Category Archives: Arts

Shapes in the Forest

One of the pleasures of ambling to no point lies in what you see on the side, and, on this day, along this known trail in Concord, where the footing’s easy, I am watching what’s a few feet either side of me. The leaves are thick on the ground, and they’ve put my mind to what falls; once there, I begin making note of all the larger fallen tree parts – the limbs, the feather-fingered twigs, the reminder trunks. They are, of course, everywhere. Life, they all say, is migration to earth. At least it is after the arcing rise of considering the sky.

Each step lands easily, and for this time, gravity and I are at equilibrium – I am kept snugly to this path and allowed the river-pace of walking. The trees, patient by my standards, press up, hold up the sky; or, after all their lifetime’s work, lie angled, waiting to decay, then go up again. My looped walk will tend horizontal toward home; their looped lives go up and down a vertical plane.

I shy from geometrics, even as the patron spirit of this and many other walks, Henry Thoreau, was a measure-man of the keenest appreciation and degree. What he made of the intersecting planes of humans and nature fills page after page, and takes on explicit consideration in some of his meditations on seeing (perhaps being?) for moments here and there two ways at once.

Any number of planar passages from Walden come to mind. Often they take place on the “intermediate” water, where looking down on a quiet day like this gets reflection of what’s above:

A field of water betrays the spirit that is in the air. It is continually receiving new life and motion from above. It is intermediate in its nature between land and sky. On land only the grass and trees wave, but the water itself is rippled by the wind. I see where the breeze dashes across it by the steaks or flakes of light. It is remarkable that we can look down on its surface. We shall, perhaps, look down on the surface of air at length, and mark where a still subtler spirit sweeps over it. Thoreau, Walden

My eye catches on the remainder of a root-ball, and I pull over. Some of the curves are as smooth as a Brancusi. Getting down to essence. And, satisfyingly, there is even mystery in the little cave at center. It doesn’t take – perhaps you do this too – long for me to begin seeing life forms, and talking quietly follows along. I’m not talking specifically with a tree’s remainder, more mumbling in the forest. It’s my form of witness, of appreciation in a mute world, or one whose language is so slow that I live a whole life between its words.


I’m not on the water, but I have reached some intermediate plane where time’s not ticking in its increments.

And so a while goes by – who knows how long or what was said – and then the itchiness of habit draw me back to my plane, and I set out again, measured steps, bound for next, bound too for home.

Slowly slowly the old root-ball readies itself for another reach at the sky.

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

Proposal – A Day without Light (but one)

In this season of disturbed day and night, I’ve found necessary reading, stories whose thin lines keep reaching toward the world I want to live in, the one I do, even as the news and those who make it try to wipe that world away. The stories are the poems of Kate Barnes, and I have come to them through recommendation from the Gulf of Maine, our local bookstore, itself a kind of kin to the fish that keep swimming upstream to spawn. “Try this,” the owner, a poet himself, said one day, and handed over Crossing the Field. I looked at its handsome woodcut cover, weighed its thinness, and thought, I might even finish this.

For some weeks it sat where most new books do – on my desk in a stratigraphy of enthusiasms. One recent morning, as I sought my coffee-reading to prepare my mind for the day’s words, I saw its blue cover peeking out of the pile, and I unearthed it, carried it to table. I noted, as I always do, its birthdate – 1992 – and turned to page one:

Coming Back

Coming back to my own countryside, I find
the farm again. It is night. Under this wallpaper
of willow leaves and birds, I know there is
an old one with loops of small roses…

No pyrotechnics; rather, a quiet insistence on what return allows, how knowing is layered, and that we live there too, below its surface. Barnes, the daughter of poet Elizabeth Coatsworth and writer Henry Beston, isn’t after easy narratives in her poems; she is 60 when they are published and worn by life’s abrasions, not the least of which is her father, who, fittingly, it seems, renamed himself Beston, by the stone, when made fun of for being “a mick.” But reading her poems is akin to coming on a clearest stream in woods you thought you knew, and then, looking up and seeing with washed vision.

All of this is prelude to a proposal: recent poems I’ve read have been lit – in this corner or that – by fireflies. Yes, they are out of season, but winking light, easily construed as hope, is not. So here, in a spirit of rising light that Kate Barnes and Henry Thoreau might approve, is my proposal:

On January 20th, 2017, when we pass into a new government that I see aligned with darkness, let’s turn off all the lights but one in all of our houses and workspaces. A Day without Light (but one) would recognize and protest a president who seems without spirit and compassion, and it would leave burning resolve and hope to see and then work through this period to a different day. It would be quiet, real, and yes, if enough of us did it, effective.

I don’t know Barnes as well as I know Thoreau, but I think each, both, would nod, yes, and go about that day as a single light.

Added note: I don’t do this, but I’d like to see if this seed-idea can grow, so please share widely if you too would like to see that. Each one of us can be that single light too.

"There is more day to dawn." Thoreau, Walden

“There is more day to dawn.” Thoreau, Walden

“There is more day to dawn.” Thoreau, Walden


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

Old News

All summer and far into the fall I unconsciously went by the newspapers and the news, and now I find it was because the morning and the evening were full of news to me. My walks were full on incidents. I attended not to the affairs of Europe, but to my own affairs in Concord fields. Thoreau, Journal

It took more than the Concord fields to lever me away from the news, but recent national “incidents” were enough.

After the election, we went away to the mountains. The old, blue route there was still lined, in places, by signs, mostly the victors’, but even they were bent and wind-battered. As we drove, a cold front blew in, tearing even the resistant oak leaves from their branches, and it caught drifts of brown leaves, chasing them in waves over the tar; at times it looked as if we were crossing a river.

We bought days of food and drove up the right wing of the valley, crossing finally on to the last mile of dirt road, and, once we’d unloaded and set the heat to warm, we put on orange hats to distinguish us from deer and walked farther up valley. The wind racketed in the bare trees; a few small-grained snow flurries coursed through, speckling our dark coats, melting like little points of winter on our hands. We wouldn’t climb the mountain, but our walk brought us closer to it.

Day #1 -Sunrise on the mountain.

Day #1 -Sunrise on the mountain.

That night November dark shut down quickly, the sun gone behind the ridge just after 3:00, some remnant clouds blotting up its after-light. Before the moon – nearly full – rose later, the dark was absolute, the only news was the cold front’s still-rising winds. Part of this mountain valley’s appeal lies in its modern remoteness. Yes, a road winds to it, but no signal follows – phones don’t work, e-mail can’t chirp and all the instas go mute. Perhaps because there are more cellar holes than cellars on this road-going-to-trail-going-nowhere, forcing coverage in here is low priority. It felt good to out-distance connection and comment.

Day #2 - Sun sets behind the mountain.

Day #2 – Sun sets behind the mountain.

Late that night, the moon rose, arcing up over the mountain, bright enough to paint shadows across the open ground; you could see the dark, flying leaves lifted by the wind. Not remembering its proper seasonal name – surely it is beyond harvest – we called it the Selection Moon and watched its light and dark fingers point and wave, picking out possibility, suggesting the way the fronts keep coming over the ridge, scooping up what’s left, sorting it briefly and laying it down again.

Still, even under the racketing wind and the juddering moon, a little peace took hold. This valley is a sort of Walden.

We have, of course, returned – we have work; we have a place too in the current turmoil. That’s as it should and must be. But the mountains are and have a place too, a place where the shapes of ridges admit only the oldest news.

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