Monday, March 21, 2016

Dipping into the Stream #3

Our town of Sharon, Massachusetts hosted a series of "One Book One Town" events this year featuring "10% Happier" by Dan Harris. The book is about how meditation and mindfulness can help most people be at least a little bit happier. One of the events was a writing "contest" using the theme of "happiness." I quickly remembered how my quiet walks and contemplation on Moose Hill helped me find no small measure of happiness and self-awareness. I remembered one blog post in particular about how I spent a morning sitting on a rock, eating breakfast and observing as nature and my own thoughts passed before me. I condensed the blog post (A 500 word limit is draconian!) and submitted it, hoping to share my experience with others who might seek solace in the forest. 

I was appropriately "happy" to learn that my entry won second place and I might get to read it live in a few days.

My contest entry is below. The original appeared in this blog in August of 2007.


Dipping into the Stream #3

I have discovered that sitting in quiet solitude in the woods is a way to help bring peace to a troubled mind. Among the trees, the noise and tumult of the modern world fall away and I can simply think about things. I am lucky to be within walking distance of the Moose Hill wildlife sanctuary. I like to hike up there and sit on my favorite rock, face the rising sun and enjoy my breakfast and coffee. I sit and listen to the subtle sounds of the forest and idly dip into my thoughts and daydreams as they flow by.
On one visit I was thinking about how I saw Dr. Wayne Dyer talking about the Tao Te Ching on PBS. One point I heard Dyer make was “Change your thoughts and change your life.”
I have discovered that sitting alone in nature helps me focus on things that are bothering me. I might discover, acknowledge and confront previously hidden problems that are causing unease. I find that once a problem is identified, writing it down in my journal might help me find a solution. Sometimes the solution may be simply understanding the error in the way I am thinking about something. Maybe something is bugging me and all I need to do is realize that it really has nothing to do with me, it’s none of my business, it is of no concern to me, and I should just let it go.
While some may teach that changing our thoughts in this way is all that matters, and this may sometimes be true, I also believe that to be happier, many thoughts should lead to positive action. It’s through our actions that we change our lives for the better and through our actions that people know us. That’s why, after I identify what it is that is troubling me, I often find peace by visualizing a plan of action. These plans are a means to smooth out a turbulent life and bring calm to the mind. Some of these actions may be simple, like finishing a nagging task I’ve been putting off. Others might be a bit more challenging, like fixing a broken career or wounded relationship. Sometimes, just seeing a path forward can still the emotions and bring hope.
Actions are important, especially if they spring from thoughts that bring peace to a troubled mind. I like to think that peaceful minds lead to a peaceful world. Upon first meeting, it is almost customary for people to ask: “What do you do?” Perhaps a more important and interesting question might be: “What do you think about?”
This is the sort of food for thought I seek in the forest, and at that point, my real food is usually gone so I go on my way, satisfied with the mental nourishment Moose Hill has provided. I head for home hoping I might be able to incorporate a little of my Moose Hill dreaming into my everyday life.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Running Into Darkness

Sunday December 12, 2010

Boomer Moose Hill run
Should I stumble, should I fall
Old man age behind

Not feeling up to going out for my birthday last night, Nancy and I spent a quiet evening at home watching Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson in “Last Chance Harvey.” Probably not the best film fare for one prone to critical self-examination and observing a late-fifties birthday. (One of my favorite quotes is from (I think) George Plimpton: “One going on a journey of self-examination should go well-armed.”)

I woke up this morning feeling generally crummy. Knowing one of my problems was a major lack of exercise this week, I did what I often do when feeling down: I headed for Moose Hill. Weather radar showed a gap in the big, cold rain storm blanketing New England so I donned hat and gloves, put the cell phone in a bag, and headed out the door.

