Sunday, June 30, 2013

Boy Scout Summer Camp

Today I am heading off to summer camp with Troop 17 at Boxwell Scout Reservation. A week in the woods is better than the best week at work, and it such a blessing to mentor these young men in the "school of the woods." I also expect I'll have plenty of free time to wander around in the woods and just enjoy being in nature. Life is good!
Me and some scouts at camp last year
 "For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear,
the forest is at once a laboratory, a club, and a Temple."
— Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the scouting movement)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Morning Blessing

"An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day."
— Henry David Thoreau


Friday, June 28, 2013

As if

"The last word in ignorance is the man who says of a plant or animal, 'what good is it?' If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part of it is good, whether we understand it or not." — Aldo Leopold

As if the world revolved around you.

Escape Versus The Real World

"Dedicated urbanites 'know' beyond shadow of doubt - because doubt never raises its disturbing head - that civilization is the real world: you only 'escape' to wilderness. When you're out and away and immersed, you 'know' the obverse: the wilderness world is real, the human world a superimposed facade... The controversy is, of course, spurious. Neither view can stand alone. Both worlds are real. But the wilderness world is certainly older and will almost certainly last longer. Besides, the second view seems far healthier for a human to embrace."
— Colin Fletcher, River, 1997.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Stilling the Soul

To sit outdoors in the cool of the night on a summer evening is a marvelous thing. As the earth cools and the darkness grows, the busyness of the day fades and my body relaxes. Fireflies rise to light the way to the stars and to wonder. I am still and I am listening.

Desert Walk, 2007

Today, while it was 93ºF and very humid at my house, I was reminiscing about a desert hike where the air was so dry you couldn't even feel yourself sweat when it was 100ºF. This trip was with Boy Scout Troop 17 in the high desert of southwest New Mexico. This amazing trip was a total backcountry experience. We were out there for 7 days. There was no trail system. Navigation was just using map, compass, and GPS to go cross-country from point A to point B. The land was so dry you could only camp at the sites where there were established wells used for cattle ranching. The daily temperatures ranged from 100ºF in the afternoon down to about 50ºF at night. Double H was operated as a satellite of Philmont Scout Ranch on the other end of the state from 2004 to 2009.

Me with cactus
This was my first time out west, and I remember looking around that first day and saying, "I feel so lucky. I can't believe I'm here. This place is so amazing!" What is striking to me is how very different this land is and how marvelously the life here is adapted to the harsh, dry conditions. Life is wondrously diverse and beautiful.

Camp 1, Deep Well
Cactus flower

Aligator juniper

Elk antler

My tent at Camp 3

D Cross Mountain

Horned lizard

Desert mountain view

If you would like to see more, I have posted 150 photographs of this trip to my Flickr account in a Double H High Adventure set.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Get outside for good health, no prescription required

Here's a great article from Outside Magazine about research on the health benefits of nature therapy. I know some of this may sound a little mystical, but the Japanese are beginning to back up these ideas with empirical research. One thing I know for sure from personal experience is that walks in the woods are vital to my mental health.
These days, screen-addicted Americans are more stressed out and distracted than ever. And nope, there’s no app for that. But there is a radically simple remedy: get outside. Florence Williams travels to the deep woods of Japan, where researchers are backing up the surprising theory that nature can lower your blood pressure, fight off depression, beat back stress—and even prevent cancer.
"Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning," by Florence Williams, Outside Magazine, Dec. 2012 (click here to read the article)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Spirit of the Forest

For me, one of the great things about this blog is that I'm encouraged to take my own advice. I don't guess I'd be much of a nature advocate if I didn't regularly get outside myself! So today I worked on 4 of the suggestions in the post below, "5 Simple Steps to Reconnect."

