Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘Nature’

Old Bear

The old bear limped the last few yards along this ancient and intimately familiar path, until he burst from the thicket on the banks of his own private, secret pond. He gently eased himself into the placid pool. One step, two steps, paws sinking ankle-deep in the mucky bottom. A third step, and he was immersed to his neck. He let the chilly bath fold over him.

Washing away the mud and blood, the cool water easing the dull pains of his injuries. He drew a deep breath and let himself sink. A brief and mild stinging in the eyes, then total silence as his ears submerged. He hung there, buoyed by the water, lifted and embraced, the cold a tonic to aching muscles and fresh flesh wounds. If only he could stay here. Right here, beneath the soft, sheltering water. He drank in another moment of stillness before his lungs began to burn and pull at his instincts. He burst from the water, exhaling, and drawing a deep breath of the piney forest air. He shook his head violently to throw off the water, only to be reminded, cringing, of the pain at the base of his neck.

Directly above him, a black crow alighted on a dead elm branch.

“Gwak.” he called out as he eyed the bear.

“You’re early, Crow.” came the reply. “I am not yet dead. You cannot peck my eyes out. Not yet.” He heaved a sigh, rolled onto his back as he floated out from the shore.

He had had no intention of fighting that golden autumn day. There were far too many plump, ripe blackberries to be eaten, their canes, top-heavy with fruit, bowing to bear browsing height. He hadn’t even seen the interloper. A bear reaching maturity. Venturing forth from the safety and security of mother’s watchful eye. Time now to find his own home, establish his own territory. To begin that lifelong and never-ending process of defending one’s ground and fighting for mating rights. Old Bear had paid no attention to the sow scarfing down blueberries at the distant hedgerow. Hadn’t seen the strapping Romeo until he charged from the brush.

His countenance was immediately recognizable. After so many years, so many mating seasons, past is prologue. And here now was the latest model, the newest offering. Young and powerful, eager and energetic, bold and fearless. In his rippling muscles could be seen an impressive beast in the peak of condition. Hormones and youthful energy fueled the charge, eyes fixed and gleaming, nostrils flaring, grunting growls warning of the imminent collision.

What was one to do? There is no place in bear ethic for acquiescence, peaceful withdrawal, surrender. Almost without control he turned, planted his feet, put on his war face and prepared for the onslaught. There was no backing down or backing out. This had been his meadow, his dominion, for more seasons than he could remember. This very scene replayed year after year. Going all the way back to the day when he was the challenger on the battlefield. It was his rippling muscles, bone-crushing jaws and eight-inch claws dominating the competition that day. Not one or two, but three contenders sent running off to the safety of the wood. It would be the last day of the last Old Bear to be the Old Bear here. He would amble slowly into the forest, one long, last melancholy look over his shoulder, never to be seen again.

The first blow seemed the hardest. It shook him so, his eyes lost focus for a second, and he was shoved back onto a hindquarter, indicating the challenger topped his own weight by several hundred pounds. For his size, however, he was not slow, and took advantage of the old bear’s semi-reclining position, reaching in with huge jaws, lined with sparkling white, sharp young teeth. The first blood spilled.

Adrenaline and endorphins flooding both brains, the defender was quick to his feet. Smaller and older was he, yet to his advantage were the many battles he’d fought and won. The newcomer charged again, but the old-timer went low, nearly rolled himself at the rear legs of the upright youngster, who toppled in a cloud of dust. The old man was on him now, gnashing teeth and plunging his snout toward the neck of his opponent. A good bite and a twist, a patch of fur rent from its moorings. With surprise and shock at the pain, the younger bear scrambled to gain an upper hand. As the old bull came around for another mouthful, the younger swung his heavy foreleg equipped with razor-sharp claws. If not for a last-second dodge, the defender would have lost more than a piece of ear.

On the battle raged. Youth and strength and stamina slowly overtaking skills, maturity and aging sinew. Bound by instinct and without alternative, the aged bruin came around again and again. A third round, a fourth, a fifth. Dust and flying fur and spatters of blood surrounded the warriors. Now the young bear began to doubt himself. An anxiety deep in his gut told him there was perhaps good reason why this was, before him, the reigning Lord of the Glen, the King of this hill. Blow after blow met with resilience and tenacity and a seeming total lack of fear. He began to wonder if this was indeed worth it. Surely there were other sows, other fields, other hills, where success could be had without such exertions and pain.

