Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 Trail Log

Lots of people are bemoaning 2016 as the year that just won't stop delivering bad news. It has been rough for a lot of reasons - the loss of loved ones, a contentious (often vicious) election cycle, world violence, and news that our old earth is really ramping up her protests to our presence. I'm more worried now than I have ever been for the futures of my grandkids. But I won't let any of this get me down. It was even more important this year to take those walks - to walk out the door and put those burdens down. I trained for my long walk across Spain. I slipped out the door more times than I can remember for a few miles break from working on my PhD dissertation defense prep. The Camino.  I hiked in the Rocky Mountains with my son. It was a great year for adventures, birding, paddling, and exploring. "Go for a walk" has never meant more than it has this year.

January hike in Codorus State Park, 2016.

February hike on the Mason-Dixon Trail, 2016

Icy Muddy Creek trail, March 2016.

Trail closing protest, Holtwood, PA, April, 2016

Hiking across the Pyrenees, France to Spain, May, 2016.

Me and Francoise coming into Santiago de Compostela, Spain, June, 2016.

Walking across the Fall Line on the Northeast River, July, 2016.

Island water trail on the Susquehanna River, August, 2016.

Hiking in the Rocky Mountains with son George, Colorado, September, 2016.

River Hills hiking in October, Susquehanna River, PA, 2016.

Walk around Walden Pond, Concord, MA, November, 2016.

Bug hikes alone without her sister Annie, Mary Ann Trail, PA, December, 2016.

Again I met my minimum yearly goal of hiking over a thousand miles (which isn't hard to do, actually) including the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (which was) across Northern Spain. My son and I walked above 10,000 feet for four dizzying days in the Rockies - the longest I've spent at altitude in hiking boots. I logged over 100 water miles by canoe and kayak. And with all the counting miles and adventures I've had several great friends to share much of it. But I lost one of my best hiking partners in 2016 and that - above all else that happened this year - was the saddest day when my black and tan coonhound Annie, at age 12 (very old for a coonie) passed away in October. 

Annie, 2004 - 2016.

2017 will be an interesting year for political and scientific reasons, no doubt, but I look forward to logging more miles by boot and boat as I continue to expand what I consider the Mid-Atlantic hiking region. Getting the grandkids out on some longer trails, joining up again with my son for another adventure or two, and of course grabbing my hiking and paddling buddies for "play day" adventures will add to my unquenchable thirst for experiencing the natural and human history of my home region. This has been a hard year but one full of lessons and gifts. Now it's time to start planning for 2017 and I thank 2016 for giving me the determination to push on.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Rewilding my One Acre: The Bud Edition

In 1970 the one acre I currently own had been stripped completely bare of all its oak-hickory woods. The previous owners of my cabin who lived here in summers and over long holiday weekends, had directed a local tree cutter to remove a mature oak or two to protect this small place from falling limbs.  While they were home in Baltimore (Edna's husband worked in the steel mill at Sparrow's Point) a tree cutter came and removed not one or two oaks, but all of them except one. When they returned to the cabin for Thanksgiving break, they were horrified and heartbroken. They never got to see their old place reforested, so that's been my mission since moving here in 2001.

Rhododendron - restoring a small north-facing slope to mimic the Muddy Creek Ravine.

My local tree cutter, Gary of Delta Tree Services, groans when he hears the story repeated. "Those were bad times for absentee woodlot owners," Gary said. "Good saw wood was bringing in very high prices.  There were pirate cutters, illegal cruisers, and tree thieves everywhere. Even generations-old yard trees were stolen while families were away. It was not a very honorable business to be in." Luckily, Gary is a hard-core conservationist and a treasured consultant. As I've hiked around these parts for more than thirty years, I decided to try to copy some of my favorite places in the Lower Susquehanna Valley. I have a small north-facing slope grove of Rhododendron that reminds me of the Muddy Creek Ravine. And I want to replicate the diverse understory woodlands of Susquehanna State Park across the river in Lancaster County.

