Winter Spring

Mid-February, and I track through the snow toward a big spring in the hills. I’d follow the deer prints but it’s easier to step inside the wheel ruts of an ATV. I read new promise in the strengthening light. Grouse explode from briers and erect the short hairs on my neck. Oaks and hemlocks glisten in a ray of sun. A mile from the road, water issues from a steep bank 50 feet in length, gushing over moss and cress, collecting in a stream that ventures toward a river and its northward course to Lake Ontario.

Snow-bent weeds and deer scat. Green-leafed winter vegetation. Ah, the flown years. Oh, the great uncertainty of what’s to come. I stop like a snow flea at a frozen apple. I could leap with forest joy and say that all is good. There’s less erosion in these years. Water is cold and clear. I could hide my head, as well– afraid for a future of deregulation in environmental law. I could feel ashamed for our inability to act for the health of future generations, and the Earth itself.

Aldo Leopold said, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” He said it in A Sand County Almanac. He says it here, where the waters drop away, coalesce, and mingle with the downstream currents and their longing for a distant bay.

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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22 Responses to Winter Spring

  1. Lester Kish says:

    Hi Walt, Sand County Almanac is an all time fave. I re-read it every now and then. Or, just go hunting for inspiring passages. It’s been snowy here too lately. But, it won’t be long and we’ll be cursing that danged lawn mower.

  2. tiostib says:

    I’m finding your winter walk postings both comforting and inspiring. Comforting for the memories they bring up of similar treks with friends in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington state. Inspiring because there’s someone else out there trudging through the snow needing to connect with Nature.

    Thanks for taking the time to put your journeys into words.

    • You’re welcome, Tio. I’m pleased that you find some comfort & inspiration in them. I guess that’s why I like to write & share these things. To know that they resonate with you makes the effort worth while.

  3. plaidcamper says:

    Reveries interrupted by exploding grouse, sure to deliver an adrenaline shot, like it or not. Another fine winter walk, with attractive images, and yes, we all live downstream. You’d think we could do better, but better doesn’t seem in the stars right now…
    Still, best to keep trying anyway, so thanks again, Walt, these posts are always a welcome sight in any season!

  4. loydtruss says:

    Snow-covered scenes are hard to match when it comes to outdoor scenery. How I wish we had snow instead of the huge amounts of rain we’ve been receiving. Blame it on the curse of living in a humidity filled area with erratic weather patterns. Yesterday was 70 and tonight we will be around 30—sorry for the weather analogy, but the rain has been frustrating!!
    Need a fishing fix—thanks for sharing

  5. jz says:

    Where some see darkness, I see light. Your jaunt in the woods may have soothed your soul, but it also seems to have hardened your heart. Stay focused on good things while standing your ground on things that need to be changed. That would be a start, speaking for myself. I love your passion Walt, but when walks in the woods don’t do what there suppose too…
    I certainly don’t write to offend or to be critical. Just a reflection on something that would certainly be missing for myself. Perhaps its not lost on you, I can only hope so. Enjoy those jaunts and take in everything while leaving what you alone can’t change at the door. I got nothing but mad respect for your writing and thoughtful change.

    • Your points are well-taken, JZ, and I do appreciate them. Wood walks or fishing jaunts alone are not a panacea for me, though they certainly help a lot. If there’s a hardened heart, it’s there prior to an outing and, rather than leaving it at the door, I’ll sometimes take it with me ’cause, hell, I might just see things in a new & brighter way. It’s my strategy for keeping things real, for “standing my ground.” I take your comments positively, and thank you for the wisdom they contain.

  6. Brent says:

    As I read the opening paragraph, I started to grasp at a metaphor that I’m not certain you intended. Something about the ease of following in the intrusive “steps” of a fellow human user rather than the delicate touch of a deer. That, in a snowy nutshell, is the challenge in trying to regulate human intervention in the natural world: It’s easier for many folks to do what we’ve always done–at least in the industrial era–than it is to blaze a new path more in tune with Leopold’s biotic community.

    You, as an individual, show the power of simply recognizing your actions–of pledging that, while it’s easier to follow the deep tread of an off-road vehicle, you’re certainly not going to leave those woods worse off than you found them.

    • Brent, I’m glad you picked up on that. At first I was being a bit critical of my actions– stepping in the big ruts as opposed to being more free-spirited. Weighing my options though (without skis or snowshoes for the crusty depths), I figured that at least I was heading out & seeing things and not, as you say, leaving the woods worse off than before. Environmental action for the sake of conservation is a juggling act at times, and even the smallest acts are beneficial if the one who acts feels “right” (as Aldo said). Thanks!

  7. Bob Stanton says:

    I was quoting Leopold today: “The last word in ignorance is the man who says “what good is it?” An afternoon walk on snowshoes helped quell the voices of winter discontent, and some early signs of the impending spring further brightened the day. I’m starting to look at flowing waters longingly…

  8. JZ says:

    I salute you Walt. Your proactiveness in wanting to make places better is awesome. Certainly wish more were like you my friend.

  9. UB says:

    I wonder what Aldo would say if he could seethe day today? Probably along his lines of the past like noted in this blog. What is certain, to me at least, is that if there are no more conscientious people at least thinking about trying to conserve, preserve and rehabilitate the areas that man has already affected (if not destroyed), then there will be those that will take advantage of, if not destroy, in the name of making themselves a penny more. We need folks like Aldo, and Walt, to remind us now and then – we need to at least sound off and draw attention to things we hold dear. If we are affected by constantly hitting our heads against a wall, then we should stop hitting our heads. But that doesn’t mean we should completely stop. I’m not sure how to put it into words – we may develop a “hardened heart” – that’s not the worst thing that can happen. We do need to keep going, striving or sounding off to pass along the fight.
    Whoops, a little more ‘heady’ than I thought I’d get. Take care Walt,

    • Marion, We can’t be sure what Leopold would think if he returned today, but my guess is that he’d have a mixed bag of emotions, ranging from pleasure that a lot has been accomplished to the horror of seeing the extent of what’s been lost. I’d say he’d be well pleased that some of us are “sounding off and drawing attention to things we hold dear” (as you’ve expressed it) but also greatly dismayed at the growing population & its element of greedy power-mongers who could care less about the natural world’s integrity. Anyway, thanks for getting a “head” here with your thoughts & sharing them with us!

  10. All this beauty and reflection and Aldo Leopold too. Sand County is good stuff. I wish it were required reading, not only reading, but discussion. These are hard times, my friend. Thank you for trudging out and sharing what you find along the way.

    • Thanks for the appreciation, David. I agree that in these difficult times, Sand County should be required reading in the halls of Academia and its content be discussed at all levels of society.

  11. Jet Eliot says:

    Your eloquent essay speaks for so many of us, Walt. Thank heaven we still have the forest and our hikes to help us separate from the politics and anxieties of life. Thank heaven we have all the environmentalists who came before us, like Aldo Leopold, showing us the path. And thank heaven for you and your wonderful words and thoughts. This was my favorite line today: “I stop like a snow flea at a frozen apple.”

    • Thank you, Jet, for your reader/writer comment & appreciation, as well as for your own talents in the world of nature & art. You know, in retrospect, I too most favored that line about the snow flea!

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