Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Goodness and Light

Christmas Eve 2013
Hudson Falls, NY

Due to the times that Thoreau lived in, he doesn't have much to say on the subject of Christmas (although his family did celebrate it.) 
As for myself ... at this time of year, things are so hectic at work, keeping me indoors and busy with other things, that there is hardly a moment to reflect upon the meaning of the Holiday.

It's time to pause... Take a deep breath of cold clear air.

Last year at this time, I shared the lyrics of a Christmas song written in the 1600s.
Our song selection for today was written in … 1962 !
Interestingly enough, it was written in October of that year, when many feared a breakout of war. Sabres of the most evil kind were being rattled, and the world held its breath.

Having heard it at a very young age (and blissfully ignorant then of news of the day), 
I took the lyrics at face value, and it’s always been a favorite of mine.
Tonight it suddenly sprung to mind after reading my friend Jackie’s Christmas eve blog.

Joys of the season to you all !

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see ?
Way up in the sky little lamb
Do you see what I see ?
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear ?
Ringing through the sky shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear ?
A song, a song
High above the tree
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know ?
In your palace wall mighty king
Do you know what I know ?
A child, a child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Time to Watch the Ripples

December 13, 2013
Moreau Lake State Park, NY

There is a season for everything,
and we do not notice a given phenomenon
     except at that season,
     if, indeed, it can be called the same phenomenon
     at any other season.
There is a time to watch the ripples on Ripple Lake,
to look for arrowheads,
to study the rocks and lichens,
a time to walk on sandy deserts;
and the observer of nature must improve these seasons
as much as the farmer his. …
A wise man will know what game to play to-day, 
and play it.
We must not be governed by rigid rules,
as by the almanac,
but let the season rule us.
The moods and thoughts of man are revolving
just as steadily and incessantly as nature’s.
Nothing must be postponed.
Take time by the forelock.
Now or never!
You must live in the present,
launch yourself on every wave,
find your eternity in each moment.
     HDT Journal, April 24, 1859

Our game this month was to catch a December phenomenon -- to see the bubbles of Bubble Bay.
Jackie and I have been waiting for Moreau Lake to settle down and start freezing over.
Oh and each of us has been plenty preoccupied since Thanksgiving, with holiday errands, extra work hours, sniffles and dismal weather on many days.

You must have deep cold nights,
cold enough to freeze one particular corner of the big Lake;
and calm windless days,
and the ice needs to be black and clear for you to see the frozen bubbles,
stacked up like silver coins.
And you need to see it before the snows come and cover up the ice.
(Some years we don’t see them at all.)
Since the forecast for tomorrow was SNOW,
today was the day to go search for bubbles!

It’s great to have a walking pal who understands the importance of these little quests.
This morning it was very cold, with a bright breeze, and the lake was freezing up, from the edges in.

I feel like I haven’t gotten accustomed to the cold air yet, and was all bundled up, but still felt chilled.
Jackie grew up right on Lake Michigan, and is eager to walk on the frozen lake again.
She could not resist testing the ice, even though it was just a narrow patch along the shoreline and obviously pretty darn thin. 
There's no way I am going out there till it's about a foot thick.

Here she is skidding along, 

right before hearing a big crrrrrrack beneath her feet.
She kept to the shore after that.

The breeze dissuaded us from loitering, and we walked quickly to Bubble Bay.

It was still un-frozen.

Jackie scraped away the snow-dust, and found a few single bubbles along the shoreline.
I found a spot where a goose had tested the ice like Jackie did.

We decided to go all the way around the lake, despite my limited time this morning.
First, a quick detour for me to get a nice scenic photo of Turkey Hill,--
it’s all lined up now …

... ah, heck, here comes Jackie into the shot, tootling out on the ice again !

I admired the new signage describing the beaver lodges out in Back Bay

especially this part !

At The Little Beach, we found not bubbles, but a series of bubblers,
open spots in the strip of ice. 

The wind was giving the lake a visible heartbeat.

Bloop, bloop, every now and then some water would spritz out. We watched awhile, and laughed.

It’s great to be so easily entertained.
I soon forgot my disappointment about the bubbles, and instead was mesmerized by a lake which was freezing up right before our eyes.
Continuing on along the shore, things got confusing.
Everything was in motion.

It was hard to tell what was water, and what was ice. 

And there seemed to be water in some yet un-named state of matter, between solid and liquid.

We turned to look back at the mountain in the distance.
I noticed what seemed to be solid ice, reflecting the trees –

Only the reflection was … flexing!
(Watch the right side of the screen. Sorry about the wind-noise.)

