Category Archives: Nature

A Town Meeting – Seeding February

“The history of a woodlot is often, if not commonly, here a history of cross-purposes, of steady and consistent endeavor on the part of Nature, of interference and blundering with a glimmering of intelligence at the eleventh hour on the part of the proprietor.” Thoreau, Faith in a Seed.

While I read a morning poem, the snow wanes. A few tiny flakes slant still in from the north; spaced even father apart, a few fat flakes fall like random punctuation undecided about the day’s line – here and here; that will do. A flurry at the feeder makes me look over, reminds me to fill its sleeve before turning out to work.

Last evening, I went to a meeting of fellow citizens on two of our town’s commissions. Our charge was to look over a 30-year mistake involving two small parcels of a subdivision that had been set aside for conservation or recreation land and somehow never conveyed to the town as was intended. The recreation lot, suitable only for “passive recreation,” which is an oxymoron of sorts and to most of us means watching trees grow, had the added question of a right-of-way. That drive could only pass through in the shape of a question mark. More possible punctuation.

Tucked behind the houses and still-to-be-built lots was the prize. Down its few-acre center runs Great Gully Brook, and given our underlying sand-plain, this deep cut also features fragile banks. Not far to the south of the site, the brook runs into a broad, mud-rich bay, and also nearby are a couple of wildlife corridors. Smelt are rumored to run in the stream, and, reportedly, turkeys have become its bully-birds. So, keeping the brook’s gully intact is important for the bay, which needs no more silt, and for the fish who would swim and spawn there. The birds and quadrupeds who use it as passage also recommend the gully.

All of this was rich fodder for a little dreaming as the meeting-clock ticked forward. Each night the long darkness comes first to this gully, and through it pass any number of night wanderers; through it too pass the always-waters of the brook, on their way to the bay.

Melt-detail from nearby

Melt-detail from nearby

The current residents, who like their gully neighbor and want it protected, were at the meeting in numbers. They offered sightings of wildlife and the added life of having such a neighbor. The question-mark right-of-way, they said, was in such a shape because it needed to skirt the gully at enough distance to preserve its banks. They warned of disturbance, of loosing the banks and sending them to choke the bay.

Our commission, which will end up holding title or rights to the gully and so will become its overseer, listened to these stories carefully. We are already maxed out with such seeing over. But the right thing is what must be done – it’s part of being part of a town, of looking out for and after where we live. It is, we hope, the eleventh-hour “glimmering of intelligence” that joins us to our land. It helped to imagine Great Gully’s water running in the night and all who follow it to and from the sea. Even as we talked and listened that life was pulsing along the gully.

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

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

Hearing Drums – NMP 1/20/17

The modern cheap and fertile press, with all its translations, has done little to bring us nearer to the heroic writers of antiquity. They seem as solitary, and the letter in which they are printed as rare and curious, as ever. Thoreau, Reading, Walden.

For weeks, I’ve heard the pounding. Sometimes it’s the sudden pick-up of my heart, when a new vulgarity arrives from our president-(sort of)elect; other times, it’s the full-throated narcissism of another me-ist intent on unmooring us from any collective will to do good. Such drums have kept me awake at night, distracted me from the day’s work. Even when I walk to the woods, as I do daily, their thrumming sometimes insists.

When in search of larger wisdom, Henry Thoreau, it seems to me, turned often to the ancient Greeks, famously keeping, for example, a copy of The Iliad by his bed while at the pond. When it comes to apprehending the pulse of human behavior, they’ve not yet been surpassed. And in this loud run-up to Friday’s inauguration (I note the word “augur” embedded), I’ve found myself returned to the strangeness of a play I’ve read many times, Euripides’, The Bakkhai.

The_bakkhai-210

“No more drums,” cries Pentheus, the newly-crowned, 17-year-old king of Thebes, in this ancient play about madness. Here, the king (inexperienced and untested) gets a visit from Dionysos, himself a new god and intent on gaining followers, but one who already knows the power of impulse in human affairs. Dionysos assumes the disguise of a 17-year-old priest, and so joins Pentheus in a late-adolescent contest for control. It is an unequal match-up, young authoritarian versus god of impulse, and everyone but Pentheus can see that the priest is something else, something otherworldly. This, the people of Thebes can see, will not end well. For their king, and so, for them.

And it doesn’t, as Dionysos chooses the particularly cruel avenue of Pentheus’ desires – scarcely understood by the king – as a way to lure him into a trap, where he is torn limb from limb by a pack of women, led by his mother. Pentheus is such a hothead, so intent on being (becoming) “the man” that one has to work at finding sympathy for him. Still, to be shredded by mother…well, at least a tear or two there, if not a primary fear. And Dionysos is implacable force, intent on being worshipped; little else matters, including his own followers, who have left their homes for the promise of joy and a better life, and now find themselves stranded in a foreign land.

It has taken me some time to sort all these drums and drummings, but now I see that Euripides has fashioned a play – his last, some think – that cautions against ungoverned impulse (within and without), and it has returned to my mind because we seem to be entering an era where such impulse is the loudest of tweets, a form that is all impulse. The president-elect (sort of) seems a joining of both 17-year-olds in The Bakkhai, a colossal neediness for control and regard.

The play does not end well for Thebes either. Shorn of its governing force by Pentheus’s death, it is open to the rest of the world’s ill will and predation. And Dionysos, intent on himself, is ready to move on – where can I go next to spread the joy of me, and get worship in return?

Henry Thoreau used to listen to celebrations of independence and self in Concord village at a distance; from Walden, the volleys of expressive cannons sounded like “pop” guns, or toys. Thoreau also revered the Greeks, though I’ve not found indication that he read The Bakkhai, even as I suspect he must have. But I wonder if any metaphorical pond lies at enough distance from today’s distant tweets and the roar of self-worship? Or, if, unlike the Thebans, it’s time to plunge in and roar back at this odd amalgam, this president of impulse?

Reader’s Note: This play repays reading many times over, and Robert Bagg’s translation is very fine. When I checked a while ago, it was out of print, but I have found it in used bookstores. Also, new translations continue to appear; it is truly a timeless, or well timed play.

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