Go Native Tree Farm, Manheim, PA

I could just wait around for squirrels and blue jays to bring in acorns and nuts from elsewhere and hope they forget about them. That might take a long time. So, I started collecting native tree seeds and nuts on my many hikes. Some of my successful saplings are growing well, others - well - not so much. I've had some luck with hickories and elderberry. Then Gary suggested I check out Go Native Tree Farm in Manheim. About an hour's scenic drive east across the river, I now buy well-established young trees and shrubs from a hard working young Mennonite farmer who collects native seeds, propagates them, and raises hardy native woody plants for his growing fan club of determined woods planters like me.

Hans has built a niche (and successful)  business around his love of native trees.

I visit Hans in early spring and late fall and he always gives me a tour around his high tunnels, in-ground plots, hedges, and windbreaks. Everywhere are black plastic growing containers and he is very happy when I bring him the empties. In addition to being a tree farmer, he collects used planters buckets to refill with well-heeled trees. "Upcyle!" he cheers as he shows me a barn full of empties his customers drop off. For trees with long tap roots, like hickories, he buys root tubes - one of his biggest expenses.  I tell him what has emerged on its own, how my previous purchases are doing, and what I'd like to add next. "Oh, let those hickories come back if you've got some vigorous young seedlings coming up on their own!" I do, and I've marked them with bamboo stakes and tree tags. That's important to do because despite Edna's attempts to replant her property with trees and shrubs, her choices were non-native and invasive. I try hard to not kill my native volunteers during my spastic honeysuckle rampages and ripping out of abundant Kousa dogwood saplings that pop up every year by the hundreds.

A hickory I raised from a nut I collected on the Susquehanna is now over six feet tall.

I was really happy this year to buy up a Franklinia from Hans. Its a small Appalachian tree that was once found in the wild but is only found now in gardens or reforested areas planted by people. I am a devoted fan of William Bartram, colonial botanist and naturalist, who brought seed back from his walking trip through the Altamaha River woods in Georgia in 1777. It was very rare when Bartram found it and he is credited with saving it from extinction. Every Franklinia grown today is a descendant of the conservation plantings of William and his father John in their riverside garden near Philadelphia. It went completely extinct in the wild during the 1880s but thanks to the Bartrams we can keep this species going. It can be a finicky tree to grow - it doesn't like being disturbed once established - but I'm giving this one a good try and will learn all I can about it so I can be a good steward. "Keep it sandy in the planting hole," Hans advised. "Well drained but not dry."

Thanks, William Bartram! Franklinia

I've got plenty of spicebush growing in a little wild patch out back and have moved some small ones to the front, but I did buy three more from Hans who has taken very good care of his hundred or so plants growing in-ground in beds. This is a great little tree to use in a permaculture garden. Spring and summer leaves make an absolutely fantastic iced tea. Pollinators love its early blossoms. In winter here in the Susquehanna Valley, it practically shimmers in low winter light as the predominate understory shrub.

Paw paw leaf scar and a tiny new bud waiting for spring.

Sassafras is a volunteer on my acre and I encourage the vigorous volunteers wherever they emerge. Another wonderful tea-making plant that used the thick yellow roots. My Great Aunt Virginia made a wickedly good root beer at her home in West Virginia along the Shenandoah River. It was really beer, too! She bottled it in old bluegreen Coke bottles and let it ferment for the winter. Come summer she'd put the bottles in the river or in a washbasin filled with ice and served them freezing cold at summertime family reunions. I was twelve the first time I got drunk on this stuff. I couldn't get enough! I learned moderation by the time I was thirteen. Best family reunions ever.

Sassafras sapling raising her arms to the light.

Native dogwoods have had a tough time of it here in the Mid-Atlantic with an introduced blight that causes die-back and eventually death. I guess that's what Edna had in mind when she planted a forest of Korean Kousa dogwoods which are immune to the blight, but lord-a-mighty - is this an invasive tree! I yank them up all the time. I took special care of the native dogwoods that she must have planted in hopes one or two would take. I had three good specimens planted as yard trees by Edna. Now I'm down to one, the other two having succumbed over the past ten years. My single survivor is looking great though and I make sure to keep it cleaned up and mulched. Hans is growing some good stock with silky and red osier dogwoods so I'll start a patch of these next fall.

Native Flowering Dogwood, so far blight free.

