Field Notes #9: How I celebrated winter solstice

Warning!   Warning!   Long post.

Dec. 21st, a.m.   As I started out, temperatures bumped around in the low 20s.   A ragged ceiling of waxy yellow clouds sometimes let through bright sunlight.   Mostly, though, the cloud cover took the polish off the snow.   An unexpectedly cold breeze chilled the denim of my jeans and cut through my gloves, making my hands ache.   I pulled the overlong sleeves of my parka’s polar fleece liner over my gloves to better protect my hands.

Usually as I keep moving I warm to the point of having to remove gloves and open my parka.   I’ve found I can hike barehanded in pretty cold temperatures as long as I’m walking.   I trusted those conditions would recur during this jaunt and continued up the road and past the cattle guard, picking my way up the icy slope to the trailhead, weighing the decision to go further with each step.   When I reached the trailhead, I stopped to study the snow-drifted trail, trying to see in its white curves and silvery dips some hint of my accustomed route.   Snowfall had blanked out everything.   The slope seemed steeper, the way deeply buried.   I found no hint of my established footholds.   Nothing to do but try.   I stepped off the rim and sank into eighteen to twenty inches of snow.   Wow, I thought €”that’s a lot.   Nonnegotiable in just hiking boots, if that was how it would be the whole way.   But probably, this was only a drift; the snow in our yard had melted from twelve inches to about an eight-inch depth.   I doubted average snow-depths in the piñon-juniper forest that lay ahead would be much different form my yard.   So I took another step into the drift, sinking again, then another, then another.   Snow powder packed into gaps between boots’ tongues and my woolen socks.   With each step, I had to pull my leg up high, extend it, balance carefully on the snowbound leg, rock forward to sink the raised foot, then settle my step into the softly yielding snow.   The sensation was that of walking through a half-frozen cloud.   Not that I’ve ever done that €”except maybe then.

Note to self: Snowshoes are no longer an option.

As I worked my way down slope, at times sinking my walking willow nearly half its height into powder to keep my balance, I had so much fun maneuvering through the drift €”step, sink; step, sink €”that I missed the trail’s turn-off and had to double back.   Another reason I missed the turn-off: re-imagined as it had been by snowfall, it hadn’t quite looked familiar.   The turn-off trail   runs across the incline rather than down it.   I found the snow depths there similar to those of my yard, about eight inches, give or take a drift.   Generally, I could move through it more quickly.   But unstable rocks lay beneath the deceptively smooth blanket.   I had to alter my course several times to avoid guessed-at obstacles beneath the snow drop cloth as well as large branches and tree-portions the storm had broken down acrpss the path.

At one point, I lost the trail.   The white blanket muted every meaningful landmark and my eye became completely confused.   Here’s where something interesting happened.   As I stood, visually canvassing the landscape for some hint of which way to go, I felt a tug inside my body.   Instinctively, I gave in to it, and my body turned slowly to face a particular direction.   It lined me up with a vaguely familiar arrangement of snow-faced trees.   Looking down, then, I could just make out the dimmest intimation of the trail showing through the snow’s rumple.

Yay for kinetic memory!   I had been down this trail so many times that, even as my eyes doubted, my body exercised faith.   It acted as a compass, lining me up spatially with an established pathway in my mind.   After this, I felt able to trust myself to know the way and encountered no further disorientation.   The trip was worth it to learn this lesson alone.

At about the halfway mark, I reached where the trail drops down and follows the canyon wall along an eroding ledge of rotting sandstone.   Here, I stopped for two reasons.   One, a mountain lion has moved into the canyon, and I won’t be walking beneath any ledges (or through trees) without looking up.   Often.   Two, the scene was utterly beautiful.     Bared knees and elbows of bleached-out Navajo sandstone cliffs poked through holes in crumpled quilted white fabric.   Because of the cloud cover’s thin yellow cast, the sandstone glowed buttery yellow through all the white.   The heavily shadowed greenery of pinion pines and junipers broke up glare off the snow and feathered in a texture of darkness where my eyes took some relief from the off-and-on light.   On any day, the faces of the cliffs are full of complexity, a moving canvas for the genius of shifting sunshine.   But here, the furrows, caves, and straight edges, frosted with snow and ice, appeared completely new.   I’d never hiked into the canyon before when there’d been this much snow.   I was discovering the place all over again.

