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May 09 2017

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Year of the Lily

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Green explosion. My eyes drink in the bright, light verdure suddenly appearing in the bushes and trees this time of year, and I am happy enough. Green is all I need. But there are wildflowers scattered across the forest floor as well. They seem an extravagance. Then robins and other migrating birds join resident cardinals and chickadees in a midday chorus, and it is almost too much.

I fear that I might awaken to find myself at the beginning of yet another dreary winter day. But no, all this is real, along with the rabbits and other critters that I encounter during my long walks, and the peepers that break into song at dusk. It is the middle of spring and Nature is just beginning to strut her stuff.

Wildflowers are an extravagance, indeed. Dutchman’s breeches, round-lobed hepatica, spring beauty, bloodroot, wild ginger and violets all bloom early, then comes a tidal wave of lilies. A few days ago, I came upon patch after patch of trout lilies in full bloom. Yesterday I saw white trilliums sprawled along the trail. And more lilies are on the way. In the wooded, un-lawned portion of my back yard I’ve discovered an assortment of them – bellwort along with purple and white trilliums. I am seeing wild lilies everywhere it seems. There are more of them this year than I’ve ever seen before, or is it just my imagination?

This green and flowering world is too beautiful for words. On a geological time scale, flowering plants are an anomaly. They’ve only been around for 130 million years. That’s a small fraction of the Earth’s history. Fortunately, we are here when flowers are. There’s probably a good reason for that. This green and flowering world is our world. And I for one quietly celebrate that fact each and every springtime morning.

 

 

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Apr 27 2017

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Early Spring Overnighter

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Every once in a while I feel an overwhelming urge to spend a night alone in the woods. Either that or my wife orders me to do so when I become too grumpy. Yesterday the urge came hard and fast.

My dog Matika became very excited when the backpacking gear came out. She knows. She was all smiles during the ride to Johnson. There I left my car at the Long Trail parking lot and headed south.

I like to hike the LT south from Route 15 in early spring because there’s not much I can do to damage the trail. It crosses a meadow, tags a rail trail, follows a logging road, then becomes a skidder trail as it climbs into the mountains. By the time it’s a bona fide footpath, I’ve left it and am bushwhacking along a stream.

The loggers are taking a break during mud season so I had the woods all to myself. Just me and my dog, that is.

I travelled light, only taking with me what would fit in my old rucksack. A three-mile hike put me deep into the woods. I found a nice place along the stream to make camp. Afterwards I collected wood and made a small campfire. I can sit and feed sticks into a campfire for hours. Matika likes just looking around and chewing sticks.

An hour or so after dark, I slipped beneath the tarp to sleep. Matika was already there waiting for me. The sky broke open and the stars came out. You know what that means. Radiational cooling. I froze my ass off despite the fact that temps shot into the 60s yesterday and the 70s today. But it was worth it to crawl out this morning to a sun cresting the nearby ridge, deep in the woods. The mountain stream roared endlessly. And a breakfast campfire made it easy to shrug off last night’s chill.

Hiking out, I found a small patch of spring beauty, then a purple trillium in bloom – one that had still been closed the day before. Ah, spring! Matika crossed paths with a red fox that vanished in the blink of an eye. Something for both of us.

 

 

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Apr 19 2017

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Prospect Rock

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With all the rain in the forecast for this week, it seemed a crime to waste a fair day staying indoors. So I grabbed my rucksack and hike boots before heading to Hyde Park to do some book hunting yesterday. I worked the book sale for a couple hours, then drove to a trailhead for the Long Trail just west of Johnson.

My dog Matika was overjoyed at the prospect of hiking in the woods again. Finally! It’s been days! And a day without a hike is a day wasted as far as she’s concerned. Hmm… She might be on to something.

It’s a short hike from the road to Prospect Rock, but it feels longer due to the 500-foot ascent. Got me huffing and puffing, anyhow. One look from the cliffs made it all worthwhile. The Lamoille River Valley unfolded before me in all its springtime beauty. Not much green other than conifers, and still a little snow in the distant peaks, but beautiful all the same.

I settled into a depression in the rock to eat my lunch and enjoy the view. Matika sniffed around – a bit too close to the edge at times. I called her back. A pair of hawks rode the thermals overhead. The sun burned brightly in the mostly clear sky, warming both me and the rock. A few other hikers came and went, otherwise I had the place to myself.

Early spring. I find it difficult to be unhappy this time of year. The warm season is just beginning and the prospects for a lot of day hiking look good. I hiked out of the woods thinking that these combination work/play outings might be just the thing this year. Any way to get outdoors is a good way. Matika concurs.

 

 

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Apr 10 2017

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Back on the Trail

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With temps soaring into the 60s this morning, there was no force great enough to keep me indoors working. I loaded my dog Matika into the car and drove to Niquette Bay State Park to do my first hike of the warm season.

