Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘nature writing’

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.


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.

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.

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.