Tag Archive 'reflection'

Oct 28 2015

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A Reflective Walk

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InBkRes LateOctIt’s late in the season now and most of the leaves are on the ground. Brilliant color remains in a few scattered trees but we know it won’t last. November is right around the corner, and here in the North Country that means snow.

I traipse around Indian Brook Reservoir lost in thought. My dog Matika, always in the moment, smiles broadly between her scent investigations. But I am still in work mode from earlier today, wondering what lies in the days ahead, and recollecting all the fun I’ve had since the last time I walked here. Mostly I reflect upon the recent past – upon the pleasant and joyful months of summer when everything was green and the temps are warm. Now the surrounding landscape is golden, as if it has suddenly aged, and there’s a distinct chill in the air.

I too have aged. Pushing 60, I’m thankful for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me – for all my good fortune through the years. Yet I am weary in a way that a good night’s sleep can’t fix. Is this what it feels like to be growing old? Even though I enjoy life more now than ever, I’ve lost most of my youthful enthusiasm for both work and play.

Yet the world is just as beautiful as it has ever been, and there’s something in the crisp air that makes me glad I’m alive. It’s a paradox to be sure – a riddle I know I can’t solve. So I cut my pace and try to be as much in the moment as my dog. That’s challenging enough.

 

 

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Jun 26 2015

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A Little Time in Wildness

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CampMedI’m going gangbusters on the bookselling business these days, but earlier this week I put it aside long enough to spend a little time in the Broadleaf Wilderness. My dog Matika accompanied me, of course.

I hiked to a favorite spot along the headwaters of the New Haven River and set up camp. After casting my fly onto the roily waters of that stream, and a simple dinner of ramen noodles and summer sausage, I settled into a comfy spot in camp. There I pondered matters while drinking tea and feeding sticks into a small campfire.

Every once in a while, I jotted down something in my field journal. But mostly I just took in the sights, smells and sounds of the forest, and appreciated the great good fortune of being alive and well in such a beautiful green world.

It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of modern living. Happens to me all the time. But every once in a while, I head for the hills to reflect. Such outings rarely disappoint, and on occasion I come away from them with a little insight into the human condition. If nothing else, it clears my head.

I threw a few more sticks on the fire and talked to the mountain stream tumbling incessantly towards the lowlands. In the face of such fluid eternity, nothing seems as important as simply being in the moment. I pondered that for a while.

Matika lounged nearby, chewing on a stick. The sun slipped into the trees and twilight soon followed. A thrush called out. I threw a few smaller sticks on the fire until all that remained was a pile of glowing orange embers. Then I went to bed, feeling more at home in the wild than anywhere else. Yes indeed, safe and secure in wildness.

 

 

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Sep 30 2014

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Gaining Perspective

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PrestonBrookSeptAt long last, Judy and I went for an overnighter. We had planned on doing so this summer, and had tried again Labor Day, but circumstances kept preventing it. No matter. With unseasonably warm temps holding, we cancelled appointments, shouldered our packs and slipped into the woods together.

We have a favorite spot next to a mountain brook where we like to camp. Although there’s nothing special about it, we’ve infused the place with fond memories through the years. As a consequence it has become our number one destination whenever we feel the need to get away.

A hard September frost brought out autumnal color earlier than usual. The forest canopy was a beautiful mix of green and gold leaves. The stream, though running low, broke over and around rocks as it made its way downhill. The sound of it unraveled our nerves. We sat back and let rushing water work its magic.

As the forest filled with evening shadows, Judy and I conjured up a small campfire. We kept it going well past dinner – flickering flames dancing in the darkness. With each stick thrown on the fire we grew more reflective, more philosophical, slowly gaining perspective on the world beyond the forest. Campfire gazing is like that sometimes. While meaning with a capital “M” was not forthcoming, we went to bed with a better bead on things. And the incessant rush of the nearby stream washed away all worry.

The next day we sat all morning and part of the afternoon, tending the fire and listening to the brook. Eventually we broke camp and hiked out. Then we returned home refreshed, though we’d be hard pressed to explain why.  Every woods retreat is like that.  Simply reconnecting with the wild seems to do the trick.

