Finding God, self, and community in wild spaces. The better we know our wild neighbors the more we'll discover ourselves.
A vision informed by Henry David Thoreau’s interpretation of sauntering, Jesus’ understanding of neighbor, Aldo Leopold’s concept of thinking like a mountain, Rachel Carson’s prophetic voice and John Muir’s way of capturing the beauty and uniqueness of wild neighbors with words.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

West Rim Saunter 11/21/2019

Mountain laurel thicket along West Rim Trail
West Rim Trail North Terminus (headed south along West Rim Trail)

Start time- 7:24am

Every ravine, stream cut, and moss-covered log in the Pine Creek Gorge holds its own treasures. The truth is that it doesn't take much to notice, but these things remain hidden to most.

I set off on my woodland pilgrimage not knowing why. Many times there is no big 'why' that emerges, and that's okay. When wild spaces call to me, if I can, I go. Simple as that.

But as I set off into the forest I recall that quote from John Muir;

"wherever we go in the mountains, or indeed in any of God's wild fields, we find more than we seek." (John Muir. My First Summer in the Sierra. Dover Publications Inc. Mineola, NY 2004. Page 103)

My first wild neighbors to greet me at the trailhead are a flock of American crows and a Cooper's hawk. Fortunately for the hawk the crows seem unaware of its presence, or at least they're preoccupied with something other than mobbing raptors at the moment.

sulfur-yellow mushrooms growing on an oak log
At the first stream cut, a hairy woodpecker picking bugs from a dead ash tree.

A half-mile past the Owassee Road crossing a mixed flock of nuthatches, titmice, kinglets, and of course leading the flock as always, chickadees!

At the next ravine brown creeper calls, while chipmunk chirps, and the crystal spring bubbles on into eternity as I read the words of the humble poet Nessmuk.

The lonely corvid cries "jay!," "jay!" while a bug buck with at least eight long tines on antlers that extend well beyond its ears bounds ahead of me on the trail and ground pine creeks along underfoot.

A second blue jay mimics the call of a red-shouldered hawk and red-belled woodpecker works a dead snag while moss takes its good old time growing on the log upon which I've sat for a moment's rest.

More chickadees.

To commune with nature. Grace abounds. The fullest sense of community is to be experienced here!

On this day every sound along West Rim Trail is a sanctuary to my ears; the sounds produced by woodland animals, bubbling springs in steep ravines, the crunch of leaves underfoot...

At the next turn in the trail I see a black squirrel perched on the side branch of a large white pine. He watches me while I watch him. Peace be with you neighbor.

A thick stand of small pines comprised of hemlocks and white pines is now on my left. What treasures lie within? The spirit of curiosity stirs, so I investigate. In the thick of the small pines I glance down and see that a deer tick is crawling up my pant leg. Today one off-the-trail detour is enough to get me quickly back on it.

Tick- While you're communing with nature I'd like to commune with you.

Me- I'd rather not. Your presence is concerning and you are my wild neighbor, so I will not kill you but I will flick you off.

Back on the trail

A ruffed grouse bursts forth from a laurel thicket, a light brown moth flutters at eye level, and gray squirrels bark from the mast of a nearby oak.

Raven croaks as she rides the wind overhead.

Blue jay opens the creaky door.

Leaves crunch underfoot a little more loudly now that the bright morning sun has warmed the forest floor.

View from Barbour Rock
10:00am- Now I'm in the land of red cedar and dwarf juniper. The first clear view of the canyon from West Rim Trail. A cool mist that fills the air is illuminated by the sun. The hills are all aglow with sublime misty tones of gray, white, and green. Each downward sloping ridge of the Pine Creek Gorge is framed by the tops of tall pines.

Is this heaven?

I contemplate the question as I munch walnuts and cranberries on my lofty flat rock perch with my back rested against a very thick trunked red pine.

