Category Archives: Environment

Up Get Out Get Up

I love to sit in the wind on this hill and be blown on. We bathe thus first in the air; then, when the air has warmed it, in water. Thoreau, Journal, 5/15/53

Every so often the daily trail morphs into a multi-day way; I suppose that’s the difference between walking and traveling. Anyway, some upland research will take me to the White Mountains for a few days, where spring is much more various than our coastal version. The green “fur” of budding trees colors the valleys, but, even in this year of absent-winter, there’s still some ice up high. There the buds hold tight, waiting for warm air. So going uphill is going back in time, if only a little way. And then, from up high, you look down and see spring flooding into the valleys, working its way higher on the ridges, coming your way again.

Shuffling off into this various time feels contemplative – as the world hurries to announce itself, I slow down. Perhaps that’s what spring fever is, a little lassitude thrown in with all this springing up. At a time when green seems to gallop, I tend toward amble, and that may also be because the days stretch toward solstice. The light’s in under the shade before 5 a.m. and it lasts past 8 p.m. It’s enough to make me feel the stir of my Scottish ancestry, where short summer nights are only versions of twilight.

And that little stir creates a doubleness of sorts, and kind of here and there of self. Which, as I think of it, may be like molting, a mixed state of old and new, all in service of later flight. Flight is, of course, a project for a whole or complete being; no little bit of this feather or that one for a flyer – the whole set’s needed to parse and ride the wind. And now that I’m imagining feathers and flight, I know it’s not molting but rather fledging I have in mind.

In a million nests, one of which occupies the twig-wreath by our front door, the next generation of flyers grows its feathers. Even a glance at the nest every so often points to the race taking place within – will the feathers form before the nestlings jostle each other out of the now too-small nest? Will the parents, who must be down more than a pint of energy, be able to keep up the steady stream of bugs and other bits of food that build the feathers? Our house finches probably wonder this each day. It will be close.

The nest's atop this wreath.

The nest’s atop this wreath.

In a few days, when I return from the mountains, it’s likely we’ll be changed, the birds and I, winging suddenly into our fully-leafed summer lives. Every spring a fledgling; every summer on wing. That’s the hope our finches offer.

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

Orchid Eyes

“The lady’s slipper in the pitch pine woodside near J. Hosmer’s Desert, probably about the 27th.” 5/30/56, Thoreau’s Wildflowers, edited by Geoff Wisner.

I’m on my way home when I see the season’s first orchid. It’s a day or so before it reaches the showy-phase with its white-pink slippers tipped just so, but the two splayed, glossy leaves and the rising neck, with its bud shy seeming, are enough; almost enough to make me camp here and wait for their flower. Almost.

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Instead, I’ll return tomorrow, and, as I go south into the deeper woods and reach the pitch pine plain at their core, I’ll get orchid eyes, the eye-set that lets me see these rare plants everywhere. The forest floor is eruptive green at this time of year, and all those greens are fresh and appealing. And its daubs of white, wildflowers draw the eye too, but I await especially the lady slippers, which people the woods like…people.

Some rise in clusters, and in years past in each of my circuits of Concord’s Estabrook Woods, I knew where to look for these tiny towns or tribes. One in particular grows near the two-mile marker, a waist-high granite post as you walk south along the Old Carlisle Road. From there it’s two miles to our revolution’s “rude bridge that arched the flood,” though during most springs, it has both feet in the flood – no dry-shod revolutionaries these days. Each spring somewhere between ten and twenty slippers rise on the sunny bank to the left of the post.

Then, a while farther along, at the overlook for Stump Pond, if you crane your neck to peer down the slope leading to the water, there are always a few solitary slippers. The same is true along the esker that runs along the pond’s north flank. Here are the Thoreaus of the species, the slippers who like a little distance from their neighbors.

When the flower shows, inclined just as someone might hold a slipper for a lady’s foot, our native orchid is easy to spot, insistent really. Whose foot? As often happens, we look back to the Greeks and into the mists of myth for answer: the genus name Cypripedium fuses Cypris and pedilion; this “sandal” awaits Aphrodite…as do many of us.

But for these few days before the blossom, it takes orchid eyes to find them amid all the other look-at-me greenery. And It is a little like putting on special lenses: once they are in place, orchid plant after orchid plant appears.

Soon it’s clear, these pitch-pine woods could shoe all the Aphrodites and Cinderellas in the world.

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Bird Blessed

In Boston yesterday and ornithologist said significantly, “If you held the bird in your hand –;” but I would rather hold it in my affections. – Thoreau, Journal, 5/10/54

I am 150 miles southwest of my usual range, here in Connecticut on a family visit, and, by coincidence, now in Stafford Springs for the Soapstone Mountain Trail Race. It’s a blustery morning, with the wind blowing cool reminder from home.

I replace the word “race” with the friendlier “run” and set out at the command of our director, a slight woman perched atop a glacial erratic. We are a many-footed beast, and we shuffle down a dirt road, headed for the single-track trail ahead. There, at first, we will bunch like a human scrunchie, but, over time, we will stretch all the way to solitude.

Our way is marked by white paint dots and, at junctions by ankle-high flaglets that remind of a dog’s electronic boundary. “Don’t go over there, boy,” I say to self and I stay of track.

The run becomes a collage of little moments and the always-rhythm of attention to footsteps; the sights and my own little song take me elsewhere, out of this world.

An then, at 20k, just past the last aid station with its caloric and human boost – “Nice going; almost there” – I’m flagging; the little laughter of two girls who just passed me recedes in the hardwoods ahead, and it’s just tired me here. Sigh, why? A flash of color draws my eye and a scarlet tanager lights at eye level on a branch 15 feet away. His brightness wrings a smile from me, lifts my head, and he stays, his scarlet kindled against the lime-green leaves just unfurling. I stop, watch, want to trill a birdsong of thanks. Any sense of needing to be elsewhere vanishes.

Tanager-4

Now I can go on.

So it is to be bird blessed in woods near or far.

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