Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Spark

Some say Thoreau lost some of his deeply spiritual interest in Nature later in life when he started to focus more on the scientific approach (see his book Wild Fruits or here). I used to wonder how this could have possibly happened. He was, after all, only forty-four when he died; forty-four. For me, forty-four is right around the corner and it strikes me as ironic that I too had lost that spark, or pieces of it, around the same age, over the past year (hence my lack of entries). And it made me sad I had lost it. I didn't know the root cause then and still don't to this day. It surely wasn't to study the science of Nature. Work, family, state of the world? Who knows? Don't get me wrong, I had my 'good' days when a beautiful sunset would stop me in my tracks or a thunder storm would trigger the awe I once had as a child but for the most part, I became disconnected with Nature.

But now I feel all is not lost.

I recently went on a snowshoe trek and a little of Nature's healing powers had once again made its way into my soul. Not in the big blanket, head-to-toe kind of way. But in a small but still significant way. And it made me happy. It made me happy to realize that I could get it back and all is not lost.

It's good to be back - even a little bit.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Enough Already

I am normally a very mild mannered individual. It takes a lot to get me angry. But it happened this past Saturday while on my walk.

During my country walks, I usually see quite a bit of trash along the sides of the road, mostly beer cans (Busch Light is the obvious beer of choice around here) and although it is hard for me to live with, I've come to accept that some people are just pigs with no regard for the environment. But this Saturday I came upon something that left me dumbfounded - I found this abandoned in the ditch:

A grill. A full-sized gas grill. Here is another perspective - see the "peel-out marks" on the side of the road? (click image to enlarge) They must have been in a hurry - or drunk - or both.

I'm not sure how many of you remember the Native American in the 1970's commercial who shed a tear for all of the pollution surrounding him but I almost felt that disgusted. 

Can people do this without remorse or guilt because they believe there is a garbage fairy that will magically come through and clean up after them? I can assure them that there is not and somebody will need to clean this up because of their laziness and irresponsibility.

Here is another example I came across this summer while wading one of my favorite streams. This beautiful sandbar was made ugly by a few individuals with no reverence for Nature or their fellow human being. Of course this garbage will be swept downstream when the Spring floods arrive next year, giving everyone downstream the opportunity to clean-up after them. Since this incident, I now pack a garbage bag with me for such wonderful encounters. Unfortunately, the grill wouldn't fit.  

Again, click the pictures to get a better idea of the amount of trash they left behind.


I'm sure the person(s) who left the grill in the ditch and the trash on the sandbar wouldn't care if everyone started leaving their garbage and waste wherever they wanted. That is, of course, as long as it wasn't in their backyard.  

I hate to conclude on such a sour note so I'll leave you with a picture of this beautiful flower I took on the same day as the sandbar incident. It saved my day.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Carpe Diem!

If September was Yin, October is turning out to be Yang. September was an unseasonably warm month, while October is turning into one of the coldest and snowiest. Where I live in Minnesota we have only reached a high of 47 degrees - making this the coldest October ever on record so far. Now don't get me wrong, I don't mind cold weather (if I did I certainly wouldn't live in Minnesota) but when my mind is expecting something more seasonable, this kind of weather puts a hamper on any planned activities that are more conducive to warmer weather.

But all is not lost! Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful 62 degrees with the gorgeous Sun making an all day appearance, which has stayed mostly hidden during the first two weeks of October. So trying to take full advantage of this rare occurrence, I decided to make my way to the woods and soak in what I could of this stunningly beautiful Fall day. And one of my favorite ways to do this is biking.

I could try and describe how glorious this day was but I'm afraid I could not do the day justice so I will try and let these pictures describe it for me, even though they too pale in comparison to being there.

"I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this." [Thoreau - Journal 3 January 1853]

"By my intimacy with nature I find myself withdrawn from man. My interest in the sun and the moon, in the morning and the evening, compels me to solitude." [ Thoreau -Journal, 26 July 1851]

"I long for wildness, a nature which I cannot put my foot through, woods where the wood thrush forever sings, where the hours are early morning ones, and there is dew on the grass, and the day is forever unproved, where I might have a fertile unknown for a soil about me." [Thoreau - Journal, 22 June 1853]

"In Wildness is the preservation of the World." [Thoreau - "Walking"]

"We need the tonic of wildness — to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow wren lurk, and hearing the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. [Thoreau - Walden "Spring"]

"The order of things should be reversed: the seventh should be man’s day of toil, wherein to earn his living by the sweat of his brow; and the other six his Sabbath of the affections and the soul,—in which to range this widespread garden, and drink in the soft influences and sublime revelations of nature." — Thoreau, “Commercial Spirit”, (Harvard College Commencement, 1837)

Monday, August 31, 2009

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

I first came across this poem quite some time ago and recently re-discovered it. It's one that really strikes home with me because in my profession, I am inundated with details and specifications. So much so that I often lose sight of the big picture and what really matters.

