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May 13 2018

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Springtime Overnighter

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A couple days into a run of relatively warm, dry, sunny weather, I decided to take full advantage of the situation. I set all work aside earlier this week, packed a few essentials into my old rucksack, and headed for the Breadloaf Wilderness.

There’s a nice spot on the headwaters of the New Haven River where I’ve camped several times before. After leaving my car at the trailhead, I hiked there. It didn’t take long to reach that campsite, even with my old dog Matika hobbling along slowly behind me.

No bloodsucking bugs this early in the season so I set up my tarp without attaching the mosquito bar. Gathering wood was easy since I was camped off trail. I fashioned a small campfire circle that I would make disappear when I left. With that bright yellow orb beating down through the leafless canopy, I didn’t start a fire right away. It was enough just to sit next to the stream, listening to the endless rush of water breaking over rocks while basking in sunlight.

When the sun finally slipped beneath the trees, I put a match to a tipi of birch bark and kindling in the campfire circle. I was startled by how quickly the fire took off, and made it a point to keep it very small and controllable with bottles of water close at hand. Matika entertained herself by chewing up some of the sticks in my woodpile.

Spending a night in the woods was just what I needed after a long winter of philosophical speculation. Temps dropped fast once the sun went down, though, and Matika crowded me off my foam pad. Not the best night’s sleep, but arising to the song of a waterthrush, a refreshing mountain breeze, and early light breaking through the forest made me thankful to be alive.

I lingered for hours over a morning campfire before slowly packing up and hiking back to the car. I was giddy all the way home, rolling through the Champlain Valley as the trees slowly leafed out. Springtime in Vermont, after a long snowy winter, is absolutely wonderful.

 

 

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May 04 2018

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A Necessary Walk

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My dark rant came way too early this morning. Judy fled the room before breakfast was over to escape it. And that’s when I knew how badly I needed a walk in the woods. So I squeezed one in, right between a trip to the post office and a round of book promotion. Some things just can’t wait.

All winter long I have been pondering the human condition, trying to figure out what exactly it means to be human, how wildness and civilization factor into that, and how we’ve become the highly cognizant yet deeply flawed creatures that we are today. This isn’t a matter for the faint of heart, and I’ve found myself bogged down in the morass of morality more than once. Yeah, everyone’s got an opinion when it comes to human nature, how good and/or bad we are, but the irrefutable facts are few and far between. So my quest has put me in a surly mood, even as spring unfolds.

To walk in the woods and blow the stink off my thoughts I didn’t have go far. A quick jaunt up Aldis Hill did the trick. I knew there would be early spring wildflowers in bloom, and that would improve my outlook on things if anything could. Sure enough, I wasn’t disappointed. Bloodroot appeared amid the boulders, purple trilliums and trout lilies lined the muddy trail, and Dutchman’s breeches strutted its stuff near the top of the hill. I stopped to admire the wildflowers almost as much as my dog Matika stopped to sniff around. It’s like that sometimes. My primary task as Homo sapiens, it seems, is to simply admire God’s handiwork. That’s when I feel the most like myself and at peace with the world, anyhow.

I haven’t figured it out yet. My query into human nature is unfinished business, to say the least. But I’m already convinced that our relation to nature is critical to understanding who/what we are. So these walks of mine are necessary in more ways than one. We go into the wild not so much to escape the trappings of civilized society as to find ourselves, to make a primal connection and remember, on some level of awareness, where we came from… and thereby figure out where we are going.

When I get a good bead on human nature, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’ll just keep on wandering and wondering and scribbling down these little absurdities that I call philosophy. If nothing else, it keeps me from being one of those self-righteous fools who engage in unrestrained violence. Yeah, a walk in the woods is absolutely necessary.