After caring for the garden with water and admiration, I went for a walk around the trail through the hollow behind our house. In the spirit of Muir, I sauntered. I walked slowly and stopped often to look at things and soak it all in. I spent over an hour walking only about a mile. I wandered and marveled at the wonders of creation about me. Though the temperature was around 90ºF, I moved slowly enough that I was still comfortable. I saw--but mostly heard--turkeys noisily flying in the trees. I ran my hands across carpets of moss. I stopped to admire many big trees, wondering their age, and feeling honored to be in their presence. I gratefully breathed in the very air these big trees were breathing out. Breathing the spirit of the forest brings me peace and healing.

Sassafras leaf on moss

Looking up through Paw Paw leaves

This is our woodland chapel. Any time I'm here, this quiet spot
in the forest seems to stop me for a period of contemplation.

5 Simple Steps to Reconnect

We're spending more and more money on outdoor gear and clothing, yet we're actually spending less time outdoors. The outdoor industry has grown dramatically in the last 20 years, and during the same time period we have become ever more disconnected from nature. How can this be? Will we let it continue?

Here are five ways you can make a difference by reconnecting with nature.
  1. Grow a garden. It doesn't matter if you plant a half-acre vegetable garden or a few flowers in a patio box. What matters most is that you simply get your hands in the soil and care for your plants through their life-cycle.
  2. Look up. Get under some tall trees and just look up. Take your time, maybe get a chair or just lie down on the ground. Enjoy the green patchwork of leaves. Note various patterns by letting your eyes change your focus from branches to leaves to sky.
  3. Look down. Look carefully at the ground beneath your feet. Pick one small spot on the ground, maybe a foot square, and see what's there. Get down on your hands and knees. Poke and prod. You'll amazed at the small world that lies beneath our feet.
  4. Go for a walk. Get out in your neighborhood. Take your time. Saunter. Wander in wonder. Feel free to stop and look closely at whatever catches your attention. What kind of trees grow on your street? Are there wildflowers in bloom? Can you identify the songbirds you see? What's the weather like today?
  5. Share with a child. For a child to experience the wonders of nature, he or she needs an adult who will share it with them and encourage their natural curiosity. Do what you can to bring a child into contact with the natural world. Take a child in your life with you as you go for a walk. Maybe you'll be lucky and begin to see the world anew through their eyes.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Richard Louv on Why We Need Nature

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods (2005, 2008) and The Nature Principle (2011), gives a 10 point overview of why we need to reconnect with the natural world. These two books cite study after study demonstrating the power of nature to improve our lives. Louv is also the founding chairman of The Children & Nature Network. If you're not familiar with Louv, I urge you to check out  his work through the links listed at the end of this post.
  1. The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need. We have a human right to a meaningful connection to nature, and we have the responsibilities that come with that right. Few today would question the notion that every person, especially every young person, has a right to access the Internet. We should also have access to the natural world, because that connection is part of our humanity.
  2. Humans are hard-wired to love and need exposure to the natural world. Researchers have found that regardless of culture people gravitate to images of nature, especially the savannah. Our inborn affiliation for nature may explain why we prefer to live in houses with particular views of the natural world.
  3. We suffer when we withdraw from nature. Australian professor Glenn Albrecht, director of the Institute of Sustainability and Technology Policy at Murdoch University, has coined the term solastalgia. He combined the Latin word solacium (comfort — as in solace) and the Greek root – algia (pain) to form solastalgia, which he defines as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault.”
  4. Nature brings our senses alive. Scientists recently found that humans have the ability to track by scent alone. Some humans rival bats in echolocation or biosonar abilities. Military studies show that some soldiers in war zones see nuances others miss, and can spot hidden bombs; by and large these tend to be rural or inner city soldiers, who grew up more conscious of their surroundings.
  5. Individuals and businesses can become nature smart. Spending more time outdoors nurtures our “nature neurons” and our natural creativity. For example, at the University of Michigan, researchers demonstrated that, after just an hour interacting with nature, memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent. In workplaces designed with nature in mind, employees are more productive and take less sick time.
  6. Nature heals. Pennsylvania researchers found that patients in rooms with tree views had shorter hospitalizations, less need for pain medications, and fewer negative comments in the nurses’ notes, compared to patients with views of brick.
  7. Nature can reduce depression and improve psychological well-being. Researchers in Sweden have found that joggers who exercise in a natural green setting feel more restored and less anxious, angry, or depressed than people who burn the same amount of calories jogging in a built urban setting.
  8. Nature builds community bonds. Levels of neurochemicals and hormones associated with social bonding are elevated during animal-human interactions. Researchers at the University of Rochester report that exposure to the natural environment leads people to nurture close relationships with fellow human beings, value community, and to be more generous with money.
  9. Nature bonds families and friends. New ways are emerging to make that bond, such as family nature clubs, through which multiple families go hiking, gardening or engage in other outdoor activities together. In the U.K., families are forming “green gyms,” to bring people of all ages together to do green exercise.
  10. The future is at stake. The natural world’s benefits to our cognition and health will be irrelevant if we continue to destroy the nature around us, but that destruction is assured without a human reconnection to nature.

