Moments of Silence

A cool breeze mingled with brilliant sun.  Walking along, I glanced left through leaf barren trees to see sunlight kissing ledge and rock.  Stone surfaces were adorned with bejeweled blankets of light green moss that glistened when touched by rays.  Stone walls I’d never seen before appeared!   Stoic, standing as neatly piled as they had in yesteryear.  Evergreens were dark, verdantly vibrant, save for some spotty patches of burnished brown needles at their base. 

It was Veterans’ day, November 11th and I was a veteran hiking Black Mountain in solitude, reflecting on wartime long ago.  I had had a late invitation to a free meal at the VFW that morning.  While appreciative of the thoughtfulness of my daughter and others at the hall, I’m usually a solitary man that day.  “Thanks, I’m headed to the mountain”.

I wanted to be with my brothers long gone in the jungles of Vietnam.  Some bush, or break in the trail, or light filtering just so, would elicit a memory.  Agent orange splashing us from above… blackening us with soot for days after the defoliation was complete.  Let’s let go of that flashback.  How could the bastards be so feckless as to drop that ghastly chemical on us? On anyone? On any land? On anything? 

The morning light trickled through the canopy, dancing on the trail ahead, brightly showing the way.  As I climbed higher, crystals of ice webbing laced the frozen mud of the trail, eliciting a slight crunch when stepped on.  These were interspersed with recently gelid ellipses of puddly water.   Clear atop, the puddles were imbedded with dead leaves still moving, sprinkled with pine needles rusted brown.

In my mind, the solid green leaves of the mountain laurels mimicked the leaves of hardy Magnolia trees in Vietnam.  Both plants using ‘the golden mean’ to ensure that each green leaf receives as much sunlight as possible.  

For some reason, or maybe none, a saying from Taoist scripture came to mind:
                  “A cup is only useful because of its emptiness.”

I thought of my last day of combat, crawling through mud puddles past Delta’s dead. I thought of their sacrifice on that heated June day of 1971.  Heated by sun and humidity; heated by battle.  How was it that enemy soldiers and our only recourse upon meeting in the jungle was to kill each other? I said what you don’t say in a moment of silence…. then continued on.  

When I reached the summit, it was peacefully quiet.  Memories grasped the air… some floating away, some returning for a second thought.  I thought of the forgotten… women who served in Vietnam.  Nurses brave and filled with compassion and lifesaving skills who we hardly mention.  The nurse who held my hand and calmed me just before I went under for my operation in Long Binh. I had recently heard of 1st Lt. Sharon Ann Lane, a nurse who was killed by hostile fire while on duty in Chu Lai, Vietnam.   Selfless and giving, she wrote home, “Very interesting place, but hardly anyone is scared though; it is just like part of the job.”  What a beautiful woman!  I thought of a Samuri proverb I had recently come across, “the spiritual aspect of valor is evidenced by composure, the calm presence of the mind.”  May she rest in peace.  May they all rest in peace.

Looking about, Monadnock was clear as a bell in the eastern vista.  The Abenaki, meaning of Monadnock is, the mountain that stands alone.  The peak rises 3, 165’ above sea level, and curiously has a tree line, a line above which trees will not grow.  I had always wondered why, and made a note to find out.  Later that evening I did some research.

In the 1700’s, settlers burned and clear cut the woods around Monadnock so they would become pasture.  They hadn’t developed Agent Orange yet.  The mountain was covered primarily with spruce which burns well, even when wet.  The torch was lit and fire raged up the mountain.  Years later, farmers believed that wolves had taken up residence in the fells.  So, they decided to set fire to the entire mountain, killing nearly every tree.  Without trees to hold the soil, Monadnock’s peak was blown bare.  There were no areas for growth for several hundred feet below as well.  Wow, western man and his penchant for progress!

My gaze turned south.  Clouds were whispery white, slow moving.  A hazy great white shark with its mouth open drifted against the azure sky.  Images of Vietnam, guys left behind, and all who had suffered in that war were filling channels of my thought patterns.  I was okay…. saddened mostly.  Never ending war never ends.  But there were no war clouds on Black Mountain that day.

I remembered being hit, shrapnel from an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) still have the scar, running parallel to my left leg.  A constant reminder of light flashing in swift motion till it exploded, raining down bits & chunks of hot metal all around.  Tearing through my fatigue pants and skin, a large chunk busting through both to break my fibula.  Let it go Charles.  Veterans’ day, a day to remember, to reflect.  

So much blood soaked the ground during the Vietnam war.  Civilians of the North & South.  South Vietnamese soldiers.  North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters.  Middle range estimates total more than two million.

My brothers and sisters, estimates of 58, 148 killed. One thousand 611
still missing!  Bless them all, may the rest in peace and be found. Embracing the wind, I let those thoughts drift away.  Let the past drift away…

Apache foggy morning

Early autumn, October 9th, a ‘patchy fog’ stilled the woods as I entered the trailhead.  Weather describers had labeled their forecast ‘Patchy Fog’ Monday night till mid-morning Tuesday.  But it wasn’t ‘patchy’!  A uniform, levelheaded expanse was hovering in the forest.  More, the remnants of a drizzling mist earlier that morning.  The trees, the leaves, the rocks, everything was enveloped in a miasma of moist air.  

My Apache fog was slowly lifting as I sauntered off into the damp quiet of an Indian summer day.  Almost one 3rd through October days, this Fall’s foliage had just begun.  Dampened yellow and dead brown leaves lay intermingled on the trail creating a poor man’s yellow brick road.  The yellow glowed brightly over brown.  Sopping wet throughout.

Small trees were drooping wet, hanging over ever so slightly, with raindrops weighting each pale green leaf.  Ferns aside the trail offered a mix of green and gold frond that had begun to decolor.  Deep verdant and vibrant moss clung firmly, embedded on dead logs.

                                   Musing Math, calculating
   I realized a 1.5 C future must = net-zero greenhouse gas emissions
  but what about runaway feedbanks of die-back tropical rainforests?
                 what of the release of methane rich permafrost?
                               in the midst of the catastrophic
             avoidance requires radical change and climate justice
                                           Are you ready?

Looking up, I spied some wet white bark uncoiling in a glen of birch trees.  Birds were singing, but wildlife must’ve been sleeping in.  Glancing down again, I noticed a cluster of deep red orangey mushrooms.  Mushrooms white, brown, red and yellow were having a swell day.
Alone again on Black Mountain; seems most people don’t hike on weekdays.

High branches hanging lower with wetness, brushed my straw hat as if to slow me… so I slowed.  I sipped some water and was drawn to the sky.  The sun was dancing hazily in and out of the clouds.  The mountain was warming to its rays.  

Hiking higher, I observed that the trail was no longer Oz-carpeted as below.  It was either bare, or sparsely covered with rusting pine needles.  Coming upon the mountain laurels, I marveled at their greenish blue leaves, firm and adorned with raindrops.  In each bush, a minority had turned golden.

                      Down south in the panhandle of Florida
                                    a significant storm
                            promised a significant impact
                 Michael speeding to throw the boats ashore

                       Gulf’s warm waters stirring a tempest
                               politicians, climate deniers
                        scoffed, “we’ve always had storms”
         sandbagging, they warned, ‘Evacuate to higher ground’

Our warm wet air rested on leaves and moistened the forest floor.  Yet, we better heed the call.  Letting go of the noise below, I embraced the higher ground.

Beyond the bees

A late August summer day… sunny, warm, lazy.  I decided to head back to the trail where the bees had attacked.  Leaving the Quarry Road trailhead, I ventured in.  It was late morning.  Yellow flowers of St. John’s Wort and ragweed dressed both sides of the open entry.
To the south, tropical rainforests no longer storing carbon, released it
                          carbon sinks became carbon sources
                an ominous trend… earth’s current climate system

I was breaking in a new walking stick, hickory, and I liked its length, its strength, and its wavelength.  Still needed some whittling, some decortication to fashion a decorous feel.  Light and strong, a good balance, it matched my gait uphill.  I came upon the ill-fated fork of two weeks past.  The trail that led south, then east at a steady climb.  I was mindful of the bees, the exact spot where they unleashed their venomous fury, but I wasn’t apprehensive.  I figured if I stayed on the trail, they’d stay by their hive.  Live, let live. But would they sense my arrival?  Maybe the bees had thought I worked for Monsanto.

        electronic hallucinations, burlesque vibrations, solicitations
      we lose sense of the ‘dieback’, 16% of the Amazon deforested
                   runaway global warming has left the station

I think so.  Standing where I’d been stung on the trail, I stayed calm.  Leaning my walking stick on a tree, I sipped some water and stared at the area where the bees had been buzzin’.  Calm, just be calm.  Jotting some notes, I took a few photos before moving on.  It was a relief to pass by without incident. 
            grow more trees, they help limit global temperature rise
                   “go negative” help decrease, not increase CO2
                            humankind past its tipping point(?)

