Tag Archive 'wild beauty'

Jun 18 2017

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Daybreak on the Stream

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After surprising three deer crossing the road, I parked my car then stepped into the woods. My dog Matika was right on my heels. The sun was just clearing the eastern horizon. I had crept out of bed a little after 4 a.m. and was now approaching a mountain stream at daybreak. A hermit thrush greeted me with its flute-like song.

I ignored the mosquitoes while tying a fly to my line. A cool breeze wafted down the brook as the first shafts of sunlight broke through the trees. The tumbling stream rushed along, unraveling my thoughts. Next thing I knew there was a brook trout tugging my line. I lifted my rod and brought it to the bank where I was crouching, much to Matika’s delight. She danced about in predatory play. The small fish slipped back into the drink faster than she could react.

I caught a few more fish and lost a few while slowly making my way up the stream. It hardly mattered. My casts were more out of habit than intent. I was enthralled by the deep green tunnel directly ahead – the dark hemlocks, vibrant moss and ferns, and slick gray rocks around which the stream flowed. Fishing was just the excuse that brought me here, what got me out of bed.

Upon reaching a deep pool at the base of a boulder, I gave up all pretense of fishing. I sat on the stream bank admiring the unspeakable beauty all around me and soaking in its wildness. Eventually, after killing a dozen or so mosquitoes taking turns at my forearms, I removed the fly, reeled in all my line, and hiked out.

Back on the road, I felt the full power of a sun only days away from the summer solstice. Not even mid-morning and already the air felt warm. It was going to be a hot day, but I’d already enjoyed a cool reprieve at the beginning of it.

 

 

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Sep 04 2015

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Cooling Out

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Version 2Judy said I should go into the woods overnight. She’s been around me for 30 years so she knows better than I do what I need. Between publishing, book promo, and my online bookselling, I’m going to be very busy this fall. Best to get out while I can.

I packed up a few essentials, loaded my dog Matika into the car, and headed for a mountain brook where, surprisingly enough, I’ve never camped before. I followed a trail a mile back, until it veered away from the brook. Then I bushwhacked upstream. Sweating profusely in an unseasonably hot afternoon, I looked for a pool at least the size of a bathtub. There I would make camp and dunk by overheated body.

I struggled up the steep, rocky ravine nearly an hour, until the brook was a mere trickle. Then it suddenly appeared: one of the biggest pools I’ve seen on any mountain brook in a long while – thirty feet across. But there was no good place to camp.  There was nothing even close to flat. I pitched my tarp on the overgrown remnant of an old woods road not far away, calling that home for the night. Then I stripped off my sweat-soaked clothes and went for a swim. Matika waded along the edge of the pool, getting her belly wet. That was good enough for her.

After cooling out, I settled into camp for the night. Building a small fire then cooking on the sloping ground was a little tricky. My things kept rolling away. Sleeping was even trickier. Matika and I gradually slid downhill through the course of the night. By morning I was in her place and she was no longer beneath the tarp. Poor dog! But it was worth it. A pool that big in such a wild and beautiful setting is the stuff of dreams.

 

 

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Dec 15 2014

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Snow-laden Boughs

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snowladentreesA Nor’easter struck New England last week, leaving over a foot of snow here in the Champlain Valley. The rest of Vermont got a whole lot more. For four days I shoveled and roof-raked it – when I wasn’t working, that is. Then yesterday I tramped through nearby fields, finally looking up to see the boughs of trees heavily laden with snow. A winter wonderland to be sure, and well before Christmas. This is the Vermont that skiers and sentimental songsters dream about.

Yeah, I can appreciate it, even though I’m more of a green forest kind of guy. Back in Ohio, where I grew up, my mother reports that the landscape is typically dreary. I remember it well: various shades of brown and endless grey skies. No, I don’t miss that. Though much longer and colder, Vermont winters are more aesthetically pleasing.

This much snow this early in the season is an ominous sign. Climate change has made recent winters rather erratic. A good, old-fashioned Vermont winter with blue skies and plenty of snow would be nice, but fluctuating temperatures could make a sloppy mess of things again. That’s what happened last winter, as well as in years past.