I dug in a bunch of witch hazel both out back and in the front. I love the fact that they are the last to bloom in the fall and the first to bloom in late winter. My oldest tree is almost fifteen years old and has developed its signature multi-stem base.  Hans has been cultivating what he calls his "Amish Witch Hazel" in his high tunnel. I bought three of these. "Almost dwarf, " he explains, "Not so tall but very dense base. Might make a great addition to your hedge project. I've only ever seen these growing wild here in northern Lancaster County."

Giving this "Dwarf" Witch Hazel a try.

Although Arrowwood Viburnum comes up occasionally on its own I bought three more from Hans to add to the hedgerow project. Two of hedge row clients have really enjoyed the way this shrub-tree sends up multiple water sprouts when thinned. Coppicing is an art I really love practicing with my billhook on these plants, as well as on black willow. Watching the new shoots sprout up the following year give me so much hope that nature persists. I love, too, looking at the buds in winter of all my trees and shrubs - here and on my hikes - that hold promises of spring.

Arrowwood Viburnum.

Buds are fascinating up close. I have a small land lens I carry with me and I giggle whenever I see a face made with leaf buds and bud scars. Elderberry never disappoints! My attempts at macro-digital aren't so great but you get the idea. These little faces give me hope too. Hope that we can keep laughing even through dark winters and stone-cold days.

Elderberry - scowly face.

Hans asked me what my favorite small tree or shrub was and that he would kindly set aside a batch for spring. I said "Redbud!" before he even finished. I can't think of a better spring blossom that fills woodland branches with cranberry-colored flowers and hums with small native bees. The flowers are heart-shaped and the natural spread of its branches reminds me of someone holding out their arms to give you a hug. The zig-zag stems contain the tiniest buds of all, dark maroon, perched above the leaf scar, grinning. Hans agrees. Its the small tree we both love - that loves you back!



Hans runs an excellent small tree nursery on his grandfather's farm in Manheim. His stock is grown out from collected seed from the wild. He grows only shrubs and trees native to the Mid-Atlantic from the coast to the Appalachians and collects seeds on his hikes near and far, including seeds collected the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the Laurel Balds of Dolly Sods. His nursery is open on Saturdays, otherwise by appointment - he's happy to see you!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

MD Hampton National Historic Site: An Earth-Quaker Outing

I didn't take a very long hike today as I had planned to meet a group of Quaker folks for a pre-planned visit to Hampton National Historic Site in Towson, Maryland. We had arranged for this tour of "the other side of the road" many months ago and it had been on my calendar since mid-summer. Our guide was cultural historian Angela Roberts-Burton, who in the past year has legally changed her name to honor her ancestry of Ghana and Ivory Coast. She introduced herself with the beautiful name, Naquali. As she said her name slowly again for a hard-of-hearing elder, a breeze blew through a tree nearby that seemed to whisper names long forgotten or never known on this old plantation, the largest in the state of Maryland during the 1800s, holding in bondage over 300 enslaved people at its height of iron and agricultural production.

Our group is very diverse. We call ourselves the "Earth-Quakers" and try to arrange a Meet Up every few months. We are all concerned for our environment, but because we have many older members we try to make sure to arrange outings that don't involve hikes that are too long or difficult. This seemed like a great place to gather after a contentious and often nasty election cycle not only to enjoy our time outdoors together, but to make sense of where we should each focus our attention on issues of environment, climate change, and conservation. Some came with heavy hearts, others with smiles on their faces hiding deep concerns, and others (like me) who were hoping to find some meaning in today's experience to help us make sense of what happens next.

Laborer, unnamed.
Naquali gave a beautiful tour. She did not enter into character, but spoke to us frankly and openly about the language of oppression. "I do not use the word slave," she said. "I prefer the word enslaved. The word slave objectifies the person, who like you and I right now, had fears, joys, hopes, and identities that were as complex as any of you standing in this circle." She explained her decision to legally change her name. "Although my birth name is beautiful and I love it, I did not know who, really, I am. Where did I come from? Who were my ancestors known by before capture and sale?" She pointed out that even with the precise record keeping of the plantation offices, enslaved blacks and whites were often not known by their original names. Names were given to them upon the slaver's auction blocks. And what about those enslaved who worked here before the African slave trade had even begun? "The British emptied their own orphanages, workhouses, debtor prisons, and jails. They poured their unwanted people into the colonies as free labor."  