By linking the Hobbs Hill Loop, the Kettle Trail and the Summit Trail I was able to run for over an hour almost entirely on trails. Feeling out of shape, my plan was to run slowly and steadily, gently bathing my cells in cleansing oxygen and endorphins. Planning to run slowly and long (for me) has the advantage of allowing for a gradual warm-up. Not only does this loosen the joints, but it allows time for thinking and, perhaps, working on a little haiku, counting syllables with wool-clad digits. There was a moment as I began the steep ascent up to the summit of Moose Hill that I thought about channeling my inner Rocky, but the Acela from Philly was late and The Rock was nowhere to be found, so I walked. At times when I'm feeling weak, I think about this video (Caution, strong language!) and push harder, but not today.

The longer I ran, the better I felt. The light, fresh air and cold raindrops helped lift the fog in my head. I think part of my problem is this damn disappearing December daylight. I always find myself in a funk at this time of the year and figure I suffer from SAD - seasonal affective disorder. But there's nothing better than a little exercise to lift the spirits. By the time I got home, the rain was falling harder, but a good run was behind me, and I knew soon the season would be turning and we would start climbing back to the light.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

A Thing Which Could Not Be Put Back

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculite patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not to be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

from Cormac McCarthy, The Road

I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy several months ago. I wanted to write about this haunting book here, but I had no words to express the dark world this story plunged me into. It's the tale of a father and his son moving through the skeleton of a world left behind by a man-made cataclysm. In their struggle for the barest survival, they encounter challenges and horrors that are nearly unspeakable - unspeakable except by geniuses like McCarthy. This is truly the stuff of nightmares.

The dark images this book planted in my mind often come welling up. It doesn't help that when I see the book in a store, I'm prone to picking it up and re-reading the closing paragraph (Above). Not long ago I found myself standing, like an idiot, in a big-box warehouse store with a tear running down my cheek.

I did it again last night at Barnes & Noble, but this time something clicked. I just started reading eaarth by Bill McKibben. In the early pages, McKibben explains that global climate change is not something that might - if we don't get on the stick - affect our children and grandchildren as is so often said. No, in fact, it's already happened. We have already pumped so much greenhouse gas into the air and are so far from getting our fossil fuel use under control that we have entered a time of irreversible feedback-fed warming that has changed our pale blue dot into another planet altogether. We've triggered a chain reaction where a warmer climate promotes release of carbon dioxide from a thawing tundra and release of methane from warming Arctic seas. These additional gas releases warm the climate further, and so on and so on, in a self-sustaining loop that is beyond our power to control no matter how many bicycles we ride or light bulbs we change.

So, unlike the blinding flash that ended McCarthy's world, our world - the real one- was ended slowly but surely by puff after puff of invisible gas. Sudden death, or slow tortured death, we are left with a thing that could not be put back, could not be made right again. I think of my children and I think of the soft green forests of spring, and a tear rolls down my cheek.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dinner and a Show

I went to see Gary Snyder last night. A friend told me he'd be in Acton, Massachusetts to collect a poetry prize. (Thanks, Wayne!) Acton is a full hour away by car and I was debating about going, but Wayne wanted to go too (Having a friend along always lends a bit of validity to my crazy ideas.) and, as he said, Snyder is 79, after all. In other words, who knows how much longer he'll be around.

I'm not worried. If I can look as good and seem as bright at 79 as Gary Snyder does, I'll be doing OK.

I'll confess that I didn't know who Gary Snyder was until just a few years ago. I had a significant chunk of time on my hands as I recovered from surgery in 2007 and I used it to immerse myself in Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums, inspired by those other Dharma Bums. I learned that the main character, Japhy Ryder, was patterned after the real poet, scholar and activist Gary Snyder. When I think about it, it's pretty amazing to be able – in 2010 – to see a living character from a 1958 Kerouac novel. Maybe all that outdoor living kept Snyder healthy enough to outlive so many of his contemporaries.