The old man was tiring. Winded now, he began to rely more on wit than might. Used all of his best tricks; dodging and weaving, placing the sun behind him, throwing dirt, running circles around his foe. One by one the newcomer worked through the oppositions, continued to stand and charge as strong and fast as at the first.

“If I turn my back, he will have me.” Dozens of such back-turnings were recalled. The years he watched the rumps of the vanquished racing off to shelter and safety.

One misstep, and the blow landed squarely at his temple, almost knocking him unconscious, his vision went black. He felt himself fall to his side and roll. His sight slowly returning, all he could do was strain to see the next attack, look for the death-blow that would end this battle. The last battle. His last day to be the Old Bear here.

Suddenly, he felt the Earth drop away beneath him, as in his partial blindness he rolled off the edge of a precipice. Down into the gaping maw of the river gorge. Free falling twenty feet, he slammed onto the solid ledge of shale on his side, cracking ribs, his head bouncing off the rock before he slid off the edge of this shelf. Another twenty-foot drop and he landed on his opposite side, crashing down through Juneberry and Thistles, twisted tangles of grapevines and willow saplings, and coming to rest on the river bank. Stones and dirt and dust followed his descent and settled on and around him.

He laid there quite a while, assuming the New Bear would track him down to insure his demise and retreat. Near silence reigned over the sunny fall day. No wind stirred the leaves in the trees. No birds could be heard calling. The only sound the tinkling water a foot away. He wondered for a moment if he was dead. He rolled to his feet and was immediately convinced otherwise. Death could never be this painful. His eyes closed against their will.

When finally he awoke, the full moon was watching over him. Its soft light illuminating the trickling water, the banks of the gorge, the shrubs and trees, now devoid of color in the light of darkness. Fevered days and nights passed and merged and blended until the moon set three-quarters full, nearing the end of this odyssey.

It seemed so long ago, now in the light of day, floating in his own secluded reservoir. His secret, sacred place. Here no ill could best him. There was no sickness or injury, nor malady of the heart or spirit that could not be cured by this magical place. This is where he would choose to die. Where no fear could invade. No challengers would arrive to try to commandeer this for themselves. There would remain only the crows. Welcome friends and shareholders in this sanctuary.

And when he would finally heave his last breath, the crows would gather and mourn his passing. Perched wing to wing in silent reverie, the funeral would last from the first red light of the dawn, to the last rays of the golden sunset.

And then they would peck his eyes out.

And this would be agreeable to him, as he wouldn’t need them any more. They were welcome to them. They and the Coyotes and the Skunks and the Fishers. All the flying, hopping, running and crawling things that might regard his passing as something of a bonanza.

They were welcome to his hide and his flesh, his aged bones and cartilage, the entrails of his very core. He would need none of these. Nor the challenger or the sow, nor the meadow or the blackberries. There would be no need for sharp claws and rippling muscles, no need for the efforts of the hunt. No hunger. No pain.

There would be just this, forever.

Floating in peaceful solitude on his dear old friend, this most familiar and beloved patch of water. This wild, wet Heaven.

Suddenly, snapping branches and crunching humus invaded his dream-like thoughts. Snapped open his resting eyes, sharpened the focus of his ears, now one-quarter smaller overall since the assault. He was finally coming to finish the job, one could presume.

Coming to insist that even this distant and once-welcoming, sheltered and secure vestige was no longer refuge from all that there is in this great wide world from which to seek it.

Old Bear lay floating on his back, unmoved. Let him swim out here and drag me to shore. Or drown me.

Or pace impatiently on the banks of the pond, in a hurry to grow old faster, and be the New Old Bear on his last day to be the Old Bear here.

Cracking limbs and padding footfalls of the largest predator on the continent grew nearer, until the raspberry canes and hoosiers parted.

Old Bear would give no satisfaction if the intruder expected any sign of panic, any look of fear.

He looked up to the crow in the elm.

“Fare thee well, Crow.” he bade, as he slowly and deliberately directed his gaze to the commotion at the shore.

It was the sow.

Helpless

The real world is a constant distraction.

I can’t pass a window or go out to the dumpster or drive to lunch without tracing the patterns of clouds in the sky, the passing sparrows, the shape of the spider’s web in the grass.

She calls to me on the wind, sweet fragrances dousing me, the gentle breeze embracing me, “You come, too.”.

