Broken twigs on snow
Broken twigs on snow. Brittle black brown. Snow wet from mid-40 highs. It’s late December, a non-descript day tween Christmas & New Years. We’ll wish each other a “Happy, Healthy” Tuesday eve, and hope for the best. 2020 looms with uncertainty. Even the forest feels unsure…
Walking from the Black Mountain road trailhead, the path is centered icy black with melt-shrunk, then frozen prints of feet. Slippery! I walk on the edges. The snow had been melting in rain and sun since the last storm. Already gone all wet in large spots of trail, revealing dark dead soaked leaves clump-wadded together. Off trail, swirls of pine needles lay atop small boulders in pleasant sun swept forms accented by light green lichens. Glowing damp! Shining rusty! Some resembled ancient waves crashing softly ashore.
A Christmas present of The Zen Book of Life informs my hike with wisdom from the great masters. Buddha, Thich Nhat Hanh, Alan Watts, etc., etc. A Zen saying, “In this moment what is lacking.” So, I write of Black Zen mountain as I know it today:
sitting with the mountain
the mountain sits with me
we touch, we feel, we see, we listen
we give to each other as one
the same breeze caresses us
the same birds fly over us
we feed on the same berries
become wet and damp in summer storms
the same sun warms us
squints our eyes
casts cloud shadows upon us
awakens our spirits
we gaze at the sky
take in the land below
in and out as one
I come to the mountain for truth and for peace
I arrive empty, soul-searching
the mountain asked, “did you bring them?”
One day, I’ll be gone… Black Mountain will remain
Tale of two skies
The quiet. It’s always the quiet that greets me. Eye-level mix of sunlit leaves, more golden, woods more open, gaze more distant within/beyond the trees. Leaves noisier below; more of them layered down brown… brushing. It had been ten days since my last visit to Black Mountain.
A robin’s blue-egg sky held the sun. Blueness so deep… so blue,
cobalt to azure
on a warm Native American summer day
Temps in the mid-sixties. Coppery leaves jostled ever so gently on breezes. It was an ever so day. Small birds chickadeein’ either side of the trail as I walked by. Playful chirps buoying me on my way. Once past, their songs quieted, and quiet returned to my walk uphill.
tens of thousands, tens of thousands
forced to evacuate their homes Thursday, yesterday
dry winds and high heat fed flames and fears north of LA
18 million under red flag warning California, October 25, 2019
no hope to quench the dry, moisten the drought parched land
when she’s lit… windswept fire sweeps wild, 75 mile per hour wild
alarming plumes…. none dare call it dire
climate change conferences burnt to the ground
another star searing fame
Santa Ana fan whipping flames
We Vermonters are fortunate not to know LA’s golden glow, except in the movies. Our autumn hillsides blaze metaphorically, nature cycling over graves and the land of our ancestors. Looking southwest, pristine appreciation filled my eyes. Shades of rusty rolling reds, yellows and green mountain greens lolled placid ‘neath the orb of day.
The next day… Friday… a cloudful day. The rain would be coming later. They said. There was a damp dullness to the forest as muted colors, comely in their own right, hung out in waiting. In contrast, mountain laurel leaves were shining solid… strong, a deep dark vivid quiet pulsing green. Dead deciduo leaves seemed to cease falling in still air. The sky was a:
grey as they often are
shades of grey
dark steel bellied bottoms filtered up to white hazy gray
asking for a cleansing rain
to wash away
to wash away grey, soft warm soft grey
colorless grey, gloomy
dove grey pointing to light
no delight, nor dew on morning grass
cloudful sky holds its peace… till it wisps away
peaceful painted Quaker grey
A pale faded yellowish front held the gray off to the south. A distinct horizontal line. Aligned, touching, neither moving, though they must’ve been. Two and a half million men, women & children internally displaced in Afghanistan. Be it ever so humble, there’s no place when you don’t
have a place… Honorable Elijah younger than me… rest in peace… Thoughts along the way… LA…
Blessed to be once more on Black Mountain peering in & out….
eco-virtue, eco-ethos, eco-sin
The leaves were falling faster, though a few chose to float with grace to the forest floor. An occasional red darted diagonally to the ground! The trail was covered brownish: rufous brown, terra-cotta, chestnut, russet brown. They were all kind of blandly vivid. A mix of leaves and pine needles, just below your ankles… enough to rustle through.