I've since started exploring Snyder's vast body of work. I'm no student of poetry, but I find many of his poems striking a chord. So far, my favorite is “For the Children” in Turtle Island. Snyder is also an essayist and so many of his writings from the 60's and 70's foretold and warned of many of the social and environmental perils we face today. If only we paid more attention to our visionaries.

Snyder was in Massachusetts to collect the Robert Creeley Award. This prize was created in honor of Robert Creeley - another poet I need to learn about – who grew up in Acton. Starting his presentation, Snyder read “ I Know a Man”, one of Creeley's best-known poems. (Or, “po-ems” as Snyder calls them.) There's much discussion and speculation about the meanings of this little poem, but it ends with the lines:

for christ's sake,
look out where yr going

To this, Snyder said, a Buddhist's interpretation would be:

Pay attention.
Pay Attention!

He also told us to live, big, outrageous lives.

Well, it's a little late for me to start living a very big and outrageous life, but for the time I have left, I can try to pay attention. I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to pay attention to, probably life as it is happening. It would be sad to look back on a long life, wonder where all the time went, and realize I wasn't paying attention. I also want to be on the lookout for signs and wonders. When I get a sign, I don't want to miss the wonder.

I got a sign a couple of weeks ago reminding me it was time to head up to Moose Hill for the annual spectacle of the peenting woodcock. It was a perfect night for it unless it was a bit early in the season. When I first went to Moose Hill specifically to watch woodcock two years ago, it was April 8th, but this night was too good to pass up. The sky was free of clouds and wind and it was 60 degrees when I left home at about 6:30. Sunset was around 6:56, and from experience I knew I had plenty of time because the show doesn't start until after sundown.

I rode my old touring bike up the hill and headed straight for the old field beyond the Billings Barn. With the mown stubble of the field surrounded by woods and a red maple swamp, this is a perfect spot for woodcock vernal nuptials. I leaned the bike against one side of a trail-marker post in the field and used the other side for a backrest. Even though the day had been warm and sunny, I could feel the cool air slowly draining from the hill behind me, so I put on my hat and jacket and had my blanket ready to throw over my shoulders.

I unpacked dinner – veggie bake, one of my winter favorites – and poured a cup of Earl Grey from the vacuum bottle. I enjoyed my dinner, but started thinking I would have to go home without a show because everything was quiet. The only bird I heard was a cardinal chipping in the brush behind me, and no peepers were calling from the swamp. Then, a great blue heron flew low over the treetops with slow, silent wingbeats, giving me hope. I peeled an orange, sipped tea, and thought about Gary Snyder to pass the time.

I heard the first tentative peent at 7:08 from down by the swamp. By 7:14 I heard two or three birds on the ground. At 7:21 I heard the first twittering flight and peered into the darkening blue dome above hoping to catch a glimpse. I didn't see that flight, but was reminded how the flight is usually followed more vigorous peenting from the ground after the showoff lands.

It was getting so dark, the trees around the field were little more than silhouettes. The oaks and maples, in their nakedness, were revealing their forms against the sky, and the white pine were turned black by the night. Just then, a woodcock flew directly overhead like a big, silent beetle, before climbing in preparation for his plunging display. I could hear but not see his twittering decent. It was getting so dark, I couldn't see the words I was scribbling in my notebook. A honking flock of geese flew right over the field but I couldn't see them and wondered if they might be navigating by Orion's twinkling stars above.

At the height of the peenting activity I was a little surprised to see a trio of young men emerge from the dark woods. Actually, I heard them clomping over the Bluff Trail boardwalk long before I saw them. They were carrying backpacks and seemed like nice guys, not ne're-do-well teenagers old guys like me expect to see in places like this. Who knows, maybe they are rucksack revolutionaries. I told them they were just in time to hear the woodcock and they paused and heard. I wonder if some day far in the future they'll remember the moment and perhaps seek signs and wonders of their own in valleys and pastures where we can meet.