She is the brilliant sun, she is the pale moon, she is the soft pillow of stars on which I lay my head to sleep.

I am deeply, helplessly, hopelessly in love with her.

She commands my senses always.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Now

Now

 

 

To these sheep grazing on the hill,

It is not Wednesday.

It is not 6:34, or July,

Or our pinnacle days of summer.

 

It is not infancy or maturity,

Youth or old age.

Nor a workday or holiday,

Not weekday or weekend.

 

To these sheep grazing on the hill,

To these calves basking in the sun,

To these birds that soar above me,

It is Now.

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Tree Attitude

“Getting back to the roots” of Armchair Zen, so to speak. This post was originally published in May, 2011.Stand for somethingThe mighty oak from the tiny acorn grows.

This old adage seems to reflect a wonder and reverence for this amazing feat.

I love trees, I really do. I could easily personify them, impune them with human attributes, worship them as spirits. Something about a tree, standing firm and tall in the same place, day in, day out, year ’round…it brings a sense of stability, longevity, solidity, groundedness.

I like to subscribe to what I call Tree Philosophy, or Tree Attitude. So many things in our lives appear to be a conspiracy of circumstances, the times we live in, where we live, the way we live, with whom we live. Choices we made back in…when? Things we shoulda woulda or coulda done.

My grandfather always told me “Take shoulda, woulda and coulda in one hand, and a nickel in the other, and see which one will buy you a donut.”

Trees waste no time on such worries. A little tree seed plants its first tendrils into the soil—and is committed! From day one, that tree is going to live or die, stand or fall, right on that very same spot.

I like to imagine trees thinking about that. “I’m going to be the best tree I can right here, where I am, working with what I have.”

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from President Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  That is, after all, a description of our entire lives, really, isn’t it?  We are where we are, there’s no denying that. We must work with what we have, be it employment, a dwelling, our people, money, transportation, brain power, energy or spirit. And doing the best we can within these parameters is all we can do.

For philosophers such as President Roosevelt and myself, this means we don’t throw in the towel just because the odds are stacked against us, the task is overwhelming, or we’re short on assets, even if tasked with great challenges or the seemingly impossible. It also means recognizing that there are limits to what we can do, and we shouldn’t punish ourselves for being unable to do more.

I imagine a tree’s life is similar, but to the greatest extent. Tree doesn’t agonize over location. Perhaps prospects for success might be better elsewhere. Perhaps the climate is something humans would want to escape. Perhaps the very home of Tree is in a precarious place, on the side of a cliff, at the edge of an eroding riverbank, or at the last edge of the tree line, far up a tall mountain. Tree can’t move, but can only hang on and throw all of its efforts into the present.

Neither can Tree do anything about the changes in its life. Perhaps it’s struck by lightning, maybe loses a limb or suffers damage to its trunk. Perhaps humans come along and saw pieces off. Maybe its roots are immersed “knee-deep” in water during a flood season, or a drought season makes survival difficult.

If Tree is an evergreen, it will keep it’s needles as it goes into a dormant season. Granted, I have wished more than once that I could have a dormant season for myself, to rest and recuperate from the rigors of my own seasons, storms, lightning, chain saws, floods and blizzards. If Tree is deciduous, it will awaken, depending where Tree lives, sometime between February and May. As it stretches its limbs to the sky, it gets down to the business at hand: budding, developing and flowering. Sounds a bit like our lives again, doesn’t it? For its season, however long it may be (and without groaning that it is either too short or too long) Tree will produce thousands of leaves, each one a near-perfect copy of the others. For pines, tens of thousands, maybe millions of needles. Year one, year 50, year 200, Tree goes right on doing what it is born to do, producing those leaves or needles, growing when the conditions are right, and resting when it is necessary.

Tree will keep up the good fight, no matter what, and will try until defeat and death. As it is with all living things (and, in fact all things in the universe on its grand scale), eventually there is an end. I like to imagine Tree retiring. “I’m going to lay down, right here, next to the rest of you.” At that time, Tree is okay with this end, whether it is after 5 years or 500. Call it destiny, call it nature, call it the randomness of the universe, the circle of all things.

Saplings can be heard all around “Good job, Tree, and thank you for your silent service. You have been a fine example of patience and perseverance. A great neighbor in our community, shading the tender shoots and plants at your base, welcoming, with open limbs, the wildlife; squirrels, chipmunks, woodpeckers, sapsuckers, wasps, and anything else that came to you seeking refuge, a home, safety, security, something meaningful and solid that we can know and understand and rely on.”