 

 

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Apr 26 2018

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The First Green

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You know it’s spring when you come across a brilliant green patch of wild leeks growing in the woods. It’s the first real green of the season, emerging rather suddenly from the thick brown duff covering the forest floor. Technically speaking, moss is well ahead of it, coming back to life long before the snow melts away, and grass starts greening in the open places as soon as early April snow turns to rain. But nothing says welcome to spring like a patch of wild leeks. One bite of their pungent, oniony leaves and there’s no doubt in my mind, anyhow, that winter is history.

I know, I know – it has been a long, cold April this year with more than the usual ration of springtime snow here in the Northeast. And the cloud cover has been relentless at times. All the same, the spring season is well underway. The songbirds are back, peepers are making quite a racket at dusk in the nearby ephemeral pools, and coltsfoot is already blooming in the roadside ditches. Catkins are unfurling from the tips of tree branches. Those who know me well would hardly call me an optimist, but this time of year I see nothing in nature except good omens. And the appearance of wild leeks is one of them.

False hellebore also grows thick and bright green in wet spots in the woods, and is sometimes confused with wild leeks. It has no oniony taste, though – that’s the dead giveaway. Good thing. False Hellebore is poisonous. I take a small bite whenever I’m in doubt.

The mottled leaves of trout lilies are also coming up, along with a host of other wildflowers that will soon be strutting their stuff. I haven’t found any round-lobed hepatica in bloom yet, but I’m sure I will in the days ahead. Wild leeks are not alone on the forest floor. They’re just the most obvious.

Most people long for sunny, t-shirt days, but let the change come slowly, I say. Let spring unfold as slowly as possible so that we can enjoy every little bit of it. Unfortunately, that’s not how things usually go in this part of the world. A few warm days followed by a couple days of rain and suddenly we’ll be in the thick of it. There are worse fates, I suppose.

 

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Apr 13 2018

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Landscape All Brown and Gray

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“April is the cruelest month,” the poet T. S. Eliot said, and we northern New Englanders know all about that. The funk of winter persists in our hearts despite the first green shoots pushing up through the newly thawed earth. And when the weather forecasters warn us about a coming snowstorm, those among us dreaming about t-shirt temps are outraged. It shouldn’t be this way, some say, but this is par for the course around here.

Snow, or the lack of it, is the main reason why I enjoy a simple walk along the Rail Trail this time of year. The landscape is all brown and gray, but it feels good just being able to move freely again. No slogging through slush, sliding over ice, or post-holing in deep snow. Only a relatively effortless foot-to-the-ground forward movement again. I had almost forgotten about it.

The starkness of April is the mirror image of November, only now the prospects look good for lovers of growing things. The days are getting longer, the birds are back, and soon the grass will be greening. After that, well, we all know what’s coming.

So I’ll take it. The grey skies, morning fog, and all-day rain – yeah, sure, bring it on. Even a little snow thrown into the mix, why not? It won’t last. This time of year, even a hard-nosed realist like me leans towards optimism. The great vernal bloom is inevitable. The growing season is already underway, though one has to look hard to see it. And these brown/gray days have a certain dismal charm. I revel in it.

 

 

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Mar 30 2018

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Snowmelt and Cold Mud

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As I drove over French Hill, dodging frost heaves, the snow closed in around the road. Back home it was nearly gone from my yard so I wasn’t quite prepared to see so much white stuff. What a difference a few hundred feet of elevation makes! By time I reached the town forest parking lot, bare ground was the exception to the rule. Oh well. My dog Matika and I needed a good hike anyway, snow or no snow. We’d been cooped up for a over a week, thanks to a cold virus that I picked up.

At first the trail was several inches of punky snow, but eventually it opened up, becoming stretches of soft, cold mud in places, saturated by small streams overflowing with snowmelt. My boots became thoroughly soaked as I waded across one particularly wet spot. But I didn’t mind it. With temps in the 40s and the forest all to myself, it felt good to be tramping around.

Moss and ferns shouted their over-wintered green at me from rocky slopes. A grey squirrel chattered hello as Matika and I passed. A pair of crows cawed back and forth through the naked trees. Very early spring in the Vermont woods. With all the snow slowly melting away, it’s an altogether pleasant thing to behold.

