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Aug 17 2017

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Last Days of Summer

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The other day I noticed goldenrod in bloom along the roadside. I’ve been seeing it everywhere since, including my own back yard. Goldenrod. We all know what that means. Summer is on the wane.

Each morning I go to the window before eating breakfast, open the shades and announce to my wife that it’s another beautiful day. I prefer sunny days to overcast ones, of course, but this time of year they are all beautiful. Fresh produce, t-shirt weather, everything in bloom – how can you go wrong?

Autumn is also a wonderful time of year, especially here in Vermont. Still I am saddened by the prospect of summer coming to an end. There is still so much I want to do before the big chill comes.

The march of time. Days go by, weeks pass, seasons change. I want to slow it all down, but there seems to be no way to do that. Yesterday I filled a pint container with blackberries for the first time this year. Already some of the best bushes are past their prime.

One day is just as good as the next, I suppose, regardless of the season. Nonetheless, I will try to savor these last few days of summer, making the most of them. That means spending as much time outdoors as possible. To confound myself, I have resumed writing already – something that I usually don’t do until September. And what do I write about? Being outdoors. Go figure.

 

 

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Aug 05 2017

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A Philosophy Tempered by Wildness

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Two weeks after leaving the woods, I am still processing what I thought and experienced while sojourned briefly at Pillsbury Lake. Most of this process is subconscious, though occasionally I think back to a particular moment during that retreat when something significant took place, or some important insight arose.

Early into my fourth day alone, while I was leaning against the shelter wall and writing in my journal, a butterfly landed on my leg. I had been writing down some heavy-duty thoughts concerning God, man and nature. The butterfly came to render its opinion – as if what I was writing had better match up to the reality of wildness. That’s how it struck me at that time, anyhow. How well did I do? It’s still too early to tell.

Earlier this week, a phrase came to me in the middle of the night: philosophy tempered by wildness. That pretty much sums up what my recent Adirondack retreat was all about. There is an indoor, utterly civilized way of looking at the world and another way that makes more sense in the wild. During my retreat, I opted for the latter.

There’s a book somewhere in all this, I’m sure. The trick is to let things ferment a bit, then to start writing while the memories are still fresh. The urge to start writing comes to me during my day-to-day affairs. Suddenly I feel distracted, as if some powerful insight is about to wash over me. Then it passes. Yeah, I’ll be hard at work on this book soon.

This time around, my number one critic will be that butterfly. Whatever I write has to win its approval. I’ll rely heavily on my field journal, of course, because that is a record of my outdoor thoughts at the time. But it’s still going to be tricky. There is a tendency to make ones wild thoughts make more sense than they should. On this journey, reason can only take me so far.

 

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Jul 23 2017

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Adirondack Retreat

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After driving in out of downpours for 4 hours, then making my way up several miles of partially flooded dirt road, I parked my car at a trailhead and started hiking into the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. My dog Matika was right behind me, just as happy as I was to be slipping into the wild despite a light rain falling.

The rain stopped halfway to Pillsbury Lake but the trail was a stream by then and the forest was soaked. A rumbling in the distance. Hmm… Sounded like another storm approaching. We rolled into the shelter at Pillsbury Lake right before the next big downpour. Surprisingly enough, Matika and I had the place all to ourselves that night. So I strung a line inside the shelter and dried out my wet clothes and gear.

The next day was a different story: mist in the morning burning off to a warm, sunny day. Buggy, yes, but a nice day all the same. I looked around for a good place to camp but didn’t find one. So I spent a second night in the shelter. Again, no one came along.

The idea was to stay put instead of pounding trail, to hang out by a lake for 5-6 days, groove on the wild, and record my thoughts in a journal. That’s exactly what I did. On the third day, Matika and I grew a little restless so we went for a day hike to another lake in the area. That took a few hours. But for the most part we just sat. And we had Pillsbury Lake all to ourselves for a third night.

On day four, I was feeling pretty crunchy. Staying put had mellowed me right out. Ditto Matika. Chipmunks, sparrows, butterflies, and other critters started overrunning the camp. Neither one of us did much about it. Meanwhile, I just kept on scribbling in my journal.

At dusk when I went to put out my campfire and go to bed, I thought I had the place all to myself for a 4th night. But a pair of hikers came along an hour or so later. They were nice enough fellows. Still their sudden appearance broke the spell of my deep woods solitude. There would be more hikers on the way, no doubt, with the weekend fast approaching. So the next day Matika and I hiked out.

