I will no longer be fooled by
Lulled into mistaking
Linearity for longevity,
I move in circles.
I will no longer be fooled by
Lulled into mistaking
Linearity for longevity,
I move in circles.
They say “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and most days I have a camera practically attached to my hand. This fall I’ve worked on a project, daily photos of a hillside covered with sugar maples. It’s on my ride to and from work, and it’s at its greatest glory in the fall. Stretching a quarter mile or so, I call it “The Wall of Flame” when the foliage turns deep orange. Each day through September and into October, I shot a few frames of the trees, looking to track their changes day-by-day. An idea for a post.
This day, I decided to put the camera down and actually see the beauty before me. Just to ride home like a regular Joe, enjoying the fall scenery. The day turned out to be one of those amazing golden days as I drove home into the sunset. Before I knew it, the words and phrases describing the view were spilling onto paper, writing on the tiny memo pad while driving. Some of the scribbling is tough to read, but herein I try to capture the essence of this glorious season, this beautiful world, without pictures.
The Ride Home-
SEEING it. The Wall of Flame and no camera. I feel as if I’ve missed it. Missed the slow turn from green to pale to yellow-ish to orange. Too much time with a camera stuck in front of my face. Thinking the peak has past, thinking it was a slightly duller year for leaf colors. I realize it’s as beautiful as any year, any season, as it is every day. In the clouds I see a bird-shaped formation. A body and two broad wings spread and soaring. A wingspan of a hundred miles, flying five miles high.
A brilliant pink-orange sunset, backlighting the big ridges, all the way to my own Victory Mountain. Truly purple and majestic. Worthy of an anthem. Gray undulatus stretching hundreds of miles across our blue blanket, to the opposite horizon, a deep indigo.
Leaves fall like snowflakes across our path, construction-paper colors and looking like decorations made by the kindergarten. Copper and red, umber and orange are reflected in the farm ponds. Vast cornfields have been shaved, leaving only the stubble standing, like grandfather’s beard, geese notwithstanding.
The globe progresses rapidly as the Big Red Ball drops past nautical twilight, cotton-candy cumulus are bathed in salmon and blue. Clouds in the shadow of the Earth now deepen, lavender wisps and smoky vermilion. The hilltops are now slow burning embers, and tangerine spires of light shoot beyond my field of view. Giant fingers of the gods giving the tiny fragile sphere the gentlest caress.
Trees are now flattened, backlit, and drawn out in india ink as the last Starlings dance and twirl in the umbrageous sky. Now lights must illuminate the road, and watch must be kept for deer.
Before I know, I am standing at my door, watching the last of the deepest colors fade from the sky. As if on cue, a flock of Canada Geese transits the glens of Engleville on a southwest course, silhouetted against the last light of the day. They call to us as they fade into the distance.
I turn, to see the evening star rising.
This is where you would have found a post, if I wasn’t busy outdoors, drinking in every precious moment of the season.
Typically, there would be an article here about the beautiful trail, the crisp air, the smell of dried leaves, the colors of the foliage, all accompanied by brightly-lit photographs.
I would have written (and shared photos) of my drive to Syracuse. The geese in the corn stubble. The rolling hills painted in lovely-sounding colors like crimson and persimmon and peach and burnt umber.
If I had the time, I’d write about the shortening days, the cooling of the northern hemisphere. The natural clocks I follow: birds migrating, the tilt of the Big Dipper in the night sky, the sunrises growing later with each passing day.
I would have regaled you with tales of the Wonder Woods, walks with my Sassy June, preparations for the seasons that lie ahead: hunting season, a Leaf Pile Party, closing of storm windows and the putting-away of lawn chairs and garden hoses.
There lies in the journal notes for many posts: watching the “Wall of Flame” grow bright, then dim to embers, for the twentieth year, this hillside covered with Sugar Maples. The attempts to photograph it each day, to observe the subtle and not-so-subtle changes over the course of an autumn. The tale of the deer caught in the urban environment, trapped and surrounded by highways.
If not otherwise occupied, you might have read the musings of an old armchair philosopher. About putting the camera down and opening the window. About really seeing that which is before me. About the tiny circles we inhabit and the great circles our globe makes around the sun, wobbling through summers and winters. About the grandest circles, cycles of the cosmos, reminding us that “the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
You may have read about how much I love this life and this world and everything it holds, animate and inanimate. About the way I worry about tiny helpless animal friends and other living things facing a challenging future. About the way I fervently believe someone will come along after me that loves these things, this blue ball, and will care for them as I have.
