Doug Bruns

Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

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.

By the Wilson Stream.

In Adventure, Life, Nature, The Examined Life, Writing on September 18, 2012 at 6:00 am

Against the night.

I camped along Wilson Stream last week, not far from Toby Falls–four nights in my sleeping bag, crawling out of my tent in the morning, welcomed by crisp fall air and the scent of pine. By Saturday night the weather had turned from cool to cold and I woke in the dark of my tent and searched for my tee shirt. I had my summer bag, rated to forty degrees. It is no longer summer in Maine and the summer bag will be stowed and replaced with my fall-winter bag, rated to zero less eighteen. At one point, deep in the night, I exited the tent and studied the night sky. The northern night sky, void of light pollution and reflecting a black ice clarity, always makes my heart sing. The big dipper hung overhead and from the ladle I traced the line to the north star, steady in the sky. There is a short period, three minutes or so, after crawling from a sleeping bag, where the warmth of sleep clings to a body, insulating against the elements. But, like so many protections, this too is brief and temporary, and a scramble back into the bag follows without delay.

I slept next to moving water and there is hardly a thing better than going to sleep under the north star on the bank of a lively stream.

I am not sorry to see summer go. Fall is my favorite season and now I’m steeling myself for cozy nights and short days and plentiful reading and thinking and earnest study.

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I relish evening fires with new friends, faces in dancing orange and amber, curtain of night descended. I find great comfort in a community fire ring. There is warmth and protection and sturdy friendship constructed there. It is deep in our brains a friend said, this satisfaction. Yes, I agreed. One hundred and fifty thousand years ago my ancesters and your ancesters and all our long-forgotten families sat by the fire as protection against the unknowns of night, finding comfort in one another. That is but one reason to seek out the wild. It feeds an ancient longing that cannot be defined; but if one is still and is patient this ancient thing might speak to you.

No Boxed Thinking.

In Adventure, Life, Nature on September 2, 2012 at 6:00 am

Blue Lobster, photo by Mike Billings, Portland Press Herald, 8/31/2012

The morning paper carried the story of a blue lobster caught by a blue lobster boat on the evening of a blue moon. The lobster–transported in the photo above by sternman Mike Billings–will presumably live, a curiosity ensconced in a saltwater aquarium in Bangor.

Blue moon is the term for a second monthly full moon. (The full explanation is more complicated, but we will settle for simplicity.) No one seems certain why it’s called a blue moon. It does not appear blue. There is a blue moon every two and half to three years–more than once in a blue moon, it seems.

I observed the almost-full soon-to-be-blue moon rise from camp this week. I was sitting at the fire, pondering the tendrils of sparks launched into the gloaming, and it rose from the northeast, over my shoulder, and illuminated our campsite. It rose simply and singularly for us alone and we where selfishly delighted. I watched Virgo rise from the west and knew that libra was waiting patiently below the horizon. I don’t know much about the night sky and remain in a state of ignorant awe when enjoying it.

We camped on a bluff about twenty feet above the Cupsuptic River in Rangeley. It’s a small river at this spot, easy to wade across, and produces a soothing melody by which to fall asleep, or to be enchanted. The name “Cupsuptic” derives from the Abenaki language (the Abenakis where a tribe of original Mainers), meaning “a closed-up stream.”

Next week I journey west to hike a stretch of the Colorado Trail with son Tim. The CT stretches five hundred miles from Denver to Durango. I’m going to bite off just a small portion and will chew throughly.

A Facebook posting recently caught my attention. It was a photograph of a tent glowing from an inner light, against an indigo backdrop of  water and rock and mountain. The text read: Think Outside. No box required. I like that. It would make for a good tattoo.

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Have a good week, friends. Thanks for reading.

Acoustic Living

In Life, Nature, Technology on August 27, 2012 at 6:00 am

Cupsuptic River, Rangeley, Maine

We are camping next week in Rangeley. In a state with an abundance of outdoor venues, Maine makes my head spin. Rangeley, one of the state’s most popular regions, is nestled to the northwest, in the corrugated topography of the Appalachian plateau. I don’t know Rangeley very well, having only passed through a few times. So, in an effort to expand my experience (a discipline I recommend, expanding one’s experience), Rangeley it is.

I contacted a campground on Cupsuptic Lake and made arrangements for a site. Unlike many of the western states, Maine does not have vast regions of public land. One can go Ninja camping–find a spot and pitch a tent–but most likely you will be poaching on someone’s property–land owned by a lumber company or a public trust. I Ninja camp occasionally, particularly if I’m just knocking around the woods; but usually I stay in a campground.

This campground maintains about three dozen sites on the lake, assembled cheek by jowl, one abutting the next. That’s not my style. Instead, I reserved one of the “remote” sites a few miles to the north. Two of the sites are hike-in only, one site is accessible only via four-wheel vehicle, and two or three can be driven to. I went to the map store at Delorme in Freeport and purchased the topographical Kennebago Quadrangle of the area. (Proudly, I am a map nerd.) The remote campsites follow the Cupsuptic River north, dotting the water at intervals of about two miles. One site, called Moocher’s Home, looks particularly inviting. It sits at a twist in the river, about a mile before it spills into the lake.

I find it curious that the campground’s web page claims that “all remote sites have full cell phone service.” They perceive this to be a selling point. Perhaps it is. But not for me. There is an article in today’s Times called, Turn Off the Phone (And the Tension) that speaks to modifying the thirst for the technological. (Admittedly, a personal challenge both desired and illusory, a classic tension.) I’ve written before (read here, or go to my category “technology”) of my longing for a life less digital and more analogue, a life blend I don’t seem capable of achieving. The article quotes an academic of behavioral science who recommends “setting up a kind of screen diet, building in a period each day to go screenless, either by going for a run and leaving your phone at home, or by stashing it in a drawer during dinner or while hanging out with friends.” This sounds like an addict treating his problem by tucking his stash away in a sock drawer, but I guess one has to start somewhere.

Regardless, I am going into the woods untethered–by choice. It will be just a few days. Too, it will provide a warmup for a longer off-line period I’ve scheduled late in October. I’ve blocked off two weeks for what I am calling a “writing retreat.” I’ve rented a cabin Downeast and will go it unplugged, experiencing, if you will, the acoustic version of life. Two weeks is a long time for an addict to go without. It should afford me a clear measure of my problem. My name is Doug and I seek balance.

At Home on Water.

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