Tag Archive 'reflection'

Oct 24 2018

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First Snow

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The first snow of the season always comes as something of a surprise, but when it comes in October it’s downright shocking. Snow is to be expected in the mountains this time of year, powdering the summits as a fair warning of things to come. But here in the Champlain Valley, it’s rare to see the white stuff accenting the brilliant reds. oranges and golds of autumn, while leaves are still clinging to the trees.

It was beautiful to behold – a light flurry of snowflakes falling to the ground early in the morning, slowly accumulating. It didn’t last long. By noon most of the snow had melted away in temps well above freezing. Now in late afternoon, sunlight finishes the job, illuminating the foliage and thereby redeeming the season. Still I can’t help but brood over the rapid passage of time. The clock on my computer screen conspires with the calendar on the wall to keep me off balance in my gathering years. And now this!

One shouldn’t take it personally, of course. Father Time, unlike Mother Nature, treats us all the same way. But the seasons slip past faster in our advanced years than it does in our youth. It’s hard to keep pace.

I don’t remember how it came up, but this morning my wife Judy asked me if I fear death. My answer was ambiguous. “Yes and no,” I said. Being the cognizant, self-aware creature that I am, I naturally fear death. I know its coming and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. That said, more than death I dread the prospect of living to a hundred. There’s a time to live and a time to depart. I wouldn’t want to be immortal.

All Hallows Eve is right around the corner, followed by the Day of the Dead. Different cultures call it different things, but it amounts to the same thing: a time to stop and remember those who have passed away. Darkness pervades as winter approaches. The harvest is nearly complete. Soon we will hunker down for the long cold season. This is a good time of year to reflect. It’s also a good time to put on some blaze orange and go for a hike – while there is still soft earth underfoot. There’s no time to lose.

 

 

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Oct 04 2018

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Reflection and Walking

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It has taken nearly a week but I’m back into my routine now. Back to writing, publishing, and running my book biz. Back to cooking, hanging out with Judy, and going for the occasional short walk between errands. Two weeks ago, I drove to Ohio to visit family and friends. That took something out of me since I do not pace myself when traveling alone. It feels good to be back.

The leaves are turning. Cool temps are common now. The days are noticeably shorter. All this is to be expected when we turn the calendar to October. Still I am a little shocked by it. The clock ticks away while I’m busy doing stuff, and I’m left wondering where the days have gone. That’s especially true this time of year, when the rows of pumpkins at the nearby farm stand make it clear that the growing season is over.

My eyes feast upon the splashes of color in the trees as I walk the Rail Trail. Most of the trees are still green but that’ll quickly change now. Note to self: take down the air conditioner still protruding from the bedroom window. Yeah, those days have passed.

I stop several times just to look around. Blue asters still bloom along the trail’s edge. Most other wildflowers have withered away. Still a touch of goldenrod, of course. And a few fallen leaves. I walk in shirtsleeves because, well, because I can. Not too many of these days left, either.

We all know what’s coming. “The long white,” a friend of mine calls it. The colder half of the year is when I do most of my writing. I look forward to that. But I’m also thinking I should go for a long hike or two soon, very soon – before the snow flies. October is a good month for that kind of thing. October is a good month for reflection and walking.

 

 

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Dec 20 2017

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End Year Reflection

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Daybreak. Looking out the window of my study, I watch the dried leaves still clinging to a beech tree rustle in the wind against a dark grey and bluish-white background. The first light illuminates several inches of snow covering the ground. The denuded trees are motionless.

I have been up for a couple hours, printing out a recently revised manuscript, checking email, and reviewing the records I’ve kept of my activities stretching back through the years. The past year has been a busy one, to say the least. Then again, it seems like I’m always busy doing something. I’m lucky that way, I guess.

Whenever I reflect upon past events, I become a little melancholy. It’s not so much a sadness precipitated by any given event as it is a mounting awareness of the passage of time and a sense that things have happened without me fully experiencing them. This is silly, of course. We all live in the eternal present, and despite our best efforts mindfulness can only take us so far.

The past and the present are two different things. We live in the here/now. Our memories are something else – fractured, distorted, piecemeal, selective. There is always a separation between what I am in this moment and what I once was. And yet there is consistency as well. Memory is, after all, what shapes identity.

Sometimes it’s important to stop and think about where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going. This time of year seems like a good time to do that. The Winter Solstice is a turning of the page – the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. Before striking forth courageously into the future, one should have courage enough to acknowledge the past and what one has become as a result. This is what I try to do this time of year, anyhow, despite the holiday hoopla. It isn’t easy.

 

 

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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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