Even after death, Tree remains an influence. Flora and fauna of certain types will flourish thanks to Tree’s legacy. The many generations growing around Tree will look on, seeking and seeing the testimony to its determination, learning and benefitting from the example, and the knowledge that Tree stood by them, and gave selflessly whenever called upon to do so.

I don’t need riches, recognition or immortality. If my life, and its own end, can be to any degree worthy of Tree’s example, I too will be able to lay down in peace, and return to the earth from which I came.

Be at peace.

Paz

Life and Death and Pain and Compassion in My Cosmos

Sasha In The Wonder Woods

The Wonder Woods beckoned on this perfect September day, and Sasha and I agreed we should be in them.

A lovely walk ensued, up Nishan’s Road, through the Avenue of The Pines, east past the hilltop camp site, past Chuy’s Trail, and down to The Wonder Woods. Heading west on the home leg, I turned onto Thursday Trail, camera in hand, ready to try to capture the soul of this place. To try in vain to produce a two-dimensional image that will in some measure do justice to the overwhelming peacefulness and beauty of Nature’s World.

 

Not ten steps down Thursday Trail, I spotted a chipmunk, motionless, in the center of the footpath. If you spend much time outdoors, particularly wild places, it’s not unusual to approach an animal so quickly and silently that the napping or distracted creature is suddenly aware of your presence. I watched a squirrel a good long time one day afield, twenty feet in the air, napping. His head rested on folded forelegs, back legs dangling from the branch the way children hang their feet in a pool. I watched a long while wondering if the squirrel was not in fact dead. Never did know. An hour later, the animal hadn’t moved. Next day, of course, was gone. Did he awaken and return to his life, or did his corpse fall to the ground?

More than once I’ve found a dead mouse or mole, lying dead in the grass along a trail. I’ve wondered how they died, and why here? Things need to die on a daily basis, and must fall somewhere. I usually presumed it was a matter of time before a scavenger would come along. A recycling in Nature’s Way.

I returned my focus to the still chipmunk. Rustling and movement did not disturb it. It was not asleep. I pondered about that which may have befallen him. I mindlessly nudged the tiny animal with the toe of a shoe. The chipmunk rolled over a bit, and that’s when I discovered the cause of death. I’ve seen (and smelled) a lot of dead things in my time, but this was a first. The chipmunk’s abdomen was unusually distorted, and enlarged several times normal size.

The Still Chipmunk

At its softest underside, below the intestines, parasitic worms could be seen, their heads emerging from the white fur-covered flesh. This parasite grows to larval stage inside the host, then bores its way through the wall of flesh and to the outside world, to begin the cycle anew. This was a bit shocking and grotesque. The sudden, unexpected discovery, a phenomenon hitherto unwitnessed, and taking place at the expense of this adorable little rodent, whose species I like and admire.

Then the animal moved. Just a short stroke of two paws, barely a movement, followed again by stillness. Knowing what I do of these things and having an appreciation for the natural order, I understood that this must have been a painful course for this little mammal. The parasites literally eating the host alive as they grow and break out. Life and death in the same stroke.

I then entered into a dilemma, a personal conflict. I was almost immediately compelled to kill the chipmunk, to “euthanize” it, to end its suffering. As half of my mind raced through potential actions to dispatch the animal, the other half of my brain was arguing that I must not interfere. There were a number of tenets to prevent me from interfering with this natural occurrence.

First, there is the Armchair Zen Universalism, which regards all things in the universe to be natural and of equal significance. These things don’t always align with the over-thought and over-emotional human animals. The parasite worms have as much right to their natural course as anything else. Secondly, as a naturalist, photographer and sportsman, it’s a big no-no to interfere with whatever you are witnessing. I’m certain I don’t have the mettle or the stomach of the best wildlife photographers and cinematographers, who can cleave to this rule. Even as they watch a fox snatch a gosling from terrified parents, or see a baby gazelle grabbed by a crocodile, bleating and flailing as its mother watches helplessly, silence falling as the gazelle is dragged to its drowning.

The gazelles and geese of this world are cute and soft and sweet in those Disney-reinforced human perceptions. Still the fox and the crocodile and flesh-eating parasites have the same place in the cosmos as geese and gazelles, chipmunks, and me.

