When is a year not a year?

December 31, 2023

One of the things I like about traditional Irish spirituality is the use of riddles to impart wisdom.

I’ve been musing on how a “year” can be a period of time, and not necessarily a complete revolution of the earth around the sun. It can be a period of time, say a period that starts in one year, continues for the whole next year, and completes in the following year.

Al Stewart’s song “The Year of the Cat” is like that. You get the feeling that he’s not talking about an exact year–it could even be two or three years. In this song, the year is a place to visit. Not home, but a new and different experience that isn’t “you,” but that you would cherish. It’s about going into the mystery of uncharted experience, and metaphysical time is different from earth time, usually longer.

When I got notice that I had to leave my old apartment in 2022, I kept seeing cat signs everywhere. I saw a bobcat dead in the road, and I ran across the scent of bobcat in the woods. (They really stink!) On one hike to a secluded canoe launch on Lake Champlain, I heard that song, coming from a boat on the lake. I though, wow, the cat is coming into my life strongly. I meditated a lot on what a cat meant to me at that juncture, when I needed to move and didn’t know where I was going. The Year of the Cat seemed like a journey into the unknowable.

Last week, on two trails, I ran across lots of bobcat tracks. They brought to my mind the song. I wrote in Divining with Animal Guides about how an image in popular culture cat be a sign from an animal, but in this case, the animal sign made me think of the song.

I’ve decided that I’m living in a place, now, where I cannot stay for a very long time, as I did before. This is a sojourn, not a homecoming. And that’s okay.

Here’s an odd bit of trivia about my life in the context of this song. I’m hardly a world traveler, and I haven’t left the North American continent since 1978, but I have been to Morocco! It was an unforgettable experience I wouldn’t have missed.

Sticking With It

November 10, 2023

We’ve had the least desirable type of weather in my neck of the woods today: rain, freezing rain, snow, and more rain. It brings with it chill-to-the-bones cold that is miserable and dangerous.

Photo: Andreas Eichler

Fortunately, I’ve been snug at home all day, with no plans to venture out. I’ve been watching a Raven sitting at the top of a bare tree at the top of a hill. Every time I’ve looked out the window, over several hours, she’s remained glued to that branch. I’m impressed with how active Ravens are during cold damp weather, when no other birds would venture out. I still see Ravens flying the road on my way to work, when the temp is barely keeping the rain from changing to snow.

I certainly can’t stay outside very long in this weather. A cold rain is much worse than snow for inducing hypothermia. In my last book, Divining with Animal Guides, I didn’t discuss the adaptation of Ravens for harsh weather, but they are the survivors of the bird world. No wonder they’re so long-lived: why endure the hard times unless you’re waiting for halcyon days to return again? And winter is hard for these birds; juveniles often do not survive their first winter.

I’ve been like the Raven, enduring seasons of cold and deprivation, waiting for the return. Today I listened to a webinar on marketing and publicity, which had a few gems inside the cold realities. It’s easy to focus on the harshness of the particular climate in which I’m promoting my work rather than the strengths. I will be exploring how to make the innovative, idiosyncratic, and controversial aspects of my writing and my character a selling point rather than a drawback.

The Raven had a reason for perching on such an exposed inclement branch, which could not have been comfortable, even for her. Likewise, there is an intelligent reason why I find myself here, at this juncture, at this point in my life. I just need to figure out what it is.

A Glorious Fall

October 20, 2023

Here are some pictures from late September, when I finished the “Adirondack 46” on Redfield.

At the parking lot
Lake Colden dam
Swinging bridge over Opalescent River
Uphill scramble
Made it!
View from uptop

I’ve been hard at work on another book! Details coming….

An Encouraging Sign

September 22, 2023
There’s a type of madness that I’ve never seen described in print, that I have discussed with other hikers. It happens when you travel on foot, alone, over miles of dense forest that shows little change in vegetation or other variation in terrain. A claustrophobic feeling overtakes you, and you’re overcome by a desperation to be somewhere else. They say that it’s a grooved routine that makes the years fly by as you get older, but this monotony makes time slow waaay down. Five minutes feels like five hours. You begin to feel like you’ll never get out of these woods.

I was in such a situation several days ago on the way to a place called Lester Flow. Second growth forest. Good level path, but no trail signs or even markers. No ponds, no hills, no streams, no meadows, no views, no curves, no people. Almost no sound; it’s the end of summer and the birds are molting. I didn’t succumb to the insanity, but after about twenty minutes I recognized the signs. I have this idea that if I understand what’s happening, I can maintain equilibrium.

I became hyper-aware of my surroundings. I took note of the species of trees, the downed branches, the fungi, the subtle rock patterns on the path. I tuned into the remote murmur of a plane far overhead, and the buzzing of dragonflies, and the Black-Capped Chickadees that never completely calm down. Once I heard a Pileated Woodpecker. In this way, I remained conscious of going somewhere, as opposed to merely getting tired. It helped that I’m a fairly fast hiker these days; I arrived at the Flow in less than an hour. I was rewarded with a pretty peaceful scene and a sense of privacy rather than isolation.

The way back was easy, because I memorized the landmarks, such as they were.

I asked myself later, if perhaps this madness that I have no word for – call it forest craze – has been occurring in my life, on a different level. I’ve been discouraged by lack of discernible change in various areas of my life, and while I can’t honestly say I’ve been in a bad place, I have often felt like there’s no opening in the trees.

I doubt I’m the only one who encounters this in their life. It’s not the same as spinning on a hamster wheel: I know I’ve covered some distance, and my sense of direction is good. Perhaps by tuning into subtle changes, a sense of movement can be restored. This is where consciously noticing signs, rather than waiting for them to ambush you, is important.

Lester Flow