Saturday, June 28, 2014

Wishing on Stars

With hope I watch and wait
to see which stars become pumpkins
ripe as the harvest moon.
Most blossoms will come to nothing
though I do my best to care:
weeding, watering in drought,
feeding with composted soil.
But mostly I just hope,
hope and wait, for I am only a gardener, and
can no more make a pumpkin than a rising moon.




Mourning Dove

This morning the Mourning Dove calls me back 40 or 50 years to Petersburg, Indiana. I can almost smell the coffee and bacon from Grandma's kitchen, and then I realize this is not her feather bed and am awakened to today. Past and present can somehow intersect in an unhurried mind, and I rise thankful. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Going deep...

Tonight I downloaded my first Wendell Berry book, This Day: Sabbath Poems, Collected and New, 1979-2013, to my Kindle. I'm pretty excited about it. I've always been a little intimidated by Wendell Berry, but I've admired him from afar through articles, interviews, and quotes for years. I think I'm going to be living in his Sabbath poems for a long time to come.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Real Time

I long to be only on nature's time with the sun my alarm clock and my calendar simply the moon and the changing of the seasons. At the very least, it would be nice to be as connected and influenced by the sun and the moon as by the mechanical time-keepers we have made for ourselves. Clocks and calendars are mere shadows of the real thing.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014


"Always in big woods, when you leave familiar ground and step off alone to a new place, there will be, along with feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown, and it is your bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. You are understanding the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is the experience of our essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes common ground, and a common bond, and we cease to be alone." – Wendell Berry, The Unknown Wilderness: Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, 1971

Approaching Storm in the Quetico

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Delectable Madness

Here are the opening words from the one of the best books ever written on hiking. After benefiting from a great many 15-20 minute walks, I can vouch for the truthfulness of his words. I also agree with his assertion that walking is a wonderful madness. I know personally that this madness is vital to my sanity.
     "I had better admit right away that walking can in the end become an addiction, and that it is then as deadly in its fashion as heroin or television or the stock exchange. But even in this final stage it remains a delectable madness, very good for the sanity, and I recommend it with passion.
      A redeeming feature of the condition is that no matter how heavily you have been hooked you can still get your kicks from very small doses."
 — Colin Fletcher, The Complete Walker

Our trailhead
Our trailhead

Summer Storm

I love the fresh-scrubbed clean feeling that follows a summer thunderstorm. I appreciate the 15ยบ drop in temperature, too. On a hot and humid summer day, a pop-up thunderstorm can be a welcome visitor and an instant transformation.

Riding thunder clouds
transformation sweeps over the land.
Who can deny its relentless power?
Breathing renewal into us,
Spirit refreshes like the cold rain of a summer storm,
a quickening wind restoring our weary souls.
Flashing lightning and whirling wind are scary and rightly feared,
but storms also bring life,
cold rain for the thirsty,
and fresh air for the gasping.
Water and air from the heavens above
bring fresh hope and new life to the earth below.
Riding thunder clouds
transformation sweeps over the land.
Who can deny the Spirit's relentless power?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Walk. Just Walk.

Walk. Just start. Walk. Simply walk. Whether you feel it or not, go for a walk and see what the trail holds for you. It matters not whether you feel motivated at the moment. Just start. Walk. Simply walk. Very often I find the joy of the wild only begins revealing itself after I have walked a bit. I think it's something about being in motion. It also has to do with working my body. Just start. Walk. Simply walk. Get your feet moving and listen to the rhythm of your footsteps. The farther you go down the trail, the deeper the trail will get into you.

Wandering in wonder




Friday, June 20, 2014

Wind Spirit

I came home tonight to signs of a strange wind having blown through here. There's no serious damage, save a dead yellow poplar down in the woods. The yard is littered with leaves that didn't come from nearby trees. There's even a fern leaf torn from some spot on the forest floor and deposited in the middle of our lawn. And yet there's no damage to the fragile tomatoes and beans in the garden, not a single shorn leaf. Oh, and the downed poplar in the woods—it fell westward, indicating this strange breath had blown from the east, counter to normal. I must make an ambulatory inspection tomorrow—Henry Thoreau style—and see what other strange mysteries I see. 

[Update: The next morning did not reveal any more damage or surprises. I'm thinking it didn't take much to push over the standing dead poplar tree.]

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Still & Dark

The forest is intensely dark and still tonight. There is a deep quiet that is undisturbed by even the whistle of a distant train. The are no insect sounds, or at least not many. An owl murmurs softly with its mate, a sound so soft it would likely be missed if I were not alone. And there is a deep darkness in the forest tonight—a black that swallows even the blinking glow of fireflies. But I do not find the silent black night troubling or disconcerting—as perhaps some people do. For me, it is profoundly peaceful, a space that bathes my tired thoughts, a blessing at the end of a long day. And I am thankful. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Family Memories

