Tuesday, August 28, 2012

ONE MAN’S POISON – The Lovely Contradictions of Nightshade

Nightshade. The name alone evokes images of sorcery and death.

But this is not the fabled deadly nightshade (atropa belladonna). This cousin’s more benign name is bittersweet or woody nightshade (solanum dulcamara).

It’s still toxic though, containing dulcamarine, a glycoside similar in structure and effects to the poisonous compound atropine.

I’m slain not by nightshade’s toxicology, but its arresting beauty, which I gladly consume—and it, me—at so many levels. Color and form, line and texture all pull me in to explore their nuance.

Violet petals blush passionate purple near the base, and turn up at their very tips…why?

Two dollops of white with pastel green centers adorn each petal, a cheery necklace 'round the golden stamens, which thrust through like tiny ears of corn, topped with fine white spikes.

Young berries nestle like jewels in elegant, scalloped settings, soon to turn from emerald to orange garnet to ruby.

But what strikes me most amazing of all these delights is the stem, its straight, even segments and measured angles cleverly mirroring the very molecular diagram of nightshade's poison.

Friday, August 24, 2012

THE FIRST WORD – Death by Rote - part 2 of 2

(Okay, where were we? I had just stood facing an audience of 200-plus schoolmates and teachers, frozen by fear, noteless and clueless as to how to begin my supposedly memorized speech. All I could come up with was a cold sweat, a couple of dry gulps, and the concluding paragraph of my speech.)

                      Humor is tragedy plus time.MARK TWAIN

It took me many years to realize that feigning laryngitis was not the lesson I’d been meant to learn that day. The real lesson, in fact, ultimately came from what occurred just a minute or so after my fiasco.

The next speaker that day was a tall, gangly upperclassman named Todd. I remember him as a quiet, kind young man. (Though bad knees kept him from being very athletic in his school days, I found out years later that he’d become a world-class speed walker.)

Each time he paused to catch his breath, there was that little smile…a statement. 

As he walked past me to the lectern, he gave me a kind, understanding smile. How I envied him for that serenity. He stood up and faced the same audience I’d just disappointed so spectacularly.

But he knew the first words of his speech, the then-timely “Splendor in the Grass” ode by Wordsworth. His problem was that he couldn’t get those words out.


“Th-th-th…th-th-there was a t-t-t…” He tried again. “Th-there w-w-was a t-t-t-t…”
Todd’s demon was not his fear; it was the wire between his brain and his larynx. But he seemed to understand and accept his handicap. Trying to wring the words out contorted his face, but each time he paused to catch his breath, there was that little smile…a statement.

For Todd, this speech, even as he struggled with it, wasn’t the only thing in his world. After several agonizing minutes of trying, he stopped, took a deep breath, smiled broadly and said, with barely a hitch, “Sorry, I’m a little t-t-tongue-tied today.” Then he sat down.

Everyone in the auditorium sprang to their feet and cheered. I did too, even though I was still feeling so humiliated that I could barely see over my own shame.

I can see it so clearly now; it was that slight smile, that nod of self-deprecation, that liberating touch of humor, that had allowed Todd to reclaim the audience I’d managed to let down. The malady—fear—that had brought me to my knees can’t touch people like Todd; they have the antidote.

Now I know there’s plenty of humor out there that’s funnier than this example. There’s humor of far more consequence, humor that helps people, at least temporarily, to put a new face on their pain and suffering. And there’s certainly humor that delivers more powerful messages.

That liberating touch of humor had allowed 
Todd to reclaim the audience I’d managed
to let down.

By those measures, what Todd did and said that day would hardly register on the scale. But it took no more than the sheer contrast between our two speeches nearly a half century ago—one a disaster, the other a triumph—to impress on me, indelibly, that humor is not nearly as much about the material as it is about a state of mind.

The power of that kind of humor, I decided, is nothing short of transcendent.

I can be funny—really funny; just ask my friends. But that doesn’t mean I have a great sense of humor. That’s because I take myself way too seriously. On the other hand, one can have a great sense of perspective on life, laugh off misfortune and smile at his own shortcomings, and still not be funny.

I guess I’d rather be the latter guy. A guy like Todd.

