Tag Archive 'moods'

Dec 16 2016

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Winter Blues

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winter-bluesThe other day Judy showed me this photo that she recently took out our back door in early morning. “Winter blues” she calls it.

There’s a coldness and a darkness to the picture, much in keeping with what many of us are feeling these days, yet there’s warmth and light in it as well. Double meaning. Leave it to my wife to capture both moods of this season in one image.

I find the darkness this time of year hard to take, not to mention the bitter cold, but the charm of winter does not escape me. There are times when I marvel at the beauty of illuminated clouds strewn across a deep blue sky, appreciate the clean simplicity of the earth blanketed by fresh snow, and accept the dormancy of leafless trees as Nature’s way.

I spot several deer slipping through the forest one morning and suddenly I have nothing to complain about. At the end of any walk I take there’s always a warm house with plenty of food in the cupboards. Not everyone has it so easy.

The blues, yes, Judy and I both feel it. We miss the green world, the barefoot days, fresh produce, and those gentle gusts of warm summer air wafting through the window. But that’ll all come back soon enough. Nature cycles round and round…

How’s that saying go? Curse the darkness or light a candle. There are two ways to approach nearly everything – two entirely different attitudes. Not so much the picture as it is how we look at it. The shortest, darkest day of the year is almost upon us. Then things will swing the other way. And that’s reason enough, I think, to celebrate.


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Dec 17 2015

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A Short Gray Day

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December Rail TrailAfter a productive morning on the computer, I went to the nearby rail trail to stretch my legs and clear my head. The sky overhead was full of clouds so I wasn’t real excited about getting outdoors. But the midday temps were well above freezing. That meant the walk would be pleasant enough.

The sun, hanging low in the southern sky, peeked through the clouds just as I was starting out. That was the last of it, though. A stiff breeze blew in more clouds from the west a few minutes later, obscuring the sun and assuring that it’ll rain this evening.

Here in northern Vermont, the sun rose at 7:24 this morning. It’ll set at 4:12 this afternoon. Yeah, it’s that time of year – a tough time for those of us who are energized by light.

Chickadees flitted through the trees, adding a little cheer to an otherwise dreary day. I flushed a great blue heron from a small brook. My dog Matika was happy just to trot along and sniff around. Watching her, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps I think too much.

Nature has its moods. It is best to roll with them, I kept telling myself. So I focused on the warm air, and the clear path underfoot as I walked – a rarity in mid-December. Be grateful for that. The deep cold and heavy snow will come soon enough.

The days will start getting longer in a couple weeks. Until then, I’ll illuminate the tree in my living room as grey light gives way to twilight. In fact, it’s time to do that now. In the absence of the real thing, artificial light will have to do.



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Dec 18 2012

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Darkness and Light

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We spend half our waking hours in the dark this time of year. Not so much an issue when we’re indoors, but outside we sure notice it. So it’s nice to see the colored lights strung everywhere. They’re festive. More importantly, they diminish the impact of darkness in early winter, making it easier to tolerate.

Even though I’m no big fan of Christmas, I put lights on my house. I like seeing them there when I come home from work late at night. They make me smile no matter what kind of day I’ve had.

Pagans dragged trees into their houses and celebrated the Winter Solstice with light long before Christians hijacked the holiday. It makes sense, really. Why not light a candle on the darkest day of the year? No sense sitting in the dark and whining about it.

Winter is just beginning. There’s a month lag between the shortest day of the year and the meteorological middle of this season. Yeah, that means the temperatures drop even as the days lengthen in January. Then it’s another two-month crawl out of winter – here in northern New England, anyhow. That’s a dismal prospect for those of us who neither ski nor snowmobile. Oh sure, I’ve polyurethaned my snowshoes and will break them out when the first big dump of the white stuff occurs. But I do so reluctantly. I much prefer the greener half of the year.