They went on their way and it was getting too dark to see anything. I had a last bit of tea, packed my bag and pushed my bike down the trail. When I got to the flat part of the gravel road leading back to the street, I hopped on the bike and rode slowly, guided only by the center part of the old road where the leaves had blown away, exposing the lighter sand and gravel.

Back on Moose Hill Parkway, I pedaled quickly down the hill, hoping to avoid cars since I was poorly dressed for the dark. My shadow was chasing behind, and then racing ahead as I approached, and then passed the street lights.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Five Seven Five

With the energy and optimism of youth, a young man here in town organized a poetry night at our local library. It sounded like something different and fun to do on a cold February evening. I wouldn't call myself a big fan of poetry, but at times I find resonance in the work of some poets like Robert Frost, Donald Hall or Gary Snyder. There were six of us, and I thought that was a pretty good turnout for a place where everybody is always too busy. It was fun and stimulating. I met a few new people and got re-acquainted with some old friends.

I didn't want to go empty-handed, and since the closest thing to poetry I had to offer was a handful of haikus that I've put in this blog in the past, I went through my old posts and jotted them down. About all I know about haiku is that, in one form, there are three lines, the first and last lines have five syllables and the middle one has seven. That length is appropriate for my attention span, and I like to have some simple rule to follow.

These little poems brought back memories, both fond and bittersweet, so I decided to collect all of them in one place. Each one is accompanied by a little background about the moment they came to me. The dates refer to the blog posts where they first appeared.

May on the Deck
May 2007

I like to think about the cycle of seasons and how it affects the natural world around us. Every summer on May first, the chimney swifts return to Sharon to zoom and twitter overhead all summer long. On September first, they are gone. Also in May, the catbirds return to nest in the overgrown and unruly clump of forsythia in my backyard. I love to sit on the deck on a warm May afternoon watching formations of swifts flying their patrols over the house and listening to the catbirds mewing from the green depths of the shrubbery. It makes me feel like the world will be OK for at least one more season.

chimney swift catbird

sky above forsythia

good to have them home

Running to Another Place
June 2006

One of my regular runs takes me from home, through the town center, and over the tracks to the road up Moose Hill. On a good day, my body will feel efficient and my stride will be smooth. As the pumping blood washes over my brain I can get lost in dreams and, at times, I feel like there are secrets in the forest and that maybe a little bird - like the wood peewee - might be trying to share them with me.

Warm summer rain run.

Endorphins bathe open mind.

Pewee calls from woods.

Cold Blood
June 2007

Often times on these Moose Hill runs, roadkill is a reminder of life and death and the way we can crush the natural world beneath our feet and machines. One warm, damp late spring morning, following an overnight thunderstorm after a long dry spell I came across a big bullfrog that had me wishing we could all slow down and be more careful when we drive.

Rain lets bullfrog move

Warm road feels good to cold blood

Driver does not care.

How Quickly We Fall
June 2007

In 2007, I was trying my best to recover from prostate cancer surgery. (Everything is fine now, thanks.) My recovery was not going well, and in fact, I was feeling sicker and weaker all the time. What I didn't know at the time was that I was coming down with a nasty case of Lyme disease, totally unrelated to my surgery. I was confused, frustrated and depressed.

Having had almost no exercise for about seven weeks, I decided to hike to the summit of Moose Hill. While I was reaching for life, once again it didn’t take long to be reminded of death by roadkill as I turned onto Moose Hill Parkway.

Shagbark hickory.

Squirrel tempted by crushed nuts.

One last fatal bite.

Walker sees squirrel.

Maggots dine on rotting flesh.

No life is wasted.

This brought to mind the writings of Gary Snyder where he reminds us that all death nourishes new life.

As I climbed, I felt sicker and weaker. It was hot and dry and trees were dropping leaves prematurely. I was thinking of seasons - and lives - ending before their time.

When does youth turn old?

Like summer turning to fall,

We want to hold on.

