May 08 2022

Profile Image of Walt

Predatory Nature

Filed under Blog Post

A couple years ago, we got serious about attracting songbirds to our feeders. Judy did some research, found out what certain birds like, and purchased the good stuff. As a consequence we are visited daily by woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, mourning doves, and scores of goldfinches. Hummingbirds come around during the summer. Other birds stop by, as well. Grey squirrels scurry about beneath the feeders, eating what the birds drop. It’s busy out there.

The local sharp-shinned hawk has taken notice. He stops by occasionally to see if he can grab a winged meal. The songbirds scatter when he shows up, of course. Judy has taken some good photos of that beautiful raptor. We’ve seen him make several attempts to catch a songbird, but without success. Then one day, from the kitchen window, I saw him make off with a goldfinch in his talons. I must admit, I was a little horrified by it. Hawks have to eat, too, but my sympathy was with the finch.

Twice now I have found a patch of mourning dove feathers on the ground near the feeders. I’ve seen this during walks in the woods many times and know exactly what happened. Someone caught and ate those birds on the spot, or started to anyhow. Maybe the doves, so commonly associated with peace, put up a fight. It’s hard to say. But as I gathered up those feathers, it became clear to me that those two doves don’t exist any more.

Several weeks ago a red fox suddenly appeared, chasing a terrified squirrel up a tree. Judy and I cheered a few days later when that same fox hunted down a field mouse. The mice have gotten into our garage and have done some costly damage to one of our cars. We now keep the garage closed up and a dozen mouse traps in there. Still one gets in occasionally.

Last week I shouted to Judy to grab her camera when I saw the fox in our backyard again, chasing a squirrel. This time he caught it. We aren’t particularly keen on squirrels, that like to poop and pee all over our patio furniture, but there was something tragic about seeing that rodent meet such a violent end. It took a while for the fox to subdue the squirrel and haul it off. Sustenance for hungry kits waiting in a nearby den perhaps? That’s what we’d like to think. But the fact is, everyone has to eat and not all living things are herbivores. That’s nature for you. And it’s on full display right in our backyard.

No responses yet

Apr 27 2022

Profile Image of Walt

Small Springtime Joys

Filed under Blog Post

The flowers are coming up in the small gardens surrounding my house. None of them have bloomed yet, but that hardly matters. Just seeing the first green push up through the soil and leaf out is enough to bring a smile to my face. This time of year is chock full of small joys, both in wild places and close to home.

While working in my yard, I spot a tiny flower in bloom in the forest duff beneath the trees: spring beauty. I kneel down and sniff it with giddy pleasure. Its perfume is intoxicating. Nearby a patch of round-lobed hepatica is also in bloom. I have to touch the petals to make sure they are real, to banish any remnant of winter still lurking in my heart.

My hands are scratched, bleeding and dry from working the soil and putting down mulch with my bare hands. Judy asks me why I don’t wear gloves. I know that would be the smart thing to do, but I just can’t help myself. I want to feel the earth.

A woodpecker drums loudly. Robins sing, crows caw, and the goldfinches gathering at the feeders chatter incessantly. In the distance, frogs peep from a vernal pool. The world is reawakening.

Overhead grey clouds threaten rain. There is still a chill in the air and my flannel shirt is dampened with cold sweat. I keep moving to stay warm, putting certain muscles to work that haven’t been used since last fall. I’ll be sore tomorrow, no doubt, but I don’t care.

As soon as I get things under control in my yard, I’ll go for a long hike in the mountains. Either that or I’ll grab my fly rod and work a favorite trout stream not too far away. But for now it’s enough to putter about the yard doing domestic chores. Even while I do so, an eternal wildness stirs within. What is commonly called Nature is actually home. And it thrives everywhere, all around me, in early spring.

No responses yet

Apr 09 2022

Profile Image of Walt

A Humble Pleasure

Filed under Blog Post

This time of year, when the trails are wet and so easily damaged, I like to walk a brook. The one that first comes to mind winds through a valley in the Green Mountains shadowed by Camel’s Hump. I’ve been walking it for decades. It’s like an old friend to me.

You could call this a hike, but the way I do it these days it’s really more of a walk. I take my time, traveling half the speed I did when I was half my current age. I want to bushwhack into my 70s and 80s, you see, so I’m setting the right pace to do that now. Slow but sure.

After leaving a nearby dirt road, I follow a rough track a quarter mile to the brook. Then I start bushwhacking. I have a compass tucked into my shirt pocket, but it’s not necessary. The brook guides me through the woods and every feeder stream is a way home that I’ve taken before. So my mind is free to wander, or to groove on the wildness all around me.