Forget about summertime. The Winter Solstice is upon us. Boil up water for tea or hot chocolate, revel in the indoor warmth and light, and surround your self with friends and loved ones. Plenty of time for dark thoughts later. ‘Tis the season. What the hell, why not take whatever pleasure you can from it?


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Nov 05 2012

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November Branches

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The old silver maple in my back yard is one of the last trees to shed its leaves. When I look up and see its naked branches against a grey sky, I know that the first snow isn’t far away. That’s good news to both deer hunters and skiers. To some extent that’s good news even to guys like me, who do most of their thinking and writing during the colder half of the year. But it’s hard getting past the inherent sadness of it.

We turned our clocks back over the weekend, making the most of diminishing daylight. I saw a few snow flurries yesterday while tossing the ball for my dog. I stayed outside for about a half hour before retreating indoors to hot chocolate, television football and a good book. A few days ago, despite cold rain, I raked up all the leaves the old maple had dropped. All bagged up, I will haul them away soon. End season rituals.

It’s best not to fight it. I take pleasure in the warmth of well-lit rooms and will soon pull out my thermals so that I don’t feel trapped indoors. I have several literary projects underway – enough to keep me busy until April. I shrug my shoulders at the prospect of five o’clock sundowns. All the same, I’ll miss the green.


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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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Feb 24 2011

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February Sun

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The bright February sun burns through a cloudless sky as I don a pair of Yaktrax and start hiking around Indian Brook Reservoir.  The last time I was here, a couple weeks ago, I needed snowshoes to negotiate the deep powder.  Now it’s a different story.  Now the trail is hard-packed snow, covered with ice in places.  Traction is what is needed today, and traction is what the rubber-and-steel-coil contraptions that I’ve slipped onto my boots provide.

When I let my dog out to pee this morning, a blast of single-digit air greeted me.  But the February sun has been burning bright since then, so now the temps are in the high twenties.  When I’m standing in the open, it feels much warmer.  I welcome the change.

The day is relatively long in late February – a few minutes shy of eleven hours at these latitudes.  Gone are the short days of December and its distant, indifferent sun.  Now the dazzling yellow orb overhead is both forceful and inviting.  A few hours of it on a day like this and snow piles whither.  At least half of the snow covering the ground has melted away already, and in a few places here and there the ground actually shows itself.  Surely the sap of maple trees is starting to flow.  One doesn’t need to be a syrup producer to sense that.

My dog Matika is busy sniffing.  There are fresh tracks everywhere, crisscrossing the trail.  Many of the smaller woodland creatures are scurrying about now, looking for food to get them through the rest of winter.  There are more dog and people tracks, as well.  Yeah, everyone is restless.

Beneath a stand of mature hemlocks, I pluck small, half-buried cones from the snow.  I gather up a dozen and squirrel them away in a side pocket of my jacket.  When I get home, I’ll pile the cones on my desk where the indoor heat will open them.  And there they will stay until the first real signs of spring appear.  This little ritual keeps me going this time of year, when ice clings stubbornly to roof edges and snow is still everywhere.  I am heartened by the tiny cones, and the bright light that’s slowly melting away these last few cold, winter days.  It won’t be long now.

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Nov 05 2010

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Stark Landscape

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Suddenly the leaves are gone.  They’re on the ground, that is, and the lush forest has turned into so many sticks.  At the same time, we are now spending a third of our waking hours in the dark, and daylight is muted by clouds that appear to be more common this time of year.  The surrounding countryside, ablaze with color just a few weeks ago, is suddenly all brown and gray.

Here in northern Vermont, the harshness of November comes hard and fast.  I’m never quite ready for it.  I raked leaves yesterday, thoroughly enjoying brisk air while doing so, but a cold rain began a few hours after I finished.  Good chance that the rain will turn to snow today.  That means I got that task done just in time.