Furthermore, clean silence, so rare anymore it’s hard to imagine, lay in the snow-lined canyon.   No breezes, no ghost drums, no sounds of distant traffic, chain saws, or airliners scraping past overhead.   I stood listening to the soundlessness, thinking how the mind craves it just as much as my eye seeks in the p-j forest’s shadows relief from snowlight’s glare.   Our minds are so accustomed to filtering and fending off noise we don’t realize the strain they support until we plunge into these pools of quiet that form in potholes of time and place.   Silence so perfect, so deep, it gathers you up.   You feel yourself at the center of the universe at such moments.   Not something I’d want to live with always, but when I stumble across it in moments like this €”and it was a product of the moment, only slightly longer-lived than my thoughts about it €”I let it swallow me whole, just for a little bit.

This part of the trail, lying as it does along the western wall’s slope, has the warmest exposure this time of year.   The snow here, compressed by deer hooves and coyote paws, had melted, exposing alternately crumbling yellow sand and, further down, chocolate brown or €”looked at from the other direction €”dark purple soil, very loose and branny, easy to slip and fall along, even when dry.   Striping through this purple/brown earth, green-grey bands of clayey bentonite soil.   The dampness of snowmelt stabilized these and I made it down this steeper section without trouble.

I found the sage flat, actually a teeming community of tall sage mixed with towering, older rabbit brush plants, much changed.   The heavy snow had glued down the plants so that they were half their established heights or lower.   I stepped as well as tripped over frozen-down branches that shortly before had stood clear of the path, then only dusting my upper arms and shoulders with pale fluffy seed, or in the case of the sage, speckling my fleece jacket with tiny, dart-like grains, to my nose, more fragrant than the plant’s turpene-laced leaves.   On this day, I supposed any remaining rabbit brush or sage seeds to be plastered to their decaying flowers stuck in clumps of half-melted snow or encased in beads of ice.

I reached the canyon-bottom trail and found it well used, its recent history a jumble of coyote, fox, cougar, and deer tracks.   Also, within the last couple of days, somebody had ridden a horse through in company with a dog.   The horse tracks had partially melted, in some places down to the frozen ground, and I made my own use of them rather than wade through the slightly crusted snow, which banged my shins.   I felt pleased I’d made it so far, though plowing through the snow for approximately two miles already had become tiring.   Snow had melted inside my shoes and my socks had become squishy wet.   This was, I knew, a circumstance to be avoided in cold weather, but experience has shown that as long as I keep moving my feet will generate enough heat to keep themselves warm, if wet-warm.

This portion of the creek that winds through the canyon contains the only water for miles, upstream or down.   A pair of springs feeds this section.   Before the beavers moved in, the creek went dry just above and just below these springs every summer, and the springs themselves and the pools they fed in the creek dwindled down to barely-there wet spots.   Under the beavers’ influence, the creek has plumped up.   The animals have stretched the water further downstream and longer into the summer.   On this day, I found it a series of grey panes of snow-rimmed ice capping the engineered ponds.   Wonderment over the thickness of the ice tempted me to slide down the bank and find out, but given how much energy I’d already spent, and knowing I had a steep climb up a snowy trail ahead, I let the question go.   Making it into the canyon under these unpredictable and somewhat stressful conditions and then making it back out in good shape was the goal for the day.   I kept to the main trail, dodging several new broken limbs and fallen tree sections, more parings of the storm.   Tracks showed that the horseback rider had been forced to go around these, so they had been down for a while.   I crossed the spring and began the steep ascent, and here walking became strenuous.   In some places, the path had thawed and re-frozen.   On steep inclines, ice slicks had formed.   At one point I slipped and pitched sideways into a snow bank.   Having worked up a sweat long before, I’d taken off my gloves, so when I fell sideways I caught myself by planting a bare right hand in the snow.   When I pulled it out it was covered in glistening ice crystals that prickled as they melted rapidly.   I shook the water off, dried my hand on my jeans, and pushed on.

