Raw

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I have just come from the lake.

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It was raw – the weather, and more – yet beautiful. The shores were thick with ducks and geese, that erupted in whirls of dismay at my approach. My body remembered the rhythm of the paddle. It was the first merging of boat and woman this year.

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I went into the light wind, for an easier time on the way home. Near the lake’s far end, moss on the bank shone a brilliant green, the most contrast there’d been in the still-wintry landscape. It was enough, in this raw, wild day borrowed from summer. One hour on the water would be my bright moss in the winter landscape of recent days.

Yesterday was not good. To be honest, embracing hope was not working. I couldn’t settle into my writing, and there was not much joy in the busy tasks I thought up to take its place. I soldiered on, though, driving the canoe from its winter resting place down to the lake, stacking firewood, writing to a few old friends. And today is better. Hope is back.

Not long after the moss came the haunting call of a loon. My heart thrilled, as I did not know they had returned to inland waters. A patch of white against the distant shore, though, turned out to a bufflehead, one at first and then two pairs.

When the loon popped up, he was darker than he would be in summer plumage and seemed to be engaged in some sort of acrobatic struggle. My binoculars brought him closer, where I could see he was straining to swallow a large fish, perhaps a bass, far larger than any I’d ever seen a loon tackle. He apparently had a good grip and got it lined up. His neck stretched high and his whole body wiggled. The fish was slowly sliding down, down, down, until even the tail was gone. I watched to see if he could still breathe or float, but with the task over, he looked unfazed. That was very cool.

A chill rain set in as I turned homeward, ready to write by the woodstove once more.

Embracing hope

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Wow, do I even remember how to write a blog post? I discover that I’m a little rusty on the logistics – navigating WordPress, ensuring the post stays in draft form until I’m ready to publish, transferring photos from my fancy new iPhone XR, but I figure it out.

All these months, I have been “blogging,” but just in my mind. A thought comes, perhaps I even jot a few notes, or snap a picture, but that is all. Always, I search for the perfect block of time, the most creative frame of mind, a window where blogging will not keep me from finishing my almost-finished book.

March 23rd is a new day.

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the loss of my husband Chris. Today is the 11th anniversary of forging onward, of choosing hope, of the start of a new life that has brought unanticipated blessings. In the Bible’s King James Version, Hebrews 11:1 reads,

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Thanks to a conversation with a reader at one of my author events last year, this quote opens chapter 9 of the new book. I love the process of searching for quotes, a mosaic of words that both touch me and add depth to my writing. In chapter 9, a chance encounter at Stair Falls on the Penobscot River’s East Branch introduces two new characters who become, for me, evidence of faith fulfilled.

This day, as we embark on uncharted waters, as I did 11 years ago, let us choose hope.

Let us intentionally search for it in the everyday life that continues to surround us. I will look most fervently in nature, where yesterday I took refuge in a sheltered nook, silent, warmed by the spring sun’s rays. Focusing on gratitude replacing fear, I shut my eyes until I heard a scurry of dry, papery leaves. A chipmunk sprang up on the old stone wall. Alert, vibrant in the glow of the afternoon sun, which shone pink through his tiny ears.

I had found my hope for another day. May you find it, too. In conversation with a friend. In freshly baked bread, enduring music, well-stacked firewood, or garden plans. In a news story of teachers sewing masks at home. Embrace hope, my friends, and take care! 

In the turning of the seasons, we give thanks

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They are treasured old friends, those forest places that we walk until we know them with every fabric of our body, and soul. We return, unbidden, adding layers of memory as the seasons pass. On the blank canvas of a place, we paint the story of our time together.

So it is with the trail behind our house, the less-than-two-miles out and back that I walk most often. Late one fall afternoon, not long ago, I followed the path through a gap in the mossy old stone wall, to an opening under a few magnificent hemlocks. This spot has always drawn me, and I often pause there. 

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My thoughts rushed back from wherever they’d been wandering when something moved, close beside the path. A spiky hummock of quills, its back turned toward me. This was my first porcupine in “my” woods and deceptively quick despite its cumbersome gait. It wasted no time reaching a tree and climbing steadily to safety.

This encounter will forever enliven this bend in the trail. No matter the season, on my homeward way, I’ll conjure up a prickly ball in the crotch of that tree, framed by the yellow leaves of fall. Just as I’ll remember the night I looked up into the surprising face of the full moon, shining white behind the firs. And farther along, the hill where an owl had snatched a mouse, leaving only the marks of its broad sweeping wings.

Since that fall afternoon, the snows have come, early for our part of Maine, and we’ve embraced the turning of the seasons to this time of gratitude. I think how our lives, too, consist of layers upon layers.

This Thanksgiving, we will gather in another log cabin, in Virginia, for the first Thanksgiving hosted by the new generation. Megan and Jacob will fill their home to bursting, stretching the seating and sleeping and serving, with the aesthetic creativity of two graphic designers.