There were some sturdy well-made low oak bridges that traversed the trail.  A sparse, slow-moving stream slithered under one section that had a handrail. The forest was opening to the southeast, and I soon came upon a large pond.  Placid in the breezeless day, the water was pierced by gray weathered remnants of tree bottoms. Some were tall and stick-like, but all had been dead for a good long while.  They were mirrored in the still surface water creating sun-graced photo ops.

              Holocene Age fading, we transition to Anthropocene
   feel the sunlight burn… the stored sable coal & petroleum letting go
         temperatures climbing… air, water, ice changing

The sun was on my right shoulder at noon, and this confirmed my guess that I was headed due east.  Well, maybe a touch northeast.  My shirt and pants were soaked wet(sopping wet) with sweat.  Far from dry, I continued on, stopping for frequent swigs of cool, clear water.  Large granite boulders stood silent, hardly moving, offering a solid grounding on both sides of the trail.  

Mushrooms were plenteous and had noticeably swelled with growth & moisture since I’d last been by.  Orangey red ones were the smallest and most photogenic.  The larger white and lite browns stood in clumps of four or five.   Most had dead brown leaf debris deposited on their crowns.   A few had been nibbled on exposing their soft inner flesh.
            I had been absorbing discomfort’s awakening day by day
                observing, obeying advisories as if they were okay
     while rovers ran ‘round Mars, watching planets & moons misbehave

watch logging, cattle ranching, industrial agriculture denude the woody
watch violence conflict the land defenders, the guardians of the forest
as our sylvan, a crucial buffer ‘tween greenhouse emissions, is cut short

On the way down, the trail was devoid of drama.  Just as well.  Met some mellow folk along the way… young and fresh and cheery!  Out on the mountain, being one with nature, ‘aye, there’s the rub”!   

I thought of the light of stars coursing, changing our civilized climate.  Thought of our energy intensives ensuring obliteration at an accelerating rate.  How we humans were slogging a slow-moving tsunami beyond our days.  

Yet, tis worth a try to green the deserts, to restore the rainforests, perhaps convert to a plant-based diet.  Dismantle animal agriculture?  STOP CONSUMING FOSSIL FUELS… good luck!  I got in my car and drove back to the world.

The Blazing Sun

Could sense the blazing sun behind the quietly rising mist to the east.  A lightening, a brightening lifting in dissipation.  One of those heat advisory days: ‘Hey folks, it’s hot.’

Black mountain road showed signs of rains rushing.  Heavy rains rushing swiftly, but no major washouts.  A credit to the road crew.

Hot temps were on my mind as I entered the trailhead engulfed by Tuesday’s sultry morning mist.

Palm Springs    116    Redding, California    105
Phoenix            114    Portland, Oregon        98
Las Vegas        110    Boston                        97
Death Valley    117    NYC                            96
DC                    102   Brattleboro                91

Green trees stood alike… calm, upright-lush in muted defiance of this heated warming.  They had enjoyed the respites of the heavy rains. Yet, I experienced an eerie feeling as I ambled up the trail.  The humid air blanketed the mountain with a heaviness, a weariness that slowed me, fogging my brain as well.  Even though I was walking a lush green mountain, I could sense the hot spots around the earth.  A wall of fire was not about to jump and torch the next ridge, yet the distant fires were palpable, and would make their way here one day.

Pine needles were gathered on the trail in moist clumps.  Small rocks lay washed naked on smooth dirt like sluice in a miner’s pan.  The rains had rushed beside them, washing away grains of dirt clinging to them.  Mushrooms were abounding… white, beige, red and orange.  This trail was getting steeper and more slippery so I decided to turn back before I landed on my keister.  This is the first time I’ve ever used keister in a sentence.  It seems appropriate.  An alternate spelling is keester.  Slang for buttocks or rump, it also defines a satchel or a suitcase.   Well, whaddya know?  I digress.

Coming down, I veered right onto a trail I’d never hiked.  It was about 6’ wide, wet and pine needled soft… a gradual climb.  The woods were wet from the drenching the night before.  I thought of bone dry timber & brush in California.  Ablaze, refusing to be put out.  

                    dense, dry, drought sickened chaparral 
                          forests’ underbrush fallen trees
        an arson’s revenge burning black madness and hate
                        hear the fire’s roar, now it’s too late
                    2018 shaping up as our fourth hottest year
                       climate’s clamor no longer a wake-up call 
      this is now, it is hot, it is here, this is not a future to prepare for

Thoughts I had while thinking.  Suddenly, I spotted a large boulder with an odd canister sitting atop, balanced in a slight indentation of the rock.  I left the trail for a closer look and was befuddled to see an 18“- tall, bullet-shaped whatnot that looked like a small artillery round.  There were gray metal wires sprouting from the top that hung over it like an umbrella.  A rusty chain with a tiny padlock was wrapped around it.  I’d never seen anything like it.  Puzzled, I took a few photos of it, then went on my way.  An unfazed frog hopped across the trail in front of me.

The forest clouded over dark.  I thought of western stretches of smoky haze, muggy and smoky discomfort.  El Salvador’s rainless skies leading to farmers’ demise.   Paris’ global agreement missing reduction targets, simply unable to achieve them… our pullout from the accord. 

Better paint the rail tracks white. They’re actually doing that to keep the railroad tracks from buckling in Switzerland.  In some areas of India, they’re painting the rooftops white.  All thoughts along the trail.
So, I had an idea. Perhaps it’s already been thought of.  What if… what if the nations of our earth got together using the best science, the best engineering, and the best technological practices to create a massive, I mean massive white skin or white connected panels to float around the polar ice caps.  Maybe this reflection of the sun’s rays would somewhat slow, discourage the melting.  If this were at all feasible, it would still require enormous will, determination, and cooperation among all of folks on the planet.  An allied effort such as defeating an enemy in a World War. But we need to act now!

Meanwhile, we could work to reduce industrial emissions of carbon dioxide that scientists say are at the highest level in 800,000 years!

Feeling saddened about the future for my children, and the here and now for us all, I continued up the trail.

Looking left, another ¼ mile up the trail, I noticed a large outcropping of granite.  Some were large, individual slabs.  They were balanced precariously atop one another, some seemingly hanging in air.  I thought perhaps it was a section that had been quarried years ago.  Thought they were worth a closer look and some photos.  I bushwhacked in about 30’ and framed some shots.

As I returned to the trail, I felt these sharp, painful stinging sensations surrounding my shortchanged skin. They were even crawling & stinging around the tops of my ankle length socks.  Swatting, brushing and squeezing them away, I dashed back down the trail.  Their venom was unleashed.  My trek was distressing as their stabbing and piercing tormented me.

Just then, I thought of my Aunt Chippee many years ago.  We had visited her in Hicksville, Long Island, and she greeted us in her backyard… barefoot and tending her garden.  Back then it was unusual to see a suburban housewife standing barefoot in her garden.  I remembered some bees buzzing, and I remembered her relating a temporary remedy for a bee sting.  

‘Put some mud on it’.  Got it!  A small wooden bridge lay ahead crossing some standing water.  I crossed, bent to scoop some mud and generously covered my stings with it.  There was a wet, cooling sensation and the pain lessened.  Good ole Aunt Chippee!  Moving quickly down the trail, I soon crossed Quarry road and eased myself down the bank into the West River.  Ahhh!  The cool rushing water brought further relief though the stinging stayed with me that day into the next.  In fact, I can still feel their mark as I write.  Apple Cider vinegar became my next cure and like the others offered a temporary balsam.  Wow… revenge of the bees!  Were they fighting back against the onslaught of pesticides, the recent relaxing of laws regarding their use?

I will return to the place of my bee encounter. I’ll skirt their hive and continue up the trail, because I want to know what lies ahead….

Understory vines

Friday, early afternoon, a sun cloudy day.  I was headed down my outdoor staircase when I heard a knock behind.  Turning ‘round to see what it was, I noticed my walking stick had fallen over and was leaning against the door.  Thinking a moment, I quickly decided that it was an omen, and that the stick wanted to come along.  That meant hiking the steeper, more arduous side of Black mountain today.  I was okay with that.  Hadn’t been up that way in a while, and I was in need of a new perspective.

The walking stick rode in the passenger’s seat, diagonally imposed.  Soon we were going for a ride up Rte. 30, passing under a sky-blue bridge, next a moving road where the West River waters flow.

Parking near the trailhead on Quarry road, I grabbed my trusty stick and a liter of spring water from Iceland.  The stick was 5’ 9 inches or so long, whittled hard maple that had a curved index finger handhold perfect to my squeeze.  There was some water-based oil paint from France splattered about the handle, just enough to make it interesting. 

Setting out, the trail was narrow, overgrown grassy adjoining either side.  As the weed grass & clover brushed my legs, I queased of ticks.  Just thinking, not worrying, because I had sprayed the buzz away after leaving my car.  Leaving the open sunshine, I was swallowed by the woods.

                 small trees, saplings, shrubs in frond embrace 
                      there was no one round, not even a trace
                                                 but me

                                 growth beneath larger trees
                                  fall under spells commands
                            these forests, woods and timberlands
I was relieved to be in the understory.  A butterfly, black with white striped wings dancing, floated its welcome on the path in front of me.  Good to be in the woods.  Long warm golden glow sunlight slants filtered at 70 degrees through small new growth trees.