Evergreen woodfern and Christmas ferns are still pressed firmly to the ground. It’s early spring and the snow cover has just melted off. Polypody ferns rise from moss-covered boulders, though. That, the clubmoss, and hemlocks green up the otherwise bleached, brown landscape. A few icy patches still lurk in the hollows of rocks, but this is a springtime world not a winter one. The spongy, half-thawed earth underfoot is proof of that.

Because the stream is running lower than usual this time of year, I ford it several times to avoid large mudslides. My boots get wet and my feet get cold in the process, but I don’t care. That too is part of this springtime ritual.

A couple miles back, I bask in sunlight while stretched across a flat boulder next to a deep pool that harbors brook trout. Here I eat lunch. A moth flutters before my eyes. A chickadee sings in the distance. The leafless trees all around me reach toward the deep blue sky. Meltwater rushes past incessantly. I have daydreamed about this place for months. Now here I am. And the walk out that follows is a moving meditation.

Soon the world will green up and the warm season will unfold to everyone’s delight. But it’s enough, for me at least, to tramp through snow-free woods when there’s still a chill in the air and the first wildflowers haven’t risen yet. It’s a different kind of beauty and happiness – subtle and anticipatory. It’s a humble pleasure.

No responses yet

Mar 26 2022

Profile Image of Walt

Birding with a Passion

Filed under Blog Post

Despite the fact that most of the lakes and ponds here in northern Vermont are still full of ice, Judy and I have done a lot of birding lately. We took a trip down to Dead Creek in Addison County ten days ago and have gone out locally three times during the past week. Judy has bird fever, and I’m reveling in early spring.

At Dead Creek we celebrated the return of the Canada geese. They were there by the hundreds, filling up narrow leads of open water. Before heading home, we stopped by South Slang Creek to see if we could catch the bald eagle nesting there. We did. Judy took some good pictures of it, but what we really wanted was to catch the migrating birds. We got into more of them earlier this week. We found common and hooded mergansers floating in slender patches of open water along the shores of Lake Champlain. We also spotted on land robins, grackles and red-winged blackbirds that have arrived recently, along with the cardinals that have wintered over. The cardinals are calling out loudly from the treetops now. Ah, yes… it’s that time of year.

All this is great, but biggest surprise so far this year happened right in our back yard. A sharp-shinned hawk swooped down on the many goldfinches at our feeders, scattering them everywhere. We’re pretty sure we’ve seen this same bird before. It showed up here last fall, and I spotted it in the neighborhood once before that. Judy got some excellent shots of it right through the sliding glass door leading out to the patio. It wasn’t more than twenty feet away! She called up the stairs, so I was able to see the hawk out the window of my study before it bolted. I was writing at the time and usually don’t want to be disturbed while I’m doing so. But this was an exception to that rule.

Judy is on a roll. She has taken some great photos of all the birds mentioned. She has taken bird photography to the next level after learning the best settings for her camera. She has a passion for it that is a delight for me to witness. I assist her however I can. Mostly I drive the car, spot the birds with my binoculars, and identify them whenever possible. We’re a good team, I think.

All this said, my passion for birding doesn’t match Judy’s. I’m into wild nature in all its manifestations, and thoroughly enjoy a raw, early spring day even if there are no birds around. I got all excited the other day when I saw a red fox out the kitchen window, chasing a squirrel up a tree. Judy managed to photograph that fox, but I would have been just as happy if she hadn’t. Judy’s an artist with her camera, while I simply enjoy the moment. It’s all good.

Comments Off on Birding with a Passion

Mar 15 2022

Profile Image of Walt

The Gradual Thaw…

Filed under Blog Post

A little over a week ago, Judy and I enjoyed a local walk on nearly bare ground as temps shot into 50s. Then it snowed again – a big dump of the heavy, wet stuff that kept me busy shoveling the driveway for two days. A second walk last weekend was more winter-like, but a cardinal was singing his territorial song and the remnant snow was covered with animal tracks. This morning I hear a woodpecker knocking, also staking out his territory. No doubt about it, spring is imminent.

Winters are long here in northern Vermont, especially for those of us who aren’t skiers. I’ve stayed indoors for the most part during the past few months and have gotten a lot of literary work done. That said, I’m ready to get outdoors for more than an hour or two slog in the snow. I’m ready for spring.