The physical landscape isn’t the only thing that looks dreary.  The political landscape these days is just as stark.  An angry, frustrated electorate voted out Democrats and voted in Republicans this week, causing a transfer of power in the House.  Why?  Because of the bad economy, of course.  Wall Street might be doing okay, but unemployment still hovers around ten percent, consumer confidence is still down, and foreclosures continue.  Uncertainty persists.  The general sentiment is that the Democrats have failed us.  Can the Republicans do better?  Probably not, but some kind of change is needed.  The desperation is palpable.

If I had any solutions to our country’s woes, I’d run for office.  But I’m fresh out of ideas, as most thinking folks are.  All I know is that Washington gridlock will only prolong the pain, preventing any significant change from occurring.  Democrats and Republicans will drag out the same old ideological arguments, and the economy will limp along for another two years.  Yeah, a stark landscape to say the least.

The seasons change and most of us find ways to adapt.  That much is certain.  Not being a big one for winter sports, I’ll do more thinking and writing in the long months ahead, and get outdoors less.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

As for the bigger picture, well, I’ll try not to stress out about it.  We had our chance to vote.  Now things must simply run their course.  Enough said.  Just don’t expect be to break into song when the Powers That Be offer me a tax cut.  I know all too well that, in the long run, that won’t fix a damned thing.

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Mar 30 2010

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Mist in the Birches

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With temps in the 30s and a 90% chance of rain, I wasn’t real excited about going for a hike today.  But it was either that or mope around the house all afternoon.  So I changed into wools and thermals, and went out the door.

The moment I stepped into the woods, I knew I’d made the right decision.  With the ground giving way underfoot and nothing but trees all around, I immediately felt my nerves uncoil.  Five or ten minutes later, as I was leaving the logging road and starting to bushwhack, I sensed an old, familiar self returning.  It’s like that sometimes.  After a long winter, I don’t even know who I am any more.  It takes a cool, wet forest to remind me.

I walked past patches of snow still on the ground – reminders that winter just ended, and that one last snowstorm is still quite possible.  Here in New England, spring is the least predictable of all the seasons.  And that’s why I was still dressed for the colder weather.

My dog, Matika, frolicked through the forest, hot on the tracks of wild animals, occasionally flushing a ruffed grouse.  I can only imagine what she was thinking as she sniffed the fresh piles of deer pellets.  Maybe she too was feeling a wilder self return.

Angry about the poor health of loved ones, the fallout of a bad economy and never having enough money, I hiked furiously at first.  I swept around a frozen beaver pond, hellbent upon moving forward like I had somewhere important to go.  Then I stopped in a nearly pure stand of white birches as if stopping the madness.  I looked around and saw only mist and stillness.  I listened and heard only forest silence, until a pileated woodpecker let out its manic cry in the distance.  And that’s when it started to drizzle.  But I didn’t care.

Sweating in so many layers, I shed my sweater and rolled up my sleeves.  Then I meandered aimlessly through the forest, sometimes following a trail, sometimes not, as the mist thickened around me.  Matika flashed a great big smile at me and I returned it – both of us in dog heaven.

Back on the logging road, I left deep boot prints next to moose tracks while walking out.  I didn’t even try to dodge the pools of meltwater.  I sloshed through them like an eight year old trusting his rubber boots.  Then I crossed a brook with a short, easy hop.  The open brook’s babble and bubble was music to my ears.

Returning home, I marveled at how dismal the day looked from inside the house, and how chilled I felt all of a sudden.  So it’s a good thing that I went out today.  Otherwise, I might still think that it’s still winter.

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Jan 11 2010

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Getting into Winter

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I’ve never been a big fan of winter, and after shoveling the white stuff for a few days, I begin to hate it.  But it’s unhealthy to live in a place like Vermont and stay home from the first snow flurry of the season to the last.  So even now, in the middle of winter when all I want to do is hibernate, I make it a point to get into the woods when I can.