                Yes, they grow green, leaves peeking out and about
                                Beholding lumens since daybreak
                                       their daily dose of light
                             understory vines seem happy enough
                                    down below, no hurry to grow
                                gazing up at the bottoms of leaves

There was some dried wet-caked mud below treated foot bridges, a remnant of Spring’s torrents past.  A big ole tree rotted round made an appearance stage right off the trail.  Looked oakish and beaten, more than a hundred years old.  Yet one trunk/branch, duly centered. stretched straight through the canopy, green leaves as fresh as the day                  
                      unannounced, unadorned, unappreciated
                                     might say understated
                            singing high, giving voice to unsung

Stone steps steep, staircases of yesteryear, were solidly functional, a testament to some well thought/well placed labor.  Shaded ledges silence grim forbidden voices only partly covered over.  I drank some water. I was rationing a bit and would recommend two liters for this trek, about a liter an hour.

Young folks were comin down, eyes in their phones. I said, “ya oughta try and look around, take in all ya see.”  A young gal brushed a black fly from her open eyelid, replied, “I text, therefore I am.” Said she “learned it in college, in Descartes’ geometry!”   I said, “Yes you am darlin, enjoy the day.”
Some big light grey boulders appeared, deposited long ago geologic shift.  I continued walking, steady pace. The trail was rocky root strewn with stretches of dead leaves and pine needles.  Had to watch my footing.  Just then it happened.  I tripped.  My black trail runner slid beneath a quarter inch foot long root on trail.  Hopping out of its grasp, I stopped to notice.  Had an idea!  If I used my walking stick as a lever, I could slide beneath, raise it up, and put an end to its snare.

So, I acted on my idea, and as I levered up, my trusty walking stick snapped, a clean break, shortening its trustworthiness by about 9 inches.   I marveled at the strength of the dimunitive root for a moment.  Then began mourning my walking stick.  Merde!  My act couldn’t be taken back.  Fortunately, my stick was more staff, overly long, and I newly learned its grasp.  Not a well-worn fit, but serviceable and necessary goin on.  I stopped cursin the root and meandered up.  A Subaru-sized boulder took my notice as I walked by.  I turned back in scrutiny of its pockmarked face.  Looking closely, my astonishment spied light green lichen adorning the boulder’s face that had grasped dead leaves, and held them dear.   Dried and dead and brown and crinkled, leaves sucked out of air by a Venus boulder trap....

Then a big view opened south as granite slabs parabolically swept down
out of sight.  I’d missed this vista before… not sure why.  But it was magnificent in its own way, and the answer to a saddle’s puzzle.  Two mountain tops conjoined just so… Today, I had my answer at the end of a shortened walking stick.

                             sundown shadows began to gather
                                          closing in darkness
                                night will come back night black 
                       understory vines gazed up in perfect silence
                          stars’ ambient rising lit the lie-low speak
                                  crickets chirped and creaked

Here Comes the Sun

Earth day, 2018…clear blue sky above, cool morning envelops the air.
It was that Sunday after that Saturday of winter’s gone by.  Finally! Riding up the road, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that mud season had left or never started as well.

Into the wood, the sun was beginning to warm with quiet.  Well, birds were sweetly chirping.  There were small patches of snow in areas of northern shade… at the base trees, or large rocks.  I was soon met by a large pine windfall across the trail.  It was a big tree and I marveled at its still green pine needles and broken branches.  No doubt it had been standing tall not long ago.

I expected the trail to be muddy after all the recent wet days, but it was mostly damp dry.  Just then my first gift took off from a branch ‘bout 30 yards to my northwest.  I wasn’t able to get close enough for identification, but it was a big majestic bird, a hawk of some sort.  Three-foot wingspan.  So beautiful…

Moving on in hopes of catching another glimpse, I was halted by another windblown pine, then a large maple and a good-sized birch, I realized that the wind did not discriminate.  

My hawk was gone…. flown away from this interloper.

The air was still cooly-breezed with occasional rushes of wind whushing through the tops of trees.  The higher I hiked, the more plentiful and larger the patches of snow.  In certain glens of shade, the snow melted slowly resistant to the warmer temperatures. There was even one 17’ segment of trail covered dirty atop with ash and small broken branches.  Hardly 3” hard-packed in center, it had been walked on. But that was all, just one small vestige of winter’s trail remained.

The steady rocks of the cairn stood left off trail like a pocket of a billiard table.  They had maintained their balance and are always a welcome sight to see.  A sign the summit is near.  Moss hadn’t changed much, a few rusty brown pine needles scattered atop.  Lichen-stamped trees stood freshly alive and mute in greeting.

7 gunshots rang out from across the valley to the southwest.  A pause.
Then some more… a pause, and still more.  It wasn’t hunting season, so the volley grew increasingly disturbing.  What was the target down below?  My thoughts went to recent mass killings, to the plethora of gun violence… the plethora of bloodshed in our world.  Perhaps our young will find a way to quell the fray.  The shots finally silenced, but my heart was saddened.  I wondered if there was enough freedom to go around.  

When I reached the summit, it was sun-soaked dry.  I’ve written ‘sundrenched’ too many times in this column and didn’t want it to become a cliché.  Though most folks in these parts will take all the sundrenched they can these last days of a prolonged winter.

The hills to the west were pockmarked plenteous by copious fields of snow.  Where not covered in white, the short grass weeds of the tracts were wheat straw in color.  The woods surrounding them were a softly muted purplish-lavender-brown awaiting Spring’s renewal.  Easily rendered in pastel.

Two plump robins took off in tandem.  They seemed healthy and happy.  The signs were all there.  Looking across & down, I spied three boomerang shaped/sized divots beautifully shaded in the sunned-on granite rock.  Some weathered dead stick bushes dazzled silver in the sunlight where their black bark had been stripped away.  Buds, barely an eighth inch in length, were abounding… raring, eager to grow.

The air was clean and clear, as was my water, this fine day atop Black mountain. As I gazed in the distance, I felt blessed & happy to be.


The first thing I heard was the quiet, the stillness of the trees… without wind, without leaves.  Leaving my car at the trailhead, it felt good to be back in the woods.  Peaceful.

Last day of February, early afternoon, I was surprised by how little snow was on the trail.  An inch, maybe two, of soft crunch atop, a little slippery below.  Tracks revealed few hikers before me in days past, a dog along, a solitary hiker ahead of me today.

Deer tracks were plentiful and easily read on each side of the varying 7 ‘ wide trail. They were deep and clearly marked along the path of least resistance.  Nice to know I was among them.

I walked through the crunch on the left side, foregoing the slippery of footsteps past in the center. The middle way is not always the way, though many follow it sheepishly.  As when parking in an empty parking lot, incoming cars soon herd around you.  Hiking on the edge was certainly easier this Wednesday.

A lone hiker appeared coming down.  As we passed, I asked how it was at the top.  “Beautiful” was her one word reply. Nice to know. Continuing on, I came to a bend in the trail that curled left, and up to the south.

                                     a sundrenched opening 
                                      azure sky blue above
                            bright warm sunshine radiating down
                     still forest on either side, a trace of a breeze
                               light white snow reflecting below
            and there I was standing with a half-smile of contentment
                                        I drank some water

Emily Dickinson, whose birthdate I share, said, 

“Nature is what we know- Yet have not art to say-So impotent our wisdom is to her simplicity.”  

Those words spoke to me in that moment.  Thus far, there was nothing spectacular about this jaunt, yet nothing was missing.  No soaring of the hawk on high, no sighting of wildlife below.  Just Peaceful.

Mueller drew closer and the snow receded as I climbed higher.  Large slabs of granite lay half covered, dark wet line of melt meeting at the edges.  Bare granite dry in the sun…. footing more assured as I went.  

The summit was almost completely devoid of snow.  My clear sky view clocked east to Monadnock in the distance.  Its western side appeared no longer crowned in white as well.  To the south, large open fields were already bare.  Rusty green in tone, they looked sodden. There were still isolated patches of snow all over, but these were fast melting in the sun.

I lowered myself to my favorite sitting spot and gulped some more water.  I took out my pad and looked about.  Gently moving in the southwest breeze, the evergreens seemed to be calling on everyone to wake-up.  To my left, a few crinkly rusty leaves waggled, hanging limply, refusing to let go.  Like old stressful thoughts.  

All in all, the top was ’beautiful’ as always in its own way.  It was T-shirt warm and I dozed eyes closed for a respite.  I allowed heliotherapy to absorb me as tranquil thoughts meandered.  The afternoon grew easy.

After about a half hour of lazing about, a cooler, stronger breeze arose from the southwest.  It spoke with a gentle nudge as if to say, “Time to go.”  
I saddled up, swigged some more water, and headed down.  After a few steps, I stopped to turn ‘round and take in the expanse once more.  ‘Beautiful’.  Going down, the snow-capped mountains to the northwest looked pretty, defiant in their depth of whiteness.