Reluctantly we left this lovely scene, and headed back to the cars. But I was glad I took the time to look for one thing, and find another, and let the season rule the day.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


November 28, 2013
Hudson Falls (aka Sandy Hill) NY

I am grateful for what I am and have.
My thanksgiving is perpetual.
It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite -
only a sense of existence.
Well, anything for variety.
I am ready to try this for the next ten thousand years,
and exhaust it.
How sweet to think of !
my extremities well charred, and my intellectual part too,
so that there is no danger of worm or rot for a long while.
My breath is sweet to me.
O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches.
No run on my bank can drain it,
for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment

    HDT, Letter to H.G.O. Blake, December 6, 1856

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Frost Weed Walkin’

Mud Pond, Moreau Lake State Park, NY
November 4th, 12th, and 24th, 2013

Anyone who has followed my blog knows that this is the time of year
for Frost Weed walks.
At the end of October, the leaves fall,
the colors fade,
and the landscape now seems dull and plain.

Then those crisp cold blue mornings come along, and there is something else to watch for.

Regular frost is pretty enough, on what’s left of summer’s bounty --

But what we are searching for is something special.
It's a small phenomenon, nothing grandiose, but for me it's an autumn rite --
it fetches the year about, as Thoreau puts it.

We’ve already scouted out where the plant grows;
it's small and delicate, and blossoms a bright sunny yellow in the summer.

The tricky part is scheduling a hike months later,
and hoping that conditions are right to see it do its frosty thing.
Years ago, I saw it for the first time --and wondered what-in-the-world it was.
That is what spurred me to look more closely into Thoreau’s Journal.
What delight, to find therein a perfect description of what I had been puzzling over!
It felt as if we had walked together on that morning.

Examining closely the base of some frost-weed,
I find in each case a little frost
firmly attached to the naked woody stem just under the bark, having burst the last for about an inch along the stem
and elevated it.
Perhaps this weed dies down slowly,
since it blossoms a second time,
and there is more sap now in the stem near its base than usual, which escapes in a vapor from the stem,
and, being frozen, forms this kind of icicle.
     HDT's Journal, November 12, 1858

From that day on, I was hooked, not just on the Journal,
but on keeping an eye out for other things Henry wrote about, so long ago;  
and conversely, to find some mention in the Journal of things I was seeing on my own.
I'm not sure which comes first – it’s that circle of the-chicken-or-the-egg --
but it seems to work both ways !

A special thank you to Ray Angelo, wherever you are, for that labor of love,
A Botanical Index to Thoreau’s Journals (now online !)
Painstakingly created in the 60’s, it is not just an index to plants mentioned in the Journal, but it cross-references plant names between those used by Thoreau in the 1800’s,
and those at the time of Ray’s index.

Of course, those names are still a fluid thing, and many have changed in recent years. 
(Including the one for Frostweed, which Jackie mentioned to me just last week.)
Even our trusty Newcomb's guide needs updating at this point.

Meanwhile, I am off to go see what Thoreau calls ”the third flowering”
of what was (until recently) called Helianthenum canadense --
Frostweed or Rock-Rose.

Let me know if you have ever seen anything like it in your neck of the woods.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

No particular poems

The rest of October, 2013
Nearby haunts, NY

That Golden Day did not stand alone this year.
In the weeks that followed there were Golden Moments,
almost every time I stepped outdoors.
I was afraid of being too busy enjoying it – of neglecting my blog --
    of losing those moments.
The words of Thoreau, who had a similar concerns at this time of year,
are of some comfort:

Our extatic states which appear to yield so little fruit,
have this value at least –
though in the seasons when our genius reigns
we may be powerless for expression --

Yet in calmer seasons, when our talent is active,
the memory of those rarer moods comes to color our picture 

                                                                                             Mom on Feeder Canal Trail

                                                                                            Pat birding at Moreau Lake

& is the permanent paint-pot as it were
into which we dip our brush.

Thus no life or experience goes unreported at last –

but if it be not solid gold
it is a gold-leaf
which gilds the furniture of the mind.

It is an experience of infinite beauty –
on which we unfailing draw.

Which enables us to exaggerate ever truly.

Our moments of inspiration are not lost
though we have no particular poems to show for them.

For those experiences have left an indelible impression,
and we are ever and anon reminded of them …
     HDT Journal, September 7, 1851

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Golden Mountain

 October 18, 2013
Western Ridge Trail,
Moreau Lake State Park

Men rush to California and Australia
as if the true gold were to be found in that direction;
but that is to go to the very opposite extreme to where it lies.
They go prospecting farther and farther away
from the true lead,
and are most unfortunate
when they think themselves most successful.
Is not our native soil auriferous?
Does not a stream from the golden mountains
flow through our native valley?
and has not this for more than geologic ages
been bringing down the shining particles
and forming the nuggets for us?