The rest of the climb took a lot of strength.   Discovering I had it made me happy.   I reflected on how if I hadn’t taken this hike as many times as I already had done and if my fifty-three-year-old body did not retain knowledge gained through a busy childhood of out-of-doors adventure, I would have come out on the short end of the stick, probably suffering injuries and possibly exhaustion.   But I do have that childhood aptitude for outside movement still alive and thinking inside me, a body-wisdom that, given any chance, still rises quickly to the call for it.   Also, I have the new knowledge of this particular trail, gained since I moved to the area.   This canyon and I are becoming fast entwined.   I had my first dream about it a few weeks back.   Here’s the version I wrote to a friend:

I was walking through a section of my “circuit” where the sand is very heavy and deep.   It’s one of the most readable parts of the trail, always inscribed with the tracks of passers-by.   This is where I found €¦ bear tracks and where I’ve followed cougar tracks inset into mine.   Deer make deep impressions through here, coyotes lighter ones.   Turkey tracks, showing every crease, cross-stitch everything.

€¦ I was walking this section, eyes turned to the ground to read what had come through, when I looked up to see something strange coming down the trail from [the mesa to the east].   It was two men in their late twenties floating along in personal hovercrafts about the size of inner tubes you’d use to go tubing down a river.   I felt fascinated.   They stopped to tell me how much they liked their hovercrafts for hiking and extolled their profound virtues.   One great advantage was that the hovercrafts leave no tracks and so make no unsightly impact upon the environment.   One of the young men made it clear that this was a superior stance to take with nature and that his use of the hovercraft to “experience” nature had raised “hiking” to an art form.   Meanwhile, there I stood in the sand in my falling-apart Agitator boots, listening politely, feeling the tinge of amusement flush across my mind.   Both young men were well-dressed, wearing all the right khakis and other high-end hiking apparel as they sat in their ‘crafts.

They finished their speeches and then floated off, north, toward the … mountains, which in my dream I could see, though you can’t really see them from this part of the canyon.   I stood watching the hoverers go, still fascinated with the cleverness of the craft but also thinking, “I trust the earth, its winds and rains, to erase all sign of me.   Give me the physical involvement anytime.”


23 thoughts on “Field Notes #9: How I celebrated winter solstice”

  1. Naturally.

    However, I didn’t mean to limit field notes just to winter solstice experiences. Any field notes on other experiences would work.

    The solstice just happens to have been the last time I was able to go out. We’re somewhat snowbound here, having received a foot of snow on top of the eight inches we had already, and low temps have maintained that high snow depth. Can’t walk out in it. I’m going nuts! And I got no new field notes.


  2. I love the snow-born foreignness of the familiar path and the deeper body memory, nonetheless.

    Reminds me of Eliot’s line: “We must not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.”


  3. I thought you might find that noteworthy, g.f. A moment like that is a gift that continues to open beyond the moment its lid lifts, the first fruit that tumbles out of a cornucopia of realizations.

    Another line from Eliot echoing yours: “When the loop in time comes–and it does not come for everybody– / The hidden is revealed, and spectres show themselves.”

    Also, IMO, truth to tell, there’s always something wonderful about not knowing a place for the first time, or, at least, in not knowing it for the first time in a while. I slipped into that state for a moment, before my inner GPS kicked in.


  4. Ugh, more snow today. What the heck kind of desert is this, anyway?

    Long time residents of this corner of Utah are saying they’ve never seen such early and deep snow here.


  5. there’s always something wonderful about not knowing a place for the first time, or, at least, in not knowing it for the first time in a while.

    That happened to me one time, looking at the moon. A layer of knowing slipped away, then another, then another. Then just the mysterious moon and one gazing at it.


