Doug Bruns

Archive for 2012|Yearly archive page

Less schedule, more spontaneity…

In Nature, The Examined Life on August 11, 2012 at 6:00 am

Paddling a new direction.

Last fall I wrote a micro-essay here that, in closing, included this sentence.

“I can talk with a modicum of intelligence, say, about the life and thought of Nietzsche but I cannot tell you anything about a tree at the dog park. This is deeply troubling to me and I am setting out to rectify it.”

I have, since girding myself with resolve, been good to my word–and the change-up has been reflected here. Less philosophy, fewer books, more nature, more observation. I don’t anticipate that’s going to change any time soon.


There has been less time for writing too. I am studying for the registered Maine guide license. The test is next month, written and oral. Too, I hope next year to begin a program of study toward becoming a Certified Master Naturalist. That has put me into the field more, with more time spent over guide books and journals, less time spent with novels and essays. Getting into the program is questionable. I am long on humanities, short on science. The autodidact in me has kicked into high gear, but there is only so much ground one can cover.


The ground is shifting, and I wanted to share with you, friends, why I am less here and more elsewhere. I’ve noted my obsessive tendencies and I am observing the familiar narrowing of focus I recognize as the on-set of full-blown myopia (again). It’s how I work. I’ve come to accept it. Those around me have come to accept it. So be it.


I mentioned earlier this week that I will be traveling to Maryland next week. I likely won’t be showing up here, though one can’t be sure what mood, idea, notion, grudge or gripe, might need expression. Less schedule, more spontaneity is to be anticipated.


Regardless of all that, I appreciate everyone’s eyeballs here. Thanks for reading. Have a good weekend. See you soon.


What we own.

In Memoir, Nature, The Examined Life, Wisdom on August 9, 2012 at 6:00 am

My Maryland Woods

I am traveling to Maryland next week to work on the house and property I (still) own there. Suffice it to say I anticipate the real estate market will have returned enough by next spring to put it on the market. It is a nice house and sits on several acres of wooded land. It butts up against a state-owned watershed of several thousand acres and sits astride a thirty-acre preserve. It is remote, as property in the mid-atlantic goes, and afforded me a great deal of pleasure over many years.

The property is home to white-tailed deer, fox, box turtles, birds of prey, song birds, snakes and various other critters. During hunting season, the deer congregate in our woods. It is a place of refuge. It is a place I appreciate, an environment akin to my sensibilities. But eventually the congestion, the crowds, the traffic, and the weather, became too much to bear and we escaped north in pursuit of a simpler life.

Simple remains out of reach, however, while tethered to the property. Indeed, it became glaringly apparent after living there that the things we own eventually come to own us. This is a bit of wisdom I came late to realize. I am still owned by too many things and, like a snake, have been attempting to shed the skin of my slavery for some time.

I cannot explain properly how I came to this place. The metaphor of a slippery slope comes to mind, but I attempt to avoid cliché when possible. In sum, I lost the vision of my aesthetic for life. Regardless, it is an awkward position for a man who grew up chanting Thoreau’s admonition to “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” It is not too late (yet) to rectify. I have time, but not forever.


Thanks for reading.

Flowing downstream.

In Popular Culture on August 8, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Those were days.

There was a saying in my youth: Turn on, tune in, drop out. We can thank Timothy Leary for that. He intoned it to a crowd of hippies in San Francisco in 1967. (He borrowed it from Marshal McLuhan.) Regardless, I am close to giving myself up to the sentiment. To comment beyond that is to swim against the stream in which I wish to be swept away.

The mystery of the star-nosed moles.

In Nature on August 7, 2012 at 6:00 am

Behold, the star-nosed mole

I found a star-nosed mole this morning. Dead. There was no sign of trauma, no puncture wound. I held it by the tail and checked, thinking that perhaps it had been snatched over the night by an owl then left behind for some reason. Lucy, ever curious, wanted to see and I lowered it to her nose and she smelled it diligently. I found an open place on the trail and left it behind in full sight, hoping that something or other would come along and make a meal of it. I don’t much like the thought of it going to waste. Last summer, at about this same spot, a red-tailed hawk perched on an old snag overhead. The hawk’s nest was a hundred yards or so away in the woods, and it came to this field to hunt. It got so that he would watch us pass under, giving us the stink-eye, un-phased, morning after morning. But I have not seen him this year. He would not have let this mole go.

Oddly, two months ago (May 27, according my notes), on this same stretch, the north side which butts up against a cat-tailed bog, I found another dead star-nosed mole. Again, I examined it and found no evidence of violence. That mole was overall smaller than this one and not as plump. The star-nosed mole has a snout consisting of twenty-two little pink tentacles. They are probably prey-sensing devices, but no one seems to be certain. Regardless, the little creature is an odd-looking thing, like something they might now discover on Mars, only with less intelligence. The snout appears to me like gin-blossom gone haywire, as if Uncle Theo’s nose had got too soaked and exploded as he lit his cigar.

A month or so ago I found a short-tailed shrew paddling for its life in a swimming pool. It had been swimming I don’t know how long, but long enough. Every few seconds its little brown head dipped below the surface and I knew it was not going to last. I grabbed its tail and rescued it. I put it stretched out on my palm where the tiny weight of its body relaxed into the flesh of my hand. I lowered my arm to show my granddaughter and the sudden movement aroused the creature such that it clamped onto my finger. I let out a pinched yelp and inverted my hand hoping it would release and fall. But no. It held fast. My granddaughter, alarmed, eyes wide, stared mutely. She will doubtless never touch such a creature.

I recall reading of a naturalist who, while watching a flock of starlings, observed an individual in mid-flight clutch and fall to the ground like a rock. Dead on the wing. Perhaps that is what has happened to my little star-nosed moles, heart attacks, though I am by nature suspicious of coincidence. It remains a mystery.

Unrelated (?) Miscellany.

In Curiosity, Death, Life, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas on August 6, 2012 at 6:00 am

The elegance of binary.

Biology is binary. Yes or no. In-between does not exist. We are here or we’re not; alive or dead; breathing or suffocating. I am reminded of a post I put up a year or so ago (and too lazy to go find), whereby I said that every decision can be made by answering the question: Do I stay or do I go? Do I stay in this job, or do I quit? Do I remain with this person or do I leave? Should I complete this book, or shelve it? Do I keep writing the blog, or do I walk away?

I see the world, now more so than ever, as binary. Why would this be? Is it a function of getting older–I am alive now, but someday I will not be–or is it the increasing evidence of science? (Free will as a function of biology, yes or no.) I exist, rapt in data stream of zeros and ones.

* * *

Ten questions as prompt to starting a new life.

  1. What did you love as a kid?
  2. How many “things” do you really need?
  3. You’ve got ten minutes to pack a bag for surprise extended trip. What do you take? Why?
  4. Are you a beach, mountain, desert, woods or city person?
  5. Would you dye your hair green? (Or, put another way: How strong is your self-confidence?)
  6. Name three famous people you admired growing up.
  7. Your house is on fire. What do you pick up as you rush out?
  8. Rate your sense of adventure on a scale of one to ten, one being beach with chair, ten being Everest.
  9. Name three famous people you admire now.
  10. Do you have enough money? (The answer is yes, no matter.)

* * *

For anyone with a modicum of introspection, there is no escape from the specter of eternity. I am reminded of this when reading a unattributed quote: “I write so I won’t be dead before I die.”

* * *

I’m not sure where any of this came from. I can only attribute it to the pressure of a deadline. When you wake up wondering what you will write about for the next day, your hours are spent in a scramble of desperation.