Tag Archive 'wildness'

Oct 27 2017

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The Roots of Humanity

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For quite some time now I have been pondering what it means to be human, and what exactly our relationship to wild nature is. Recently I read books by E. O. Wilson, Joseph Campbell, Jared Diamond, Steven Pinker and other thinkers on the subject, and I’m still going strong. But it’s a book called The Cave Painters that really got me going. In it I learned that the Chauvet cave of southern France has figurative drawings on the walls that date back over 30,000 years. That rocks my world.

When we think about Cro-Magnons, or other cave-dwelling people living during the Ice Age, we naturally assume that they were inferior to us moderns in every way. But the art they left behind tells a different story.

The more I look into cave art, the more I question the word “civilization” and everything that we associate with it. Did we suddenly become more human when we settled down into towns, domesticated plants and animals? I think not.

There are distinct advantages to being civilized, no doubt. Food security is at the top of the list. Still I can’t help but wonder what was lost in the process. “Progress” is the byword of those who always want things new and improved. But experience teaches us that there’s usually a trade off whenever one way of doing things is exchanged for another.

Civilization – the first agriculturally based towns – came into existence about 10,000 years ago. Before that the lives of human beings were inextricably entwined with the natural world. The cave art left behind is proof of that. The big question is: how far back in time does our humanity go?

Some say Homo sapiens took a great leap forward 50,000 years ago. That’s when we started seriously outpacing our more thickheaded cousins, the Neanderthals. Others say that we have been anatomically human well beyond that, putting the roots of our species back over 100,000 years. Our distant ancestors, not even human by our standards, captured fire and used it half a million years ago.

Where should we draw the line between what is human and what is wild?  Does such a difference exist apart from our preconceptions about ourselves? Whenever I go for a long walk alone into deep woods, I begin to wonder. Cave art makes me wonder even more.

 

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Oct 16 2017

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A New Place to Hike

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Sunday evening I slid into a funk and my wife Judy had to deal with me. Once she realized how deep my funk was, she emailed me the info for Milton Pond. When I get this way, the only solution is a good hike.

Milton Pond is located in Milton Town Forest. I’m all the time complaining that I’ve hiked everything close to home, but somehow I missed this place. When I parked my car at the Carriage Barn trailhead, I knew why. It’s not well marked and easy to miss.

The trail itself is very well marked, almost to a fault. It crosses a field, enters the woods then soon reaches Milton Pond. Passing maple sugar lines along the way, I got the feeling that this place isn’t so wild. There are power lines crossing the pond as well. But the fall foliage was beautiful and I had the place all to myself – just me and my dog Matika that is.

I hiked the trail circumnavigating the pond, which is a little over two miles. While it showed some signs of wear, it became clear to me that this town forest is a fairly well kept secret. On the far side of the pond, I took a side trail down to its edge for the view. I stumbled upon a beaver lodge there that Matika found very interesting. But I quickly became chilled in the cool autumn air so I urged her to keep moving.

The terrain becomes a bit more rugged on the east side of the pond. There I felt the wildness stir within me despite the syrup lines, power lines, and new trail signs. When that happens, I know I’m onto something. So I made a mental note to come back here soon and hike the rest of the trails in this area. It’s always good to have a new place to hike.

 

 

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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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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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Oct 06 2016

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A Touch of Wildness

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town-forest-pond-early-octThe smell is the first thing I notice, stepping into the local town forest. It’s the smell of withering ferns, newly dropped leaves, and something distinctly autumnal that doesn’t quite sync with the mostly green canopy overhead. It all comes as something of a shock. Is it that time of year already?

My dog Matika and I amble down a trail still muddy from the previous day’s rain. Impressed by the recent trail work, I wander in circles while tracing three of the four blazed paths here. The late afternoon sunlight penetrates the shadowy forest in places. I glide along effortlessly, moving in and out of it.

Surprising silence. No birds singing out, no chirp or chatter, no wind. Suddenly it feels like I have stepped out of time and am now walking through another dimension. I start daydreaming. Startled frogs jumping into water snap me out of my reverie as I approach the pond…

Still pond gathering light from a clearing sky. Brilliant fall color just now coming out. But there’s something else going on here – a slow and subtle end to all growth. Too soon it seems, greenery lasting not more than six months at these latitudes. And yet it’s all right on schedule. Nature adheres religiously to its own rhythms.

Climbing a gentle rise away from the pond, I break a sweat despite the cool air. I’m moving faster now, heading back to my car at the trailhead, back to the work at home that still requires attention. It’s like that sometimes. I start leaving the forest behind before even stepping out of it. Yet my blood is up now, so a touch of wildness will stay with me a while longer.

 

 

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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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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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Aug 14 2015

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The Tug of Wildness

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Off TrailThis morning I had the presence of mind to step away from my computer and go for a little hike with my dog Matika. Glitches in online systems have been frustrating me lately, making me short-tempered.

I could say that the digital world, the realm of ones and zeros, is not my world, but that’s only half the story. The other half is that I’m trying to do too much in the short time remaining before my grandkids come to visit. At any rate, I headed for the nearest pocket of woods to collect myself.

While charging down the trail, grumbling about that which I do not control, I noticed the light breaking through the forest canopy, illuminating the understory. It was a green too vibrant to be real, or so it seemed. Next thing I knew, I felt the tug of wildness – a desire to leave the all-too-linear trail and just meander about the woods. I did just that. Then I settled down. Then I suddenly realized what is important and what is not. I called Matika to my side as I wandered around. Unlike me, with my head full of abstractions most of the time, she is always in the moment.

When I returned home, I found a message in my email inbox from a tech support guy, telling me that the system was experiencing “technical difficulties.” He hoped that they didn’t inconvenience me. I just shook my head and stepped away from the machine once again.

Technology is always difficult for those of us who would rather be immersed in wildness. My grandkids will be here soon. I look forward to spending as much time in the woods with them as possible. Then perhaps those technical difficulties won’t matter so much to me.

 

 

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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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Jan 05 2015

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First Hike of the Year

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NiqBayJanAMLike most everyone else, I was busy through the holidays so I didn’t get outdoors much. It can be put off a long while. But there comes a time when nothing else is that important, when I have to push away from my writing desk, don several thermals and layers of wool and get out there. That time came this morning around 9.

My dog Matika and I went to Niquette Bay State Park. No other cars were in the parking lot when we arrived, which suited me just fine. I pulled the Microspikes over my boots and away we went down the icy trail. Temps were in the teens and falling as an arctic high blew into the region.

The sun played peekaboo through the fast-moving clouds overhead, occasionally illuminating the snowy forest floor. Trees creaked. The wind roared through the canopy. Granular snow crunched loudly underfoot. Not the best day to be outdoors, yet I found it strangely exhilarating.

The frigid air stung my cheeks. I broke a sweat while cresting the hill. Hot and cold. Between the two I kept tramping, one carefully placed footstep after another. My long-haired German shepherd looked wolfish as she ran through the woods, leaving paw tracks in the snow. The arctic did not feel far away.

Times like these, I live up to my blog handle: woods wanderer. My thoughts go places that they simply cannot go when I’m comfortable indoors, walking through town, or in someone else’s good company. I wonder what it is about this elemental world that is so alluring. Regardless of the season or what the weather is doing, it feels right to tramp through the forest, entertaining whatever image, idea or memory that leaps to mind. Sometimes it seems like every tenth step liberates some taboo thought. I wander, I wonder, then later go home to write about it.

Wildness, I’m convinced, isn’t a behavior. It’s a state of mind.

 

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