  6. I have another field note from our suburbs in the East, and it’s winter related.
    This morning my neighbor called me to tell me to look out my back window. I went to the back door and while we were on the phone in houses next to each other, we watched twenty 3-ft tall turkeys looking especially black against the fresh snow. These turkeys were literally running down the hill out of the woods. They came down my yard and amongst the swing set and pin oak tree, grubbing around for any acorns that might have missed the attention of all the life forms that know that tree is there. They slowed down, in disappointment I’m sure, and milled a bit before slowly trudging back up the hill to the woods. I have never seen twenty running turkeys before. I know most of them are the young brood from this summer and they’re still young and full of energy. They also seemed hungry. I feel bad for them. They seemed as much desperate as anything. So I’m trying to figure out what to get for turkey feed. Acorns, if they can be had cheap. Does anyone know what else turkeys eat? My neighbor on the phone told me they’ve been in my yard nearly every day for the last couple weeks; I had only seen them once or twice! I’d like to help them out a bit. I figure large seeds and nut mixes and I’m wondering what else. Any suggestions?


  7. Lora, very nice field notes–thanks for adding them.

    I found this searching the web (click “this”). Fish and Game really doesn’t want anyone feeding wild turkeys, but being resigned to the inevitability of it, they’ve provided guidelines, at least in New Hampshire.

    In a town near where I live, residents complain about turkeys coming into their yards. People say they make a big mess. I say, “Free fertilizer!”


  8. greenfrog, funny that I’ve a similar moon-involved moment. Years ago, I went on a walk in Provo, mind full of thoughts, vision turned inward. The day had been bright, but suddenly I found myself doused in shadow. I looked up; I’d walked beneath a huge, brooding conifer (you know–the kind that blows over during wind storms). Its tangled interior seemed to go up forever. I walked from underneath it to take in its height. As I stepped back, a mostly full moon sprang up from the tree’s sharp tip in perfect alignment. This co-incidence shook me out of a to-that-point blindness to the moon. I saw it for the first time as a three-dimensional orb at the crease of an angle of involution between moon, earth, and sun. Before that moment, I’d always more or less dismissed it unconsciously as a flat projection against the blue-screen sky. This day, the sky framing it was deep blue, which somehow emphasized the curve of reflected sunlight along its convex surface so that my eyes couldn’t miss its spheriform qualities nor my mind overlook its position in relation. I stood stuck to the spot, astonished at what I suddenly knew I didn’t know. Changed my life–the way I see. Such a little thing.


  9. Not to threadjack- I don’t know when I’ll get my hands on some appropriate bird feed. Right now it’s in the negative digits outside and I wouldn’t want to tempt them out of their shelter. Nor am I willing to walk up to the woods. Thanks for the link. Feeding wildlife has been a pressing issue here for some time. Every year at the harvest festival I make a monetary donation to the Fish and Game folks. They always give me the same pamphlets about not feeding the wildlife. I still feed them from time to time.
    greenfrog- I’ll be looking for those moments. I’ve been thinking about what you said for some time now and I can’t recall right now a recent event like that. I have let my life become overwhelming in other ways. I hope to make some adjustments.
    Patricia- I find it odd that I have all these wildlife moments in my kitchen. To be honest, the wildlife around here has varying attitudes towards people. The turkeys will scatter if I open my back door. The deer will look up, make sure the dog is tied, and continue grazing while they ignore her furious barking. The neatest observation I’ve made is how the song birds will gather in the bushes near my neighbor’s birdfeeder and wait for her to come out and feed them. They won’t fly away no matter how close she gets. They squawk at her, they sound impatient and bossy. She fills the feeder and they wait till she turns her back, and then they land in the feeder. They will fly away if we come out very far from our back door. We have kids and a dog, so it can be hard for them to tell what we’re going to do, or which direction.


  10. Lora, it’s only this past year, starting with spring, that my interest turned toward turkeys, because that’s when they moved into Crossfire en masse. Until then, I’d only heard the toms calling in the distance, occasionally witnessed come into the yard a restless tom on the hunt for hens, seen their peace-symbol-esque tracks in the dirt. Last year starting in spring and going into fall, I began coming across turkeys in all stages of life, except for eggs. I’ve collected wing and body feathers from the trail. I’ve walked through cottonwood groves after the turkeys have given the leaf litter a tossing and been amazed at how they’ve altered everything at ground level–a very thorough job. It looked like cops came in with a warrant.