Slave quarter cabin window reflects the stone tenant farmer house across the yard.

As we walked quietly down the lane to the slave quarter cabins I thought about the power of names and naming. The ugliness that has taken hold of our society is full of name-calling and threats against those different from and threatening to others. Some in our group had stories to share from the past few days. Naquali explained the role of oppression and oppressors in a modern context, comparing the use of the term slave owners to those holding bondage over others. How does this occur today? How do we recognize in respectful as well as in derogatory terms those who hold power over others?

Overseer's house with bell.
Overseer's Office door.

Our tour-turned-discussion lasted for over two hours. The sun was getting low when we finally said goodbye to a most excellent host who delivered such a brave and thought-provoking talk. I am so happy the National Park Service has her here but I am especially happy for her students who were also in attendance. She serves as an adjunct professor of African diaspora history at a local university and I really loved seeing their faces as she came down the lane dressed in period clothing to greet us. As we left the overseer's house, she rang the big bell to send us off. I walked uphill towards the mansion, once the largest home in Maryland, but I did not care to go in. Instead I wandered among the big trees

House servant nurse minding child.

Old trees have a calming nature about them. They've witnessed a lot, but they stay pretty quiet about it. Although there are no hiking trails at Hampton National Historical Site, I made a good mile just wandering from tree to tree. I wandered until I felt a little better about things then sat down to have a snack at a picnic table. I heard a familiar voice call my name - a friend from where I live up in PA. We chatted about things and about each of us was feeling. She voted differently than I did, but she understood the pain that many are feeling. She had hope, however, that things would change. I expressed my concern for things like climate change and the protection of wilderness and federal lands. We both agreed that our beloved National Park System needed much more support than they are getting. Staffing is at an all time low. Morale is low. Pay is low. "This makes the NPS vulnerable," she said, "And I agree we need to work to protect it and find the support they need." 

Basswood twin trunks connect at the middle leaving a view space.

Here we were agreeing on issues, having good conversation, and hoping for a better future for our shared environmental concerns. I looked up at the tree over our picnic table and saw that it was a joined basswood. Two huge strong trunks growing from the enormous ancient base, somehow connected in the middle creating a beautiful little space to see through. "That's us," I said to my friend, "You are one trunk and I am the other, and see how we two can see ahead through that space we make?"

A two-hundred year old springhead hasn't stopped flowing.

We walked back to the other side of the road, leaving the manicured grounds of the plantation house to re-enter the working landscape of the plantation farm. We carefully stepped down into the ice house where enslaved workers delivered ice cut from the ponds and rivers nearby to fill the cavernous cylindrical stone-lined pit beneath an earthen dome. We stopped to admire the stables where champion thoroughbreds were kept as well as the valuable carriage horses. Across the road the two hundred year old spring continues to empty water into the cooling channels of the spring house. 

Up from the underground ice house.

Stone-built stables of two centuries.

Double beech.

A tenant farmer's main room- what was rented - what was made (and owned?)

Tenant farmer's empty bed.
Our Earth-Quaker group had been pretty large so I didn't get a chance to peek inside the converted tenant house. It had been a former slave quarters, but after emancipation many of the quarters were transformed for share-cropper families - another form of oppression in its own right. Nothing was owned by the farmer, neither the equipment, horses, even the beds and chairs were rented to the occupants. What little was left after a harvest toll was taken barely afforded the furniture unless it was made (as some of it here was) by the craftsmen-farmer and his family. I spent a god deal of time just breathing in that space. The empty bed, again.

Yin-Yang Scyamore!

On the way to the car I saw a most incredible sycamore and I had to go visit her. My friend from up home went her own way but reminded me that a local bluegrass player, a local legend, was minding his store up our way for the last weekend before closing for the winter. Oh! I had to go visit before he closed - I have wanted to ask him about mandolin lessons for a long time but wasn't sure if he was taking winter students. I had to hurry. But the tree called me back. Look closer. Ah, yes, Earth-Quakers, a tree for the times. And whisper of a breeze blew through...

Two opposing forces containing the seed of the other.

P.S.  I made it to Gatchetville in time to see Carroll before the stored closed. Yes! I'm his winter student! Another story for another (winter) day!