“Killing the chipmunk is judgement” I say to myself. “That would be deciding the chipmunk is more worthy than the worm.” What I feel is “Save the warm fuzzy mammal from suffering!”. What I can read is the rule: “DO NOT INTERFERE”.

I walk away conflicted, nearly sick to my stomach over the dichotomy of emotions. After the walk, I could not stop thinking of the chipmunk, in pain and dying, alone in the grass. As I started mowing I reassured myself that it is the natural order of things, and a scavenger has probably made a meal of the rodent, worms included. I could not let go of the obsession, the compulsion. As I mowed the Wonder Woods Trail, I turned into Thursday Trail, sure the animal would be gone.

It was not.

Surely its suffering must be over, surely it must be dead by now.

It was not.

I spent quite a few minutes determining it was not. At first I thought what I’d mistaken for respiration was simply the undulating worms moving beneath and with the animal. As I watched, hopes were dashed as I discerned a rhythm of shallow breaths.

“That’s enough!” my human brain said. This thing doesn’t need to remain alive. The parasites have matured and odds are they would not be harmed. I thought, even looked around a bit, for a rock and a sturdy limb to crush its skull. Another thought, perhaps drive over it with the mower. But that wouldn’t guarantee a kill and would also destroy the worms. I thought of returning to the house and fetching a twenty-two rifle to dispatch the thing.

I stopped and took a deep breath of zen. “Let the cosmos handle it.” I said aloud. I can’t understand everything that goes on in the cosmos. I left the tiny microcosm, that finite piece of the universe where this natural order will be left to itself. I could not shake the scenario from my head or heart, and it’s three days hence now.

The Circle

The same day, I talked to my neighbor, Betsy. Last week, the Cosmos and natural order came to call on her. As she reached down into some vegetation in her landscaping, a mink leaped up and bit her, sinking its teeth into the soft web of flesh between the thumb and forefinger. Panicked, the animal would not let go. Betsy ran next door to Tom & Lynn’s, banging on the door, bloody, yelling “Help! Help!”.

A minor chaos ensued, Tom donned gloves and grabbed tools. Nothing would get the mink to release its grip, and in fact it adjusted and re-sank its teeth for a firmer hold. Finally, Tom wedged its jaws apart with a screwdriver, and ultimately dispatched the animal with a hammer blow. Now, a week later, Betsy shows me the teeth marks in her hand, relates to me the news that the animal was tested, and was not rabid. We speculated as to why, then, the mink would not loose its hold and run away.

Betsy brought my cosmic dilemma full circle. After being attacked by a wild animal, bitten, in pain, bearing fear of rabies. After a chaotic story of noisy panic, trying to pry the animal off of her.

“It had to be tested for rabies,” Betsy concluded. “Still, I felt bad that we had to kill it.”

Southbound

Seek peace,

And balance of life and death and pain and compassion, here in this wondrous cosmos.

 

Paz

 

Teachers

 

Sumac Sunrise

Trees

Trees are my Teachers.

They have no choice in their birth, as do I.

Tree cannot move nearer to water, to a spot with better sun.

Tree cannot migrate south for the winter, or move over to give another crown some space.

Tree stands and grows mightily in the very spot where it was born.

Year in and year out, Tree is the best it can be, right where it is.

Tree is at peace with this.

Hello Down There!

Fish

Fish are my Teachers.

Trapped beneath the waters in their own beautiful world, they can never witness my own.

Most are trapped also in some impoundment. A lake, a pond. They can go nowhere.

If the water is low, the PH too high, Fish toughs it out.

Unable to get out and walk, or take to the air, Fish enjoys the beauty of his own world, and makes the best of what is before him.

In fact, he may revel in the fact that most of us will never see his world from his perspective.

Fish is at peace with this.

Sparrow Boy

Birds

Birds are my Teachers.

Each sings his own song. Not because he has an opinion, but because he has a song to sing.

Bird ignores critics and all others, and sings mightily as best he knows how, for the love of singing.

Bird will often return to the same nest site year after year.

Bird flies. Bird could fly anywhere, yet stays right here and makes a home.

Comfort and familiarity, Bird declares “This is my home, and I will sing proudly of it.”

Bird is at peace with this.

Life’s a Piece of Cake

Children

Children are my Teachers.

With children, everything old is new again.

Children love boldly. Plant wet kisses right on your lips.

Stretch tiny arms around my neck and cling mightily.