A Nor’easter struck a week ago.  For all you who don’t live in New England, that means lots of precipitation straight from the ocean.  In this case, it came in the form of snow falling for three days in a row.  Between one and three feet of it, depending upon where it was measured.  Good if you like to ski; not so good if you have to shovel your own driveway.  I fall into the latter category.  But once I finished pushing back the white stuff, I grabbed my snowshoes and headed for the hills.

There’s a wild area on French Hill, not far from home.  I go there whenever time is tight but I need to get out.  I went there a few days ago and cut tracks across the trackless snow until I reached a snowshoe trail that someone else had cut a week earlier.  Even with fresh snow, I still found it easier to follow that trail than to cut new tracks.  Fortunately, it led to where I wanted to go: a beaver pond less than a mile from the road.

My dog, Matika, loves the snow.  I’m not sure why.  I think it holds smells better than dirt does.  At any rate, she likes to frolic in the snow, occasionally burying her snout in it to investigate some hidden treasure.  She looks silly with her face all frosted but she doesn’t seem to care.

First thing I notice whenever I’m alone in the woods after a big snowstorm is how incredibly quiet it is.  An ominous quiet, that is.  Robert Frost nailed it with his poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” of course.  But standing  in a cold, white forest, it’s easy for me to believe that I just discovered the terrible beauty that wild nature becomes in deep winter.  Trees heavily laden with snow are both magnificent and surreal.  As they droop towards me, I keep thinking that maybe I shouldn’t be alone out here.

The beaver pond was frozen over – a black-and-white photograph brought to life.  Starkly beautiful.  The gray clouds overhead thickened and a flurry commenced.  Matika wanted to keep going deeper into the woods, but I thought it best to turn around.  By the time I reached the car, my own sweat had chilled me.  But it was good to get out.  And whatever gripe I had earlier in the day was forgotten by the time I got back home.

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Nov 06 2009

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Kicking up Leaves

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I went for a short walk in the woods the other day, kicking up leaves all the way.  The trail was covered with them.  Beneath a partly cloudy sky on a windless afternoon, it was easy to ignore the chill in the air.  Comfortable in a sweater, I pretended that it was Indian Summer even though the time for that has passed.  I kicked up leaves and, for a moment or two, was a little boy again.  The rustling sound of the dried leaves took me back.

Matika terrorized the squirrels that were busy collecting nuts in the eleventh hour.  I called her off them at first then let her enjoy her predator fantasy.  She mopes around the house all day as I work, waiting for something to happen, so I let her have her fun when she can.  The expression on her face when she’s leaping through the forest duff makes me wish I were a dog.  Like the happiest old people I know, dogs never completely abandon the wild exuberance of youth.

Near the top of the hill, I stopped to admire my surroundings.  The late autumn forest has a charm to it that is difficult to describe.  Dark green conifers and ferns, the brown withering vegetation scattered across the forest floor, and moss-covered rocks that defy seasonal change – the late autumn forest is all this and something more, something that words can’t touch.  I catch only a glimpse of it when the sun slips behind the clouds then shines brightly again.  Call it a moment of shadowy transcendence and leave it at that.

A few maple leaves cling stubbornly to branches and I can’t help but wonder why they don’t just let go.  Then again, why don’t I?  I, too, am still clinging to the warm season, or is it the daylight that I don’t want to lose?  Hard to say.  I’ve had this conversation with myself many times and can’t figure out whether it’s the cold or the darkness that I don’t like about winter.  To stubborn leaves and certain woods wanderers, there’s no real difference between the two.

The mums in the planters around my house have lost their bloom.  Even they have succumbed to the hard frost.  Even the best artificial lights can’t change the fact that the growing season has ended in these northern latitudes.  It’ll be another five months before green shoots emerge on the forest floor again.  Once I accept that fact, I’ll be able to don my woolies and embrace winter.  But no, I don’t think I’ll do that right away.  For the time being, I think I’ll just kick up leaves like a little boy and dream about warmer, sunnier days.

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