Humor is perspective. And it couldn’t be a more appropriate topic for a blog about new ways of looking at things. Neither the funny kind nor the lighthearted kind suffers tunnel vision kindly. Nor do they tolerate self-absorption.

On the contrary, humor separates you from what is happening to you. It recognizes that, whatever your misfortune might be, it can’t touch the essence of who you are.

Humor defends your boundary; it says, okay, you can make me sweat a little, but that essence, my core of certainty about who I am and what’s really important, is off limits. Have a nice day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

THE FIRST WORD – Death by Rote


Looking out at the audience, I tried not to make eye contact with any of my 200 or so schoolmates and teachers. My self-consciousness was reprieved, at least for a few minutes, by our standing for Men of Harlech, one of the traditional, “manly” songs we sang every day at morning assembly. Just another device for molding us preppies into proper young men.
Onward! 'tis the country needs us,
He is bravest, he who leads us
Honor's self now proudly heads us… 
About halfway through the rousing lyrics, the anxiety that had been resting a foot on my chest stepped on with both feet as I realized that my speech was coming up next on the program.

The anxiety that had been resting a foot on my 
chest stepped on with both feet...

The Smith Cup Competition involved speaking in front of an audience. First-round speeches, delivered to just your English teacher and ten or fifteen classmates, were mandatory for all students. Contestants could either write their own speeches or borrow something from literature, sports or entertainment; the point was it had to be memorized and delivered without notes.

My speech had survived the first round, and here I was in the semi-finals, along with two other contestants that day, about to speak in front of the whole school.

The onset of fear is a fascinating experience. If it’s the kind you get to think about for a while, your vision—in fact, all your awareness—narrows. You lose sight of those around you; time grinds along in slow motion, counting down to your doom.

Even more distressing, your ability to place your situation into perspective vanishes. To say your predicament becomes the most important thing in the world would be an understatement; it’s the only thing.

That was my state of mind when the headmaster, Mr. Reed, introduced the first speaker. I tried to at least look like I was paying attention to my opponent, but the storm brewing in my psyche wasn’t about to be put off. The other kid’s words sounded like he was mumbling them down a very deep hole…and I was at the bottom.

I prayed something would come to me; it didn’t.

I’d watched helplessly as my state of mind had withered from concern to dread, and then to utter terror. I was now so consumed by my fear that, my God, I have no idea what the first—or any—words of my speech are! And—that’s right—I have no notes!

I could barely hear the applause for the first contestant above the shrieking of my panic. He bowed stiffly and sat down, turning to look at me, all self-satisfied, just as Mr. Reed stood and pronounced my death sentence: “And now, our second semi-finalist, Jeffrey Willius, will deliver his original speech, 'Water, Our Most Precious Resource.'”

My brain flailed for a clue to how my speech began, or for even something I could say off the cuff. About then, I would have settled for the ABC song if it, too, hadn’t eluded me. I walked as slowly to the lectern as I could without drawing any more attention to my plight (as if that were possible). I prayed something would come to me; it didn’t.

Have you ever studied someone who’s terrified? There are several clues: the tortured body language, the pale, drawn expression, the copious sweating. But the biggest give-away is the Adam’s apple. Mine pumped in vain for the slightest trace of saliva, in syncopation, it seemed, with my pounding heartbeat.

So there I stood, in front of all my schoolmates and all my teachers. The floor was mine. I imagined 200 sets of drumming fingers, impatient sighs and, worst of all, guys turning to one another and whispering “What a loser!”

The good news was that I finally thought of something to say. The bad news? It was the very 
end of my speech.

The good news was that, after what seemed like a full minute of that sticky silence, I finally thought of something to say. The bad news? It was the very end of my speech.
“So, in conclusion, clean, potable water is…gulp…will be the central challenge of the coming decade. What can I, what can all of us, do to make sure…”
At last, my ordeal came to an end…no beginning or middle, but at least an end. My friends and teachers were kind enough not to make light of the new record I’d set for the Smith Cup’s shortest speech. But sometimes even silence cuts deep.


Saturday, August 18, 2012


TIP #10 
Feel the pulse of a hot summer meadow.

Late summer afternoons, the meadow is a shrill cacophony, a population of buzzing, whining, whirring beings.