I hope you enjoy it.

When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer - Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn'd astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Rebuttal To My Previous Post

Went for a very enjoyable bike ride today. I shot this video that can explain it better than I can try to explain it in words. can't hear the crickets in the video because I shot it with my phone, which also explains the poor quality, but they were chirping like there
is no tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dreamer vs. DOer

I'm not sure how many people will read this since it's been a few months since my last post but I feel compelled to write it anyway.

I have a confession. As sad as it makes me feel to write this, I am more of a Dreamer than a DOer. I love to dream about all of these great trips that I'm going to take and all these great things that I'm going to do, but when all is said and done, more is said than done.

There is no doubt that it gets my blood pumping and my imagination flowing when I read about other's great adventures, but when it comes time for me to walk-the-walk, I stumble and fall. It seems I always have something that is more important that I need to do first. Or the weather is just not quite right. Or the bugs are too bad. Or I have to get this project done. Or the drive is just too long. Or it's just too much work and not worth the bother. Can you believe it - not worth the bother?!?! Here I am, a man that preaches about all of the wonderful gifts that Mother Nature has to offer each and every one of us and here I sit in my basement thinking about the trip I would like to do "next year" knowing full well that chances are it is never going to come to fruition. The wind will be against me that day.

I have a friend, who I envy a great deal, that is the Yin to my Yang. He always finds the time to fit the important things in his life, like enjoying all that the outdoors has to offer, into his schedule. It doesn't matter that he just drove 400 miles for his job during the day on Friday. Come Friday night, he and his family will be in their car heading 300 miles North just to turn around two days later and drive 300 miles back. For him, he knows what matters most and is willing to do what is necessary to make it happen. Me? Even though I hold Nature very close to my heart and she gives me something very special each and every time I visit her, the slightest ripple will make me reconsider and put it off for another day. "There's always tomorrow/next year."

I've tried many times to change my way of thinking and my friend has helped me a great deal to see the light. But I still feel like I don't take full advantage of what lies all around me.

Take for example the solo canoe trip I was planning to take this summer. Did I do it? No. Why? Because first the water was too high and then it was too low and then I hadn't taken my new canoe out yet so I thought I had better make its maiden voyage on a small lake just so I can get a feel for how it rides on non-moving water instead of on the small river I was planning my trip on just because it has a few turns and obstacles. But have I taken the canoe (that I bought new in May just for this trip) out even once this year? You know the answer by now - absolutely not. There it hangs in my garage collecting a thick layer of dust.

I also had plans to do some long hikes this year. Never happened. Biking? Never happened, at least not on the large overnight scale. I like to blame my situation - married with 3 kids and a job that can be very consuming at times. But in reality, the burden falls on me and me alone. Like my friend, I could find time if I really wanted to. I just don't.

Maybe laying this out there for you to read will motivate me enough the next time an opportunity arrises where I can do what I truly love. At least that's my hope.

I do have a trip coming up in three weeks that will take me to God's country once again. A place where I'm truly happy (once I'm there). And the person planning this trip? My friend I wrote of earlier. I have him to thank for many of my recent adventures. And I thank him every chance I get.

Thanks for listening.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Safer Up There

I found this poem by Robert Service while reading "One Man's Wilderness" and thought I would share it here:

I’m Scared of it All

I’m scared of it all, God’s truth! so I am;
It’s too big and brutal for me.
My nerve’s on the raw and I don’t give a damn
For all the “hoorah” that I see.
I’m pinned between subway and overhead train,
Where automobillies swoop down:
Oh, I want to go back to the timber again —
I’m scared of the terrible town.

I want to go back to my lean, ashen plains;
My rivers that flash into foam;
My ultimate valleys where solitude reigns;
My trail from Fort Churchill to Nome.
My forests packed full of mysterious gloom,
My ice-fields agrind and aglare:
The city is deadfalled with danger and doom —
I know that I’m safer up there.

I watch the wan faces that flash in the street;
All kinds and all classes I see.
Yet never a one in the million I meet,
Has the smile of a comrade for me.
Just jaded and panting like dogs in a pack;
Just tensed and intent on the goal:
O God! but I’m lonesome — I wish I was back,
Up there in the land of the Pole.

I wish I was back on the Hunger Plateaus,
And seeking the lost caribou;
I wish I was up where the Coppermine flows
To the kick of my little canoe.
I’d like to be far on some weariful shore,
In the Land of the Blizzard and Bear;
Oh, I wish I was snug in the Arctic once more,
For I know I am safer up there!

I prowl in the canyons of dismal unrest;
I cringe — I’m so weak and so small.
I can’t get my bearings, I’m crushed and oppressed
With the haste and the waste of it all.
The slaves and the madman, the lust and the sweat,
The fear in the faces I see;
The getting, the spending, the fever, the fret —
It’s too bleeding cruel for me.

