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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Jan 27 2017

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The Forest Makes Sense

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Coaxed by my canine companion, I head for the woods in the middle of the day to tramp around for an hour or so. I’m in dire need of it. I work too much, think too much, and pay too close attention to breaking news. The madness of civilization is closing in on me. I need a time out. And the forest always makes sense.

Snow crunches underfoot. A crow calls in the distance. The chilling air and woody silence draws me out of my head and into the here/now. I lay a set of tracks towards nowhere, nowhere in particular. And that’s exactly where I need to be.

The Righteous spill blood in the name of God. Others think torture is a better way to go. Intelligent people tout the wonders of modern medicine that no one can afford. Fools build nuclear weapons when they can’t even feed themselves. The cagy build island fortresses to claim the sea as their own. The naive watch glaciers melt and break out the suntan lotion. Billionaires scramble for ways to make more money. The desperate seek refuge in deadly drugs. The fearful put up walls to keep strangers out, unaware that they are building their own prisons. Everyone acts surprised when computers are hacked and valuable information is stolen. A few devise excursions to other planets, as if that will solve everything. Meanwhile, motorists race to their deaths while more sedentary folk sit before televisions believing everything they see. And people say I’m crazy for hiking alone in the woods.

Snow crunches underfoot. After laying tracks for a while, the heaviness I felt earlier in the day begins to lift. I find woodpecker holes in a dead tree and start considering possibilities that I hadn’t considered before – the endless possibilities of the wild. The forest makes sense. Nature makes sense. And my dog is happier sniffing around than I will ever be. That doesn’t seem right. I’m the sapient creature, aren’t I? Why can’t I be happy all the time? Why isn’t my kind happy all the time?

Returning home, I consider my options. Should I start my own holy war? Or should I ignore the world and seek solace elsewhere? I turn my computer back on instead. There’s work to be done.

 

 

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Jan 17 2017

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Divisiveness

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On the eve of a major shift of power in these dis-United States, I feel the urge to speak out for sanity even though I don’t know much about such things. My own grasp of reality is tenuous, and I struggle daily to maintain it. All the same, I see madness breaking out all around me – exceptional even by the standards of our time.

It is not just a matter of liberal versus conservative. That’s an old argument, as common as the sun rising. No, it goes much deeper than that. When liberals fight with liberals and conservatives fight with conservatives, you know there is big trouble afoot. As Westerners, we watch Arabs fighting with Arabs then shake our heads at the absurdity of their divisiveness, wondering why they don’t see it. Well, now we know. Now we are the same way.

On a bookshelf in my study sits a ceramic log cabin. It’s a recently acquired family heirloom that reminds me of a fantasy I’ve nurtured most of my life: to someday retreat to a cabin deep in the woods. No, not a Thoreauvian experiment in self-sufficiency, but instead an escape from what I call the madness of civilization. Is such an escape even possible in these modern times? How deep would I have to go to escape property taxes, liability insurance, and all the other trappings of civil society? Could it be anything short of an outlaw existence? Would I still be able to access the Internet?

Whether we like it or not, we are all connected now. The world in the 21st century is truly global. The nationalistic urges cropping up all over the place are only longings for the good ol’ days, when us-versus-them was easy, when our tanks met with their tanks on the battlefield and the winner took all. Hmm… Not so easy nowadays, is it? I know the Chinese are up to no good but I still buy their stuff at Walmart. How about you? Do you really believe that you can live your life these days in any way that isn’t globalized?

Cursed with a tendency to philosophize, I can’t help but see the flaws inherent in any worldview that I or anyone else could possibly devise. Like everyone else, I am only human. My reasoning powers are imperfect no matter how hard I try to make sense of things. That said, just imagine the difficulty I have in the voting booth, thrashing about in the quagmire of good and evil while selecting people to run the government. Oh, the righteous have it so easy by comparison. They know exactly who to pick, and who to shoot at when the war breaks out.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no peacenik. I know we can’t all just get along, and I know the difference between right and wrong. I know, for example, that rounding up the millions of people that you don’t like and putting them in gas chambers is a really bad idea. And when a True Believer goes down that dark road, there’s only one way to stop them from creating hell on earth. But the problems that humankind creates for itself cannot ultimately be resolved by armed conflict. That’s a fantasy even greater than my cabin in the woods.