There would have been a few paragraphs about how beautiful our world is, not just in this superlative season, but every day, in every season and the seasons-between-seasons.
And I would have once again related how joyful I feel when I am immersed in our world. How I feel I am never alone. How being a tiny insignificant speck on a rock on an arm of a galaxy in a universe filthy with galaxies makes me feel as though I am part of it all. As if this entire Great Cosmos is all mine to enjoy and revere.
Oh, yeah. It is.
Seeking to master my Armchair Zen is a constant challenge, a complicated prospect. Studies are a staccato of moments plucked from days immersed and submerged in a modern techno-monetary society. Commutes with think-time to fill, accompanied by three-hundred sixty degrees of an ever-varying natural world. Brief grasps of insight when ACZ tenets are applied to the events of the workday, when opportunity and memory allow. Alas, sentenced to a life as a human following the generation before and living in the richest country on Earth, the ubiquitous full-time career is required.
The imagination can have a great run at envisioning a natural life, in the wild. Sleeping in a nest of grass and leaves, arising with the sun. Drinking from the stream and foraging for food without clocks or jobs, cars or homes. A Neolithic dream which can never be realized lends itself well to Hollywood-style fiction and fantasy. Days pass wandering gently through hills and glens, communing with nature and all the living and feeling and visceral experiences imaginable. We have become accustomed to our style of living, and can’t go back to life without shoes and refrigerators. Very few really want to. Those that pursue life away from society are viewed as recluses, loners, mountain men, or worse. The truth is, heat and a steady supply of food is impossible to forget, and you will soon miss them both.
Out in the real world, the natural world, things carry on, day in and day out, without machines and modern conveniences. What are crows doing while we check the clock to be on time for a meeting? What is the coyote’s “lunch time”? Where are the owls during the day?
Driving to work, there are the deer browsing the field of corn stubble. Finding treasures, missed by the harvester, dropped from the wagon, covered by snow and now finally revealed. Flocks of Canada geese pass overhead, circle the fields, descend for landings with wings flapping and horns honking. Others are ready for departure, as they take to the sky, thirty or forty at a time, raising the call to flight. Turkey vultures soar above, two or three or five, making fixed-wing circles, scanning the ground for the next meal.
In the midst of a modern day, it’s intriguing to think of the life going on in the wild world. From remote tracts far from power lines and the sounds of trucks rolling down the interstate, to the fascinating pockets interspersed and interjected into the most modern-human-industrialized places. In the woods and along the banks of streams in the wilderness, time is at a fixed and unmeasured pace. It is now, then now has passed and it is now again. Actions are carried out as they come to mind, from leaving the den to fording the creek, landing to check out carrion, or crouching low to spring an ambush attack. Some play if there are cubs or pups or kits or simply the mood. Some concerted effort to clean out the nest (or the kits or the pups), or to go forth with the pack on the hunting party for mutual benefit.
Jack London himself could not know what it is like to be a wild thing, a thing having never been aware of being or self. To follow instinct and impulse in every moment, every day, from birth to death. Our imaginings and fictional tales are Disney-esque dreams of a Bambi life. Tweeting birds floating around his head, flowers growing all around the looking-glass pond as he watches antlers grow in. As beautiful as the total freedom of life in the wild may seem in our mind’s eye, reality must be very different. Imagine a sparrow, spending the whole day finding food where it lays. Hopefully finding food. All the while looking down for threats from below; foxes, bobcats, fishers, northern pike. And all the while looking up for threats from above; hawks, eagles, harriers, rain and hail. The harrier and hawk looking out for the eagles while airborne, minding the foxes and fishers when grounded.
On sunny spring days we hear birds singing with apparent glee, and we romanticize about the squirrel filling his stores with winter stock. We watch Canvasback ducks and admire their opportunities to see beautiful landscapes, to cross international borders without blinking an eye, to mate for life and raise fluffy yellow ducklings on the shores of Hudson Bay.
At this moment, the day’s rain has just ceased. It’s a mild spring day to us. Soon it will be dark. Wild things will bed down in damp and cold nests. The bare trees of April offer little camouflage from the silent night flyers for those on the ground. Temperatures will drop in the night, below freezing before dawn. The snow has receded, thankfully, and more forage is about than last month. Still, the long hard winter has left little by way of greens and berries, nuts and seed pods, for those that must collect them all day. It can only be the knowing of no other way that makes this all bearable. There is no other choice.