 

 

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Sep 13 2012

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Early Morning Bushwhack

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Too restless to sit down and focus on any literary work this morning, I went to French Hill with my dog Matika. I felt guilty about not working as I slipped into the woods, which is a little odd when you think about it. How else is an outdoor/nature writer supposed to gather his or her material?

A few minutes into the woods I was fine, though. The forest doesn’t give a damn about creative output. And when I’m wandering through it, neither do I.

After thrashing through a tangle of brambles covering what used to be a logging road, Matika and I broke into the relatively open forest. A deer path took us to a familiar gap in the old stone wall. From there it was an easy walk along the semblance of a trail, so I started daydreaming.

Soon I found a place to sit down and groove on the woody surroundings. The sound of leaves rustling in the gentle breeze cleared my mind of all thought. Then I was hypnotized by early morning light breaking through the green canopy. The shadows of trees danced across the forest floor. Time passed.

When finally I snapped out of my reverie, I got up and hiked out at a good clip, completing an unintentional circumnavigation of a largely unseen beaver pond. I picked up a turkey feather along the way and held it as if it were a quill pen. Then my brain kicked into gear and I started working.

The boundary between grooving on the wild and writing about it is vague indeed. Sometimes I slip back and forth over that frontier as if there’s no real difference between mind and matter. Sometimes I wonder if there is.

 

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Apr 02 2012

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Reservoir Reflections

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It’s a cool, overcast day in early spring. Even though Indian Brook Reservoir is only a few miles from the hubbub of suburban Burlington, Matika and I have the place all to our selves. The ice pellets occasionally spitting from the sky have kept everyone away – that and fact that it’s early afternoon on a weekday.

I have the day off from work so I thought I’d run a few errands in town then come out here to decompress. My dog Matika is happy to be in the woods for any reason. We hike to the far side of the reservoir then bushwhack a couple hundred yards off trail to a favorite rocky point where I like to sit and think. It’s a good day to do so.

We pass an old beaver lodge right before reaching the point. Plenty of new cuttings nearby. I wonder how long the caretakers of this reservoir will allow the beavers to proliferate before taking action. The longer the better as far as I’m concerned.  I like beavers. They make good company in the woods. Matika jumps on top of the lodge and sniffs around a bit.  Hers is an entirely different perspective, of course.

On the point, I sit on a rock and gaze across still waters reflecting the trees surrounding it. I come to this exact spot every spring to reflect upon events of the past year and quietly celebrate the end of another Vermont winter. A crow caws once in the distance then falls silent. Silence and stillness. Suddenly all my concerns seem trivial in the cool, gray light – all concerns but one that is. I’m another year older than I was the last time I sat here. Time marches on relentlessly.

I get up and walk around a bit. I spot a dead crayfish belly-up in shallow water. The shoots of a few wildflowers have already broken through the forest duff. Birth and death are common themes in the wild. They are clearly apparent everywhere one looks. I am both awed and horrified by it. The world is in a constant state of flux and this all-important “I” of mine is but an aggregate of dust quickly gathered then blown away. Fecundity and flux. Nothing withstands it.

I finish my hike without further reflection. I have things to do. If I dwell much longer upon The Big Picture, I’ll get nothing else done today. Perhaps it’s best to simply assume that things will go on forever just the way they are. That way we can go about our business as if any of it really matters.

 

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Aug 26 2011

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Geologic

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Some aspects of wild nature are more mesmerizing than others.  I can walk a trail all day long without seeing anything more than “the green tunnel,” but a stream walk usually produces at least one geologic formation that gives pause. The most dramatic is a great fist of rock hanging over a favorite stream in northern Vermont – one that never fails to make me stop and think.  It appears at the end of a mile-long section of water that I often ply for trout.

More than once I have hiked to the overhang just to sit at its feet and question the ways of the world, much like a pilgrim seeking out a guru.  It never fails to impress.  Sometimes I ponder its incongruity, marveling at the fact that such a small stream could carve out a formidable wall of rock. Other times I wonder how many years will pass before the overhang collapses.  Either way, past or future, the rock’s story dwarfs my own.