we are the weather changers, the changes in weather are we
we breathe weather, we’re in it inside out… look out, it’s all about
This year, 1 million acres of boreal forest clear cut in Canada, Earth’s
largest ecosystem; we’ve done virtually nothing to alter catastrophe
The dwarf huckleberry bushes were ablaze at the summit. Juxtaposed next lichen-covered boulders tumbled by melting glaciers of long ago, their crimson brilliance held visual dominance of the landscape. I was alone on the mountain, able to slowly turn with the panoramic, red & orange and yellowy green, all in pastel shades of color fading and heightening about me.
not that we don’t know weather’s changing, not that we don’t say,
“yup, it’s happening” it’s what we don’t do given what we know
think about your own inaction… your choices unchosen that really could … matter… do you even know what they are? Find out… act… ask a climatologist, or a young activist
embrace Greta, don’t shrug & espouse the re-greta-ble
A lone wasp came over to surveil me… to check me out. Quickly disinterested, it buzzed on by. There was a Spartan crispness to the landscape west. The wasp returned with two buddies to gang up on me. Sensing I didn’t need to challenge their fly zone, I grabbed my notes and water and walked to another slab of rock. There are 50 shades of grey granite on Black Mountain. I was thinking:
behavioral change… structural change,
systemic change all are not happening…. quickly enough
how to deal with them? ways: food addresses them, letting go
of some eating habits, or consciously eating green, addresses them
methane and nitrous oxide are the most urgent greenhouse gases
to deal with, to deal with now… to reduce, to act on now, to change
it just is really bad to eat red meat… animal agriculture methanizes
ah, not so simple… to sacrifice a burger, to let go, to change your way
Nature’s homily… better listen. The sun was perfect, not too hot, just warming… breeze delightful. The hillsides were turning, but not vivid yet. I watched a bunch of leaves dance on the breeze. Some swayed easy, undulating up… then down. Smaller ones seemed to shiver… to shake. A few older, lower ones had already shriveled, dry-brittle brown, curling into obscurity. I thought of the countless ways that the countless leaves had flirted with countless breezes. I lost track.
Looking up, a jet passed overhead, I thought, it’s really bad to fly…
it just is… here’s an idea: fly less, fuel less
“practice walking as if your feet were kissing the earth”
Thich Nhat Hanh
eco-virtue, eco ethos, eco-sin let eating habits change… fuel less
it takes change to deal with climate change… weather changes, can you?
Photo: Phil Innes — A View of Black Mountain
In striking contrast
An unseasonably warm breeze greeted me as I walked to the trailhead. Parking areas were empty. There was a hazy uneasiness in the air… and within me, as I began my walk.
Greta’s strikers, 4 million strong, had united across the globe!
Leaves were singly floating down; no hurry, adding to the yellow leaf path before me. In striking contrast, a large alizarin crimson maple leaf lay alone next the path. Beautiful… green now red just three days past the Autumn Equinox, and 5 days since the march down Main.
These young folks get it! Climate Change is not slated for 30 years into the future, 2050. We’re in it now! Grownups groan… “we’ll do something when the democrats get in.” Pshaw (Bullshit), or as Greta might say more eloquently, “You’ve stolen my childhood with empty words… fairytales of economic growth.” “Our house is on fire!”
My legs were a little tired on the steeper uphills today. A delicate change of color was beginning… even the sun filtered lightly through trees. I brokered a sweat as I continued on.
Writing here today, some numb nut is cutting the grass next door, Anal on his riding mower, cutting it short & prim & proper. Oh, so neat! Barely needed cutting. Motor burning in circling idiocy, you know, all-American normal. Leaf blower blowhards will be out soon enough in Vermont, progressively conscious Vermont, while the groanups watch the hurricanes flooding the news…Pshaw! Remember the zen of raking?
Little things. Ironic that we groom the earth with earth killing machines. Oh, I know,
POWER, SPEED, GREED = PROFITS FOR THE BOSS
WELL, DON’T BUY FROM THOSE WHO POLLUTE
DRIVE LESS, OR NOT AT ALL
I walked towards the Monadnock vista and was surprised to feel a slight breeze in my face. Unusual from the east. It was hot atop. Moving west, I ventured to a shady seat to cool and collect some thoughts. The breeze had circled somehow, still gently warm-caressing my face. Sitting quietly, I gathered the peace within.