In human society, we may choose. We may choose to work and earn our livings or we may drop out and hitch-hike to California, live on the beach or under a bridge. We may choose to take from others, in the natural world a simple prospect. If you’re bigger and faster and meaner and deadlier and hungrier, you might take what you try to steal. If unsuccessful, you may run off with your tail between your legs. Or maybe you’ll be killed and eaten. Whatever.
In the human world you will be captured by other humans and spoken to then locked in a cage. Here you’ll be kept warm and fed and receive medical attention, cable TV, and free access to the library. We may choose to ignore the statutes of other humans in a wide variety of ways, most of which end the same way. Once in a great while (and it’s very rare indeed), you actually will be killed by others. Sometimes you’ll simply hand them paper earned by labor, and the score is settled.
As time marches on, it becomes more and more difficult to see, imagine or comprehend the true wild nature of wild things. The wild things themselves are increasingly being drawn into the anti-natural human world. Folks think they’re helping when they feed french fries to the seagulls outside the fast food restaurant. When they toss bleached white-flour bread to mergansers. When they feed their yummy table scraps to their own dogs. These things may be tasty, but how do we know how it will affect animals? Look what it’s done for humans, a frequently-overweight animal beleaguered by blood pressure, circulatory, cholesterol and other problems.
Treks into the wood with the faithful dog are but brief glimpses into the real, natural world. It is a beautiful, if sometimes harsh, place. There are no fakes in the natural world (though there may be camouflages and lures). No hawkers (hawks yes, hawkers no). No artificial conveyances or communications.
And it’s happening right now. Without fanfare or infomercials. Birds fly, eat, die. Gophers dig, eat, die. Insects crawl, eat and die. The sun rises & sets, winds blow and abate, tides ebb and flow. Grasses and trees and shrubs await their time, sprout buds & catkins, drop seeds to the ground or launch them airborne into the wind. Tiny spider hatchlings will float on teeny web-parachutes. Mature beavers will leave their families after a few years, to build their own ponds.
And along comes an odd animal. With four appendages, none of them wings, but walking only on two. It is covered with a most unusual coat. Not fur nor feather, but a colorful mix of woven fabrics. It’s feet are bound in coverings as well. It comes into the woods for short sojourns, then returns to the odd, square nest built from heavily-worked trees. It is a strange animal. Like all strange things in the natural world, it is eyed cautiously and given a wide berth. It is, nonetheless, accepted and respected as part of the world. A world we all must share.
Be kind to the upright animal, for its upbringing has left it short on natural skills and movement.
Give it some time.
Half the world lives in places that never see snow. Some people live in places that are never without snow! I have the great fortune to live in New York State, almost dead-center. Here we have exciting, adventurous, beautiful snowy winters. We’re fortunate also to witness a true spring. It lasts a couple of months as bit-by-bit the effects of winter fade. Red Osier Dogwood and Pussy Willows are some of the earliest signs. This year I discovered Pussy Willows on the branches in February! (We had an odd warm spell). The dogwood practically glows red in the fields as it flushes in preparation for a spring bloom.
Last fall we planted more bulbs on the south side. We placed them in the ground directly in front of the kitchen window. Looking ahead, it seemed like a good plan to be able to see these first signs of spring at our earliest opportunity. Last week, a couple of little shoots pushed their way up through the frozen soil, surrounded by snow.
The next thing to watch for is Colt’s Foot, a small, short-lived flower that looks much like a Dandelion. Colt’s Foot is the first flower we’ll see here, and usually it makes its début in late March. Looks like it will be April this year, ’cause I haven’t seen one yet. This is truly an elixir, the signal to start the bursting of spring.
Saturday, Chuy and I took our hike to the top of Nishan’s Hill. Where just a few weeks ago I needed snowshoes to traverse the trail, now there are oval slabs of ice on the grass, frozen echoes of snowshoe-footprints. Now we can step around snow and walk on the grass, hidden beneath its frosty blanket for months.
As we hiked, I was avoiding the snow. What a “new” and refreshing experience to be able to walk on grasses. To move almost silently up the trail. Chuy walked as he pleased, sometimes in the snow, and sometimes not. At the top of the hill, I noticed he was walking mostly in the snow. He loves the snow, and burrowing his nose deep within it, sniffing for rodent life beneath the snowpack. A few bites of snow are as good as a drink of water. Then he turned and looked at me with his “C’mon!” look. At that moment, I imagined that perhaps he wanted me to be walking in the snow, sniffing and biting too.
