Friday, November 29, 2013

Dream Bear

A couple of nights ago, I dreamed we discovered there was a bear living in our woods. A real, live, young Black Bear! In our woods! I was so excited!
"Bears are made of the same dust as we, and breathe the same winds and drink of the same waters. A bear’s days are warmed by the same sun, his dwellings are overdomed by the same blue sky, and his life turns and ebbs with heart pulsings like ours, and was poured from the same First Fountain."—John Muir

(Photo from Bear Trust International at beartrust.org)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Saunter

"While most keep close to their parlor fires this cold and blustering Thanksgiving afternoon, and think with compassion of those who are abroad, I find the sunny south side of this swamp as warm as their parlors and warmer to my spirit. Aye, there is a serenity and warmth here which the parlor does not suggest, enhanced by the sound of the wind roaring on the northwest side of the swamp a dozen or so rods off. What a wholesome and inspiring warmth is this!"—Henry Thoreau's journal, Nov 25, 1858
Self-portrait
Thanksgiving Self-portrait
Whenever possible I prefer to spend a portion of my Thanksgiving Day sauntering my way through field or wood. For me, it is a way of giving thanks.

I remember one year when I was a teenager (maybe 17 or 18 years old) spending Thanksgiving afternoon wandering the hills near our home in northern Delaware. I don't remember many specifics, except that it was cold, and there were geese, and I felt at peace. I remember striding across the cold ground through the stubble of an autumn cornfield. I was going to a pond that I often visited, and I remember thinking that most people would think me odd but I remember thinking there was nowhere else I'd rather be.

Through the years, only rarely have I had the opportunity for a wild saunter on Thanksgiving Day, but this changed when we moved to our house in the woods almost 3 years ago. Now I am blessed to be able to begin a hike merely by walking out the the door. If we are home, we are at the trailhead. Walking daily in an old forest soothes my spirit and keeps me well. As far as I'm concerned, the chain of events that led to our move here can only be attributed to the hand of a loving God. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t say to myself, “I can’t believe I get to live here.”
Holly
Holly sapling planted at our trailhead
from old root stock given by a friend

Today I was able to spend a few hours in the woods. Some of my best walks are when I simply take off and wander without goal, purpose, or plan. I think that is when I am most receptive to discovery and wonder. As a fan of big trees, I often spend long moments simply looking up into the canopy in admiration, and I did a lot of that today. I also saw cardinals, titmice, chickadees, white-throated sparrows, chipmunks, squirrels, deer, a pileated woodpecker, barred owl, red-tailed hawk, and a hermit thrush. Interestingly (or ironically) I did not see any turkeys today.

As the sun was getting low on the horizon, I was returning home and I crested the ridge and began the descent into the hollow where we live. Coming down the hill into the hollow, I quickly noticed that it was much cooler here. In one spot, I even saw remnants of Monday's snow on log across the trail. Because the walls of hollow are steep, the amount of sunlight reaching the ground is limited and so it stays cooler. I don't know if this small hollow has ever been named, but it could easily be called Cold Hollow.

Time in the woods for me is always time well spent, and today I am especially thankful to live here and care for this land.

Sweetgum
Sweetgum
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Ridgetop


Beech
Beech

Oak
Oak

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On the Eve of Thanksgiving

It's wonderful thing, on a cold, clear night, to stand alone in the woods among the trees and the stars and the silence.

I count myself blessed to be allowed such encounters regularly. Who am I to be permitted to gaze into the wild mysterious silence of the night? And why am I not more routinely thankful?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kindling the Fire

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On this cold and dreary evening, icy cold and getting colder, it is with a spirit of thanksgiving that I kindle a new flame in our family hearth—the first fire in our fireplace this season. I find it deeply comforting. There's just something about splitting a log—even though it is wet—over and over again until you're left with a nice bundle of kindling. One strike of the match, and the dark and cold is transformed into warmth and light. The flames dance on our hearth tonight, and we will rejoice in thanksgiving.

Ancient Celtic Prayer for Kindling the Fire
This morning, as I kindle the fire upon my hearth,
I pray that the flame of God’s love may burn in my heart,
and the hearts of all I meet today.
I pray that no envy and malice,
no hatred or fear, may smother the flame.
I pray that indifference and apathy,
contempt and pride, may not pour like cold water on the fire.
Instead, may the spark of God’s love
light the love in my heart, that it may burn brightly through the day.

the clever trout

the clever trout
—John Leax

[A friend just said something that brought this poem to mind, and so I decided to post it here to share the thoughtful musing of John Leax. He has provided much inspiration to me although he is not so well known.]