As we paint new memories, they will never replace those that went before. The years of Dad’s rousing voice singing Over the River and Through the Woods. Searching for hazelnuts in a worn wooden bowl heaped with nuts that you had to crack yourself. Grandma Searls, urging everyone to “eat some turnips for the Pilgrims.” New on old, forever and ever, or at least for today.

This then is my prayer for all of you, that you paint memories anew this Thanksgiving. That you embrace the turning of the seasons, from prickly porcupines to the frosting of the forest, and that this season of gratitude brings you joy. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

Simply delightful

Yesterday I woke up full of energy and anticipation. Saturday, October 20th was an unheard of, empty-square-on-the-calendar day. Lately, I’ve been marathoning through, doing whatever it takes to satisfy my school, family, community, and author roles. With the Kindle release of Upwards, I’ve been glued to my laptop far more than I should.

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For a day forecast to be sunny and 60 degrees, it did not have an auspicious start. The first pale light of morning revealed trees already bending to a vigorous, audible wind, under thick cloudy skies. In fact, a gale warning was in effect until mid-afternoon. Perhaps I would start with the safe chore of stacking wood, I thought.

 

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A tidy porch and empty wood rack beckoned

Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free, was running through my mind as I headed out to the garage. Did you know that the song “Simple Gifts,” also used as the tune for “Lord of the Dance,” was composed by Joseph Brackett, a Shaker elder from Maine, in 1848?

I like stacking wood. The orderly pattern pleases me. There’s the puzzle component, fitting the pieces together just so, while arms and shoulders grow gradually weary. Today, rather than use the tractor, I decided to haul it by the armload. Lots of armloads.

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Sometimes the camera forces you to see the beauty right in front of you
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My artwork for the day

After some Biscay Orchards cider, cheese, and crackers, I headed for Dodge Point, one of our local preserves. There’s a lot of history entwined in this 500-acre property on Newcastle’s River Road. A brick factory there, on the Damariscotta River, left behind a mosaic of brick-red fragments, which can be found all along the shore. Today, though, I crossed the heart of the preserve on the Ravine Trail.

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Not surprisingly, the brilliant reds had mostly fled and even the yellows looked rather tired. The beech leaves, though, were still stubbornly green, just beginning to move toward yellow. I knew they would cling to their branches until spring, keeping skiers and snowshoers company with their papery rustle throughout the long winter.

The trail skirts Ice Pond, once a local source of ice for cooling old-fashioned iceboxes. Looking at the relatively small pond, I wondered what qualifications made one pond more attractive than another for cutting ice. Perhaps in this case it was just proximity.

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A day like this should end in a boat and mine did. The far shore of Little Pond was bathed in golden sunlight as I slid my old canoe into the water. I made a slow circuit of the pond, to the “kee, kee” of a soaring red-tailed hawk.

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For perhaps the last time this year, I followed the path of the setting sun toward the western shore. There, in the shade, the colors were reflected with surprising intensity. Out in deeper water, a large fish jumped, and a flight of ducks took flight in a bright spray of water. I lingered as the moon rose and the sky behind me took on a pinkish hue.

Whether I would return again this season, I did not know, but this place and its spirit, its life and rhythms would stay with me, within the memory of a day of simple delights.

 

To think I almost put my snowshoes away

 

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Sadly, February was mainly dedicated to flu survival and recovery. Happily, I got better in time to visit my children in Virginia, meeting their new chickens, touring Monticello, and celebrating my former brother-in-law’s 50th birthday. (How could that be?)

Now, somehow, I find myself a week away from spring, with visions of paddling trips dancing in my head. There is much to share and catch up on!

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View of last week’s snow-laden trees from flat on my back. I’d been tugging on a sapling bent across the path and pinned to the snowy ground. As it popped free, I tumbled backwards, arms flailing, to see the forest from a slightly different angle!

Today is another snow day, our ninth, counting the 3 days we missed with October’s wind storm. That is two more than in any other school year I can remember. With our third nor’easter in 11 days upon us, and a blizzard warning, we may miss tomorrow as well. Last week’s storm brought about 14 inches of wet, heavy snow that plastered itself to the sides of trees and created Dr. Seuss-like mounds on every branch and twig.


In late February, I was tickled by the sign above, spotted in Thomaston during a book delivery jaunt. The weather was warm and the air felt like spring. I truly did almost put my snowshoes away. Now I think the groundhog may have been wiser than I thought!

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Out snowshoeing this morning, with just a dusting of new powder, turkey tracks were everywhere. In places, the forest floor was in turmoil where they’d torn up the leaf litter in search of food. Hopefully the turkeys were feasting on ticks, already active here in Maine. I found the first one of the year crawling on my pants last week. Seems like we should either have ticks or blizzards, not both!

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Usually, I have the back woods to myself. This morning, though, I was greeted by a new friend. Our neighbors had taken a walk with their kids, leaving behind this snowman, decorated with branches, pine cones, and lichen. By mid-afternoon, he was rapidly becoming just a snowman-shaped blob.