A goldfinch cruises by shouting "po-ta-to-chip!," "po-ta-to-chip!," "po-ta-to-chip!" while juncos come to greet me.
Another view from Barbour Rock

Each member of this wild community brings a gift. The oak trees bring acorns. The birds bring their song. The water brings hydration to the landscape. As for me, I bring receptive mind, open heart, pencil, and notebook. Beyond the gift of Jesus, the greatest gift that God has given us is the gift of each other. As life blesses and sustains life we are all uniquely made to be channels of grace with and for each other; and grace is the totally undeserved love, kindness, compassion, and care of God.

Morbid thoughts from the trail: when I die I don't want it to be in some sterile hospital room hooked up to an IV. I want to live a long and good life, and I want to die in the company of my wild neighbors, perhaps overlooking a grand vista like the one I'm looking at as I write this, or perched next to a mountain spring.

To quote Muir again,
"Oh these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever." (John Muir. My First Summer in the Sierra. Dover Publications Inc. Mineola, NY 2004.Muir 34)

what a nice spot for a hot lunch!
11:30am- While I cook my lunch of rice and beans with Eastern hemlock tea, a raven is making its way back and forth along the canyon rim, calling and spiraling through the air as she goes.

Thank you, Lord, for this life-giving day, for this food and drink, for this fire, and for the company of all of my wild neighbors, especially the hemlocks and ravens; and recognizing all of these as expressions of your love, thank you!

After an hour I've put the fire out, and what logs are left have ceased smoldering. Time to begin the latter end of this day in the woods, heading northwards towards the trailhead.

"the bowl"
On the way out I've made it as far as the nearest rocky point that can be seen from Barbour Rock, the south end of what I like to call "the bowl" because of the way that the west rim of the canyon makes a bowl-like shape if looked at from above.

As I pass Barbour Rock on the way back north the wind is picking up, blowing through the gorge from south to north.

a la sainte terre

If my purpose on this outing was to commune with wild neighbors and cook my lunch over a camp fire in the woods then I'd say this day was a success.

I know I've shared this trail today with bear, raccoon, and bobcat. Though I have not seen either of these three, scat marks the trail. I wonder if these three have seen me.

Where West Rim Trail crosses Owassee Road I can hear cars along Route 6 as they pass through Ansonia. With today's woodland adventure coming to an end, I hear a distant raven calling from behind as if to say, "come back soon!"

Now after a seven hour saunter along the West Rim Trail of the Pine Creek Gorge I'm back at the car.

Before I make my way back to town there's two words I must say three times.

Thank you, to my Wild Neighbors.

Thank you, to the Forest.

Thank you, to the One who gives life to us all.

Finish time- 2:50pm



Camp fire spot






Eastern hemlock tea and beans & rice













beans & rice ready to eat
















Cheers! It doesn't get much better than fresh Eastern hemlock tea.
















My back pack all prepped and ready to go the evening prior.











Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Rest for this weary soul at Hammond Lake

Standing here on the East Shore of Hammond Lake, at the point that is called Pine Camp, I can feel a subtle change in the Fall migration. Most of the birds that prefer tropical winters have flown south. The birds for whom North-Central Pennsylvania is south for the winter have begun to arrive. We are still in dreary November which for the time being is neither hot nor cold and mostly windy and brown to look at. But winter is coming. This change in seasons makes me want to do an overnight backpacking trip, or at least spend a full day in the woods from dawn till dusk including meals cooked on the trail over a camp fire.

Maybe my inspiration comes from having just finished George Washington Sears, a.k.a. Nessmuk's book titled Woodcraft and Camping. I resonate with his thought that spending time outdoors should be, among other things, rest for weary souls.

"We don't go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it," says Nessmuk, "we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home; in towns and cities; in shops, offices, stores, banks-anywhere that we may be placed..." (George Washington Sears "Nessmuk." Woodcraft and Camping. Dover Publications Inc. New York, 1963. Page 13)

This reminds me of the words of Jesus who says, "come to me all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

Oh the joy of finding Jesus (or of Jesus finding me) in wild spaces...in the delightful pitter-patter of merganser's feet as the whole flock alights from the choppy waters of Hammond Lake, on the wings of a bald eagle soaring high above, in the winter call of a tree sparrow, or even by the way that dormant oaks stand so sturdy and immovable.