I broke a sweat and coughed repeatedly as the trail slipped into a particularly deep patch of punky snow. Matika started panting heavily as well. But the big smile on her face mirrored my own. There are those who won’t be happy until the last of the snow is gone, and others who long for fresh verdure that’s still several weeks away. But it’s enough for me to hear the rush of water, smell raw earth again, and feel the give of thawing ground underfoot. Every season has its charms, even this one, when everything is cold, brown and wet. Happy spring!

 

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Mar 15 2018

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Snow Day

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With a foot of wet, heavy snow on the ground and nowhere I had to be, I decided to stay home today. Judy’s car made it out of the driveway this morning, and my car could have done the same, but why bother? Any book orders that needed to go out could wait another day. So I declared it a snow day.

It’s good to stay out of the car every once in a while, no matter how important it is to one’s livelihood. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I drive too much. And all that motorized movement isn’t good for my well being.

I’ve stayed indoors for the most part today, reading and writing. Went outside to shovel snow for a while. Didn’t venture any farther away from the house than my mailbox, and that’s a good thing. My dog Matika would have gone for a longer walk, but I was in no mood to strap on my snowshoes. As anyone who’s done it knows, breaking trail through wet, heavy snow is hard slogging. Better at this point to wait for bare ground. That’s not far away.

The maple sap is still dripping into buckets despite the wintry look to the landscape. And songbirds are chirping excitedly nearby. I don’t need a calendar to tell me how close we are to the Vernal Equinox. The length of the day says it all. Spring is right around the corner. Oh sure, there are still a couple more snowstorms in our future here in northern Vermont, but winter’s back is broken. Soon, very soon, I’ll be tramping through cold mud while it’s raining – the world all brown and stern looking. I can’t wait.

 

 

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Mar 03 2018

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Franklin’s New Fly-Fishing Book Is Now in Print

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With the opening of trout season right around the corner, I have just released Walt Franklin’s new fly-fishing book under the Wood Thrush Books imprint. It’s called Streamwalker’s Journey: Fishing the Triple Divide. As the subtitle suggests, it’s a collection of essays celebrating the fly fishing life, with a focus on the triple divide of watersheds in north-central Pennsylvania and upstate New York: the Genesee River, the Allegheny River and Pine Creek.

Anyone who enjoys fly fishing, and/or the beauty of the riverine environment, will surely enjoy reading this book. Like he did in River’s Edge ten years ago, Franklin writes with skill, passion, and a touch of humor about his experiences on trout streams and in the natural world through which they pass. Only now he’s even more adept with both fly rod and pen.

Last summer I had the pleasure of meeting up with Franklin again to fly fish the West Branch of the Ausable River in New York’s Adirondacks. The Isonychia mayflies were coming off the water so we caught a few trout that day, but more importantly we grooved on the wild world around us while talking about life, literature, and the pursuit of happiness.

Later, while quaffing a couple beers in a local microbrewery, we worked up a plan for bringing out this book. I had just finished reading it a week earlier so I was excited about the prospect. We agreed that a book of this sort should come out before the first mayfly hatch of the new year. The first shipment of Streamwalker’s Journey came from my printer the day before yesterday. Just in time!

If you’re not familiar with Walt Franklin or his work, check out his blog site: Rivertop Rambles. Or you can visit his author’s page at Amazon.com. Getting a copy of Streamwalker’s Journey is easy. It’s available at both the Wood Thrush Books website and at Amazon. And if you’re anything like me, reading it will make you want to get outdoors. Thank god the spring season isn’t far away.

 

 

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Feb 19 2018

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Snowshoeing in the Mountains

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Even though I enjoy tramping around local woods, there comes a time when I need a day in the mountains. That day came yesterday, after I’d done all the work that I needed to do for the week.

My dog Matika was all excited when I pulled out my pack, of course. It had been a while since we had last escaped the developed lowlands – longer than I care to admit.

