Archive for May, 2010

May 28 2010

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Sitting in the Woods

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After hiking hard for several hours, I leave the groomed trail and bushwhack along the brook until I’m way back in the mountains.  Then I drop my rucksack on a knob of high ground next to the brook and start making camp.  It’s an unseasonably hot day in May.  The leaves of birches and maples at this elevation are just opening up, so I’ve taken cover beneath a copse of conifers.  The terrain around me is rough but I’ve found a relatively flat spot to pitch my tarp.  After doing that, I fashion a small campfire circle then sit down to rest.

The black flies are out and looking for blood.  My dog, Matika, and I retreat beneath the tarp where the mosquito bar keeps the flies at bay.  By early evening, the temperature has fallen dramatically and the black flies are gone.  I make a seat out of my foam pad, leaning it against a big rock so that I can sit for a while, grooving on the wild.

At first I am busy cooking dinner, but when daylight fades to twilight I just sit, throwing thumb-sized sticks on the campfire and jotting down my thoughts in a journal.  Tightly wound nerves slowly unravel.  The incessant rush of water helps.  Soon I’m looking around, admiring the woody chaos all around me and wondering why I’m so lucky to be alone out here.  Why aren’t these woods full of other people doing the same?

Darkness slowly consumes the forest.  My modest woodpile has dwindled so I call it a day.  Matika is already lying in front of the tarp, ready for bed.  As I settle in for the night, the stars come out.  They twinkle through the canopy.

In the morning, just before sunrise, a gentle breeze sweeps down the mountain.  The forest smells like clean rot.  I go down to the brook to splash some cold water into my face and fill my pot.   It’s time for breakfast.  The small tepee of twigs bursts into flames in no time.  Soon I’m sitting in the woods again, journal in my lap, coffee in hand.  A wood thrush sings in the distance, as if to remind me that this is where I belong.    A wood thrush is always singing, it seems, when I am happiest.

Eventually I grow restless.  I want to start hiking again, so I break camp and pack up.  By the time I have bushwhacked back to the trail, I’m sweating heavily.  Yeah, it’s going to be another warm one.  But I don’t care.  It’s a glorious, summer-like day and I am footloose in the forest.  It doesn’t get any better than this.

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May 21 2010

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Nature and Existence

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Nature and Existence is now in print.  I’ve been working on this slender volume for years and am pleased to finally release it under my imprint, Wood Thrush Books.  Weighing-in at only 85 pages, this book packs a big punch for its size, or at least I think it does.  But I’ll let you, dear reader, be the judge of that.

While each essay in this book can be taken individually, they should be consumed as a set.  Together they outline a quirky worldview – a philosophy of wildness.  Definitely not for the faint of heart, or for people who think they know how the universe is organized.  But for those of you who have ever gazed deep into the night sky and scratched your head, this book might be of interest.

If a thoughtful, well-written nature essay can be likened to a glass of fine wine, then this is white lightning.  Yeah, sheer moonshine.  Be ready to get drunk with wild ideas.

In this book, I trade in paradoxes, ambiguities and outright contradictions – the stuff of life, not classrooms or churches.  And while I often wield the powerful tool of reason, that’s not where I put my faith.  There is too much mystery in nature for it to be grasped by reason alone.  And that’s where my argument begins.

Nature and Existence touches upon the known and the unknown, wildness, civilization, the laws of nature (or the lack thereof), Darwinism, cosmology, our relationship to the planet, physical and non-physical realities, the emergence of life, and what it means to be human.  Did I forget anything?

In another time and place, I would have been burned at the stake for writing a book like this.  But nowadays, in the Age of Information, whacked-out ideas like these can easily be ignored.  It’s your choice.  Go to to learn more about this book, or continue surfing the Internet.

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May 12 2010

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Matika Misses the Moose

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Yesterday my dog, Matika, and I headed for the mountains, taking full advantage of springtime sunshine.  A hard frost covered everything at dawn, but temps had reached into the fifties by the time we reached the trailhead.  I shouldered my rucksack and charged up the trail, ready for a good workout.  Matika kept a few yards ahead of me most of the time, occasionally bolting after an unsuspecting chipmunk.  Yeah, Matika is fixated on chipmunks.  And nothing I say can change her mind.