    As I’ve met these birds’ eyes and watched them decide how to respond to my presence, they’ve provoked new questions. So for the first time in my life I’ve had occasion to begin wondering about them, what their behavior means, etc. Don’t know much yet and have only a few stories to tell, which I think I’ve already told. Now that winter has dropped an unexpectedly deep and long-lingering layer of cold inhibition on us, I’ve only seen their tracks (when I’ve managed to get out, which hasn’t been often). But I have been wondering how they’re faring.

    We’ve begun feeding birds, so far seeing only white-winged juncoes, white-crowned sparrows, and a western towhee at the feeder. The behavior of juncoes is how I tell the level of stress the snowbirds feel. When juncoes are doing well, you can’t get very close to them. They buzz and pip in alarm and fly away. When they’re not doing well, they enter this state of single-mindedness, where all their focus–what of it they can muster–goes toward finding that seed scrap. They’ll fly in quite close to you then or won’t move much at all when you walk near.

    Not that I can’t figure out from how much trouble the snow causes me that the birds must be stressed. It’s just that seeing that change in the juncoes’ behavior calls my attention to their condition.


  11. This isn’t a winter solstice story, just a winter story.

    Utah Lake often freezes over in winter. When it does, the ice can be a foot and a half thick, although that can vary near inlets and underwater springs. The lake ice gives me a new place to walk and even hike when the season is cold enough, a place not only different in location from my usual trails, but different in kind. The expansive flatness is in extreme contrast to the steep and dramatic mountains that surround the valley. Windblown patterns of snow, feathery formations of frost, jumbled ice blocks of a pressure ridge, are only a few of the things that draw me out onto the ice. The frozen surface of a big lake is a very different place.

    The frost and ice crystals on the frozen lake refract light more brilliantly than any place on land that I’ve seen, and I’ve been treated to some wonderful displays of colored light. On a day in January of 2004, my walk on the ice took me northward for a mile or so. The sky was clear, although some haze could be seen along the base of the mountains. When I turned to walk back, the brightness of the early afternoon sun was strong, so I put on a hat to shade my eyes. Then I saw the colors. It looked as though glitter of all colors had been spread all over the ice! The most intense area of color was centered six or eight feet from me in line with the sun. From there, the “glitter” extended from me in two directions for thirty or forty feet, in bands approximately thirty or thirty five degrees from the direction of the sun. As I walked, the colors sparkled dazzlingly. The most intense area of color followed me around on the ice, always keeping between me and the sun. I was fascinated by what I saw that day.

    But a few years later, it got even better!

    In February of 2008, on a sunny day after a strong and fast moving snowstorm had passed through the area, I walked out on the frozen lake as I often do in cold winters. There I saw a show of light and color such as I’ve never before seen on the ice! What I saw could be described as an upside down rainbow on the ice! To my right, the ice bow extended all the way to the west shore of Utah Lake, near the Lake Mountains. Off to the left, the ice bow stretched to the jetty at the marina. The part of the bow closest to me was full of bright sparkles of clear color: violet, blue, green, yellow, red – all the colors of the rainbow! By comparison, the snow-covered ice seemed a dull blue-grey. As the bow stretched off in both directions, the colorful sparkles became diffuse color, like a normal rainbow. The “warm” colors were on the inside of the ice bow and the “cool” colors were on the outside of the bow, all the way to both shores. This was as clear and bright and colorful as any complete rainbow I’ve ever seen, only it was upside-down, and on the snow covered ice of a big lake. Besides this complete bow, there was a less brilliant partial bow closer to me. The ice bow followed me around on the frozen lake. I couldn’t help myself – I walked back and forth on the ice several times just to see it follow me, my shadow on one side of me and the ice bow on the other. This was amazing! I had never seen a complete bow on the ice, nor had I ever heard of one! For a few days following this, I went out on the frozen lake hoping to see the ice bow again. The weather conditions seemed the same, and there were some colorful sparkles on the snow, but no more than usual. The ice bow was there only for a day, and I haven’t been able to catch one out there since.


  12. Jim, thanks for those wonderful field notes. I’m moving into my second year of year-round hiking and have been astonished at how much there is out there in wintertime for the eye to find.