This unusual rock formation is not indicated on any maps that I know about.  Surely others have seen the overhang but I’ve never seen anyone else near it.  Nor has anyone I’ve talked to ever mentioned it to me.  Does it exist outside of my imagination?  The moment one asks that question, one has reached a sacred place.  So I often go to the overhang to exorcise my personal demons.  It’s a good place for that.

Geo-logic.  The natural world makes sense in a way that mocks the human capacity to reason. Certain rock formations are especially good at this.  We are good at making tools, designing systems, building grand structures, and manipulating our environment.  But we often miss the obvious.  We fail to see the big picture, or simply ignore it.  We act as if a five-year plan is really thinking ahead, and relegate everything that happened fifty years ago to the history books.  But certain rock formations have been works-in-progress for millions of years.  More to the point, nothing about the natural world is static on a geological time scale.  Given enough days and nights, everything changes . . . and changes profoundly.

Newspapers are chock full of stories of little or no importance, yet my overhang tells a tale that everyone should take to heart.  I take it to heart, anyhow.  And when I walk away from it, all my troubles diminish.  It is good to think beyond the human scale of things every once in a while.  It’s instructive.

 

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Jul 05 2011

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Walking Out

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There is a woods road cutting through one of my frequent haunts.  Nestled deep in the Green Mountains, it is one of many such roads I have walked over the years – usually on the way out.

Unlike most foot trails, woods roads are gently graded and free of obstacles.  That makes them easy to follow.  That makes it easy to ruminate while walking them.

This particular woods road is one of my favorites because it is only one lane wide with virtually no shoulders.  With the exception of one summer home and a few camps at the very end of it, there is no development along this road.  That makes walking it almost as pleasant as being in the trackless woods. Sometimes even more so because here I can drift along, lost in my thoughts.

This road is rarely traveled.  I have encountered people on it but more often moose, deer and other wildlife.  I usually use this road to get out of the woods after a good day of hiking or fishing, so I’m in a good frame of mind while walking it.  A very good frame of mind.  In fact, I’m rarely happier anywhere else.

I have walked this road with others on occasion, but it’s a solitary road for the most part.  Just me, my dog and my thoughts.  I have walked this road for so many years that it feels more like home to me than wherever it is that I end up.  The road itself is my home.  From here I can go everywhere and nowhere.

I can feel myself aging as I walk this road.  I was in my twenties when I first walked it, and can easily imagine myself walking it in my seventies.  Nearby is a place where I’d like my ashes scattered someday.  This is one of the first roads I walked when I came to Vermont.  Maybe it will be the last.

What do I think about while walking this road?  Everything and nothing.  But always my thoughts end the same way: I’ve got to be at such-and-such a place at such-and-such a time, and my car is just around the corner.  Too bad for that.  Because, if I had my way, I would walk this road forever.

 

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Dec 30 2010

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Life Goes On

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It is customary, I suppose, to reflect upon the past while anticipating the future this time of year.  After all, one calendar year is ending and another is about to begin.  But this time around, circumstances have made that process a little more poignant for me.

Scout Thibault, my next-door neighbor and friend, died three days ago.  87 years is a full life, certainly, but that doesn’t make his passing away any easier to accept.  It happened so fast.  He and I were in the driveway silently shoveling snow together just last week, as we have every winter for the past ten years.  Now, all of a sudden, I do the task alone.

While cleaning the clutter out of my office the other day, I sorted through several year’s worth of letters.  Some were literary; others were personal.  As I have grown older, the boundary between the two has blurred.  Truth is, there are no such boundaries.  Not really.  We all march through life together, and it matters little whether our interactions with each other are professional or otherwise.  We carry the marks left on us by others.  And vice versa.

Living in such close proximity – with a shared driveway no less – I made an effort to be as civil as possible to my neighbor Scout.  That civility slowly transformed into friendship despite the many differences between us.  Suddenly I found myself shedding a tear for someone I had once considered an annoyance.  These things happen.  For better or worse, we all leave our marks on each other.

Each year Judy and I gather together all our grandchildren for a three-day summer camp – no parents allowed.  For Christmas we gave both families a small photo album of the last get-together.  While Matt’s family was going through it, our youngest grandchild Tommy exclaimed: “Me not there!”  That’s because he was too young last summer.  But that will change this year.  Tommy’s day in the sun is approaching fast.

