Nov 21 2022

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The Long White Begins…

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Winter arrived in northern Vermont last week with the first snowfall blanketing the earth. Only a couple inches of the wet, heavy stuff, but it has lingered as temps have stayed around freezing. And so the long white begins…

I went for a short hike yesterday despite the inviting warmth of home. Didn’t go far away. The 3-mile loop in Niquette Bay State Park was good enough since deer hunters are prowling the Green Mountains these days. I passed half a dozen people on the trail, but was alone most of the time. Alone while making tracks in half-frozen mud, inhaling cool air.

A steady wind rocked the naked trees overhead, causing them to creak and groan – a woody conversation while I moved silently below. The late afternoon sun, setting so early this time of year, sank towards the western horizon. Forest shadows beneath a mostly azure sky. I hiked at a pace slower than usual to keep from chilling in my own sweat.

Just a few patches of snow here and there, but more will come no doubt. I’m ready for it. I’m ready to spend entire days indoors thinking, reading and writing. I’m as ready as I can be for holiday darkness, and the frigid temps that will follow. I polyurethaned my snowshoes when it was still warm enough to do that outdoors, so I’m ready to lay tracks in the snow, as well.

There’s no sense fighting winter when you live this far north. Better to embrace it, making the most of a season that has its own charms. Hibernation simply will not do – not when the cold season lasts nearly five months. Yeah, much better for sanity’s sake to embrace it.

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Nov 07 2022

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Nature Writing by t. kilgore splake

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I am pleased to announce the release of a third Wood Thrush Books title this year. This one’s called Escape to the Wild: the nature poetry and prose of t. kilgore splake. During the summer I culled nature-related pieces from over a hundred of splake’s books and chapbooks, added an introduction, then put this book into production. The first shipment arrived on my doorstep a few days ago, so now it’s in print.

I visited splake during my big road trip earlier this year, driving all the way to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to see the man in his natural habitat. I had been thinking about compiling his nature-related work before that, but the trip pushed me over the edge.

For those of you unfamiliar with his work, t. kilgore splake is a boho-beat poet well-known and widely published in the small press world. I’ve been following his work for over two decades. His nature-related verse, while only a fraction of what he has written, really resonates with me. I think some of his short narratives about excursions into the wild are engaging, as well. Hence the compilation of this book.

splake’s take on the wild is quite different from most. That’s what I find so interesting about him – that and the fact that extended camping trips in the UP when he was younger completely changed his life. I strongly urge those of you who want to see the power of nature at work upon an individual’s psyche to check out this book. You can get a copy by going to the Wood Thrush Books website. It is also available at Amazon.com.  

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Oct 24 2022

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The End of the Warm Season

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“Why am I indoors?” I asked myself at noon yesterday after working at my desk all morning. With temps in the 60s, it seemed silly to be inside. After all, a long, cold season lies directly ahead. Even though I’m ready for it, there’s no sense wasting the few warm days left.

I hopped in my car. Judy and I drove down to Dead Creek the day before yesterday to enjoy the warm temps and do a little birding, so I wasn’t in the mood for a long drive again. The woody section of the local rail trail is only ten minutes away. I figured that would do. I drove there, then walked up the wide gravel path, kicking up leaves and spooking a couple garter snakes along the way. I stepped over a few woolly worm caterpillars, as well, warning me that it’s going to be a long, cold winter. Good thing I came out.

There was a little color in the leaves still clinging to the trees, but the so-called peak foliage has been gone for a while now. Between the last peak color and the first skiable snowfall in the mountains, Vermont belongs to Vermonters. I reveled in the beauty and solitude of the quiet woods, ignoring the occasional cyclist passing through.

After walking a mile and a half, I sat down on a knoll overlooking a small pond in a clearing. Crows cawed in the distance. There were also songbirds out there, flitting about in the half-naked trees, but they were too far away to identify. No matter. I just sat there a while, enjoying the warmth and still air, with sunlight filtering through the mostly cloudy sky. I marveled at how quickly the warm season passed this year. The fresh verdure appeared not too long ago, or so it seemed. The days go by a lot faster now that I’m in my 60s.

