Archive for December, 2011

Dec 29 2011

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End Year Hike

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Despite the fact that I was still tired from a tough shift at the hotel the evening before, I donned thermals and wools yesterday morning and went for a hike. Falling temps and a winter storm were in the forecast, so I figured this was my last chance to tramp around for a while. Besides, holiday hoopla had kept me indoors for the past couple weeks. I desperately needed to get outside.

I didn’t wander far from home. I’ve been spending too much time in the car lately so I drove no farther than necessary to reach the woods. A small patch of wild country only ten minutes away did the trick.

What started as a hike quickly turned into a bushwhack. I followed a logging trail to a yard full of lopped off tree limbs then stepped into trackless forest. Fine by me. Meandering about aimlessly suited my mood. I tramped through the snow-covered woods, stopping every once in a while to look around. I marveled at the way new fallen snow clung to tree branches. I saw some kind of weasel slip into the remnants of an old stone wall – a black flash against white. My dog Matika sniffed at fresh squirrel tracks. None appeared.

Just to stay oriented, I kept my eye on a large beaver pond clearly visible through the trees. Consequently, I ended up circumnavigating it. On the far side of it, I encountered a smaller beaver pond apparently blocking my path. It’s dam provided an easy way to the other bank, though. I like this about bushwhacking. The landscape tells you where to go.

During the rest of my walk I followed a soft, muddy logging trail covered by several inches of heavy, wet snow. More like early spring than early winter. I didn’t mind it. Breathing hard is good sometimes – a reminder that existence is fundamentally organic despite all abstract thought. There’s more to life than working, eating and indoor entertainment. That’s a good thing to keep in mind this time of year.


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Dec 20 2011

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The Dark Season

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I can’t help but think of the holiday hoopla as a distraction from the dark season. With the days brutally short, temperatures dropping and all the green gone, this is a tough time of year. So we drag evergreens into our houses, put up colorful lights, then engage in a series of elaborate rituals that keep us busy until we can get used to winter. I do it and I’m not even a Christian. Many of my nature-loving friends aren’t Christians either, yet we exchange greeting cards. Write it off to cultural pressure if you want, but the truth is that we all welcome the distraction. The days surrounding the Winter Solstice are hard to take.

There wasn’t time enough to get into the woods yesterday so my dog Matika and I did the next best thing. We went for a long walk on a nearby section of the Rail Trail. The naked trees clattered in a fierce wind. The ground underfoot was frozen solid, and the endlessly grey sky overhead provided no solace. Yet it felt good to get out and stretch the legs. Properly dressed, the chill wasn’t too bad.

From Ebeneser Scrooge to the Grinch, those who don’t embrace the holidays are held in low regard. And rightly so. It’s hard enough getting through these dark days without the extra negativity. There are frigid months ahead, so break out the sweets, strong spirits and good cheer. Whatever gets us through this darkness is a good thing.

Oh sure, there’s the hyper commercialism of Christmas to criticize, but what’s the difference between December and the rest of the year? Only the intensity. Fact is, we live in a consumer culture. Christmas is merely the grand finale – the climax to an orgy of spending that begins anew every January. Complaining about that is like complaining about sunlight . . . or the lack thereof.

No doubt I’ll be taking more winter walks in the weeks ahead. No doubt I’ll be daydreaming about the greener season while I’m slogging across snow and ice. But I wouldn’t want to live in the southern latitudes where the darkness is much less pronounced. This way I don’t take anything for granted, not even the sun rising.


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Dec 07 2011

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A Mild Winter?

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During the balmy days of autumn, I stumbled upon a dozen or so woolly worms in various places, and studied them for some sign of the coming winter. The wider the brownish-red band, the milder the season or so the saying goes.

Well, it looks like it’s going to be a mild one this year.

I’m not a big one for folklore, and don’t really believe that tiger moth caterpillars can predict an entire season any better than our weather forecasters can. Yet I wonder what lies ahead. Right now, in the dismal light of December with a bone-chilling fog clinging to the barren, snowless landscape, the woolly worm prediction seems to be holding true. Will the trend continue?

Predicting the weather is difficult. Predicting an entire season even more so. Nature is chock full of omens but earth science is another matter altogether. The planet is a complex system. There is never enough information to say with absolute certainty what is going to happen in the near future. All we can do is make educated guesses. And climate change? There is always a need for more information when it comes to that. If we want to know all the facts before taking action, then we will be waiting indefinitely.

I don’t know to what extent human activity alters the climate. I don’t know how hard this winter is going to be. I don’t even know with absolute certainty what the weather is going to be like tomorrow. But I’ve noticed that such things aren’t quite as predicable as they used to be, woolly worms or no. So I wonder with with considerable apprehension what lies ahead.


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