Samhain 2019

October 31, 2019

I must be the only person in my village who takes a broom to the front porch to tear down the spider webs on Halloween. I like the holiday, including the trick-or-treating, but for me it’s not about terror.

Ghost trees in a flooded field.

Trick-or-treating comes from an old custom of children dressing in rags to signify the poor departed souls who cannot find their way to the Otherworld. Householders would give the children treats to bless and mollify the spirits of the unhappy departed, reducing the chances that they would do troublesome things like emit strange knocking sounds or whisk things around in the wind. This was one aspect of the Celtic holiday, which was about remembering ancestors.

I sometimes wonder how mainline Christians would feel about Easter becoming a festival of terror and evil. After all, Jesus rises from the dead, so that’s a more plausible holiday for a zombie apocalypse. Keeping the spirit of the spirit of Halloween can be a challenge, because I certainly don’t want to be one of those Halloween Scrooges who turn off the lights and pretend they’re not home.

I’m looking forward to tonight. I do like seeing all the children. I get lots and lots of trick-or-treaters, so many that I wonder if some of the teenagers dare each other to come to my house on Halloween. But hey–this witch tore down the spider webs in front of the door.

Feline Easily Forgotten

October 11, 2019

In Divining with Animal Guides, I write about three momentous encounters with Mountain Lions, but I have also had encounters with the smaller wild cousin of the Mountain Lion, the Bobcat.

One of the things I like best about the Bobcat is that she doesn’t view me potentially as food. She is much too shy and small. The Bobcat is about twice the size of a kitty cat and weighs 20 pounds on average. She has tufts of fur on her ears like a lynx and a short tail that is the source of her descriptive name. Her fur ranges from tawny yellow to gray and her spots may be prominent or indistinct.

This Bobcat with hare gives a good perspective on size. Photo: Linda Tanner.

The Bobcat will run away rather than stand her ground with a human and is therefore rarely seen. The ubiquity of Bobcat tracks in the Adirondacks assure me that the population here is robust. I’ve seen a Bobcat in the Adirondacks in the middle of the day, in winter, though she is supposedly nocturnal. She was standing in a forested area along a highway. In the Sonora desert we did think of Bobcats as night animals, because they would creep into housing areas late at night, drinking from swimming pools and hunting domestic cats.

My best close-up encounter with any wild cat happened in the daytime in Arizona with a Bobcat. The house I lived in had a glass sliding door that opened onto a brick paving area, too small to be called a patio, with a spigot on one side. The Bobcat was drinking leisurely from the shallow well under the spigot. My cat Misha alerted me to the Bobcat’s presence by crying and pacing in front of the door. Misha and I sat in front of the glass watching the Bobcat for about five minutes, Misha’s tail wagging furiously the whole time. Certainly the Bobcat was aware of us sitting there, not even three feet away, with Misha crying, but she acted like we were invisible, or at least unimportant. I was surprised that Misha didn’t run away. Apparently both cats understood how doors work.

Northern Bobcats are darker. Those that I have seen have less prominent spots. Photo: Conrad Fjetland.

To me, one of the symbolic issues of the Bobcat has to do with deception. We hear so much more about the big cats – lions, cougars, leopards, panthers, jaguars – and even the Canada Lynx, only slightly bigger than the Bobcat, attracts more interest. It’s easy to dismiss the Bobcat, but the Bobcat is the wild cat most likely to be skulking around the margins of your experience.

Random Thoughts on a Busy Week

October 4, 2019

Pumpkin season is in swing, but I’m not putting one out until the last minute. The deer like to eat them. The deer and I will be spending less time in the woods now that hunting season is also starting up.

I have been trying to catch up on writing assignments. I have an important piece for an anthology due soon and another essay to get ready for a popular magazine. Also, I’m in the middle of another novel.

Here is a view from Mount Baker.