Observation Leads to Wonder

The fact that I note the daily weather, along with the types of trees and where they grow, when various wildflowers bloom, along with the topography of the land, and what birds are about in the brush does not mean that I am an observer only. This is not mere list making. These observations are for me the very means of experiencing and engaging the world around me. Detailed observation creates a bond, a relationship.

Increased observation brings increased engagement with its object. It brings me outside of myself and recognizes the world more fully as it is: independent of me. This noticing of detail brings about true engagement and the fuller experience that comes with it. Increased observation brings increased wonder.

Fire Pink
Fire Pink (Silene virginica)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Think Outside for Father's Day

DSCN0866One of the best ways to spend Father's Day is to share family time outdoors. Time together in nature helps make healthy families through shared experiences and enough casual space for relaxed conversation. Some families go to the beach or the lake; some grill steaks in the backyard; some play ball in the park; some people spend the day missing their dad and gathering memories of special times together. My family always makes sure that I can spend at least part of my day in nature. Many times over the years, we have gone for a family hike in the woods. Last year Joshua and I were canoeing in Canada with our Boy Scout troop on Father's Day, so our family hike was actually several days later.

How about you and your dad? If you're lucky, some of your fondest memories with him are outside. I remember in the 1970s when my dad went backpacking with our Scout troop on the Appalachian Trail and then later returned with the whole family for a day hike to The Pinnacle on the AT in Pennsylvania. I also remember one teenage summer when he would regularly take advantage of the late sunset by taking me fishing at Lums Pond after he got home from work. Today, I still enjoy sharing the sights and sounds of the woods with my dad when my parents come for a visit. I am lucky.

Whatever your family situation, I hope that you are able to spend time with those you love this summer, preferably in nature. If you're looking for something to do, think outside. Go for a walk; share a picnic lunch; wait until after dark if it's too hot where you live. Whatever you do, spending time outdoors is a surefire way to create great family memories.

Father's Day Hike 2012
Father's Day Hike, 2012
Father's Day Hike, 2006 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Intimate Beauty

The forest is a place of wonder, always revealing beauty to those who take time to notice. Sometimes you may have get down on your hands and knees to refocus on a more intimate landscape within the landscape. I had such a moment yesterday morning I when stopped for a closer look at these mushrooms sprouting on an old decaying log in our woods. In many ways, this log is more alive now than when it was many years ago as the upright trunk of a living tree.



Thursday, June 13, 2013

Battle Scars

It's June the 13th. If you live in Tennessee and don't already have a few itchy bug bites, you need to get outside more. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


For those who are wondering why I chose the word saunter rather than hike or walk, here is a bit of an explanation. I have picked up the word from John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, who both preferred the word saunter to describe their wayfaring ways. Muir especially used the word regularly to describe the way he walked across the land. Regardless of the doubtful etymology tying the word to ancient pilgrims walking to the Holy Land, it seems clear that both men wanted to encourage a way of walking that was more than just passing through the landscape. This was no mere exercise, but an experience of walking on holy ground. It's not so much about pace as it is about noticing and seeing. I would argue that for those who have eyes to see, all wild places are holy.