It felt great being back in the mountains again.  Over breakfast, I’d read an article about that big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico so my stomach was in knots.  I know better than to let morning news get to me that way, but I just couldn’t help myself.  There are so many things wrong about that disaster and how it’s playing out that I go nuts thinking about it.  Why did we let this happen?  Why can’t we come up with a better solution to our energy woes than drilling a mile deep into the ocean?  Anyway, it was good being back in the mountains, breaking a sweat and breathing fresh air, with no one else around.  I reveled in it.

A mile and a half into the hike, I reached a point on the trail that felt to me like the edge of spring.  By then I’d climbed to about fifteen hundred feet so the canopy overhead had thinned considerably.  A few patches of snow, left over from a recent storm, underscored the transition.  I pulled out my camera to snap a picture of the scene.  While I was doing that, a moose strolled leisurely across the trail.  It even stopped a moment to check out my dog and me before stepping back into the brush.  Matika was looking the other way, fixated on chipmunks.  I called for her to look around.  By the time she did, the moose was gone.

My dog isn’t stupid, nor is she a stranger to the forest.  It’s just that she doesn’t always pay attention to her surroundings.  She often gets fixated on chipmunks and squirrels, thereby missing larger quarry.  In that regard, she reminds me of some people I know.  “Drill! Drill! Drill!” they say, and there’s no getting them to seriously consider any other alternatives, let alone the consequences.

Matika missed the moose but I didn’t.  After years of not seeing one, it felt good to stand eyeball-to-eyeball with ol’ Bullwinkle again.  And I’m glad I got a picture of it.  Now I have proof.  To this day, there are still people who think that moose are rare in the Vermont woods.  But they’re all over the place.   Look down the next time you’re hiking in the Green Mountains and chances are good that you’ll see their tracks pressed deeply into the trail.  All you have to know is what a moose track looks like.  Then pay attention.

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May 06 2010

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Leaf Out

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It is barely perceptible at first.  Early in the season, I usually mistake the yellow-green catkins of poplars, elms and striped maples for the first leaf out.  But eventually it comes, adding an ever-so-slight vernal cast to otherwise naked gray-brown trees.  Then all of a sudden I get up one morning and notice that the trees are all clothed in bright green, as if it happened overnight.  And maybe it did.

The forest greens from the bottom up.  First the wildflowers strut their stuff, unfurling their leaves as they bloom: patches of trout lilies, trilliums, marsh marigolds and violets turning green long before the hardwood trees even think of it.  Then the slightly larger understory plants join in, until the green is up to our eyeballs.  Last but not least, the trees leaf out overhead, creating the canopy that makes the forest what it is – a shady sanctuary from summer heat.  I welcome it, being more a creature of shadows than sunlight as all true woods wanderers are.

Flying insects accompany me during my leisurely ramble around Indian Brook Reservoir.  I ignore them at first, then one takes a bite out of me.  “So soon?” I ask, knowing full well that this is only a hint of what’s to come.  I don’t care.  I revel in sunny coolness, the muddy trail underfoot, and the sky blue sheen of the rippling body of water to my left.  Few people are out here this afternoon, oddly enough, so it feels like I have the place all to myself – just my dog and me, that is.  Matika races up and down the trail, sniffing here and there, watching for squirrels.  She’s as happy to be here as I am.

On the north end of the reservoir, I find more signs of beaver activity than I remember from last year.  Dams, lodges and fresh cuts – their numbers are growing.  I wonder if the Essex townspeople care.  This is, after all, their playground.  Do they mind sharing it with so many toothy rodents?  We’ll see.

Yeah, this pocket of wildland will soon be overrun by Essex townspeople swimming, picnicking, fishing, boating and hiking.  Come Memorial Day, outsiders like me will need a permit to come here.  But I’ll be deep in the mountains by then.  Like most of the geese and ducks landing in the middle of the reservoir, I’m just passing through.  A springtime sighting, no more.

By the end of my ramble, I’m so relaxed that I hate to get back in my car.  I’m thinking I’m overdue for an overnight trip in the woods and should plan one immediately.  After all, the green wave will be creeping up the mountains soon and I don’t want to miss it.  That way I can experience leaf out all over again.  This is one of the things I really like about springtime.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

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