The orange sunrise


On my morning commute the other day, I was looking toward the sunrise, waiting to merge into traffic. I was stopped at a red light, fortunately, or I wouldn’t have had the time to get my camera open and take this picture.

Filters can allow for any effect at all to be achieved with a photo, but I didn’t have to do anything to make this one look good. Nature and what Thoreau once called “The Great Artist” did all the work for me. All we have to do is appreciate it.

An idling bus


Yesterday I came upon a bus, idling away as it was waiting to pick up passengers at a community center suburban Chicago.

I walked past the bus, and as I did I felt its large exhaust pipe, spewing warm fumes into the air. I asked myself why the bus was left running, as nobody had gotten on board yet, or was even in sight at that moment. But the engine kept on running, and whatever the combustive process was, it kept on spitting out its results.

This week, a report was issued by the government, confirming what most of us already know: this planet is in trouble. Emissions, in the way of greenhouse gases, are threatening our long-term survival. And yet the bus keeps on idling, and we keep on doing what we’ve always done.

The bus began loading maybe four or five minutes later, and within ten minutes it was on its way. The fumes were still escaping from the bus, but it felt less wasteful because at least people were going from one place to another.

One bus won’t spell the difference between saving the planet and seeing 125 degree temperatures on a regular basis. But the symbolic meaning of an idling bus might be significant. All of us can make decisions to reduce emissions and/or waste. We can’t do anything more than that, but we can do something. And if we want to continue living here, we must.

Having too much fun


I’ve been in the Florida keys on Spring Break, and my blog has been neglected as a result. Life is too enjoyable to take time away for blogging.

What does this say about the hundreds of things I’ve posted on my blog through the years? I’m not sure, exactly. Maybe I need to find another way to pass the time once I get back home. I’m sure going to miss this when I leave. That much I already understand.


A gospel for me


The mail doesn’t seem to bring me very much, anymore. There are bills to pay, and an occasional card from a relative, but the idea of opening up my mailbox and finding something interesting seems to belong to another time now. But today was different.

An envelope in my mailbox resembled the “plain brown wrapper” that is sometimes used to hide suggestive materials. The idea of getting something like that in the mail seemed funny to me, so I decided to open up the envelope and see what was inside.

It turned out to be a 2014 calendar from the National Park Foundation. The Ken Burns series on National Parks has been running on PBS this week, and that makes this week a perfect time to send out mailers relating to the National Parks. Having been to many of them over the years, I love that there are so many scattered around the country.

The envelope included a calendar for 2014, along with a fundraising letter for the benefit of the parks. The calendar is very nice, and it’s a reminder of how lovely places like Glacier National Park and the Everglades really are.

For each month, as most calendars do, there is a picture above the fold, and the calendar part of the month below it. At the bottom of the calendar part for each month, there is also a nature-related quote from a well-known writer or public figure. And the saying for August caught my attention, as it read “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” The quote was attributed to John Burroughs, and I wanted to find out more about him, as his words so succinctly described why nature is so important.

It turns out that the quote came from the “Gospel of Nature,” which he prepared in response to a request from a minister. I found the writing online, and read it with rapt attention this afternoon. Here was somebody who really got it, I thought. It was clear that Burroughs cherished nature, and was able to explain why. By the end of it, I understood that Burroughs was a man to admire. I also learned that his work was published a century ago by Houghton Mifflin, a forerunner of the company that I work for today.

When Burroughs passed away–a few years after preparing his gospel–he left a large volume of writings behind. I hope to read more of them in the days and weeks ahead. But it took a calendar inside a brown envelope to bring some small snippet of his words to me, a century after they were first authored and shared with the minister’s congregation.

The act of preparing these words, and then having them published, means that I–and anyone else who happens upon this calendar–will be able to appreciate Burroughs’ thoughts. And while that may not have the beauty of an Everglades sunset, it’s something to marvel at, in its own way.

Waiting for the parade

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The view above is one of that I found on a river in Wisconsin. It must be hunting season, as I’ve heard five shots ring out since I’ve started typing this. I’m not a hunter and never will be, so I sought out a riverbank instead, content to watch the water flow by. It sure beats whatever I might be doing back in Chicago.

