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.  Really grew up in Vietnam 1970-71 where he was awarded the Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars with Valor.

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!