I took my time walking back to the parking lot. I drove past a farm selling pumpkins for only five bucks and thought about getting one. Sat on the patio in my back yard reading for a while as Canada geese flew overhead. I sat until the sun passed behind the house. Then I caught a chill and went inside. The small bag of nuts on me for the resident chipmunk never came out for my pocket. He never showed. Could Chippy be settled in for winter already? I don’t think so but I’m sure he will be soon.

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Oct 03 2022

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New WTB Anthology

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I’m pleased to announce the release of the latest Wood Thrush Books anthology of nature writing, Savoring the Elements. I gathered work for this book during the first half of this year, put it together this summer, and now have copies in stock.

There’s new work in here from Stuart Bartow, Benjamin Green, Freya Manfred, Clarence Wolfshohl, and a dozen other regular contributors to past WTB anthologies, along with the poetry and prose of half a dozen newcomers. There are also excerpts in this collection from WTB titles published during the past few years: Walt Franklin’s Learning the Terrain, Helen Ruggieri’s Campfire Philosophy, and my own Wildness and Being Human. But the centerpiece of this anthology are selections from Scott King’s 365-day nature journal, Following the Earth Around. Scott passed away last year. This anthology is dedicated to him and the spirit of his work.

All the contributors have received a copy already and several of them have indicated that this anthology is an impressive one. I have bought together as many different ways of looking at the natural world as I could, and think they’ve picked up on that. At any rate, I’m proud of this collection and hope that nature lovers everywhere will enjoy reading it.

You can acquire a copy of this book by going to the Wood Thrush Books website. It’s also available at Amazon.com, of course. If you get a copy and read it, let me know what you think.

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Sep 10 2022

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Wildness or a View?

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This week I did two day hikes in the Adirondacks on two completely different trails. One took me deep into the wild. The other provided great views.

First I went to Pigeon Lake Wilderness on the western side of Adirondack Park. I hiked a narrow, mostly earthen path in a 7-mile loop through the woods. The trail was wet and muddy in places as I skirted beaver ponds and wetlands. I stopped at Queer Lake for lunch. It was so quiet there that I could hear water lapping to shore and leaves rustling in the gentle breeze. After lunch I sat against a fallen log and let my mind wander. I closed my eyes and napped for a short while. Then I slowly packed up and hiked out. Even though I took my time leaving the forest, I still worked up a good sweat. And I never saw anyone the entire time I was out there.

The next day I drove to the trailhead for Blue Mountain –– one of the most prominent features in the central Adirondacks. I got there early. There were no other cars in the parking lot when I arrived. I set forth up the mountain, following a heavily eroded, rock-strewn path about five feet wide. It was uphill all the way for about two miles. Even though I took lots of breaks, I managed to do the 1,800 feet ascent in less than 2 hours. The view from the fire tower on the summit was phenomenal. The Adirondack Park spread before me in all its glory, making me truly appreciate the sheer size of it. Two young hikers appeared just as I was descending the fire tower. While sitting below the fire tower, I listened to them chatter excitedly as they pointed out the summits and lakes in the distance. On my way back down the trail, I passed nine or ten more parties of hikers. There were over a dozen cars in the parking lot when I reached it, with more arriving.

Without a doubt, the view from the fire tower on top of Blue Mountain was well worth the climb. And I enjoyed the endorphin rush that came with the physical effort necessary to get up there. But hiking up that mountain wasn’t a wilderness experience by any stretch of the imagination. For that I would recommend a venture into Pigeon Lake Wilderness, or something like it. There is something about being alone in an undeveloped, rarely visited place that completely changes the way one looks at the world. Doing both was great, of course. But if I had to choose between the two, well, I’d choose the latter.

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Aug 27 2022

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Tending a Campfire

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Earlier this week, I went into the woods overnight just to get away from my work and chill out. I walked up a logging road winding into the Green Mountains, cut across an overgrown meadow, then bushwhacked along a crystal clear stream until I found a beautiful spot to camp.

Setting up my tent and making myself right at home didn’t take long, but the woods were wet from rain the day before, so it took a while to strip off the bark on the wood I gathered. Wood without its bark dries out fast and burns well. After gathering plenty of it, I ate lunch, did a little naturalizing, and wrote in my field journal before taking a long nap. Backwoods adventure? No, more like seriously goofing off.