How will we turn old? Will it strike overnight like a sudden hard freeze? Or will youth slip away gradually like summer slipping quietly, barely noticed, into fall?

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Unhappy Update

Maybe it's the American way. We did it in Iraq, and we do it here. Those with big money, big power, and small ideas destroy things first and let somebody else worry about putting things back together.

In June of 2006, I walked a scene of obscene greed. (See "Forgive Us Our Trespasses.") Terrified by ever-escalating property taxes, the town gave a slimy developer the green light to clear about 20 acres of unbroken, beautiful, mature hardwood forest to build an "Over-55" community of about 50 houses. The rationale being that 50 retirement homes is better than 20 regular homes that will add kids to the already over-burdened school budget. The woodland was stripped and violated. Not an oak, maple, lady slipper, whitetail deer, scarlet tanager or salamander was spared. The place was bulldozed, rock-crushed and dirt-trucked literally back to the Pleistocene.

For marketing purposes, a sign was erected, a community center with pool was showcased and a few houses were built. The houses were crappy little plastic-sided boxes built on concrete slabs. Of the half dozen or so built, only one or two sold before the developer (Well, no doubt some shadow corporation.) went broke and the scene of the crime was left abandoned for someone else to worry about.

Now, the site has been acquired by another local developer who is also fond of despoiling raw land for profit. The cute little retirement coffins - brand new and never occupied - are being bulldozed (photo) and replaced with mini-mansions. Such simple-minded waste. It's enough to make me sick.

Once again, a crisis of imagination and leadership took us back to the old formulas of the 20th Century. Destruction, sprawl and waste always led to profits in the past because many of the true costs of such greedy enterprises were borne by others.

In August of 2008 - well over a year ago now - I went to visit the site of a proposed "Lifestyle Mall" on the edge of town. (See "Missing the Target.") It's the same story, only on a bigger scale: Children and taxes - Bad. Shopping malls, concrete and asphalt - Good. Nobody seemed to care that the economy was swirling down the toilet and the last thing we need around here is another effing shopping mall - upscale or otherwise. The bulldozers were warming up. These guys just can't wait to tear things apart! Now - well over a year later, as the photo shows, the land still lies cleared and barren. The developer gropes around for a way - any way - out of this debacle, and guess who will come out holding the dirty end of the stick?

And what have we learned from all this? Nothing.

Now, another developer wants to build a retirement and nursing facility on yet another tract of unbroken forest in town. This project is even more outrageous in scale and disruption. Not only will this project erect a cluster of towers reaching high above the tree canopy amidst state park and conservation land, it's construction will clog every street in our quiet town with literally thousands of construction vehicle trips for several years. At every turn, the developer threatens that - should his demands not be met - he will see to it that 88 McMansions, or - God forbid! - affordable housing will be built instead.

A minority of town residents strongly oppose this project. Some of the opponents are conservation-minded treehuggers like me while the rest are NIMBY types who likely never uttered a peep about the other fiascoes in town. At a recent town meeting the developer raised another curtain on the true scale and intent of his plans, revealing that he needed to use a quiet winding dirt road that runs right past a lovely state park to conduct operations in a way that was most efficient and profitable. No matter that this access would put all the construction traffic through the very heart of town; the camel's nose was already under the tent. Voting citizens were so mesmerized by the promised benefits of commercial tax money that they held their noses and grabbed their ankles.

One strong and vocal proponent of the project on the planning board said he had a spreadsheet that shows how this project is good for the town. It might be interesting to examine this spreadsheet and look closely at the lines where the value of the environment is calculated. What cost does he assign to the bulldozing of a tree? How much does it cost when a child is sickened by diesel fumes? What is the value of a quiet stroll down a country road?

