Tag Archive 'death'

May 09 2019

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The Solace of Waterfalls

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I snuck out of the rustic room at daybreak, refusing the flashlight that Judy sleepily offered. Not necessary. There was ample twilight for me to get around.

The Middle Falls roared nearby. I followed the well-groomed path though its spray on my way to the Upper Falls. A solitary robin called out – its song barely audible above the cascade. A thin drizzle fell from the dark, blue-gray sky.

My mother died while Judy and I were on our way back to Ohio. After a slow deterioration spanning several years, her actual death seemed to come fast. She was 89 years old but had rebounded so many times that the whole family began to think she would live forever. Seeing her remains at the funeral home convinced us otherwise.

Judy and I left four days after arriving in Ohio, then drove to Letchworth State Park in western New York to seek solace in nature. The Glen Iris Inn was full but Judy was able to secure us a room in an outbuilding called Pinewood Lodge. Following dinner at the inn, we enjoyed Middle Falls all lit up after dusk before returning to our room. I had a fitful night all the same.

No one else stirred in early morning as I meandered to Upper Falls. Soon I caught a glimpse of white water tumbling beneath a railroad bridge. I knelt down before the waterfall, accepting its spray along with the drizzle. I thought about how much my mother would have loved it, then cried. No more scenic views for her. She was gone. Yet the water still falls…

After breakfast, Judy and I checked out of the Inn. We took our time driving through Letchworth State Park, admiring the Genesee River snaking through a deep canyon on its way to more gentle terrain. We made our way home via the Finger Lakes, getting on with our lives. But there’s a hole in me now that can’t be filled. So it goes.

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Oct 26 2016

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Road Kill

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bone-on-the-roadLate October and the leaves are coming down. A few trees are still bright but most are past peak now. Today is cool and overcast. I wear a hat and jacket as I walk. Yesterday I saw the first specks of snow in my back yard. It’s that time of year.

Last week, while driving a busy New Hampshire highway in early morning traffic, I hit a deer. I was going 65 miles an hour like every other driver. Didn’t see it coming. Two seconds later or earlier and the deer would have been hit by someone else.

The deer bounced off the passenger’s side of my little car then disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared. From the damage it did to my car, I know it’s dead. The car is totaled. I’m okay. Had it been a moose instead of a deer, though, it would have been a different story.

I’m in a funk today, partly because winter is imminent and partly because I’m not enjoying the hassle of dealing with the insurance company. Being without a vehicle doesn’t help. But there’s something else going on in my head as well. One moment it’s another beautiful day and I’m going about my business per usual; the next I could be snuffed out of existence just like that. No warning. Boom! and it’s over.

It’s a grim thought for a grim time of year, certainly. Halloween is only a few days away. Halloween is the time of year when we dress up in funny costumes and make light of death. And so we should. If we stared sober at it during every moment that we’re awake, we’d go mad. So go ahead and have fun with it. The reaper catches up to us all soon enough.



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Oct 28 2013

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Last Harvest

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NiqBay, late fallJudy and I were both craving fresh apples so I drove to an orchard in the Champlain Islands today to pick up another bag or two. On the way home, I stopped at Niquette Bay State Park to stretch my legs and run my dog, Matika. With temps in the 40s and mostly grey skies spitting rain, I wore wool clothes for the occasion. Yeah, it has come to this.

The sun played hide-and-go-seek with me as I hiked. I kicked up dried leaves, marveling at the rust brown foliage still clinging to red oaks. Like beeches, oaks give up their leaves reluctantly. I admire that quality.

With tree trunks casting long shadows in mid-afternoon, I couldn’t help but think about the approaching dark season. My eyes gravitated to hollowed-out and dead trees still standing and on the ground as I walked. They seem to dominate the forest in the fall, or are they just easier to see now that the canopy is mostly down?