The cheerleaders on High Street were not chanting, ”Go team go.” They had more urgent cries to woke folks up! “No more coal, no more oil, Keep your fossils in the soil.” “Switch to Green, keep it Clean!”
I have great respect for Greta Thunberg and these kids/young people leading this shift in consciousness. We must support and encourage them… follow their lead. A green new deal is better than an old brown one.
I mentioned to a friend that with all of our beautiful weather this summer here in Vermont that folks might overlook the urgency of the Climate Change movement. He replied, “Oh, no I know a lot of people who turned their air-conditioners back on this weekend.” He was implying that they were feeling the unseasonably warm humid weather to the point of discomfort, therefore turning on the air…. hence, they were aware of our warming, changing climate. Exasperated, I exclaimed, “NO, NO, NO”, “that is not awareness!”
Learn to perspire anew in comfort. Little things…
A lone turkey vulture circled nearby. Fingertips extended, soaring gracefully on warm air currents. I complimented his grace, and then there were two. I rose to say hello, and a third floated into the picture. Not quite the Blue Angels, but they had a certain effortless charm.
Coming down, I realized that the trail above was not adorned by yellow leaves as it had been below. Guess trees were reluctant to let go just yet. However, the low-lying scrub bushes were already turned… leaves fully rusted yellow-brown.
Gazing at the sky… a hazy, lazy thin-stretched white cirrus. Hardly moving. Back tinged light blue. I finished the last of my 33.8 fluid ounces of clean water and headed down. Tips of pine branches held green & gold ornamental needles of beauty. Ferns were faded pale golden yellow. Mountain laurel leaves slowly yellowed azo as they held memories of bounteous white flowers just 3 months back.
“Our house is on fire. I’m here to say, Our house is on fire! Adults keep saying, “we owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as if Our house is on fire. Because it is!”
Stones kicking back
It was one of those lush, late days of summer when the deciduous blend evergreen. The mountainside was fully covered with deep verdant greenery. Leaves well fed, plump with chlorophyll.
Rusty dead leaves and pine needles were bunched together sporadically on the trail, left behind by streamlets that had washed torrentially down the trail. Thoughts along the way were easy all alone. Plenty of time to notice.
Usually the beauty is up and about and away. But today, I found myself looking down and around at the roots crisscrossing the trail. Some large ones creating the rise and run of a step. Others set as slightly raised trip snares. Good to notice them before they snag the tip of your hiking boot.
A lone brilliant orange monarch greeted me at the top of the mountain. Floating about from flower to flower, it was one alight ahead of my camera snap. Wings up-closed deprived me of its orange glory until it finally flitted away into the wood.
It was a fine day on the mountain! I felt blessed to be among the splendor of the sky, the solidity of the stones and the tranquility of the trees. The air was fresh and free.
The king of heaven must’ve opened a box of cotton balls then gently tossed them down to form the sky below. Content where they landed as Shelley’s, “islands in a dark blue sea”, they floated slowly east on the hint of a breeze. A few had a silver underbelly, but most were fluff white, their beauty majestic in the radiant azure sky!
I was hoping to see a hawk. I would’ve settled for a turkey vulture gliding on currents of air while casting shadows on the ground about me. But nary a one of either. Just about to give up, a lone sparrow darted on a line to the northwest.
Rising from my cut-edge granite seat, I traipsed around the summit in a new direction. The granite slabs and stone formations were vividly personifying their way into my camera lens. Two large ones kicking back, leaning on each other as if in a Van Gogh wheat field, caught my attention. I could envision the hands clasped behind the head of the one leaning back. Looked as if they’d been resting aside each other for a long time.
A light breeze wagged a pine tree’s small branches to my left and a large cumulus blocked the sun overhead as if to signal my departure. With the sun clouded over, the air turned delightfully cooler for my descent.