It is rest for this weary soul, and the gift of wild spaces has a way of smoothing all the rough edges of daily living, don't you think?

The one who approaches wild spaces with a receptive mind and an open heart walks on into
endless mystery and acquaintance, and with these gifts comes joy and anticipation.

To the mergansers out on the water; do you enjoy the sound of your feet against the water's surface upon take-off as much as I do?

To the eagle and the gull; do you await the arrival of this massive flock of mergansers each year with eager expectancy since they make it easier to locate the densest pockets of fish activity?

To the lone tree sparrow perched on a birch branch. I can see that while you're the only member of your species present here that you are not alone. Did these 30+ juncos in your company breed in the same area as you? Did you all depart the southern edge of the Arctic circle together?

To all who share this wild space in this moment, peace to all of you, my neighbors with whom I'm pleased to know as I rest along the edge of these ice-fringed waters.

















Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Season of Waiting

Yesterday's saunter through fields of snow-covered weeds was an experience in self-reflection.

I know what I want my life to be about...
  • Living into community with wildlife and wild spaces
  • Lending my voice to my wild neighbors
  • Helping others to do these things
  • And that my neighbors might know love because I let Jesus live through me.

I know what I want my life to be about but at times my inspiration is lacking.

Have you been in this place?
  • Knowing what you want your life to be about. 
  • Lacking the inspiration. 
  • Unsure why.
In this life there are seasons of growth, seasons of heavy labor, and there are seasons of waiting. In truth, there is a season for every good thing.

And so, I trust that even when I cannot find the words for this blog, the Spirit of God is present and at work.
When inspiration is lacking...
...maybe its enough to be in the presence of God.
...maybe its enough to be who I am in this moment.
When our hearts overflow with inspiration there is a time to share that inspiration freely.

When inspiration is lacking, there is a time to wait; and in that season of waiting to allow the Spirit of God to minister to a receptive heart through the gift of wild spaces.

The Israelite's season of waiting took them on a 40 year wilderness journey prior to entering the Promised Land.

The prophet Elijah's season of waiting took him on a 40 day walk to Mount Sinai where God met him. I love that part of his story is that during his season of waiting he was ministered to by ravens in the wilderness!

Jesus' season of waiting took him into the wilderness where he was tempted by satan for 40 days.

In our seasons of waiting we are in good company.

Of course, 40 is a symbolic number that constitutes a season of waiting. One person's season of waiting might be a day or two and another person's season of waiting might be several years.

horned lark, a winter visitor to windswept farm fields in PA

In my season of waiting, I chose to escape to the tundra of wide open farm fields of Middle Ridge (7 miles west of Wellsboro, PA), where deceased brown stems of grasses and goldenrod sing to the tune of a brisk north wind which brings with it horned larks and snow buntings. These seasonal visitors from the far north-Canadian tundra pick seeds from the open fields and gather grit from near the roadside where I stand. I am alone, but I am not alone. In this profound solitude I feel welcomed by the calls of the tundra birds, the north wind, and the doe who watches from a distance. I wonder if she has a thought about larks and buntings this time of year...

Monday, November 4, 2019

Wild Neighbor: Ruby-crowned kinglet

Meet our wild neighbor, the ruby-crowned kinglet. This tiny songster could easily fit in the palm of a small child's hand, yet it's got a personality that more than compensates for its diminutive size. It is a round grayish-olive colored bird that seems to lack a neck, has a short pointed beak, partial eye ring, single white wing bar with a black bar just behind it, and black wings and tail feathers edged in yellow!

The male of this species does sport a small ruby-red crown which is raised when the bird is excited.

One of the qualities to appreciate about the ruby-crowned kinglet is it's complex three-part song. When it sings its so loud for such a little bird that its easy to imagine that it enjoys boasting about its musical talent!

You can listen to a recording of its complex three part song by following this link to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.