T. S. Eliot said that April is the cruelest month, but I think March is. Just when you think spring has sprung, another winter storm comes along. The ground is clear one day, then snow-covered the next. Enough already! Let the big thaw begin.

The big thaw is underway, actually, but like all other seasonal changes it’s gradual. Nature is like that. It’s constantly changing in small increments that add up over time. The days have been getting longer since the Winter Solstice took place months ago. The sun now blazes for nearly twelve hours a day. Fact is winter’s back has been broken.

I’ve been paying close attention to the gradual change. Maybe that’s why I’m so excited. The migrating birds are starting to arrive, the buds on trees are swelling, and the ground is softening up. Soon I’ll be tramping cold mud again. Maybe even later this week. I look forward to that.

Comments Off on The Gradual Thaw…

Feb 18 2022

Profile Image of Walt

Walt Franklin’s New Book

Filed under Blog Post

I am pleased to announce the release of Walt Franklin’s latest collection of essays, Learning the Terrain: Reflections on a Gentle Art, under the Wood Thrush Books imprint. Fly-fishing is the gentle art here, of course, and Franklin is quite adept at it. But this is more than just another fisherman telling tall tales. Franklin is a naturalist with a bamboo rod in hand, a poet wading clear mountain streams. Yes, there is a little poetry mixed into this prose, and a lot of prose that reads like poetry.

Along with plying waters of his home bioregion – upstate New York and north-central Pennsylvania – Franklin recounts excursions to classic trout rivers out west and catching salmon in the tributaries flowing into Lake Ontario. He also tries his hand at saltwater fishing. But it’s the moments when he tunes into the wildness all around him that edifies the reader. Franklin is at home in the natural world. This comes out loud and clear in his work.

After publishing five other books of his, I had resolved to move onto other nature writers. Then I read this collection and felt it had to be ushered into print. You can acquire a copy of this book by going to the Wood Thrush Books website. It is also available at Amazon.com. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Comments Off on Walt Franklin’s New Book

Feb 03 2022

Profile Image of Walt

Contemplating Life’s Origin

Filed under Blog Post

Photo by Racim Amr, courtesy of Unsplash

The origin and nature of life is a true mystery – perhaps the greatest mystery there is. My interest in the subject kicked into high gear after reading Erwin Schrodinger’s What Is Life? a little over a month ago. With the eyes of a quantum physicist, he sees the essential part of a living cell as an aperiodic crystal, versus the periodic crystals commonly found in inanimate matter. By this he means they are strange and complex structures that do not comply with the laws of physics. That’s a gross understatement, if ever there was one.

It has been a long winter so far. Subzero temps kept me indoors during most of January. I’ve had too much time to ponder life’s origin – waaay too much time, my wife Judy would say. I’ve read other books on the subject and must confess that I’m no wiser for it. After reading Schrodinger, I went through a college textbook on organic chemistry. Oh yeah, I’m in deep now.

Last summer I sat in dense woods watching wildlife go about their business and wondered how all this came to be. The next thing I know I’m studying the molecular structure of living cells. The quest for a true understanding of nature is a slippery slope, indeed.

This is what I know so far about life-forms: multicellular organisms exploded on the scene roughly 540 million years ago, once there was plenty of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. Before that, bacteria and other single-celled organisms ruled the world. The first organisms, archaea, were heat-loving entities that lived in the extreme conditions on this planet 4 billion years ago. How they came into existence is anyone’s guess.

Even the simplest, single-cell organism is incredibly complex. It didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. There is randomness in the evolutionary process, certainly, but something had to get the ball rolling. Is there some kind of cosmic template for life? While contemplating that, my head explodes.

Hard to say just how far I’ll take this line of investigation, or where it will lead. I’m thinking I need a microscope and a good book on astrobiology. I’m thinking I need to learn more about the origin and nature of consciousness, as well. No doubt Judy’s thinking spring better get here soon.

Comments Off on Contemplating Life’s Origin

Jan 16 2022

Profile Image of Walt

Winter Woods

Filed under Blog Post

This morning I awoke to temps below zero. Yesterday the same. The day before that I went for a short hike once temps had climbed into the teens after a similar dip. In the depths of winter here in northern New England, one is wise to get outdoors when one can.

The trail cutting through a local patch of woods was well traveled. Clearly I wasn’t the only person taking advantage of the occasional bouts of fair weather between snowstorms and deep freezes. Surprisingly, I passed only one other restless soul during my hike. The rest of the time, I had the woods all to myself.