That evening I placed some birch bark in the middle of the campfire ring I had created, built a small tipi of tiny sticks over it, then struck a match. Ten minutes later I had a good fire going. Another ten minutes after that I had water boiled up in my handy little one-quart pot. I kept the fire going as I drank hot tea with my dinner. I continued tending the fire long after its usefulness.

The sun disappeared behind a nearby ridge. Daylight faded away. The campfire slowly became the center of my universe. I fed sticks into it, carefully placing them to maximize the burn. My thoughts wandered. The water in the nearby stream rushed over rocks incessantly. The fire snapped and crackled, occasionally kicking out a blue flame. It mesmerized me as darkness closed in. I lost track of time.

Late in the evening I let the campfire slowly die out, becoming embers. Then I hit it hard with several pots of water from the brook before going to bed. In the morning I fired it up again, letting it die out quickly after breakfast. Then I dismantled the campfire, tossing the stones in the brook and burying a couple handfuls of cold ashes. No trace of it remained when I hiked away.

Pity the poor souls in the distant or perhaps not-too-distant future who will be unable to build a campfire anywhere. You can’t buy the kind of solace a campfire provides. It is a good reason to go in the woods, venturing off-trail, if you ask me.

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Aug 11 2022

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The Shock of Late Summer

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Yesterday I noticed the white wood asters in bloom in my back yard and felt the shock of late summer. Is it really that time of year already? I have just gotten used to running around barefoot, in a t-shirt and shorts. It seems like the warm season idle just began.

Judy and I sat in Taylor Park yesterday, listening to a concert as the sun sank slowly in the west. The air temperature was a perfect 70 degrees and flowers bloomed in the small garden before us while children scurried about. A few hours before that I had lounged in the shade on my patio, feeding a resident chipmunk and watching hummingbirds at the feeders while I read a book. At the start of each day, I open up the house, allowing a gentle summer breeze to waft through our living room. And every day is a good day – even when temps shoot into the 90s, even when it rains. Summertime is a prolonged dream.

Strawberries, a long hike through the shady forest, a dip in a mountain stream, corn on the cob and fresh tomatoes, birdsongs all day long, cotton ball clouds in a blue sky, wildflowers and a leafy green everywhere –– the simple joys of this season just keep coming. Then suddenly there are wood asters, goldenrod, and the shelves of stores are stocked with back-to-school supplies.

Yes, I have noticed the subtle shortening of daylight hours but have chosen to ignore it. Yes, I’m well aware that autumn has its own delights, but I’m not ready to let go of summer just yet. I am still in a summertime frame of mind. And the remaining month of it always feels more precious than the previous two.

The days slip by, the months, the years… I’m at that point in my life where life itself feels precious. I am shocked by the passage of time. Was the last summer camp with our grandkids really five years ago? Has it actually been over a decade since my hike through the 100-Mile Wilderness? Have 40 years gone by since my arrival in Vermont? This all comes as a surprise to me.

Even the long days of summer aren’t long enough. Life is short. There’s no time to lose.

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Jul 28 2022

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High Summer Hike

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Sometimes I just have to drop everything and go. Yesterday I worked in my study from dawn until mid-afternoon, building up my online bookselling biz and putting together yet another WTB anthology of nature writing. But enough is enough. I shut down the desktop computer, pulled on my boots, and slipped out the door. Less than an hour later, I was tramping through the forest following a dusty, rock-strewn trail winding through the trees.

It felt good to stretch my legs, breathing heavily again. I hadn’t planned on a vigorous hike but my body wanted it. With no wind, high humidity and temps in the 80s, I was sweating in no time despite the shade provided by the canopy overhead.

My eyes feasted on the endless green. The smell of midsummer vegetation and the soothing forest silence convinced me that I’d made the right call. A pileated woodpecker sang in the distance. A nearby hermit thrush serenaded me. Frogs croaked from the wetland I easily traversed, thanks to a boardwalk. And my highly organized morning thoughts gave way to afternoon daydreams.

When the trail started climbing steadily, I felt an overwhelming urge to hike as hard and fast as I could. There was no one around to hear my grunts and groans or to see me soaking my t-shirt. That had a lot to do with it. Sometimes I like to meander through the woods simply grooving on the wild. Other times I like to charge along a trail as if my life depended upon getting somewhere. It has nothing to do with any given destination and everything to do with wanting to feel fully alive and completely in the moment.