Always Exploring

September 27, 2019

This is Stony Pond in Essex County. The Adirondacks are famous for the High Peaks, but the trails lead to a plethora of enchanting waterholes.

Autumn Trails

September 20, 2019

Sometime soon I’ll put together a collage of photos I’m taking on the trail. Beautiful weather in the Adirondacks recently, perfect for hiking. Won’t last, so this is where my spare energy is going right now. This photo is from Pharoah Mountain (pronounced FAIR-uh).

A Shift in Perspective

August 30, 2019

All of our discontents for what we want appear to me to spring from want of thankfulness for what we have. 
~ Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

I decided recently that I was in a rut, spending too much time in familiar territory. I’m an Aries, and we don’t fall into this trap easily nor do we tolerate it for long. I think financial difficulties combined with healing from injuries kept me focused on issues in front of my face. The financial problems are still here, but they’ve relaxed somewhat, and some of the injuries have resolved and others are resolving. I’ve been feeling like something indefinable has shifted in me.

So, I decided to make an effort to broaden my horizons a bit, to read new authors and hike new trails. I decided to read Robinson Crusoe, because it’s been on my list forever and I’ve never gotten around to it.

What’s ironic is that the story opens with a warning against adventure. The protagonist is a young man from comfortable circumstances who decides he wants to see the world and seek novel experiences. His father emphatically tells him “not to play the young man, nor to precipitate myself into miseries which nature and the station of life I was born in, seemed to have provided against…”

Well, that’s Robinson Crusoe. I’ll see when I finish the book if he remains repentant for submitting to his restive nature. Meanwhile, I drove some distance yesterday to a mountain I haven’t hiked before. It took some time to get there, because sitting in a car is uncomfortable for me and I had to make a few stops. Also, I ran into a lot of road construction and that slowed my journey. It wasn’t the best day for a hike because the area had been deluged with rain the day before and the trail was swampy and the rocks slippery. I don’t have pictures, because I wasn’t aware that I was on top of the mountain when I got there; I arrived so quickly at the height of land that I didn’t think I was there and continued along the loop trail. For all that, I enjoyed the hike and would like to return on a drier day. I returned with a new appreciation for the beauty of the trails in my own backyard and a realization that their difficulty has made me a strong hiker.

Adirondack High Peaks from Newcomb

Desolate Places

August 22, 2019

It was the owl that shriek’d, the fatal bellman
Which gives the stern’st good-night.

~ William Shakespeare, MacBeth

Two of the most forsaken places in popular imagination are cemeteries at night and deep outer space. I spent an evening earlier this week at Norton Cemetery stargazing with a friend who has a really good telescope.

Photo: Greg Smith

As we waited for twilight to deepen, a bat flitted over our heads. Eastern Coyotes wailed in the distance. As the night got underway, a Long-Eared Owl began her subtle one-note song.

The Ojibwe call death “crossing the owl bridge,” and the Tohono O’odham bury owl feathers with loved ones. The association in Western Europe of owls with death is thought to carry over from the pre-Indo-European practice of excarnation, the placement of dead bodies on platforms to be devoured by birds. But all the bodies in this cemetery were in the ground.

Photo: Rawastrodata

I heard the territorial scream of a Long-Eared Owl a few years ago, and I’ll never forget it. A friend and I were camping and awakened in the night by the sound, so piercing that we scrambled out of our sleeping bags trying to place it. In contrast, the single long note of the placid Long-Eared Owl could easily be missed if not repeated.

The stargazing was great. We looked at Saturn with his rings and Jupiter with his moons and debated how “Io” should be pronounced (I say EE-oh, you say EYE-oh).

One of the most awesome sights through the telescope, six thousand light years away, was the Wild Duck star cluster. It was discovered in 1681 by Gottfried Kirch and included in Charles Messier’s 1764 catalog (M-11). It is supposed to resemble the tale of a duck in flight. Honestly, I couldn’t see it, but it is a beautiful cluster.