Archive for June, 2011

Jun 29 2011

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I looked in the dark, weedy corner of my back yard the other day and noticed that a newcomer had appeared.  The small, purple flower wasn’t anything I’d seen before, I couldn’t find it in my flower identification books, and I had no idea where it had come from.  And, quite frankly, I didn’t care.  Beautiful in all its delicate simplicity, its migration to my rough flowerbed had been a true act of wildness – what my so-called wildflower garden is all about.

As a three-year experiment, my wildflower garden has been something of a disappointment.  I expected an explosion of lush, floral wildness, but got a patchy, hardscrabble, weed-ridden plot instead.  By comparison, the domestic flowerbed in my front yard is a riot of color and beauty – carefully attended to by you-know-who.

I hacked the belligerent bindweed from the backyard garden, removed the timothy, maple saplings and unsightly dandelions, and cast bags of wildflower seeds into the plot, but to no avail.  At long last, I have agreed with my wife that it’s time to till it all over, and carefully cultivate the garden from scratch.  But I will miss the occasional newcomer.

Earlier this year, a patch of forget-me-nots broke into bloom amid the weeds.  Again, a newcomer from god-knows-where.  It has happened before, and I’m sure it would happen again if I left well enough alone.  But the hand of the cultivator is rarely idle, is it?

There is a lesson in all this, I’m sure, but I think I’ll just leave it hanging and let you, dear reader, draw your own conclusions.  After all, any legitimate philosophy of the wild is rooted in precisely that which is left unspoken.


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Jun 20 2011

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Natural versus Artificial

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While I was out walking the other day, I came upon a curious phenomenon.  A well-worn, earthen trail cutting through the woods suddenly came to a set of stairs that someone had painstakingly carved from rock.  My first thought: Why go to so much trouble?  Once I got beyond that, though, I marveled at the result.  Moss and lichen had crept from uncut stone to cut, making me wonder what difference there is really between the natural and the man-made.

Homo faber – we are the creatures who make things.  We manipulate the material world with such profound consequences that the word “artificial” had to be invented.  In the strictest sense, we are as much a part of nature as the wild animals whose paths we follow through the woods, the plants that grow all around us, the birds overhead or the insects below our feet.  And yet we stand apart from it.  What separates us?  Our inventions and contrivances, of course.

There is beauty in integration with nature, certainly.  The architectural wonders of Frank Lloyd Wright come to mind, as do the many stone monuments left behind by our ancestors.  But these are the exceptions to the rule.  Generally speaking, most man-made structures – buildings, roads or whatever – are striking in their radical break from the landscape.  Rare indeed is the developer who gives any thought at all to wild aesthetics.  Architectural renderings of would-be structures are usually accented with neat rows of trees and strategically placed green space, but the beauty the builder sees is all in the artifice – the perfectly straight or intentionally curved line – not wild anarchy.  And so it is with most things human, from the automobile to the ipod.

Philosophically, I have struggled with this for decades.  At the very heart of the matter are the very qualities that make us human.  More than any other creature, we manipulate our environment, making a rough and ready world more user-friendly, better suited to our wants and needs.  And yet we do so at our great peril – one that first became apparent to us in the 19th century, when the industrial world suddenly sprung to life and the idea of wilderness transformed from something threatening to something idyllic.  Now it is quite possible that we may lose ourselves in our grand designs, reaching a point where stairways cut from stone will seem ridiculously quaint.  Then the word “wild” will lose all meaning, and the entire planet will have our mark on it.  What’s to stop us?


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Jun 12 2011

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Summer Bloom

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The wildflowers that grow along roads and in fallow fields are easy to ignore.  It is the warm season, after all, and we are exuberant with baseball, beaches and a vast array of other summertime activities.  But the bloom has moved now from canopied forests to open places awash in sunlight.  Now the green is punctuated with tiny splashes of yellow, pink, blue and a dozen other dazzling hues.