Walking down, mindful of the roots, I thought how even ordinary beauty is beautiful…
Mountain laurels in June, mountain laurels in bloom
You must go to Black Mountain in the next few days to witness the brilliance of its mountain laurels in bloom. They are plenteous, and on display in magnificent clusters of showy white and pink flowers. It was exhilarating to be among them! To be surrounded by such a large population of laurel either side of the main trail. Then to look deep into the woodland to see more bushes… here… there, over there crowned with the delicate beauty of their white/pinkish glory.
Awe inspiring awe! (Photo credit: Susan Menees)
We entered the trailhead from the eastern, Black Mountain roadside of the mountain. This was Saturday, June’s second day of summer. The day couldn’t have been nicer! A constant, refreshing breeze made leaf-laden branches of red oaks, birches, maples and more wave and bow and bob in homage to our arrival. It was exhilarating to be with them on this 72 degrees, low humidity summer day. They too seemed happy and proud of the flora adorning the forest floor below them.
The sky was magnificent as well! Huge white billowy clouds floated by across the azure sky. When we reached the summit, a front of dark rain clouds began moving in from the southwest. The strengthening storm seemed headed right for us. A thunderbolt of lightning in the distance had us consider an early exit. Sitting on the very warm surface of the granite dome, we watched. After a while, the distant shadows of rainfall began to veer east… then southeast. The celestial clash of light and dark was one of poetic-photo imagery. Pockets of light shone thru dark in darting rays of the sun.
Returning home, I did a little research on the Mountain laurel. I learned that they thrive in the acidic soil of rocky slopes… like that of Black Mountain. Native Americans used to carve spoons out of their wood, so they are also known as Spoonwood. The Cherokee used the plant as an analgesic by placing an infusion of leaves on scratches made over location of the pain. It is important to note that the entirety of the mountain laurel bush is poisonous! The green parts of the plant, flowers, twigs and pollen are all toxic. Please enjoy their beauty without ingesting them.
The woods are open! The trails lightly traveled. The Mountain laurel of Black Mountain are blooming beautifully NOW. Don’t miss the splendor on the slope. In another week or so, the white petals will drop dry on the forest floor till next June.
Another foggy morning
Wantastiquet is deep blanketed gray as we leave for Black Mountain. Driving up Rte. 30, we look across the West River, and see Black Mountain shrouded in a dense cloudy mist. Its base, lower 3/5ths stands softly solid green, a damp deepening green that spoke of summery Green Mountains to come.
While walking uphill, my mountain savvy partner states, “The air is moist, good for the skin, like getting a facial”. There are no bugs, but we dare not say so, lest our words shake them awake. So, the thought silently crosses our minds from time to time as we meander up the mountain.
We both embrace the languid peace absorbing the air. Noticing newly fallen trees across the trail, we glance at their uprooted collapse. Wind? Decay? Wind most likely.
The trail is barely wet. The footing is good and lends to an easy pace. Hurry below soon left far behind. Unusual bark patterns abound: white birch cleanly stripped ‘round, dangling, hanging on, silver birch with scar marks seemingly slashed with a hatchet at 5 inch intervals. Savagely marked, they now appeared healed… grown over. Other trees’ bark distinctly dark-wetted; yet trunk circumferences were mostly dry.
Little white flowers appeared on shrub branches. Conspicuous in their sparsity, we questioned their identity. “Too early for mountain laurel?” Moving on, my friend asks if I’ve “seen any lady slippers up here?” “None that I’ve noticed”, my uncertain reply.
Cypripedium acaule (pink lady slipper) is a member of the orchid genus. First described in 1789 by Scottish botanist William Aiton, it is the state wildflower of New Hampshire, and the provincial flower of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Sometimes known as the moccasin flower, or stemless flower, it blooms from May till July. They can live for 20 years or more, and require bees for pollination. This large showy wildflower was blooming beautifully secluded midst the understory of pine & hemlock.
The mountaintop revealed exquisite greenery as well. Droplets of water sparkling on spider webs surrounded acorn buds, a branch, and a scrub’s pale green needles. Suspended just so, peaceful harmony was immeasurable… a lovely photo unable to provide a third dimension, the smells, the untouchable 3D creation that only nature creates.
Looking east towards Monadnock, then south, and west all around, we were now top down engulfed in thick fog. All of the mountain surround lay low, swallowed by a blob-like cloudbank. So, foggy, the turkey vultures were walking.