I try not to think about climate change, mostly because there isn’t much that I can do about it. Oh sure, we could in theory shift the global economy away from fossil fuels before things get way out of hand, but how realistic is that?  This morning I read that 196 nations signed an agreement to start setting limits by 2020. Hmm… I can’t help but think that it’s going to be too little too late, especially in countries where folks are just now moving out of abject poverty. Then there are those who still say that climate change is an elaborate hoax. No, it doesn’t do me any good to think about it at all.

And yet the boughs of trees are heavily laden with snow. It is both beautiful yet deeply concerning, especially since the temps are supposed to get well above freezing tomorrow. Did I say beautiful? Yes, let’s focus on that, and let the politicians deal with the rest of it, at least until someone comes up with a viable alternative to what passes for environmental concern in these days. It’s not good to be always focusing on the negative.

 

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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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Sep 06 2012

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First Color

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I deny it for a week or so, telling myself that I’m seeing only the occasional stressed tree. Then poplars fade yellow and I ignore them. But goldenrod is in full bloom in the fields, and white wood asters populate the forest floor. If there’s any doubt in my mind as to what time of year it is, all I have to do is open my ears to the high-pitched, electric whine of crickets that has replaced the melodic sounds of songbirds.

I enjoy autumn as much as summer, yet there is always something a little sad about the transition between the two. When I was a child, I thought the sadness had everything to do with going back to school. Perhaps it did back then. But now it stems from something else. Now it’s all about the end of the growing season.

Even though the first hard frost is many weeks away, I can’t help but notice that the sun is setting earlier. The equinox is right around the corner and evenings are much cooler. The first color explodes suddenly amid the green and I am shocked by it. Yeah, there’s really no sense denying it any more. Another summer is history.

I bite into an apple grown close to home and taste the season. A cool breeze surprises me when I step outdoors in the morning, making me think twice about how I’m dressed. I go for a long walk on the recreation path and hardly break a sweat. Where did all those menacing flies and mosquitoes go? They’re not nearly as numerous as they were just a few weeks ago.

This is the best time of year to go for a hike. It’s also a good time to ruminate. After all, one’s cognitive batteries have had all summer to recharge. What I like best about autumn is the earthy smell of drying leaves, reminding me that wild nature is an endless cycle of growth and decay. I find consolation in that as the noise and absurdity of fall elections reaches its feverish pitch. Fact and fiction get all mixed up periodically. But some things you can count on no matter what, like leaves turning color. That is unmistakable.

 

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Jun 20 2011

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Natural versus Artificial

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While I was out walking the other day, I came upon a curious phenomenon.  A well-worn, earthen trail cutting through the woods suddenly came to a set of stairs that someone had painstakingly carved from rock.  My first thought: Why go to so much trouble?  Once I got beyond that, though, I marveled at the result.  Moss and lichen had crept from uncut stone to cut, making me wonder what difference there is really between the natural and the man-made.

Homo faber – we are the creatures who make things.  We manipulate the material world with such profound consequences that the word “artificial” had to be invented.  In the strictest sense, we are as much a part of nature as the wild animals whose paths we follow through the woods, the plants that grow all around us, the birds overhead or the insects below our feet.  And yet we stand apart from it.  What separates us?  Our inventions and contrivances, of course.

There is beauty in integration with nature, certainly.  The architectural wonders of Frank Lloyd Wright come to mind, as do the many stone monuments left behind by our ancestors.  But these are the exceptions to the rule.  Generally speaking, most man-made structures – buildings, roads or whatever – are striking in their radical break from the landscape.  Rare indeed is the developer who gives any thought at all to wild aesthetics.  Architectural renderings of would-be structures are usually accented with neat rows of trees and strategically placed green space, but the beauty the builder sees is all in the artifice – the perfectly straight or intentionally curved line – not wild anarchy.  And so it is with most things human, from the automobile to the ipod.