In his book, The Mountain Trail and Its Message (1911), Albert W. Palmer relates a conversation he had with Muir about hiking versus sauntering. Palmer uses the interchange to make his point about slowing down so as not to live too hurriedly.
There is a fourth lesson of the trail. It is one which John Muir taught me [during an early Sierra Club outing].
There are always some people in the mountains who are known as "hikers." They rush over the trail at high speed and take great delight in being the first to reach camp and in covering the greatest number of miles in the least possible time. they measure the trail in terms of speed and distance.
One day as I was resting in the shade Mr. Muir overtook me on the trail and began to chat in that friendly way in which he delights to talk with everyone he meets. I said to him: "Mr. Muir, someone told me you did not approve of the word 'hike.' Is that so?" His blue eyes flashed, and with his Scotch accent he replied: "I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike!
"Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, "A la sainte terre,' 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them."
John Muir lived up to his doctrine. He was usually the last man to reach camp. He never hurried. He stopped to get acquainted with individual trees along the way. He would hail people passing by and make them get down on hands and knees if necessary to see the beauty of some little bed of almost microscopic flowers. Usually he appeared at camp with some new flowers in his hat and a little piece of fir bough in his buttonhole.
Now, whether the derivation of saunter Muir gave me is scientific or fanciful, is there not in it another parable? There are people who "hike" through life. They measure life in terms of money and amusement; they rush along the trail of life feverishly seeking to make a dollar or gratify an appetite. How much better to "saunter" along this trail of life, to measure it in terms of beauty and love and friendship! How much finer to take time to know and understand the men and women along the way, to stop a while and let the beauty of the sunset possess the soul, to listen to what the trees are saying and the songs of the birds, and to gather the fragrant little flowers that bloom all along the trail of life for those who have eyes to see!
You can't do these things if you rush through life in a big red automobile at high speed; you can't know these things if you "hike" along the trail in a speed competition. These are the peculiar rewards of the man who has learned the secret of the saunterer!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Thunder and birdsong

As I rise this morning, thunder echoes through the hills announcing the coming rain. A chorus of birds, however, sings morning praises just the same, seemingly unaware, or maybe just unconcerned, with the approaching storm. Together joyous birdsong and crackling, booming, roaring thunder fill the air. Thunder and birdsong alike praise the Creator.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Love of Wild Nature in Everybody

"There is a love of wild nature in everybody an ancient mother-love ever showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties." -- John Muir

[This is from John Muir's unpublished journals, cited in The Wilderness World of John Muir, edited by Edwin Way Teale (1954), pg. 311, and A Passion for Nature by Donald Worster (2008) page 319.]

New Morning

Simply sitting on my front porch this morning, my spirit is refreshed. I have watched squirrels and chipmunks in the yard and heard the whir of a hummingbird's wings as she visited our feeder. The air is heavy with water vapor from yesterday's rains. This morning the world is filled with green life and bursting with birdsong. Joy!

Friday, June 7, 2013

High Flying Bats

Tonight, against the low clouds hanging overhead, I watched in wonder for several minutes at the bats fluttering high in the sky above the house. They seemed to be at least 200 ft in the air, much higher than the surrounding trees. Could there possibly be flying insects up there? Apparently so, but why? Mystery abounds for those who are curious.

Wildness Surrounds Us

DSCN1271I have decided to begin a new blog to share my enthusiasm for walking ("sauntering," if you will) in wild places and to encourage others to experience the wonders of nature wherever they are. We all can experience the natural world somewhere. Whether it be a pristine wilderness, a backyard garden, a nearby park, or the concrete paths of the urban forest, wildness surrounds us. I believe that whoever we are, and wherever we find ourselves, it is vitally important that we recognize your connection with the natural world.

The writings here bear close relation to my previous blog, "View from the Hollow." I could spend a lot of space rambling on about why I felt to need to start another blog, but the simple truth is that it just seemed right. The main difference is that I now have a fairly clear purpose and mission; I want to share my passion for nature and hopefully to encourage others to get outdoors and experience the world firsthand. To that end, I make this first post. I hope that you will find something helpful here.