Three days shy of Halloween, death is everywhere, but the skeleton and tombstone decorations are mostly in jest. Children – those immortals among us – are amused by it. Not so much those of us getting up there in years. We are more cheerful and upbeat when the days are long and things are growing all around us. Beyond Halloween is a long, cold season that we must simply endure.

As I finished my walk, I tried hard to be in the moment and enjoy what’s left of autumn. But the fresh snow illuminating the Green Mountains and the sleet pelting the windshield of my car as I drove home made it difficult to ignore the obvious. I grabbed an apple and took a big bite. It tasted bittersweet. The last harvest. I both love and hate this time of year.


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Apr 02 2012

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Reservoir Reflections

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It’s a cool, overcast day in early spring. Even though Indian Brook Reservoir is only a few miles from the hubbub of suburban Burlington, Matika and I have the place all to our selves. The ice pellets occasionally spitting from the sky have kept everyone away – that and fact that it’s early afternoon on a weekday.

I have the day off from work so I thought I’d run a few errands in town then come out here to decompress. My dog Matika is happy to be in the woods for any reason. We hike to the far side of the reservoir then bushwhack a couple hundred yards off trail to a favorite rocky point where I like to sit and think. It’s a good day to do so.

We pass an old beaver lodge right before reaching the point. Plenty of new cuttings nearby. I wonder how long the caretakers of this reservoir will allow the beavers to proliferate before taking action. The longer the better as far as I’m concerned.  I like beavers. They make good company in the woods. Matika jumps on top of the lodge and sniffs around a bit.  Hers is an entirely different perspective, of course.

On the point, I sit on a rock and gaze across still waters reflecting the trees surrounding it. I come to this exact spot every spring to reflect upon events of the past year and quietly celebrate the end of another Vermont winter. A crow caws once in the distance then falls silent. Silence and stillness. Suddenly all my concerns seem trivial in the cool, gray light – all concerns but one that is. I’m another year older than I was the last time I sat here. Time marches on relentlessly.

I get up and walk around a bit. I spot a dead crayfish belly-up in shallow water. The shoots of a few wildflowers have already broken through the forest duff. Birth and death are common themes in the wild. They are clearly apparent everywhere one looks. I am both awed and horrified by it. The world is in a constant state of flux and this all-important “I” of mine is but an aggregate of dust quickly gathered then blown away. Fecundity and flux. Nothing withstands it.

I finish my hike without further reflection. I have things to do. If I dwell much longer upon The Big Picture, I’ll get nothing else done today. Perhaps it’s best to simply assume that things will go on forever just the way they are. That way we can go about our business as if any of it really matters.


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Mar 29 2011

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Winter Kill

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A big thaw about a week and a half ago melted off most of the snow in my yard.  That and the return of robins, blackbirds and geese gave me an early case of spring fever.  But temps have hovered around freezing since then, making me surly.  It’s been a long, snowy winter this time around, and I’m ready to see the end of it.

I reworked my Paris travel book this morning, getting it ready for publication.  At first working on it was a pleasant escape from the reality out my window.  But after a while, it got to me.  I can only take that bubbly, upbeat narrative a few hours at a time.  It really doesn’t suit my end-winter mood.

I went for a short hike this afternoon, more to burn fat than anything else.  I had expected the temps to climb into the 40s by now.  No such luck.  So I donned my thermals for what I hope will be the last time this year.  Then I loaded my dog Matika into the car and headed for the Rail Trail.

The trail was clear at first, while we were passing through farmer’s fields, but quickly turned to hard-packed snow under the cover of trees.  Yeah, it’s still winter in the woods.

Matika was happy to be outside, as always.  There were plenty of new and interesting smells to keep her busy.  I let her do her thing undisturbed while I trudged along leaving tracks in the snow.  I daydreamed about finding the first shoots of skunk cabbage, or some other sign of spring.  Maple sap lines appeared.  That’s about all.

Where’s Matika?  I looked around, catching her silhouette against the snow about thirty yards off trail.  She was tugging at something.  I called her away from whatever it was that she had found, then went over to investigate.  Sure enough, the bloody leg bones of an unlucky deer protruded from the snow.  I didn’t have to dig up the rest of it to know what had happened.  Like I said, it has been a long, snowy winter.

