Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

Demands of the Gull

In Nature on April 2, 2013 at 6:00 am
Gluttony by Jamie Wyeth

Gluttony by Jamie Wyeth

I was accosted while walking home from Flat Bread Pizza last night. The culprit was a three-pound herring gull intent on seeing what was in the left-over box. Slyly, I tore off a piece of crust and knelt down. I extended my arm, crust offered. The bird approached. I studied the beast as it cautiously waddled toward me. It’s breast was white, and broad, and the color of fresh dry snow, beautiful and reflective. I noticed for the first time how the nostrils of a gull are etched into its yellow-ivory beak, how delicate its knees, and the fine webbing of its feet.

The approaching bird turned its head side to side, back and forth, keeping one eye on me the other over the shoulder, scanning for danger. Each pausing step was accompanied by half a dozen head rotations. The eye was marble-like, reflective, and I noticed for the first time how the lid was rimmed in red, etched crimson against pristine feathers. Penetrating and unblinking. Beautiful. Then it tilted forward and looked at me, square, eye to level eye. The bird was perhaps two feet from my extended hand. Look at me, the gull demanded. Look into my eye. Do you see me now? You see me everyday, but you do not really see me. Look at me. Look!

She was a good teacher and I gave her amble crust offerings.

Snow Under Boot

In Nature, Philosophy, Writers on March 18, 2013 at 6:00 am
The Maine Woods

The Maine Woods

We still have snow here in places, especially in the north, and certainly in the woods where the pine-tree canopy  shades the forest floor. I took a little hike yesterday and there is nothing like a crunching late-season snow, blue-bird sky, and scent of pine to fine-tune a person.

Not a lot came of this fine-tuning and maybe that is the best result of all. Maybe a walk in the woods should remain largely and exactly that: a walk in the woods. As Thoreau relates in his essay, Walking, “When a traveller asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered, ‘Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.'”

In anther essay–to me, his most important, Life Without Principal–Thoreau writes:

“If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.”

Two paragraphs above this passage, the sage of Walden, invites us to “consider the way in which we spend our lives.”

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Library of America, Thoreau

I brought my copy of Thoreau to my desk this afternoon because I wanted to say something about activism to perhaps refute my comment of last week, “We have mostly rolled over.” I wanted to suggest that perhaps we have not, indeed, rolled over, now that I think more on it. I brought Henry David with me because he usually has guidance when I most need it. I was certain he would point the way in his essay Civil Disobedience. But I never made it there, lost instead in my reverie of a walk in the woods.

And as you can see, I found his guidance, just not the guidance I expected. He would approve, nonetheless, I think.

Sunday Repost: Out of Ambivalence

In Nature, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas on March 17, 2013 at 6:00 am
Morning, Moosehead

Morning, Moosehead

Two weeks ago [original post, June 2010], 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 studied the silhouetted 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 this experience 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. Indeed, 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.

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.

Once upon an oven bird.

In Life, Nature, The Examined Life, Writing on July 13, 2012 at 6:00 am

The wood thrush.

Some days are better than others. I’ve had a run of less-better days recently and this morning I woke up at 3:30 to give this situation further consideration. I came to no conclusion. Getting up mid-morning in contemplation of troubles and distractions sets the course for the day. Surely it will be another day of troubles and distractions. And so it goes.

For me, the best remedy is to get outdoors. The American thinker and scientist Jared Diamond speculates that perhaps the worst fate to befall Homo sapiens was the transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer. His theory hinges on what followed–land accumulation, individual wealth, social status. Everything changed, and not entirely for the good. It is not a stretch to consider that likewise came a transition to sleeping indoors. Although I don’t believe Diamond considers waking up under roof in the same context, it is obvious to me that getting to open sky as soon as possible upon waking is key to a clear head. It is, I believe, how we are wired. Troubles become trapped in four walls that  are blow afar in open air.

Thursday is nature-walk day at the local Audubon center. For two hours every Thursday morning one can stroll with a naturalist and spend time breathing fresh air. We start at 7:00 am. Getting there on time is not an issue if you’re awake at three-thirty.

This morning we identified twenty-four bird species. We also identified a handful of wild flowers. I don’t know anything about wildflowers, so I took some notes, snapped some photos, and will attempt to impress that information on my struggling gray matter. This time of year most birding is done by ear. I’ve spent considerable time attempting to learn bird song. A simple mnemonic device sometimes helps. For instance, the red-eyed Vireo has a call that can be remembered as: Here I am, where are you? Look up here. At the top. The little oven bird screams, teacher, teacher, teacher.  You don’t need a  trick to remember the call of the wood thrush. It is one of the most beautiful sounds in nature. Of the wood thrush’s song, Thoreau wrote,

“Whenever a man hears it he is young, and Nature is in her spring; wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of Heaven are not shut against him.”

The call of the loon is another sound that is deeply evocative. There are things left best unsaid, and the call of the loon does not translate to the nasty roughness of the written word. That is the matter of poetry, of which the loon is master.

And of my troubles and distractions with which my day began? …What trouble? What distraction?