Archive for May, 2011

May 27 2011

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Cutting Grass

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Most people like the look of a well-manicured lawn.  Not me.  The green rugs surrounding homes strike me as the ultimate expression of human hubris – a patently absurd attempt to control nature.  We cut the grass, it grows back.  We cut the grass, it grows back.  Our mastery over this simple plant is temporary at best.

When my wife and I bought our home a decade ago, my main objection to the place was the grass around it.  From May through October, I walk back and forth in my yard once a week at least, pushing a noisy, carbon-emitting machine that turns grass into stubble.  The rain comes, the grass grows, then I do it all over again.  I am Sisyphus with a lawn mower, trapped in social convention.  Even if my immediate neighbors didn’t object, I wouldn’t dare let my yard grow wild.  The value of my property would plummet.

If I had the resources, I’d transform my yard into a lush garden.  But no, to be honest, I’d never put the time into it.  A friend of mine has done just that, but he spends half his life in his yard.  I’d rather be doing other things, like wandering around the woods.

I could always do what the affluent do and simply hire someone to cut my grass.  That is, after all, what the European kings did back in the day when they invented the lawn.  But no, that misses the point.  It matters little who cuts the grass.  The pertinent question is: why cut it at all?

The concept of high civilization is at the heart of any discussion about green space.   It isn’t enough to cultivate fields, thus providing ample food.  We must cultivate everything else in sight, keeping the wild at bay.  After all, it’s either us or them, where “them” is everything living that isn’t under our thumb.  Or so most people think.  But I don’t agree.

To justify mowing I tell myself that the lawn is good place for my wife to lounge, my dog to run, and my visiting grandchildren to play.  But down deep I seethe with rage.  Despite all talk about property rights, I have little control over my own yard.  Social convention.  I am bound by it.  So I dream of a cabin in the woods even while cutting my grass.   And maybe someday, if I win the literary lottery, I’ll make that dream come true.



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May 20 2011

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Getting into the Green

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The appearance of fresh verdure is so dramatic that I have to touch the bright young leaves to convince myself that they are real.  Walking through a forest that has suddenly leafed out is absolutely delightful, and the perfumed smell of pollen and raw earth pushes me over the edge.  Trilliums, blue and yellow violets, and the white starbursts of baneberry accent the bright green foliage, putting a permanent smile on my face.  An unseen hermit thrush sings the perfect song for a day like this – nothing but flute-like joy.  How can anyone be anything but happy on a day like this?

I sweat heavily while walking slowly along the damp trail.  The humidity is high, thanks to incredibly persistent rains during the past few weeks, and mosquitoes gather around me the moment I stop to catch my breath.  I don’t care.  I am grooving on a wild world suddenly springing to life.  I am getting into the green.

My dog Matika, also exuberant, races up and down the trail, splashing through puddles and splattering me with mud so frequently that it seems intentional.  But all I can to is egg her on with: “You go girll!”  Sometimes being muddy is a good thing.

A gray squirrel peeks around a tree trunk at me and my canine companion.  A woodpecker cackles in the distance, as if it too is intoxicated by the green.  False solomon’s seal, only days away from blooming, underscores the promise of the season.  No doubt about it, the best is yet to come.

You’d think that, after all these years, springtime would hold no surprise for me, that I would have lost all enthusiasm after so many decades of it.  But a part of me is as young as the countless insects and other forest creatures stirring to life at my feet.  I can’t help myself.  I am young at heart despite wrinkles and gray hair.  And this world is my playground – a true marvel in the universe, a planet fecund.  Thank god for it.



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May 12 2011

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A New Day

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Just before dawn, I open the back door for my dog then follow her out.  I laugh as she chases a pair of rabbits to the fence.  The grass is cool to my bare feet but not cold.  The robins sing joyfully their early morning song, as if the sun rising was a long awaited event.  Matika grins from ear to ear.  Perhaps she is as excited as I am by the unfurling of leaves in the trees, and the long promise of the warm season that comes with it.

In an hour I’ll mobilize for work, but right now I’m grooving on the quiet wonder of wild nature right here in my back yard.  This would be a good day to hike in the mountains, I tell myself.  That’s out of the question, of course.  Duty calls.  All you 9-to-5 working stiffs out there know the feeling well, I’m sure.  But it’s new to me.  I just started working full time, you see.  For eighteen years I had only a part-time job.

I’ve had a good run.  I worked, then hiked, then wrote, then hiked some more, then wrote some more.  It was good while it lasted.  But all good things must end, right?  They do unless you strike it rich, and that hasn’t been my fate.  My dream of being able to support myself by writing alone turned out to be just that – a dream.  Perhaps if I had been a journalist, or a novelist working in some popular genre, or hip enough to catch the eye of the established literati I could have made a go at it.  But writing about the wild doesn’t get you there – not the way I do it, anyhow.  So here I am looking at a new day.  That’s okay.  I’ve been true to myself.  And thanks to my infinitely patient wife, Judy, I’ve had a very good run.

The fresh verdure thickening in the trees is more beautiful than I remember it.  That’s the way things always are at a new beginning.  We forget the charm of springtime during the winter months.  We forget the magnificence of daybreak no matter how many times we’ve seen it before.  Every day is some kind of miracle.  Okay, maybe that’s not true, but things certainly seem that way whenever I’m standing barefoot in my back yard at daybreak and listening to songbirds.  I could curse the gods, longing for that which I do not have, but I’m not going there today.  No, not today.

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May 06 2011

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The Deluge

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Here in Vermont, the deluge is all over the news.  Lake Champlain has just set a new high at 103 feet above sea level.  That’s three feet higher than it usually is this time of year, flooding shoreline camps, homes and roads.  The Islands are especially hard hit and the main artery to it, Route 2, is down to one lane.  Heavy snowfall this past winter has melted fast during the past couple weeks, adding more water to rivers and streams already swollen with seven inches of April precipitation.  And the rain just keeps on coming.

Last weekend Judy and I went down to the town park on Saint Albans Bay and walked the water’s edge.  It was strewn with driftwood and other debris.  The seawall was under water along with the beach.  The park trees have wet feet now, and the shore road is closed.  We watched some teenage boys use nets to catch the carp swimming about the flooded baseball diamond.  You don’t see something like that every day.  Yessir, this is a flood of historic proportions.

It’s amazing how great a role weather still plays in our lives.  Most of us live and work indoors most of the time, but walls do not insulate us from the impact that the wild has upon our world.  Hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, blizzards, earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods – when Mother Nature is on the rampage, you’d better get out of her way… if that’s at all possible.

Mother Nature is on the rampage a lot.  In fact, that’s pretty much the way she rolls.  Changes that we call cataclysmic are business as usual to her.  Mountain ranges are great seas of rock rising and falling on a geologic timescale.  Wind and water wear down all solid things, given enough years.  And everything burns, as the stars remind us nightly.  In a face-off between civilization and the wild, it’s a safe bet that the wild will prevail on anything other than a human timescale.  We sapient creatures aren’t really very sapient at all if think we can defeat Mother Nature.  At best, all we can do is piss her off and make life miserable for ourselves.  Oh yeah, that and maybe wipe out a million species of plants and animals in the process.  But Mother Nature doesn’t care.  There are plenty more life forms where those came from.

When most people experience Nature’s wrath, they think:  “This is the end of the world!”  But it is only the end of our complacency, of our false belief that we have the world in a box.  I love natural disasters for the way they humiliate humankind.  That said, I dread the prospect of going into my basement to assess the water damage down there.  I’m no dummy.  I know when I’m outclassed.

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