It’s hard to say what value the words I wrote in my journal have, or what exactly happened to me while I was out there, but I returned home incredibly relaxed, lighthearted and happy. My wife Judy found that amusing – so amusing that she waited a day before trying to have a serious conversation with me about anything. She saw the wild in my eyes. Hard to miss, I’m sure. Yeah, I went deep this time.

 

 

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Jul 15 2017

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Car Camping

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I drove up the winding Kelly Stand Road slowly, on my way to a favorite camping spot in the Green Mountain National Forest. I was tired after a long day of book hunting, and not crazy about setting up my tent in the dark, but really wanted a taste of the wild. In a few days I’d be slipping into deep woods for a week. The wild was all I could think about.

The drive was a lonely one. Didn’t pass another car or see another person. But a smile broke across my face when the familiar campsite finally came into view. I backed my car into the site then set up my tent. Twenty minutes later, I was comfy in my sleeping bag, making a journal entry by headlamp, and glad I hadn’t given in to the urge to stay in a motel. Two hours earlier I had been contemplating that while passing through a rainstorm.

The leaves rustling overhead lulled me to sleep. At first the ground felt hard, but my body eventually melted into it. I slept well, awakening eight hours later to grey light filtering through the screen door and the sound of robins singing. My eyes drank in the surrounding forest as I crawled from the tent.

I cleaned up a bit, drank some juice then broke camp. Day two on the road. The next book sale was two hours away and I had three. That meant time enough for a leisurely drive out of the mountains and breakfast in some diner along the way. It was going to be a good day.

I picked up a handful of birch bark that I found laying on the ground and squirreled it away in a plastic bag. I’d need it during next week’s backpacking trip into the Adirondacks. Really looking forward to that. But first things first: I had a couple more boxes to fill with books.

 

 

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Jul 05 2017

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Grandkids Climb Jay Peak

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We had to wait before setting foot on the trail. The rain was nonstop for days. And even when it did finally stop, the trail was all wet rock and mud with a stream running down it. No matter. We went up the mountain anyway.

I did my best to coax my grandkids into ignoring the mud and water, making sure they had good footing with each step. But that was a lost cause. They hopped around, trying to keep their shoes clean and dry, falling down in the process. We all have to learn that the hard way, I suppose.

“Are we halfway yet?” the kids kept asking, even though they all had energy to spare. As for me, well, I was huffing and puffing ten minutes out the gate, and reduced to a steady creep by the time they found a comfortable pace. The eldest boy Hunter was out front with orders to halt the group whenever they lost sight of me. That happened frequently.

They thought it was pretty cool when the broadleaf trees became conifers, and when the trail became steep and rocky. Reaching a ski path, I told them they could either take the easy route up that path or continue following the white blazes straight ahead. The blazes marked a steeper, even rockier ascent through stunted spruce. They charged up that section of trail without hesitation.

By the time we reached the summit, we were in the clouds. No view for all our hard work. But they thought hiking into the clouds was pretty cool, too. We stayed on the summit long enough to drink water and eat our energy bars. Then we ducked into the nearby building to warm up. That’s when we started missing Grandma. She could have taken the gondola up to meet us.

I think it was Maddie who noticed how dark the woods were when we left the open ski slope. Our descent after that was arduous, thanks to slippery mud and rock. All the same, everyone was glad to have done the hike when we finished. At 3,800 feet, Jay Peak was the biggest mountain any of them had ever climbed.

On the way down, there was some talk about climbing other big mountains in Vermont. But I think next year we’ll hike something with Grandma instead. It was a great hike, but she was definitely missed.

 

 

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Jun 18 2017

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Daybreak on the Stream

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After surprising three deer crossing the road, I parked my car then stepped into the woods. My dog Matika was right on my heels. The sun was just clearing the eastern horizon. I had crept out of bed a little after 4 a.m. and was now approaching a mountain stream at daybreak. A hermit thrush greeted me with its flute-like song.

I ignored the mosquitoes while tying a fly to my line. A cool breeze wafted down the brook as the first shafts of sunlight broke through the trees. The tumbling stream rushed along, unraveling my thoughts. Next thing I knew there was a brook trout tugging my line. I lifted my rod and brought it to the bank where I was crouching, much to Matika’s delight. She danced about in predatory play. The small fish slipped back into the drink faster than she could react.

I caught a few more fish and lost a few while slowly making my way up the stream. It hardly mattered. My casts were more out of habit than intent. I was enthralled by the deep green tunnel directly ahead – the dark hemlocks, vibrant moss and ferns, and slick gray rocks around which the stream flowed. Fishing was just the excuse that brought me here, what got me out of bed.