I knew the going would be slower going down, the proverbial, ‘slippery slope’.  And it was.  Once again, I avoided the center and made my way along the edges on my left.  The snow was a little deeper there, a little less icy, and the path the deer would take if not thru the woods.  At times my overconfidence would result in an arm-waving almost down.  Other times I grasped the hands of bush branches and small trees to steady my gait.  I took it slow; no one to impress.

Another quote of Emily Dickinson that I’d recently read entered my consciousness,

“How strange that nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude.”

If anything, I was the intruder this day, but nature didn’t seem to mind.   I was grateful… grateful that I had the time of day.  Thankful, thankful that some physical foot ailments of late had abated, allowing me to walk this way this day.

The trail grew colder and darker as I descended.  I was warm and lighter… Peaceful!

Light footprints

As you enter the trailhead on the east side of Black Mountain, there’s a sign that says, Mountain closed from 7:30pm till 7:30am. Fair enough.  I imagine the Nature Conservancy doesn’t want campers spoiling the pristine, or huddling around campfires with possibly catastrophic results.  Why, even Thoreau once set the woods on fire!

It was that cool sunny morning before the hot weekend.  The day of the Autumnal Equinox.  Equinox… equal night.  No one in sight.  I was prepared to expect wonders.  Shortly there in, I noticed a westerly curved path out to field with tips of green grass glowing through overspread fallen leaves... a last glimmer here!  To my left, sun’s bright light shone through shadows illuminating a lone white birch.  Its white-skinned bark was wrapped tight around… straight-lining up to sky.  A choir of silver birches arced above and behind in solemn accompaniment. 

Leaves were falling at a leisurely rate like snowflakes before a coming storm.  As I was jotting some notes, a dead leaf landed gently on my forearm.  Amusing, that had never happened to me.  I let it rest, looked at it, felt its texture, then brushed it to the forest floor.  Silence would be my teacher this fine day…

                          thinking change without
                                  change within
                             honoring connection
                                  sun in balance
                   crossing earth’s celestial equator
                    rising due east, setting due west
              the nature of truth, the truth of nature… 

ecocidal evil… Monsanto… Agent Orange.  I remembered walking through defoliated jungle for two weeks 46 years ago in South Vietnam, somewhere northwest of Xuan Loc.  Flying high ‘midst the apex of the canopy… descending noir over all you see… secret Agent Orange smothering synthesis with its pallid cloak. The once lush green jungle burnt to an ashen crisp… sinister, surreal… aluminum soap jellies dripping like thousands of white plastic picnic forks ignited by thousands of flames.  Flames gone out now just the plastic dripping… Charon’s ferries nearby…

I stepped out of a memory and back onto trail.  Still climbing the lower slopes, I was with the pine and the hemlock… the deciduous hardwood oak, red maple and beech.  It was good to be among them.   

Hiking higher, the air temperature was growing warmer.  Looking left, I marveled at the beauty of the underwood moss… verdant and vibrant in shimmering shades of green.  Dense patches of evergreen sheet moss and mood moss glistening on the moist forest floor.  The sheet moss’ tight cushions hugged old logs or the edges of granite slabs and rocks.  The mood moss grew in compact, rounded cushion-like clumps that appeared as stepping stones in a Japanese garden. Their thick and tight packed stems held just enough moisture to get by… to revel in the mystic.

Trees grew sparse as I closed on the crown of the granite dome.
Looking down right and off trail, I was surprised to see a long thin snake lying still… basking.  I stopped and slowly turned ‘round in observation.  It must’ve sensed my vibes, my shadow casting over and disturbing its restful sunning.  Slender with three yellow lengthwise stripes on a black background body, it quickly slithered out of sight with a sine-like wave motion.  
It was similar to a common garter snake, however, its slim long length and fluid movement convinced me that it wasn’t a garter.  I made a note to look it up when I returned home.  Later, photos on the fish and wildlife website confirmed my identification.  Naturalists labeled my reptile an Eastern ribbon snake, a rare sighting in these parts.  A wonder!

Meanwhile, an agglomerated quagmire:
                   a moss, a mass, a mess, a sphere so hence
                         snarling carbon, methane emissions
                           fossil fuels furious burning rate
               worldwide tonnage now 45 billion, that’s metric
            US alone contributing 5.4, in part to move electric

Mushrooms were plenteous aside trails and deeper into woods.  Some white bowled tops spotted brown with pale cream fin-like filters below.   Amanita muscaria, toadstool red-capped with white spotted umbrellas, were also plentiful.  Commonly known as the fly agaric, it is toxic and psychoactive… hallucinatory!  Legend has it that the Vikings ingested them before heading into battle.
Amanita turned off their fear emotions and turned on the fierce.

Breeze mid wind was delightful!  As was the hazy bright sun shining through wispy clouds on high while most…

            continue driving, chastising… burning organic wood
                     our carbon dioxide heating our oceans
                water vapor rising in air, Poseidon’s potions
  supporting more devastating, destructive, denuding hurricanes
                                 Harvey… Irma… Maria
                   storms surging with greater frequency
              severity, longevity, cataclysmic words thrive
                      all the seven ocean sea levels rise

Full Circle Meander

It’s been roughly a year since our publisher, Phil Innes, challenged me to write a column in witness of continuous visits to one site to get a sense of place.  He suggested that I try a hybrid prose/verse style of writing to enhance the telling.  I liked the idea and began walking Black Mountain and writing a column to chronicle these experiences.  This is my twelfth entry. The writing has brought me to the mountain more often than usual, and I am grateful for that.  It has also made my senses more keen, my mind thoughtful, and perhaps even improved my written expression.  
                                    Thanks Phil.

                   today’s jaunt had me thinking Change
    Arctic warming twice as fast than other points on earth
                     much faster than here in Vermont
          permafrost thawing causing more warming to come  
                            Life once wild disappearing

Funny to think of warming when a cool hint of summer’s end greeted my face and arms as I stepped onto the trail from Black Mountain road.  Crisp and cool and clean, the air was invigorating.   Looking about, I thought… Change is slow on Black mountain.

Although subtle signs were beginning to show, autumn’s approach was slowly accelerating.   I noticed lime greenish acorns spore radically strewn about.  Actually, they seemed to have dropped just recently, free-falling gently to the forest floor… perhaps a little roll downhill upon landing.  Two were pocketed for later scrutiny.

While walking, I realized that stopping to notice, to jot a few notes, had made my ascent effortless…seemingly faster than just trekking straight uphill.  Curious! Mindfulness bred mindlessness. 

Fall vestiges were stirring.  A few random red or burnt orange leafs on the trail noticeable in contrast to all the verdant green about.  Picking up another acorn, I noted that those freshly fallen acorns with little green tips were beginning to decay yellow at their bottoms, bereft of photosynthetic attachment.  

The forest was strong, content on this placid day… as was I. 

Yet wildlife was disappearing, more so elsewhere than here.  Frozen ground, storehouse of ancient carbon, was yielding.  Plants had absorbed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere centuries ago, then died and froze before they could decompose.  Deep- frozen a few feet underneath the surface, the freeze extended hundreds of feet below… now it was thawing.
                               Ancient Carbon Release
                  sea ice vanishing from Henry’s fountain
       higher sea levels threatening coastal native villages
            Alaska… 350 miles south of the Arctic Circle
                 wide flat tundra, treeless landscape
                         Life once wild disappearing
As I reached the top, I noticed that there were still a few yellow-flowered St. John’s Wort plants hanging on.  Five petaled yellow, almost star-like, basking in the warm morning sun. We know it as a medicinal herb with antidepressant activity, and anti-inflammatory properties.  What I didn’t know was that its name comes from its harvesting on St, John’s day, June 24th. 
A truly fascinating trait of St. John’s wort is that it will ‘alter its growth form and habit to promote survival’.   I thought on that...

Five-petaled yellow, almost star-like…  I looked up to the east, towards Monadnock, and I was astonished to see a faded yellow star-shaped helium balloon tethered to a branch of a dead pine tree. The balloon was out of reach some 20 feet in the air, and I wondered.  Totally incongruent on the mountaintop, I puzzled at its sense of mystery…how it got here?  Did a child tote it up all the way up only to have it slip from his hand as he reached the top?  Nah, that didn’t make sense, but it was my first theory.  

A more sober response imagined it rising and floating and rising and floating loosed from a little girl’s hand down below, across the West River in West Dummerston.  Floating on the prevailing winds till the balloon accidentally anchored its short string in the crook of a dead branch.  And bobbed there on the breeze… tugging up, left, right to let go…. 