Children laugh readily. When they see something funny.

When you tickle them. When they feel like laughing.

Children cry at the drop of a hat. Hearts are tender organs, after all.

As we age and harden our hearts against the cruel world, we reserve crying for only the “most important” occasions.

Children cry when they feel like crying, and just as quickly, they recover.

Children are at peace with this.

 

Doe & Fawn

And the circle continues.

 

Seek Peace,

 

Paz

 

The In-Between Time

November's Palette

November’s Palette

Just a few weeks ago, I could find nearly every color of my palette as I observed my world.

Sap Green and Phthalo Green, Mars Violet and Alizarin Crimson, Naples Yellow and Cadmium Yellow.

Now we slip into November, the In-Between Time.

Not Autumn exactly, but not yet winter.

Now the palette is limited, like a tonal study.

A study in Earth Tones.

Burnt Sienna, Van Dyke Browns, Raw Umber, Golden Ochre.

These swatches appear against a brilliant Cerulean sky, or alternately a Payne’s Gray backdrop.

The Wonder Woods, so recently reposed beneath bright colorful leaves, now an open space with sunlight streaming in, an unrestricted view of the sky where once there was a canopy of green

Wonder Woods

Wonder Woods

And then there is this In-Between Time. Barely discernible if you’re not paying close attention. Like a great pendulum swinging, as it reaches the height of its arc, and for one brief moment there is no motion. A kinetic pause, placed and required by the Great Cosmic Clockworks.

Like a breath held in, it seems our world has stopped, ever-so-briefly.

There are no green things growing, there are no red leaves falling.

No litters of newborns or fledglings in nests.

There is a stillness, a silence to my world, to our Wonder Woods.

It is the shortest of all the seasons-within-seasons.

If you are fortunate, you may be out in the Great World of Wonder when this season falls.

It is rest and respite, it is calmness and quiet.

Like coffee at sunrise or a granddaughter’s hug, it is over before we know it, and leaves us wanting for more.

Alas, the In-Between Time is that momentary motionlessness of the swing in the pendulum of the Great Cosmos.

And in an instant, the pendulum begins to drop.

If you blink, you may miss it.

 

Move slowly now, these shortening days.

And on to the Winter Solstice.

 

Seek Peace,

 

Paz

Moments

September Sunrise

September Sunrise

It is a Sunday morning in July.

I look out the window through a gentle rain upon the green field.

A blackbird rummages about, bobbing its head.

 

This is what the bulk of our lives are made of.

Cherish every moment.

 

It is a Sunday morning in February.

I look out the window through snow falling silently upon fields of white.

A cardinal lights.

February Window

February Window

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Shore Dinner DeLuxe

Editor’s note: this is the second of a 3-part journal entry, preceded by “Sojourn” (ACZ Archive, August 2015), and followed by “Return to Civilization” (ACZ Archive, September 2015) – Paz

 

 Sunrise

Sunrise

I awaken before sunrise in a tiny green and tan canvas hut to the sound of morning bird song and critters foraging about on the forest floor, what seems like inches from my bedroll. I can’t even remember the last time I slept alone in a tent. I was probably fourteen, camping on Scout Island on the Great Sacandaga Lake with my family.  Best rest I’ve had all year.

Up and out, get the coffee going first thing. Percolating coffee on the stovetop. Turn the heat down when it starts to perk to prevent scorching. How do we know when it’s done? No automatic drip or brew-and-pause or beeping sounds from the Keurig. When it looks like coffee in the glass, it’s done. No, that’s tea. No, it’s getting there. Patience. And finally-coffee! The littlest things seem like luxury at camp. This is a perspective I shall try to retain when back in the modern world of convenience and comfort.

It’s probably between 6:30 and 7 am, Joe steps out of the woods from the direction of his camp. We share the morning coffee minute briefly, then we’re ready to hit the water for the early morning rise. Greg and I strike out on the AquaMarie, head for the favorite hot spot with hopes the morning would bring a better result than yesterday. Joe and Bowin in the Tracker cruise past us as the engine on the AquaMarie begins to give us some trouble, trouble that would dog us all day. Overheating, fuel-starved, stalling.

Bowin lands the first keeper of the trip, a big bass, 18 to 20 inches or so. The rest of us snag sunfish and toss back the 10-inchers. At mid-morning we retire to camp and place Bowin’s bass inside the minnow trap so it won’t be eaten by the beasts that comb the shores for chain-ganged fish, unable to flee.

