Doug Bruns

Archive for 2012|Yearly archive page

At Home on Water.

In Happiness, Life, Nature, Writing on August 23, 2012 at 6:00 am

Herring gull below my balcony.

I live over a slip of water, on the leeward side of a wharf. Weather, good and bad, is driven from the west, so we don’t get it directly, oriented east as we are. The worst weather is saved for the other direction and when we get hit with bad weather it can serious. Once, during a nor’easter two winters ago, Carole and I watched a boat break lose of its mooring and bounce up and down the slip crashing into everything it could possibly crash into. We were having dinner while watching the storm, and when the boat came bucking past I called someone who could address such things. A team of men in a small boat appeared within minutes and set to chase. Eventually, wind blowing, water roiling, they lassoed the craft and towed it back to the dock.

This time of year, however, every day is perfect and every evening is more than perfect, were that possible. We have a lot of gulls here, herring gulls mostly, what a lot of folks would call a sea gull. There is no such thing as a sea gull, properly. Here in Maine we have herring gulls, ring-billed gulls, laughing gulls and the largest of the gulls, the great black-backed gull. The black-back is a bully and is aggressive, a trait that seems ubiquitious in creatures large and ornery. Not just creatures, come to think of it, large countries too. Large countries in particularly, to think of it even more. Anyway, the gulls scream and cavort with sunrise and provide us our morning alarm. Winter is a good time to sleep in. The gulls mostly go on vacation.

We see harbor seals out in the river frequently. They don’t come down our slip, as it’s too busy with water craft. But three or four wharfs up, behind Harbor Fish, there is a seal that frequents at high-tide. The people who work there call him Walter. Walter is a good name for a seal, I think. It seems as if it would a good name for a goat too, but that is beside the point.

I’ve lived here three years and like it very much. But I do miss the woods. Water is particularly nice to have in one’s view. Mountains, though, I think are best to look at. They tend to better trigger the imagination in me. As a young man the sight of mountains always prompted a desire to get into them. Now, I am more content to just enjoy the look of them.

This rummination is my way of saying that place matters, which is something I’ve not always understood. I’ve said it before–that place matters–and everyday I am reminded of time spent that mattered less importantly in places that held less promise. It is best to spend one’s time in places that matter most. Saying such a thing seems to be stating the obvious, but the obvious at times seems less an option than a requirement. That I wish I’d understood earlier.

In praise of wild chicory.

In Adventure, Nature, Writing on August 21, 2012 at 6:00 am


If, at day’s end, I can point to something I learned then I deem it a good day. This is likely my mid-western upbringing at work, an ethic that strives and strives until one is exhausted or mad. They are not mutually exclusive, exhaustion and madness, but keeping both at a healthy distance is good for the spirit. A bit of knowledge gleaned does the trick.

For instance, I identified wild chicory yesterday. I’ve developed a habit of snaging a plant on my morning walk and, upon returning home, identifying it. I lay it out on the kitchen bar like a thing to be dissected, leaves splayed, blossom fading. With the guidebook, New England Wildflowers, as my mentor, I go to work. It’s not hard work and it gives me traction in the physical world. Carole and I went for a stroll this afternoon. She pointed out a pretty little blossom and commented on its delicacy. That’s jewell weed I told her. I was full of myself.

I also learned how to figure declination using my compass and a topographical map. Are you aware that magnetic north is about 800 miles from the geographic north pole and moving? The north magnetic pole has been drifting slowly northward across the Canadian Arctic Islands and is now clocking in at about 15 kilometers a year to the north northwest. I find this fascinating and equally unsettling. One expects some things should sit still.

I was reviewing a topographical map for a portion of the Colorado Trail I will be hiking next month and had to change my compass from 20 degrees west declination to 10 degrees east, such are the offsets for Maine and Colorado. The Colorado Trail stretches five-hundred miles from Denver to Durango. I plan to bite off three days of it with Tim.

A physical thing learned feels different than an intangible thing learned. For the better. One wrestles with an idea. There is no wrestling with jewell weed.

What a man should know.

In Family, Life on August 20, 2012 at 6:00 am

My daughter is getting married in less than two months.

Today is the anniversary of my marriage of thirty-four years. I believe in marriage and am happy for Allison. The journey her mother and I have enjoyed these years has been most excellent.

I will be giving a toast. I am okay with that; indeed, I am honored. I will also be dancing with my daughter, the new bride, in front of everyone. I am less than okay with that. A slow dance, arms draped, feet shuffling, is one thing in high school. But grown ups should know better. I should know better–I should know how to dance. This set me to pondering other things a man should know. I’ve made a short list below.

Ten things a man should know how to do:

  • Tie a bow tie.
  • Drive a stick shift.
  • Make a martini.
  • Build a fire.
  • Laundry.
  • Change a tire.
  • Cook a fancy dinner.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Discuss one important book


  • Dance with his daughter.