Charlottesville quickly came to mind and Billy Joel’s jacket.  Yellow star.   Billy wore it as a symbol of the Star of David in protest of Neo-Nazis marching in Virginia.  This yellow helium balloon star was so out of place that it was unsettling amidst recent events.  Juxtaposed above the St. John’s wort, its yellow star-like cousin, it caused my thoughts to tumble back and forth… a child’s balloon… later my research led to a means of Jewish identification since medieval times.  Various societies used it to humiliate Jews, to mark them for segregation and discrimination, and later for easy deportation to camps.  I knew little about the Star of David.  I learned that the six-sided figure symbolizes God’s rule over the universe and His protection of humankind in all six directions: north, south, east, west… up and down.  
Reflecting on my meander, I envisioned myself standing atop Black Mountain a few days back, looking in all directions and that peaceful, protective meaning made sense to me now.  The unspeakable suffering, horror and hate that it also represented was incomprehensible.     
           Now, the yellow star had a deeper meaning up high.

As I think back, perhaps its escape had caused a kid to cry at a birthday party as it slipped away colorless and odorless trapped in the fading foil of a yellow star.  The wonder, the joy it had brought made a getaway.  

Helium is colorless and odorless, one of the noble gases with the lowest known boiling and melting points!  Colorless, odorless, was it also yearning to be set free?

As I was taking notes, a bird’s black shadow passed on the ground directly below me in the bright sun.  I stayed within my notes, and a minute later its dark shadow passed again as it quickly circled overhead.  Looking up this time, it had vanished.  Another omen? I noticed a dragonfly rise about three feet from the ground in front me.  It too began to circle.  The yellow star balloon continued to bob, the St. John’s wort gently swayed, and on its third go round the dragonfly crashed into my right elbow.  Harmless to people, having narrow, transparent, net veined wings, feeding mostly on flies and mosquitoes in flight….  it quickly flew off, dazed perhaps with a bent antenna or two? 

Red clover abounding in breeze took it all in with a Zen smile.
  “We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.” 
                                                                 Thich Nhat Hanh

Turning round, I spied a caterpillar’s gossamer threads enveloping some dead brown leaves on a tree.  This web of intrigue was nestled three feet up and across from the tip of a branch.  Fine clear white filaments, gravity sagged, hung together in air.  Had the weaving killed the leaves?  Or had the already dead leaves invited a home?

Clouds with their grey underbellies were moving in from the southwest.  I thought of Harvey’s cataclysmic drenching of Houston, this relentless hurricane’s havoc… offered some prayers, thought of permafrost below the Arctic Circle thawing and spilling up precipitously, metaphorically over Corpus Christi.   Gully gushers, knee deep, then chest deep waters.  The wind was picking up….

     “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.”
                                                         Thich Nhat Hanh

I’m working on that…. 

A July summer’s midday morn

Quiet!  The quiet hung humid in air about me.  No one along to join today’s sashay, my meandering meant to fill a quizzical quota.  

March’s ice had long ago melted into ground allowing for a longer gait and quicker pace.  Despite being slowed a bit by my uphill hike, my feet were delightfully cushioned by pine needles woven by recent rains.  They had washed the trail clean.  In doing so, they had also scattered clusters of sink-into pine needles…soft and wet underfoot. These allowed me to keep from consciously looking down to avoid missteps.  I tried to keep my balance, head held high, shoulders back to take in the surrounds around me.

The green leaf shade was welcome though it did curtail my gaze to deep forest.  Miranda Russell’s cover of Graceland was playing in my head.  Her version has a slow, safari-like steady tempo that moved me along.  That and the quiet!

I took off in a jog to wakeup my breathing, striding long as long as I could go.  Then I’d catch my breath, bring it in and look about again.

                          nothing stood out strikingly
         the forest just seemed to envelop and accept me
      tranquil leaves waved ever so gently, barely a breeze
        ‘wolf’ trees stood alone, low widespread branches
        witnesses to mid-late 19th Century’s open pasture
    just hanging out…wondering where the cattle had gone

              good fortune continues to bring me here
                     the most spiritual place I know

A few brown 4-inch mushrooms stood sturdy aside the path.  Umbrellas perfectly rounded in varying shades, some shone a paler orangey tone.  I bent to touch them.   Their damp stalks easily withstood the hard rains.  They were meant for moisture, thriving in this springs and early summer torrents.

Large light-green lichen patches were mottle-fixed, randomly
stamped on trees.   They had nowhere to go, happy in attachment.

Lichen on ancient granite, adroitly wedded, softened solidity.  

Wildlife was spare, a robin alighting with a whistle here… a grey squirrel scurrying there.  Welcome companions.  This was their day-to-day hurry; didn’t seem to care… to notice me.  

The obligatory stop off trail right rested in a child’s balance.  One stone atop another, Black Mountain’s rock cairns changed anew… a few more this way this time, a little less the next… man & woman’s… a child’s signature comforting harmony.

             light and lime generous green shades of moss
     hugged and gleamed below me, above sunshine’s soil
                         as the mountaintop opened

             elsewhere a trillion ton iceberg named Larsen C 
    broke off, and said goodbye to its West Antarctic ice shelf

        a yellow butterfly floated by, zig-zagging on the breeze 
                          searching for a lovable flower 
       finding it, it alighted motionless, communing in thin air

‘Beware the ides of March’

This was truly this year’s ides of March, Sunday March 12th, ides, an ancient marker that referenced dates in relation to lunar phases such as that day’s full moon. Shakespeare’s soothsayer’s “beware” came true with the blow & snow of Tuesday’s blizzard.

The woods below were Sunday quiet as I walked uphill.  It was icy underfoot due to an overnight dusting atop the frozen compacted trail.  A leisurely gait was in order to avoid a calamitous fall.  This allowed for more off trail looking about.

                                cold in the low teen range
                              intermittent windy whooshes
                             never gave it a second thought
                       dressed for it, the air fresh and clean
                              drew me up to the why not top

The sun.  Ah the sun… the sun was strong, inviting.  I knew that I’d be engulfed by it on the mountaintop.  So, I happily kept on. [Caption: coin 42BC]

Brown leaves were beginning to materialize on the sides of the trail marking the best places to walk.  Green needles on trees were glistening green, shining vibrant left and right.   Moving through shade, I thought I heard voices, Caurus or Caecias whistling on the northwest wind.  Perhaps it was Favonius from the west.  Excepting occasional bursts, it was a calm wind today and it felt good to be back in the woods again.  The quiet was a refuge from the noise in town.

                                         being at ease
                             not needing a mantra, nor a beat
                       I stood easy with the trees around me 

Frigid though it was, I was surprised to see snow and ice melting
on isolated slabs of granite as I climbed higher.  The gray stone was heating up, absorbing, warming, giving back while turning snow to water.

About ¾’s of the way up, the mountain laurel leaves, glossy dark green, were pale, drooping, hanging down like they’d had enough.  Pausing for a moment, I began counting the number of leaves in each clump.  Five in this one, seven in that, seven over there.  Another 5 here… most clusters were odd in count, seemingly nature’s balance for a laurel.  I imagined they longed for June when their pink and white cup-like flowers would draw all in with their sweet fragrance.

Early March winds of 2017 had come in right on cue, noticeably stronger this year.  At times gusts had visited with a flurry that lowered temperatures amid their chill factors.   In Brattleboro, pedestrians huddled head down to dodge their bite.  Yet this day, the entire forest seemed ready to burst, to open, to grow in the wet warming air of April. The mountain stood ready!

At its highest point, Black Mountain was tranquil and almost completely devoid of snow.  The granite rock atop had forged a meltdown with the beaming sun.  I found a perfect new seat nestled between two large slabs that welcomed me.  Facing just south of southwest, its warmth and comforting support held me just so.  Warm sun on my eyes’ closed face, I sat easy.  Hawks were scarce this day making the few sightings more special.

Didn’t need to read nor excel, it was good to be away from all the information below…

White as Snow
Halfway up the mountain, I stopped and stared at a lone white birch tree set back in a grove of pines.  It had a distinct lower branch jutting out horizontally, perpendicular to the tree for about 7 feet.  Then it rose vertically at a right angle.  I watched and thought I detected something moving on the branch near the trunk…  movement ever so slight.

Then it moved again.  A white creature nestled its rounded white head slightly down and left into its chest.  His head came up in alert.  An owl, white as snow, perched demurely, concealed in the camouflage of a white birch, returned my gaze.   

My surprise and wonder moved me as I slowly left the trail to approach this snowy bird.   A few steps… a stop… a few more steps.  As I drew closer, I was dumbfounded by his yellow eyed, black-beaked, empty-noddled espial of me.

He was a big bird, standing two foot plus on the branch.  Pure white plumage marked his maleness.  Dressed for winter, his snowiness blended his secrets without a care.

Another step, my boot cracked a dry branch under snow, and he took flight.  He flew straight at and just above me.  A magical, magnificent snowy owl!  I was awestruck by his size and fluid flight as if all motion had slowed.  My carpenter’s eye measured his wingspan to be at least 4’.  Flying overhead, he made a clicking, almost quacking, ‘creak, creak’ sound, derisive in dismissal, as if barking, “so long, sucker.”  I felt honored by his insulting regard of me as he made a right turn at the trailhead and flew up the mountain.  Damn, that was something!  