We discussed reading this book over the winter. Naquali highly recommended it as the authors address both the pre-African slave trade in British laborers (mostly children) and the African slave trade that fueled American plantations. These are the historic landscapes that have shaped our ideas of resistance and rebellion, she said. We were standing in the middle of one of the largest.

 Image result for Rebel on the Plantation

Hampton National Historic Site is located just outside the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) on the Dulaney Valley Road exit.

Monday, November 7, 2016

MA Walden Pond: The Cormorant Preferred Hawthorne

A view to the inside - recreation of Thoreau's cabin.

I met two writer friends at Walden Pond early in the morning on Friday for an ambling stroll around Walden Pond. Patty earned her doctorate many years ago doing research on Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House in Concord. Paul is a farm-based educator and writer on at a community farm not far away. He fancies himself an essayist in the style of Thoreau.

National Historic Landmark designation declared in 1965.

We met at the reconstructed/recreated cabin near the path to the pond as soon as the park opened. This is not the original cabin and does not stand where the original stood. But it gave us a good starting point to decide who was going where, for how long, and when to meet up again and go over our thoughts and any writing we did. I haven't had a decent writer's group experience in forever, so I was pretty excited. "Walking around the pond is a pilgrimage for a lot of folks," said Paul. "I suggest - if you haven't been here before - do that loop first." I hadn't been here before, so that's what I did. Patty headed uphill to the Esker Trail. Paul walked with me until he found a warm spot of sandy beach on which to compose his essay.

It was not always dry land where we dwell.
- Henry David Thoreau

Black oak - the bark was used for tanning leather.

I was having Pleistocene thoughts as I rounded the bend of the Pond Trail towards one of many grass meadows that farmers in Thoreau's day would harvest for hay. These hollows can be from an acre to hundreds of acres. The meadow grass was the critical piece in a complicated agricultural matrix that dated to settlement times and centered upon livestock husbandry. Without the meadows, there would have been no Concord. The meadows are as much an artifact of Colonial farmers as they are of Pleistocene glacial comings and goings.

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.
- Henry David Thoreau

A giant pine was laid down in sections.

By the time Thoreau occupied his cabin for his two-year experiment in solitude, colonial agricultural traditions had changed in Concord. The agroecological methods and practices that had made  Colonial farmers very successful was switching over to a commercial-consumer brand of farming, not a bad thing for the farmers who found eager buyers for their dairy products in the bustling city of Boston. But the old ways were rapidly disappearing. Thoreau and his dear friend Emerson would often take long walks together and talk about the changes.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and you have lived well.
 – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Duff layer under a canopy of white pine and red oak.

Walden Pond is a kettle hole, a deep lake of water left from a chunk of glacier ice that broke away during the retreat of ice sheets a mile thick over Concord, ten thousand years ago. I used to work in a state park in Vermont that had a kettle hole pond. Shallow on the edges. Deep in the middle. The land around the pond is a rubble pile of glacial till and gravel. The esker ridge where Patty was hiking was a remnant river bed, now a ridgeline that marked where meltwaters coursed over and through the retreating glacier. The sandy shore on which Paul was writing is the ground-up remains of mountain tops and bedrock released from the melting berg, lake sediments, and sand. The woods grow thick on the boulder rubble of glacial debris.

The good news is that the moment you decide that what you know is more important than what you have been taught to believe, you will have shifted gears in your quest for abundance. Success comes from within, not from without.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Layers of white pine and red oak.

Winterberry was bright against the dry browns of the forest floor. New England, parts of the Mid-Atlantic, and the South have been experiencing a summer and fall drought so I was surprised to see this native holly in such bright profusion when everything else was frost-killed or dried up. But then I looked a little closer. The winterbery were growing on some of the best glacial soils for moisture retention, old lake bottom silts in a small cove of the pond. Juncos flitted from branch to branch ahead of me. They'll soon be in my neck of the woods in South-Central Pennsylvania.

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.
- Henry David Thoreau

Winterberry, a small native holly.

