Archive for December, 2010

Dec 30 2010

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Life Goes On

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It is customary, I suppose, to reflect upon the past while anticipating the future this time of year.  After all, one calendar year is ending and another is about to begin.  But this time around, circumstances have made that process a little more poignant for me.

Scout Thibault, my next-door neighbor and friend, died three days ago.  87 years is a full life, certainly, but that doesn’t make his passing away any easier to accept.  It happened so fast.  He and I were in the driveway silently shoveling snow together just last week, as we have every winter for the past ten years.  Now, all of a sudden, I do the task alone.

While cleaning the clutter out of my office the other day, I sorted through several year’s worth of letters.  Some were literary; others were personal.  As I have grown older, the boundary between the two has blurred.  Truth is, there are no such boundaries.  Not really.  We all march through life together, and it matters little whether our interactions with each other are professional or otherwise.  We carry the marks left on us by others.  And vice versa.

Living in such close proximity – with a shared driveway no less – I made an effort to be as civil as possible to my neighbor Scout.  That civility slowly transformed into friendship despite the many differences between us.  Suddenly I found myself shedding a tear for someone I had once considered an annoyance.  These things happen.  For better or worse, we all leave our marks on each other.

Each year Judy and I gather together all our grandchildren for a three-day summer camp – no parents allowed.  For Christmas we gave both families a small photo album of the last get-together.  While Matt’s family was going through it, our youngest grandchild Tommy exclaimed: “Me not there!”  That’s because he was too young last summer.  But that will change this year.  Tommy’s day in the sun is approaching fast.

Hard to say which impresses me more:  the many people I’ve known and things I’ve done in the past, or the prospects that still lie ahead.  As I grow older, it becomes increasingly more difficult to separate accomplishments from plans, the personal from the merely civil, fond memories from sad ones, the future from the past.  Yet one thing remains crystal clear: the planet spins about its axis and new generations come along no matter what happens, no matter who passes away.  This is a prospect I find both deeply disturbing and wonderfully consoling.  Life goes on.

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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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Dec 17 2010

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Arguing with the Wind

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Arguing with the Wind, an account of my two-week sojourn in the wilds of Southeast Alaska, has just been reprinted.  It is available at  Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, ordering a copy is now as easy as clicking a button.  My modest publishing imprint, Wood Thrush Books, has finally entered the 21st Century.

I still have a few copies of the original edition, published back in 2003, that has an amateurish line drawing on the cover.  But the new edition sports a cover photo of the Kakuhan Range as seen from the coastal meadow near my base camp in the bush.  The book has also been revised ever so slightly and reformatted.  That said, the narrative remains essentially the same.

The big news is that I have recorded myself reading this book in its entirety.  My stepson, Matt, will soon be uploading these recordings to iTunes one or two chapters at a time, where they will be available as podcasts free of charge.  I flashed back to my sojourn in Alaska during the recording, so you might actually hear my gut reactions to the bush in those podcasts.  Although that adventure took place almost two decades ago, I remember the harsh beauty of the Alaskan wilds as if it was yesterday.  Some things you never forget.

I often tell people that a part of me never left the bush, that there’s a wildness within me now that won’t go away no matter how many times I sit in cafes sipping espresso, listening to modern jazz.  And when I’m deep in an Adirondack or New England wilderness, I quickly go feral.  It can’t be helped.  Once you’ve experienced the world at the most visceral level, there’s no going back to the tamer way of seeing things.

At any rate, I am excited by the prospect of this story reaching a much wider audience, and am quite pleased with the products that Matt and I have painstakingly put together.  There is the precious dream of wilderness that flutters through the mind like a fairy, then there is the real thing.  I hope that all of you, readers and listeners alike, get a better sense of the wildness of Alaska as a result of our humble efforts.

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Dec 09 2010

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Winter Arrives

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It happened while I was busy getting ready for the holidays and my wife’s upcoming birthday.  Winter arrived, just like that.  The inch or two of snow that the weather forecasters promised us turned into a foot, and I spent the better part of a day shoveling it.  Then temps suddenly dropped into the teens.  Oh sure, the Winter Solstice is still two weeks away, but there is no doubt here in the North Country that winter has already arrived.

While tossing a ball for my dog at dusk, I noticed the brown remnants of my flower garden sticking up through the snow.  I usually cut them back before the snow flies.  How did that simple task escape me this year?  Like I said, I’ve been busy lately.  Very busy.  It’s becoming a bad habit, actually.  I cram too much into any given day.  I try too hard to make each day count, and they fly by all the same.

I like the way the flower remnants look against the snow, especially as the last light fades.  I don’t particularly like the way the frigid air stings my face, but I know I’ll get used to it.  I put on my thermals today.  It seems a little premature for thermals, but it is that time of year.

The UPS guy just dropped off a proof copy of a book for me to review.  That’s one more thing demanding my attention – one of a half dozen literary projects that I currently have in the works.  Like I said, I’ve been very busy lately.  Maybe too busy.  When is there time to stop and smell the roses?  Right now, only the dried stems of roses protrude above the snow.

My dog lives in the moment.  She plows through the snow, chasing the ball as if it’s the only thing that matters.  While tossing the ball for her, I catch myself thinking about what I’ve accomplished today and making plans for tomorrow.  I’m too busy to lose myself in the moment as she does.  And to be perfectly honest, I barely notice the cold north wind blowing my way.

Winter arrives and I turn inward in more ways than one.  Winters are long here in the North Country, so it’s easy to get lots of indoor projects done.  Yet times like these, when I’m outside and looking around, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to appreciate nature in winter the way I do during the warm season.  Probably not, but I’d sure would like to try someday.

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Dec 02 2010

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Chasing the Light

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Sunlight breaks through the leafless trees at midday – a welcome sight for light-hungry eyes after so many gray days.  Now there’s nothing but blue sky overhead.  I amble along the well-groomed trail, not wandering far away from it, respecting the No Trespassing signs posted on both sides.  Yet my eyes steal southward all the same, chasing the light.  It’s a precious commodity this time of year, when the sun rises so reluctantly and sets all too soon.

A storm front passed through the region a few days ago, leaving a dusting of snow on the ground.  Usually the first snowfall melts off right away, but this one is lingering as if to remind folks that it’s December.  Those of us sensitive to light need no such reminder.

Air temperatures fluctuate, thus determining what kind of precipitation falls, but daylight remains ever faithful to the calendar.  Its slow, steady march through the seasons is deeply comforting in a world as tumultuous and unpredictable as ours.  All the same, the next few weeks of diminishing days are hard on those of us who thrive on light.  We won’t rest easy until we’re on the other side of the Winter Solstice.

I’ve often wondered if I would be so drawn to the Great Outdoors if I didn’t need the light so much.  In summertime I revel in it.  In the winter, the shortness of the day forces me outside.  People tell me that there are vampires among us who need the darkness as much as I need the light, but I find that hard to believe.  Daylight, direct or indirect, is essential to all living things.  Who can go long without it?

Here in the North Country, there are those who string up artificial lights in order to keep the darkness at bay.  Others drag bits of greenery into their houses to remind themselves that the growing season will return.  Still others try to ignore nature’s signals, keeping themselves busy with indoor or outdoor activities, or elaborate holiday preparations.  Every year I find myself resorting to all these strategies.  But that doesn’t change the realities of light – what it does to us over time.  So the best thing we can do is just roll with it, letting nature take its course.  Eventually, the Earth’s axis will tilt as far away from the Sun as it can, then change its attitude.  All we have to do is endure.

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