    As I read this, a question occurred. This isn’t necessarily just for you but for anyone out there who has thoughts on the matter. Do you find that being part of these events–and we are part of them, since for these kinds of light and color shows to manifest, a human eye is required equipment–do you find that this kind of involvement in surroundings changes you personally or affects how you execute your art? (Jim G. is a visual artist–landscapes and portraits.)

    The same question goes for kitchen-window events (kitchen windows providing, at times, their own interface opportunities). Does witnessing a turkey stampede cause something to shift and change in you? Are you “not the same,” so to speak, after seeing that?


  13. This morning, I’d had enough of waiting for the snow to melt. I dressed thickly, because available information said the temperature was running only about 12 degrees. Our country road is ice-sheeted, though there’s a layer of tire spray off to its edges that provides stable footing. I walked in that up to the cattle guard, which I usually have to think about crossing, using the metal bars like stepping stones. Today, it was a solid path of packed snow.

    I turned south and plowed into white depth, about 10-13 inches of it, judging from how far my walking willow sank. But I found the snow soft, grainy–no hard crust to punch through. Apparently, we just haven’t had any significant thaw. Each step kicked up a short wave of ice crystals that made a soft, seashore-like whish sound.

    Working my way through this, I came to a cross trail leading toward my neighbor’s yard that deer had stamped out. Following it with my eye, I saw it lead up to the neighbor’s fence and over then to the hay stacked on a wagon near the fence. Desperate deer.

    As I pushed further south, I came across a story written in the snow. I’m not literate enough to read it well, but tufts of fur first caught my attention–rabbit fur, I think, though I didn’t bend to pick it up to do a touch-test. Looking around, I discovered the history of some recent violent event–more fur tufts, then a concentration of them around a flurry of marks on the snow’s surface. Long, fine, straight brushstrokes extended like wings above and around larger indentations and scuffing. I imagined this short tale told of some small rabbit meeting its end in the talons of a large raptor. My guess? A red-tail hawk, the biggest hawk we have around here. Though an eagle wouldn’t be out of the question. The wing-marks didn’t seem to have a broad enough spread for an eagle, though.

    I’m out a lot, and I don’t often see evidence like this of “nature’s savagery,” as some call it. My experience is much more often that of witnessing extraordinary difference that opens up my thinking to other possibilities and that in uncountable ways sharpens my thinking.

    After studying the marks a few minutes, making the story out as best I could, I continued south, feeling my leg muscles and muscles extending up into my back working hard. A wide glitter trail–that broad spread of colorful photo-confetti one sees in snow where the it lies at the corner an oblique angle between eye and sun–opened up for my visual pleasure. When I reached a point I know to be 6/10 of a mile from my home, I turned due east and begin working my way up a steep, snow-thickened trail that connects with a more heavily used trail several hundred feed above. Going up this incline provided a fierce workout. I had to stop several times to relax my muscles and just be still. At one point, I fell into a hole windblown snow had smoothed over. The knee of my right leg hyper-extended as my balance caught. I pulled out of it, then walked a few feet to more stable ground. There I stamped out a small platform in the snow and rested my knee until the pain faded.

    About 2/3 of the way up this trail, I felt so taxed, I found myself hoping that somebody had broken the snow above with a snowmobile. When I made it to that trail, I found that someone had. Turning north, I felt relieved and grateful–as did, I suspect, a number of coyotes, judging from the two-way flow of their tracks along the snowmobile’s track. Rabbits, too, dropped into this trail here and there as they made their way toward better foraging prospects. Along this compressed snow, I only sank in about an inch or two, with the occasional drop through softer snow into a hole, but nothing too stressful. Pretty tired out, my muscles taxed, I hurried along the snowmobile break to the gravel pit and from there turned homeward.


