Archive for February, 2012

Feb 27 2012

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Waiting for Spring

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The late February sun beats hard against the freshly fallen snow, warming it to the melting point. My stepsons and their families are headed to the ski slopes to play in the white stuff before it disappears, but I am more inclined to simply wait until spring.

Never a big fan of winter, I gaze upon the icicles dangling down from the roof of my house and smile vacantly. I know what this means. Now it’s just a matter of weeks before the earth thaws and vegetation begins its steady rise from dormancy.

I should grab my snowshoes and put them to good use while I can, but the cardinal singing loudly from a nearby tree reminds me that I’m more a creature of mud, unfurling leaves and running water. So I think I’ll just wait. It won’t be long now.

A mild winter portends an early spring. Okay, maybe March will be chock full of snowstorms. There have been plenty of Vermont winters like that in the past. But the bright sun and the new songbirds at my feeder tell me otherwise. Or maybe I’m just ready for the change.

Icicles don’t lie. Regardless what the month of March holds, these temporary stalactites are proof positive that winter can’t last forever. The earth wheels around the sun and the earth’s axis tilts inward. The rest is thermodynamics. So all we lovers of green things have to do is wait. It won’t be long now.


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Feb 19 2012

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Reading John Burroughs

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Once again I am reading John Burroughs – a turn-of-the-century writer who practically reinvented the nature essay. Heavily influenced by Emerson and second only to Thoreau in his passion for the natural world, Burroughs has intrigued me for years. Yet I have shied away from him time and again, fearing that the yawning chasm between his work and modern sensibilities might prove infectious.

More than one literary critic has called Burroughs “quaint” – a damning term to be sure. I cringe whenever I hear it. That’s like being accused of being both frivolous and irrelevant. Granted, the word might apply well to the many bird watching essays that made Burroughs so popular in his day, but it completely ignores the man’s more philosophical side. In the last few years of his life, that part of him really flourished.

John Muir and John Burroughs are the “two Johns” of late 19th, early 20th century nature writing. Most self-proclaimed nature lovers relate more to the former than they do to the latter. That’s because Muir was an activist in his day, a promoter of national parks and a founder of the Sierra Club. All that is much in keeping with the spirit of modern environmentalism. And Burroughs? Well, when he wasn’t writing pieces for mainstream magazines or hanging out with industrialists like Henry Ford, we was thinking too much. A quick perusal of Accepting the Universe, published shortly before his death, is proof positive of that.

Yeah, those of you who have read my heavier work know which side of Burroughs I prefer. In one essay he writes: “We cannot put our finger on this or that and say, Here is the end of Nature,” and I’m all over it. “The Infinite cannot be measured,” he adds, and I couldn’t agree more.  Yeah, Nature with a capital “N,” going well beyond politics. Am I the only nature lover alive today who cares about the things that JB pondered in his old age? One of the few, certainly.

The essays of John Burroughs are good for the soul. I find his ruminating, rambling style a welcome change from the superficial, sensational nonsense so prevalent in the media today. So I will continue reading his work and thoroughly enjoying it despite the musty smell that emanates from the hundred-year-old books that I hold in my hands. Sometimes nothing will do but the classics.


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Feb 11 2012

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Icy Trail

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The lack of snow is making a lot of Vermonters grumpy these days. Even those of us who don’t ski are missing the white stuff. Vermont in the winter isn’t same without a blanket of white. Oh sure, there’s snow in the mountains and the ski areas are making their own, but here in the valley we get a dusting that melts with the next sunny day. Then the ground is half-naked again. It’s unsettling.

Snow or no, I went for a walk the other day.  I went to Aldis Hill as I usually do when I’m short on time but need a woods fix. I was shocked to find the trail a solid mass of ice and immediately regretted not bringing my Yaktraks. I slipped and slid along, often leaving the trail for better footing yet returning to it out of sheer habit. I crept along slowly. That helped.

Matika didn’t mind, of course. Any time out-of-doors is a good time for her. Then again, she wasn’t on the trail itself.

I slipped and took a hard fall at one point. No surprise there. Got up and immediately checked to see if anything was broken.  A slight abrasion on my hand, that’s all.  A few minutes later, I slid ten feet. After that I tramped through the woods back to the car. An icy trail isn’t a trail, really. It’s a river of ice reminding three-season hikers like me that winter is fundamentally inhospitable. This one is for sure. So now it’s just an impatient wait until springtime.  Fortunately, in a year like this, that can’t be far away.


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