Now I'm no Nostradamus, but I've had a vision about where this project is headed. This scheme simply makes no sense. Sure, maybe we need to look to the future when an aging population needs retirement homes and nursing care, but I can't imagine a more inappropriate location for such a facility. The proposed site isn't near anything - no shopping, no public transportation, no services. All traffic, both during and after construction, must travel on two of the narrowest and windiest roads in town. There is NO infrastructure. We have no sewer system in town - on-site septic systems must be built. They don't even have water mains in the area. There is a reason the 300 or so acres of this property has never been developed: It sits on bedrock and boulders (photo). Giant equipment and dynamite will be required for every hole in the ground. Sure, the bulldozers will roll and the trees will fall any day now. Just around the time the destruction is complete and the building is supposed to begin, money will suddenly get tight(er) and suddenly and unexpectedly the cost of diesel fuel will spike (again). The devastated landscape will fall silent and the developer will slink away. Bills will go unpaid. Promised benefits to the town will vanish with the songbirds. We will be left with yet another moonscape of blowing dust and discarded plastic coffee cups.

Note to Readers: I know that since I was consumed by my morbid fascination with the impending exhaustion of our fossil fuel supplies and the inevitable demise of the American suburban/consumer lifestyle my already-limited readership fell off a cliff. That stuff is boring and depressing. I've tried to move the gloom and doom stuff to one of my other blogs, Moose Hill Notebook. I put this story of development and destruction here because it is a follow-up to two earlier posts. In the future, I'll try to keep this blog more focused on quiet walks and contemplation on Moose Hill. In the mean time, you might find (I certainly hope!) more upbeat stuff on my newest blog: Bliss Hill Journal.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

A New Way of Seeing

Saturday, March 14, 2009

It was still in the mid-20’s when I left home for Moose Hill Saturday morning, but that was OK because the forecast was calling for clear skies and temperatures in the 50’s. It was a great day for walking, with bright sunshine and little wind.

As soon as I stepped out the back door, I was greeted by sounds of Spring: One of the neighborhood cardinals was tooting away. At the end of the driveway, I saw the first two robins of the year to be in the yard. Doves were cooing along Pleasant Street, and a pair of grackles flew over the train station. Along the road to the tennis club, I saw one of my first chipmunks of the year. On Lover’s Lane I saw that the lovers haven’t been waiting for Spring. (Note to lovers: It’s probably not a good idea to leave your latex evidence laying around, announcing to the world the location of your secret spot.) A pair of hooded mergansers took flight from Beaver Brook as I crossed the new bridge over the dam. In the cedar swamp, the redwings were calling chink-ker-ee! The new season was truly underway. Soon, I’ll be heading up in the evening to watch the flight of the woodcock.

I didn’t have any firm plans, but I thought I’d head to one of my favorite breakfast spots on the Boulders. Rather than hike up the road, I ducked back into the woods to take the Hobbs Hill trail. Away from the road and the brook, the woods were quiet. I walked along quietly and steadily, feeling my body warming and loosening. Thoughts were rolling through my mind without organizing themselves into any particular themes or patterns.

In time, the Hobbs trail took me back to the road, and I crossed it to take the Vernal Pool trail toward the Boulders. I tried not to hurry, but breakfast was calling from my pack. I had two big slabs of fresh homemade whole wheat bread slathered with peanut butter (the peanuts-only kind) and drizzled with pure maple syrup. I was going to use the usual jelly, or maybe the classic honey, but in honor of maple sugar season on Moose Hill, I tried something a little different. In the vacuum bottle, I had some shade-grown coffee. I knew these token efforts to eat as if food matters could make me seem like something of a Fauxhemian, but what the heck.

As I approached the Boulders, I paused to peer through the thin ice into the clear water of the vernal pool that is alongside the old road there. It seems it will be a few more weeks before the amphibians that depend on these ephemeral ponds for breeding will arrive.

I climbed up onto the Boulders and found a stony seat that afforded the warmth of the sunshine and a view back down on the trail passing below. I put my little foam pad on the cold rock and draped my fleece blanket over my shoulders. Before I could finish unpacking breakfast, I heard the yanking of a nuthatch behind me. This was followed by the tooting of a group of titmice and the tapping of a small woodpecker. This little guild stopped by just long enough to check out the new curiosity in the neighborhood before going back to the important business of finding something of their own to eat.