Aside from the distant hum of traffic, all was quiet as I walked. No songbirds, no wind in the trees, nothing. I listened to the sound of my own breathing as I ambled along. The clean, cold air filled my lungs, and I barely broke a sweat beneath my layers. It always feels good to be physical after long hours of screen time.

Yeah, I work too hard at my desktop computer this time of year. That’s one way to get through winter – to make the most of it, to be productive. I work much less and get outdoors a lot more during the warmer months, as most Vermonters do. But even during the coldest months, one needs to recreate every once in a while. Skiers look at things differently, of course.

I’ve lived in Vermont for nearly 40 years. During that time, I’ve developed an appreciation for snow. Winter isn’t my favorite season, but there is something about a snow-covered landscape beneath a clear blue sky that is quite charming. Dare I say beautiful? I wouldn’t want to live in a place that gets no snow. A walk in the woods this time of year reminds me of that. And 15 degrees above zero isn’t bad at all when the wind isn’t blowing.

Comments Off on Winter Woods

Jan 02 2022

Profile Image of Walt

The Existential Stick

Filed under Blog Post

There’s a limb stuck in the upper branches of a large tree in our back yard. It bugs Judy. She asked me if there’s any way to bring that stick down, but it’s too high up for me to reach with any tool I possess. I told her it will come down eventually, in its own time, but she doesn’t find that very consoling.

Strong winds blow, taking down limbs all over our yard. I gather them up periodically. The pile of dead wood grows until I burn the smaller pieces and have the larger ones hauled away. Entire trees have fallen in our woody neighborhood. We have one in our front yard that’s a good candidate to do so. I’d bet that tree falls sometime soon… while the limb hung up our backyard remains there.

Nowadays Judy and I jokingly refer to that limb as the existential stick because it reminds us how powerless we are in the face of natural reality. We know the stick will come down eventually, but we have no more control over that than we do over nature itself. What do we really know about nature? What do we really know about anything? Why do we exist? Why does anything exist? Hmm… that’s an awful lot to garner from a stick, isn’t it?

The existential stick bugs Judy more than it bugs me. It offends her photographer’s eye whenever she gazes out the window, and this little bit of chaos reminds her of nature’s unpredictability. I, on the other hand, only sigh heavily when I see that stick. I’m somewhat resigned to it. My entire life’s work is an attempt to make sense of nature – to render meaning where there may not be any. The joke might very well be on me.

It’s just a stick, some would say, ignore it. Others would hire someone to come with the proper equipment to remove that eyesore. Judy and I rather impatiently await the wind to bring it down. But even when it’s gone, nature will remain what it is and has always been, both inscrutable and beyond our control. Is that a bad thing?

Comments Off on The Existential Stick

Dec 15 2021

Profile Image of Walt

Bluebirds of Happiness

Filed under Blog Post

During a short spell of relatively warm, sunny days, Judy and I went birding. We went birding just to get out of the house. We first stopped at Shelburne Bay, where various waterfowl had been spotted recently. We saw mergansers and buffleheads there, but they were too far away for Judy to take good photos. So we walked the LaPlatte River Trail next, instead of lingering along the lake’s edge waiting for ducks to draw nearer.

The trail following the LaPlatte River was muddy, but we had donned hiking boots before leaving the house in anticipation of that. We took our time, moving ever so slowly over waterlogged boards.

When I first saw movement through the trees, I assumed that the fast-moving, airborne creatures were robins. They turned out to be eastern bluebirds – half a dozen of them passing through. A pair perched temporarily on power lines not far away, making it easy for me to identify them with my binoculars. Incredible! This time of year? A few moments later, one landed on a nearby tree branch, giving Judy an opportunity to snap shots of it.

Bluebirds of happiness. Just what we needed. Deep into the second year of a pandemic, with all kinds of depressing news both locally and worldwide, and one week shy of the darkest day of the year, a little happiness goes along way.

In Russian fairy tales, the bluebird is a symbol of hope. In Navajo culture, it’s associated with the rising sun just as it is in ancient Chinese myths. The bluebird of happiness dates back to the Middle Ages in European folklore – a tale retold by Madame D’Aulnoy in L’Oiseau Bleu. Yeah, the upbeat symbolism of bluebirds is nearly universal. How lucky were we to spot them?

We went to Delta Park after that, catching a brief glimpse of a wren in the dense underbrush along the lake’s shore. Judy didn’t even have time to raise her camera for that one. No matter. The clouds had cleared out by then, exposing a perfectly blue sky an hour before dusk. We went home happy. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to feel that way.

Comments Off on Bluebirds of Happiness

Older Posts »