Archive for October, 2013

Oct 28 2013

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Last Harvest

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NiqBay, late fallJudy and I were both craving fresh apples so I drove to an orchard in the Champlain Islands today to pick up another bag or two. On the way home, I stopped at Niquette Bay State Park to stretch my legs and run my dog, Matika. With temps in the 40s and mostly grey skies spitting rain, I wore wool clothes for the occasion. Yeah, it has come to this.

The sun played hide-and-go-seek with me as I hiked. I kicked up dried leaves, marveling at the rust brown foliage still clinging to red oaks. Like beeches, oaks give up their leaves reluctantly. I admire that quality.

With tree trunks casting long shadows in mid-afternoon, I couldn’t help but think about the approaching dark season. My eyes gravitated to hollowed-out and dead trees still standing and on the ground as I walked. They seem to dominate the forest in the fall, or are they just easier to see now that the canopy is mostly down?

Three days shy of Halloween, death is everywhere, but the skeleton and tombstone decorations are mostly in jest. Children – those immortals among us – are amused by it. Not so much those of us getting up there in years. We are more cheerful and upbeat when the days are long and things are growing all around us. Beyond Halloween is a long, cold season that we must simply endure.

As I finished my walk, I tried hard to be in the moment and enjoy what’s left of autumn. But the fresh snow illuminating the Green Mountains and the sleet pelting the windshield of my car as I drove home made it difficult to ignore the obvious. I grabbed an apple and took a big bite. It tasted bittersweet. The last harvest. I both love and hate this time of year.


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Oct 21 2013

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Autumn Walk

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Autumn trailThanks to recent strong winds, most of the leaves are down now. I kick them up as I walk, stirring up memories of greener days as well as the pleasant, dry rot smell of foliage becoming humus. I revel in it.

These are golden days – a feast for the eyes. Yet the long slumber is fast approaching, as shadowy trunks of largely denuded trees attest. The sun rises reluctantly these days and sets surprisingly fast. But that only makes the warm glow at noon seem all the more precious. It’s the season of mixed feelings to be sure.

I walk in shirtsleeves, breaking a sweat that chills me when I stop. This is sweater weather but I’m not ready to go there yet. Haunted by memories of winters past, I cling to any hint of summer. The slightest leafy green in the forest understory encourages me to do so.

My dog Matika frolics through the forest, finding new and interesting smells everywhere. Meanwhile I slip in and out of the abstract. Lost in thought, I barely notice the rummaging squirrel or the V of geese honking overhead. Turning inward now. I do my best writing during the colder half of the year. Being an outdoor/nature writer for the most part, the irony of this is not lost on me.

Towards the end of my walk, I feel a sense of urgency similar to what squirrels, geese and other wild creatures must feel this time of year. What do I need to do to prepare for the dark months ahead? I’ve gathered books like nuts, and cleared away as many distractions as possible. I’m just about ready to sit down to work, to reactivate the life of the mind. My warm season frolic is almost over.



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Oct 12 2013

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Revolutionary Ideas

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Saratoga Nat PkThe morning after doing a reading and book-signing event in Saratoga Springs, I drove over to Saratoga National Park. Thanks to the government shutdown, brought to us by those bumbling fools in Congress, the park was closed. That made it irresistible to me, unrepentant trespasser that I am.

I followed the Wilkinson Trail through the battlefield, kicking up heavy dew along the way. Crickets chirped incessantly. The sun rose steadily into a partly cloudy sky, illuminating the brilliant orange, gold and rust-colored foliage. Deer watched me intently from the edge of the trees. A woodpecker knocked in the distance. Otherwise all was quiet and still.

Upon reaching the Breymann Redoubt, a slight rise in the rolling landscape where a field gun stood, I felt the distinct presence of ghosts – of those who fought and died for ideas so revolutionary that they seem as impossible today as they did 236 years ago. Here the tide turned.

In a document written by those idealists a year earlier, they had claimed: “All men are created equal… endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And in October of 1777, on this knoll, they defeated an army of the most powerful nation on earth to make their point.

There are people living today who think it was all about taxes. Either they just don’t get it, or they’re too damned selfish to accept what “We the People” really means. As fiercely self-reliant as I may be as a woods wanderer, I know where my freedom comes from and how tenuous it is these days.

As I finished my walk, a park ranger came along and informed me that I had to leave. I gave him no trouble, not wanting to make his job any harder than it already was. I could tell from our brief exchange of words, though, that he was no happier than me about the recent turn of events in Washington. Clearly “We the People” are not being served well by our elected officials. It’s a sorry state of affairs to be sure.



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Oct 04 2013

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Autumnal Reverie

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InBkRes OctoberOn a perfect day in early October, it seemed a crime to stay indoors. After running errands in Burlington yesterday, I drove out to Indian Brook Reservoir for a midday walk. I had my dog, Matika with me, of course.

I didn’t realize how tightly wound I was until I put a half mile of trail behind me. By then the dryleaf smell of the woods, the incessant, high-pitched trill of crickets, and the multicolored foliage had worked their magic. My nerves unraveled.

As I walked around the far end of the reservoir, I started daydreaming. Or was it just my overactive mind sorting things out and settling down? Whatever. The result was the same. By the time I had passed the beaver ponds and was heading back towards the parking lot, I felt strangely calm. Didn’t even mind the many people and dogs encountered along the way.

I often write about the healing power of deep woods and the perspective gained by sustained exposure to the wild, but one doesn’t have to go to such great lengths to benefit from nature. Sometimes an hour walk in a park on the edge of town will do.

Time obsession is the great plague of our culture. We scramble to make the most of our time. We multi-task. We cram our days full of activities. There is never enough time. And when finally we do relax, we usually do so with some intoxicant and/or electronic media. But it is never quite enough. Only fresh air and a little sweat does the trick, really. Amazing how easy it is to forget that.



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