I feel it’s all wrong, but I can’t tell you why —
The palace, the hovel next door;
The insolent towers that sprawl to the sky,
The crush and the rush and the roar.
I’m trapped like a fox and I fear for my pelt;
I cower in the crash and the glare;
Oh, I want to be back in the avalanche belt,
For I know that it’s safer up there!

I’m scared of it all: Oh, afar I can hear
The voice of my solitudes call!
We’re nothing but brute with a little veneer,
And nature is best after all.
There’s tumult and terror abroad in the street;
There’s menace and doom in the air;
I’ve got to get back to my thousand-mile beat;
The trail where the cougar and silver-tip meet;
The snows and the camp-fire, with wolves at my feet;
Good-bye, for it’s safer up there.

With all of the apparent madness in the world these days (just watch the National News - they will tell you), this poem struck me not only as timely (I guess it has always been timely - at least since the Industrial Revolution) but as the obvious truth. I feel more at home, more at peace, with my surroundings when I am in Nature than at any other time. The madness melts away and leaves me only with solitude and silence to ponder. My senses are more keen and my body feels the presence of everything surrounding me. I am truly alive.

This poem can be found in Robert Service's "Rhymes of a Rolling Stone", which I included on this blog as a free PDF. I hope you check it out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Back From God's Country

Wow - what a trip. I have never experienced a trip with such extremes as I have on this one. Mother Nature truly showed her Yin and Yang sides on this trip.

My first inclination of things to come was as we were driving up Highway 53, it started to snow. And not just a flake here and there. It was actually snowing and sticking to the roads. Thankfully, it did not last long and soon disappeared. I don't mind snow but when you pack for somewhat warmer temps, I would have rather not seen it.

As we made our way to the boat launch, the skies started to clear and the winds started to subside. And by the time we made it to our campsite on one of the many beautiful islands, it was very calm and peaceful.

After we had set up camp and got the fire burning I noticed these two loons making their way towards our camp. The camera decided to focus on the tree in the foreground so they are a little blurry.

I couldn't have asked for a more fitting way to end the day.

But Mother Nature's mood changed. We woke up to a cold, driving rain that nobody wanted to leave the comfort of their tent to venture out in to go fishing. So we hunkered down thinking that this would pass as the snow had done the previous day. Little did we know that this was here to stay. And not only stay but get much worse.

The temperature that night got down to 25 and we had traces of snow on the ground in the morning. Whitecaps filled the lake as the wind continued to howl and we knew that we could either stay in our tents all day hoping this would pass or we could break camp and head for warmer accommodations. We chose the latter and broke camp.

Taking down a tent in a driving wind is quite comical. All we could do was laugh at the comings-and-goings of poles and tarps and ropes and the like.

After quite some time of getting everything packed away back on the boats, we slowly made our way to the nearest lodge, which we hoped would have a cabin available to rent for the night. Considering the weather, we felt our chances were good. And they were.

That night we hunkered around the fireplace, played cards and had some more laughs at our misadventures of the day. We began planning next year's trip. I think I'll bring an extra pair of long underwear on that one.

Even with all of our trials and tribulations I loved every minute of it and can only dream about what we'll encounter next year.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Off to God's Country

Today I am off on a spring fishing trip to Voyageurs National Park, specifically Lake Kabetogama. The ice has just left the lake in the past couple of weeks and is the perfect time to fish for walleye, or so I'm told. I hope to have a shore lunch or two in my future.

I've done this trip a few time in the past but it has always been in the fall, never in the spring, so this will be a new experience.

I've always had good intentions of keeping a journal and sharing my experiences of these trips here with you but one thing leads to another and before I know it I'm back at my desk wondering why I didn't put my experiences down on paper. You see, my memory isn't what it was (if you ask my wife, she'd say I never had one) and when I sit down to write about said experiences I can never remember all of the small details. So in frustration, I never write about them at all. I think I need a voice recorder. But the thought of bringing anything 'technological' into the woods, does not appeal to me in the least. I guess I'm in a catch-22, damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation.

Now, where did I put my GPS?

Time for a Voyage - Part 2

In preparation for my upcoming solo canoe trip in June, I have been pouring over my maps. I'm not sure what gets my blood pumping more - the actual planning of the trip or the trip itself. I look at each bend of the river on the map wondering what could be waiting for me there; a log jam, a mink running the bank, or a rapid requiring nothing but 100% of my attention. I think of the places where I'll be camping and the fires I will build and conferring with about the days events and what lays ahead of me for the following day. I think of the ever-changing smells that permeate the air providing me with an almost overwhelming sense of peace. I think of the mist that will be hovering over the river in the early morning hours providing a feeling of an entirely different world. But mostly, I think of being right with the world once again.