  14. Have I changed? I think everything changes me. It’s a level of awareness of my change that shifts. Is that what you mean? I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my window observations and arguing with myself because of things I’ve read in the past. For instance, it has been argued that people looking through windows will somehow equate it with watching TV and will demonstrate a slow reaction time or demonstrate other lack of the sense of reality. I never understood this that much because for one thing, windows were around a long time before TV. Why isn’t watching TV equated with looking through a window? It probably is, I’m sure. At any rate, I wondered if my observations might feel less real because I was warmly esconced in the house while looking out on wildlife. It has something of a viewing medium, as much a crystal ball as a TV. But I know the yard on a ‘real’ level. I know how it feels, where it shifts (our house holds back part of a hill, so there is a definite feel of the shift of earth here), where the chipmunk holes are, the deep shade for summer and the windiest part in Autumn. I know where the deer tracks are going to be and I knew exactly which tree the turkeys were interested in, for instance. I knew enough to be surprised because I had been up there scouring for acorns too, for my daughter the collecter. I knew there weren’t any more. They should have too! So watching them felt real, ok.
    Change? I got a deeper or more varied understanding of turkeys. From the last several years of watching them, I know they guard their young very carefully, work together, chase cats, totally destroy certain kinds of plantings (like the cops with the warrant, I know what you mean!) always have at least one sentry on duty, and around here, they are very suspicious of humans. They usually receded into the woods if I so much as opened my back door. The last generation or so have tolerated us stepping out to the porch, IF we don’t stare. Our turkeys are the tall black ones, with grey on their wings. They are very impressive and I almost would rather run into a herd of deer in the woods than a flock of turkeys. I don’t run fast!
    I sometimes think about dinosaurs when I watch the turkeys. I like the theory that many dinos transformed into birds. It’s mythic! I think about my girlfriend’s son, who has bagged several turkeys (along with deer) to feed his family. When the price of gas was so high, he literally provided the meat for them for much of the winter. I think it would be a little scary to get too close to turkeys. I have rethought that whole “man is the top of the foodchain” thing. I am, if they take personal checks, ya know? This is certainly a different set of thoughts than if I were watching TV. I fills me and makes me feel alive and aware.


  15. Thanks for answering the question, Lora. It helps me think about an idea I have about nature and art–an idea still forming. Probably, I’ll shape a post around it later.

    We’ve been feeding birds on a board laid across a wheelbarrow. One of our outside cats developed a strategy for lying in wait in the melted-out shadow below the wheelbarrow, tortoiseshell-colored death ambushing desperately hungry birds. Today, when there were no birds to upset, I went out to move the wheelbarrow into deeper snow where it wouldn’t be so easy for the cat to make herself comfortable and invisible. I found the wheelbarrow hard-frozen to the ground. In wrestling it free, I made a lot of racket. Suddenly, a flock of agitated juncos surrounded me, pipping and twittering sharply, expressing their anxiety over my messing with their dining table. They flew in quite close to complain. I tried to explain. They just wanted me to go away. I broke the wheelbarrow free and pushed it a good twelve feet away into deeper snow.

    Then I went away, as was demanded.


  16. Lora,

    greenfrog- I’ll be looking for those moments. I’ve been thinking about what you said for some time now and I can’t recall right now a recent event like that. I have let my life become overwhelming in other ways. I hope to make some adjustments.

    Sometimes, I think simply looking is the most effective adjustment. The moon thing was interesting. There was a kind of background recognition that my concept of the moon was getting in the way of the seeing of the moon. And as I noticed the concept/cloud that interfered with the seeing, it became easier to set it aside so I could look more clearly. And again, and so on.

    It’s amazing how often I have to re-learn the same lesson.


  17. My photographer is a very patient man. More than once I’ve arrived at his studio with an armload of paintings to be photographed and some of them put on the website. Each time he asks,” So, what are the titles?” and I realize once again that I haven’t thought of any. We then take time to hash out some titles.

    Answering your question might be, for me, a little like that. I’ll see if I can hash out a reply.

    Lora touched on some good points. Beyond what she mentioned, I suspect that I’m not fully aware of some of the changes that happen as the result of my “involvement with surroundings” in nature. I think some of these changes begin to reveal themselves only when, somewhere down the line, I react to things in a different way than I might have done before.

    Nature gives hints at things that can be useful in other facets of my life. So many times I have found more in nature than I expected, and even more than I thought there could be. Sometimes, when presented with a situation I need to act upon, in any aspect of my life, and considering the options available to me, I try to look further and explore the situation more. Sometimes then I find more options, even more than I thought there could be.