After leaving my car at the bottom of Honey Hollow, I strapped on my snowshoes. Only a few inches of powdery snow covered the road leading up into the hollow, but I figured the ‘shoes would come in handy once I left the road. Twenty minutes later, I bushwhacked down to the brook without breaking through the snow crust beneath the powder. Matika, right on my heels, didn’t sink in either.

The rumble of distant traffic faded until there was only the sound of the mountain brook gurgling beneath the ice. While following the brook, I spotted open leads of water here and there. The occasional gust of wind shook snow from the tree boughs. The conifers added a little green to this otherwise brown and white world. The mottled grey clouds overhead broke open every once in a while, exposing patches of blue sky.

I followed a set of wildcat tracks partially obscured by overnight snowfall. It seemed to know the best route through the woods. Once I’d gone far enough, I tossed a foam pad on the snow then sat against a tree, grooving on the pristine beauty of the wintry scene before me. Matika chewed on a stick once the snacks ran out. Always the writer, I jotted a few thoughts in a field journal. Once it was too cold to sit still, I got moving again.

Snowshoeing up into the hollow was tough going, but the way out seemed effortless. I cut my pace, stopping several times to enjoy the snow-covered forest. All the same, the car appeared before I was ready to quit the woods. So I resolved to get into the mountains again, as soon as possible. It’ll probably be spring or close to it by the time I do so.

 

 

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Feb 12 2018

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The Long February Sun

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Over ten hours of daylight now. With the sun shining throughout the day, it was really noticeable. No matter how big the snow piles are, they shrink fast before the long February sun. Soon the sap will be running, and not long after that will come the first signs of spring.

My dog Matika and I went for a walk late this afternoon. Even though I’d put in a full day’s work, there was still enough light left for us to head out. We followed the Rail Trail, groomed for snowmobiles, far enough away from the road to escape the sound of passing cars. Then the simple beauty of late winter took over: blue sky, leafless trees, pristine snow, and that blazing sun.

When I was younger, I didn’t much care for this time of year. That’s because I focused on the cold. But the clean, clear sky – so often on full display here in New England during the winter – has gradually won me over. And while I will always prefer the green world to the white one, this season no longer feels like something I must simply endure.

The long February sun. Over four decades ago I was deeply depressed, and it was this sun that reignited the spark of hope in me. Shortly after that, I was back with the living again, and have been ever since. The sun can work miracles.

Now back indoors, with the last bit of light gone, I go about my business with renewed strength. That’s because the sun still burns deep within me. I am alive and well in an elemental world, and that’s no small thing. I have seen the light.

 

 

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Jan 30 2018

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Pantheism Book Is Now in Print

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Three years after putting the first few words down on paper, A Reluctant Pantheism is now in print. It was officially published at Amazon two weeks ago, but the first shipment of books just arrived at my doorstep this afternoon.

This is a book I’ve wanted to write for decades – a full-length work of religious philosophy. Such things can’t be rushed, though. It has taken me the better part of a lifetime to sift through all the theories, beliefs and hard science regarding the nature of nature, and to conjure up some sensible concept of God as a result. My own spiritual quest, begun as a teenager yet continuing to this day, makes anything I say or write about the matter rather inconclusive. Still, I have dived headfirst into this subject, and it feels good to have done so.

A Reluctant Pantheism is not an easy read, even though my wife Judy says it’s more accessible than my other philosophical writings. Nor is it suitable for those of you who have your vision of the world all cut and dried. In this book I venture into that nebulous realm where natural science and religion meet – a realm where conscientious philosophers and theologians have been scratching their heads for thousands of years. And yes, there’s more of my own story in this book than I care to admit. In short, I doubt it’s like anything you’ve ever read before.

So if you’re in the mood for something different, check out this book. You can order it at my website: woodthrushbooks.com, or you can find it at Amazon.com. Facebook or email me to share your thoughts if you do get into it. I’d like to know how this book is received.

 

 

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