Seeing Beauty, Being Angry

Blue Flag

Look I’m not going to pretend it is all roses around here. I mean, we still have a pandemic happening. But in Vermont things have been fairly settled recently. Our cases of COVID-19 are still pretty low, although there has been a bit of a spike this past week. Still, summer is just about here, and things are more open than they were.

Sometimes it feels like the world is circling the drain. It can be hard not to get angry. I don’t want to be angry. That sucks the life out of me, but how I can I not get angry these days? When I compare my life to others’ I think, what do I have to get angry about? I mean look at this place. It’s beautiful. It is the kind of place people who live in less beautiful places come to go on vacation.

Blue Flag is blooming. There is a patch of it in the field where the cows now sometimes graze. We have these giant domesticated irises at our house, also blooming now. They are related, both purple and intricate and amazing. I got to see both of them when I walked this morning, just as the sun rose, the fog just slipping away into the day. How can those even exist, they seem so fragile? And I get to see them in their glory. Like I said, what do I have to be angry about?

But I pay attention not only to the things right here–the butterflies emerging and the Veery singing and the grass that is somehow four feet tall already–but to what is happening beyond my rural bubble. And that anger pops up. And if you are paying attention then you should get angry too.

So the question: is it OK to enjoy beauty when there is so much to be angry about? I keep hearing the line from the film Bridge of Spies, when the Soviet spy Rudolf Abel gets caught and his lawyer asks him “Aren’t you worried?” since Abel seems so calm. His response: “Would it help?” And that is the answer I have for my question. The problem is, that is another question.

For now I am planning to do both. I plan to enjoy the beauty of almost-summer and I plan to be angry. Beauty is fleeting and I would be a fool to let it pass unappreciated. And anger serves a purpose–it keeps us from becoming complacent, from forgetting, and it can make us take action. I will not bury my head in the flowers but I will still be awed by them. I will not lose myself to anger but I will let it remain, sometimes quietly, sometimes less so.

Those irises are not going to change the world, but finding wonder in them can help me turn that anger into something productive. Those fragile purple petals of late spring can help me to be calm, to think clearly, to be at peace. I get angry that not everyone can be that and think that way and feel that. Maybe not everyone wants to, but I think we would be better off if we did.

I know I should do something and not just talk about it. Of course. We all should. But without experiencing wonder at how beautiful the world is, I won’t be motivated to do the hard things. So I guess I have my answer after all.

War Words

I have been following the events in Ukraine these days, wondering a lot about what is happening and what will happen. Could work out fine. Could be tragic. Let’s hope for the former.

I heard this on the radio today: “Russia is threatening the peace in the region.” It occurred to me that this a phrase where its opposite means the same.

To threaten peace means to put in danger the calm that currently exists.

To threaten war is to suggest that the current peace may soon end through aggressive action.

Either way, the situation isn’t a good one.

More Drizzle

October Rainy Day

October Rainy Day

More rain today. We haven’t had a fully sunny day in quite a while. Forecast for tonight: rain. I need to decide whether or not to get up early and run. I was thinking I would run about 7:00 AM–early, but not nearly as early as I have been running. Then my wife says she wants to leave at 7:00 to go for a hike.  So do I wait until much later in the morning, when I am likely to be less motivated?  Or do I get up way early, even though it will be Saturday? Plus, it will be raining.

I will get in 20 plus miles this week. It still feels like not enough, but slow and steady, eh? I’m thinking maybe a half marathon next month. If I can build up the miles slowly enough I can do that. Or, as has been the case too often the past couple of years, I somehow injure myself. So far so good, but it is tempting to push it. Tomorrow I go seven and a half miles. A good solid run. I almost hope it will be raining, whenever I decide to go. That would be good for settling the mind.

I feel good and I am glad I have been rising early. It isn’t easy. I often don’t get quite enough sleep. But I need to do it. Early morning is the only time I’ve got to run consistently, and once I’ve done it, the day has started well. I am stronger now and, most nights, I sleep better. I have even managed to miss the big downpours in the morning–I’ve lucked out with the timing. Maybe tomorrow I’ll run in the rain. I’m picturing a light rain, a drizzle if you will. Just enough to keep me moving, to keep me cool, to keep my mind in the moment. It would be nice to think about nothing but my breathing, and the water on my cheeks, and where the puddles might be. For an hour or so, I can leave the rest behind.

