A Journal of Life Pursued

Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Demands of the Gull

In Nature on April 2, 2013 at 6:00 am
Gluttony by Jamie Wyeth

Gluttony by Jamie Wyeth

I was accosted while walking home from Flat Bread Pizza last night. The culprit was a three-pound herring gull intent on seeing what was in the left-over box. Slyly, I tore off a piece of crust and knelt down. I extended my arm, crust offered. The bird approached. I studied the beast as it cautiously waddled toward me. It’s breast was white, and broad, and the color of fresh dry snow, beautiful and reflective. I noticed for the first time how the nostrils of a gull are etched into its yellow-ivory beak, how delicate its knees, and the fine webbing of its feet.

The approaching bird turned its head side to side, back and forth, keeping one eye on me the other over the shoulder, scanning for danger. Each pausing step was accompanied by half a dozen head rotations. The eye was marble-like, reflective, and I noticed for the first time how the lid was rimmed in red, etched crimson against pristine feathers. Penetrating and unblinking. Beautiful. Then it tilted forward and looked at me, square, eye to level eye. The bird was perhaps two feet from my extended hand. Look at me, the gull demanded. Look into my eye. Do you see me now? You see me everyday, but you do not really see me. Look at me. Look!

She was a good teacher and I gave her amble crust offerings.

Snow Under Boot

In Nature, Philosophy, Writers on March 18, 2013 at 6:00 am
The Maine Woods

The Maine Woods

We still have snow here in places, especially in the north, and certainly in the woods where the pine-tree canopy  shades the forest floor. I took a little hike yesterday and there is nothing like a crunching late-season snow, blue-bird sky, and scent of pine to fine-tune a person.

Not a lot came of this fine-tuning and maybe that is the best result of all. Maybe a walk in the woods should remain largely and exactly that: a walk in the woods. As Thoreau relates in his essay, Walking, “When a traveller asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered, ‘Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.'”

In anther essay–to me, his most important, Life Without Principal–Thoreau writes:

“If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.”

Two paragraphs above this passage, the sage of Walden, invites us to “consider the way in which we spend our lives.”

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Library of America, Thoreau

I brought my copy of Thoreau to my desk this afternoon because I wanted to say something about activism to perhaps refute my comment of last week, “We have mostly rolled over.” I wanted to suggest that perhaps we have not, indeed, rolled over, now that I think more on it. I brought Henry David with me because he usually has guidance when I most need it. I was certain he would point the way in his essay Civil Disobedience. But I never made it there, lost instead in my reverie of a walk in the woods.

And as you can see, I found his guidance, just not the guidance I expected. He would approve, nonetheless, I think.

Sunday Repost: Out of Ambivalence

In Nature, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas on March 17, 2013 at 6:00 am
Morning, Moosehead

Morning, Moosehead

Two weeks ago [original post, June 2010], Carole, Lucy, and I went north to Moosehead Lake for a few days of North Woods camping and canoeing. At one point, as the sun set and the stars emerged, I stood on the shore and looked across the lake. I was peering perhaps two miles across the water. I studied the silhouetted landscape up the lake another couple of miles, then down the lake, to the south, maybe three miles. There was not a light to be seen on any shore, in any direction. It was complete and utter remoteness.

The filling aspect of this experience is found, for me, in supplementing experience with an element of the wild–that is to say, nature, and the compliment to a singular experience it affords. (I am encouraged by remembering the Zen philosopher Dōgen‘s comment, “Practice is the path.”) I don’t subscribe necessarily to the idea of the transcendent. Indeed, I don’t wish to transcend. Rather, I strive to enhance, to experience a world that spans wide(r) and forces me out of ambivalence.

Sunday Repost: …the american dog tick…

In Books, Dogs, Nature, Reading, Travel on March 10, 2013 at 5:00 am
Yuck. The American Deer Tick

Yuck. The Tick

According to the University of Maine web site, there are three types of ticks found in Maine: the deer tick, the american dog tick and the brown dog tick. I looked it up. I was curious, having just pulled five ticks off of my body. Those are the ones I found before the shower, discovered under my clothes. I found at least as many on my clothes before leaving the trail. I pulled I don’t know how many off Maggie. It was a lot.

Neighbors Mike and Wendy invited me on a hike this morning. Carole is out of town and I think they felt sorry for me. I’ll take a little pity for company every so often, so I opted in. They brought their dogs and off we went. It wasn’t a difficult hike, flat along a tributary of the Fore River, through the woods. We passed a small white pine grove and I stopped to inhale deeply. I told Mike and Wendy that one of my favorite things in all the world is the smell of pine in Maine. That is not an exaggeration.

There are about 50 miles of trails in Portland, developed and maintained by the non-profit Portland Trails organization. That is an admirable endeavor. I use the trails frequently and as I write this I realize that I have not supported the organization. I will rectify that immediately. I won’t even hold them responsible for the tick infestation of this morning.

* * *

I got Lyme Disease a few years ago. Tick bite. Carole and I were in Spain, had rented a car and planned on a few weeks of

Gilbraulter

Gibraltar

exploring the country. We’d made our way down to Gibraltar–yes, I know, not properly part of Spain–and I wasn’t feeling particularly well. But I wasn’t so sick as to miss my morning run, however, and headed off toward the southern point of the peninsula. Looking across the Strait of Gibraltar, I could not but think of the history that had passed through that narrow stretch of water. I thought of Nelson getting shot at the Battle of Trafalgar, his body stuffed into a brandy cask, and returned to Britain. “Hardy,” Nelson said, kneeling, then falling onto the deck, “I do believe they have done it at last… my backbone is shot through.” I thought of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, the Greeks and the Minoans, all sailing this straight, toying with the unknown vastness on the other side. The sun was coming up across the water, orange light rising on the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. I had to walk back to our hotel. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d come abroad incubating a case of Lyme Disease.

