Archive for December, 2014

Dec 23 2014

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December Tramping

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SnowyTrailThe cold, the snow, the darkness. Some people are so preoccupied by the holidays that they hardly notice it. Others live strictly indoor lives. What’s going on outdoors matters little to them. Skiers are eternal optimists. All they see is an opportunity to glide down mountains in wintry glee. Then there are those of us who consider this time of year an ordeal.

The Microspikes that I pull over my boots make it easy to negotiate the snow-packed trail. It’s almost as good as summer hiking. I skirt the few barren patches to keep from bending the spikes. Scrambling over ice is kind of fun. The spikes work well.

The cold is tolerable as long as I’m moving. Having a good base layer of clothing is key. My dog Matika has a heavy fur coat so she actually enjoys these frosty temps.

The darkness – ah, there’s the rub. Around the Winter Solstice, it’s pretty hard to take. But getting outdoors helps, even when the sky is endlessly overcast.

One thing is for certain: a December tramp is better than sitting around the house brooding.



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Dec 15 2014

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Snow-laden Boughs

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snowladentreesA Nor’easter struck New England last week, leaving over a foot of snow here in the Champlain Valley. The rest of Vermont got a whole lot more. For four days I shoveled and roof-raked it – when I wasn’t working, that is. Then yesterday I tramped through nearby fields, finally looking up to see the boughs of trees heavily laden with snow. A winter wonderland to be sure, and well before Christmas. This is the Vermont that skiers and sentimental songsters dream about.

Yeah, I can appreciate it, even though I’m more of a green forest kind of guy. Back in Ohio, where I grew up, my mother reports that the landscape is typically dreary. I remember it well: various shades of brown and endless grey skies. No, I don’t miss that. Though much longer and colder, Vermont winters are more aesthetically pleasing.

This much snow this early in the season is an ominous sign. Climate change has made recent winters rather erratic. A good, old-fashioned Vermont winter with blue skies and plenty of snow would be nice, but fluctuating temperatures could make a sloppy mess of things again. That’s what happened last winter, as well as in years past.

I try not to think about climate change, mostly because there isn’t much that I can do about it. Oh sure, we could in theory shift the global economy away from fossil fuels before things get way out of hand, but how realistic is that?  This morning I read that 196 nations signed an agreement to start setting limits by 2020. Hmm… I can’t help but think that it’s going to be too little too late, especially in countries where folks are just now moving out of abject poverty. Then there are those who still say that climate change is an elaborate hoax. No, it doesn’t do me any good to think about it at all.

And yet the boughs of trees are heavily laden with snow. It is both beautiful yet deeply concerning, especially since the temps are supposed to get well above freezing tomorrow. Did I say beautiful? Yes, let’s focus on that, and let the politicians deal with the rest of it, at least until someone comes up with a viable alternative to what passes for environmental concern in these days. It’s not good to be always focusing on the negative.


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Dec 09 2014

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Lighting the Darkness

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xmas lightsI used to be one of those people who complained about the crass commercialization of Christmas. Then I spent decades being annoyed by the cheap sentimentality and unrealistic expectations of it all. Interspersed through the years, of course, were occasional moments of true joy in the company of family and friends, but I chose to downplay that. Or simply take those moments for granted. I focused instead on the Winter Solstice, the interplay of darkness and light, which is what the ancients celebrated this time of year, long before there was any talk of a coming Messiah.

When I was a child, I basked in the wonder and mystery of Christmas. That evolved into the wonder and mystery of nature when I became an adult. Not quite the same thing, really, but closer than one might think. There is something about the world that defies reason, that goes beyond words – something rooted in unknowing, that is. Something mysterious. And it has been with us since the dawn of human consciousness.

Nowadays, when this season rolls around, I see things a little differently. I pick through the rituals, choosing those that mean something to me, while trying to show a little compassion towards those doing what they can to muddle through the dark season. It isn’t an easy time of year for anyone except children, who haven’t had time enough to accumulate all the emotional baggage that we adults carry around.

A couple days ago, I nailed lights to my house. Then my wife Judy and I put up a tree in our living room and decorated it. Yessir, we’re doing our part to light up the darkness despite the apparent frivolity of it all. And why not? The darkness is real. The sun is close to being as low on the horizon as it can get. The nights are long indeed. And the memories of Christmases past haunt us whether we like it or not. After all, we are only human.


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