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. If you're like me, you don't really feel like you deserve all the attention and the day serves to make you want to be a better man. I've been rather nostalgic and feeling blessed today. Here are a couple of random memories picked from the stream flowing through my head today. The first is of sleeping in an orange plastic tube tent with my dad on the Appalachian Trail back in the mid-70s. I remember my pack was heavy and we had snow flurries. I think that was the first backpacking trip for both of us, and it was character building and it was wonderful. The second, more recent, memory was waking up 3 years ago on a windy June morning on Comanche Peak at Philmont Scout Ranch in northeast New Mexico. It was extremely windy and cold that morning, and as I was waking, I remember noticing a fog in the distance and thinking how odd it was to have fog when it was so cold and windy. A minute later, I realized my error. It wasn't fog; it was a snow-blowing storm cloud scraping across the mountain. It was snowing! In June! It was time to get up anyway, so I woke Joshua, and we immediately decided to get off the mountain as quickly as possible. In that wind, folding a 2-man tent was a 4 person job, but the whole Scout crew mobilized and we bugged out in a flash and hurried down the trail not stopping for breakfast until we reached a lower altitude and were out of the wind. I could continue with stories of hail and lighting and huge waves that swamp a canoe in a heartbeat, but you're already tired of reading. The point is this: Some of the best family moments are formed in adversity. Every family knows this intuitively. These are the stories we share when we're sitting around telling and retelling our stories. This is the stuff of life. No journey worth taking is easy.


Wild Nightsong

Coyote songs echo through the hollow, two long howls followed by a minute of revelry. Our dogs reply too long after the song ends and then quiet resumes in the forest so I can return to sleep.
Coyote dreams.
Wild songs in the night. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Elf Music

If you stand in just the right place, on the border of their territories, one can sometimes listen simultaneously to two male Wood Thrushes sing their enchanting songs. I know of a place where I can listen to four Wood Thrushes singing at once. It's easy to imagine Rivendell is nearby. In such a place I could linger and saunter for hours and hours—days even.




Shades of Green

Green. 40 shades of green, at least. A green variegated with endless patterns of shadow and light. Behind the green, a warming sun slowly climbs into a brilliant mono-blue sky. Good morning. Pull up a chair. Would you like some coffee?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Gentle rain falling on leaves

Gentle rain falling on leaves can be music for my soul. I don't understand why some people grumble about it. It's not always convenient, but I figure I may as well listen and appreciate the wonder. The music of rainsong is primal, like a beating drum. At times it can be soothing as a beating heart.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Trails Past

This afternoon while hiking, I sensed my trail was somehow connected with all the other trails I have ever walked. I have felt this before. I can't explain how this can be, but I know it to be true—though not tangible.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Firefly Magic

In the gentle evening rain my eyes are captivated by fireflies rising. They light my wandering imagination like embers from a campfire. I think I will never tire of this sight. Though a firefly may be held in a jar, their magic can never be captured.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Take a hike!

Looking for something to do this weekend? Saturday, June 7, is National Trails Day, which is as good an excuse as any to take a break and go for a walk (or paddle or pedal). Although it's not as hot as the weather will be later in the summer, you still need to pay attention to the heat. Last summer I wrote a piece on hiking in hot, humid weather (here's a link).

You might also want to check out The American Hiking Society, who started National Trails Day back in 1993. They have all kinds of helpful information on hiking and supporting our national trail system.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Turkeys at the Symphony

Squawk, rattle, and roll! Like a raucous ringtone interrupting at the symphony are the sounds of turkeys when they join the woodland morning chorus. Even still, a turkey's appearance in the yard is always a moment of wonder. They bring a different harmony to the song. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

My need for wild spaces

After too long an absence I was able to go for a walk in our woods this evening, and it was like comfort food for my soul. It's not as if I've been completely out of touch with nature. Because I care to look, I see wild life everywhere I go. But too often lately I have been too busy and too tired for even a brief forest saunter. I think things are kind of getting back to normal now, and I am grateful for it. I don't know about you, but I need time in green, wild spaces. Like a compass, nature orients my mind and helps me know where I am.

A new job and the busiest month of May ever has also kept me from reflection and writing, and I look forward to getting back to it. I have been able to do some reading, though, sometimes escaping for a whole hour to the north woods with Sigurd Olson on my lunch break. If you enjoy time in nature and you haven't read anything by Sig Olson, I suggest you look him up and read a little. I know his words certainly resonate in my heart. From some of his lesser known writings, here are a few tidbits to whet your appetite:
"The same sun shines everywhere and the same moon and the wind. One place is as wild as the other and as beautiful if one can see with eyes that understand." — Journal, February 20, 1940
Sigurd Olson
"I have found that people go to the wilderness for many things, but the most important of these is perspective. They may think they go for the fishing or the scenery or companionship, but in reality it is something far deeper. They go to the wilderness for the good of their souls." — from "We Need Wilderness," National Parks Magazine, January-March 1946
"Wilderness is more than lakes, rivers, and timber along the shores, more than fishing or just camping. It is the sense of the primeval, of space, solitude, silence, and the eternal mystery. It is a fragile quality and is destroyed by man and his machines." — from "Wilderness Preservation," Naturalist, Winter 1964
"Many go through life without making an effort to unearth the hidden stores within them and die having lived sterile lives in their own arid deserts. Many go through stifled by the narrowness of their daily affairs little dreaming that at their very doors for the asking is a wilderness to explore, the wilderness of their understanding." — Journal, January 17, 1930
"The inner world has to do with the wilderness from which we came, timelessness, cosmic rhythms, and the deep feelings men have for an unchanged environment. It is a oneness and communion with nature, a basic awareness of beauty, and earth wisdom which since the beginning of man's rise from the primitive have nourished his visions and his dreams." — Runes of the North