Monday, December 29, 2014

Evangelist for Nature

Let Heaven and Nature Sing!
"Heaven knows that John the Baptist was not more eager to get all his fellow sinners into the Jordan than I to baptize all of mine in the beauty of God's mountains." — John Muir's journal, October 1871

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Saunter

DSCN6834To my mind, one of the best things about Christmas is that our shops and normal places of business are closed. At the heart of every holiday is rest. The best holidays force a Sabbath rest upon us, at least for a few hours. This cessation of normal work is really a gift for those who will receive it. A holiday brings the chance to do nothing and not feel guilty. For me, holidays often include walks, and they are best when they're more random wandering than anything else. A holiday gives the chance not merely to hike, or to walk, but to saunter.

Wild sauntering is a way of being that allows my senses to wander more than my feet. Though I may have destination and plan, I give my attention to beauty rather than to pace and clock. Regardless of miles or speed, my most successful hikes include long moments lost in wonder. I measure journeys in moments, not miles.

Beauty is everywhere about us, and doesn't have to be spectacular to capture. For me, the subtle beauty of light and shadow in a common forest can be as wonderful as any grand and majestic vista. When I am really sauntering, true beauty is found in common places. Indeed, beauty is everywhere wild nature lives, and having the time to saunter converts holidays into holy days.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

100th Anniversary of the John Muir's Passing

Remembering John Muir, who died 100 years ago today on Christmas Eve, 1914. For me there is no writer who inspires such love for nature and wild places as when I'm reading John Muir. It's hard to believe he's not sauntering up some beautiful trail even now. Rather than offer commentary on his life, I'll let Muir speak for himself with four selected quotes. Read, make a cup of tea, and drink deep.


"This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls." — John Muir's journal, 1913, as quoted in John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, edited by Linnie Marsh Wolfe (1938).

"All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go, to highlands or lowlands, woods or plains, on the sea or land or down among the crystals of waves or high in a balloon in the sky; through all the climates, hot or cold, storms and calms, everywhere and always we are in God's eternal beauty and love. So universally true is this, the spot where we chance to be always seems the best." — John Muir's journal, as quoted in John of the Mountains.

"One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of Nature — inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last." — My First Summer in the Sierra (published 1911).

"The rugged old Norsemen spoke of death as Heimgang – 'home-going.' So the snow-flowers go home when they melt and flow to the sea, and the rock-ferns, after unrolling their fronds to the light and beautifying the rocks, roll them up close again in the autumn and blend with the soil. Myriads of rejoicing living creatures, daily, hourly, perhaps every moment sink into death’s arms, dust to dust, spirit to spirit-waited on, watched over, noticed only by their Maker, each arriving at its own Heaven-dealt destiny. All the merry dwellers of the trees and streams, and the myriad swarms of the air, called into life by the sunbeam of a summer morning, go home through death, wings folded perhaps in the last red rays of sunset of the day they were first tried. Trees towering in the sky, braving storms of centuries, flowers turning faces to the light for a single day or hour, having enjoyed their share of life’s feast-all alike pass on and away under the law of death and love. Yet all are our brothers and they enjoy life as we do, share Heaven’s blessings with us, die and are buried in hallowed ground, come with us out of eternity and return into eternity. 'Our lives are rounded with a sleep.' "
— John Muir's journal, as quoted in John of the Mountains.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Longing to Write

Trail tea — good for thought
Looking forward to 2015. Hopefully things will slow down and I can get back to writing some more. I miss the gift of sorting my thoughts through writing. It's always painfully slow, but the process gives back more than I can measure.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful

For the wild beauty
of wrens and rain,
the promise of young oaks
and decomposing logs,
sunrises and moonglow,
I am thankful.

For the shelter of a snug house,
abundant and delicious food
that appears on our table daily,
easy reliable transportation and
employment worthwhile and rewarding,
I am thankful.

For a family that fills our house with joy and laughter,
children that make me proud,
and a wife that delights and inspires me daily,
for all these and more,
blessings beyond any reasonable expectation,
I am thankful.




Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wild Oak

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There is a young, wild oak in my backyard that could serve as a fitting symbol for late fall/early winter, an icon of the season between the seasons. All the other leaves are down, forming a welcome blanket to shelter the forest floor. But this tree holds on to autumn, and its maroon red leaves remain. This oak will continue holding on to its tough but tattered leaves until the storms of winter blow them off one by one. A few will endure every storm and will not relinquish their station until—their watch completed—they are at last pushed off by the tender green leaves of spring. This wild oak, with its rich dark maroon leaves, like a sentinel stands at the edge of the woods, a silent watcher of all the winter winds will bring to our home.

