Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘Nature’

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 benefiting 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.


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.”


Seek peace,

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






Sumac Sunrise


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 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 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 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,




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,




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,



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




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,




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,



The Maple in the Grotto

Along the south end of our property, where the nature trail begins, there is a little respite I call The Grotto. It’s a little crook off the trail, beneath the shade of a forty-five foot sugar maple, surrounded by Concord grape vines, vetch, hops and bridal veil vines. To the south, the Grotto is open to the treeline between our house and the next.  A rivulet lazily drains the area, though it remains moist and swampy most of the year. In the summer, the evaporation of the rivulet cools the air, which settles and gathers in the Grotto, a natural air conditioner.

The Grotto

The Grotto

Within there is a little seat, a bench made of two lengths of chimney-liner. It is here that I’ll sit briefly and drink in the nature’s bounty all around, or in the winter, imagine the days of summer when the cool Grotto air will be a welcome relief at the end of a hot and humid day afield. The floor is presently covered with last year’s leaf-fall. Typically it would be mowed, once required by the growing season. This year, we’re watching to see how long this humus-enriching layer will take to decay. In the meantime, it makes a nifty carpet, with the crunchy sounds of fall.

The Leaf Carpet

The Leaf Carpet

When we bought the ranch 30 years ago, I remember looking at that little maple tree, located at the far edge of the property, an island in a field tilled for corn. It was probably not more than fifteen or twenty feet tall. Maybe aged as many years. “One day that will be a big majestic maple, like the aged ones along the road frontage.” I recall saying.

The Grotto Maple

The Grotto Maple

For the first ten or fifteen years I hardly noticed the growth. A long process that stretched out into my future, one of those “someday” things. From time to time, while mowing or walking the trail, I’d stop to admire the tree. Like the Johnny Goldsboro song, it was getting big.

Here it is, it’s “someday” now. The tree towers over the corner of the ranch, a spread of 30 or 40 feet, shading the cool Grotto and inundating it with autumn leaves in their many colors. With no less than five main trunks, it has grown into a beautiful and admirable specimen.

It’s fascinating and humbling to think of our maples. The ones along the road frontage are huge, 60-footers, with trunks so big it takes more than two people to stretch arms around them. One was brutally trimmed by the power company, but is otherwise healthy. Several more form the treeline, and I must imagine when Lowe’s were building this house, they selected a few saplings that were in the right place and said “These can stay.”.

I imagine the new home owners (in 1906), looking out those round-top windows and saying “That little maple sapling will be a fine specimen one day.”

The Lowe’s are long dead, and I now love and revere the trees they left for me. I look at the Grotto maple and realize that indeed today is my “someday”, and here this gorgeous tree stands just as I had imagined thirty years ago.

It’s a comforting thought, within the circle of life, that I may watch this tree grow and enjoy it, then leave it behind for others that follow.

Sort of a “hand across time” to the future, tied irrevocably to the past.

And those huge 125-year-olds out front?

I suspect they’ll be here long  after me as well, to look after the next family that moves in, to provide shade, maple sap, autumn leaf piles.

And they will spy a little sapling…

Ellie and the leaf pile

Ellie and the leaf pile


Seek peace,



Longing for sparrows





We had a facelift done to our building, and it looks real nice.

Unfortunately, it covered the 80 year old wood construction that previously existed.  Why unfortunate, you say?

The old work was the underside of a building overhang, a sort-of ceiling of a sort-of porch that serves as a loading dock. The faded plywood that made up the ceiling surface had long ago been punctured by those mysterious things that puncture holes in old wood. One of those mysterious things may have been a sparrow or a starling, digging for a hole in which to nest.

My company leased this building about six years ago, and each spring has been heralded with the arrival of the sparrows. Like the swallows of fame, it was an eagerly anticipated event. The sparrows (probably returning nesting pairs) would fly up into those holes with straw and sticks, industriously preparing for another brood. As all the signs of spring unfolded around us each day, we worked alongside (or more accurately: beneath) those little birds. We were industrious together, or at least in parallel.

Within just a few weeks of some messiness on the dock, some hay and bits of chipped wood and bird droppings, there would be a hatch. Babies could be heard to screech all day, fighting their siblings for the morsels delivered by mom & dad. The screeching and eating would go on for a couple weeks, then you’d start seeing little sparrow faces peeking out of the holes of our dock ceiling. The parent birds seemed to disregard our presence, coming and going as needed to raise their little families, sometimes perching on the ladder racks of our trucks, sometimes hopping about on the loading dock picking up bits of food or scraps for nest repair.

Then there were the bees. Carpenter bees. Curious little animals. They loved the wood fascia of the dock’s overhang. Old dried wood in which they would bore holes. They use sawdust to build walls between the chambers of their nests. They also show off their nests for potential mates. They’d fly facing the fascia, sort of hovering like a hummingbird. They seemed to be admiring their work and guarding their nests. Undesirables (probably other male bees) would be driven off post-haste. Some folks say you’d better be kind to them, because they’ll remember you. If you go after them with fly swatters and sprays, apparently you’ll be recognized as a threat and the bees will chase after you.

Our bees just hung out there. Being bees, many folks fear them, but they’re really quite gentle if you choose to get along with them. In years past there would be a dozen or more at all times, standing guard over (or would it be under?) our eaves.

Carpenter bee

Carpenter bee

This year, right this moment, in fact, some of the bees have returned to their former stomping grounds. They’re a little lost, confused, befuddled by the strange transformation, perhaps some form of petrification, that has happened to their favorite soffit. The wood has turned into aluminum. I can only hope they aren’t breaking off any tiny bee teeth trying to bore a hole to get to their old summer home. Most of them have moved on. Accepted the undeniable end to summers at the WOC building with Paz. These two out here now? I don’t know, but I hope they get the idea and move on before the season has passed them.

The sparrows, on the other hand, barely blinked an eye before moving on to the next opportunity.

Now it’s a bit quieter, admittedly a bit cleaner, than having those sparrows outside the door, screeching ’til June.

And the new vinyl siding on the underside of the soffit looks nice. Now there’s a neat industrial building in the semi-industrial park, and we can better hear the sounds of trucks and forklifts. Progress, I suppose. Most folks would be glad to be rid of the unsightly old wood. I kinda miss the sparrows.

I bear it, though, with the help of a fictional character and his son. The father played by Andy Griffith, the son, Ron Howard.

In an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, the son (Opie) raises a few orphaned birds in a cage until they’re of fledgling age. The father, Andy, gently chastises the child, telling him he should set the birds free, let them fly where they belong, but leaves the decision to the five-year-old boy.

Opie recognizes his father’s wisdom, and reluctantly releases the birds that have become pets. In the final scene, Opie looks at the cage with a pout on his face, and says to his father “Boy, this cage sure looks empty.”

In his inimitable way, Andy looks out the boy’s window through which the birds were released, and with a warm-hearted smile replies:

“But don’t the trees look nice and full.”


Seek peace,





A Wild Life



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.

Too fast for you

Too fast for you

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.

Seek peace,


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