We’re feeling the pressure to catch fish now, expecting thirteen people in camp for dinner. By noon we have one fish. We troll, we drift-fish. We head for the dropoffs, we head for the inlets, we head for the weedbeds. Finally, by late afternoon, we’ve begun to add some keepers to the live well. Greg and I each add a nice bass, and Joe crosses the lake to hand off several nice fish. We’re well on our way to a traditional Forked Lake stringer-full of fish dinner.

Forked Lake Stringer

Forked Lake Stringer

By four o’clock, we’ve landed a little more than twenty pounds of fish, all bass this year. I set to work scaling and filleting the fish, then washed the fillets off in the crystal clear lake water from which they were liberated. I did the cleaning in the woods, away from camp, and carefully cleaned up the area including the leaves drenched with fish stuff. Then the remains were moved farther into the woods, a couple of hundred yards, away from campsites and the trail. This is black bear country, and we didn’t want to invite any into our camp (or our neighbors’!) Behind each site is a bear safe. A steel box in which to place your food to deter bear raids. The box has a heavy steel lid and not one, but two spring-loaded clasps that latch into hasps to keep the box closed. I typically use just one latch. I figure if there’s a bear smart enough and dexterous enough to open one spring-loaded catch (sometimes tedious for me), a second one would only make it aggravated.  Who wants an aggravated hungry bear in camp?

The bear safe

The bear safe

Joe whipped up a batch of beer batter, and heated oil in the big cast iron dutch oven over the open fire at his camp. Joe’s wife Danielle, their son Luke, and the other guests arrive in camp and preparations begin for a Shore Dinner DeLuxe, complete with grilled potatoes with onion and garlic, chips galore, watermelon and a number of other complements. In fact I can’t remember all the great offerings on our table.

Joe dropped fresh batter-dipped fillets in boiling oil, and in few minutes we were partaking of one of the finest meals in recent memory. Everyone had their fill, and plenty was left over, including some fish. And we were worried we couldn’t catch enough!

As darkness closed in on the day, those not staying took their leave. Joe ferried a couple folks to the launch, and others took the trail, a quarter-mile hike, back to the parking area. As we cleaned up, we marveled once again at the bounty of fish. So much fish we had leftovers, even with all the people we fed.

“Next year, we should keep just one fish each. Any more is a waste.” Joe stated, and I agreed.  “We brought way too much food this year.”

Somewhere around nine o’clock, Irv and his boy Collin bade us good evening and headed back to their camp. As is Saturday camp tradition, the remainder of us gathered around the open fire as the cool July night settled in. A wide variety of topics were discussed, not the least of which was our hard-won victory at fishing to feed the clan. One by one, the weary campers nodded off in their canvas umbrella chairs, Sparky finally retiring to his camp. The last one awake, it must be around eleven, and I thought of a regular Saturday night at home. Wondered if my wife (and dog) were watching monster movies on Svengoolie, falling asleep on the soft couch (or deep carpet, depending on species).

A call to my campmate, and Greg stirred. We headed back to our site next door, incarcerated the food supply in the bear safe, and hit the hay for our last night in camp.

Alone again in my little tan and green canvas hut. I fell asleep to the gentle evening breeze, punctuated by calls of the loon. Slept like a hibernating bear.

Next time: the return to “civilization”.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Sojourn

Editor’s note: this is the first of a 3-part journal entry, followed by “Shore Dinner DeLuxe”  then “Return to Civilization” (ACZ Archive, September 2015). – Paz

 

“I can’t believe we’re finally here.” Joe says as I unload gear from The AquaMarie, and begin to pitch camp.

“Like Christmas in July,” I reply, “it only comes once a year.”

Just as children eagerly await the annual return of the man in the Red Sled, Joe and I dream all year of this trip.

Sunrise in camp

Sunrise in camp

Our annual return to Forked Lake did not disappoint us in any way, living up to its legends.

A beautiful, crystal-clear glacial lake, great fishing with big smallmouth and largemouth bass, the solitude and quiet of the High Peaks Region.

A bit of change in personnel this year added new variety. With a six-month-old baby, a two-year-old and their eight-year old daughter at home, my son Ryan had to be excused from the camping trip this year, a sacrifice to domestic service. This has become a father & son tradition over the last four or five years, and Ryan was somewhat disappointed and apologetic about being unable to attend. Joe was concerned that we didn’t have Chef Ryan (who studied and considered culinary arts before becoming a nurse) or his recipe for fresh bass. I assured Joe that I knew the recipe, and was confident we’d be able to cook fish on our own.

