Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Moosehead Lake’

Let us consider…

In Adventure, Books, Life, The Examined Life, Wisdom on July 30, 2012 at 6:00 am

Mt. Keneo, Moosehead Lake, Maine

There is much to share with you. It’s been a two week vacation and a universe can collapse in less time.

Yet, I worry that perhaps I’ve exposed too much already. I came to think on this during my time away.

I took a few days, after family visits and guests, to go into the woods alone. Upon hearing this a friend mentioned to Carole that “he just wants to get away from everybody, doesn’t he?” The week before, in jest, I mentioned a long-term project I was considering whereby I would go into the north woods and live in a cabin–or camp, as they’re called here in Maine–for a year. I envision a coming-of-middle age sort of experience. Carole’s response was supportive: “There’s no reason you can’t. I’ll come visit you.” (It is not lost on me that my absence might be just the ticket for her.) I mentioned it to a friend as a possible book subject. His response was, “Why write a book? Just go do it.”

I am not a misanthrope. I like people. One of my few skills is my ability to get along with them well. But most of the time I’d rather not. I don’t avoid people–but much of the time I’d rather be without. In reality, I don’t think I’m too different from many people. I suspect being an only child made my stamp a little deeper. I’ll take a comfortable chair and a book over a party, a fire in the woods rather than a reunion any time.

Part of this conundrum, for that is what it is, a conundrum, involves my blog. I enjoy this form of communication a great deal. And from the bits and pieces I can put together, I am under the impression that many of you, my reader-friends, enjoy reading my missives. Yet there is toil involved, and eventually our natural inclination to avoid toil must be considered. Too, there is the pressing business of how much one reveals and invests in a forum such as this, particularly if disappearing into the woods is on your mind.

One of the activities I enjoyed during my absence from “…the house…” was hiking up Mt. Keneo in Moosehead Lake. Keneo tops out at almost eighteen hundred feet. The trail starts at the elevation of the lake, about a thousand feet above sea level. It is a mile and short change to the top. An eight-hundred foot vertical climb in a mile or so, is a good workout. It gets the blood going. I like that. The physical appeals to me. It was also appealing that one hundred and fifty-five years–and two days–previously, Henry David Thoreau made the same climb. That night when I returned to camp, after I’d filled my belly, after Lucy had turned in (on the trail, when she’s ready for bed, she stands in front of the tent), I opened Thoreau’s essay, Life Without Principle. My eyes fell to an underscored sentence, a note I’d made in a previous reading: “Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives.”

That, friends, is the mission at hand.

Let’s go do something.

In Adventure, Happiness, Life, Nature, The Examined Life on July 16, 2012 at 6:00 am

Cabin fever strikes.

Please excuse my brevity. My quickening pulse. It’s the time of year.

It is the season of cabin fever. I’m burning to move. It doesn’t take much, moving being one of the few things I do well. Sitting still is always difficult for me, and when good weather strikes, watch out. Life affords us but a finite number of seasons. My number, whatever it is, remains one less than last year. Going forward the number diminishes. That alone is pressure enough. I have time, but I don’t have forever.

Consequently, sitting at my desk is not something I embrace this time of year. In the winter, snow falling, temps low, the study is cozy and inviting. Ideas are easy pickings. But now I have a map of the Moosehead region at my elbow. “I need to go to Moosehead every afternoon and camp out every night,” wrote Thoreau. How can I concentrate when my attention is so severely listing?

I report this in the hope that you will understand my lack of focus, grant me my distractions. (See below.)

Yvon Chouainard has a book titled, Let My People Go Surfing. I’m not a surfer, but I concur. Let my people go do something!


I need some vacation, got to get out of “…the house…”. I trust you understand. It may be a week. It may be two. I’ll get back to you soon enough.

Thanks for reading. Now go do something!


In Dogs, Memoir, Writing on June 5, 2012 at 6:00 am


Tim and I got the dogs up early yesterday. We had an 8:00 am bird walk scheduled, but dogs come first.

Tim’s dog, Tanks, is a big and burley pit mix. Lucy is a little terrier mix. Both dogs enjoy the outdoors and giving them a chance to stretch out across a field fills all, human and canine, with joy. There is much about watching a dog run for pleasure that is deeply satisfying.

