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He who hears the rippling of rivers in these degenerate days will not utterly despair.
Henry David Thoreau

When Henry David Thoreau was working on those lines, banks had collapsed from reckless real estate speculations; forests were being decimated all around him; politics had become a side-show spectacle; and the country was plunging mindlessly on into the Industrial Revolution.

Not so very different from what we’ve been experiencing.

Someone once asked me what I “get out of nature.” I didn’t have an explanation at the time. We were too far apart. There wasn’t a way for me to express it in a way he could grasp. If I said fresh air and exercise, or firewood, or blueberries, that would make sense. In his view, I would “getting something out of nature.”

If I told him I just enjoyed sitting next to a stream, listening to the rippling of the water, the sound of the wind in the trees, and letting my mind wander, it would be closer to the truth, but sheer nonsense to someone else.

I never thought about bats much before. If I did, I generally regarded them as spooky, coming out at dusk, flitting through the night sky. I had a rousing time late one night chasing one out of a cabin I was staying in.

Later in life, as I learned more about them and became more familiar with them and their life-histories, I became more interested.

Now they may soon be gone. White Nose Syndrome has killed off somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the bats around here – mostly the little brown bat.

It doesn’t bode well for us.

A bat eats about a third of its body-weight in insects – mostly mosquitoes – every day. They keep those populations under control. Now, we stand to lose them, just as we become more and more concerned about emerging insect-borne diseases, such as West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and others.

Will we have to soak our neighborhoods with pesticides to make up for the loss? Will we enter a cycle of applying stronger and more toxic pesticides as the insects become more tolerant and resistant?

Talk about weird. Discovery communications is planning to run an 8-part series on TLC featuring Sarah Palin talking about the nature of Alaska. What’s she going to say?

Will she wax poetic over the joys of taking potshots at wolves from helicopters? Gush about colorful oil slicks along the Alaskan coast? The stately beauty of oil rigs on an arctic landscape?

The former Governor and now Tea Party hostess pooh-poohs the notion of global warming and seems to regard nature as something to be destroyed and exploited.

But now comes a story that Friends of the Earth have come up with a unique way to register their protest: a haiku contest. They’ve collected 1,600 haiku in just one week, and these will be delivered to Delivery Communications. You can read more at this Environmental News Service article.

Once the current travel mess gets straightened out, there’ll be some other things to worry about.
First off, as the dust and ash settles downward, people with respiratory problems will have to be careful. The World Health Organization has already issued a cautionary advisory.

Then there’s all the sulphur dioxide that’s in those clouds – it’s the basic ingredient for acid rain, and there’s a lot of it floating around up there.

Finally, the Icelandic eruption isn’t the only one going on. There are several active eruptions in various parts of the world. They just don’t happen to be in the way of major flight paths, and so they haven’t merited a lot of attention. Nevertheless, they’re spitting up their share of volcanic ash.

In the past, notably 1783 in Europe and in the early 1800’s in the eastern U.S., volcanic ash from major eruptions caused a serious change in the climate, so much so that they both came to be known as “The Year Without a Summer.”

There were frosts throughout the summer, temperatures were unseasonably cold, the result of large clouds of volcanic ash drifting through the atmosphere. Crops were severely damaged, and there were reports of famine.

All we can do is wait.

Tipicditocreps.

Anyone who lives in the rural areas of the north knows what I’m talking about. It’s the time of year when the frozen ground thaws out, and becomes one big goopy mess.

I was researching an article about “mudders” – people who like to take their ATV and Four-Wheel Drives for spin through the slop. As usual, many don’t have much regard for what they’re doing as long as they’re having fun.

They’re tearing up fragile habitats, and if they do it on back roads, they can cause expensive damage.

But enough about them.

Tipicditocreps refers to the clayey soil that holds on to water creating all that heavy, thick mud. I stepped into some of it the other day, and it sucked the hiking boot right off my foot.

I was all set to get worked up over the mudders and their ilk, but learning a new word puts me in a much better frame of mind.

Now if I can just work it into a conversation.

My thoughts about Walden got sidetracked yesterday by the stone I saw in the cairn near where Thoreau’s house stood.

The water in the pond is the highest I’ve seen it in a long time. The beach at the swimming area is completely underwater, and so is the boat ramp. The path around the pond is closed. The shorter path to the house site is cut off … the footbridge is underwater. Taking the long way around is a pleasant diversion.

A red-tailed hawk swooped down crossing the trail just in front of me. Maybe there’s a nest nearby, but I couldn’t spot one. Thoreau would have found it, and climbed the tree to look in.

There was a fisherman in the small cove in front of the house site. He was hip-deep with waders on. We traded pleasantries.

I looked around at the trees – mostly white pine, a few oak. Only a couple looked like they might have been around during Thoreau’s time. If they were, they would have just been saplings.

A steady stream of people made their way to the site while I was there, a testament to the iconic book and author. One group was disappointed when they got to the site. They were mostly college-age.

I was sitting on a rock nearby, not meaning to eavesdrop, but I picked up some of their comments.

It wasn’t as pretty as they expected. They were surprised there wasn’t more of a view of the pond. They were also expecting to see the “remains” of the house.

There aren’t any, of course, just some granite pillars marking the outline of where it stood.

“All this way for nothing, “ someone remarked.

A stone on the cairn at Thoreau's house site at Walden Pond

I decided to make one of my semi-regular pilgrimages to Walden Pond this afternoon.

When I got to the site of Thoreau’s house, I found myself looking over the cairn of stones that’s grown near it. The tradition, as I recall, started some years after his death. As devotees made the pilgrimage to the site, they began a pile of stones taken from the pond to mark the place.

I put my own there many years ago now, when I went with a couple of high school classmates. We had all read Walden for the first time, and it struck a chord with me that still resonates all these years later. It’s under there somewhere.

Some of the stones have writing on them – initials and a date; one was from the Adirondack Writers Club; and then there was the one pictured here, a wonderful piece of whimsy.

What kind of president would old Henry David have made? Imagine a president who loathed politicians, and despised institutions of any kind, who believed “that government governs best which governs least.”

Would we see him at a Tea Party rally? What would he have to say about Sarah Palin?

The forsythia and other trees and shrubs are in bloom. Underfoot, the grass is a soft, rich green. Forest wildflowers are starting to poke through. It feels like spring is a bit earlier than it has been in recent years.

Springtime in New England is notoriously unpredictable. I can remember watching the Boston Marathon when the runners were running through the snow, and other times when people were hosing them down against 90-degree temperatures.

Hopefully I can get an early start on my garden. It’s out of the question just now. It needs to dry out a bit more. But there are some flower beds to work on.

The other day I went to a spot where I’ve seen marsh marigolds in the past, but the water’s too high to get anywhere near it. I did see a bed of green leaves poking through under some pine trees – maybe a bumper crop of Lady’s-slippers? There have been some there before.

I can’t wait. I love spring, and I’m excited by all the possibilities the weekend has to offer. I feel exactly the same as I did more than half a century ago, still in elementary school, and I would race out the kitchen door on a sunny Saturday morning to go see if any new flowers had blossomed, check the pond for frogs eggs, maybe catch a few insects to look at them under a magnifying glass.

Eastern hemlocks have been dying off over the past several years due in large part to an invasive pest called the woolly adlegid. They form whitish massses on the undersides of the needles and draw the nutrients out of the tree – bringing on a gradual, lingering death, when the dark green mass of needles – so cool on a hot summer day – turn to a dry, brittle brown.

Now comes news that an entomologist at Umass-Amherst has been studying another alien species, a tiny speck of a beetle named Laricobius nigrinus that feeds strictly on the woolly adelgid. David Mausel is moving cautiously, mindful that introducing yet another alien species into the New England forests could wreak unexpected havoc – witness both the asian longhorned beetle and the gypsy moth.

But, according to an article in the Worcester Telegrm & Gazette, it’s so far so good. The beetles have successfully controlled the woolly adelgid in a number of test areas, and appear to be interested only in those and nothing else.

Today’s sky is a delicate blue with wisps of fair weather clouds lacing through it. The air soft, and warm, wrapping around me like a quilt. I have to squint at the sunlight. Outside I’m watching a pair of robins hopping through the grass.

My students are more alive than they’ve been in weeks, full of energy, bouncing from one thing to the next.

One of them asks me what I’m looking at

“The robins,” I reply.

“Robins?” he asks. “What’s a robin?”

I sigh.

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