A short while later, Matika and I found the fresh tracks of another deer pressed deep into a muddy stretch of snow-free trail – a survivor most likely searching for food.  I turned us around before spotting it, concerned that my canine companion might give chase.  We had gone far enough, anyway.  And while walking back to the car, keenly aware of my winter fat, I wasn’t quite as surly as I’d been before.

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Jan 19 2011

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Culture of Fear

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A friend of mine urged me to visit Salon.com and read an article about how the government has created a climate of fear since 9/11.  I did just that and, quite frankly, I was underwhelmed.  Like most of what passes for journalism these days, the article was only about half true.

Fear is alive and well in America nowadays, but that’s largely due to the fact that we have created the ideal environment for it.  We live in a culture of fear, and all of us are culpable to some extent: patriots, pundits, fundamentalists, environmentalists, artists, scientists, government workers, businessmen, teachers, radicals and conservatives alike.  All of us are on the verge of panic on any given day, and neither politicians nor the media can resist playing on that.  Why should they?

Some nut shoots up the place and suddenly he has the rapt attention of the entire nation.  Why shouldn’t the media, the government or anyone else with a vested interest exploit the situation?  What’s to stop them?

When I was in the wilds of Southeast Alaska years back, I stumbled upon the remains of a moose.  I found a little hair, blood and tissue, but mostly just bones scattered across the gravel riverbank.  I squatted down in the middle of the mess and tried to wrap my brain around what had happened here.  Moose don’t die of old age in the open like this, I told myself.  They crawl into the dense alder bush to do it.  So this one must have been surprised by a brown bear, a pack of wolves, or something.  Suddenly it occurred to me that I could meet a similar fate before the end of the day.  Then I felt what can only be described as absolute dread.  Sometimes one has good reason to be afraid.  Some threats are immediate and very real.

What are the chances of either you or me being hit by lightning?  That’s not nearly as likely as one of us being horribly mangled or killed in an auto accident.  I’ve never seen a terrorist or mad gunman in action, but I’ve arrived early onto the scene of a horrific auto accident several times.  And yet, like most people, I keep on driving my car as if it could never happen to me.

Some things are worth being afraid of.  Others are not.  But in a culture of fear, legitimate fears are ignored while other less significant threats are blown completely out of proportion.  Why?  Because there’s money to be made by it.  Because we’ll go to any lengths to prevent or avoid the threats that we believe can be prevented or avoided.  Yet who refuses to get into their car?

Snoop around on the Internet and you’ll find that many more Americans die in auto accidents each year than have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars combined.  And every year there are many more auto deaths than murders in this country.  Think about that the next time you strap yourself into your car and head for the highway.  Then ask your self why you don’t fear your car at least as much as you fear the random bomb or bullet.

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Oct 28 2010

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All Hallows Eve

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The remnant of a grand old tree still stands at a trail junction in nearby woods where I roam on a regular basis.  I’ve walked past it fifty times, at least.  Years back, shortly after the tree finally died, the rotting trunk of that tree rose nearly twenty feet from the ground, threatening to fall and crush a passer-by on any given day.  But now it is only the shadow of its former self.  Shadow indeed – a ghost reminding us of a once vital life form, now passed away.

In late autumn, when the trees drop their leaves and the forest turns many shades of brown and dark gray, the remnants of dead and downed trees become more apparent.  This is their time of year, when the growing season has ended and the harvest has been taken in.  Death is in the air.  I am not oblivious to it.  Few woods wanderers are.

All Hallows Eve, or Halloween as it is more commonly known, is only a few days away.  Based on Samhain, the Celtic festival of summer’s end, this holiday was hijacked by the Christians during the Middle Ages and transformed into All Saints Day.  And the night before it became All Hallows Eve – a night to venerate the dead.  But that doesn’t change the essence of it.  It is a night when the dead mingle with the living, when life and death, vitality and dormancy, abundance and barrenness, darkness and light are in perfect balance.  The forest itself is shouting this at us.