One could argue that globalism is exactly what fuels our divisiveness. When there was plenty of space between the few bands of hominids roaming the earth thousands of years ago, there was a lot less fighting no doubt. With over 7 billion of us crowding the earth now, and technology connecting us, major conflicts are inevitable. We can’t just retreat to our own little corners any more and ignore everyone else. So we must find a way, somehow, to live together. And that begins with tolerance.

Being wild at heart, I still escape to the woods whenever I can, to breathe easy for a while, get a handle on myself, and find my place in the world. But these forays are temporary. I spend most of my days living among my own kind in the developed lowlands where conflicts abound, doing my best to be as civil as possible. And that, I believe, is what all men and women should do: be as civil to each other as possible. The alternative is so ugly that I don’t even want to consider it. That which divides us could easily destroy us all.

 

 

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Jan 08 2017

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A Good Winter Bushwhack

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A few days ago, I drove to a nearby state park for a short walk at dusk after a full day’s work. My dog Matika enjoyed it, but it wasn’t nearly enough for me. So the next day I did only as much work as necessary before stuffing a few essentials in an old rucksack and heading for the mountains. Time for a taste of wild country. Actually, it was long overdue.

The inch of fresh snow covering the icy woods road provided sufficient traction so the Microspikes stayed in my pack. A mile up the road I turned onto a trail hidden beneath a couple inches of crusty snow. I crunched my way down to the brook, which was still open surprisingly enough. Yeah, it has been a squirrelly winter so far: freeze and thaw then freeze again.

The trail petered out beyond a downed tree. Suddenly I was bushwhacking the familiar route to a favorite spot along the brook. There I once buried the ashes of my first German shepherd dog, Jessie. Matika romped through the woods like a pup despite her eleven years. I was happy to see it. Looks like she’ll be hiking with me a while longer.

Just above the campsite, recent storms had ravaged the banks of the brook, creating mudslides and thickets of downed trees. It was rough getting through there, but it felt good to be in the trackless woods again. I took cover from a chilling breeze coming down the mountain then ate a quick lunch with Matika. My wife Judy had given me an energy bar that’s good for both dogs and people, so Matika and I shared that after our respective meals. People food or dog food? – hard to say.

With temps hovering around 20 degrees, I didn’t linger at the lunch spot. I tagged the trace of an old skidder trail leaving the brook then slowly made my way back to the woods road. Matika negotiated the slippery slope with no difficulty. I dropped to all fours once to do the same.

Out came the Microspikes as I descended the woods road. That made the walk easy enough where I could lose myself in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. In the distance the mountain summits looked cold and forbidding. No matter. Here in a heavily forested hollow, I was having no trouble. In fact, I got back to my car a bit sooner than I would have liked.

A good winter bushwhack. Won’t wait so long before getting out again. There’s more to life than work, work, work.

 

 

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Dec 28 2016

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The Wild Book Is Now Available

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Cultivating the Wildness Within, a collection of 18 interlocking, deeply personal essays, is now in print!

It begins with the disorientation that I felt coming out of the Alaskan bush in ’92 then covers the next two decades as I worked through the disparities between what the wild teaches and how we live our lives in this highly complex world of ours. Wildness stirs within us all so I recount how others deal with this disparity as well – family, friends, and humankind in general. Yes, I wax philosophical at times, but these essays are as much from the heart as they are from the head.

Scott King at Red Dragonfly Press accepted CWW for publication last spring. We had planned on releasing it in the fall but a glitch at Amazon held things up. That’s why it’s coming out at such an awkward time. All the same, I think this is one of my better books. Check it out.

The book is available at Amazon, of course, but Scott and I believe that small is beautiful so we ask that you consider getting it from Small Press Distribution instead. CWW is also for sale at the Red Dragonfly Press website. It’ll be a while before it’s available anywhere else.

After reading this book, let me know what you think. I can always be reached by email: walt@woodthrushbooks.com.

 

 

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