I sat enjoying my sandwich and coffee. A gentle southerly breeze reinforced my hopes for a warm afternoon. A couple of crows flew over, cawing loudly just over the treetops. A couple of hikers passed on the trail below, but they never glanced up to see the blanket-clad boulder troll peering down at them.

My thoughts mostly lingered on the state of the economy and, more particularly, what the current disarray might be telling us about our future. I remain convinced that, as Tom Friedman puts it, we may be at an inflection point where both our economy and environment are hitting the wall at the same moment.

On Friday afternoon, I was watching one of the major cable business networks as President Obama was telling us that it’s time to start building a new clean-energy economy and start laying the foundation for post-bubble economic growth, and that no longer can we drive our economy with an over-heated housing market and maxed-out credit cards. Those days are over, he said. A funny look came over the pretty high-def face of one of the program hosts. She just couldn’t grasp what that might mean. The concept of an economy that did not depend of constant growth and expansion with ever-increasing consumption and spending was beyond comprehension. I was struck how this crisis of imagination is typical of most people who have had it so good for so long. I was troubled by the on-going belief that all the bailout money we are throwing at the recession will prove to be a last-gasp futile attempt to prop up a system that is destined to failure no matter what we do and that all this new debt will only make things much worse for many years to come. What we need is a new way to look at things.

I was getting cold and these thoughts were not particularly fun or comforting, so I decided to get moving. I packed my bag and started looking for a way to walk around and down off this rocky outcropping. A ledge of granite, four or five feet tall, was in my way and, as always, I looked for a way to walk around it. Suddenly, an idea coalesced. For a while now, I’ve been entertaining rock climbing fantasies. This may have started a couple of years ago when we were in the Ansel Adams museum at Yosemite National Park. In the gift shop they were playing one of those New-Agey videos where an amazingly fit and graceful athlete was climbing on boulders to the accompaniment of soothing music. It struck me that it must be so wonderful to move through space like that with nothing more than skill, nerve and power.

Now, I’m an overweight middle-aged man with a bad shoulder. Even in high school when I was in pretty good shape I could never do more than 10 pull-ups. I have what I euphemistically call a low center of gravity. So, I have no business even thinking about rock climbing. But suddenly I started looking at the boulders all around me differently. I started looking for routes, hand-holds and toe-holds in the stone. Starting with the small wall in front of me, I found a way down the rock face rather than around. It was fun, so I walked over to the base of the tallest outcrop. There is a big fissure in the rock, and I started to climb up. My binoculars were tangling from my neck so I went to slip my pack off my shoulders so I could put them away. The pack promptly slipped from my grip and tumbled to the ground about 10 feet below, teaching me an early - if unnecessary – lesson about the dangers of combining height and gravity.

I spent several minutes moving up and down the rock. I was quickly learning a few lessons about this sport: As in chess, every move - and a few beyond that - must be planned in advance. Attention and focus are critical because a careless move can quickly lead to a situation prompting a cold sweat. It’s important to make a plan and follow through with it. It’s very helpful to know where you’re going, or you might wind up in a place you’d really rather not be.

It felt good to be stretching, reaching, grabbing and pulling. I felt like I was using muscles that don’t get used often enough. I was also exercising the parts of the brain that provide focus, concentration and discipline that can always use a workout. More importantly, I was seeing these familiar rocks in a new way.

Feeling like I’d pushed my luck enough with these first baby-steps into the world of rock climbing, I made my final descent and retrieved my pack. I was in a happy mood as I headed down the trail back to the road. The sun was shining and the Spring air was getting warmer. I’d had a fun new experience. And while I won’t be free-climbing El Cap any time soon, I knew that from now on I would be seeing the world around me with new eyes.

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