Tag Archive 'nature'

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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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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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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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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May 19 2016

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Urban Wildness

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urban wildnessI took my dog Matika with me when I went book hunting in Burlington yesterday, thereby committing to a short hike at some point. At midday I stopped by a city park only to find it closed. Hmm… Went to another place along the Winooski River, parked my car and slipped into the woods. Matika dashed ahead.

I followed the trail as long as I could then drifted into the trackless woods. Matika followed. A short while later we dropped into a ravine as wild as it was beautiful despite discarded tires, a little trash, and the rusty remnant of an old car. I followed a dry creek bed leading nowhere, all the while listening to the sounds of the bustling city around me.

This is how I got my start as a woods wanderer many years ago, tramping through undeveloped pockets in urban settings, enjoying a taste of wildness close to home. The half-burnt pieces of wood in a circle of stones that I found assured me that kids today enjoy this wildness as I once did… as I still do.

The tramp didn’t last long. There wasn’t anywhere else to go once I had reached the river at one end of the ravine, and the power lines at the other. No matter. Matika got a chance to stretch her legs, and I got a taste of wildness during the middle of my workday. That would have to do for the time being.

 

 

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Apr 12 2016

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Gaining Perspective

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burning wordsToday was a perfect day for it: cool, damp and overcast, after a good rain. I coughed a little as I slipped into the woods, promising myself that I wouldn’t linger. I’ve only been back on my feet for a few days after a nasty bout of the flu. Get this task done then head home.

I carried with me a copy of my most recently published book, along with a pack of matches. Once I was deep enough in the woods, I knelt down and pulled back a patch of forest duff. Then I made a teepee out of pages that I tore from the book. It only took one match to set them aflame. I fed the rest of the book into the fire until it was gone. The pages burned fast.

Once the flame had died away, all that remained of my most recent literary triumph was a pile of ash. Some of the words were still visible. I mixed the ash into the soil – first with a stick, then with my hands – until nothing remained but damp earth. Then I replaced the patch of forest duff and hiked out.

Anthropologists and others who study the evolution of humankind tell us that language is a vital part of what makes us human. Our words are more powerful than our tools, or so they say. With them we have created culture and everything that separates us from the animals. As a writer, I am acutely aware of this. I take great pride in my words, in the printed ones that I launch into the world. So it is important, I think, to burn those words every once in a while, and work them into the soil.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Someday humankind and all of its words will be gone. Yet Nature will persist.

 

 

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Mar 31 2016

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Nature’s Spoilers

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virusMy big plans to take advantage of spring’s early arrival were confounded by the smallest biological entity. I came down with the flu a week ago. Yessir, big old brainy me, Homo sapiens, dropped by a mere virus – something that doesn’t have a single living cell to call its own.

Flu season is peaking late in Vermont, or so I’ve been told. I haven’t really been paying attention. You see, I got a flu shot last fall so I had nothing to worry about. Anyway, I started sneezing last Thursday – what I thought was book dust – and landed on my back a couple days later. I ended up in the doctor’s office yesterday, getting meds to fight a secondary infection.

Why do viruses exist? What purpose do they serve in the grand scheme of things that we call Nature? They’re just puny protein packets hellbent on replicating at someone else’s expense – the punks of the universe. From my higher-life-form worldview, they’re no damned good. But there are strains of bacteria, like the ones throwing a party in my lungs right now, that see things differently. My loss is their gain.

The fact that I’m even having these thoughts is a sure sign that I’m feeling better. Hooray for antibodies – the proteins wearing white hats! And antibiotics, too! Soon I’ll be on my feet again and taking a long hike somewhere. As far as my dog Matika is concerned, that day can’t come soon enough. Staying indoors all day is not her idea of fun.

 

 

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Feb 24 2016

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The Swirl of Natural Order

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gastropod2Well, I’m back to the old scribble, scribble, revising the pantheism manuscript after nearly a year away from it. Feels good to be writing again. I must admit, though, that this is a tough subject – as challenging as cosmology and closely related to that. If I were smart, I’d stick to writing hiking narratives. But no, I have to get philosophical every once in a while. What can I say in my defense? When it comes to writing, I follow my passion.