And, like any city, this one emits one common, unifying sound, a kind of pulsing, sizzling energy. Can you hear it in the meadow, this heartbeat of life?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

INTENTIONAL GROUNDING – Making Room for Wonder

The world has changed considerably for most humans since we roamed the woods and prairies, and every day was a struggle for survival. These days, for most of us anyway, life’s pretty easy, pretty safe. We’ve had the luxuries of both time and opportunity to change our view of Nature from one that was mainly reactive to one that’s more intentional.

Intentional observation is what this blog—in fact, my book and most of my writing—is all about. Seeing and appreciating not just Nature’s superlatives—the Everests, the Grand Canyons, the cheetahs and tsunamis—but also the other stuff, the small, the subtle, the unexpectedly elegant things that surround us all the time. So if such wonder is all around us, why is it apparently so elusive for some people?

Intentionality’s not easy. Initiating is harder than reacting. Creating is harder than consuming. People seem to get lulled into a sort of “on demand” way of looking at the world. Whatever’s the biggest, loudest, brightest or fastest steals their attention, their initiative. I suppose this is understandable.

After all, it’s deeply engrained in us to notice things that can excite or threaten us; that’s how we and most other creatures have managed to survive. But we’ve allowed this tendency to be exploited for commercial—and, some might say, political—gain. Too many of us have given in to the brainwashing and find ourselves paying heed to stuff we know doesn’t really matter.

Too many of us have given in to the brainwashing...paying heed to stuff 
we know doesn’t really matter.

We get so distracted by the trivial that we miss the profound. We spend so much time indulging our fears that we fail to nurture our hopes. We do things not because we’re drawn to them, but simply not to be outdone. It all seems like a battle for our intentionality and, along with it, our sense of wonder—and I’m afraid we’re losing.

The media’s played a disappointing role in all of this. It’s numbed us and dumbed us. It touts everything and everyone as the ultimate, leaving no place for the simply beautiful, the average—in other words, the real. It’s got people, as if on cue, emoting and exaggerating their movements the moment they realize they’re on camera—which seems to be nearly all the time.

How’s there room in that sensibility for silence, for thoughtfulness, for reverence? And, when the media would have us valuing everything by how little time it takes, what does that say about things whose awesomeness is their very slowness and certainty?

Are we being lulled back into a culture more of reaction than intention? Is it all, as some would have us believe, about conflict, about winners and losers? Would we really rather react to what someone else says and use it to demonize him, than to come up with our own ideas and then advocate for them civilly?

What we need is an intentionality revolution. Let’s take back our sense of responsibility for what we do and think.

When someone sticks a video camera in your 
face, act like yourself, not a character in 
someone else’s play.
  • Do things because you want to do them, not because you feel guilty or obligated, or because someone might think you have nothing better to do. Decide what’s most important to you and then do it. 
  • When someone sticks a video camera in your face, act like yourself, not a character in someone else’s play.
  • Find one or two sources of news you respect and trust, sources that are long on content and balance, short on sensationalism. Sure, you can consume other news media if you find it entertaining, but realize that’s all it is – entertainment.
  • Don’t wait for others to set the agenda. Take a few moments to figure out what you want, and then start making plans to do it.
  • Respect your own plans; you’re entitled to have an agenda. In fact, perhaps even more importantly, even if you don’t have one, you’re entitled to that too.
  • If you find yourself always doing what a certain friend wants to do, make sure you get to choose next time. If that doesn’t work, maybe that person’s not as good a friend as you thought.

When you’re in Nature, expect to experience fascination and wonder. But realize that, when Nature invites us to notice, she often does so very quietly. Here, there are no sound bites or zingers. If you’re to hear the invitation above the din of other voices in your head and heart, turn them down…no, turn them off!

Even once you’ve made room for them in your consciousness, the many wonders life and Nature hold for us aren’t always readily apparent. (If they were more apparent, they wouldn’t be wonders, would they?) And finding wonder is often as much about the process of discovering something as it is about the discovery itself.

In fact, Nature’s little miracles seldom happen without your doing something—turning something over, looking from a different angle, or just deciding it’s worth waiting and watching for something to happen.

