Category Archives: General

A Bear’s Notebook

First, a disclaimer: our Commons, though satisfyingly treed and amply berried, has no bears, though some of us may hope for the odd transient, who has a mind to summer at the coast. Still, the nuts and berries found there bring on the mindset of a bear, and so, today I am his or her stand-in; this is my bear’s notebook.

(Disclaimer #2: Henry Thoreau had no experience of bears in shorn Concord, though he liked to imagine his way back to a time when bears were native there.)

These paw-scribed pages are rife with record of what we bears care most about: food. Or the promise of it. Enough food leads to fat, and fat is winter’s warm sleep enabled. So this spring walk looks forward to: food. There is, of course, the time-honored, all-season grubbing for insects. That’s reliable in the way grain may be an everyday part of your diet.

But today, I’m not interested in tearing up logs or clawing into burrows; instead, I have sweetness in and on mind. The wide spacing of this pitch-pine forest leaves plenty of light for the brush beneath the pines, and that light spurs the brush below. And each year, that light concentrates in blueberries that begin to ripen in early July, and then come on for that month’s remainder.

Taking notes and naps in new growth. Credit: Bigstock

Taking notes and naps in new growth.
Credit: Bigstock

But each year brings also variation – last year’s primo patch is often sparse, and creeping undergrowth can crowd out the low bush blueberries, or spreading crowns can shade out the high bush ones. There’s no burning over the brush of the Commons, and so each summer any berry-intent being needs to scope out the best patches. When is that best done? Now.

How so, you may want to know. Later, when the berries are first green, they blend with the leaves, and, from any distance they are hard to see. Then, even as they go purple and blue, often the best clusters are beneath leaves that have grown dense with summer. But now, amid the pollinating whirr of bees, the patches thick with white flowers are easy to spot. There, given the annual bee-brought miracle, will be the thickest gatherings of berries.

July's bounty

July’s bounty

And so, as I amble here, then there in these woods, my head swinging first to this side, then to that, I make a bear’s map of these white bursts amid the new green. I’ll be back to each bush in 6 or 7 weeks.

As Robert Frost once wrote, “You come too.”

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

Walking Up Waking Up

On July 19th, 1842, Henry Thoreau and his friend Richard Frederick Fuller (Margaret Fuller’s brother) set out, “resolved to scale the blue wall which bounds the western horizon,” or the long-looked-at Wachusett. Even so, Thoreau was “not without misgivings, that thereafter no visible fairy land would exist for us.”

Still, by walk’s (and essay’s) end, he had this to say: “And now that we have returned to the desultory life of the plain, let us endeavor to import a little of that mountain grandeur into it.”

So it is in this expansive season that often sees us walking toward horizons blue with distance and often imagined. Up then, I go up on a recent morning, with the blue wall of ridge rising along the valley’s west. Like Thoreau and Fuller, I left early, with the eastern light at my back; but unlike Thoreau and Fuller, I had only a short walk before I began to climb that blue wall, and I soon fell into the meditative cadences of climbing, all built on the audible work of breathing. It is a different sort of meditation, but contemplative nonetheless.

As often happens to me when walking is also working, some time slipped by without my noticing it. I came back to full awareness as the light shifted: first it grew dark (I had entered a spruce grove) and a fading line of snow glowed, light rising from the forest floor; then, the light intensified ahead of me, and I arrived at a sort of door. Before me was the first set of open ledges in a day of ridge-walking; I had entered the “visible fairy land” of the upper mountains; I was atop the “blue wall.”

It seemed fitting then in this up-there world that the way should have new markers too, guides across the stone where feet leave little sign – cairns. Born of the bare Scottish Highlands, cairns are often simple piles of stones assembled by passersby to indicate that you – walker-next – should pass by this way. And, as both marker of passage and contribution, many of us add a stone as we pass by, especially to small cairns that have suffered from scatter. And so some cairns grow.

First Ledges Early Cairn

First Ledges Early Cairn

Atop the day’s central summit, I stopped to look at the bare stone and then the series ridges, especially those that rise to the north. On the stone, I found inscription, some dating back to Thoreau’s era, the sort of “I was here” writing inspired by the being above the valleys.

Summit Inscription Palimpsest

Summit Inscription Palimpsest

And I was reminded again of Thoreau’s Wachusett walk and the essay that flowed from it. Here’s its ending:

We will remember within what walls we lie, and understand that this level life [on our return to the valleys] to has its summit, and why from the mountain top the deepest valleys have a tinge of blue; that there is elevation in every hour, as no part of earth is so low that the heavens may not be seen from, and we have only to stand on the summit of our hour to command an uninterrupted horizon.





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

Fog in the Trees

Journal, May 19th, 1856: “Thick fog this morning, which lasted late in the forenoon and left behind it rainy clouds for the afternoon.”

It is still. It is quiet. The days of rowdy, sun-stirred air end with this gray morning fog in the trees; it is perfect for a Sunday, the slowest kind of time, contemplative, a piney retreat from the wound-up weeks on either side.


It seems to me that fog’s human expression is unlabored breathing, the slow, quiet in and out of merger with what’s beyond. A morning like this is as close as I come to being a tree, as close, perhaps, as I come to simply being in place. I am not a religious sort, but if I were, I’d say this fog is visible prayer; surely it is subtle song seen.


Thoreau, of course, was not kept in by thick air or promise of rain; instead in the afternoon, he is sailing up the Assabet, when he hears this:”…a traveller riding a long the highway is watching my sail while he hums a tune. How inspiring and elysian to hear when the traveller or laborer from a call to his horse or the murmur of ordinary conversation rises into song! It paints the landscape suddenly as no agriculture , no flower crop that can be raised. It is at once another land, the abode of poetry.”

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