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Well, it certainly feels good to be back to writing. Look for more news soon, including updates on Upwards and the author life and perhaps even some paddling plans. Then, in April, our family adventure in France will take us to Paris, Normandy, Brittany, and the Loire Valley.  Until then, stay warm, dry, and safe!

Looking and seeing in the winter woods

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.     Marcel Proust

To clarify, I’m all for seeking new landscapes! Like April in Paris, this spring, where we’ve just booked a hotel a block from Notre Dame! In our everyday world, though, there are plenty of new discoveries to be made, if we would just look for them.

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The forest is still criss-crossed with animal tracks. As the snow turned thin and slushy this week, the imprints stood out in greater detail. Tiny “handprints” of red squirrels were everywhere, as were the squirrels themselves. The warmth prompted me to carry along my binoculars and to pause from time to time. The repeated call of a barred owl came from afar, but it was mostly red squirrels that I saw.

One explored an ancient log pile, dark and damp, adorned with scattered piles of demolished pine cones. He moved with fluid energy among the logs, popping out first here, then there, to scold me. Later, another bravely stood his ground atop a stone wall. Only his haunches moved, quivering with indignation, and the shiny blackness of his eye stared me down. He looked fit and well-fed, the subtle gray and rust of his sleek fur elegant in the drab and cloudy light.


Canine tracks still mystify me. The one above was repeated in a single line that roughly followed my old trail for quite a distance. Both coyotes and foxes frequent these woods.

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There’s green stuff out there, too. Not just trees, but much more, if you look closely. This small native plant, whose relatives once dominated primeval swamps, is very common. Somehow, it thrives in the northern forest, surviving months of ice and snow.

Looking a bit like a miniature spruce and often called “running pine,” the club moss is neither a conifer nor a moss. Closely related to ferns, the club mosses are vascular plants, with “veins” of xylem and phloem. Their ancestors were once the most complex plants on Earth. In the Carboniferous period, 350 million years ago, club mosses well over 100 feet tall dominated the forest that was later transformed to vast deposits of coal.

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This species, Lycopodium clavatum, is found in damp woodlands throughout North America. During the asexual part of its rather complex reproductive cycle, it produces spores, which are released from the plant’s erect, yellow-brown strobilus.

The spores are, for me, perhaps the most fascinating part of the story of the club moss. High in oil content, they are water resistant and flammable. Native tribes knew many medicinal uses for the spores, and, according to the Virginia Native Plant Society, medicine men tossed them on the fire during ceremonies to produce a flash of light.

In my reading, I found a host of other historical uses for the powdery spores, including flash photography, magician’s tricks, fingerprinting powder, fireworks, and treating rashes. Good incentive, perhaps, to try collecting some this year!

Upwards receives first book award!

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OK, how humble is it to say “first” book award? Honestly, though, my hopes and dreams for this book continue to grow, as more people read and share their thoughts. The volume of responses is growing and opportunities for the new year are coming in fast.

A few highlights:

  • Four upcoming events in the next three weeks (details on the events page)
  • Just invited to present at the Wilderness Paddlers Gathering in Fairlee, VT in March
  • Planning two events during the Adirondacks’ Celebrate Paddling month in June
  • And, of course, Honorable Mention in the category of Biography/Autobiography from the New England Book Festival.

The Boston-based New England Book Festival, sponsored by JM Northern Media, recognizes the best books of the holiday season in 17 categories. Winners are judged on “general excellence and the author’s passion for telling a good story” and “the potential of the work to reach a wider audience.”

To balance out the many hours devoted to the book, I continue to plan for next summer and enjoy today. A deluge of rain, amid temperatures as high as 55 degrees, has washed away much of our snow. The sight of green grass and brown leaves has been a welcome change. Sunday’s afternoon walk, on boots not snowshoes, felt free and unencumbered.

I tramped, I tromped, the trail more brown than white, looking around at the woods, rather than down at my feet. You know how it feels when you’ve just climbed up, then down, a mountain and hit the flat? The joy of simply swinging along is wonderful.

Gone, though, was the hushed white wonderland of winter. Every step was a loud crunch, either on a couple of inches of frozen remnant snow or, mostly, on frosty ground. Crunching along at a good pace, out to the edge of an old beaver pond.

There, nature had sculpted striking designs in the paper-thin sheet of ice that rimmed the pond. I walked a few feet out to sit on a log, trying not to destroy too much of the beauty, finding an inch or two of air between the ice and solid ground below. The sound of my progress was deafening, all wildlife no doubt well warned of my visit.


When I sat, though, to take in the play of the brilliant sunlight across the ice, the ruckus continued. A vigorous wind, rustling the trees in the pond, gave the ice a tortured voice. The grinding, cracking, and squealing never let up, and the cold soon nudged me to head back home to a cup of hot cocoa and my never-ending to-do list.

As my faithful readers know, I am still learning the ins and outs of social media, and recently discovered that my automatic sharing of posts somehow missed the last one. If you’d like to join me on an earlier walk, here is my January 5th post.