   HDT essay Life Without Principle, 1863

Today was the day I had selected, way back in the previous November, to be my Golden Day. For several years now, I’ve been taking a single October day off; a day to ramble, free from care, among the colors of autumn.
It sounds like that could be hit or miss -- choosing one day on the calendar so far in advance -- but when the day comes around, I have always been blessed with a sunny and warm day.

This year, instead of wandering about alone (not that there’s anything wrong with that,) I had two companions on my Day. Laurie had emailed me just days before, wondering if I had any time this week for a walk in Moreau. She knows the Ridge-top trails well, and is a geologist to boot. Jackie of course was ready for any jaunt in the park, even though the season for flowers is passing quickly.  So we decided to let Laurie lead the way. If the plant life was already faded, there are always interesting stories in the rocks themselves.

The three of us met at a trailhead that begins at a higher level than some of the other access points to the mountain. Might as well get a good head start !
Laurie led the way, as the trail wandered up and down and around leafy bends.
It was a cool and breezy morning. The genial sun shone down on us.
It not only lit up the trees above our heads,

but made the path beneath our feet a series of plush carpets of varying colors,
Some yellow, some gold;

A bit further along, pale pinks predominated;

And some sections were all brown, but boldly patterned.

But it was the color yellow that prevailed.
We agreed that although "Western Ridge" is an accurate name for this trail, we might start calling it the "Yellow Ridge" trail.

                                               Jackie bemused by mosses

Here and there, were efts on their way to newt-hood,
wearing a more-somber-than-usual orange color.
This provided perfect camouflage as they wriggled among the leaves.

[frustrating those who would take their fall portraits.]

While we stooped to watch one more closely,
out crawled another one --
the tiniest eft any of us had ever seen.

No, Jackie does NOT have cooties – those are snow fleas on her hand!

Unlike the efts, we were not interested in camouflage,
and were decked out with gaudy bits of blaze orange:
it is hunting season once again.

Some things were not especially color-full, but full of interesting textures nonetheless.
The plants are beginning to show their bones,
and what lovely bones they are.

At a certain spot, Laurie stopped and pointed at the ground, which was literally sprinkled with beech-nut burrs.  Well, hmmph, I’d seen that before, those empty prickly husks -- but what she was marvelling at were the beech-nuts !
They were everywhere, in and out of the husks.

Last year was not a good year for local mast crops, and a hard one for the animals who depend on those food sources. No reason for the bears to visit town this year, if the crop is as hearty as what we found today.

I had never tasted a beech-nut, but Laurie was busy nibbling on them, and pocketing more for later, so I tried them too.
Mmmm ... like tiny wild almonds.

She also showed us how to make a whistle using an acorn-cap.
(Well, I managed a couple of squeaks … that's gonna take a bit of practice.) 

Thoreau would have enjoyed seeing us try it.

[Your brother Eddy] tells me that he is five years old.
Indeed I was present at the celebration
   of his birth-day lately,
and supplied the company with onion and squash pipes,
and rhubarb whistles,
which is the most I can do on such occasions.
Little Sammy Hoar blowed them most successfully,
and made the loudest noise,
though it almost strained his eyes out to do it.

     Letter written by HDT to ten-year-old Ellen Emerson in 1849

Clouds rolled in, just as we approached a favorite overlook of Laurie’s.

Laurie in (and on) her natural element.

Weary but happy, we ate our lunches as the air cooled around us.
But what a view from our dining-room !

The sound of the Hudson River at Spier Falls Dam rose and fell with the air currents that swirled around our rocky seat.
Downriver, you could see all the way to the Bend of the River at Glens Falls.

Across the river, you could see mists and curtains of rain over the Luzerne Mountains, and they seemed to be heading our way.
Might as well head back down; wet leaves are beautiful but slippery.


Heading back along the same trail, the woods revealed secrets that we had missed before.
The trail back is always “a different trail,” as Jackie is fond of saying.

An oak leaf ginger-bread man

Fresh green hepatica leaves – not just the usual ones, but the sharp-lobed variety too !

                                          Angel wings on the forest floor.

A lone, dried-up sprig coral-root caught my eye (but didn’t pose for a photo),
and we found a whole patch of rattlesnake ferns.

Both of these plants like a certain kind of soil, and both Jackie and Laurie,
reading the plants and the rocks, found evidence of limestone in this area.

We lingered as we descended, dragging our boots in the leaves,
hesitant to come in for the day, like the kids we used to be.
What better way to spend a golden day,
than to walk on a golden mountain with some sterling companions?