A north-woods breeder, the ruby-crowned kinglet is a close relative to the golden-crowned kinglet with whom it's breeding range overlaps in Southern Canada and in the mountain ranges of the American West.
a golden-crowned kinglet, a close relative of the ruby-crowned kinglet
Another amazing fact about the ruby-crowned kinglet is that it has the ability to lay up to a dozen eggs in a single nest each year!

The two I encountered during the past two days were not boasting about their singing abilities. I can't blame them. During migration it pays not to waste precious energy that needs to be used for flight power enough to take them to the Southern United States and for some as far as Mexico. They were totally silent as each daintily and meticulously hopped through thick shrubs and vines along the shore of Hammond Lake (11/2) and Pine Creek (11/3) picking for small insects among the branches.

I could tell you even more facts about this captivating little bird and share more of my experience with it, but nothing quite compares to experiencing this tiny wild neighbor for yourself.

Head out to the creek or lake shore and you might just see one yourself!








Saturday, November 2, 2019

Fall 2019 Wildlife Tour Finale

I’m pleased to report that the last organized Wildlife Tour of the Fall season was a success. Five of us gathered at the Barbour Rock Trail parking lot at 9am and proceeded along the trail. We sauntered along the gravel path to the Barbour Rock Vista and enjoyed making the acquaintance with some of our wild neighbors which included black-capped chickadees, golden-crowned kinglets, white, red and chestnut oaks, and a number of chipmunks, each of which seemed to be very busy preparing for the winter. At the Barbour Rock Vista we took in the view as well as the very interesting red cedar and the exceedingly rare dwarf juniper. Those brave enough to stand on the rock ledge overlooking the canyon did so while others enjoyed some good photo ops. Continuing southwards along West Rim Trail I think we all appreciated the white pines, Eastern hemlocks, mountain laurel and wintergreen along the path. We also heard quotes from Aldo Leopold, John Muir  and St.Francis of Assisi. To top it off we all partook in some wintergreen tea (made fresh the night before) along West Rim Trail before heading back towards the parking lot.

To those I’ve had the privilege of sauntering with today and to those who participated in any of the Fall Series of Wildlife Tours, I thank God for you as I write this reflection.

As we saunter along the mountain trails and through life in general, may we take special moments to notice and get to know the wild spaces and wildlife that inhabit this good earth, and may wildlife and wild spaces  become neighbors to us because of the love, kindness, compassion and care that we share.

Hope our paths will cross in some wild space again.

Peace,

Rich


From today’s Wildlife Tour, left to right: me, Pete, Cindy, Jill,  and Laura










Thursday, October 31, 2019

Call of the Raven

Have you felt stuck in the busyness of small-town life? Have you heard the call of the raven as she flies over town beckoning us to follow? They say the raven is among the most intelligent of birds. I believe it, because the raven knows the wisdom of wild spaces perhaps better than most. It’s my day off, and with this reprieve from work I chose to follow.  The raven’s jet-black silhouette outlined by pointed wings and notched tail led me to The Pine Creek Gorge, a fine wild space indeed.

Time to slow down, sit on a rock ledge, let the busyness of life fade away, and breathe. And breathing with me are the creeping dwarf junipers and gnarly red cedars firmly rooted in the nutrient poor soil along Barbour Rock vista. The vibrant green needles and leaves of these two evergreens are a pop of life on the canyon wall today, especially with the oaks and maples looking so dismally brown and naked.

Looking south-east, a string of clouds dances between the canyon walls with an elegance which easily surpasses that of the most skilled ballroom dancer. The beauty of this wild space is magnified by a flurry of juncos on the rocks and a mixed flock of kinglets and chickadees in the branches. 

Dark-eyed juncos, with their slaty-gray backs and white beaks, bellies, and outer tail feathers seem to me to be among the humblest of sparrows; tough enough to survive the northern winters but content not to brag about it. They are easy to overlook but worthy of our admiration.  Then again, so are all of our wild neighbors.

