Lighting out For ‘The Woods’

We called it “The Woods.” Well, I did. Sometimes, I referred to it as a “forest,” which it most certainly was not. Our backyard ended at a line of trees and dross beneath them; the lightly manicured, suburban lawn did not grow beyond that line, despite my teen-aged lawn mowing efforts to expand the lawn by clearing the dead leaves and branches away. That tight boundary made The Woods appear all the more elemental, foreign, forbidding, and, of course, inviting.

There was nothing truly elemental or extra natural about The Woods, though; it was not even a particularly non-developed land that surrounded our development. High tension power lines that fed electricity to our thousand-house neighborhood ran along an unpaved road about three football fields away from our back door; thus, the three-hundred-yard-deep stretch of trees that ran the entire backside of the neighborhood, from the Metro-North train tracks along the Hudson River on up and away from the river, merely existed to separate us from the taller-than-average power poles.
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When I Was Ten …

The child has few memories, so those he has are detailed.

We were in my hometown for some reason one summer Sunday afternoon a couple years ago and I said to my girlfriend that I wanted to show her where I grew up. (As if adulthood is a condition I suffer from or enjoy.) We drove down roads I used to bike on, walk on.

I grew up in the suburbs, in upstate New York, in the 1970s and ’80s, a neighborhood without sidewalks, where kids biked across their neighbors’ lawns (well, I did) without fear of criticism. (Well, I wasn’t.) I remember that I knew which houses had dogs that were poorly restrained (so I could avoid those lawns or else find a new speed in my pumping little legs) and which houses were simply scary for reasons no one could explain but everyone knew which houses simply seemed scary.
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A Range of Emotions, All of Them Good

My girlfriend says it is like watching a kid in a candy store when we visit a book store. I suddenly appear to have multiple arms, like a Hindu deity, and my stride becomes a purposeful lurch.

Any purpose to my stride can be attributed to my knowing that she is not much of a fan of shopping at all, and less of a fan of browsing, of idling, of whiling away the hours, of fantasizing about future possessions, of wasting time! in a store whose shelves are taller than six feet and could crush us. I, on the other hand, experience a range of emotions, a panoply of feelings, all of them having to do with enjoying life, in a bookstore.
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Winter in Spring

The photo above was taken at Nauset Beach on Cape Cod on a December afternoon in 2010; the white glaze covering the footprints is ice and snow, and the Atlantic has ice in it—some of the white caps were frozen, and the waves merely swelled them, shifted them. (It was taken with a not-smart cell phone held in chittering fingers, both of which contribute to its blurry artsy-ness, or perhaps just its blurriness.)

Henry Beston wrote perhaps the best physical description of Cape Cod in the opening lines to his classic book “The Outermost House“:
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Exposed: A Favorite Spot

Most of my favorite places on Earth possess the skill to transform anyone with a camera into Ansel Adams or David Hockney. Earth Day is every day through my cell phone lens.

For instance, the photo at the top. Only one or two readers have asked, which means that perhaps many, many readers have been wondering about this in silence. It’s a clamor of silence. (In the world of a co-dependent like me, almost complete silence is the same thing as many specific requests.) The unasked question(s): The photo at the top, where is that? What is it photo of?

Indeed, there is one photo on this web site that is not of me or my duck friend, and it has sat at the top of the front page since The Gad About Town made its debut three years ago. It is at the top. It is the view of the Hudson River looking south from Frederic Edwin Church‘s home studio, Olana, near Hudson, New York. It is a photo taken in 2013.
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My Favorite Cave

The aurochs is an extinct form of cattle that overlapped with humans for tens of thousands of years. It lived in Europe, North Africa, and western Asia; the last one died in 1627. We domesticated it: Our modern-day beef cattle and dairy cows are descended from the aurochs and some of them bear a deep resemblance to the extinct animal. (Picture a bull in a bullfight, but make the animal taller and even more muscular; this would have made a bullfight a bit more even.) The reason for the extinction of the aurochs is the all-too familiar one, and it can be summed up as: Humans have enjoyed beef for a very long time.

Early modern humans, homo sapiens, showed up around 100,000 years ago, and we really started to leave a mark on the landscape around 40,000 years ago. This is deep in our prehistory, and no one knows what our Upper Paleolithic ancestors were thinking. It just appears that thinking is something they were doing.
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Olana

Only one person has asked, which means that many have been wondering silently. It’s a clamor of silence. (In the world of a co-dependent, almost complete silence is the same thing as many specific requests.) The question(s): The photo at the top, where is that? What is it photo of?

Indeed, there is one photo on this web site that is not of me or my duck friend, and it has sat at the top of the front page since The Gad About Town made its debut. It is at the top. It is the view of the Hudson River looking south from Frederic Edwin Church‘s home studio, Olana, near Hudson, New York. It is a photo taken in 2013.
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Memory Screen

“A heavy rain drowns each raindrop; a light rain, like the kind I saw in the woods out behind my house when I was a child, a light rain striking the leaves and branches of trees, further slowing their impact, that rain produces the strongest petrichor of all, the one that renders me into an seven-year-old noticing the world for the first time.
 
“The lightest of rain after the driest of spells leads to the most argillaceous petrichor, which is the kind that humans smell as relief, the thought that things will start growing again.” — “Petrichor,” Jan. 26, 2015

We called it “The Woods.” Well, I did. Sometimes, I referred to it as a “forest,” which it most certainly was not. Our backyard ended at a line of trees and the dross beneath them; our lightly manicured, suburban lawn did not grow beyond that line, despite my teen-aged lawn mowing efforts to expand it by clearing the dead leaves and branches away. That tight boundary made The Woods appear all the more elemental and foreign.
Read More