                          And then it started to snow… 
                    those big slow gently floating flakes
                 as if standing in a topsy-turvy snow globe  

Some five years back, I’d heard a legend of Glooskap and the snowy bird.  Glooskap is the benevolent trickster of native lore.  Long ago, there had been an especially hard winter.  The Abenaki people were having difficulty hunting; even leaving their wigwams was difficile.  The elders called on Glooskap to help.  Hearing their tale of hardship, he trekked to the mountaintop to confront a large white owl with heavy snow falling from its wings.  Glooskap said, “if you don’t close your wings, I will tie them with this string.”  The owl spied the string, replied simply, “I will do as you ask”, and closed its wings.  The snow stopped falling.

Walking back to the trail, I wondered why this vision had come to me.  A huge snowy owl on Black Mountain!  Why was this nomadic Artic bird surging south this winter?  Perhaps his diurnal, day and night hunting north of latitude 60 was not enough to sustain him.  Hunger?  Maybe he knew of the plentiful field mice, chipmunks, and red squirrels scurrying on Vermont mountainsides from an earlier sojourn.   

                    partial to tundra, breaks in coastal ice
                               great long distance flyer  
                                here on Black Mountain 
                        talons grasping a white birch tree
             looked to be two foot tall… four foot wingspan
                            yellow eyes, sable black beak
                                     majestic in flight
                               flying in rhythm, in time
                            he knew where he was going
                                I didn’t have any string


White Buffalo in the Sky
In the early morning sunlight the mountain looked fresh and the air was clean…cool on my face as I began my trek.   The main trail had been walked on, snow-packed, hardened dark grey ice to center.  I avoided the slippery path of steps of others by breaking new trail to their side.  

Every now and then a bare patch of pine needles, or brown leaves lay uncovered where the sun had managed to peak thru.

New snow, barely an inch of powder had a pristine cleansing effect on the forest floor.  Some lay dusted, blown by wind to the bark of a tree.  Arced half smiles just there, pleasing to notice.  These stripes climbed the tree incrementally in 1’ bands.  Surely nature’s poetry.   

In other sunless areas, blown and broken pine branches lay scattered about reminding me of recent high winds.

Near the top, the right triangle safe-hold’s opening was diminished. Seven inches of windswept snow had closed the entrance from ground level.   Peering inside, it looked dry.  I continued on as the mountain brightened.

On top, snow had retreated from the edges of granite exposed by our southern daystar: 
                      thought of the Larsen C ice shelf 
       a rift had increased 11 miles in the space of a month  
          4th largest ice shelf, nearly as large as Scotland       
           rifted, shifted, threatening now to break free
                    afloat to melt in the southern ocean 
After a look about, I took off my pack and propped it as a backrest in my favorite viewing spot.  I spread my lined jean jacket on the ground, sat back and drank a cup of water.  The sun was warm on my face, but a cool breeze from the north danced on my neck.  I lay my head back to a double-handed rest, closing my eyes to soak some solar radiation.   Heliotherapy, a welcome dose ….highly recommended…  

                         opening my eyes to a cloud above
                               watching as it lazed on by  
                       its shape morphing, first an elephant
                         next a woman stretched on a sofa
                            a locomotive tracking the sky…. 
                           dispersing in a stream of vapor

What could that possibly mean?  Were these clouds aware of their appearance, their mutability, influence on a daydream?

Now a larger cloud darker at the edges moved in slowly to block the sun, robbing me of my reverie.  I decided to absorb the chill and wait it out.   Its passing took longer than I liked, but a Biblical “lamp unto my feet, light unto my path”, reappeared to warm away discomfort.  Contentment returned.

Embracing solitude was a mixed bag that day.  Content in quiet, yet a tinge of sadness disquieted me as I felt the loneliness of being alone.

Birds were quiet… no hawks to be seen.  I thought of the flight of a bumblebee, buzzing as it danced flower to flower on a June day.  A media rite had just announced that man had helped bumble its black and yellow stripes to the endangered species list!  I wondered how much longer I would lay listless on the mountain.

White Mountain
Well, I ain’t about to let a little snow stop my meanderings.  Last night, the 13th of December, the full moon reached its brightest point in Gemini opposing the sun in Sagittarius, creating an opening to possibilities.

Wednesday morning I awoke ready to climb snow-covered Black Mountain.  This would be my first time walking up since black became white.  Donning extra layers, culminating in wool pants, a wool shirt, and a wool hat, I walked out the door.  Oh, and I also had a new pair of Sorel 40 below zero hiking/snow boots to tryout.  Stuffing a warm jacket into my backpack seemed prudent along with a liter of water and a few chocolate peanut energizer bars.

When I arrived at the trailhead, I shoveled some snow to ease my car off the road.  That quickly warmed me.

A friend arrived with her collie and we headed up the mountain.  With a cover of clean white powdery snow, I thought the forest would be brighter than on past meanders.  I was surprised to learn that it was actually darker, even with a bright sun above.  I surmised that it was due to the sun being lower in the sky a week before Winter Solstice.

After some hi/hello conversation, we walked in lucid stillness.
I listened to the soft crunch/squeak of our boots breaking the frozen ¼” top layer of snow above seven inches of powder.  I heeded the wind’s chill whistle through the trees.  But mostly, I was enveloped in comfortable quietude, realizing at that moment it was okay not to speak.  We walked together in silence.

Occasionally brief conversations would start up.  Mercifully brief ones of politics, for example, juxtaposed against simple observations of trees off trail left, right… and above.  We both remarked on the steadfastness of the mountain laurel bushes’ still green leaves.  My mind traced back to June when their bell-shaped flowers were bursting in white full bloom.  

                 now faded jade, medium hue resilient
                     holding pure powder effortlessly
                  balance achieved with hardly a shiver
 pine needle branches nearby held snowflakes’ white crystals
                       with evergreen edges exposed 
Water breaks were needed as the trudge thru snow added another layer of exertion to the climb.  My boots were heavier than my usual hiking shoes.  My pack was heavier.  Breathing was heavier.  Yet having friends along lightened the load.

My new collie friend led us up the mountain.  He was all in, open eyed, nosing about, happy to be along on this adventure.   At times, something below the snow would send him into an excited, snout-led reverie of discovery.   Man’s best friend, easy to please.

We were temporarily blinded upon reaching the summit!  Raising our hands to block the rays’ penetration, we quickly moved east to be out of its direct glare.  Monadnock stood majestic in the distance with a natural cover of fresh snow.

I pulled out the energy bars of concentrated chocolate and peanut protein.  Broken off morsels were shared with our faithful companion, and we had some more water.  Deciding not to exchange our germs, we drank with heads tilted back, the bottle tipped inches above, pouring slowly down our gullets without touching our lips.  The drinking of water seemed more precious this way—sipping steady without spilling a drop.  We passed the water back and forth.  Standing on rock, I thought of the Sioux in North Dakota, their noble heartfelt, “We come from the water.” I sent them my thoughts of respect, support from faraway that somehow seemed shallow.

Circling back to the southwest, I noticed the lost glove from my last meander was no longer there.  Most likely it had blown off its tree limb and was now lying under snow.  We tried to identify large open fields below, their proximity to Route 30.   

             the midday sun was warm, almost winter warm 
 we basked in its glory till the west wind whirled a cold nudge
        a last look about… then time to leave the mountaintop

The way down was serene and easier walking.  I felt lighter with an occasional slip slide motion on tracks headed up.  Near the bottom, a large twisted vortex-swirled tree drew our attention.   I’d seen it before.  Walking over for a closer look, we spotted some deer tracks arced gracefully to the south.  A light touch!

Placing my ungloved hands on the tree’s trunk allowed my energy to follow its deep-gnarled roots to center.  My energy was returned with an ever so slight tingling that coursed through my hands… a sense of wellbeing and connectedness.   

We wondered aloud, is it a maple?  an oak? …  Scrutinizing the bark, we were pretty sure that it was an oak.  

            Looking up, we followed its branches to the sky…

Last leaves leaving
After a mostly cloudy weekend with a forecast of rain on the way, I drove to Black Mountain into a clear blue day.  

On the road just prior to the trail’s entryway, I passed a bucolic pond resting in a bygone grass green meadow.  A weathered wood plank dock jutted into the water for about 13 feet, and I envisioned a kid running barefoot, leaping out into a cannonball’s summer splash.  
    Today the pond was placid, mirroring the sky.

Dressed in slightly warmer wool, I donned my yellow reflective bike-riding vest and headed up.  Not 50 meters in, a beautiful woman came bounding down the trail with two similarly vested dogs.  We talked of precautions in hunting season.  She conceded that maybe she should have invested in yellow or orange cloth too!

This lady said she was off to a shower then to sell real estate, lamenting being too busy to spend more time on the mountain.  I was thankful that I had all the time I needed.

The forest opened brighter than in summer.  Mid-morning now, the sun penetrated the leafless trees, spotlighting large patches of light on the forest floor.