Lucy is a rescue dog and last summer was our maiden outdoor season. The first adventure found us paddling Moosehead Lake. As we beached the canoe the first evening, Lucy jumped over the gunnel and sprinted into the woods. I didn’t know her well then and did not know what would be her response to unbounded territory. I could hear her running the perimeter of the camp. She returned to my call, but I was concerned that she might bolt if a scent or pursuit triggered her interest. The north woods is a good place to get a person lost. A dog lost is likely good and gone lost. In his beautiful little book, The Survival of the Bark Canoe, John McPhee writes of this area:

“Between Rockwood, Maine (about halfway up Moosehead Lake), and Allagash, Maine (at the confluence of the Allagash and St. John Rivers), there is an area of about five thousand square miles in which is neither a paved nor a public road. What few roads there are “north of the Moosehead” have dirt and gravel surfaces and are travelled by the public, at the public’s risk, courtesy of the paper companies that own the land….most of Maine is in the north woods, reaching embarrassingly far into Canada.”

After that trip I took to putting a harness on her with two small cat bells, the better to track her.

Maggie, the dog before Lucy, was a bird dog and she too loved to explore. She was driven by her nose, but when she got excited she would stop and grow to stone, usually lifting her front paw and leaning into it, the classic bird-dog pose. Lucy does not have the DNA for that and instead rushes lurching into the undergrowth in the apparent hope that whatever is in there will jump out so she can kill it. She is the first terrier of my life and I am studying the breed.

I used to meditate at the edge of the woods. I had a stump for a stool, placed under a hemlock, and sat facing a field. Maggie would join me, sitting on her haunches, also facing the field. We would sit like that, together, unflinching, for half an hour. One evening, as sun was setting, a deer emerged from the woods and proceeded in the open toward us. I sat unmoving. Maggie sat unmoving, though I could discern the twitch of sudden tension in her shoulders. The deer foraged, looked around, chewing, then advanced. In ten minutes–a test of Maggie’s discipline–it stood perhaps thirty yards before us. Maggie was a quivering, but stoney, sculpture. From the corner of my eye I saw her study the deer, yet she waited my direction. Finally, under my breath, I released her– “Go.” It was perhaps not the most meditative response to nature, but Maggie had earned a reward. The deer leapt vertical and bounded away, its white tail flashing as if an obscenity. Maggie did not get close, even though she was a sprinter.

I miss Maggie and still mourn her. But I love Lucy to the point where she sleeps on our bed at our feet. We’ve never allowed that of our dog and I think it portends a new chapter in our blended life, human and dog.

Out of Ambivalence

In Nature on July 17, 2011 at 9:48 am

I swam the Peaks to Portland yesterday. At 55 I was encouraged that the race was won by a 47 year-old, James Yeomans of Bethlehem, Pa. I understand that when he finished–43 and half minutes after entering the frigid water–a roar went up in the crowd. It was the first time in years that a twenty-something year-old didn’t win, an encouraging sign for the (more) mature Mainers and visitors on the beach.  (I finished in an hour and six minutes, better than I anticipated, and smack in the middle of my demographic spectrum, 50-59 year olds.)

What I find remarkable about this event is what awaits the emerging swimmers: a beach-full of screaming, encouraging, cheering, shouting and yelping fellow community members, family and friends. This year, experiencing it for the first time from the water-side, it felt as if all of northern New England had turned out to support the intrepid swimmers. I’ve competed in road races, triathlons and sporting events all my life. I have never experienced anything quite like the crowd at the Peaks to Portland. Community is alive and well in Portland, Maine.

On the other end of the experience register: Two weeks ago, 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 then studied the 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 these experiences–the swim across the bay, the remote waterway–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. 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.

“I need to go to Moosehead every afternoon, & camp out every night.” ~ HDT

In Memoir, Nature on June 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm

The phrase “cabin fever” was first coined in 1918, assuming one does not count the actual illness called cabin fever. That malady, a sickness related to eating watery potatoes in bad weather, can be traced back to Ireland in the early 1800s. No, I am referring to the cabin fever to which some of us succumb after a winter cooped up and hibernating. That cabin fever is manifested as an itching to radically change venue, or, to a lesser degree, a hankering to get out of the house or perhaps out of the town, to a park, for example. In severe cases one wishes to be removed from civilization altogether. When experienced in this fashion, a person will become disagreeable at the least, at worst miserable and misanthropic. I get this illness every spring like clockwork and I usually head it off before it blossoms out of control. No longer.

I write this after a couple of days of prophylactic treatment against this annual threat.