Late July already. Amazing. Summertime doesn’t last long, especially in northern Vermont. As I returned to my parked car, I wondered what else I could do to make the most of these halcyon days. Winter is a good time of year for think work, no doubt. But in high summer, it’s better to go outside and get physical.

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Jul 08 2022

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Two Completely Different Landscapes

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Last month, towards the end of a big trip out West, I hiked in the Mojave Desert with my friend Bill Weiss. We went into Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California to be specific. We left his Jeep at the end of a dirt road and hiked to Queen Mountain before sunrise – before the sun had a chance to really heat things up. We wore jackets to protect ourselves from a strong, dry wind that threatened to strip the moisture from our bodies. The air temperature was in the 70s when we started, and in the 80s when we finished our hike a few hours later.

A fine dust covered the ground, along with rocks of all sizes. There was no sign of water anywhere. Yucca, creosote and cactus plants arose from the arid landscape. They sported all kinds of needles and other hard, sharp edges. As Bill pointed out, desert plants have attitude.

When the sun rose, I was awestruck by the beauty of this wide-open country. The mountains in the distance were awash in pastel colors, and the folds in the ground closer to us cast long shadows as did the vegetation. Oh, but that blinding orb shined relentlessly once it finally showed itself. We stripped off our jackets and tipped the bills of our hats down over our eyes as we hiked out. We sucked down precious water from our bottles. Dust mixed with the sweat and sunscreen on my exposed forearms. In the desert there is no place to hide from that blazing sun. We were glad to be back indoors later on that day, when temps spiked over 100 degrees.

Yesterday I hiked up Mount Abraham in central Vermont. Temps were in the 60s when I started and in the low 70s when I finished. Nice and cool, especially under the cover of trees, but I sweated the entire time anyway. The forest was damp, very damp, after weeks of considerable rain. There was water running everywhere, and the trail was all roots and rocks and mud puddles. From the top of the mountain, I marveled at the Green Mountains rolling away to the south beneath billowing clouds. A thick haze covered the Champlain Valley to the west, due to high humidity. The sun peaked occasionally from the clouds. The wind blew but it was more comforting than threatening as it usually is this time of year. The wind in the middle of winter, well, that’s another story.

The desert has its charms, but I’m a creature of the forest. I like having that canopy overhead and feel quite comfortable in the endlessly green understory. Granted, it’s a lot easier to get lost in the woods than it is in the open desert, but I always manage to find my way home. And I don’t like being very far away from water. Others don’t mind it, though. To each his/her own, I suppose.

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Jun 20 2022

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On the Road

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I just returned home from 5 weeks on the road. A writer friend died suddenly last year so I decided it was time to see as many others as possible before anyone else slipped away forever. Some of them are roughly my age; others are in their 70s and 80s. Some of them I hadn’t seen in decades; others I had not yet met. It was time to stop saying “maybe someday.”

As I planned the trip, the list grew. I added family and a few non-literary friends to my itinerary – those I hadn’t seen since before Covid, who lived at least 500 miles away. There were 20 people on the list by the time I departed. So I knew from the outset that it was going to be a whirlwind tour.

I rented a nearly new car and drove it from Vermont to Florida, then to Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Missouri, then to Colorado, New Mexico and all the way to California. I turned in the rental at the LA airport then flew home completely exhausted. I put 7,600 miles on the car’s odometer. I saw a good part of America – its land and its people. It’s going to take me a while to process it all.

There are two things I can say for certain, though: everyone is living life the best they can, despite the pandemic and everything else, and this country of ours is a remarkable place. It has changed since the last time I traveled into the deep south or far west 40 years ago. The cities are bigger, the climate is more severe (especially out west), and the people are more diverse. Yet the landscape is as beautiful as it has ever been, and most people are surprisingly friendly.

There were challenges, of course. Constant Covid testing and mask wearing, skyrocketing gas prices, a shortage of workers causing all sorts of problems, homicidal drivers on the highways, intense heat, and wildfires out west – the trip was not a cheap or easy one. But it was well worth it.

It was worth it just to hug those I hadn’t seen in years and to meet longstanding literary friends for the very first time. People are important, and that’s something that a solitary, woods-wandering guy like me needs to remember. All the same, it feels good be back on home turf with my life partner Judy. Being away from her was the only real hardship. The rest was an adventure.

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