Some of you might recall that I went to Fisk Quarry a year and a half ago to check out the fossils there. It’s amazing that we can read in stone the history of this planet going back hundreds of millions of years. It’s also amazing that the swirl of a gastropod’s shell is so much like the swirl of hurricanes and galaxies. Those swirls suggest natural order reaching across time and space. “All is not chaos,” they seem to say, which strikes me as a deeply religious notion – one that I embrace wholeheartedly. Hence the book now in progress.

A tough subject, indeed. Natural order suggests that nature exists beyond our conception of it. Nature with a capital “N” that is, which is nothing less than God-talk. When it comes to rational discourse, no subject is tougher than that.

Incredibly, I am writing natural theology. It’s hard to say what exactly has brought me to this point. I came away from the Alaskan wilderness with pantheistic inclinations, I suppose. Before that I could have passed for an existentialist.

It’ll be another year before I finish this book, and another year after that before it’s published. But I thought it important for those of you who have been following my wanderings and wonderings to know what I’m up to these days. Yeah, I’m in the deep end of the pool now. Good thing I know how to swim.

 

 

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Jan 10 2016

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New WTB Website

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Wood-ThrushThe renovated Wood Thrush Books website, featuring used books on a variety of nature-related subjects, is now up and running!

Many of you have been hearing about this undertaking for months. With Judy’s help, I’ve finally turned a quasi-professional site into a bona fide online bookstore.

To be honest, Judy did all the heavy lifting. She reconfigured the site so that browsing it is easy and making a purchase is even easier. All I did was upload a bunch of cover photos and book blurbs, which has been more time consuming than difficult.

There are over 150 books at the site now, between used books and those published by WTB, and more on the way. Shipping is included, making these books quite affordable. The inventory system lets you know when a book is out-of-stock, and a third party securely handles credit cards. We can even do returns.

I am quite pleased to provide a place where readers can browse good books about the natural world, from classic and contemporary nature writing, to ecology, natural history, wilderness travel, wildlife, and even astronomy. So check it out: WoodThrushBooks.com

 

 

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Dec 07 2015

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Reflections on Climate Change

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images-4I stepped outdoors a few minutes ago to clear my head after working all morning. I marveled at the unseasonable weather. Temps are well above freezing today, and there’s no snow in my back yard. Here in northern New England, this kind of warmth in December is rare indeed.

Weather fluctuates, of course, so what changes from one year to the next is no big deal. But when long term patterns develop, it’s time to pay attention.

Scientists tell us that 40% of the ice covering the Arctic Sea has melted away since the 1970s. Northern nations are scrambling to lay claim to oil deposits there, which are fast becoming accessible. What’s that tell you?

Skeptics insist that we don’t know enough about climate science to say for certain that the planet is warming up due to human activity. That may be true. But certainty in science takes an awful long time to establish.

Prophets of doom say we’d better do something before it’s too late. Two degrees Celsius is the magic number. Once the overall temperature of the planet rises that much, all hell will break loose. We are now halfway there.

Some people see the ongoing climate change as the end of nature as we know it. The key phrase here is “as we know it.” Nature will persist long after humankind is gone, even if we take millions of other species with us into extinction. The age and scale of the cosmos assures us of that.

So the real question is this: What happens to us in the interim, as the climate changes? More importantly, should I as an individual give a damn about anyone else living or not yet born?

Representatives from most of the nations in the world are currently meeting in Paris to draft a universal and binding agreement on climate change. Is that even possible?

What can we do? More to the point: What are we willing to do? Is it fair for rich nations to dictate policy to populous industrializing nations just now starting to obtain the kind of material well being that Westerners have enjoyed for well over a century?

These matters are too much for a woods wanderer like myself to wrap my brain around. I know my own nature, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I know human nature. And all rhetoric aside, that’s what our talk of addressing climate change is really about. What we can do will be determined by what we are.

 

 

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