Philosophically, I have struggled with this for decades.  At the very heart of the matter are the very qualities that make us human.  More than any other creature, we manipulate our environment, making a rough and ready world more user-friendly, better suited to our wants and needs.  And yet we do so at our great peril – one that first became apparent to us in the 19th century, when the industrial world suddenly sprung to life and the idea of wilderness transformed from something threatening to something idyllic.  Now it is quite possible that we may lose ourselves in our grand designs, reaching a point where stairways cut from stone will seem ridiculously quaint.  Then the word “wild” will lose all meaning, and the entire planet will have our mark on it.  What’s to stop us?

 

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May 12 2011

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A New Day

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Just before dawn, I open the back door for my dog then follow her out.  I laugh as she chases a pair of rabbits to the fence.  The grass is cool to my bare feet but not cold.  The robins sing joyfully their early morning song, as if the sun rising was a long awaited event.  Matika grins from ear to ear.  Perhaps she is as excited as I am by the unfurling of leaves in the trees, and the long promise of the warm season that comes with it.

In an hour I’ll mobilize for work, but right now I’m grooving on the quiet wonder of wild nature right here in my back yard.  This would be a good day to hike in the mountains, I tell myself.  That’s out of the question, of course.  Duty calls.  All you 9-to-5 working stiffs out there know the feeling well, I’m sure.  But it’s new to me.  I just started working full time, you see.  For eighteen years I had only a part-time job.

I’ve had a good run.  I worked, then hiked, then wrote, then hiked some more, then wrote some more.  It was good while it lasted.  But all good things must end, right?  They do unless you strike it rich, and that hasn’t been my fate.  My dream of being able to support myself by writing alone turned out to be just that – a dream.  Perhaps if I had been a journalist, or a novelist working in some popular genre, or hip enough to catch the eye of the established literati I could have made a go at it.  But writing about the wild doesn’t get you there – not the way I do it, anyhow.  So here I am looking at a new day.  That’s okay.  I’ve been true to myself.  And thanks to my infinitely patient wife, Judy, I’ve had a very good run.

The fresh verdure thickening in the trees is more beautiful than I remember it.  That’s the way things always are at a new beginning.  We forget the charm of springtime during the winter months.  We forget the magnificence of daybreak no matter how many times we’ve seen it before.  Every day is some kind of miracle.  Okay, maybe that’s not true, but things certainly seem that way whenever I’m standing barefoot in my back yard at daybreak and listening to songbirds.  I could curse the gods, longing for that which I do not have, but I’m not going there today.  No, not today.

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Dec 23 2010

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Snowy Woods

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A week ago I went for a walk in the woods a few hours after a winter storm had ended.  About four inches of the white stuff had fallen and some of it was still clinging to the trees.  A bright sun blazed through a mostly blue sky at midday.  I trudged along, kicking up snow with each step as my dog Matika leaped joyously through the virgin powder.  All the while the wild shouted a deafening silence.

A barred owl swept through the woods, hooting once it had landed somewhere out of sight.  Then a crow.  Then a chickadee.  Otherwise Matika and I had the woods all to ourselves.  She fell upon a set of squirrel tracks, but the squirrel was long gone.  I brushed the snow off a downed tree then sat down for a while to groove on my surroundings.  With not a wisp of wind blowing, the woods remained absolutely still.

As anyone who has read my blogs knows, I am not a big fan of winter.  But this was one of those outings that gave some credence to the myth perpetuated by ski resort marketing departments and 20th Century poets like Robert Frost.  You know what I’m talking about: a winter wonderland and all that.  Well, on rare occasion New England actually lives up to the advertisement, and even a summer-loving guy like me can’t help but enjoy the dazzling beauty of a brown and white landscape on a sunny day.  In the icy, gray hills of central Ohio where I grew up, there was no such thing.

Since then, another winter storm has come and gone dropping even more snow.  Today I spent a good deal of time shoveling it.  Tomorrow probably I’ll do the same, after a big sheet of it avalanches off my roof.  I could complain about my aching back, etc. but I think I’ll give it a rest.  Instead I’ll stand in my driveway after dusk, admiring the way that freshly fallen snow brightens the landscape even in darkness, and count being a Vermonter among my blessings.  In this part of the world, I don’t have to dream of a white Christmas.  It’s practically guaranteed.

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