The clever trout that nips
the mayfly from the air
is quick to praise
the maker of his sight.
His speckled side
reflects the light;
he swims as he
was made to swim.

The slender popple
at the meadow’s edge
is in the Spirit
also giving praise.
Its lean into the wind,
its supple ways
declare it stands
as it was made to stand.

The raucous jay,
that scolding streak
of blue, gives warning
to the quiet wood.
He knows my nature
is not good.
“Beware,” he cries
as he was made to cry.

From these, O Lord,
the creatures of your love’s
abundance, let me learn
to forsake
the wild desire that drove
my father Adam to shake
the garden tree and claim
a glory of his own.

Before them, strike
me dumb.  Let me see them
as you made them
in delight.
Then give me grace
to praise as well your bright
presence as the trout,
the popple, and the jay.

*John Leax, Out Walking: Reflections on Our Place in the Natural World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000): 71-72.

Ephemeral Wonder

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Snow crystals on moss
Just so you know, it's kind of a rule that during the first snow of the season you have to drop everything, put on a coat, and make your way to the nearest exit so that you can look up and let the snow land on your face and delight your spirit. Failure to do so marks you as too old. And so I stepped out the door yesterday afternoon.

After a couple of minutes looking up and watching snowflakes seeming materialize from heaven, I caught a couple on my tongue and then went for a walk in the woods. The most intriguing sight I beheld were spiderwebs capturing a harvest of snowflakes.

I am always amazed by the wondrous magic of ice crystals.

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Snowflakes captured in a spiderwebs

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Sycamore leaves

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

When in Doubt

When in doubt, either go for a walk in the woods or brew a cup of tea.
Better is to do both.
Best is to brew a cup of tea in the woods.
At least that's what works for me.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Breath of the Forest

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Crunch, crunch, like crinkled paper, dry leaves now carpet the forest floor. These are the days when trail disappears beneath leaf, and a hiker must be careful not to wander and lose the trail. All the crispy, crunchy leaves make ordinary walking extraordinarily noisy. Tramping through ankle-deep potato chips wouldn't be any louder.

I stop for a moment and listen for the call of forest untrodden. All seems quiet for a moment, but this lasts only briefly. A chipmunk clucks a warning of my presence through the hollow. Still attached leaves rattle together. A raucous crow calls to himself in the distance. A breeze stirs and leaves remaining in high branches whisper to one another.

DSCN2766 It feels good to be still and listen—just to sit and listen and let the sounds of the forest wash over me. The sound of the wind in the trees takes on a life of its own, rising and falling, ebbing and flowing. Like the water in a mountain stream, the flowing air and its joyous song become one thing. Sometimes barely a tremble, sometimes building layer upon layer until sounding remarkably like a distant waterfall, the wind is not inanimate; it is alive.

A cool breeze touches my cheek and then fills my lungs, refreshing body and spirit alike. With no conscious thought, I utter aloud my praise and thanksgiving for this day, and I celebrate the truth that Wind and Breath and Spirit are one.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tree-Wavings

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Sycamore
"We all travel the milky way together, trees and men; but it never occurred to me until this storm-day, while swinging in the wind, that trees are travelers, in the ordinary sense. They make many journeys, not extensive ones, it is true; but our own little journeys, away and back again, are only little more than tree-wavings—many of them not so much." — John Muir, "Wind-Storm in the Forest," in The Mountains of California, 1894.

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Beech

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Trailside Gold

If you were to visit my small house or look into my bank account, you might judge me poor—or at least of low estate. I may be simple, but in my eyes, our hollow is ornamented with gold as extravagantly as the vault of any king or dragon. I am rich indeed.
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Fallen Maple Leaf

Daylight Savings Time vs. Standard Time

Fact: We humans do not get to decide you many hours of daylight shall be in a day. No matter how we adjust our clocks, we cannot change the rising and the setting of the sun. Winter nights will be longer. Maybe we should just accept that fact and get a little more sleep.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Friday, November 1, 2013

Poetry Unwritten

The feel, and the sound, and the rhythm of boots on wet leaves is its own kind of poetry, and only a shallow impression of it can be put into words and recorded on paper. Some poetry can only be experienced in the first person.

Autumn Reigns

I haven't managed much writing lately, but here a some photos from the last couple of days. Notice, first of all, how beautiful the leaves of the much vilified poison ivy can be. Then make note of the bright green Hepatica leaves. They are a promise of the coming spring. Through snow and ice, these leaves will endure through the winter and provide much needed energy for the plant in the spring.

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Rainy Halloween morning—before the storms started blowing
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Poison Ivy
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Maple and Hepatica

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Hepatica acutiloba (Sharp-Lobed Hepatica)

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Mushroom cup for rainwater

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Sassafras