Tag Archive 'the passage of time'

Aug 26 2011

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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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Jun 04 2011

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Time in the Woods

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There are times when I like to stretch my legs and break a good sweat.  Then there are times when I just need a walk in the woods.  The other day was the latter, and it couldn’t have been a better day for it.  Cool, overcast and breezy – ideal weather for walking.

I went to Honey Hollow, a favorite haunt of mine deep in the Green Mountains.  After parking the car, I walked up the narrow dirt road reaching into the woods until I came to a red gate.  On the other side of that gate a jeep track swept down to Preston Brook and disappeared into a clearing with a single wild apple tree in it.  From there I bushwhacked upstream, savoring the lush green vegetation all around me.  At one point I passed through chest-high ferns.  Yeah, rooted things love all the water we’ve gotten lately.

The stream was surprisingly low and clear considering the recent downpours.  I saw two small brook trout dash across a shallow pool and for a moment regretted not bringing my fly rod.  But that’s okay, I told myself.  Sometimes it’s best just to walk the brook.

My dog Matika cavorted all over the place, happy to be running wild after a long stretch of days stuck at home.  I was happy, too.  It’s like that sometimes, now that I’ve gone back to working full-time.  Limited access makes time in the woods that much more precious.

I walked along the brook so slowly and quietly that I spooked a deer resting behind a downed birch.  Matika smelled the creature seconds after it had leaped away.  No contact, though.  The roar of the brook screened predator from prey.

I marveled at the high-water mark several feet above the quiet stream.  The washed-out banks, woody debris, and other indications of flooding took me somewhat by surprise.  Hard to imagine that much water passing through this little valley.  But wild nature is funny that way.  Its gentle disposition most days belies its latent power.

A couple miles back, I came to a favorite rock next to the brook where I like to sit and meditate.  The mosquitoes were out in force, though, so I didn’t stay there beyond a quick lunch.  I followed a game trail back to the dirt road and walked out as slowly as possible.  This walking reverie was meditation enough.  Not as much as desired, but enough for now.  Then I returned to my car wondering when I’d get back into the woods again.  In due time, I’m sure.


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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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Dec 02 2010

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Chasing the Light

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Sunlight breaks through the leafless trees at midday – a welcome sight for light-hungry eyes after so many gray days.  Now there’s nothing but blue sky overhead.  I amble along the well-groomed trail, not wandering far away from it, respecting the No Trespassing signs posted on both sides.  Yet my eyes steal southward all the same, chasing the light.  It’s a precious commodity this time of year, when the sun rises so reluctantly and sets all too soon.

A storm front passed through the region a few days ago, leaving a dusting of snow on the ground.  Usually the first snowfall melts off right away, but this one is lingering as if to remind folks that it’s December.  Those of us sensitive to light need no such reminder.

Air temperatures fluctuate, thus determining what kind of precipitation falls, but daylight remains ever faithful to the calendar.  Its slow, steady march through the seasons is deeply comforting in a world as tumultuous and unpredictable as ours.  All the same, the next few weeks of diminishing days are hard on those of us who thrive on light.  We won’t rest easy until we’re on the other side of the Winter Solstice.

I’ve often wondered if I would be so drawn to the Great Outdoors if I didn’t need the light so much.  In summertime I revel in it.  In the winter, the shortness of the day forces me outside.  People tell me that there are vampires among us who need the darkness as much as I need the light, but I find that hard to believe.  Daylight, direct or indirect, is essential to all living things.  Who can go long without it?

Here in the North Country, there are those who string up artificial lights in order to keep the darkness at bay.  Others drag bits of greenery into their houses to remind themselves that the growing season will return.  Still others try to ignore nature’s signals, keeping themselves busy with indoor or outdoor activities, or elaborate holiday preparations.  Every year I find myself resorting to all these strategies.  But that doesn’t change the realities of light – what it does to us over time.  So the best thing we can do is just roll with it, letting nature take its course.  Eventually, the Earth’s axis will tilt as far away from the Sun as it can, then change its attitude.  All we have to do is endure.