I think my human mind cannot conceive such steadfast relentless patient endurance. I could learn of the wild oak.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Window to the Past

Without too much trouble, my mind's eye can peer out my bedroom window from when I was 9 or 10 years old. There I can watch cardinals on the feeder in the plum tree. I am captivated in wonder watching the brilliant red males and more subtly tinted female cardinals feasting on the sunflower seeds we'd left for them. Wild encounters can last a lifetime.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

November Rain

The cold November rain
drips a contemplative song,
warm as a cup of tea
to my senses.
Too rarely am I quiet enough to notice.
Quiet requires stillness
and is seldom found,
seldom sought,
and remains hidden.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Starry Morning

Thankful for our warm
and cozy home in the woods.
This morning our house is feeling
content and happy at 19°
under a beautiful, starry sky.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Backpacking 101 at Boxwell for our younger Scouts

This weekend we took a simple backpacking trip at Boxwell Scout Reservation to introduce and teach our younger Scouts to the joys of travelling light. To my mind, backpacking pretty much epitomizes everything we're trying to achieve when we take boys outdoors in Scouting, and I very much enjoy sharing the adventure with a new generation of Scouts. Here are a few moments from the trip.

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Mike brewing coffee on his wood burning Solo Stove



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Scout games of bear bagging and improvised emergency shelters

Our enthusiastic Troop 17 hikers (photo by Mike DuBose)



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Sunset dinner on my Solo Stove

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My nearest neighbor at dawn Sunday morning

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My tarp setup

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My camp beneath the setting moon at dawn

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On a cold morning, there's nothing like a simple, warm breakfast of hot granola and coffee

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Maple gold

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day, and Treasures Lost

I am thankful for all our blessings today. Some come only because of the hard work of many Americans. Many more can only be explained as a gift of grace. I am mindful today that with great blessings come great responsibilities. We haven't always done so good with that.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the extinction of an entire species at our own hands. The Passenger Pigeon was once one of the most numerous animals on the planet. It's hard for us to believe now, but their great flocks could darken the sky for hours (or days) at a time. Their numbers were seemly limitless, and yet we hunted them to extinction for food, sport, and spite. The last one, a captive bird named Martha, died in a zoo 100 years ago today.

We can do better. We have done better. We restrained ourselves and saved the American Bison and Bald Eagle from the same fate—barely. We have become mindful of our own impact on other species and ecosystems. We have tried to do better. We don't welcome restraint, especially if it affects our purse, but few people truly want to do harm to other species. Mostly we are oblivious to our own effects.

I am hopeful today that we can recognize the wondrous natural blessings that form our world. The world is full of wonder and beauty, full of species beyond human imagination. The natural world is more than a place for recreation and beauty. It is our home. And it is wonderful. And every creature is a grace to be treasured.

John Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, had some timely thoughts in The New York Times yesterday (click for link), if you're interested.




Everything is Connected

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." —John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra, 1911

Wasps on apple

Monday, August 18, 2014

Life to Come

"The warm, brooding days are full of life and thoughts of life to come, ripening seeds with next summer in them or a hundred summers."  John Muir, "The Wild Gardens of the Yosemite Park," Atlantic Monthly, August 1900.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Joyous Hurrah!

DSCN6183Travelling alone during a recent trip, instead of a motel room, I slept next to the French Broad River in a campground a little north of Asheville, North Carolina. Before retiring to my tent that night, I sat in the dark on a rock at water's edge for quite some time. Captivated by the music of the rushing river, my need to rise early the next morning is all that pushed me into the tent. I think I would have sat there for hours otherwise. The water brought to mind a newly noticed quote from John Muir, which I was able to look up by flashlight and enjoy again. I was glad I had brought my book, and—thanks to Muir's suggestion—I drifted off to sleep in the cool night air filled with singing.

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"Here is a cascade two hundred feet wide, half a mile long, glancing this way and that, filled with bounce and dance and joyous hurrah, yet honest as a tempest, and singing like angels loose on a frolic from heaven." — John Muir, Letter to Mrs. Carr, October 8, 1872.
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Monday, August 11, 2014

Storms of Creation

"Storms of every sort, torrents, earthquakes, cataclysms, 'convulsions of nature,' etc., however mysterious and lawless at first sight they may seem, are only harmonious notes in the song of creation, varied expressions of God's love."— John Muir, Our National Parks

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Ancient Dreams

Last Friday evening, although I was worn out from a week too long, I went for a woodland wander after dinner. I sauntered slowly, contemplatively, with no particular destination other than just to be present in the forest.

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Walking yet not fully awake, in a sort of twilight of wakefulness, I walked among the trees and wonderied their age. This led my thinking to the people who might have walked this same ridge seven generations ago. Maybe a Shawnee or Cherokee man occasionally walked these same ridges, stopping as I do to breathe deep the forest air and feel the comfort that comes with being among big trees. Did he feel what I feel? Did he ever stand sleepy in this same spot? Did he find the old beeches and towering poplars calming? Did the giant sycamores evoke a sense of mystery and holiness? Did he too love the song of the wood thrush?