It’s a subtle beauty to be sure – the stuff of impromptu bouquets given to mothers by their children.  One can walk along a recreational trail for twenty minutes before really noticing them.  But see one and hundreds suddenly appear, no, thousands.  Thick patches of birdsfoot trefoil and clover at one’s feet, bright yellow and orange hawkweed here and there, tangles of dewberry, and the ubiquitous buttercup – they all vie for our attention.  Summer’s bright, happy palette is everywhere, half-hidden in timothy bent over by a steady, warm breeze.  Bladderwort hugs the trail’s gravely edges.  Cow vetch lurks in the background.  Daisies steal the show.

When I walk in the open this time of year, I marvel at nature’s diversity.  The forest is just as fecund as the field, but the field flaunts it.  The untended places drenched with high sun allow plants to go crazy.  Ferns, moss and other lifeforms may creep relentlessly across the damp forest floor, but in the meadows biomass explodes.  Feel the heat that all these plants generate on a hot day and there’s no doubt in your mind that life pulsates on this planet.  Butterflies, dragonflies and countless other insects go about their business in these roofless hothouses.  Step into it and you come out covered in pollen and seeds.  Yeah, the wild fields are like that in June.  And they will only grow more intense as the season progresses.

It is easy to be awed by snow-capped mountains, roiling seas and blazing sunsets, but the power and glory of nature lies in the tiny flowers that we hardly notice at all – the ones whose names we forget or confuse with others, the ones that can only be appreciated with a magnifying glass.  Herein lies irrefutable proof that the wild will persist no matter what.  Herein lies the true genius of the ordered chaos that is Nature.  An hourlong walk this time of year reaffirms my pantheism.  God is in all things, surely.  What other explanation can there possibly be for such overabundance?  The fields full of wildflowers echo the chorus sung by billions of stars in the night sky.  Both the universe and the world we inhabit are absolutely teeming with possibility.


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Jun 04 2011

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Time in the Woods

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There are times when I like to stretch my legs and break a good sweat.  Then there are times when I just need a walk in the woods.  The other day was the latter, and it couldn’t have been a better day for it.  Cool, overcast and breezy – ideal weather for walking.

I went to Honey Hollow, a favorite haunt of mine deep in the Green Mountains.  After parking the car, I walked up the narrow dirt road reaching into the woods until I came to a red gate.  On the other side of that gate a jeep track swept down to Preston Brook and disappeared into a clearing with a single wild apple tree in it.  From there I bushwhacked upstream, savoring the lush green vegetation all around me.  At one point I passed through chest-high ferns.  Yeah, rooted things love all the water we’ve gotten lately.

The stream was surprisingly low and clear considering the recent downpours.  I saw two small brook trout dash across a shallow pool and for a moment regretted not bringing my fly rod.  But that’s okay, I told myself.  Sometimes it’s best just to walk the brook.

My dog Matika cavorted all over the place, happy to be running wild after a long stretch of days stuck at home.  I was happy, too.  It’s like that sometimes, now that I’ve gone back to working full-time.  Limited access makes time in the woods that much more precious.

I walked along the brook so slowly and quietly that I spooked a deer resting behind a downed birch.  Matika smelled the creature seconds after it had leaped away.  No contact, though.  The roar of the brook screened predator from prey.

I marveled at the high-water mark several feet above the quiet stream.  The washed-out banks, woody debris, and other indications of flooding took me somewhat by surprise.  Hard to imagine that much water passing through this little valley.  But wild nature is funny that way.  Its gentle disposition most days belies its latent power.

A couple miles back, I came to a favorite rock next to the brook where I like to sit and meditate.  The mosquitoes were out in force, though, so I didn’t stay there beyond a quick lunch.  I followed a game trail back to the dirt road and walked out as slowly as possible.  This walking reverie was meditation enough.  Not as much as desired, but enough for now.  Then I returned to my car wondering when I’d get back into the woods again.  In due time, I’m sure.


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