Hard to say which impresses me more:  the many people I’ve known and things I’ve done in the past, or the prospects that still lie ahead.  As I grow older, it becomes increasingly more difficult to separate accomplishments from plans, the personal from the merely civil, fond memories from sad ones, the future from the past.  Yet one thing remains crystal clear: the planet spins about its axis and new generations come along no matter what happens, no matter who passes away.  This is a prospect I find both deeply disturbing and wonderfully consoling.  Life goes on.

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Nov 12 2010

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A Watery Perspective

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Every once in a while, I turn away from the woods and head the opposite direction, making for Lake Champlain.  It’s only a ten-minute drive away from my house, remarkably enough.  Sometimes what I need is the long view to clear my head – a watery perspective – not the comfort of trees.  In that regard, the lake never disappoints.

Kill Kare State Park is a day use area only a quarter mile square, located on the very tip of Hathaway Point.  I frequent it during the colder months, when the park is officially closed, when there’s no one around to tell me that my dog isn’t allowed.  There is plenty of open space to throw a ball for my ball-crazy companion, Matika, and a bench where I can sit and gaze across the lake when it’s time to take a break.

The park itself is manicured and very tame, but the lake has an elemental wildness to it that is clearly apparent whenever a bone-chilling wind blows out of the north.  The sky is usually busy with clouds, water breaks relentlessly against the rocks, and islands lead my eyes towards the far shore – away from the here/now and towards grand undertakings both past and future.

As I sit on the lake’s edge, I remember Adirondack hikes, a trip to the watery wilds of southeast Alaska, a Maine kayak adventure, and countless other excursions.  I think about how much my life has changed since I first set eyes on this lake, and how different things will be a decade or two from now.  Different yet fundamentally the same – just like this lake endlessly lapping to shore.  No doubt about it: time is relative.  Water proves that.

Sometimes I sit for half an hour.  Sometimes only a few minutes.  Much depends upon how hard the wind is blowing.  But one thing remains constant: the great calm within when I walk away from the lake, fortifying me for another round of literary work or busy-ness.  Whatever thoughts weighed heavily upon me when I parked my car and walked out here are suddenly much more manageable.  I am ready for the next challenge.  Large bodies of water are like that.  They suck the smallness and worry right out of us.  And that’s why it is good to live close to one.

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Oct 22 2010

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Organic World

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For a week now, the leaves have been drifting down steadily.  This season has an appropriate name: fall.  Recent rainstorms and accompanying winds have accelerated the process, putting leaves on the ground a bit faster than expected.  Not that anyone’s complaining.  The autumnal palette is moving from the trees to the forest floor, that’s all.

Actually, there is a change occurring in the leaves and it is a significant one.  First they lose their chlorophyll, then they lose their color.  And then, over time, they dry out, decay, and become part of the earth.  It is all very organic, and beautiful in ways that go beyond mere appearances.

After six hours of formatting, computer glitches and the usual Internet chicanery, I really don’t mind the damp chill that greets me at the trailhead.  Nor do the dark gray clouds intimidate.  I feel a great weight lifting from my chest as I tramp through the soggy leaves.  This is the real world, I tell myself, the one that is largely organic.  It is easy to forget that while staring at a computer screen.  All too easy.  So I walk as if every step is a prayer.  And it feels good in ways that go beyond mere feelings.

By all conventional measures, my life is a failure.  It makes no dollars and cents.  I’ve done nothing heroic, have made no great contributions to society, have created no great works of art, and haven’t done anything impressive.  I have little to show for the decades that I’ve been around.  I think, observe, and scribble down words.  That is all.  And yet somehow that strikes me as enough as I wander about the woods. In the organic world, where crows, chipmunks and all other creatures live, there is a great leveling effect.  Eventually, we all fall down and become part of the earth.  Sometimes I find that simple fact consoling.

The fallen leaves require no further explanation.  They just are.  And the great cycles of nature that they so clearly illustrate are lost only on those who never escape their abstractions.  As for the rest of us, well, we pay attention every once in a while to the earthy drama that’s constantly unfolding around us and marvel at it.

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