Tag Archive 'nature'

May 09 2019

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The Solace of Waterfalls

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I snuck out of the rustic room at daybreak, refusing the flashlight that Judy sleepily offered. Not necessary. There was ample twilight for me to get around.

The Middle Falls roared nearby. I followed the well-groomed path though its spray on my way to the Upper Falls. A solitary robin called out – its song barely audible above the cascade. A thin drizzle fell from the dark, blue-gray sky.

My mother died while Judy and I were on our way back to Ohio. After a slow deterioration spanning several years, her actual death seemed to come fast. She was 89 years old but had rebounded so many times that the whole family began to think she would live forever. Seeing her remains at the funeral home convinced us otherwise.

Judy and I left four days after arriving in Ohio, then drove to Letchworth State Park in western New York to seek solace in nature. The Glen Iris Inn was full but Judy was able to secure us a room in an outbuilding called Pinewood Lodge. Following dinner at the inn, we enjoyed Middle Falls all lit up after dusk before returning to our room. I had a fitful night all the same.

No one else stirred in early morning as I meandered to Upper Falls. Soon I caught a glimpse of white water tumbling beneath a railroad bridge. I knelt down before the waterfall, accepting its spray along with the drizzle. I thought about how much my mother would have loved it, then cried. No more scenic views for her. She was gone. Yet the water still falls…

After breakfast, Judy and I checked out of the Inn. We took our time driving through Letchworth State Park, admiring the Genesee River snaking through a deep canyon on its way to more gentle terrain. We made our way home via the Finger Lakes, getting on with our lives. But there’s a hole in me now that can’t be filled. So it goes.

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Jan 18 2019

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Nature Writing

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It’s a strange thing indeed to be a nature writer. My subject is the great outdoors – that magnificent wildness – but I do most of my work indoors while staring at a computer screen. Hard to imagine a more contrary vocation. There are times, especially in the dead of winter, when I question my motives, my own sincerity regarding this. Is writing about nature really what I’m all about? Then comes the great thaw at the end of winter and the reawakening of the natural world in early spring and there’s no doubt in my mind where my heart lies.

It’s my obsession, no doubt. While I read all kinds of books, few subjects captivate me the way a good piece of nature writing does. I’m inspired more by Emerson and Thoreau than by eminent philosophers like Kant, Hegel or Rousseau. The essays and narratives of John Burroughs, Farley Mowat, Richard Nelson, Annie Dillard and the like edify me more than the best fiction writers ever could. I take Copernicus, Darwin and Einstein more seriously than the greatest sage, and the poets who celebrate them are my prophets. There are the innumerable worlds that we can imagine, then there is nature – the world as it really is. I have an insatiable appetite for the latter.

Whenever I am not tramping through the wild lands of the northeast, I work with books. As a bookseller, I sell all kinds of books, but I make only nature-related titles available at my website, woodthrushbooks.com. There I sell every kind of nature writing imaginable, including what I’ve written myself, or what some of my friends and favorite writers have written. Through my small press, Wood Thrush Books, I publish the same. Every once in a while I put together an anthology of contemporary nature writing, if only to bring to light some of the lesser-known writers in the field. And I love doing all of it – bookselling, publishing, editing, and writing about nature. I’m lucky that way, I guess.

Yeah, it’s a strange thing to be a nature writer – to write about the natural world as if it really mattered. There is also the human world, of course, but what I find interesting about that is human nature. And what I find most interesting of all is how we humans interact with the natural world. Is there anything that better illustrates what we are all about? I think not.

 

 

 

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Nov 27 2018

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Snow-laden Trees

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As the early morning light illuminated our back yard, Judy and I enjoyed the white beauty before us – snow gently falling from the sky, adding to what remained on the ground from last week’s storm, and clinging to the branches of trees. No doubt four months from now, snow will lose all its charm. But now, at the undeniable beginning of winter, it pleases the eye.

Opening the door, I marveled at the stark contrast between the naked, dark gray branches and the snow gathering upon them. There is something about snow-laden trees that borders upon the mystical. Or perhaps they just bring out the romantic in me. I looked up to see the treetops kissing the formless sky, sensing the sublime there, and knowing full well that I do not possess the skills to capture such things with either camera or pen. Some aspects of nature cannot be transmitted. They can only be encountered.

Having already done a couple hours of literary work before breakfast, I heard the computer keyboard calling my name from the study upstairs. It was time to stop admiring Mother Nature’s handiwork and resume the task awaiting me. But as soon as that was finished, I stepped outside with a shovel in hand to push around the heavy, wet stuff. By then the tree boughs were bent over from the burden they carried. The power went out then quickly came back on again, bringing to mind the image of a fallen tree branch somewhere down the line. Sublime, indeed. Even in her quietest moments, Mother Nature still flexes her muscles.

