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It is pleasant to embark on a voyage, if only for a short excursion, the boat to be your home for the day, especially if it is neat and dry. A sort of moving studio it becomes, you can carry so many things with you. It is almost as if you put oars out at your windows and moved your house along. Thoreau, Journal, 8/31/52

Here: sunrise – 6:28 a.m.; sunset – 6:34 p.m. A few days away, light’s six-month reign will give way to night’s rise.

Getting there on another such day.

Getting there on another such day.

Floatation off the north end of Birch Island – languid, sun-on sentences punctuated by falling acorns, some of which land with a plop in the water, while others rattle the leaves, and a few pinball among the branches, making hollow comment. On the way here, I have seen nuts afloat, colonizers headed for some far shore, whole paragraphs of leaves bundled in little darkness.

A lightest breeze riffles the water, and it pushes my boat into the shore grass, which scrapes and sighs along its sides. We – my boat and I – lodge there, 6 inches above the mud, and the sun catches in the southside folds of my shirt; my northside cools. It is, except for the arrhythmic marimba of the acorns, utterly quiet. Except also, now that I am so still, or still so, for the tiny splashes of two-inch-long fish that hurry and leap around me. It could be celebration of this day, but it is not – a larger splash tells me a larger fish is fishing these shallows. Getting on with it.

Later, halfway up in a pine, I see a single white egret…mid-migration? just setting out? Once, in the same season, we saw 16 egrets in the same white pine; they looked like the flung towels of some giant, maybe summer, who had stalked off after bathing in the bay.

Empty, mostly, these islands…though from White an eagle lumps into the air, pretends to soar, lumps his wings some more, feigns a dive and turns back to his tree. So much, he seems to say, for all this work at motion; I’ll wait for something still to float by. Which I do.

It is that sort of day.

Green water, white rock - floatation.

Green water, white rock – floatation.

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Someone Has to Go

All sorts of men come to the Cattle-Show. I see one with a blue hat*. Thoreau, Journal, 9/29/57.

There are days…when it pays…to break routine. Yesterday the light came to the window…just so…and I said, “someone has to go.”

The sea is only a few miles away, and yet, when I arrive, I see it is enjoying a very different day. Yes, the air has a familiar translucence – it is so-clear September – but a quick check of the water shows there’s a torrent of air in motion above. White-caps wash the bay, and there’s the always sound of restless water. The wind, still from the summer-south, insists, driving the water up bay; I will go the other way.

And that occasions a moment’s hesitation – do I want that work against this wind? But then I consider also that I can “hide” in the lee of an island chain for part of the way, and I know too that, a few hours from now, when I turn back, I will hitch a ride on the tide and the wind and waves will be at my back. Work to get out; glide home – good division of day. And now the water is simply “live”; I like live water.

Here then, because someone had to go, is a small photo gift from a midpoint of this day away – it is only the view of and from Little French Island and a few late-season beach roses; you will have to imagine the osprey-keenings, the loon-calls and the seals who grumbled their indecision about whether to give up their sun-rocks for the thin yellow boat a hundred yards away (I kept my distance and they stayed put).

May you be the next one to put on your blue hat and go.

* Note from Jeffrey Cramer: “When Thoreau presented his “Succession of Forest Trees” before the Middlesex Agricultural Society at the Middlesex Cattle Show and Ploughing Match on 20 September 1860, he began: ‘Every man is entitled to come to Cattleshow, even a transcendentalist.'”











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Are You Okay?

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

“Are you okay?”

The two ten-year-olds pause, balanced on their bicycles, as I recover my stride and footing.

“Yes, thanks,” I say…”just caught a toe on a root.” And then I keep on down into the woods, and they remount and ride on the other way.

As I run, I wonder about this little moment and its concern.

Here in the woods, away a bit from the everyday setting of streets and homes, have I just met two boys trained in empathy by their parents? Or was that question involuntary, simply automatic concern for a fellow two-legger, who has stumbled, a white-haired two-legger to boot?


All of this has been much in mind as I’ve read through Sebastian Junger’s new book, Tribe, whose subtitle reads, On Homecoming and Belonging. In it, Junger takes as primary subject and example the difficulty modern soldiers experience rejoining our society, and how this experience differs from that of warriors in tribal societies. Those warriors, who bore with them the horror and trauma of combat, returned to groups configured to receive them, to help them readjust, to help them be okay. Junger points out that our soldiers return to a society designed for the individual, one where need of aid is often seen as weakness, one where isolation is rampant. In such a world, healing, which requires social context, gets delayed, or doesn’t happen at all. Disability takes over instead; life dissipates.

Having been trained in individuation and individualism, having learned to think that hope arrives one person at a time, I find myself wary of groups, or tribes, where the expectation is that a person subsume her or himself to the group, for its good. And yet, it feels as if we – country, world – are wheeling out of control, as individuals fly off at all angles in pursuit of self(ies?) So much self regard; so little group regard.

Here, I think also of Henry Thoreau, seer of the singular, urger of self-realization, of making the self real. Thoreau set out for Walden in pursuit of “I.” But, more importantly, I think, once he’d discovered that “I,” he returned to the group – both to town and to the larger world via his writing – to see what effect he might have in advancing that group.

“Are you okay?” he might have asked rhetorically as he watched his town and country stumble, lose stride in a time whose troubles seem resonant with ours. Would it recover balance? Regain stride?

Walden ends famously with the image of the morning star, with “more day to dawn.” Okay, it posits, through experiment, you know something of yourself; that’s a beginning, but only that. Now on to your allotted day/life – what will you make there? with whom?

By now, I am deep in the woods, and, if you have read along to this point, perhaps you are too. But I realize that as I return from this daily foray, I come back to the extended and extensive self of a town that is itself nested in a larger group.

And I need to keep asking of people I meet, whether in stride or knocked from it, are you okay? Are we?


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