After about ten minutes of watching the river do what it’s always done, I saw some unexpected movement. A procession of about eight kayakers came into view, making their way down the river. They saw me, and I saw them, and we all exchanged pleasantries as they passed by. “Nice day” and “Happy weekend” were the prevailing themes, but one exchange stood out, and inspired me to go and grab my smartphone to capture it. It’s either that or let it drift away into the rest of my memories, where it might have a shelf life of twenty minutes or so.  But this deserves a better fate than that.

One of the kayakers, a woman, asked if I was the official greeter for the group. I smiled and told her I was just waiting for the parade to arrive. She liked that answer, and I did too, and she wished me good day as she floated past.

The people who found themselves kayaking down a river probably didn’t consider themselves to be a parade, but from my vantage point on the riverbank, that’s exactly what they were. I recognized them as such, and told one of them about it, and it made both of us smile. Little moments like that are the kind of thing that we could all use more of in our lives.

Before the mosquitoes eat me alive, I better finish this up. We’re all part of a parade sometimes, and we should recognize this possibility and enjoy it whenever we are. Happy day to anyone reading this.

Nature in all of its beauty


I came upon this bluff in a state park in Door County, Wisconsin. The first time I came to it, I was content to let the wind blow through my hair, and enjoy the beautiful view of Lake Michigan down below.

But the second time, two days later with some others I had brought along to see the view, I wanted to see some more. We ducked around the edge of the bluffs, where the tree is in the picture above, and set off on the most amazing trail that I’ve ever experienced, or ever will experience.

The wind whipped all around us as we pushed on across barren rock formations. Boulders of all shapes and sizes were strewn along our path, and we traversed them all. Small pools formed as quickly as they disappeared. Nature was doing exactly as it wanted, without any human involvement in the process. It was inspiring to bear witness to it all.

There were some primal, elemental forces at work on the fringes of the Niagra escarpment. It was the sort of a nature lesson that, had it come about 30 years earlier, would have led me to think of ways to be doing something with nature for a living.

As it is, however, I’ll just put a few words about it here, and marvel at the beauty and the power of nature. The further we get away from it in everyday life, the more important an experience like this–and the testamentary role of these words–becomes.

Let’s always appreciate our planet, with at least as much care and respect that we give to the places where we live, shop, and work. Nature provides us with everything, and we must remember this. After all, we won’t get another planet if we mess this one up.

At the end of the day

I’ve always appreciated a good sunset. I’ve even written about them in this space. But last night’s offering was perhaps the most spectacular one that I’ve ever seen. It demanded my attention, and so I pulled off the road near a closed cemetery gate and tried to do it justice with my cameraphone. I failed miserably, but the pictures turned out pretty well, anyway.

Watching the colors exploding across the sky made me feel very fortunate. Nature was bringing its A-game, creating a scene that no human artist could ever match. And all we had to do was stop for a moment and appreciate it.

Everyone didn’t get the same sunset that I did last night. But everyone will get one just as vibrant and colorful, eventually. And when that happens, hopefully you’ll get the chance to enjoy it, the way that I enjoyed mine.

Finally on our way out of 2011

There’s an old question that I ask people sometimes: How far can you run into a forest? The answer is only halfway, because after that you’re running out of the forest. Semantic games don’t get any more annoying than that, do they?

But a few days ago came the equivalent of that for this thing called Twenty-Eleven.  Since we have just passed the 183 day mark, we can truly say that we’re now on our way out of this year. And there are many people who would love to put 2011 in their rear view mirror as quickly as possible. The roll call of such people include:

The people of Japan

The people of Tuscaloosa, Alabama

The people of Joplin, Missouri

The people of Memphis, Tennessee, much of Louisiana, Minot, North Dakota, and many other towns lying near flooded rivers.

But even when the calendar turns and this awful year is finally behind us, the devastation it has wrought will live on. The planet is reminding us all of who is really in charge, and it ain’t us.

Here’s hoping that hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters decide that we’ve had enough for a while.