Tag Archive 'happiness'

Dec 15 2021

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Bluebirds of Happiness

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During a short spell of relatively warm, sunny days, Judy and I went birding. We went birding just to get out of the house. We first stopped at Shelburne Bay, where various waterfowl had been spotted recently. We saw mergansers and buffleheads there, but they were too far away for Judy to take good photos. So we walked the LaPlatte River Trail next, instead of lingering along the lake’s edge waiting for ducks to draw nearer.

The trail following the LaPlatte River was muddy, but we had donned hiking boots before leaving the house in anticipation of that. We took our time, moving ever so slowly over waterlogged boards.

When I first saw movement through the trees, I assumed that the fast-moving, airborne creatures were robins. They turned out to be eastern bluebirds – half a dozen of them passing through. A pair perched temporarily on power lines not far away, making it easy for me to identify them with my binoculars. Incredible! This time of year? A few moments later, one landed on a nearby tree branch, giving Judy an opportunity to snap shots of it.

Bluebirds of happiness. Just what we needed. Deep into the second year of a pandemic, with all kinds of depressing news both locally and worldwide, and one week shy of the darkest day of the year, a little happiness goes along way.

In Russian fairy tales, the bluebird is a symbol of hope. In Navajo culture, it’s associated with the rising sun just as it is in ancient Chinese myths. The bluebird of happiness dates back to the Middle Ages in European folklore – a tale retold by Madame D’Aulnoy in L’Oiseau Bleu. Yeah, the upbeat symbolism of bluebirds is nearly universal. How lucky were we to spot them?

We went to Delta Park after that, catching a brief glimpse of a wren in the dense underbrush along the lake’s shore. Judy didn’t even have time to raise her camera for that one. No matter. The clouds had cleared out by then, exposing a perfectly blue sky an hour before dusk. We went home happy. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to feel that way.

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Jun 07 2018

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A Woodsy Walk

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After three days building shelves to expand my book biz, I figured it was time to treat myself. So I loaded Matika into the car and headed for a patch of nearby woods for an easy hike.

It was more of a walk, really, since I had my old dog in tow. I don’t break a sweat any more when I’m with her. That’s okay. I’ve started hiking without her whenever I want to get some real exercise. But this morning it was all about the two of us just being in the woods together, grooving on the wild.

We’re in the cusp between spring and summer now. The dames rocket flowering in ditches along the highway are proof of that, as is the sudden appearance of Canada mayflower and dewberry in the woods. “Days of heaven” is what I call this time of year, because it doesn’t get any better than this: ideal temps, vernal green, flowers blooming, and all the delights of summer directly ahead.

I love a woodsy walk. I love the play of shadow and light in the cool, green understory, along with the rich smell of forest growth and decay, and the sound of leaves rustling in the canopy overhead. I stopped by a beaver pond long enough to listen to veerys, thrushes, and other songbirds while basking in the joy of simply being alive. Oh sure, I have my concerns – doesn’t everyone? – but they didn’t phase me in that moment. And that’s the great thing about a walk in the woods. One draws quiet strength from it.

Matika was panting heavily by the time we finished our walk. All the same, I know she enjoyed being in the woods as much as I did. It doesn’t take much to make her happy. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, either. A patch of nearby woods does the trick.



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Nov 30 2011

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A Place to Ponder

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Every once in a great while, I go up to Aldis Hill to sit on a downed tree and just ponder matters. Usually I have a cigar in hand, which I smoke in celebration of some small accomplishment. In this case, I was celebrating the publication of the latest Wood Thrush Books anthology – no mean feat considering how busy I’ve been keeping myself lately. But maybe this celebration was just an excuse. It was an unseasonably warm day in late November and I badly needed to get out of the house.

Remnant patches of snow from an early winter storm remained on the ground despite several days of thawing temps. A pile of wood chips at the base of a dead tree caught my eye. Evidently some hungry critter had been digging there for bugs. I’m guessing a raccoon. My dog Matika watched intently as a squirrel ran the branches overhead. Some unseen bird squawked unrecognizably from a nest.  I couldn’t make it out in the twilight. The sun had set a half hour earlier, just as I had entered the woods.

My mind wandered as it does on such occasions. I congratulated myself for completing yet another literary task, pondered current projects, then considered what the future holds. Then I thought about matters on a grander scale: the people I know and love, and the human condition in general. It doesn’t take me long these days to leap from the personal to the universal. For better or worse, I’m in the habit of philosophizing.

Funny how these woods-sitting sessions of mine always end with a thanksgiving. I can’t help but count by blessings whenever I stop moving long enough to consider my place in the greater scheme of things. The pursuit of happiness breeds unhappiness, I think. Only when I stop and think about what I already have do I start feeling good.

I walked out in darkness, feeling my way along the trail.  A galaxy of city lights sparkled through the naked trees as I meandered downhill.  I delighted in it.  A half hour later, I was back home and busy doing things again.  But this time with relish.  I had been miserable about something earlier in the day, but couldn’t for the life of me recall what it was.


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Apr 27 2011

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The First Wildflower

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A few days ago, while hiking Aldis Hill, I noticed that several wildflowers were on the verge of blooming.  Some them can take more than a week to open.  Bloodroot and trilliums are a good example of this.  But round-lobed hepatica, a humble member of the buttercup family, usually opens right away.  So I went looking for it yesterday despite the rain.