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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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Sep 23 2010

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Early Autumn Walk

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Today I went for the first walk of the season.  Nothing special, just a short walk along the wild, wooded section of the Rail Trail.  My dog, Matika, went with me, of course.  Due to work and other distractions, I haven’t been able to get outdoors for a week, so my leisurely amble along the groomed path seemed like a real treat.  Matika ran all over the place as she usually does when she’s been cooped up a while.  For her a week can be a long time.

The Autumnal Equinox took place yesterday, signaling the end of summer and the beginning of a cooler, quieter, more colorful season.  For most people, autumn begins right after Labor Day.  That’s about when the leaves start turning here in northern Vermont.  That’s also when the last really hot days are relegated to memory.  So the Equinox only underscores the obvious.  All the same, I like to get out and celebrate the event.  By this time of year, the red, gold and orange hues of the season are unmistakable.

Crickets chirped incessantly as I walked.  Perhaps they chirp all summer long, but I only seem to notice them in the fall.  Their high-pitched songs sound to me like urgent pleas to make the most of these precious days.  The days are getting shorter now.  Winter isn’t far away.

I didn’t so much walk as drift along the pathway with my hands in my pockets.  You know how it goes.  A pensive walk, a gradual moving forward despite static inclinations.  I took it all in as I walked: the last flowers blooming, the bleached-out ferns, the turning leaves, and the soft light that’s so typical this time of year.  And for moment there I started doing the math, trying to figure out how many times I’ve walked like this.  Then I let go of it.  Sometimes it’s better to ignore the human scale of things and simply enjoy the moment.  A nearby blue jay called out as if to second that motion.

I could have walked much longer than I did, but I turned around and returned to my car instead.  I have a long list of things to do today.  Most importantly, I have to get ready for what hope will be a long and productive writing season.  Tomorrow I return to a book project that I set aside several months ago.  Yeah, I’ve had my summer fun.  It’s autumn now.  It’s time to get back to work.

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Aug 18 2010

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Seeing, Not Seeing

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The slight rustle of leaves catches my ear.  I know that sound well, so I stop and look around.  At first I see nothing.  Then looking closer, I spot a garter snake slithering beneath the ferns.

Like most wild creatures, the snake is well camouflaged in its natural environment.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I almost missed it.  For every snake I see while I’m hiking along the trail, I miss ten.  Perhaps a hundred.

While wandering through the woods, I am happy enough stretching my legs, breathing heavy and breaking a good sweat.  The green infinity soothes my eyes.  The forest quiet calms my frazzled, urban nerves.  A whiff of something dank yet vaguely sweet makes me smile.  That’s the smell of the forest itself.  And I traipse along in a daydream of sorts, only half paying attention to the world around me, enjoying the mental vacation.

Should I be paying more attention?  Should I break through that deceptive veil of forest sameness and see the myriad creatures occupying it?  Should I stop and admire the occasional flower, or is it enough just being footloose and free for the day, clearing my head?  Those who love wild nature scowl at the obliviousness of day-trippers like me.  Yet I wonder how much time they spend each day in front of a computer screen.  Isn’t it enough just being here now, detached from the cyberworld?

I shudder to think how many things I fail to see as I go about my daily affairs.  Then again, you can’t see it all.  I have lounged next to a quiet pond for a full day just trying to take it all in.  But that’s impossible.  Even in the quietest place, there is too much going on.  So what can we do but see what we can see and leave the rest unseen.

The trick, of course, is not to miss too much.  Lost in my thoughts, I often miss the better part of days . . . weeks . . . dare I say months?

Life slithers past while we’re busy daydreaming.  That’s enough to give pause to even the most hardened, non-Thoreauvian soul.  What is it that we’re so busy thinking about?  Whenever I spot a snake on the forest floor, I silently congratulate myself for having seen it, resolving to pay better attention from now on.  But the daydreams always return – a virtual reality that plays in my head without end.

Thank god for the occasional rustle of leaves.

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