                            stretches of soft light 
                     reflections of a late November pond
last leaves leaving, spiraling…. sun’s synthesizing shutdown
                     see them through a backlit glow
     complete what-will-be s falling beside miracle’s flow

Moving at a slower pace, birds were more vocal, cricket-like, but louder than on meanders past, singing in unison.  I know that hummingbirds hum because they don’t know the words… but why do birds sing?  We always assume they sing a happy–go-lucky, zippity-do-da, rockin robin tune.  Do birds ever sing of sorrow?
                      recalling heyday’s curious moments 
                      flying high over a river of ambition
      losing the cover of leaves, perched forlornly, watching 
     as they are fatally grasped on the way for the last time
                   till only the evergreens’ shadows remain

Out here somewhere within life’s Tao, standing still, I noticed, then moved on.  The faster I moved, the more I looked down, avoiding stumbles, but missing asides’ invitations.  Taking notes aided deliberation and looks into. I saw some things I often missed when otherwise trained on rocks and roots of my path. 

Trees were markedly shorter upslope.  The sun was breaking through more easily as I neared the summit. There was a curious rock formation just off trail to my left.  A large boulder rested on a smaller one, creating a right triangle of empty space.  About 7’ along the ground, it rose perpendicular for about 27” inches on the right.  I’ll let you and Pythagoras figure out the hypotenuse, 

Anyway, the nook created by the overhang was large enough for a man to take shelter in during a whiteout.  I duly noted it!

Eyes blinded atop, I walked into the sunshine and thought I had a fleeting glimpse of Glooskap.  I was thankful for the absence of gunshots.  The leaves of small bushes were abundantly clumped together glistening bronze.  They’d been lying low, oblivious to the wind, remnants of smiles of a summer day.
The Sun and Moon would meet tomorrow morning in Sagittarius, my power month.  Juno, the asteroid goddess was also about, but Jupiter would rule the sky.  I was okay with that.

The views had changed significantly.  Shiny metal roofs, plenteous had surfaced below.  The northwest mountain range was snow- covered yet taller Monadnock was still bare.  Had snowmen made snow for snowbirds, or had it already snowed on those elevations?  

Looking down, auburn pine needles were scattered between and around mottled gray, lichen stamped rock.  They gleamed copper in the bright sun.  A lone leaf, hanging on a small bush, spun excitedly side to side, back & forth anxious in the cool breeze. Then strong sunlight stilled the air, and it was the wind, not the leaf that died down.  Hanging on triumphantly, the leaf absorbed the sun’s warmth for another day.  

Over there, a child’s blue glove had been slipped onto a bare branch.  Lost, it seemed to wave goodbye.  Most likely, a kid had dropped it and someone had found it and slid it on hopeful of a return.  It reminded me of Marlon Brando’s famous glove scene in Kazan’s On the Waterfront.   In the film, a dame drops her glove.  Gallant Brando picks it up, tries it on in a brilliant improvisation noteworthy for the simple comic quirkiness of his alluring action.

My glove, rather Black Mountain’s lonely lost glove, would remain on the branch awaiting a little boy’s hand… perhaps into winter…

A lone Cessna purred overhead.  Heliotherapy ruled the day as I sat basking.  It was still clear blue above and to the east.  Faint wisps of white, hardly clouds, were striated south.  To the west, still white billowy clouds spanned the horizon.  They were gathering ever so slowly and heading my way.

As if

Late morning, the trail was still cold.  Tramping up to the orb of day soon warmed me.  This Friday was a surprise of a gorgeous day, ideally temperate for hiking.  I was enjoying the gift of time.  

A curious three-headed great horned owl stump, over 4’ tall with six darkened eyes and ears watched me off trail left as I passed by.  Seemingly nested in holes of a tree and spookily animated, I could almost hear their four note hoots:  Hoo-Hoo, Hoo-Hoo.  Surely worth a picture!  I walked towards them for a close up.  They were more tree-stumpish up close. 

Looking right, a grand sycamore stood twisted in a corkscrew vortex, leafless limbs barely reaching up to sky.

Continuing on, I was mesmerized by a sun struck east facing vertical rock wall.   Unseen in times past, it was now gleaming brilliant bright, its center cloaked completely in dazzling emerald moss.  Another photo-op till the wind picked up and pushed me along.

Silence deepened as I made my way uphill on trail.  Over there golden leaves shook lightly in the breeze, then floated gaily down, resigned, happy to let go…. tired of branching. 
            looking about it was as if the trees were pulling in
                      breathing in tight to brace for winter
                               weary of sustaining leaves
                                      Fall’s denouement

I thought to paraphrase a Zen saying, “Standing silently, doing nothing, winter is coming, and the leaves fall by themselves.”

       leaves were falling, others clung golden yellowish brown rusted brown, rufous-brown, spotted umber, burnt umber, acorn 
                                subtle soft tapestries, 
    hemlock stamped midst forest green groves of pine and fir   
It felt good to be back out in the woods.

Black mountain appeared burnished brown this morning.  Billowy clouds hung low…moved slow, daydreaming like me in a magnificent sun drenched sky.

Clear above, I could see further out to vistas ...Monadnock’s sharp outline east, Connecticut River’s waters abreast of Brattleboro, meandering south all the way to Long Island Sound. To my right rear, unknown mountains stood their ground in a northwestern range. 

Down in front, a few large fields absorbed swaths of landscape.  With late autumn grass shorn short, they appeared golf-green smooth, pool-tabled like a softened lime.  

Sitting on cold stone would’ve chilled my bones, so I was standing contemplative …gazing …leaning on my walking stick, thinking of this and that …letting go of that and this …breathing in the clear

Stayed a good long while… the wind picked up again and led me back.  The path was easy, the leaves were leafy, and I headed back home along the old dirt road.

•	Zen saying, “sit quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the
                         grass grows by itself”

Evil frog monsters

Restless sleep.   Tranquil dreams soothed by moon drops had erupted into nightmares’ sweat-soaked shakes. 

In my delirium, an evil frog monster was drinking all of the earth’s water.  I awoke with a start!  After showering, some tea and dark toast, my restlessness continued… I felt like roaming.  

Made my way to the mountain.  Mid-October morn, one of those partly-partly days.  Cloudy mostly.  On my way there, sunlight topped the mountain; muted colors were spotty, but held their own charm.  There was still a lot of green on the mountainside.

I thought to search for Glooskap, a benevolent culture hero & trickster of the Abenaki tribe I’d read about.  Legend was he had been created directly from the Great Spirit.  Glooskap was a good caretaker, a virtuous hero of his people, and had been sent by Spirit to teach the arts of civilization.   He was also a transformer who could change monsters into harmless animals…. and he had promised to return one day if needed.

The trail was dry & thirsty, but mostly covered dead yellow brown.   Leaves were dropping sporadically in the still air.

I could see further within the forest.  A few ferns on either side of my path had turned a faded milky cream.  Some were still a bright golden yellow. 

                 low bushes sienna tones were pumpkin brown
               off-trail forest floor sunk softly underfoot
     silver smooth hardened tree stumps anchored weighted woods  
                          a lone silver birch leaned diagonally  
                              resting in the crook of an oak

Rain clouds to the west were amounting to nothing.  Though unseasonably warm, there was a hint the skies would soon turn to winter.  An Indian summer day let go to Native Americans.

My dream, my nightmare kept popping in and out of my head as I climbed.  What was I thinking?  I bushwhacked over to some scattered slabs of grey granite.  Leaning upon one another willy-nilly, they seemed quite relaxed.  I sat among them to drink some water and to calm myself.  

                  gazing out, nature’s kaleidoscope filled me 
              leaves’ pale yellow, orange, reds of sugar maple
                           bronze, deep yellow of beech
                mountain ash’s dull red to rich golden yellow 
 staghorn sumac’s dark crimson orange crimson, glossy maroon
                               pin oak’s brilliant scarlet
Closed my eyes, opened and drank. After a few sips, a nosy ladybug alighted on my orange vest.  A lighthearted messenger, she was tiny, freckled- orange with an oval-shaped dome body, short legs and antennae.  And wings… she’d no sooner touched down, than she took off.  Perhaps flying off to dine on an aphid, or over to something still green and leafy… a mountain laurel???

Though appealing to humans, ladybugs’ spots and attractive colors are meant to make them unappealing to predators.  They can also secrete a fluid from their legs that makes them taste awful.

Back on my feet, I steered my walking stick towards the mountaintop.  Evil frog monsters drinking all of the earth’s water? Their cacophony haunted me. Maybe a diet of ladybugs would distill their evil.  Come on man get your wits about you.  Glooskap would know what to do…. Perhaps he’s already here……….

Another way up Black Mountain

Sounds of Rte. 30 whirr behind as New England asters greet me
at the trailhead.  Little faded pale violet flowers with a sticky yellow centered pistil holding on… hardly vibrant. A solitary flying grasshopper, nature’s Huey, alights in front of me.

My approach today is from the western, Quarry roadside of Black Mountain.  Tires spin rapidly, noisily, 50 miles an hour across the West River and I’m anxious to climb beyond the din. 

As you embark at the trailhead, The Nature Conservancy suggests foot travel from here on.  Rightly so! 

The Nature Conservancy’s mission is “to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.”  Founded and headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, the organization is working in 69 countries around the world and all 50 states in America.   One of their duties on Black Mountain is to maintain the trails.  They do it well with a light hand.  