Mountain Birdwatch 2009 Take Two

View from Burnt Rock Mountain

View from Burnt Rock Mountain

Looking South-ish

Looking South-ish

A couple of weeks ago I went up Ricker Peak for my annual volunteer effort to help the Mountain Birdwatch high elevation bird survey.  After I had completed that survey route I noticed that several routes were available still.  So I signed up to do another one, on Burnt Rock Mountain.  I had been up there a couple times before, the first time when hiking the Long Trail from Massachusetts.  I love that mountain, so I figured it was time to volunteer for a second route.

Last week I took a day off and did a scouting trip.  Since the survey requires observing at specific points, I wanted to make sure I found those points during the day.  The survey requires observing birds before the sun rises, so I wouldn’t be able to find them the day I hiked for the real deal.  That scouting mission was mostly successful.  I found four out of five points, although it took me a while.  The first point was “just south of the summit.”  I had a description and a photo.  The point description sheet noted “all photos looking north,” so busted out the compass to make sure I was looking the right way and tried to match the photo.  It was a fine clear day so it should have been no problem.  But I couldn’t figure it out.

I hiked all over the top of that mountain looking for point one.  I finally gave up and headed down the trail to find point two.  Couldn’t find that one either.  Point three was an obvious one, with definite landmarks–steep rocky slope, big fat root hanging over it, tall leaning dead tree–and I thought at first that the photo was backwards.  No wonder I was having trouble.  Then I realized the photo wasn’t looking north.  It was looking south.  It turns out they all were looking south.  After that I found all but point two.  That one would have to wait to be found in the wee hours of survey day.  I ran out of time that day.

I did a repeat hike this morning, but instead of heading down the trail just behind a group of a dozen women in their sixties, all with hiking poles and long pants and sleeves, I was alone.  It was dark, and it was 2:30 AM when I started hiking, so that wasn’t a big surprise or anything.  I walked slowly with my headlamp showing me the way.  No moonlight hiking on this trip.  Aside from the idea that I might meet a sleepy and therefore grumpy bear, I was afraid only of slipping and hurting myself.  It would be a long wait before someone might come to help.

And it was slippery.  It had rained more since my first hike so the streams were higher, the trail had more water on it, the rocks were wetter.  I slipped more than once, drawing blood on my hand in almost the same spot I had on the scouting hike.  I got to the top of the mountain about 4:00.  Right on time.  The survey needs to happen between 4:00 and 6:00 so I sat down, drank some water, pulled out my notebook, and waited.

I had to wait a while.  It was foggy, socked in in fact, so the birds rose later than they might have on a clear morning.  I lay back on my pack, looking into the wet dark air, feeling the drops on my face and reaching out into the morning for any sound.  It was peaceful.  I was afraid I might fall asleep.   And then hermit thrushes started to sing.  Lots of hermit thrushes.

I started my ten-minute observation at that first point at 4:30.  I was lucky.  I heard a Bicknell’s thrush, which is one of the major reasons for the survey.  No matter how many times I hear it, it fills me with joy and gives me hope that the world still is filled with wonders.  It is.  We humans are working hard, it sometimes seems, to trash the place.  But the world is resilient and powerful and beautiful and downright amazing.  I felt that deeply again this morning.

I did find point two, and the rest of them, and I completed the survey on time.  I got to spend a good chunk of time up on a mountain by myself.  That was a treat.  Back at the summit, after my notebook was stowed in my pack, I sat and looked and listened for what I might discover.  There was nothing new, and that was what I sought.  Back at the car, after a slidey hike down, I donned some dry clothes.  I stopped for gas (the low fuel light was on and I was afraid I might not make it; not only did I get gas but free coffee with a fill up) and headed up the twisting road through the gap on Route 17.  I was home by 9:00.

I did take a short nap this afternoon, but I will need to retire early this evening.  It was great experience and I hope to do it again next year.  At the moment, however, I am a bit tuckered.  That is fine with me.  I know that up high, Bicknell’s thrushes still sing.

Up and Out in the Morning

This has been a bad week for running.  I have not gotten motivated enough to give up sleep and make it happen in the morning.  And I have been home too late in the evening to really make a go of it.  Too many things to balance.  We a had a friend visiting for three nights and, of course, we stayed up late to hang.  He did come all the way from California.  This morning, however, I finally rallied for a morning run.