Gleefully I stepped into the snow drift, now barely a foot deep at its best, not more than two inches where we walked. I kicked up the snow at Chuy, dusting him with a spray of crystalline water drops. He seems to enjoy that. Just another form of play. If we gently throw snowballs at him, he likes that, too.
That’s when it struck me, that this is the end of the snow. I felt a little twinge. It’s been such a long, cold winter, with record snows. We should be glad to see the snow gone. Still, the snow is our special friend, mine & Chuy’s. Snow walks are intimate affairs, just he & I. Who else would go out for a “walk” at 16 degrees with a fifteen-mile-per-hour wind blowing, snowshoeing through two feet of snow? It is the very essence of solitude.
I paused for a moment to look at an impression in the ice. Today it was not springy, at about 18 degrees (F). Ice had preceded the snow, and in this spot I found two prints in the solid ice, like fossilized footprints in the sand. Looking like glass, there was my footprint, a boot print prior to snow shoe time. Centered in my boot print was Chuy’s paw print, perfectly rendered in glass crystal. It spoke so much to my heart that I wished I had a camera with me, to capture that image.
Chuy turned 13 in January. His once-black and tan face is half-filled with white. The top of his head, too, is going gray. Each day I spend with him, each walk in summer or winter, feels precious. Numbered.
I danced about in the snow with Chuy. I kicked up snow with my boots, he flung snow with his nose. We sank deep in soft spots and we slipped and slid over icy spots. We gave Winter, the snow, the ice, a great send-off, a bon voyage, a “See You Next Year, Old Friend”. I savored the last moments of this simple wonderment. The millions of pine needles that litter the snow at the edges of the forest. The tiny and not-so-tiny tracks in the snow. Deer, mice, rabbits, fox…maybe a bobcat. Little tunnels dug beneath the snow in the depths of the season of darkness were now revealed, looking like the canals of Mars.
On the way back, I made it a point, went out of my way if needed, to keep walking in the snow.
Back at the house, enough snow had melted to expose several squeaky green balls on the lawn. Lost to the snowfall half a year ago, now they have returned. Ready for spring.
We’re ready for spring, too. Me, Chuy, the pines and the rabbits.
Winter can be hard work. Perhaps that’s why spring has such an appeal, such excitement around the change of season.
We’re going to miss the snow.
It’s moments like this that make me look to the big picture. Savor those memories of the snow. Shining brutal winter days. Ice storms like crystals. Snow Geese. A footprint.
Cast our eyes to the spring, and try not to think about the return of the snow. Another winter. People will think you’re crazy.
In my wishful dream, we’ll all still be here when it arrives.
Be at peace,
As part of my appreciation of nature, my Armchair Zen philosophy of observing the natural wonders of this world, I shoot a lot of photographs. I travel around the state and sometimes into surrounding states for work, and there are beautiful, fascinating, captivating photo opportunities on every corner.
Driving by Weaver lake one morning, I stopped for just a minute, and shot these frames of Canada geese. There were a few other shots from the same spot the same morning. The geese taking off from the water would be what I call the Shot-of-the day.
Driving along, the sights of this amazing world mesmerize and call to me, and I’ll stop to take a couple shots when I can.
Sometimes, however, I get stuck in a gotta-get-there mode. No time to stop. Like the engineer on the train in The Polar Express, I’m watching the clock, “We’re gonna be late.”.
For someone practicing a Universal Zen, where our timeline stretches fourteen-and-a-half billion years from the big bang to today, I am still sometimes distracted and fixated on that clock.
Sometimes it’s just the baggage of this crazy unnatural world we’re forced to live in. Folks at work, at meetings, expect you to be mindful of the clock. Folks at home need to plan after-work activities or dinner, and expect you to be consistent on your arrival time. (Sadly, I’m very predictable in this area. Far from the free-wheeling universe-exploring freebody I’d prefer to be.)
Too many times I drive right past a great shot-of-the-day because I’m obsessed with that clock.
On better days, I can grab my zen by the horns and tell myself “It’ll be just a minute.”
How better to spend that minute? Why not “stop to smell the roses”, or at least take a snapshot of them! How many more minutes will be filled with the joy of observing the image, and within that simple observation is the recollection of that moment in time when the photo was taken. Sometimes there’s a story of how I got there or how many times I’d driven past the same thing without noticing, without stopping.
