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Showing posts from 2018

In the Forest

A gray shadow emerges from the mist of early morning. The figure moves fluidly through dense foliage and trees on the forest floor. Working it's way to the valley below, the shadow pauses to look and to listen. To be still is to be invisible, and there is no distinction between the trees and what is standing there among them. The forest is dark and deep and without sound except for water droplets falling through broad leaves. This ghost moves on, scanning the woodland, searching out its quarry. Into big timber, over the ridge and down to the valley lush with green ivy and thick brush. The shadow walks toward a clearing in the massive white oaks, but stops abruptly when there is movement in the opening in the trees. A great stag feeds on fallen acorns, it's head down, unaware. The gray figure becomes the shadow of an oak tree. The buck feeds up into plain view, it's wide set of tines raking the grasses and weeds as it grazes.The shadow raises his bow, and draws back the str…

The Bowman

In the stillness of early morning, the bowman steps into the woods. It is still quite dark, so he eases along with what little moonlight is left shining through the open hardwoods. The morning is cold, and deathly silent. Rainfall from the day before has dampened the forest floor, which made for quiet going, as long as he doesn't make a misstep and break a dead branch, or crumble a rotting log under foot.There is no need to hurry, just take a few steps, then wait a few minutes. Watching the dimly lit woods, listening for any sound that would mean something stirring in the dark brush beyond his sight.As the first hint of daybreak outlined the ridge above him, the bowman hears the slight shuffling on the far side of the spring- fed branch to his left. He scans the trees, trying to get his eyes somewhat adjusted, looking for any horizontal line that would indicate the back of a whitetail deer, standing motionless in the thicket.The bowman stands like a statue for what seems like an h…

Apprentice

Charlie offered his hand to the boy, hefting him onto a boulder from which they could peer down into a deep pool, where trout were likely to hold on overcast days like this one. He held up a tiny fly, with stiff gray hairs whorled around the hook’s shank and two sharp green feathers like wings laying down its back. The boy had his mouth open slightly, his big brown eyes trained on the bug his grandad had crafted from bits of animal and bird. Charlie carefully and deliberately dropped the fly right where he wanted it, making only a slight ripple on the surface of the dark pool. The fly drifted down, disappearing into the shadow of a rhododendron.
The line turned and straightened and Charlie lowered his rod tip, following it until he felt a twinge, then with his other hand he gathered free line and pulled it tight as he lifted the rod tip in one quick movement. The boy squealed and laughed, saying, "You got him, Papa!"
Charlie told the boy to hold out his hands, and in them he p…

River Walk

Through clear water you see the first leaves of early fall lying scattered on the smooth river stones on the bottom. The slick rock reflect glints of sunlight in the shallows. Everything takes on the hues of russet and amber and somewhere in there are flecks of gold and flashes of silver swirling in the eddies and riffles, gliding down into the deep pockets along steep banks rife with ferns and alder trees and jewelweed.
As far as you can see up the river, trees form a canopy over the water, all bending toward the other side, all lacing their branches together to form a tunnel for an occasional cool breeze to flow through, loosening dead leaves and pieces of dried branches that fall into the current and end up gathering around your legs as you make your way upstream.
A river birch growing right on the bank is canted over at an angle across your path, it's root ball pulling out of the soil and rock near the water. At the base of this tree, the river has deposited fallen limbs and f…

Life in the Water

My son, Chase spotted a trio of river otters today while fishing Wildcat Creek. I had wondered if some of the splashing sounds that we hear in the deep water behind our house at night could be made by otters, and the questionable tracks in the mud must've belonged to something other than the beavers, but until today, nobody had laid eyes on one. My son made a video on his iPhone to confirm that's what we had, and sure enough, it was, and they were playing in the water near the big beaver dam.
One thing is for sure, Chase has to compete with not only the herons and water snakes for fish, but with the skill and voracious appetite of the North American river otter.
What was once a small creek, running steadily through the hollows here in the foothills, has now become a diverse wetland, thanks to the workings of the beaver. A massive dam was built that stretches between the bottoms of two steep hills. The 100 yard long dam, along with several other smaller ones all up the creek t…

