Category Archives: Arts

To Begin at the End

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.” Thoreau, Walden

February is a stirring month. Or, more accurately, a month of stirrings. Eyes closed, face to the sun, tucked into a sheltered tree trunk or backed by a building’s corner-nook, I find a blissed-out few minutes, where the blush of warmth spreads over me, along the folds of my scarf, even, finally, to my feet. Heat is the seed of dreams. And mine are of summer and its elastic days.

Yes, I/we bow to the intervals of onslaught, the storm also stirring to our southwest. But already, it’s clear the warm will win, already it’s clear that the future is light. So much to do- for that I am thankful.

Gratitude is much on my mind today, and part of that thankfulness goes to you, a reader, on occasion, or in sequence, of this blog’s skein of posts. Over these 4+ years and 100,000+ words, I have written for you. And in doing so, again and again I’ve encountered the serendipity of learning more as I write – more about what I see and find daily, more about what lies in the folds of the world, more about Henry Thoreau, whose spirit and wide, wild intelligence stays with me like a third parent’s presence.

A familiar moment.

A familiar moment.

I send on these thanks now, because my current writing work suggests that I stop writing here on the Roost and focus on the book I’m completing. It’s about search and rescue in NH’s White Mountains (working title – On the Edge Of Elsewhere – Searchers and Rescuers in the White Mountains, University Press of New England, spring ‘18), specifically about the people who do this saving work. And so it’s about mountain altruism, a spirit and practice that runs directly counter to our always-problems of greed and selfishness. It is hopeful work; they are hopeful people. Even in the face of difficulty and tragedy. And yes, Henry Thoreau’s a presence there too: his 1858 wanderings on Mt. Washington appear as a primer on how not to get lost, or stay found.

During my time as a teacher, when my students and I reached the end of reading Walden, with its sunlit image of a morning star, I always asked them what they made of it. By then they were well attuned to the sun’s central presence and morning’s promise, and so, quick to note both. But we often lingered as you do when reaching the door of a life-room, and often I got a version of this: “You know,” said any number of them, “Thoreau’s hope is that this book, our reading, is a beginning, not an end. If the book’s had effect, we’re about to begin.”

Part of the pleasure of writing to and for you has been this feeling of starting afresh, of beginning again and again. Part of the pleasure of saying thank you lies in a sense of its being another beginning.

I hope, if an occasional post here has had effect, it too has offered a start. Thanks for reading toward each beginning; surely, there is “more day to dawn.”

Sandy

Scene from a November visit - choosing.

Scene from a November visit – choosing.

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Filed under Arts, General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Living Deliberately, Nature, News and Events, The Roost, Thoreau Quote, Walden

A Dusting of Snow

The wind has gently murmured through the blinds, or puffed the feathery softness against the windows and occasionally sighed like a summer zephyr lifting the leaves along the livelong night…We sleep and at length awake to the still reality of a winter morning. Henry Thoreau, “A Winter Walk”

I have declared this a day of calm at roiled week’s end. Yes, my current writing project tugs already at resolve – thinking about how we respond to mishaps in the mountains is seeded with its own turbulent drama. But when I work at that writing today, I’ll choose a stoic incident, one full of acceptance, and, perhaps near its close, even light.

The day opens with thin sun through the pines and the coverlet of a dusting of snow. The village of juncos who’ve settled the feeder keep adding to a circling calligraphy in that snow; as ever their subject is the urgency of food. For me, urgency points to the non-Thoreauvian beverage, coffee, and, beans ground, the pot dripped full, I settle in front of the window that makes me this morning’s ship captain. The yard looks navigable…and so the day…but it is the dark jolt of beverage that launches me on it.

Add a little toast and poetry. Dark bread, and a darkish poem as well about a long-ago marriage and its “unsnapped threads.” But the words and images are so apt, so chosen as to celebrate poetry’s answers to the hard questions we bring on through living. The poet’s words and images are so precise that I hear a faint click as each slots in behind the other.

I look up after reading. The gray squirrels sort themselves through a hierarchy of chase; not exactly poetry, but motion leading into the day.

And it is a day! exclamation point courtesy of the enduring cyclamen that looks out over the same scene Perhaps it is the rising light; perhaps it is plant-reminder to me, but this now 1+ year-old little plant (which deserves and so will get a larger pot) has chosen this month to exclaim in red. “Sunsunsun!!! … and don’t forget the water.” For all these weeks, I have not, though once or twice the plant had to lie down as reminder.

Exclamation plant! (posed for the photo-op)

Exclamation plant! (posed for the photo-op)

The wind arrives, announcing deeper morning, and I’ve begun tumbling through the day’s words, revising some passages and wondering specifically at the way mountain ridges generate turbulence as the wind rises to their crests and then tumbles into the ravine below. I have been pressed nearly flat by such a giddy wind, and I am wondering how to convey such a feeling in words. Strong wind is so-many-handed, in touch with so much of you all at once that it defies the linear, the singular touch of reason. Heavy wind can feel like a form of madness. Perhaps I should toss the words aloft and watch them fly.

But no madness on this day, designated “calm,” even if now a little wind-laved. After work, I’ll read some from Henry Thoreau’s “A Winter Walk.” Then, I’ll take one.

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Filed under Arts, General, Henry David Thoreau, Living Deliberately, Nature, The Roost, Thoreau Quote

Times Henry – Living Space

“With this more substantial shelter about me, I had made some progress toward settling in the world. This frame, so slightly clad, was a sort of crystallization around me, and reacted on the builder.” Thoreau, Walden

“How many times Henry?”

I sometimes ask this question when looking over a house, which always tells a story about those who live there. And once I’ve explained the mildly odd get-up of the question, calculating the answer is usually pretty easy. Henry Thoreau’s famous house offers convenient division with its zero to the right of the 5 to the right of the 1. One hundred and fifty square feet, into which he packed two years of living that brim still from the book that is their record.

Seasons as footage – we begin, if lucky, in a like space. My boyhood room ran a few feet grander than Henry’s Walden house, but only a few. College was, of course, crammed into tighter confines. Lucky to be there, for sure, but what an odd narrative puzzle, sharing two small rooms, which summed to one Henry, with two other late teens intent on the declaration of self. No wonder so many burst so excitedly from school in search of apartment #1…which probably still contained roommates, but also a room of one’s own.

And on…shedding roommates, gaining, perhaps, a mate, living in more Henrys…3, 7, 11… Lining up a lifetime of Henry’s calls up story: 1+, 1/2, 1, 5, 9, 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 10… At some point, each of us hits peak-Henry, and then – given more luck, of course – steps into smaller multiples. “Downsizing,” we call it; “fewer Henrys” a few of us may say. And on into each “experiment.”

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My father-in-law just visited, pressing on into the amazement of his 97th year, lives now in a Henry and a half. He says it is ample. His rooms are arranged around a large chair from which he can survey those years, and in which he can read the live screen of his Kindle. “This is all I need,” he says. And in his phrasing I hear the reverberation of the Henry-word that shaped the square footage of his life – necessity.

What are your necessaries? A good question at anytime, but one especially strong at year’s end and advent. One contemplated, perhaps, in a favorite chair set in whatever number of Henry’s you inhabit.

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Here’s to a clear, well-contained new year; may good light appear at your window.

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Filed under Arts, General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Living Deliberately, News and Events, The Roost, Thoreau Quote