Take the time to take time. Take the time to say “just a minute”. Slow down. Break free from the clock whenever you can and go seek your photo, your fish, your mountaintop, your vista, your friend, your meeting place. Your shot-of-the-day may be a handshake, a minute together, a laugh, a good cup of coffee or a lousy hot dog under an umbrella-covered cart.
Take your shot-of-the-day when it inspires you. Don’t be distracted by that clock, racing you to the finish line. Slow and steady won the race for the tortoise, after all.
The tide waits for no one. The tide has never heard of “time”, can’t comprehend it, and would laugh at us if it could. The little girl above is my granddaughter Elizabeth. She just keeps growing no matter how I wish she’d slow down. She no longer has the parted baby teeth of the jack-o-lantern in costume. If I didn’t take the minute back then, I wouldn’t have this photo, which bears with it the memory of that fall day, the reminder of that sweet “baby” smile.
This little girl has her shirt filled with cherry tomatoes. My daughter Kerry. She’s now an “Agricultural Entrepreneur”, as I like to call her. A farmer. Here she is barely five years old, with the same gap-toothed smile as her grandniece. She’s twenty-nine now, and runs a successful farm growing vegetables and flowers.
Glad I didn’t miss that moment, that photograph. Glad I took the time to snap that. A memory of time past.
In the larger scheme of my life, it was indeed “just a minute”.
Be at peace,
It’s great to live in a place that has such changes of season. Sure, idyllic life on tropical islands has its appeal, but I’ve never known that so won’t miss it I guess.
Moving through the seasons is like an annual reminder of the larger circle in which we linger, that of our own mortal lives. Metaphors speak of the “springtime” of one’s life, call out May-December marriages, and observe happenings that occur “once in a blue moon”.
I’ve recently chosen not to choose a favorite season.
Lots of folks love summer, our own short piece of idyllic tropical life, doled out in 3-month stints. Shirtsleeves or less, the smell of mown grass, flowers, swimming, vacations and camping. Naps in the hammock, afternoons by the lake, long days with sunset stretching the light out ’til nine o’clock. What’s not to love about summer?
Winter does nothing by half-measures. People love winter or despise it and rarely fall between the two extremes. Some will ski and ice-fish and snowshoe and snowmobile gleefully through the most inhumane conditions with mile-wide smiles and bright eyes gleaming beneath frosty eyebrows. Others will build warm fires and libraries, and take up origami and macrame, fly tying and model-building, one-eyed tv watching and after-lunch couch-napping.
Spring! Spring has the heart and eye of every poet born to the art. Spring leaps to mind in metaphors for everything from circles and cycles to hopes and dreams. From the embryonic starts of life itself to the romance needed to keep the chain going. Change! No more dark, no more brown, but green and yellow! No more snow-covered ground but…well, mud-covered ground (especially in the kitchen)..but soon to be green!
Alas, there is Fall. Autumn has so many colors, smells and flavors. We enjoy the Earth’s bounty as all around us she prepares to mothball the northern hemisphere and concentrate on summer in Australia. Noisy flocks of Canada geese and silent flocks of European starlings assemble overhead to begin their southern trek. Apples are ready to fall from trees, pumpkins are ready to be spared from frosts only to be sacrificed to Halloween.
As the air cools with these advancing autumn evenings, our instincts tell us to prepare the dens for the winter.
I don’t remember when it began, maybe it’s a past-halfway thing in life, but fall finds me reminded of the unwavering march of time. As we stare into the barrel of another winter, I am reminded of life’s own circle.
We each are born in late winters, grow through our springs, enjoy the short summer of marriage; children, living and loving, learning. As each year passes we find ourselves closer to the autumn of our lives, and as we vow to enjoy every moment of it, we may turn around one day to discover the trees are bare.
You can regret and mourn the approach of winter.
Or you can learn to fish through the ice.
Be at peace,
Ho! To be that white-tailed deer,
Who browses ‘mongst the elms and pines,
And walks the tumble-down rock fence lines,
As I bid the first snowflake “Appear!”.
O! To be that fox of the glen,
Who seeks all manner of food and forage,
To fatten his flanks with winter storage,
When the drifting snows surround my den.
Alas! To be that little boy,
Raking leaf piles, carving pumpkins,
Stuffing a scarecrow country bumpkin,
Anticipating Halloween with joy.