 As I rest here pondering, a pair of ravens are putting on a show of aerial acrobatics, and my heart is at peace.


Monday, October 28, 2019

Exotic Wild Neighbor: Ring-necked pheasant

As I sauntered along the Railroad Grade at Ives Run Recreation Area I was greeted by three male ring-necked pheasants. These birds seemed not too bothered by my presence. Maybe that's because they were raised at a game farm and very recently released here for the Autumn hunting season.

Regardless, they were beautiful; iridescent greenish-blue heads bordered by a bold white ring around the neck, blood-red faces, and goldish-brown body feathers with gray and black patterning. The long pointed tail and (upon close observation) small horn-like feather tufts on either side of the head make for a very interesting wild neighbor. I watched as these three meticulously picked for grit and grasshoppers along the gravel road.

Ring-necked pheasants are birds of field edges, hedge rows, and farm fields. They are an exotic (non-native) species native to the continent of Asia. Each year millions are raised from eggs at game farms then released to Game Lands to sustain the population in Pennsylvania.

I often ask myself though, why make so great an effort to maintain unstable populations of ring-necked pheasants when we are blessed with such fantastic native birds of field and forest as wild turkey and ruffed grouse?

I would pose the same question if populations of ruffed grouse were introduced in the home range of the ring-necked pheasant in East China.

It's a question for all of us, really. Why transport species of animals and plants to different places around the world without knowing the impact it will have on ecosystems that are new to it's presence?

A prime example is many of our own front yards. Why do we landscape using so many non-native and ornamental species when there are so many unique and beautiful native species to choose from that are inextricably connected with the wild spaces that surround us?

Sometimes when we choose to introduce an animal or plant that's native to a different part of the world it has a destructive impact on the ecological balance. Prime examples are European starling, house sparrow, Japanese knotweed, Autumn olive and multiflora rose.

But in the case of the ring-necked pheasant, not to worry. Not every exotic species is an invasive species. There is something very much to be appreciated about the ring-necked pheasant now that it’s here.


Considering the place in the world where this remarkable wild neighbor has evolved, as I stand here watching these three it's like catching a glimpse into East Asia. The only thing missing is a few oriental magpies, a Beijing babbler and the landscape as well as the complex ecosystem of East China. Okay, so maybe there is A LOT missing from an experience of a ring-necked pheasant that is akin to experiencing this species in its native context.

Still though, I do believe that to experience my wild neighbor the ring-necked pheasant at Ives Run Recreation Area, knowing what I know about it, does afford me a tiny yet significant glimpse into the wildlife of China.

The next time you encounter a ring-necked pheasant, I hope you may be transported to a far away place in your mind as I was.



Thursday, October 24, 2019

Find Your Path and Follow it

Take a look at a wind-whipped hillside in Pennsylvania's north country during late-October and you'll notice that the oaks cling tightly to their leaves after all other deciduous trees have shed theirs for the year. This is a beautiful time of year. Then again, every moment of the year holds its own beauty.


It's like Ralph Waldo Emerson said in his book titled Nature, "To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again." (Nature Walking. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Beacon Press; Boston, MA, 1991. page 15)

"To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I recall a particular moment that held a special kind of beauty to me. It happened during a recent saunter in one of my favorite wild spaces in Tioga County, PA. The sun was drawing near to the western horizon. Looking for an advantageous spot to take in the beauty of the final hour of the day, I climbed onto the lowest branch of a big white oak tree which overlooked an expansive meadow. I reclined with my back against its trunk.  The meadow was filled with tall stems, each one crowned with the white fluff of goldenrod that had gone to seed. He approached from the north; antlers made of bone containing eight long tines, each one pointing towards the heavens. He made his way in my direction along the edge of the meadow towards the cover and sustenance provided by the grove of white oak trees. Now within 30 yards of my vantage, golden beams of evening sun illuminated his warm brown coat as he took every cautious step. Senses in tune with this wild space, the whitetail buck paused for a moment to survey the landscape, offering the hunter and the wildlife photographer the perfect shot, and to all who are fully present and aware a moment of inarticulate beauty. Though I had neither bow nor camera, the moment is etched in my mind forever.