 

 

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Jul 19 2018

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New Adirondack Book in Print

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Five years after the release of The Allure of Deep Woods, I now have a second Adirondack book in print: The Great Wild Silence.  It consists of a dozen short narratives and essays about backpacking in the Adirondacks, along with one rather long narrative about my 5-day sojourn in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness last year.

The Great Wild Silence is the juxtaposition of movement and staying put, of hiking and abstract thought. The main narrative in this collection, “Deep Forest Ruminations,” is a series of meditations on nature and our place in it, braided with observations and routine activities while camped alone at a backcountry lake – just me and my dog Matika, I should say. That’s the second half of the book. The first half sets the stage, recounting various excursions in the Adirondacks over the past 25 years, both alone and with others. Some of the latter pieces first appeared in the ADK publication Adirondac and other periodicals but haven’t been seen since. I’ve extracted others from previous collections of mine. It’s a curious mix to be sure.

If you’re as enamored with the Adirondacks as I am, then you’ll probably enjoy this book. You can order it at my website: woodthrushbooks.com, or you can find it at Amazon.com. Be forewarned, though: there’s a lot of philosophical speculation in this book. It isn’t just about walking in the woods.

 

 

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Jun 18 2018

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What Makes Us Human?

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For the past year and a half, I have been pondering human nature and its relationship to wildness. I have read dozens of books on the subject, and have approached the matter from various angles: philosophical, anthropological, biological, historical and naturalistic. The more I look into the matter, though, the more befuddled I become, often getting bogged down in the morass of morality where the vast majority of people plant their flags then forget about the matter. It has been a daunting undertaking to say the least.

Wildness, I am certain, is the key to understanding who/what we are, for we are creatures as natural as any other. But there’s a fundamental problem here, and that is the rise of civilization a little over 5,000 years ago. What happened to us then?

To some people being civilized is what makes us fully human. That has been a convenient excuse, anyhow, for the subjugation of more primitive peoples through the millennia – those with less sophisticated means of conducting war that is to say. But I don’t abide by that prejudice. In fact, I suspect that more primitive peoples, living closer to the earth, are much more in touch with their humanity than those of us living indoor, urban lives, staring at our electronic devices, largely removed from nature.

It is now widely accepted in scientific circles that anatomically modern humans have been around over 100,000 years. That is, people who look pretty much like humans living today. About 50,000 years ago, our species underwent a great cultural transformation that resulted in behaviorally modern humans. That is, people who think, behave and interact with each other much the same way we do. Up until 10,000 years ago, we were all hunter/gatherers with an intimate understanding of the flora and fauna around us. In that regard, our being agriculturalists and urbanites – the two pillars of civilization – is a relatively new development with little bearing upon our basic humanity, if any at all.

I don’t believe for a second that pre-civilized life was some kind of Eden where human beings lived in peace with each other, always prosperous, healthy and happy, and in complete harmony with nature. The human bone and skull fragments our archeologists have dug up pretty much rule out all that. But there is something about those living closer to the earth that undercuts the arrogant and grossly misleading presumptions that we highly civilized folk have about ourselves and the world.

Soon I will try to write about this subject, if I can muster the humility, honesty and courage to do so. But I don’t think the resulting book will be very popular, even by the modest standards of my somewhat dubious literary career. Generally speaking, those of us firmly ensconced in today’s complex, industrialized and digital world do not respect our distant ancestors, or the remnant bands of hunter/gatherers who still live as they did. Our collective arrogance in that regard is profound. We civilized folk think we have it all going on.

 

 

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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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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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Nov 26 2017

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Woods, Words, Worldviews

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Every once in a while I stop and take a long, hard look at my life. I consider myself perfectly normal, but my wife likes to remind me that I operate way out of mainstream. She’s right, of course. I fill my days with tramps through the woods, writing, publishing and selling books, and philosophical speculation – very little of which is good for the economy.

Lately my mind has been firing on all cylinders. I’ve written a few new essays, put the finishing touches on my pantheism book, and edited a manuscript of Walt Franklin’s that I’ll publish next spring. In addition to this, I’ve been reading lots of books and papers on human nature while working out the intricacies of wildness and being human. All this literary work keeps me busy, to say the least.