We canceled our adventure and drove to Benalmádena, on the coast. We found a cheap room on the beach, a place with a cabana. The only book I had with me was the Library of America edition of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, including Last of the Mohicans. I don’t remember how long we stayed. I recall sleeping a great deal under the thatched cabana roof, the warm breeze, and the breaking waves. I recall, waking and reading Cooper, then nodding off again–repeat. I read all the Leatherstocking Tales on that beach in Spain. I also experienced my only migraine, though I don’t think there is any correlation.

Lyme disease can best be detected by a tick bite that manifests a rash, usually as a ring around the bite, though I don’t remember any such rash. They say a tick can go a year without a blood meal. I think that is especially interesting, though the words blood meal make me uneasy.

Gravity Probe B, the wisdom of dogs, and other notions.

In Dogs, Life, Nature, Philosophy, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas, Thinkers on January 5, 2013 at 6:00 am
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Gravity Probe B

Einstein (1879-1955) was vindicated about seven years ago. That was when Gravity Probe B, one of Nasa’s satellites, confirmed “to a precision of better than 1 per cent the assertion Einstein made 90 years ago – that an object such as the Earth does indeed distort the fabric of space and time.” (NASA) Imagine a tarp stretched tight, suspended with bungee cords; then imagine dropping a basketball on the tarp. The tarp will sag under the ball and eventually it will come to rest in the middle of the tarp. Drop a marble on the tarp and it will speed to the basketball. This is called the Geodetic Effect and is what Einstein predicted happens with space and time. The basketball represents gravity, as a planet might manifest; the sagging tarp the fabric of space-time. Indeed, time and space bend.

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Despite the assertion fronted by certain family members (you know who you are), I do not believe (entirely) that the gravity of my existence bends my environmental reality. But…

As my parents warned, life (read: time) appears to be accelerating. Years come and go–flash, bang, and suddenly another day has passed, a year escaped, a decade expired before I can blink my eyes. The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus (535 – c. 475 BCE) famously said, “No man [or woman, presumably] ever steps in the same river twice.” His work, On Nature, does not survive, and everything we know about him we glean from fragments mentioned by other philosophers, principally Diogenes and Plato (who gives us the “river” metaphor). We must be thankful for that, at least.

The flow of existence feels (to me) to be bending time. The older I get the more the bend. The basketball seems to rest deeper into the tarp. Have you ever stood in a river when upstream water is released from a dam? I have. You don’t realize the water flow is increasing until the rush of it is hard upon you. That is aging–we are clueless until it’s mid-thigh and rising, our feet searching for traction. (I realize I’m mixing metaphors here, but hang with me a moment more.)

How does one broach this rushing tide? I turn to the lessons of my dogs. The best of them, those most seemingly, most excitedly alive, existed nose to the ground, curiosity aroused, a trot along the line, working the margins of the harvest. A dog lives a life without shadow; it is a being fully aware, running in the brilliant high-noon sun. Humans cast a shadow and we call it consciousness. Like biography it cannot be escaped. It is the ransom that cannot be paid.

The gist: It seems that the less I am aware of things, the faster the flow. Contrariwise, my dogs appear aware of most everything and completely and totally ignorant of  the bending basketball-gravity of existence.

Here are the things I’m not talking about: transcendence, enlightenment, spiritualism, mysticism, metaphysics, immortality, and all the other limp and ill-fitting clothes we’ve donned over the ages. And what I am talking about? I’ll let you know as soon as Lucy wakes from her nap. We’ll discuss it on our walk.

10:49 a.m.

In Mythology, Nature, Travel, Writing on September 22, 2012 at 10:31 am

Autumnal Equinox, 10:49, September 22, 2012

In a few minutes the sun will cross the equator and Fall will begin. It happens only twice a year, the equatorial crossing. The ancients were much more attuned to such events, it seems, than we moderns, and at times I feel adrift being so far removed from the nature of things.

Equinox comes from the Latin words for “equal night.” From here on out, the sun shies away from us in the Northern Hemisphere and night creeps in like a slow tide. In Spring, the tide recedes.

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As best I can recall, I’ve crossed the equator eight times, mostly in the air and that hardly counts. Once on land, however, I crossed it and there, spanning a two-lane highway in Ecuador, was a yellow line, the width of a large paintbrush and on the shoulder a monument to the event, declaring the passage from one hemisphere to the other.

I remember wanting to test the flow of toilet water. Did it flow counter to what I’d experienced in the Northern Hemisphere? I’m here to report that watching it circle in the bowl I could not remember, nor could confirm, the directional flow of toilet water. Another mystery gone unsolved.

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Sometimes when thinking in big ways about big things I like to drop a pin and remind myself where I am, a complex spot of carbon on the face of Mother Earth. It is an edifying and humbling method of perspective. I sit in Maine at my desk almost halfway between the equator and the North Pole at 43 degrees and 39 minutes. I have been closer to the South Pole than I have been to the North Pole and someday I would like to rectify that, particularly before the North Pole melts–an event the ancients, so attuned to their environment, could never contemplate.

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I think I will hike Bradbury Mountain today. I will climb to the top and when I get there I will stare into the sky and imagine the sun escaping, like Persephone being dragged to the underworld by Hades, heartbroken but resigned to what must be.