    Some changes happen on a small level, and other changes happen on larger levels. The more dramatic gifts of nature can lead to epiphanies, I suppose, but more often change happens as a result of deep exploration of the new “trails” that involvement with nature’s events opens up for me.

    If these answers seem rather general, well, that’s the way I title my paintings, too!

    How does involvement with these kind of events in nature affect my painting? In part, they are WHY I paint. I love the rhythms. proportions, and colors of nature, and how patterns repeat themselves at different levels, like how blood vessels, tree branches, and river deltas resemble each other. It’s fascinating to me how landscapes blend into one another, or tumble over each other. The natural landscape is full of life, and the activity of light. Nature provides trails for both mind and body that travel outward to places other than oneself. Things like the soft, luminescent glow of foxfire deep in the woods on a warm summer night, or an upside-down rainbow on the frozen surface of a lake are more than things that happen along the trail, they are part of the trail “Involvement with surroundings” opens up new pathways and, in a way, can even begin to open up a whole universe.

    Is this hashed enough?


  18. Yes. Very nicely hashed. Thank you, Jim.

    Nature provides trails for both mind and body that travel outward to places other than oneself.

    Sometimes, when I’m in nature, I make trips into my inner world in how I swing my awareness inside to work at the intricacies of an image, idea, or problem that asks for greater attention. I take advantage of how a vigorous walk feeds the brain, establishes cadences, opens up by virtue of movement an interior landscape of possibilities. During such walks, caught up in the inner vista, I might travel for some distance unaware of surroundings, though my body is working out faithfully puzzles in changes in the ground I’m covering and keeping to trails it knows.

    Sometimes, I walk out into a wide landscape so that I can let what I’m feeling spread out. Having intense proclivities of its own, nature doesn’t seem to mind if I’m feeling charged up and accommodates me easily. At such times, I feel very deeply welcomed and part of the energies at large.

    But most of the time, my awareness swings outward, into various kinds of alignments–sort of like the trails you speak of.

    One thing I don’t go out into nature for is to get off by myself or be alone. I’m often out there as a lone person because no other people are available to go with me. But when I am alone, I go out to meet and engage with, not to seek any advantage of aloneness per se. And I suppose that’s what both you Jim and Lora speak of in different ways in your comments.


  19. Let me add that I make my remarks about “aloneness” not to denigrate aloneness but to speak to assumptions folks have voiced that my affinity for nature means I’m anti-social (i.e., I prefer nature over people).

    First, I don’t see the separation between people and nature that many take as granted.

    Second, I’m as totally into people as I’m into nature.


  20. I don’t just paint landscapes, I paint people, too. In spite of how people behave and dress and groom themselves to try to appear otherwise, the human form shares a lot of similarities with landscape. I already mentioned how blood vessels resemble trees and river deltas. The rhythms and proportions seen in how the arms, hands, and fingers articulate, or in the arrangement of features of the head, or in the graceful curve of the spine, all have echoes in nature, and can have similar effects. Then there are the personalities that possess these tabernacles of clay. Those can provide some of the most challenging, difficult, and rewarding “trails” of all. There are also the dynamics of how the people who influence the trails one is traveling, are all on trails of their own. and might be influenced, too.

    That’s a whole ‘nuther bunch of hash!


  21. Again, nicely said, Jim.

    On what you said about blood vessels resembling trees and river deltas: Over the past week, we’ve had bright sunshine. As I’ve walked out on the back porch pushing my daughter in her wheelchair, I couldn’t help noticing how that brilliant sun cast intricately detailed shadows on the snow. One of my favorite snow shadows is of last year’s wild sunflower skeletons, still standing in the yard. Those plants stretch a kind of hydra-headed negative image of themselves across the brilliantly white ground.

    The ash trees lay down complicated shadows–reminiscent of the waterway intertwinings of Cascade Springs. But in looking at the shadows off the peach trees, which are only four years old, I saw something like what you’re invoking: spare, graceful, slightly blue veining of the snow’s pale skin, as if I were looking at the back of an excessively fair-skinned hand.


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