Sunday, April 27, 2014

Scouting for Wonder

Yesterday a small group from our Boy Scout troop went on a 6½ mile hike and I was inspired and reinvigorated. What encouraged me most was how they were so inquisitive and interested in the life of the forest. Far too often, a Boy Scout hike becomes a forced march where everyone is mostly oblivious to surrounding nature. I think it helped that we were a small group of only 8 total people. My wife, Beth, and I were the adults on the hike. We had five scouts, three young scouts and two older scouts with many years of experience and trail savvy. My son, the troop senior patrol leader, organized, planned, and led the hike. My son's girlfriend also joined the group.

Troop 17 Hikers
Equipped with map and compass, each of the three younger scouts took a turn navigating for the group. The older scouts taught the navigators how to use a compass to orient the map, and then showed them how to keep track of progress and verify the route at natural checkpoints, like intersections and road crossings. Most people think map reading is simple, but a good scout learns that navigation is a learned skill that must be practiced over and over again before real proficiency is gained.
Be prepared, and be careful where you step!

What encouraged me most is how the boys seemed genuinely impressed by the beauty and wonder of nature. Don't get me wrong. They spent their share of time discussing video games and arguing over silly things, but they were also excited by snakes and giant trees. They would stare up into the trees trying to spot a woodpecker chiseling out an insect breakfast. Several times I was asked to give the name of this or that wildflower. One scout even asked about some yellowing wildflower leaves and asked if I could show him picture later when he learned this one was already past blooming (Dutchman's Breeches). The moment that really did it for me, though, was when an excited scout pointed and exclaimed, "look at that!" Expecting to see cyclists on the road, or a deer, or maybe even a turkey, I was delighted when I realized he was pointing out sunlight filtered through leaves. "He's got it," I thought, and I knew I had helped a boy experience the wonder of nature.

Noticing the difference between Poison Ivy and Virginia Creeper

Trees are cool!

Scouts are always eager to come to the rescue

Saturday, April 26, 2014

"Let men tread gently through nature"

Very interesting entry from the journal of Henry David Thoreau

"A great part of our troubles are literally domestic or originate in the houses and from living indoors. I could write an essay to be entitled “Out of Doors,”—undertake a crusade against houses. What a different thing Christianity preached to the house-bred and to a party who lived out of doors! Also a sermon is needed on economy of fuel. What right has my neighbor to burn ten cords of wood, when I burn only one? Thus robbing our half-naked town of this precious covering. Is he so much colder than I? It is expensive to maintain him in our midst. If some earn the salt of their porridge, are we certain that they earn the fuel of their kitchen and parlor? One man makes a little of the driftwood of the river or of the dead and refuse (unmarketable!) of the forest suffice, and Nature rejoices in him. Another, Herod-like, requires ten cords of the best of young white oak or hickory, and he is commonly esteemed a virtuous man. He who burns the most wood on his hearth is least warmed by the sight of it growing. Leave the trim wood-lots to widows and orphan girls. Let men tread gently through nature. Let us religiously burn stumps and worship in groves, while Christian vandals lay waste the forest temples to build miles of meeting-houses and horse-sheds and feed their box stoves."

Monday, April 21, 2014

Get Outside! It's John Muir's Birthday!

John Muir at Vernal Fall in Yosemite
In honor of John Muir's birthday (April 21, 1838), do your best to get outside today. You don't need the grandeur of Yosemite or a primeval forest; your city park or a backyard thicket will do. Just get outside into wild nature wherever you find it.
"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, quoted in John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (edited & published by Linnie Marsh Wolfe in 1938).

Tennessee Mayapples in April

Saturday, April 19, 2014

First Wood Thrush!

I heard the first ethereal song of the Wood Thrush yesterday! After a long winter, my ears have been straining for days to hear their beautiful music. The Wood Thrush spends winters in Central America and returns to our woods each year in mid-April. I believe it was also April 18th when I heard the first one last year.

To my ears, the varied song of the Wood Thrush is completely enchanting. I could sit in the woods and listen for hours, and I could not agree more with the comments by Henry Thoreau.
"As I come over the hill I hear the wood thrush singing his evening lay. This is the only bird whose note affects me like music—affects the flow & tenor of my thought—my fancy & imagination. It lifts and exhilarates me. It is inspiring. It is a medicative draught to my soul. It is an elixir to my eyes & a fountain of youth to all my senses. It changes all hours to an eternal morning." — Henry David Thoreau, Journal entry, June 22, 1853.
"The strains of the aeolian harp & of the wood thrush are the truest & loftiest preachers that I know now left on this earth. I know of no missionaries to us heathen comparable to them." — Thoreau, Dec. 31, 1953 [Apparently he missed their song during the winter, too.]
Click here for more information and recordings at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, or, even better, get out into a mature forest soon and listen yourself.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Learning Patience

I am learning to write because the world is beautiful and I want others to feel its wonder. I am trying to give myself time to learn, but today's technologically interconnected world urges us to share instantaneously and often. Have a thought? Pull out your smartphone and post it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram now—right now, in the moment. Post and share early and often, or become irrelevant.

But the truth is that writing is difficult. Learning to write well is even harder, and finely crafted words matter little if you've nothing important to say.

My inspiration comes from the great nature writers. I can't help but wonder if Henry Thoreau, John Muir, and Sigurd Olson would have become such powerful writers if they had Tweeted each passing thought instead of letting their words mature and mellow. I have my doubts.

Lately I have been learning to slow down, and I find encouragement in the words of Wendell Berry. I share his poem, "How to Be a Poet," to urge others to slow down and be more deliberately contemplative. Good things take time.


How To Be a Poet
By Wendell Berry
(to remind myself)


Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.


Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.


Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Source: Poetry (January 2001).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Be Still

One hour sitting can be more valuable than miles and miles of walking. This is true in the forest, and I suspect it may be true most everywhere. It takes time to truly see.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dappled Light

DSCN5000I am continually started by the suddenness of change in the forest. Only yesterday sunlight filled the forest unobstructed. Today, thanks to millions of unfurling baby maple leaves, the newly green forest floor is dappled in sun and shade. Everything feels fresh and new. The shaded air awakens forgotten senses within me. I think this sudden and dramatic change is second only to the effects of a snowfall.


I never saw a discontented tree

An old beech in our woods. Measurements
suggest this tree is about 300 years old.
"It has been said that trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment rooted in the ground. But they never seem so to me. I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!" — John Muir

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Drink Deeply

Wherever your path takes you today, I hope you take a moment to contemplate beauty. Examine and delight in a wildflower, feel the fragile softness of new life, revel in the sunshine, drink deeply.

Unfurling frond of Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)
Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

Sadie stopping for a drink at the spring

Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) and Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)
Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) surrounded by a carpet of Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fully Awake

Am I overly sentimental about nature? Yes, no doubt, but it beats being dull or indifferent. I hear there are some who claim to love a certain master painter but have no appreciation for his art. I would rather be judged too enthusiastic than to be unmoved by beauty. Shall I leave it to the rocks to cry out? No! I have ears, and I have eyes. Let me see and hear.


Windows Open to a New Day

Windows open. Darkness yields and the world is enlightened through ever shifting, evolving color. And, as if applauding the day, the morning chorus of avian singers fill the woods with praise. Sing! Sing! A new day is here!


9 minutes later

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Wandering in fields and woods is not an escape from anything. These wild places serve as a refuge from our day-to-day world because they are more real, not less.