Small Gifts

About this time of year, turtle hatchlings like this little snapper emerge and make their way to the creek like all the generations before them. Why the turtle mom chose to lay her clutch behind my daughters' swing set is beyond me, but she has for the past couple of years. This young turtle had somehow evaded the cat and the lawnmower, and he was found climbing the high bank in front of our house-- the turtle equivalent of El Capitan. We set the little snapper off on his journey and whispered a prayer for his safe travels. Earlier this summer, an eastern river cooter layed her clutch beside our back porch and as of yet, there is no sign of their hatching. We watched and waited, but so far, nothing. Maybe our presence and the presence of our dog caused her to change her mind. That night, the soil was packed tight, and we were sure she'd finished the job and returned back to the water in the dark. We are still waiting... All over the yard now, there are tiny orange toads jumpi…

Returning to the Woods

I could not be a poet without the natural world. Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.
-Mary Oliver, Upstream

There are times when I desire to get lost. Walk out the back door, climb over the fence and escape the modern world and the humans that inhabit it. I have always been a solitary soul. I spend too much time inside of my head, and without something to observe and attempt to draw conclusions from, I tend to get restless. I can spend hours walking hillsides and valleys looking for nothing in particular. Often I walk along the roadside, jotting down notes if I have pen and paper on me, or try my best to commit something to my faulty memory. My perfect day would involve watching a cliff swallow building a nest under a bridge that crosses the river. Or seeing a young doe hurrying her young across a country road on a late summer evening. What I gather from the earth does not have a market value. It cannot be bought, it cannot be sold. It…

Morning Ritual

Waking naturally before light pierces through bedroom curtains does not happen often. On mornings when a full day of work awaits, the alarm clock has a hard time pulling me from the netherworld. When at last I do recognize the persistent buzzing and chirping, after I distinguish the sound from that which is emanating from some found object in my dream, my first physical reaction is to pull the covers up over my head, and pretend I don't hear it, pretend I am still dreaming. That feeling you get on Sundays, when by mistake you forget and set your alarm the night before, and when you finally do answer the alarm clock's call, you realize it's Sunday, and you can sleep in-- I always hope it's one of those mornings. But more times than not, it isn't. They're are some mornings, though, when I somehow gain consciousness, like I've been given a shot in the arm. On those mornings, I throw back the covers and get to my feet, put on a pot of coffee, and gather my thi…

A Letter To My Father

Two years ago, this very night, you were still here among the living. You had no idea of what was to come in the early hours of the morning, but I know you had some inkling. You'd been talking about it for a while, and the Sunday before, I was told that you 'd made things right.Your mind and body were weak from fighting to hold onto your spirit, but your spirit was so much stronger, and it was determined to be set free. Your pain would soon be over, but you liked to fight, always did. You were the most stubborn human being that I have ever known, and I know that at the end, you were no different. I'm sure it wasn't your choice to go, despite all those times you cried, saying you wanted to die and be put out of your misery. When the medics had worked so long on you and decided to give up on you, your heart started back beating, as if out of spite.  I wonder sometimes what those last few hours were like for you. I wish I could've been there for you, like all the time…

It's Just Old Me

When I was like six, my crazy uncle  James showed up at our house during my birthday party. There wasn't many people there, just my mom and dad, brother and sister, and maybe my grandma. When he found out what was going on, he slipped out to his Volkswagen to find a gift for me. James came back with a banana he'd wrapped with a scrap of the Sunday funnies. That gift meant a lot to me, I know that because here I sit 34 years later, relaying the story to you.This year, on my big 4-0, my wife and kids surprised me with a fishing kayak. I was shocked that they had thought so much of me to buy a cool thing like that for my birthday -- something I could get killed in. I was so shocked and excited when they showed it to me, that it was like I was having one of those out-of-body experiences people talk about. I swear, I felt like I was floating in the air above, watching this whole thing take place.The gift of the kayak is something I'll remember for the rest of my life, too. It&#…

Frozen in Time on Wildcat Creek

This morning, a thin layer of ice covers the surface of Wildcat Creek. Leaves and bits of bark are suspended in the ice, caught in time, the moment the temperature reached that point when the magic takes place, and water becomes solid. Robins and wrens skate the surface where it is thickest, finding seeds and bits of forage on this 18 degree morn.
Under the surface, life goes on, and particles or silt and dead leaves drift with the slowed current of deeper water. Somewhere buried deep in the mud there, I'm sure there are crayfish, helgramites, and stonefly larvae, waiting on the water to warm to a more tolerable degree.
Green stalks of dog-hobble are held under the surface, encased by the icy grip of frozen water along the creek bank. Oak and persimmon, and beech trees, now standing in water due to beavers work to slow the flow and flood the banks, are surrounded by ice. A red-bellied sap sucker, pecking away on a river birch, has created a dusting of bark and moss on the ice all a…