” I can relate to that. My wild thoughts regarding God, man and nature don’t make a lot of sense indoors. But on the trail, where such thoughts were born, nothing else does.

Reason has its limits. At some point one needs a direct encounter with the wild to fully grasp it and thereby see things as they really are. Thoughts and words are abstract. Wild nature is not.

 

 

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Nov 07 2017

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Time Change

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It’s no big deal, really. In late autumn we all set our clocks back an hour, back to standard time, thus eliminating daylight saving time. It’s just a social convention that we all acknowledge, or so we tell ourselves. But one look out the window late in the afternoon tells us otherwise. Time change leaves its mark on us – especially on those of us sensitive to the slightest changes of light.

It’s November now, and the length of day here in northern Vermont has just slipped under ten hours. The time change drives this home, leaving us in the dark all evening before going to bed. It’s now dark before I quit working for the day. After the long days of summer, I find this a tough adjustment to make.

It’s November now, and most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. Even though this has been an unseasonably warm autumn, we all know what’s coming. I keep reminding myself that I have to get the snow tires on my car soon, real soon.

While the hunters are still tramping around the woods, I’ve called it quits for the most part. Oh sure, I hike or snowshoe during the colder months, but not with the same vigor that I do during the warmer ones.  This is the time of year when I do more writing than hiking. Everything in its season, I suppose.

Still it feels like the sun is setting on the growing season, on the season of lush vegetation. The barefoot days are long gone, and nature’s fecundity is giving way to its dormancy. That’s hard on a guy like me who’s constantly cultivating the wildness within. Now that wildness feels somewhat abstract. I’m spending an inordinate amount of time indoors, looking out windows. And the green world is slowly fading to brown. The heat and sweat of summer is but a memory.

 

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