Immediately visible about us, the summit opened in new directions for exploration. Granite sculptures of rock, sublime in design, lied on entwined for our marvel. A splattering of lichen motif added to the splendor. The granite was slippery so I gingerly bounded about… or something like that! After bandying this-way-that, I became disoriented, and whimsically thought I had discovered a new summit’s saddle. But it was only the same summit I’d left minutes ago. My friend laughed at my full circle stumbling foozle.
The blanket south was still thick gray, but soon the soup began to lift. A large green-thumbed field came into focus as we gazed south. The lush green about us remained placid, unimpressed with we two or our view. Monadnock was still could-hidden somewhere east of Black.
Coming down was as much a delight as our climb. Reaching the base of the trailhead, we both remarked about the absence of May flies (black flies) & mosquitoes!
River of the Lonely Way
A western honey bee hovered, wings buzzing, filling up on tasty red clover’s nectar… a time-honored ritual. Above, a hermit thrush, singing its beautiful song, perched on a branch of a stolid maple tree. I listened. It sang of its reversal of flight, its return from its southern migration… its pleasure of being back amidst the greening woodland of Vermont. Singing free on Black Mountain.
I was imagining… the northern leopard frog grounded in mud, happy to pancake in the mix of alluvium, while the walleyed brook trout swam upstream-down, crossing banks in this River of the Lonely Way(one of the Abenaki names for the West river).
Good to be among them with today’s promise of Spring. Do wildlife sense that it’s different this year? Or do they just swim, and fly, and hop sun as always? Seemed business was natural as always… with just a tinge of quiet sadness on the mountain...
It’s all true out here.
Looking down, the moving road was visible, snaking parallel to Rte. 30. The vista west and southwest was lit & light-darkened; now sunlight’s turn to stream through clouds. Early light greens were soft, newly coloring the meadowy landscape. The earth was coming alive with a pale palette. Evergreens accented the light with dark verdurous borders in an acme of perfection.
and the river flows lonely as human kind befouls it...
moon soon runs dark
it’s quiet below… save for the peepers
all lives are one life
whether borne of womb, of egg, of moisture, of of
the earth does not discriminate
river runs silt heavy,
full & brown on its streamy surface
rain swollen tributaries tribute flow to fill
to rush and gush until they afflux to a confluence with the Big river
West river water, running water, runs somewhere southeast
Hard to fathom our assault on earth from up here, our extincting of 1 million earth species, our depositing 100 million tonnes of plastic wastage in the seven oceans! Trash has even found the deepest place on earth… a baggie, a yoo hoo litter the ocean’s floor of Mariana’s trench…. all while turning up the heat for progress!
the sun gave rise to a movement
to make America Fossil Fuel Free
an ambitious solution… investing in clean energy
a sunrise movement’s birthing
a green new deal economy
one no longer dependent… on oil & gas money
catastrophic climate change
puts political policy in play
somewhere over the rainbow, less than ten years away
Into the grey
A day like another. Going out, a reminder to close that top button. Cool permeates the air… wet within, damp underfoot.
There are no shadows today; always welcome except when they chase you in the dark. Buds are beginning to bud. Some bushes and trees in a hurry to showcase their green. Others slowly waking to join the splendor.
Rachel’s spring is singing noiselessly in the valley. Mark your calendar for the white-pinkish flowers of the Mountain Laurel come June. They never disappoint. Only if you come late and find the petals dropped by rain and wind or just let go.
Solitude embraces your need to be alone… to quiet for a moment. The granite rock atop holds the dampness and keeps you standing. Clouds rumble light and grey. Some intermingle dark & light, ominous, portending some rain. A damp day on the mountain. The mountain is lonely on days like these. Folks phoning their forecasts look ahead to sundrenched days and warmer feelings.
Kick back to yardwork hardly worth starting, a book, a cable, a color TV. I’m happy up here with the locusts, their sturdy bark wrapped around me. Their damp silence, a privilege to behold.
Mud bumps of April
Driving northwest on Black Mountain road, I soon encountered the Mud bumps of April heaving & bumping my car to a slow avoidance of their bounce. The road dried to meet me as I climbed higher towards the mount. Stay to the right, skirt ‘round the middle, slow down, and roll along.