Here in northern Vermont, winter is only a few weeks away.  It comes at us hard and fast – sometimes before we can even rake up our leaves.  Already snow has fallen in the mountains.  Already the wooly worms are dressed for winter and predicting a harsh one.  At the local farm stand, there’s an abundance of squashes and gourds, but little else.  The warmer, more vibrant half of the year is behind us.  And like a squirrel gathering nuts, I am hunkering down for the other half.

So go ahead and scoff at those who believe in ghosts if you want.  No doubt the prospect of an afterlife of any sort seems ludicrous to those steeped in science and accustomed to thinking rationally.  But I see ghosts in the forest all the time, and am convinced that death isn’t nearly as distant as we think it is.  This time of year, in fact, I can’t stop thinking about it.

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Sep 25 2008

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These Golden Days

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Yesterday I went for a long walk shortly after the sun rose.  The air was crisp and cool, and a golden glow permeated everything.  My dog sniffed along the grassy edges as I followed a stone path cutting through the woods.  I reveled in the dryleaf smell of early fall, as delightful in its own way as the smell of lilies in spring.  The surrounding forest was more brown than green.  Blue and white asters flowered in the ditches along the path. Crimson sumac, purplish grapevines, bright orange maple leaves and yellowing birches — this time of year, every color seems to have its day.  Change is in the air.

Spring used to be my favorite season but now it’s autumn.  I still enjoy that great thaw early in the year, when the world comes alive again, but I identify more with autumn as I grow older.  It seems more in keeping with the sensibilities of late middle-age.  In my fifties now, I see in the world around me a quiet, mature beauty that is easy to miss – more bittersweet than sweet.  One has to pay careful attention to catch it amid the sudden burst brilliant fall foliage.

Autumn is the perfect time of year for reflection.  Gone are the stinky thoughts of late winter, the jubilant rebirth of springtime, and the long daydreams of summer.  These are the days when thoughts easily sharpen to fine points, when memory and idea converge into insight with the least amount of difficulty.  These are the days when one’s mind clears with minimal effort, even as a thin haze hangs over waterways and among wooded hills.

America is a culture obsessed with youth and newness.  If you have any doubts about this, just turn on your television or visit a nearby shopping mall.  There is little room in it for subtle beauty, nuance or reflection.  All eyes are drawn towards what is now, hip and wow.  That is why we like our loud guitars, techie toys and anything that flashes or shines.   Consequently, we begin the fall season with a flurry of back-to-school spending, then end it with holiday plans.  Between there is little time for much more than a few snapshots of peaking leaf color.  The rest of the season is a blur.  We are busy, busy.

Then comes the harvest.  Other day, one of my grandchildren told me that he’s going to be the Grim Reaper for Halloween.  I had to laugh.  The thought of a vibrant eight-year-old playing the part of Death struck me as absurd – the perfect symbol for the clash of image and reality in our time.  He has no idea what death is, of course.  But I do.  Perhaps that is why I find this time of year so precious, so bittersweet.  The days are getting shorter, darkness is closing in, and the hard edge of winter is not far away.  Traditionally, it’s time to bring in the harvest, hunker down for the lean months ahead, and keep the Reaper at bay.

With the hint of death lurking in the corner of my eye, I cut my pace.  I slowly ambled along the path, trying to take in as much of nature’s sights, sounds and smells as possible before going about my daily affairs.  I, too, am busy.  But I stopped running long enough to take in the broader view.

Today I’ll make it a point to look up when a V of geese honks high overhead.  Maybe I’ll cut some flowers from my garden and carry them inside before a hard frost strikes.  Maybe I’ll go for another shirtsleeve walk while I still can.  After all, these golden days are fleeting.  The snow will fly before any of us are completely ready for it.  There is no time to waste.

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