New faces this year as our friends Greg (another guy we work with), and Irv (a guy that previously worked with us) signed up for the adventure. Along with guests in camp Saturday night, it was an action-packed and fun-filled weekend living up to its promise.

This year we reserved 3 campsites side-by-side, as we have in the past. Sparky was at site 8, Joe at 9, and I was at 10 with Greg. When Irv arrived Saturday, he managed to get site 7. Weather was perfect for sleeping in tents, fishing all day, and gathering around a fire in the evening. Certainly it was a high point for the mosquitoes. We should be glad they’re doing so well, and in no danger of being placed on a threatened species list.

Mosquito buffet

Mosquito buffet

Even in this impressionist photo (a grand term we apply to all out-of-focus and motion-blurred snapshots), you can see the universal signs of flailing and swiping ineffectively at the blood-sucking parasites, followed by the leaning-in to the fire until your eyebrows singe. Here the group sacrifices a child to the insects, forcing him to walk around those seated in an effort to draw the bugs away. (Irv’s boy Collin, a very active child that entertained in camp until bedtime.)

Friday reports from Joe and Bowin held that the fishing bounty was a bit off this year. Tried-and-true hot spots produced no action, and the few scattered takers were of modest size, some the legal minimum. Having arrived at noon and tasked with pitching camp, I had but a couple short hours in the late afternoon to put into plying the waters for our unseen quarry. My results brought a poor trend down further, as I landed nothing.

Sparky and Greg arrived late in the day, having worked the Friday and hurriedly packed to flee the mayhem of modernity and make their way to the quiet piney north woods. There was more than enough food and beverage to feed the six of us Friday night. As always, something about the outdoors and fresh, open air served to enhance the taste and satisfaction of the meal of delicious venison sausage. All-the-more fitting, the meat stuffs were the product of previous woodland adventures, the harvest of Joe’s hunting season.

Joe’s wife and second son Luke were scheduled to visit the Blue Mountain Lake Museum with some other family members on Saturday, bringing them within 12 miles of Long Lake and the Forked Lake Campground. After their excursion, they planned to join us in camp for a shore dinner of the bass of which we rave, and the most scenic of places to catch and eat it.

Now, of all times, we actually had a goal of catching fish. Normally a leisurely pursuit and friendly competition, we were charged with producing those bass we speak so highly of, and  we were getting a lukewarm greeting. The favorite hottest hot spot produced absolutely nothing. At the second-best hot spot, Greg & I each pulled a keeper out of the weed beds, both around 18 or 20 inches. Meanwhile, peppering the south shore with casts, Joe & Bowin ponied up with their fair share, adding a few more keepers to the live well. (Bowin had produced the first keeper on the morning shift. We locked it inside a minnow trap “cage” to protect it from the Cayman. (See ACZ Archives, July/August 2014; Off The Grid; The Storm Approaches; The Storm Strikes for explanation of the Cayman cage.)

The water was calm, smooth as glass, and Greg’s top-water lure got frequent strikes, but they proved to be sunfish, pumpkinseed and small bass. Greg tried his patented grappling method a couple of times with good result, presumably he was becoming concerned with eating today, and was willing to take whatever he could.

Patented Polerstock Method

Greg’s Grappling  Method

“I’ve never felt pressure to fish before.” I told Joe as we tried to determine what quantity of fish we’d need for a big shore dinner with company.

“I don’t know if we’ll have enough,” Joe reasoned, “so we may have to fill in with other stuff, maybe burgers.”

Throughout this stay there was a noticeable lack of loon activity. Normally, we’d see dozens of loons in the course of our fishing. They’d corral fish and dive, popping up hundreds of feet from where they entered. At night, the maniacal call would echo around the lake, reminding us of the origin of the term “Loony”, and the phrase “Crazy as a loon”. There were a few birds and a few night calls, but a mere fraction of the usual. I wondered if this was an indicator, a corollary to the lack of feeding game fish. (Or fish that wanted a Texas-rigged rubber worm, at least.)

Next time: Fabulous Shore Dinner, and more thoughts from the piney woods.

Take care and keep in touch.

Seek peace,

 

Paz

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