Walking west, the 1st grey stone wall was sunning lighted gray exactly where I’d left it. Well, it might’ve moved a little. Looked a little older and tired, or perhaps just reflecting my gaze.
Thought I’d go somewhere new today, visit a section of mountain I hadn’t been. So, I stayed right at the left fork, and was soon in unfamiliar territory. Shadows abounded in the tree, leafless forest. Thoughts of film noir, femme fatales danced in my head. The black n’ white blinds of Double Indemnity, brown leaves striped by dry black branches astride a dead tree. I stopped for a minute clocked by the noonday shadow.
The shadows were dark and dangerous. The muted dead brown leaves lay quiet beneath them. Such a thin fine line… coolness out of sun imperceptible.
The woods were wide open down here, down here being downhill, due west of the main trail. Lots of mid-sized, large gray boulders sitting about that would soon be hiding when the leaves came out. Mother’s nature seemed reticent to just pop out and begin the greening.
A question’s reluctance, “should we Spring again?” seemed to hang in the air. Dead branches, dry and crackly, seemingly cared less. Yesterday, Notre Dame was burning….
The breeze was just right, and there were no bugs in sight! Birds were quiet, or my hearing had lessened. Think it was a little of each. A lack of enthusiasm for renewal was palpable. Then a red-tailed hawk speeded across my horizon, flying like a dart launched low above the trees. Majesty, magic soared for a moment of possibility… then gone!
I wondered why all the yellow bushes on the ride up, with their early, bell-shaped flowers, were forsythia. Why not a few for Heidi, for Susan, for Mildred. Maybe there wasn’t enough shade on my way down the mountain.
Sun bright! Azurean sky magnificent, endlessly blue on a cloudless day!
Warm for the first week of February. A grand day to hike Black Mountain with a friend. We eased into the one parking spot at the trailhead on Black Mountain road and set out.
So, we set off with Mildred in the lead. A regular hiker of Monadnock, her stride was strong and effortless. Mine was slower and somewhat labored. Lest she leave me in the snow, I called to her and asked if we could go at a KP pace. “KP?”, she asked. “Yes, that’s a kissing pace.” Ever the romantic, I explained a trekking methodology that I had just invented on the spot. The beauty of the technique was that it would allow me to gracefully catch up at certain fallback intervals without losing face. When she got too far ahead, I would ask her to stop until I caught up and was rejuvenated by a kiss. This enabled us to each go at our own pace, and to be easy on the mountain. After drifting apart, we would soon greet each other anew, and bask in the warmth of our caresses. Soon Mildred was turning around frequently, and waiting for me to reach her The sunlight was bright, danced on our smiles ‘neath sun-glassed eyes. Come on folks! Valentine’s day will soon be upon us!
I was going to title this column, February thaw. Thinking about it, I felt that January already had dibs on that moniker. Thermoplasticity, a state of being soft and moldable when subjected to heat, was a stretch, but I thought it might attract more readers who wondered what the hell I was writing about. And it described the snow that day!
The snow was brilliant white and seemingly untouched in the wood line. Our feet sunk smoothly, softly, as if in a sluggish sluice of dry wet snow. We trod in the footsteps of another, as well as those of our own making. Perfect packing snow, yet we had no need to make a snowball. Footing was excellent, but a walking stick aided the uphill climb.
E. M. Forster wrote, “What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives.”
The sky, the trees, the sun and the wind were all entering into our lives this fine day, and I felt privileged and blessed to be on the mountain with a new friend.
KP proved to be an engaging and effective way to make it to the summit. This was a 13k trek; no, not kilometers! Water was an afterthought, but we quenched our thirst at the top.
Vistas were clear, however there was an almost smog-like haze settled around lower Monadnock. Mildred thought that it might be due to thermal inversion. I wasn’t sure, but it was certainly plausible.
Jets flew overhead soundly leaving wispy trails of white that gently scratched the sky dyed blueness.
Scrub pine stood bathing in the sun, a crackling clarity and freshness infused their bark and green needles. Grey granite was slowly revealed as the edge of white melt turned to water. The sap was flowing…
Mildred and I felt like we were on top of the world and we were!
Sunday quiet, December 9th, 2018. The promise of sun and warmer temps, perhaps a high of 33, brought me to the mountain. That and a wish for fresh air, solitude… a little exercise. As I begin each hike, I think that today the mountain will offer something that I haven’t encountered before. Hoping each time that when I get to the top, I will have experienced more than just the lonely mountain wind.
