Tag Archive 'awareness'

Mar 13 2009

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Woodpecker on Mt. Philo

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I drove to Mt. Philo the other day on impulse, after running errands in Burlington.  I figured the remnant snow on the access road leading to the summit would give my legs a good workout.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Although the punky snow wasn’t more than a few inches deep, climbing the foothill was like climbing a giant sand dune.  Yeah, a good workout.

A strong March wind tossed the trees back and forth while I hiked.  The chill of it glazed my eyes with tears.  I walked with my head down for the most part, lost in the abstractions I had been writing about earlier that day, along with the sobering financial news that had streamed over the radio during the drive.  Only my own heavy breathing kept me linked to the here and now – that and my goofy dog, Matika, running back and forth as fast as she could, all smiles.

Towards the top of Mt. Philo, a pileated woodpecker cried out loud and clear, wrenching me from my thoughts.  I stopped to listen more intently but it didn’t cry out again.  Strange silence.  Only the sound of roaring wind.  Then I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye and, sure enough, there was the silhouette of that pointy-headed bird etched against the gray sky.  It clung to a dying birch for a second or two then disappeared, making me wonder if I’d actually seen it at all.  I finished my hike to the summit, temporarily loosing sight of surrounding trees to a thickening fog.

What is important – the human condition, a drop in the Dow, or the brief glimpse of a woodpecker on a misty day?  Perhaps none of it is.  Perhaps the smile on my dog’s face, a bone-chilling wind, and my own sweat-soaked shirt is all that matters.

I gazed across the Champlain Valley from a lookout atop Mt. Philo for a short while before finishing the hike, slip-sliding back down the car.  Halfway down the hill, I heard the woodpecker again.  One call to greet me, the other to say goodbye.  I stopped and turned in the general direction of the call but saw nothing.  So much the better.  That way it melded into my abstractions and stayed with me the rest of the day.

It’s hard to say whether the current downturn in the global economy will end soon or continue for years to come.  I don’t know where all my philosophical abstractions will take me, either.  But this I do know:  the wind will blow through trees, dogs will romp in snow, and woodpeckers will call out long after I’m dead and gone.  Maybe I should focus on that.

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Nov 28 2008

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The Season of Long Nights

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Just about the time the first homeowners put up Christmas lights, I feel it.  Oddly enough, the feeling usually comes in the middle of the day, when the muted, overcast light of late November isn’t enough to read by.  After a long walk in bone-chilling rain, I’m happy enough to stay indoors the rest of the day, but it seems strange to be doing everything by artificial light.

Every year I am given plenty of warning.  Daylight Savings Time kicks in around Halloween and I’m eating dinner in the dark for weeks before it gets to me.  Then all of a sudden pow! I’m in a funk for no reason whatsoever.  I’m not alone in this.  Millions of people have Seasonal Affective Disorder and millions more don’t particularly care for these short days and long nights.  But like all those who suffer SAD, the dark season is something I experience in deep solitude no matter how many people around me are suffering the same. That’s just the nature of the beast.

Yes, I know all about sun lights and the many other strategies one can employ to keep SAD at bay, but the darkness still hounds me.  I’m adept now at staying a step ahead of it most of the time, but there are moments during the course of each short day when the sense of desolation is overwhelming.  Surely this feeling is as old as humanity itself.  Surely the first self-aware hominid felt something like it when he/she suddenly realized that several lean months lay directly ahead, and that not everyone in the clan would make it to spring.  Awareness is damning that way.

I am a creature of light.  I revel in the long days of early summer when it seems the sun will never set.  My two-week sojourn in the Alaskan bush was the greatest high of my life, and I’m sure that the 20-hour days had a lot to do with it.  Conversely, the only time I seriously considered suicide came on a day much like today.  Thank god I didn’t follow through on that urge, otherwise I would have missed out on dozens of glorious springs and as many magnificent summers!

Just now the snow-dusted landscape out my window becomes more visible as a lazy sun rises behind a wall of gray clouds. Later on this morning, I will go for a long walk in quiet defiance, as if to affirm that I will live to see the wildflowers bloom again.  Like my distant ancestors, I have seen this coming and have braced myself against it.  Awareness is redeeming that way.

I can’t help but think that my sensitivity to light and darkness is somehow linked to my close association to the wild.  Rationally speaking, though, this makes no sense.  There are plenty of nature lovers indifferent to these long nights.  Still, the Winter Solstice rituals of the Druids and other pagans make me wonder if there isn’t some aversion to darkness deep within us all.  Everyone braces against it, one way or another.  No doubt the candle makers and manufacturers of Christmas lights will have plenty of buyers for their wares for many years to come.

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