I came to the site of Thoreau's original cabin, outlined in granite blocks. (Later, on a conference tour, I learned from a woman who lives in the farmhouse down the road from here that the cabin had been moved to a place in town, then to her farm for use as a pigsty until it weathered away.) Henry lived in solitude here but walked into town every few days, worked as a surveyor for farmers in the area, and rambled a lot with Emerson. The old roads are all still here. I wandered around them for a long while. Rough, marginal land. It wasn't much good for Colonial farmers, so it stayed in woods for a long while until wood became a commodity sold to markets "away." But what was this place like before Colonial settler farmers improved what they could? What came before the native people who practiced shifting agriculture throughout the area for thousands of years?

The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.
-Henry David Thoreau

Dr. Marjorie Winkler, paleoecologist with the University of Wisconsin, conducted a lake sediment core study here in the 1979. Core samples revealed some pretty amazing changes on this land. Combining this study with core samples taken from other kettle holes in the area, she and her team have described a 12,000 year-old tundra blanketed by spruce mat and grass. 9,500 years ago the scene had shifted to alder thickets, jack pine, and mixed spruce boreal woods. The pollen samples drawn from the cores vividly show the coming of the hickory woods, ash, white cedar, chestnut and white pine. Then the shift: ragweed in abundance! Here came the settlers! The sediments describe early American farmers preference for white pine over pitch pine. There were layers of charcoal ash from numerous forest fires (one of these was started accidentally by Thoreau himself), and precisely in 1913 - the disappearance of chestnut pollen. What becomes evident in this study and several others ( I swear Walden Pond has been the most studied pond in U.S. history...) is that there is no stable state for the forests here and across the glacial landscapes of New England and northern Pennsylvania. It is a long, complex story of constant change.

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Election cake fungi." (See Notes at bottom)

Forest dynamics are governed by changes in climate, adaptations, soil types, and disturbance cycles. Hurricanes and wind events, fire cycles that are natural as well as managed by people. Disruptions caused by diseases and insect outbreaks can reset certain growth cycles and introduce phases of release for different plant species. Late comers to Walden Woods story are hickory and chestnut, crossing the Appalachians from west to east five thousand years ago. There seems to be no clear idea of what a typical New England forest should be because, it seems, there never has been one.

An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.
- Thoreau, Journal 1859

Red oak.
White pine.

I wandered the old roads and imagined walking behind Emerson and Thoreau, imagining I could eavesdrop on their conversations. Emerson owned these woods and made it possible for his younger friend to engage in purposeful, simple living here. It was a project Thoreau had long dreamed of doing. He would go on to write later about his experiences in Walden.

 Men frequently say to me, “I should think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially.” I am tempted to reply to such, — This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be the most important question. What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.
- Thoreau, Walden

Wyman Road.
I found my way back down to the pond and saw that Paul had picked up his camp chair and was walking back. I hadn't yet written a word, but I upped my pace a little to see if I could find a place near the Esker Trail to write a few thoughts. I penned some not-too-deep questions. Is this where the long tap root of America's environmentalism began?  Are there deeper roots yet among the skilled, place-adapted farmers who knew their soils? With evidence of great stewardship for the land, well documented by historian Brian Donahue and others, I wondered in my journal how to connect the environmental movement of the 20th century to farming of the 18th century. Thoreau, however, sometimes had different ideas about farming and farmers of his time, when large commercial networks began to drive the rural production pipeline to urban markets.

I would rather save one of these hawks than have a hundred hens and chickens. It is worth more to see them soar, especially now that they are so rare in the landscape. It is easy to buy eggs, but not to buy hen-hawks. My neighbors would not hesitate to shoot the last pair of hen-hawks in the town to save a few of their chickens! But such economy is narrow and grovelling. It is unnecessarily to sacrifice the greater value to the less. I would rather never taste chickens’ meat nor hens’ eggs than never to see a hawk sailing through the upper air again. This sight is worth incomparably more than a chicken soup or a boiled egg. So we exterminate the deer and substitute the hog.
- Henry David Thoreau, Journal 1853

White cedar shake roof to the woodshed.
I wasn't making a very good attempt at thinking deeply about anything, however. I just sort of stopped thinking. I hadn't actually walked the "pilgrimage trail" around the pond. Instead, I had wandered everywhere in every direction. I watched a man fish from his canoe then went in search of birds in the young pines. I poked around a patch of dry summer stalks and leaves. I stood very near a double crested cormorant and asked him how the fishing was. He was a great listener. I read to him from a National Park Service brochure on Concord's famous authors. He preened.