The trail was surprisingly dry despite the recent snow melt-off and three days of rain. No matter. I made it a point to leave a set of boot prints pressed deep into the few mud holes that I came upon. Matika did the same.

I passed a couple other hikers with their restless dogs, otherwise I had the woods all to myself. A woodpecker serenaded me with his loud knocking. I listened to the telltale songs of nuthatches, chickadees, and robins as I tramped. Otherwise all was quiet.

The sun played hide-and-seek from the clouds overhead. A cool breeze blew inland from the punky ice still covering the edges and bays of Lake Champlain. Trees creaked as the wind whispered through their upper boughs. I caught a whiff of that intoxicating forest smell and instantly came down with a case of spring fever.

I cut my pace to a crawl just to savor the walk. Matika took notice but didn’t seem to mind. All the same, I broke a sweat as the trail turned sharply then started climbing. My leg muscles complained, grossly under-used through the winter. Yeah, I felt all of my 61 years as I climbed the hill, but didn’t mind it one bit.

There’s a time for thinking deep thoughts, and another for simply being in the moment. During this outing, all I wanted was to move through the forest, sweating, while grooving on the sights, sounds, and smell of it – more in my body than in my head, like my dog. It has been a long winter. It felt good to be back on the trail again.

 

 

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Mar 27 2017

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Dreaming West Canada Lakes

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This coming Sunday, I’ll be talking to the Mohawk-Hudson chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club about the Northville-Placid Trail in the Adirondacks. While going though my slide show for the event, I became transfixed by photos of the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. I plan on spending a week there this coming summer. That trip can’t come fast enough.

I’ve been waiting rather impatiently for the snow to melt off so that I can start hiking again. Looking at photos of the West Canada Lakes is like scratching an itch. There’s no place I like more than the sprawling forests of the southern Adirondacks. Once the snow is gone and the trees leaf out again, I’ll be headed that direction.

I’ve been in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness four times. I first approached it from Wakely Dam in 2002. Went through it on the NPT in 2006, spent a few days there shortly thereafter, and visited Brooktrout Lake a few years ago. Brooktrout Lake, shown above, pulls a close second to West Lake by my way of reckoning. But that entire wilderness area is wild and beautiful and visited by few people compared to, say, the High Peaks. A good place to get lost. Yeah, the West Canada Lakes are right up my alley.

I’m not sure what this says about me. I am drawn to sprawling forests time and again – especially to those places that most other hikers avoid. If I go there, step off the trail and start bushwhacking, it’s that much better. And if I find a backcountry pond with no trail to it, well, then I’m in heaven. These are the thoughts that drift in and out of my mind as I go about my daily work routine, selling books, writing or publishing them. That’s one way of knowing that winter is almost over. Such daydreams are as sure a sign of spring as the first robins.

So enough with the white stuff already. Bring on the cold mud, and let the hiking season begin!

 

 

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Mar 19 2017

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Last Day of Winter

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A nor’easter dumped two and a half feet of snow earlier this week. That’s a lot of snow even by Vermont standards. Aside from shoveling the white stuff, I’ve stayed indoors for the most part ignoring it. The bright March sun has already melted off half the snow. I figured I’d just wait out the rest. But my dog Matika kept bugging me so out we went today, tramping in the snow one last time.

Right out the back door, I strapped on snowshoes and cut tracks into the woods. I was sweating in no time. With temps pushing up towards 40 degrees and an unblinking sun overhead, I lifted several pounds of heavy wet snow with each step. Not a cloud in the sky, though, and the pristine snow looked inviting. I was almost as happy to be outdoors as Matika was.

Not far from the house, we flushed several deer from the woods. Matika got on their tracks right away. I followed them for a while. Then we reached the quarry where someone else has been out snowshoeing. Yeah, it’s hard to stay inside this time of year, no matter how good the books and movies are.

We didn’t go far. I stomped out a small loop near the quarry then headed back to the house. A half hour of that was enough. Truth is, I’m already thinking spring. The vernal equinox is tomorrow and the first unmistakable signs of spring aren’t far away. Hmm… technically speaking, tomorrow’s equinox makes today the last day of winter. Snowshoeing was a good way to send it off.

 

 

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Mar 10 2017

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Harbinger of Spring

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Surprisingly warm, spring-like temps melted off most of the snow in the Champlain Valley earlier this week. It seemed a little premature at the time. Sure enough, an arctic blast just hit the region, promising single-digit temps this weekend. Yeah, March is like that here in the North Country. Freeze and thaw – perfect weather for sugaring.

I went for a short walk in the nearby ten-acre wood this afternoon. Galvanized buckets hang from most of the maple trees over there. My neighbor likes to collect sap the old fashioned way. Taps and lines are how serious maple syrup operations do it these days. That said, I like seeing the buckets. They have a certain rustic charm.