At Judy’s suggestion, I went to Niquette Bay State Park.  It’s a good place to hunt for wildflowers this time of year.  It’s right on Lake Champlain where Vermont’s northern climate is slightly milder.  Dog friendly, too, which is good for Matika.  Midweek, raining, and early in the morning, I was certain to have the place to myself.  That sold me on it.  I went.

I noticed trilliums right away, but they weren’t open yet.  A few Dutchman’s breeches had taken form, but they were still green.  Patches of mottled green leaves caught my eye, but the trout lilies they sport were nowhere in sight.  Not yet.  I saw spring beauty drooping and closed against the rain.  Then I found them, amid moss-covered rocks – the first wildflowers of the season pushing up through the forest duff: hepatica.

To those of us who love all things green and growing, who simply endure winter, few things are more joyous than the first wildflowers of early spring.  What a relief to see them.  A smile broke involuntarily across my face while hungry eyes fell upon their delicate petals.  A woodpecker knocked nearby, a hermit thrush sang in the distance, and insects buzzed about.  No matter.  The first wildflower of the season is what turned me.  The world is reborn!

With my wife’s old camera, a great improvement over the cheap one I’ve been using the past year, I snapped several pictures of the tiny flower.  I didn’t mind lying on the wet, muddy earth while doing so.  In fact, I rather enjoyed it.  Then I went down to the water’s edge to ponder matters great and small before moving on.  Matika chewed a stick to pieces while I sat there.  Then we both finished the hike wet, wild and happy.

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Nov 18 2010

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Hiking at Dusk

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After running errands in Burlington, I went to Indian Brook Reservoir to exercise my dog and stretch my legs.  It was already late afternoon by the time I reached the trailhead.  The dark gray sky overhead made it seem even later in the day than it was.  No matter.  With less than an hour of light left, Matika and I headed down the trail.

Deer hunting season is in full swing now.  My wife had insisted that I take blaze orange with me, at least for the dog.  Good thing I did.  Without it I wouldn’t have risked taking Matika into those twilight woods.  Should have had some blaze orange on myself as well.   I made my dog stay close at hand, more for my protection than for hers.

Mine was the only car in the parking lot.  Matika and I were the only creatures afoot – the only visible ones, anyhow.  A rare thing, indeed, on an otherwise busy trail.  I reveled in this unexpected solitude, until the last bit of daylight piercing through the clouds faded away.  That’s when I started thinking I should get back to the car.  By then Matika and I were a mile into the woods.

With the air temperature well above 50 degrees, it felt more like September than November.  But the defoliated trees and the shortness of the day told the real story.  Everywhere I looked: stark and uninviting woods.  The slippery mud underfoot made for slow going.  By the time I reached the feeder stream at the far end of the reservoir, the forest was dark.

Having hiked this trail many times before, I navigated it more by memory than sight.  That’s the big advantage of experience.  You come to know what to expect.  Without even seeing them, I knew where all the treacherous spots in that trail were.  I also knew that hurrying out of the dark forest would only increase my chances of falling down, so I took my time.  And I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the walk.  Life’s better when it has an edge to it.  Just a little, that is.  Just enough to vanquish petty concerns.

Daylight had completely vanished by the time my dog and I reached the parking lot.  Matika didn’t care and neither did I.  We were both happy to have hiked while we could.  We shared the liter of water that I had on hand, then climbed into the car.  I drove home by headlights, making sure to call my wife so that she wouldn’t worry.  Next time I’ll make sure to hike earlier in the day.  But darkness often comes sooner than expected this time of year.  Whatever.  I take my small pleasures when I can.

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Oct 13 2010

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The Sheer Joy of It

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After dropping off my wife Judy at her friend Gina’s house in Stowe, I drove to a nearby trailhead.  I would hike in a mile or so, sit by a brook and scribble my thoughts in a journal for a while, then hike back out.  We’d all meet at a cafe a few hours later.  That was the plan, anyhow.

I passed a dozen other hikers on the trail during the first mile.  Had to collar Matika several times to keep her from bullying other dogs.  Not fun.  But the crowd dissipated during the second mile.  By then I was hitting my stride.  The day couldn’t have been better for hiking: cool, crisp and sunny with nary a bug in sight.  So I kept going.

By mile three, I had stripped down to a t-shirt despite the cool temps and was plowing through a green and gold forest that seemed to go on forever.  I conferred with Matika and she agreed that we should keep going.  Why stop now?  The dryleaf smell of high autumn urged me onward and upward.  The road-grade climb was easy enough, and the dull ache in my legs felt good.  I could always sit and write at home later when it was cold, rainy and overcast.  No doubt those days lie somewhere ahead.

The fourth mile slipped away.  By the time I hit mile five, I realized that I was committed to doing the entire eight-mile loop.  Fine by me.  I was hiking now just to do it, just to move, breathe heavily and sweat on a beautiful day.  I was hiking for the sheer joy of it.  Say what you will about the ever-elusive nature of happiness, about how hard it is to stay upbeat in a world like ours.  But for one long afternoon on a leaf-covered trail cutting through the Green Mountains, with birches, beeches and maples dazzling me with their autumnal displays, I was as happy as anyone dares to be.  Hell, I didn’t even mind the phone call that came from my concerned wife, right before I exited the woods.

That evening, my dog sprawled across the living room floor unmoved and I popped ibuprofen while Judy recounted the pleasant hours that she and Gina spent at the arts and crafts fair.  I was happy for her.  But there was no doubt in my mind that Matika and I got the better end of the deal.

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