The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

" A clear, deep and green well," wrote Thoreau of Walden Pond.

Walden Pond is nothing as it was in Thoreau's day. Winkler's core studies and subsequent water quality work on this and other nearby ponds have shown that in the last century a great change has occurred. The presence and persistent impact of humans in the modern era has tainted, even polluted, the water with agricultural chemicals, sewage seepage from nearby homes, and the direct effect of 600,000 visitors a year, most of whom will who swim (and pee) here (and apply copious amounts of sunscreen).  Even the cormorant, who was clearly very used to people coming very close, has left an impact on the pond. His stately glacial boulder perch showed that he has fed from the pond throughout the season!

Take time by the forelock. Now or never! You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.
- Thoreau, Journal 1859

Double-crested cormorant.

Not using zoom. He allowed me to walk right up to him as he preened.

So there I was reading to a cormorant, and the thought occurred to me that I should probably take some notes on the conversation. For every sentence I read, he preened a row of feathers and slicked them with oil from his gland until he shone like an armored knight. This went on until the brochure had been read then he looked out over the water. I told him about Louisa May Alcott and Nathanial Hawthorn and the great house, Wayside. He preened his breast. I read to him some quotes I'd copied from a book I'd been reading the night before, snippets of the meaning of friendship and the art of the saunter. He carefully worked across an underwing then arranged and oiled every scale-like feather on the topwing. Then I wrote a few lines about the experience of reading Hawthorne to a cormorant while visiting Walden Pond. It seemed sort of naughty, somewhat daring. Sorry, Henry, but I think the bird preferred Hawthorne.

We dream in our waking moments, and walk in our sleep.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Rock pile near the original cabin site.

I wrote about the cormorant in my journal.

I am close to a cormorant, able to study him oily gleam in early November sun. He eyes me with no curiosity, but certainly tolerance. I am not his first human companion. He preens when I read and looks out over the water when I stop to write. I am so close that I can see the pupil of his eye whirl around under its goose-pimpled top and bottom lid. I was once closer to a cormorant than this when I carried a dying bird from the edge of surf on a South Carolina barrier island beach. The gleam had gone out of his feathers. He died waterlogged and cold. But here, this guardian of Walden Pond, handsome in his shining suit of feathers, snaps his bill and winks into the sun. "Read me more of that Hawthorne," he says, "I tire of Thoreau."

Memorial to a cabin.
I said goodbye to the cormorant and thanked him for the inspiration. At least I had a paragraph and all was not lost on this writer's ramble. I found Patty back at the cabin and Paul sitting on the steps of the new visitors center. We joined him there and read some of our work. Paul wrote an essay about what he imagined Thoreau would say about the upcoming election day. We giggled and clapped. Patty read a short poem, one of several she composed while sitting on a log on the Esker Trail. For us she read a poem about the dying of her cat Walden, named for the pond. She found him here as a stray kitten wandering around the parking area fifteen years ago. "He was a cat philosopher," she said later.

Wally lived in slow motion, the slow stroll, the slow stretch.
Wally passed in the garden, 
his leaving gifted with marigolds the color of candy corn.
Old, slow Walden.
Circled back to the garden path,
sniffed late summer twilight,
the air dry as old bones.
No rain.
No rain.

- Patty C.  (transcribed with permission)

Thoreau in heavy metal.

The weekend conference did not allow me much time to wander as I love to do on lunch walks, on travels, or afternoons after work. So this morning ramble with two writer friends was a special treat. I enjoyed my visit to Walden Pond and was glad we didn't encounter the throngs of people pictured in photographs of hot summer days. The conference was wonderful and energizing, however, and I am so honored to have received an award for my work in ag education. But take no offense conference goers and planning committee, but reading Hawthorne to a double crested cormorant was a hard act to follow!


There is a brand new Visitor Center at Walden Pond State Reservation, though the main exhibit area is not yet open as of this writing, the bookstore of the Thoreau Society is. What a beautiful shop!

Election Cake Fungi -

Park Info -

Anyone having access to scientific journals in paleo studies can easily find Winkler's published work on core samples of Walden and neighboring ponds. Here's the quick and dirty from an old NYT article for the rest of you:

Reading on the friendship between Thoreau and Emerson: