Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Transient Gleams

November 7, 2010
Moreau Lake State Park

Tell me precisely
the value and significance of these transient gleams
which come sometimes at the end of the day…
Too late to be of any service
to the works of man for the day …
Is this not a language
to be heard and understood?
HDT Journal, Oct 28, 1857

Due to my work schedule, I don’t get to go out walking much in the late afternoons. Like the morning, the later part of a day has its own charms.
Last night, we turned the clocks back one hour, ending Daylight Savings Time.
The days themselves have been naturally getting shorter, and now, it’s a sort of shock to see the sun sinking down around 4 p.m. (Even earlier if you live in the shadow of a mountain.) Gone are those midsummer walks after supper, in a twilight that lasts till 9 p.m.!

Even though the planets continue on their regular schedule, the weather itself is more fickle. It’s still pretty warm for this time of year. After a morning walk, I still hadn’t gotten enough of being outside, and headed down to Moreau Lake.

First for a long walk around Mud Pond.

I guess someone else had the same idea...

As the sun began to sink toward the long mountain ridge, I headed back to the Lake section of the park. 

In a quiet side cove, I watched the colors of the last autumn leaves reflected in the water.
The Artist used several different mediums –


And of course, watercolors!

This hillside on the right is known as Fernwood, and there was a large mansion here a hundred years ago. It must have been a lovely place to sit and watch the sun set. Come to think of it,
it still is.

A pair of buffleheads came cruising in from the lake at low altitude, flashing black and white. Instead of landing in the cove, they apparently changed their minds, perhaps seeing me standing on the shoreline.
Without slowing their pace, they did a sharp turn together, flashing past golden treetops, and me, on their way back out to the open water.

As the shadows in the cove grew longer and joined fingers, I headed back toward the Lake.

Any moment now, the sun would sink below the mountain’s crest.

It was then I saw a sort of glow in the air.
It was just around the corner … that transient gleam!
In a few moments it was gone.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rare and Common Delights

November 3, 2010
South Glens Falls, NY

It was late in the morning on a midweek day, and there wasn’t much time for a walk.
The Betar Path runs along the Hudson River, not far from the village’s main street, and it had been a while since I was there. The path is maybe a mile from end to end, so if I didn’t linger too long, there would be time enough for that. It’s not wilderness by any means, but one can always see something interesting there.

You may remember from a past blog 
that this is where I first saw a white squirrel.
He’s a part of the local folklore, well known to those who live nearby.
There seems to be more than one of these leucistic squirrels along this trail, but despite their startling lack of camoflage, you can go a long time between sightings. It’s been six months since have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of "Luke."
There’s lot of undergrowth here, and plenty of places to hide.

On this November morning, I sulked, thinking that things looked pretty dull, compared to the colorful flowers and interesting insects that abound here in the summer.
After walking for a while, it became clear that things were not dull, just different.
And there was color there, too, just in different places.

With a lot of the foliage gone, one could see the bluebird, as well as hear him.

The grey squirrels were a lot more visible, and they were busy foraging for acorns.

Despite all this, I walked along the trail, scuffling my feet in the leaves, ungratefully thinking, 
“Sure would make my day to see the white squirrel !”

And there he was !

Shinnying up one tree, taking a leap into another.  

Pausing to rummage around in the bittersweet clusters.

The squirrel was only about 20 feet away from the trail. I stopped dead in the middle of the path, and got the camera ready.

Ah, this made my walk worth-while! I thought smugly. Something rare indeed, MUCH more interesting than faded trees and dead leaves.

Then I heard voices approaching, and saw a woman coming down the trail with her young son and a little dog.
In vain I tried to quickly get more photos of the squirrel, frustrated by the many layers of vines that fooled the camera’s focus.

Too late, they were upon me !

Thankfully, the squirrel seemed too preoccupied to notice.

The woman stopped about twenty feet from me, and reined in the dog. The little boy, however, came toddling right over to where I stood.
“Whatcha lookin’ at?” he said in a child’s piercing voice.
“Shhh…” I motioned up to the tree, and spoke in a stage-whisper. “There’s a white squirrel up there, let’s watch him. Do you see him?”
“ Umm…. Yeah, I do !”
Without thinking, right there on the pavement, I sank down into a squat, to get a better angle on the squirrel.
The little boy squatted down next to me, as natural as could be. He looked over at me with a conspiratorial smile.

This scene must have looked pretty funny to his mother, who said, “O-wen, come on back. Leave the lady alone.”
Instead, for a few minutes more, O-wen and I sat hunkered down together, silently watching the squirrel as it moved gracefully through the trees.
(In that respect, this little boy showed amazing patience for a person his age.)
We lost sight of the squirrel as it moved off into the thick undergrowth.
Time to stand up.

“How are you today?” said Owen, sticking out his little hand. 
I shook it, and he abruptly said, “What’s your name?”
“Sue. What’s yours?”
He playfully struck a pose, put his hand on his head and said: “I’m a SPIDER !”
And he laughed at his own little joke.
I glanced over at his mom, who was as puzzled as I was by this exchange. Her look said, “What do you expect from a 6-year-old?”
Out loud, she said, “Come on, Owen, it’s time to head back.”

Suddenly he wanted to show me what HE found today.
“Look!” he said, searching pockets desperately, and pulling out: two acorn caps.
One in each hand.
He dangled these treasures before me as if they were made of gold, and I made sure to marvel at them.
Then they went back in the pocket, and he trotted away to join his mom, as they turned back the way they came. 

It wasn’t until today that I realized, 
that, to him,
seeing a white squirrel and finding an acorn cap were exactly the same thing.
The one was not more valuable to him than the other.

May I, too, never lose my sense of delight in something as simple as an acorn cap.

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” 
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature 1836

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Old Familiar Walk

November 1, 2010
Betar Path, South Glens Falls

And yet
there is no more tempting novelty 
than this new November. 
No going to Europe or another world is to be named with it.
Give me the old familiar walk, post-office and all, 
with this ever new self, 
with this infinite expectation and faith, 
which does not know when it is beaten.

We'll go nutting once more. 
We'll pluck the nut of the world, and crack it in the winter evenings.
Theatres and all other sightseeing are puppet-shows in comparison.
I will take another walk to the Cliff, 
another row on the river, 
another skate on the meadow, 
be out in the first snow, 
and associate with the winter birds.

Here I am at home. 
In the bare and bleached crust of the earth
I recognize my friend.
HDT Journal,  November 1, 1858

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Beyond the Earth

October 31, 2010
No-Name Swamp

It is in vain to dream of a wildness
distant from ourselves.
There is none such.
It is the bog in our brain and bowels,
the primitive vigor of Nature in us,
that inspires that dream.
This and all quotes today are from Thoreau’s Journal
of August 30, 1856,
  as he recalls a walk at Gowing’s Swamp
in Concord, Massachusetts

Jackie and I wanted to meet today to take a walk, somewhere, and it was Halloween. Could we pick a place suitable to the occasion? I suggested the bog we visited back in the hot days of July, and that there were tamaracks there. Unique among conifers in this area, they are not evergreen, but their needles die and fall in late autumn. They should be turning now -- there wasn’t much time left to see them.
So today we returned to that swamp. It’s just a six-mile drive up the road; you park the car and walk about 200 feet – and enter another world !

Consider how remote and novel that swamp.
Beneath it is a quaking-bed of sphagnum, and in it grow Andromeda polifolia, Kalmia glauca, Menyanthes, Gaylussacia dumosa, Vaccinium oxycoccus, plants which scarcely a citizen of Concord ever sees.
It would be as novel to them to stand there as in a conservatory, or in Greenland.

As you first step in, the ground gives  - gravity is different here.
It's even not ground anymore - you are beyond the earth.
You walk upon a floating moss carpet of unknown thickness; beneath that - who knows how much water?

In July, everything was green and lush.
Today – every plant had changed color. It was truly a Halloween landscape:
With orange trees

Ghostly growths

Spooky spider-webs

And creepy branches

Though I do think the tamaracks are beautiful. These trees are thin and spindly, but if you look closer, you can sense their exuberance.

Then, suddenly, the season changed – a brisk north wind off the lake brought a low, pale cloud overhead – all at once, it was snowing.

Little pellets of snow were hurled down in handfuls – I burst out laughing as they hit me on the head. Looking back, I saw Jackie laughing, too. Now we were in Greenland!

As suddenly as it began, the snow-pellet shower ended. The clouds parted, and the sun shone weakly, just enough to light up the tall cottongrass.

We walked over to the edge of the bog, near the brook channel. The moss layer is thinner there, and each careful step we took made suction-cup noises.

Time, meanwhile, had inexplicably moved on to the Christmas season - everything now looked red and green:

Spruces all spruced-up

Bog Rosemary – Thoreau’s beloved andromeda 

Leatherleaf (also named andromeda in Thoreau's day) had turned scarlet, and was everywhere.

Pitcher-plants reclined on maroon moss beds

And like jewels, hidden here and there, single plump cranberries dangled at the ends of  impossibly-thin stems. Thoreau suggested they be called “swamp pearls.”
I tasted one.

Better it is to go a-cranberrying than to go a-huckleberrying.
For it is cold and bracing,
leading your thoughts beyond the earth …
It feeds your spirit,
now in the season of white twilights,
when frosts are apprehended,
when edible berries are almost gone.

Let not your life be wholly without an object,
though it be only to ascertain the flavor of a cranberry, 
for it will not be only the quality of an insignificant berry
that you will have tasted,
but the flavor of your life to that extent,
and it will be such a sauce as no wealth can buy.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Indian-Summer Serenity

October 29, 2010
Pine View Cemetery

When the leaves fall, the whole earth is a cemetery
pleasant to walk in.
HDT, Autumn Leaves

It seemed like unseasonably warm weather would last through the entire month of October, until last week. Then on one cloudy cold day, for a few moments, a brief flurry of snow-pellets came drifting down from the sky. After a few frosty mornings, the warm weather returned. In this unusually warm year, this may be the closest we come to an Indian Summer. Today, I walk in short-sleeves -- no coat, no hat.

Nearby is a cemetery with many great pines and spreading sugar-maples.
It’s especially beautiful at this time of year.

I went walking there the other day, just as an October fog was fading in the face of the morning sun. 
Just visiting ! 
Though literally, I don't know a soul in the place.

It’s interesting to see how people honor those who have passed on.

Some are somber memorials.

Others, lighthearted –- going back to happy times

Everywhere are symbols -- Christian - pre-Christian - and older still

And combinations thereof that can make you smile  
(Jesus with unidentified Apostle)

Some graves are monument-al

Some are simple

Some just break your heart to see them

There are parents

And children

Soldiers and peace-makers

Gone, all gone

But cemeteries are not only for the dead – they are a comfort to the living

A place to mourn and to celebrate –
A way to express our feelings
for those we hope to see again.

Again from Autumn Leaves:

How pleasant it is to walk over the beds
of these fresh, crisp and rustling leaves.
How beautifully they go to their graves !

They that soared so loftily,
how contentedly they return to dust again, and are laid low,
resigned to lie and decay at the foot of the tree,
and afford nourishment to new generations of their kinds,
as well as to flutter on high!

They teach us how to die.

One wonders if the time will ever come
when men, with their boasted faith in immortality,
will lie down as gracefully and as ripe, -
with such an Indian-summer serenity
will shed their bodies