Thoughts meander in the present future past. Black Mountain’s eastern trailhead is covered with 3 or 4 inches of snow as I embark upon today’s climb. Snow on the trail had been walked on, creating little wavelets of frozen footprints to negotiate. Slippery ones… It was cold, but not unreasonably so in the lower woodland. Since I was the only one on the mountain, and not up for a fall, I decided to take it slow.
Stone walls appeared below caps of snow. A few south side stones were beginning to peak through. Sun had melted through from above creating small patches of wet & dry russety brown leaves that afforded moments to engage a steady gait on trail. They welcomed me, and I them. Coppery leaves hung down, and exhibited a strong connectedness to their branches, holding on, seemingly shivering in the breeze. Some smaller trees had been snapped in half by wind, but were held together by splinters to form right triangles to the ground.
Lichen, in all their glory, had come to life with a dampened glow. Stamped high and low on trees willy-nilly as far as I could see, their viridescence, tinged with the slightest touch of yellow and palest turquoise blue, gave approval to the stark trees they were imprinted on. The trees didn’t seem to mind this intimate symbiotic relationship that colored their bark with abandon. In fact, these are called tree dwelling lichen. For example, on Black Mountain you might find lichen and moss on oak bark. You can find a multitude of photo images online. However, I recommend seeing them in person on the mountain.
Not able to find a lichenologist to consult regarding their wellbeing, I made a note to learn a little more about them upon my return from the forest. Later that evening, I discovered that: Lichens cover 6% of Earth’s land surface. That’s incredible to fathom… for me at least. They are not plants. A lichen is not a single organism. They are a stable symbiotic association between a fungus and algae and/or cyanobacteria. Basically, a combination of a fungi and algae. Like all fungi, lichens require carbon as a food source. Their carbon diet is provided by their symbiotic algae, or cyanobacteria that are photosynthetic. There are approximately 20,000 different lichen species. Birds often use lichen to camouflage their nests. Lichen can grow on rocks, tree trunks, leather, shells of living animals and even plastic! Ancient Egyptians used lichen to fill the body cavity of mummies. Some lichen are considered to be the oldest living organisms on the planet. Lichen lore, characteristics, photos and biology can be found in a multitude of sites online. I began with Wikipedia.
I was heartened to learn that not only do lichens enable algae to live all over the world, they also provide a means to convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into oxygen by photosynthesis. Mini carbon sinks covering 6% of the earth’s land surface. Look to the lichen for answers; they are doing their part!
Slowly scanning the woodland, I jokingly imagined lichen Wanted posters on trees in every direction put up by oil barons:
WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE
Al J Funguy
Squatting and consuming copious amounts of Carbon dioxide
Okay, you have to be there…
The trail walked easier the higher I hiked. As the mountain became more strewn with boulders, dispersed rock, and large slabs of granite, the lichen hosting on them appeared smaller. Scattered in close-knit galaxies that mimicked Van Gogh’s, Starry Night, they shone with new beauty that I hadn’t taken the time to notice on earlier hikes.
Daystar had pierced the more sparsely treed land, revealing swaths of bare path. Nearing the peak, a circular shadow and a sunlit piece of ground caught my eye. Musing, I thought, In Tao philosophy, Yin and Yang are separated by Qi that enables each to move. There is a saying, “One begets two, two begets three, and three begets 10,000 things, or all of creation.” Qi is three. I had seen my Yin Yang pond on another hike on the west side of the mountain. One half, light whitened snow, floating ice; the other half cold dark blackish water. Different modes of H2O, but joined in harmony by Qi. The whole more beautiful than either half alone.
Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, born @ 544 BC, stated that, “You can’t step into the same river twice.” I’ll paraphrase his wisdom and say, “You can’t step onto the same Black mountain twice.” A new discovery of organisms that existed right before my eyes led to an inquiry and an appreciation of lichen that I never thought I’d encounter… Taoist philosophy, Yin Yang… a lot to ponder. And when I reached the top, there to greet me was my old friend, the lonely mountain wind….
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.
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.
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
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.’
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….
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
I spied a red-bellied woodpecker
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.
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!