The wildlife photographer may see this buck again some other day. The hunter may intend to make a meal out of it. Either way, the buck is far more beautiful alive in the meadow than he ever would be mounted on the wall of a hunting camp. A truth to be shared by hunter and non-hunter alike.
A photo of the same buck taken another day.

I'm currently in the middle of reading Aldo Leopold's, A Sand County Almanac for about the fiftieth time since I was first introduced to it fourteen years ago during my time in college. Through the pages of his book its clear that while Leopold is a hunter, he is first and foremost a conservationist who values wildlife more alive than he does on a dinner plate.

When it comes to the qualities about wildlife and wild spaces that inspire and motivate, the reasons are different for different people.

  • For some, its the eye for beauty.
  • For some, a heart ablaze with love for wildlife and wild spaces.
  • For some, a spirit that revels in the thrill and challenge of the hunt.

I have felt all three; and perhaps you have too.

And what do you do when the logic of the hunt says "shoot," but the heart feels a sense of kinship with wild neighbors as the hunter locks eyes with his/her quarry?

This was my dilemma.

For me, the joy of the hunt always faded quickly at the moment of the kill. I've learned that I don't need meat to live healthy. In my geographic region there are plant alternatives. Perhaps this is part of the reason I took up birding.

During the past three years I've grown to understand the way I want to live, and the way I've felt led to live as the Spirit of God continues to fill my heart with love for wildlife and wild spaces.

Jesus affirms that one of the most important things is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Furthermore, by his definition, to count someone as a neighbor means to extend mercy towards them. The term 'mercy' can be defined as 'love, kindness, and compassion.'

To love my neighbor is to work for the good of my neighbor and to help my neighbor to thrive.

Because of the love in my heart and my experiences in life I'm led to count wildlife and wild spaces as a neighbor to me.

As best I can my chosen path is to live as an expression of the mercy of God towards my wild neighbors. To me this means doing no harm as much as I can. If an animal doesn't have do die in order for me to live, I don't want it to. It also means doing good to my wild neighbors as much as I can. It means supporting organizations like the Audubon Society and the American Chestnut Foundation. It means helping to establish and preserve habitat for native species in the places where I have influence.

I always find joy in my experiences with my wild neighbors as I get to know them better; the oak, the deer, the jay, the goldenrod, the woolly-bear caterpillar, and many others.

This is my chosen way of living. But there are different ways of living.

I've found my path. I hope you'll find yours if you haven't already.

I wish that we would all provide one another that freedom.

There are different ways of expressing love towards wildlife and wild spaces. I know many a hunter and omnivore who love wild spaces as much as I do; they are my family, my friends, and my neighbors who express that love for wildlife and wild spaces in many and varied ways.

While I certainly enjoy spending time with kindred spirits, that is to say, people whose love for wildlife moves them to be vegetarians too, I don't want everyone to be like me. How arrogant would I have to be to think that way?

What is important is that each of us should provide one another the freedom to live in a way that is faithful to God's love for all of us and true to the person whom the Spirit of God is making each of us to be.









Sunday, October 20, 2019

Reflections from a saunter at Hills Creek State Park

check out the beaver dam behind the saunterers!
I Thoreau-ly enjoyed today’s saunter with old and new friends as we made our way around Hills Creek Lake, pausing to reflect upon something from Henry David Thoreau and to greet and be greeted by wild neighbors along the trail. We watched golden-crowned kinglets with our Tiadaghton Audubon Society binoculars as the tiny birds foraged in the branches just above our heads, heard the monotone call of a red-breasted nuthatch before it descended from the treetops to our eye’s level, felt the curly bark of a yellow birch, and tasted the aromatic wintergreen-flavored twigs of black birch. It was a cool October evening highlighted by Autumn leaves over placid water. It was solitude and community. It was good for mind, body, and spirit. It engaged intellect and emotion. It was good for the heart in more ways than one.