It wasn’t long.  I had to get back so I could get myself and the kids ready for the day.  But it was fine.  I left when it was light enough to see (no headlamp required) but the sun had not yet risen.  It was the perfect morning, although it was cold (26 degrees when I left the house).  I had no regrets about losing a little sleep.

There is a time when the world feels perfectly at peace.  The light creeps over the hills but the sun will not appear for a bit.  The eastern sky is pink or golden.  The blackbirds are beginning to chirp their chorus.  The frost glows.  The air is still.  No one else seems to be stirring.  The river shushes smoothly under the bridge.  It is quiet except for the waking birds and the sound of my feet.

That is the morning I had.  The mud was mostly frozen, so it was easy to navigate the rutted road–no sinking into the mire.  I crunched along past the fields, through the woods, onto the open road and over the hill to see the sun toss its head over the mountains.  And then the world was bright.  I felt the warm spring angle of that sun immediately, my layers instantly too much.  As I trotted north, the light flashed through the bare trees like the light from an old reel projector.

So maybe it wasn’t a bad week for running.  I haven’t gotten in many miles but this morning sure did feel like it made up for it.  It was peaceful.  It was beautiful.  I felt great.  I came home feeling calm and ready for what might come.  As I turned from the road onto our long driveway, I felt  happy to be alive, that this day was a gift.  I felt as though I was starting, right that moment, with days and days of living to come.  And hopefully, I am.

If I do not have those days and days left before I reach the great whatever it is that comes after this life, it will not have been a bad day to end on.  I hope, however, to have many more mornings like this one.

Coffee and Tea

I was once a fanatical coffee drinker.  I worked in a cafe in Portland, Oregon, and we were allowed whatever coffee drinks we wanted.  I was a barista, so this was in part to get me to practice making and to taste a variety of choices.  That I did.  I would walk down from Northeast Salmon Street a couple of blocks to the Cup and Saucer, hang my jacket, wash my hands, and make something funky.

Maybe I would make something like a double tall hazelnut orange skim latte.  Or a single cappuccino with a blast of almond syrup.  Sometimes I would just have an espresso shot but I preferred the foamed milk.  Perfecting that was my raison d’etre while I worked the coffee bar.  I would often allow myself multiple drinks during my eight-hour shift.

I would get out in the afternoon and would meet some of the friends with whom I lived.  We would walk across the street and sit down to talk and drink coffee.  I had to pay for this so I usually just drank the regular stuff.  It was good coffee.  We would debate or talk philosophy and listen to KMHD (“all jazz, all the time”) for a couple of hours, all the while sipping the bean.

By the time I got married I still drank coffee on occasion but had overcome my seven cups a day phase.  We drank tea.  We drank tea when we went backpacking.  We drank tea when we went for a long ski.  We drank tea after dinner.  We had a whole kitchen drawer devoted to tea–Earl Gray, Lemon Zinger, even Salada for guests who preferred the mainstream stuff.

At one point I bought a coffee maker, one of those cheap ones with the glass carafe on a burner.  I would make coffee once in a while for myself.  My wife found it nasty so I tried to clean it up right away and most of the time only drank it when she wasn’t around.  Things have changed.

When it came time to replace the glass carafe the second time I spent the big bucks and got a maker with an insulated carafe.  It makes far better coffee.  Somewhere along the way my spouse started drinking Starbucks frozen coffee drinks.  Those were the gateway drugs.  Now she comes downstairs before I do to make the coffee.   She does not find it to be nasty anymore.

Lately, however, I have turned to tea again.  It feels like revisiting a friend I haven’t spent time with in a while.  After the children are asleep and the house is finally quiet, I can sit and read or write or watch some weird film and sip tea.  With just a dash of cream and solid dose of honey, it offers the perfect evening companion.

i still drink coffee in the morning.  Tomorrow is Saturday and I look forward to taking the time to steam up some espresso and to foam some milk and to make something fancy right in my kitchen.  But it will be a chilly day tomorrow.  At some point in the afternoon I will probably brew up some tea.  It will warm me, and I will look out at the fading colors of fall and I will feel just about right.