What’s it all for? I look at the long row of books my bookshelf that I’ve written and/or published and wonder who cares about my thoughts beyond a small group of faithful readers. Who will care a hundred years from now? More to the point, does the world really need another worldview? Aren’t there enough of those already?

Funny how I break into a fit of self-doubt every time I put on my philosopher’s hat. But response to my work during the past 25 years has made it clear to me that philosophy – my philosophy in particular – doesn’t sell. What the world wants from me are hiking narratives, not rumination. So I drop my pen and go for a hike long enough to get out of my head, to see what the wild has to say about all this. And that’s how it happens. That’s how I become a philosopher of wildness. All nature wants me to forget about economics and focus on what’s real.

As a self-proclaimed philosopher, I have no credentials. I wander, I wonder, I write. That is all. The forest is my university and its inhabitants are my teachers. I dismiss everything I find in books or on the Internet that refutes the wild. I embrace Nature with a capital “N,” and seriously question whether anything exists beyond it. In addition to this, I live my funky life despite what’s good for the economy. And that, I suppose, is what makes me a heretic.

 

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Sep 08 2017

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Forces of Nature

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Well, it’s that time of year again. Hurricanes are brewing in the Atlantic and making their way towards the Americas. One recently devastated Texas. Another is wreaking havoc in the Caribbean and headed for Florida. More are on the way. Six years ago Hurricane Irene reached as far north as Vermont and did a lot of damage here, blowing out streams and rivers with ridiculous amounts of rainfall. Seems like there are more of great storms now, and they’re bigger and more powerful than ever before. But our climatological records only go back 150 year so it’s hard to say.

There are huge wildfires out West. Mexico was just hit by a big earthquake. Iceland is expecting one soon. Here in the North Country, we get our share of nature’s wrath in the form of winter blizzards. Tornados are common in the Midwest where I grew up. Nature flexes its muscles everywhere.

I was living in Oregon when the volcano Mount St. Helens blew. I heard it that day, even though I was hiking in the woods 200 miles away. The next day everything was covered with a blanket of light grey ash. In the 1800s the much bigger volcano Krakatoa erupted in Indonesia, creating a tsunami far worse than the one that ravaged that part of the world a few years ago. The planet is a dynamic system. Not nearly as intense as it was 4 billion years ago, but active all the same.

Some of the big natural events happening today are the same ones we’ve been dealing with for thousands of years. Others have more teeth. We all know why. It’s getting harder and harder to deny climate change, even though some folks believe they have a vested interest in keeping their heads in the sand. Then again, Homo sapiens isn’t quite as sapient as advertised. Not collectively, anyhow. Even as individuals, some of us do some really stupid things. I can’t help but wonder why anyone would buy oceanfront property in this day and age. As arctic ice sheets melt, sea level rise, making storm surge much more devastating. Can our engineers build any kind of barrier that can adequately deal with what lies ahead?

A hurricane is just a swirl of wind, but it’s big enough to be seen from the moon. And in the near future, they’re likely to get bigger. I’d take that bet, anyhow, if I could find anyone willing to bet otherwise.

Maybe someday we’ll get it – we’ll finally figure out that despite our cerebral prowess and very busy hands, we aren’t in the driver’s seat. The mind-blowing, dynamic system that we call Nature was here long before we came along, and will be here long after we’re gone. Yeah, maybe someday we’ll finally find our place in that system. But I’m not holding my breath. Human nature hasn’t changed noticeably during my lifetime.

 

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Aug 27 2017

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The Promise of Another Day

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Morning sun breaks through the trees – the promise of another day. Forget the madness of civilization on full display throughout the media, and focus instead upon here and now. A calm, clear, azure sky. And you are alive. Cherish it. Your days will not go on forever. So whatever your troubles, however distressing the human condition may seem, there is this day. And you are alive.

It’s hard to believe that Nature has no agenda, that all this living and dying all around us isn’t to some good purpose. The sun burns brightly, suggesting divinity. Or am I just imagining it? Each and every one of us walks the fine line between reality and illusion. Only the truly mad amongst us think that they are completely sane.

The sun, moon and stars move across the sky, marking time. Together they hint at something eternal – something that we call the universe. But that’s of no consequence to us really. Our days are numbered. From the first hominid to the last there are only so many days. So we should make good use of them. What then should we do? More to the point, what should I do today?

The promise of another day. Each and every day is fraught with possibility. Perhaps I will do today what I couldn’t do yesterday. Perhaps the passage of time is all that’s needed to beat the long odds and accomplish something truly remarkable. Perhaps today I will truly understand the world and my place in it. Stranger things have happened, haven’t they?

 

 

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