Thursday, February 27, 2014


One day feels like spring,
DSCN3762and the next it's winter again.
We humans, naked mammals easily chilled,
grow impatient, eager for weather more to our liking.

We should learn the value of waiting
and trust the steadfast cycles of the universe.

For surely as the earth tilts back and forth
on its course around the sun,
winter weakens, giving way to spring.
Darkness yields to the light,
and cold gives way to warmth.

From the decaying leaves of seasons past,
new life arises from the earth.

Arise! My eager heart trembles.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Images of Late Winter, Early Spring

With beautiful weather and a day off from work, it was a blessing to be able to go for a longer walk today. Here are a few images of the day. I hope that you, too, were able to spend a few hours outdoors.

Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa)
First Bloom!  Our earliest flower, Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa), in our backyard

Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa)
Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa) blooming in the woods. This species is sometimes
called "Salt & Pepper," describing the black and white coloring of the diminutive flowers.

Wet weather spring
Our wet weather spring that only flows for a few days after extremely heavy
rains. On days like this, I carry a Sierra cup on my belt so that I can easily drink.

emerging Cutleaf Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata)
Emerging Cutleaf Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata)

Beech & Sassafras
Young beech & old sassafras

Trail companion
My loyal & carefree companion, Sadie. I'm pretty sure that if I told her
we were going to hike the entire 2160 miles of the Appalachian Trail,
she could be packed and ready in less than 10 seconds.

Autumn's Remnant
Autumn's Remnant — A winter weary beech leaf on a young beech tree.
The leaves of young beech trees tend to hang on throughout the winter,
coming off only in spring as the new leaves are coming out. Botanists say
that the retained leaves are marcescent, but I just like to think of them
as coppery jewelry adorning the forest through the gray days of winter.

Listening for Wild Music

Silence has become so rare that few have ever really known it. Maybe that's why there's so little appreciation for the music of wild places.

Shhh! Be quiet. Be still. Listen.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Listening for Spring

Straining to hear the coming spring, the last few nights have found me leaning toward the creek and listening carefully for the first calls of the Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer). Not yet, but soon.

Morning Coffee at the Window

Together with a chipmunk
   that lives just outside our kitchen window,
we watch the birds foraging in the backyard.
Cardinals and chickadees,
   downy woodpeckers and nuthatches,
   robins, titmice, wrens,
and even a golden-crowned kinglet,
   all praise their Maker simply by being.
Could it be that simple?

Thursday, February 20, 2014


"If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizens As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!" — Henry David Thoreau, "Life Without Principle," 1854
There is often a struggle within before I go for a walk in the woods. This is especially true when I want to go for a longer walk. A voice in my head reminds me of the many things that I ought to be doing instead. I quickly try to do one or two of those things to salve my guilty conscience. But while I'm doing those things, I get distracted by something else, and before I know it the day is mostly gone and I feel guilty because I did not go walking. Living here in this woods but never hiking would be like a man who works in an art gallery and never looks at the art.

Time walking alone in the woods is almost always time well spent for me. And the truth is that I often get more done when I "waste" a portion of my day out walking in the forest.

Stopping for tea during a saunter

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Cranefly Orchid in Winter

Seed pod of Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor)
Seed pod of Cranefly Orchid
Though not in bloom, the observant hiker can still enjoy the Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor) in winter. This rustic-looking member of the orchid family blooms in late summer and is rarely noticed even then because its flowers are easily lost in the dappled light of the shady summer forest floor (see bottom 2 pictures). Indeed, this orchid may be most easily noticed in winter by its leaves. The leaves of this plant come out in autumn and overwinter. They are then withered and gone by the time the plant flowers in late summer. Cranefly Orchid is probably most easily noticed if one of its winter leaves happen to be turned upside down exposing its purple underside to the hiker. If you happen to see these winter leaves on the forest floor, you might want to note its location and then keep an eye on it once we hit mid-July. If you do, you just might get to enjoy and know an orchid normally unnoticed.

Backside of Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor) in winter
Underside of Cranefly Orchid leaf in winter

Winter leaf of Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor)
Topside of Cranefly Orchid leave in winter. The leaves are
no longer present when the plant blooms in late summer.

Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor)
Cranefly Orchid blooming in late summer
Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor)
Cranefly Orchid in bloom

Monday, February 17, 2014

Everything is Connected

"There is not a 'fragment' in all nature, for every relative fragment of one thing is a full harmonious unit in itself."—John Muir, A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf.

The video below is a good, brief summary of one of my very favorite stories. It's the story of how the restoration of wolves to Yellowstone improved the entire ecosystem. Everything is connected, like a complex, living puzzle, and there is more beauty to the whole when all the pieces are present.

"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.

Herald of the Spring!

I witnessed the first wildflowers of the season yesterday! A tiny wildflower appropriately called Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa) is finally beginning to make it's appearance in Middle Tennessee. Not surprisingly, this herald of the spring is running late this year (at least compared to recent years). Looking back at my notes from the last couple of years, I see that on the 2nd of February in 2012 I reported that I'd been seeing it for over a week. And last year on Feb 18, I noted that blooming Harbinger-of-Spring was "common and widespread." Spring may be slow this year, but it is surely coming. Once things get going, I expect a veritable riot of blooming spring wildflowers. Get ready to party!

Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa)
Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa) with unopened buds the size of a pin head

Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa)
Harbinger-of-Spring blooms beginning to open in the sun. These
relatively nondescript flowers never get larger than ¼ inch across.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Morning Prayer

Joy. Watching the moon set through the trees at dawn, birds begin singing a chorus of praise and my heart silently joins the song.

Fleeting Sky Mountains

"July 23. — Another midday cloudland, displaying power and beauty that one never wearies in beholding, but hopelessly unsketchable and untellable. What can poor mortals say about clouds ? While a description of their huge glowing domes and ridges, shadowy gulfs and canons, and featheredged ravines is being tried, they vanish, leaving no visible ruins. Nevertheless, these fleeting sky mountains are as substantial and significant as the more lasting upheavals of granite beneath them. Both alike are built up and die, and in God's calendar difference of duration is nothing." — John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra.

Clouds in Quetico/Boundary Waters Canoe Country

Wild Hope

"In God's wildness lies the hope of the world - the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware." — John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, edited by Linnie Marsh Wolfe in 1938.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Be Still

Keep it simple. Be still. Find a place to be quiet. Life is not given to be lived at such breakneck speed that simple pleasures are lost.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nature's Long Memory

Me in front of a very old beech tree
I take comfort in knowing—trusting—that the forest surrounding our house will outlive me. There is an old beech tree in the hollow that is about 300 years old, and I wonder what changes the tree has seen in the hollow. I have no doubt that parts of the woods have been cut down, used as pasture for a generation or so, and then grew back into forest again when left alone. I remember that the creek into which our hollow drains is called Buffalo Creek, and I wonder how this came to be. How many winters has this forest endured? And, of course, there are rocks in the hollow that are exponentially older. The rocks have seen countless seasons and trees come and go. Indeed, the rocks have witnessed—and even felt—the sculpting of the ancient hollow itself.

My time here is only temporary. Planning ahead the proverbial seven generations would only be a start, and it is good for me to remember this. Whether I recognize it or not, I am more visitor and caretaker than owner.

"Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do." — Wendell Berry (written as a part of his endorsement of The Dying of the Trees: The Pandemic in America's Forests, by Charles E. Little, Penguin, 1995)
Ancient White Cedar in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota
(This tree is estimated to be 1200 years old)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Chestnut Logs Lie Silent Still

I had a dream once of walking through an ancient forest. It seemed somehow different, familiar and yet somehow fundamentally different. And then suddenly I realized I was surrounded by massive chestnut trees—an entire grove of chestnuts! And then the air was filled with birds moving into the forest and nearly every branch became a perch. They were passenger pigeons! A seeming endless flock of extinct birds were filling the outstretched branches of these massive chestnut trees. It was as if I were in another world.

Chestnut in the Smoky Mountains
And then I awoke. It was just a dream.

I mourn the loss of the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata). I know I would have loved to walk among them. But I never had the chance. Today, chestnut logs lie silent still upon the forest floor. Undeterred by death, scraggly remnants continue to send up new life—only to struggle and die young from the chestnut blight.

Perhaps by some miracle these giants of the forest will return—like Ezekiel's dry bones. That is a day I would rejoice to see. Perhaps, if we can learn to think long-term, if we are worthy stewards, just maybe these giants will live again. That would be grace.

If you're interested in knowing more about efforts to restore the queen of the forest, you might want to check out The American Chestnut Foundation.

American Giants

Monday, February 3, 2014

Breath of the Forest

"Wherever we go in the mountains, or indeed in any of God's wild fields, we find more than we seek."—John Muir


"Anyhow we never know where we must go nor what guides we are to get—men, storms, guardian angels, or sheep. Perhaps almost everybody in the least natural is guided more than he is ever aware of. All the wilderness seems to be full of tricks and plans to drive and draw us up into God's Light."—John Muir
Some of my best walks are when I simply take off and wander without a goal or purpose. I have learned that a journey without agenda leaves me more receptive to discovery and wonder. I walk with open heart and receptive hands, simply seeing whatever is brought before my eyes as I walk down the trail. This is the true spirit of sauntering.

The wind blows across my cheek, sometimes cold and slashing, sometimes gentle as the breath of a lover. I give it very little thought, but the wind’s harshness can push me to more sheltered paths as surely as its caress can bring much needed refreshment. And so this unseen force directs my path.

As my feet carry me down the trail, my thoughts wander freely as the breeze, coming and going, bringing words to the silence. Perhaps there’s more at work here than I realize in this spirit/breath/wind that blows through wild places.

I come without agenda,
listening to the breeze,
feeling the silence
in every step.
Walking in wonder, unsure
where this path will lead
my thoughts and spirit.
A deep mystery is this breath of the forest.

Both of the above quotes are from My First Summer in the Sierra, describing Muir's experiences in the summer of 1869 (published in 1911).