It is pushing the season to go camping in Maine in early June. If fortunate, one experiences a reward reserved for the hearty: crisp, cold even, evenings and mornings, crystalline days. If fortune does not shine on the intrepid camper, wind, rain, sleet, even snow will be the punishment. We were out only two nights, but we garnered favored rewards.

The problem is, like so many positive life experiences, one desires more. In my case, attempting to quell cabin fever only exacerbates the problem. A couple of good days on the trail, makes me yearn for a week or so of similar good days. It’s a slippery slope, for one such as myself. I spent a lot of my youth in the woods and on the mountainsides. Now, fully domesticated and past the prime of my physical existence (as painfully true as that is to write), I quietly nurture the germ of my youthful planting. That is to say, with the advent of spring, I leap with full abandon, into the chasm of irrational cabin-fever induced behavior.

There was a summer many years ago, where I lived out of a backpack, or in a canoe. I was at summer camp in upper Michigan, and returning from one outdoor adventure, geared up immediately the next day for another. Coming and going, into the woods, back to camp to resupply, and back into the woods. Another summer I went west and into the mountains and didn’t return for months, spending weeks above tree line.

Thus it is, I sit here with a map of Moosehead Lake in front of me and a copy of Thoreau’s The Maine Woods in my hand. I have outlined on the map his trip from Greenville to Northeast Cove at the north end of Maine’s largest lake. I have convinced my long-suffering wife to let me go out to play by myself, that a solo canoe trip into the vastness of what Thoreau called “the wildest country,” is in order. She has always been supportive. I suspect, however, that what is really at work here is her wish to be rid of me for a while. This annual fever business is messy and disagreeable and simply giving way to it probably makes the most sense.

Lastly, as we drove home this week, I shared with her the reality of my existence: I have, at best, barring the unforeseen, maybe twenty more fever seasons. After that, I suspect I will have learned how to cope with it accordingly. But until then, I count them down and truth be told, encourage them. I nurture the cabin fever through the spring and usher it into the sun with the care and tenderness it deserves. It is a calling, a distant barking dog across the water of a remote pond in an awakening wood. I paddle my canoe toward it.

The Wisdom of Thoreau

In Philosophy, The Examined Life, Thinkers, Wisdom, Writers on February 14, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I’m a member of The Thoreau Society. The stated mission reads: “The Thoreau Society exists to stimulate interest in and foster education about Thoreau’s life, works, legacy and his place in his world and in ours, challenging all to live a deliberate, considered life.” The Society came to my attention many years ago when I discovered that a college English professor, Paul Williams, was the then president. Even then Thoreau had settled on me exerting a major influence on my thinking and my life.

I just received the Society quarterly bulletin which includes an article by Thoreau scholar, Wayne Thomas entitled, “Thoreau’s Seven Principals for Living Deliberately.” To summarize the seven principles (the quotes are Mr. Thomas’ unless otherwise noted):

1.) Be true to yourself. “As America became a production economy in the 1800s and as Americans became wealthier, Thoreau was one of the first to identify societal pressure to conform. He insisted on thinking for himself…”

2.) Network to grow and thrive. “Thoreau had good networking skills. Friends introduced him to a panoply of high-profile personalities of the time including Longfellow, Emerson, Margaret Fuller…”

3.) Life is short, so enjoy it by living simply to stay free. “To live simply, Thoreau identified the things that are ‘necessary to life.’ He would not, he said become a tool of his tools. Key strategies of thrift and simplicity kept him debt free and thus never allowed work to enslave him.

4.) Become self-reliant: do it yourself.

5.) Adapt to changes in life by continually learning and trying new ideas. Thoreau wrote: “I am a Schoolmaster–a Private Tutor, a Surveyor–a Gardener, a Farmer–a Painter, I mean House Painter, a Carpenter, a Mason, a Day-Laborer, a Pencil-Maker, a Glass-paper Maker, a Writer, and sometimes a Poetaster.”

6.) Take advantage of the conveniences and opportunities of the age. “It is a myth that Thoreau hated technology….He would have loved the capability of the internet to bring him the cultural riches of the world, but likely would never have wasted his time surfing the net, texting, or checking his email every five minutes.”

7.) Work deliberately. “The work choices and constraints for those who desire to live deliberately are largely a function of one’s choices about consumption. The more debt accrued by acquiring possessions, the less freedom to do what you’d rather be doing.” Said Thoreau: “I make my own time. I make my own terms.”


On a related note, spread out on my desk is a map of Moosehead Lake and the Great North Woods. Thoreau made three trips to the Maine wilderness. This summer I intend to start tracking him.