For a moment I closed my eyes,
breathed deeply as if to inhale ancient breezes
and stood in the moment,
half in a dream,
past and present.

Walking home I felt as though I had walked ancient paths,
and I vowed to return
here in the twilight.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Wild Sleep

This evening I fell asleep sitting in Beth's Adirondack chair beneath the walnut tree. I only slept for about 30 minutes, but waking there was pure serendipity. I had been basking in the warm August night, thinking of nothing but the subtle qualities of twilight combined with insect song. When I awoke I was delighted to discover I had been covered in a blanket of darkness and katydid song. I awoke refreshed as if I had slept the whole night. There was none of the grogginess that normally accompanies a too brief, ill-timed nap, and I awoke instead feeling completely alert and fully alive. Perhaps I should try napping outdoors more often.
Beth's chair in the daylight

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Disconnected

The more I talk with people about nature, the more I realize we are profoundly disconnected. This is unnatural in every sense of the word, and I fear it may prove tragic. Of course, the really problem will start long before total calamity strikes. As I see it, the question of whether we unintentionally destroy ourselves and the planet is besides the point, a mere abstraction. When we are disconnected from wild nature, we are divorced from our true home and already less. If we are divorced from nature already, we should not be surprised to find ourselves struggling to live in a self-created world, and any talk of saving the planet or environmental responsibility becomes just a bunch of empty words. Disconnected we are less.

                                                                          (Photo by Mike DuBose)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thoroughly Wild

I thoroughly enjoy the owls in our forest. Their call makes any woods more wild.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Night Forest

Some of my best thinking (or not thinking) is done standing alone at night in a dark woods. Few things are as sanative to my spirit. My mind wanders from thought to thought, sometimes paying great attention to my surroundings and sometimes not. When the experience is best, I am not so much thinking as feeling, soaking it all in until my mind is at peace, and the forest somehow becomes a part of me.

My wife thinks I sometimes loose track of time when I'm out in the woods. Maybe she's right. Or maybe it's just that time here is different. There's little difference between an hour and a minute to a tree. The sun rises and sets. Each moment is new and yet timeless. The forest is ever changing and always the same, and it is that perspective that steadies my mind against that which pretends to be most pressing and urgent.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

So Much Beauty Around Us

Common beauty is everywhere around us—for those who will take the time to see. If we will only pause from our busyness and look, we many find that even common weeds, briers, and gardens become like stained-glass windows pointing to something more. Then we will truly begin to see that we live in a glorious temple.
"No wonder the hills and groves were God's first temples..."
 "Wherever we go in the mountains, or indeed in any of God's wild fields, we find more than we seek."
—John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra.
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Friday, July 25, 2014

Firefly Dance

I am just in from the firefly dance. Their magic illumines our forest hollow nightly, and I must admit the show can leave me spellbound. My schedule the next few days may be driven by a need to be in the woods just after sunset. I am captivated.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Forest Therapy

Breathing the air of big trees,
standing in silence, still,
watching as a single yellow poplar leaf
spins and drifts, falling slowly to earth
in the green, dappled, forest sunlight.

This is good medicine
for body and soul.

Summer's Soundtrack

I'm no entomologist, but I love the soundtrack of summer. I love to just sit and listen through the season to the rising and falling rhythmic swells of cricket, katydid, and cicada. They fill the air with a ceaseless music and create a comfortable background to the days and nights of summer.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Five Minutes

Even a rainy morning has its beauty for those prepared to receive it.

Yesterday before work I was on the front porch listening to the morning—mourning dove, the steady beat of raindrops, a noisy crow, a few chattering chickadees—when a hummingbird instantly appeared, hovering not 3 feet from my face, then darting to the nearby feeder hanging on our porch. Turning my head only slightly, I watched her feed for 30 seconds before she chirped once and flew off, disappearing at once into the trees, a tiny whir of wings no bigger than a fleeting thought.

These things are all common everyday wonder, and I was able to enjoy the wonder only because I was there, on that porch, still, for only 5 minutes. These moments happen all around us all the time. Too bad we're usually too busy to notice.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stillness

“When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak.” — John Muir in John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, 1938

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Scout Camp

Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouting movement, understood the power of the outdoors. There is a certain magic in the woods, lakes, and fields that cannot be found anywhere else. Below are a few images from our troop's week of Scout camp. If you are passionate about the outdoors and care about the future of our youth, I encourage you to get involved in Scouting. I find it's time well spent, and I get back far more than I give.
"For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the forest is at once a laboratory, a club, and a Temple."
"A week of camp life is worth six months of theoretical teaching in the meeting room."
— Robert Baden-Powell, 

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