There’s snow in the long term forecast, along with rain, more warmth, and more frigid temps. Vermonters grumble but everyone knows this is normal. It’s still too early to clean up the yard, but that’ll have to be done soon. The buckets are a harbinger of things to come. I’ve already seen the first migrating geese. And the woodpeckers are busy. Spring is imminent.

My dog Matika and I are both restless. I’m getting over a head cold and more than ready to head for the hills and really stretch my legs. The half-frozen earth underfoot during my short walk was a very good sign. Won’t be long before Matika and I get good and muddy.

The days are much longer now than they were in January. The equinox isn’t far away. My favorite season is almost here. I’m looking forward to it.

 

 

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Feb 25 2017

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A Growing Book Biz

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As most of you know, Wood Thrush Books is an on-line bookselling business in addition to being a small press. If you go to the WTB website, you can find over 200 used books on nature-related themes, along with the titles that I publish. But I have also listed nearly 2,000 titles at Amazon on a wide variety of subjects.

Visit the Wood Thrush Books storefront to check out some of the books I have for sale at Amazon. I offer a little bit of everything. There’s a heavy emphasis on history, politics, philosophy, religion, literature, and natural science in my inventory because, well, that’s what I know. As far as children’s books, cookbooks or any kind of mass market fiction goes, I’m pretty much clueless.

When Judy and I moved into our new home last June, I was able to dedicate an entire room to WTB inventory. I built 16 shelves right before we moved in, and nearly filled them by Christmas. Since then I have built an additional 6 shelves. That means I have space enough now for 3,000 books, in addition to my publisher’s inventory. Plenty of room to grow.

To be honest, I don’t make much money as a writer, publisher and online bookseller, but I thoroughly enjoy the work. The only thing I enjoy more is being in the woods. My plan this coming year is to keep growing the book biz while getting outdoors as much as possible. A good plan, don’t you think? I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

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Feb 17 2017

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Cutting Tracks in Local Woods

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Two back-to-back winter storms dumped 20 inches of snow this week. That’s more snow than we’ve seen in a long while. It’s finally starting to look like Vermont around here.

A couple days ago I did my fair share of shoveling, clearing out a 10 by 12-foot space in the back yard for one thing – a place for my dog Matika to pee. But she looked pathetic when she was out there walking tight circles in her prison yard. She looked as cooped up as I was feeling. So I strapped on my snowshoes yesterday and cut tracks out of the prison yard, across the fresh snow, and into the woods. Matika happily followed.

It wasn’t easy cutting tracks. I broke a good sweat. But the air was clean, all was quiet, and the snow still clinging to naked tree branches looked beautiful. Wouldn’t say I have cabin fever these days, but being outdoors feels a lot better than being indoors. I really get tired of sitting inside, staring at a computer screen all day, don’t you?

After completing a big loop in the woods, I doubled back on my tracks, creating a nice smooth trail. The second time around is always much easier so I able to really enjoy my surroundings. Matika enjoyed it, too. She romped in the snow like a puppy, collecting ice balls in her thick fur. Nordic dog!

This morning I looked out my office window at first light and spotted that snowshoe trail crossing the back yard. It’s calling my name now. How long will I be able to resist it? No doubt I’ll be out there again, tomorrow or the next day, cutting more tracks in local woods. Not quite as good as being in the mountains, but there’s something to be said for snowshoeing right out the back door. Wild nature doesn’t feel very far away at all.

 

 

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Feb 07 2017

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Burroughs Book Finally in Print

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At long last, the Burroughs book is in print. I’ve been reading his essays for decades, and toying with the idea of selecting and publishing excerpts from his work for nearly that long. He wrote over 30 books on nature. I’ve been crazy enough to read most of them.

The full title of this book is Universal Nature: Philosophical Fragments from the Writings of John Burroughs. As the title suggests, the excerpts I have selected tend towards the abstract. While Burroughs was the master of the quaint nature essay – quite often writing about songbirds – he delved deeply into philosophical matters as well.  In his later years he became interested in the tension between science and religion. His was an utterly naturalistic worldview, of course, so he leaned as heavily towards pantheism as I do. Hence my obsession with him.

While Burroughs comes off as a simple, white-bearded countryman observing birds and the like, he was a surprisingly complex character in real life. My biographical introduction puts his work in context, showing how his thoughts emerged from friendships, travels and fruit farming in addition to extensive reading. The excerpts are organized chronologically, making it clear how his perception of wild nature evolved over time from the particular to the universal.

You can get a copy by going to my website WoodThrushBooks.com. It is also available at Amazon. I hope you find the natural philosophy of John Burroughs as intriguing as I have.

 

 

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