One of the things I appreciate about sauntering in wild spaces is that it invites a kind of personal transformation that naturally flows from the experience. So often in the church growth is encouraged through sermons, studies, and small groups. These are good things. But on the trail the words which are read come alive in the moment, and the Spirit of God nurtures us to take on more of those attributes of Jesus that we cherish and want to embody in community with our wild neighbors and other people along the way.

Suffice it to say that my own pathway for growing as a student of Jesus is literally a trail; and it is one of life’s greatest joys to share it with others.


An excerpt from John Muir read along the trail
Hills Creek Lake
a caterpillar that Elias found along the trail.
Sauntering lakeside
We finished the saunter with the final page of Thoreau's book titled Walking.
An upcoming saunter



















Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Search for the Bumble

This morning I sauntered along the Pine Creek Rail Trail tapping into the same spirit with which John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and Saint Francis of Assisi traveled the earth, "stopping to speak to the plants and animals as friendly fellow-mountaineers." (My First Summer in the Sierra. John Muir. Dover Publications, Inc.; Mineola, NY, 2004. pg 87)

But today I was not in the mountains; I was in the glacier carved valley just to the southeast of the Asaph Wild Area. I parked the car at the Pine Creek Rail Trail's northern terminus just next to Pag-Omar Farm Market. There were also some others on the trail today. A woman and her dog. A man and his dog. Two other people. I can keep a quick pace when I want to, but today I was the slowpoke on the trail. And for good reason.

I'm looking for bumblebees. I seek a bumble but it seems the recent cold snap may have driven the majority of them into dormancy.

Clouds filled the sky above as a cool Autumn breeze caused the leaves that were still holding tightly to the branches of the quaking aspens along the trail to dance and clap in synchronicity with the wind.

This wild space brings a happy melancholy to my heart today. It's clear that the flowers have begun to fade. There are scattered patches of goldenrod, water hemlock, Queen Anne's lace, and daisy along the trail but that is all. I count about twenty paces between each flower still in bloom. Suffice it to say that there aren't many flowers blooming this late in the year. The shortened days, morning frost and cooler temperatures that mark the end of the season for flowers also mark the end of the season for pollinating insects. As I saunter along the trail in search of the illusive bumblebee, the leaves that have decorated the branches of maple, aspen, and box elder trees are now dropping like rain under the force of a gentle breeze.

The creative life-giving Spirit of God works in such a way that, in the natural balance, there is food in every season for a great variety of our wild neighbors. As it is, by the grace of God life sustains life. Flowers bloom from early April well into October. Many varieties blooming at different times and for varying duration insure beauty for the landscape and food for pollinators. But now, as the flowers fade most of the pollinating insects have either left, gone dormant, or died.

Except for the bumbles I've found! Two of them. Sluggish, hugging small daisy flowers that are certainly on their way out, these bumblebees have found an oasis in the desert of dying and dormant plants. For the first and only time in their lives they will follow in their ancestor's footsteps. The average lifespan of a queen bumblebee is about 2-3 months but the last generation of the year goes dormant in late fall, burrowing in the ground under the leaf litter for the winter and emerging in the Springtime to produce the first generation of the new year.

 While I stood carefully watching the two bumbles enjoying what was potentially their last meal of the year, white-throated sparrows and a ruby-crowned kinglet could be heard calling from the thicket adjacent to the trail. These birds are northern breeders, having just arrived from somewhere between the Adirondack Mountains and the boreal forest in Northern Canada. The white-throated sparrow may spend its winter here. The ruby-crowned kinglet will continue farther south. The winter will hold its own joys. Soon to come will be rest for the landscape and excitement for those who enjoy being visited by the birds that call the arctic home during the Summer.

As the seasons change, in wild spaces someone is always coming or going, waking up or settling in. We are the only ones that insist on living at the same breakneck speed from dawn till dusk, from Summer through Winter and from birth to death. Why is that? Could it be that wild spaces and wildlife have something to teach us about healthy rhythms of work and rest?