I walk on a cushion of pine needles’ blanketing the path through a shady under forest.  Sunlight circles its outer edges, glimmering behind small green leaves of surrounding trees.  Thickets of bare-limbed pines abound.  Young trees 2, 3, and 5” round. 

Mounted on a tree to my left, a dark forest green registry box records my arrival:  party of one meandering up and about on September’s 29th day.   

Soon after, I cross 3’ wide footbridges that run just above dry overgrown creek beds for at least 50 or 60’ each.
                    doubtless built for drought less times
As the trail climbs, yellow leaves begin to carpet it, and I come upon the 1st big boulder in a small boulder field.  Now and again, short stone staircases appear to herald the way…. all in the keeping.  The red and yellow and gold and orange of the season are just beginning.  A lone leaf on the trail at your feet is a vivid harbinger of foliage to come.  Albert Camus wrote. “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”  

A lone hiker comes into sight walking towards me from above.  Dressed in gray from floppy boonie hat to toe, his attire and good nature bear a hint of Dorothy’s scarecrow.   Gray hair, an easy smile, he was headed down, then back and up and over again.  Amiable Roger out hiking,  “it’s a nice day.”  He lived over yonder, down in the valley.  There was a trail to follow, and then he bushwhacked home.  He’d been this way before.  It was good to have him show up like that.   After a brief conversation, I turned to watch him bound sprightly, stepping down knowingly, softly whistling and soon out of sight.

This trail was much narrower and steeper than the approach from Black Mountain road.   More switchbacks.  More possibilities for getting lost as dirt trail became covered by brown curled edged dead leaves… obscuring foot travel.

                      All the little footbridges were dry
              no longer needed, reminders of a wetter time

Some areas of mountainside opened wider, park-like, large boulders kissing each other in all directions.   Trees, hemlock, pine and scrub oak were spread further apart.  Soft green mossy memories clung aside light grey granite rock.  

I stopped for water and an apple.  Wildlife was not seeable… present to my eyes.

The mountain rounded over as I neared the peak.  An azure blue sky became visible through the tops of trees.  Here the trail gave way to an expanse of wide rounded slabs of stone.  Trail markers were graciously affixed to trees by conservants to arrow the way.  

Just as I walked within 30 meters of the summit, disturbed wings spread from a perch in a tree before me.   A sudden smile of surprise and recognition came over me.

I’d found my red-tail, or he me. 

                 heard a steam whistle cry as he took flight
                         slow deliberate, deep wing beats 
                tail red above, a light buff orange tint below     
           rising right, curling back, cere, legs, feet all yellow
                 dark brown band across a whitish underbelly
           four foot plus wingspan extended, no longer flapping 
                          wings soaring in a slight dihedral
                                   majestic on thermals
                        suddenly diving 100 mph out of sight

Red-tail and Roger made my day… and there was this tiny chipmunk scurrying under a rock on the way down.  I’d found a walking stick and this greatly eased my meander downward.   Every so often, my daydreams skirted me left, or right off trail.  I’d focus awake, pause and look, till the reassuring yellow arrow on green pointed the way.

The Mountain Was Soft

The mountain was soft this morning.  Trees soft, still, jungly green… … my late summer observation, heading up route 30, west riverside on my drive to Black Mountain.  Humidity hung heavy, warmly engulfing each green leaf.  Verdant Vermont!

I was eager for a new tact today.  There was an obtuse bend in the main trail that I had often ducked around to pee.  Out of sight of other hikers… maintaining decorum on the mountain.

The trail was wide there, seven-foot plus, or more wide. Appearing as a portal, this entrance was marked by two large six-foot high tapered gray stone obelisks.  It looked like the end of a driveway in the middle of these nowhere woods.  This way…

                        The trail invited me steeply down
                       to a mystery, a new way unexplored
                              I had heard tell of a volcano
                                           wondered if
Patti Smith begins her brilliant black coffeed M Train,  “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.”  I loved that!  I thought, what if I go down here and find nothing.  Off I went, feeling light.  The air ominous.  

Funny how it always takes longer to get somewhere for the first time.  Heading down a mountain trail also struck me as unusual.   Going west… down to the West River.  It was preternaturally quiet as I walked.  I was alone, thought of bear.  Wondered if.   Where do they spend the day on the mountain?

The trail narrowed, then widened again.  A few flat patches drenched in sun were clustered with sensitive bead ferns.  Birds were barely singing, perhaps beginning to be silently sprung.

   Bedrock beneath my feet predates plant life’s populating
          formed 350 million years ago during the Devonian
               sediments from sands, from silts, from clay
     some formed as igneous materials from ancient lava flows
                                        Twas true!

Just as the fuzzed silence was becoming unbearable, I heard something drop behind me, roll down the trunk of a tree, then along the forest floor before coming to rest after a bump with a twig.  This little acorn startled me with its gentle drop to rest.  The small twig did not break. That’s all there is out here?  Charles and a falling acorn?   Strange…

I scanned the woods around me, scanned again.  I saw a large outcrop of granite grey just off trail to my left.  There was a low-arced embankment.  Other large flat stones were glacierly strewn about.  I stepped, skip-hopped down to the edge of the drop off.  Nothing.  Nothing extraordinary in this increasingly ordinary forest.   Still, soft and quiet.

Walked back up to the trail.  Looking down, I was stunned to see a foot long triangular pointed stone.  Painted on top in white was a disquieting message.  It read, “This is the sign you’ve been waiting for.”  What?  Was my life about to change?  A hoax?  Perhaps a prank by some bioluminescent goddess of the 60’s?  I wondered.  Certainly something stirringly surreal, white paint eerily puzzling. 

                 nothing became something writ by a nymph
                        words in white painting a direction
                                  with 9 million answers

Stone stepping up, I tweaked my knee, a slight snap of pain, grimaced, decided to head back up mountain nursing a bum. 

Black Mountain

Had rained last night, sun was up hot.  Red stop sign hastened me to go
marking the turnoff to Black Mountain road

Gravel crisped tires on the short dirt road drive to the trailhead, two sparrows flew up and off to my left; a little boy and a tall woman walked conversely on my right
I drove into the shadows about the entry-way gate, grabbed some water, my buzz-away spray, and headed my straw hat as I turned to click-lock my car.

The ground was compacted cleanly wet, pine needles smushed together as if run over by tractor tire treads. Birds were singing quietly at a distance

Sunlight filtered through gaps in leaves at a low angle, revealing a lichen stamped stone wall that had been there awhile, hardly moving.

                         a field to the northwest was still open

As the trail steepened, rocks rose to meet me from washed away dirt. Sun’s warmth was beginning to gently steam the woods.

                                                Looking up
                             I spied a red-bellied woodpecker

                                               pecking away
                                   its belly more a faded rouge,
                                        crown brightened red
                       rump white below black and white upper parts
                                            paid me no bother

It was subtle, yet wetter as I went higher.  I guessed mountaintops were closer to the rain.
My thoughts spied the humble rock cairn outcrop off right of the trail.  Round smooth stones piled one upon another in serene small towers. Perhaps this was a middle way to not upset the natural.  

There’s a Buddhist saying:

 ‘Take the stones people throw at you and use them to build a monument’
                                            a mud puddle

Small spoons of water captured in a large divot of trail. The kind kids would stomp through.  Ahead, a big rock slab appeared as a whale’s back breaking 

Surfacing upon this rare Vermont granite mountain with bedrock outcrops
Mountain laurel had long since past, but white flowers danced in my mind

 A hop, skip, and a hop and I was on top.  Ascending 6 expertly curved stone steps on my left, I reached the peak and scanned the distances.  

Monadnock, fata morgana, faintly deciphered above tree line, Wantastiquet, Connecticut river clearing to the southeast.   To the west, Mt. Snow

                             Clouds wisp, weeds flower yellow 
    Five star yellow weed flowers were all that were left in bloom.  
     More scraggly than a country rose, identification would wait.
                       Monadnock’s peak still cloud-hidden, 
                               I thought of Alan Watts.

Sipping water, sitting, watching, eyes closed, open, cool breeze, peace.  
Sun warming my face, I was hoping for a hawk to foreshadow its arrival.  

A good omen!  Scrub oak and small pine branches bent easily every which way in the westerly wind, 

Green leaves of small bushes stood still as they held drops of rain 
atop, resisting moving lest they lose their drops to slide down to ground

Turkey vultures were common and majestic in their own way, but I was hoping for a red tail.  

Not today…. As I began descending, the breeze from the west grew stronger.


Charles Monette

Writer, actor, carpenter who lives in Brattleboro grew up in Oyster Bay, Long Island where he attended St. Dominic High School. 

Charles was granted a Master of Arts in Educational Theatre from New York University in 1995.  He was a professor at Landmark College in Putney, Vermont for 10 years, teaching Acting, Film, and Communication courses. 

His greatest productions in life are his beautiful son, Devan Robert Coles Monette and his tres belle daughter, Simone Violet Monette!