Upon reaching a deep pool at the base of a boulder, I gave up all pretense of fishing. I sat on the stream bank admiring the unspeakable beauty all around me and soaking in its wildness. Eventually, after killing a dozen or so mosquitoes taking turns at my forearms, I removed the fly, reeled in all my line, and hiked out.

Back on the road, I felt the full power of a sun only days away from the summer solstice. Not even mid-morning and already the air felt warm. It was going to be a hot day, but I’d already enjoyed a cool reprieve at the beginning of it.

 

 

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Jun 08 2017

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In the Green

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I’ve heard a lot of people complain about all the rain we’ve had lately, but I don’t relate. Rain makes everything grow, makes the forest lush, and the vegetation is a more vibrant green as a consequence. I like that vibrancy. So this afternoon I went out to simply enjoy it.

I didn’t have to go very far. Stepped right out my door, in fact, and slipped into the green. My dog Matika followed, happy to get out of the house.

With no real plan in mind, I just walked. I decided to circumnavigate the quarry once I was under the forest canopy. I’ve been meaning to do that since I moved here last year. There’s no apparent trail along the backside of the quarry, so I figured it would probably be a rough bushwhack. And it was. But I was fine with that.

I wasn’t disappointed. Plenty of lush vegetation all around me, and the sketch of a trail most of the way. But Matika wasn’t in the mood for bushwhacking. First chance she got, she popped out onto a nearby road, hoping that I would follow and take one of the more beaten paths back home. And that’s exactly what I did.

I often indulge the old girl these days, knowing that her hips don’t like the extra up-and-down work that bushwhacking entails. Whatever. I got my woods fix for the day. That’s all that really mattered.

 

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May 29 2017

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New Anthology in Print

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The World Engaged, the new Wood Thrush Books anthology of nature writing, is now available. I collected work for it for nearly two years, and spent the past three months putting it together. So I’m very pleased to finally have this book in print.

Unlike previous WTB anthologies, this one is a full-length book: 158 pages of nature-related poetry and prose. 23 contributors. Some of them have had their work showcased by WTB before: Howard Nelson, Benjamin Green, Michael Jewell, and Helen Ruggieri to name a few. But there are new voices in this anthology as well: Susan Cohen, Stuart Bartow, Vicki Graham and half a dozen more. And a piece by yours truly, of course.

This time the selections are as diverse as possible, from deeply personal accounts to philosophical rumination, from conventional writing to the experimental, and touching upon a wide variety of subjects. Everyone has a different way of engaging the natural world and I wanted this anthology to reflect that.

You can get this book at the Wood Thrush Books website. I just posted it. Or you can get it from Amazon.com. It’s available there print-on-demand. Either way, you’ll have it in about a week. Enjoy.

 

 

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May 24 2017

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Gone Fishin’

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Yesterday morning, while I was trying to get some work done, I got an email message from Vermont Fish and Wildlife: SLOW DOWN – GO FISHING. That sounded like a good idea. So I purchased a fishing license, put my dog Matika in the car, and drove to a favorite trout stream.

The brook was running fast and high because of rain the day before, but I didn’t care. Any excuse to head for the hills is a good one. I took my time running line through the ferrules of my fly rod and put on a dry fly. I was happy enough just listening to the stream and grooving on the wild beauty all around me.

The first hour was a lot of practice casting and stream walking. My old dog was having a hard time negotiating the boulders, steep banks and downed trees, so we did more walking through the woods than I would have liked and missed a few choice holes. But when I stumbled into a patch of foam flower in full bloom, that hardly mattered. The woods are magnificent this time of year.

When finally I approached a deep hole with a relatively slow current in it, I crawled into position and carefully dropped my fly on the water. Still no rise, despite the fact that mayflies were hatching. Then I heard the voice of my ol’ buddy Walt Franklin, who does a lot more fishing than I do. “Go deep,” I heard him say. Then I exchanged my dry fly for one of the Bead Head Hare’s Ear nymphs in my box that I had tied several years ago.

First cast, nuthin’. Second cast, bam! I had a big one on the line and was not ready for it. I danced along the gravelly edge of the stream trying to figure out how to land it. Matika saw the fish once I drew it closer, then started dancing with me. I landed it long enough to snap a photo. Then back into the water it went. Matika wanted to go after it but the big brown trout moved so fast that she didn’t stand a chance. I laughed.

That was it. I walked the stream another hour, trying all kinds of flies, but not one more rise. It was a warm, sunny afternoon on the stream all the same. I went home quite satisfied.

 

 

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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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