Don’t just use your eyes. Touch everything you can without hurting it; listen to it; what the heck, why not smell it. Notice where everyone else is looking…and look the other way. If you’re at a concert or sports event, look at the faces of the people behind you. (This can be especially rewarding at kids’ music recitals or individual sports events; see if you can pick out the parents of the kid performing.)

This takes no skill at all; everything we need 
we already have.

When everyone’s listening to something, try filtering out the obvious and listening for some of the softer sounds always at play in the background. If it’s music, see if you can distinguish the sounds of the orchestra’s sections or of individual instruments. (I must admit it, when I listen to music at home or at work, it’s hard for me to give it my complete attention; I’m as likely to be appreciating the accompaniment of a bird singing just outside the window.)

The intentionality revolution is about reclaiming our God-given instincts. Despite our culture of excess, despite all the competing demands on our lives, despite the coordinated assault of the dumbed-down media and pop culture, we can still learn—or should I say re-learn—how to be fully present with Nature.

And, believe it or not, this takes no skill at all; everything we need we already have. Curiosity, wonder, hope, humility and the sense of play still come as standard equipment when we’re born. All we have to do is dig them out and give them some air.

Friday, August 10, 2012

DANCING WITH TURKEYS – Spirits Take Wing at a Small-town Mexican Wedding (part two of two)


(I'm attending a friend of a friend's wedding fiesta in Santiago Tenango de Reyes, Pueblo. We've been invited to the home of the groom's parents for an intimate family gathering just before the bigger party begins.)

Still working on the tamale course, I needed to take a break, and asked where to find the bathroom. Following the directions upstairs, I found myself with several rooms to choose from, each separated from the hall by a thick curtain.

For no particular reason I picked door number two and swept open the curtain. The young woman sitting on the toilet five feet in front of me scrambled to cover herself with a handful of toilet paper, but the damage was done. I exclaimed, backed gingerly away and waited nervously across the hall.

When she emerged, I gestured toward my heart with both hands and said earnestly: ¡Estoy tan embarasado! She seemed to accept my apology graciously, which must have been really hard for her, since—as I later found out—I'd just managed to forget about one of the most notorious false cognates in Spanish, and had exclaimed "I'm so very pregnant!"

I'd just managed to forget about one of the most notorious false cognates in Spanish, and had exclaimed "I'm so very pregnant!"

Eventually, we all returned to the main party and sat down at one of the long tables. As we made up for lost time with yet more bottles of tequila and beer, the volunteer servers brought each of us a gigantic bowl of chicken mole. (There must have been half a chicken in each bowl!)

The parents of the groom, sitting near us, were presented with even bigger bowls—each the size of a large casserole, filled with what looked like half a turkey!

The mole, with its complex blend of flavors, was very good, but none of us could even begin to finish such a portion. Apologizing, we were told not to worry; soon big plastic buckets were passed around and everyone just dumped in their leftovers. They offered us one of the buckets to take home with us, but we deflected the generosity to others whom we suspected would be far better able to use the food.

Now that it was dark, the mariachis wrapped up their gig and joined the party. Huge speakers and portable banks of equally loud colored lights had been installed right outside the dining area, under another big tarp. An endless flow of recorded popular and ranchero music started to blare, and people began to dance.

We'd heard somewhere about the wedding fiesta tradition of dancing with goats or turkeys, which then would be slaughtered for dinner.

We'd heard somewhere about the wedding fiesta tradition of dancing with goats or turkeys, which then would be slaughtered for dinner. (This, I guessed, might be a remnant of Mayan or Aztec sacrificial offerings.) Sure enough, after an hour or so of dancing, the floor cleared and four older men (I suppose they were the village's elders) walked out, each holding a huge live guajolote (turkey) in his arms.

A simple, rhythmic music started and each man danced with his turkey. It was a plain, elegant dance, just stepping, moving and turning with the music, and both the men and the spectators (and the poor birds for that matter) seemed subdued, even reverent.

By this time, I'd had several beers and probably five or six tequilas. I was honestly beginning to believe that the people I'd been trying to converse with could understand me and vice versa. While waxing more and more “fluent,” I looked up and suddenly there was a turkey in my arms. Apparently one of the men had singled me out as the "elder" of our group. Before I could object, I was being pushed by the crowd out on the dance floor and did the only thing I could: I danced with a turkey.

With the sensation of the warm, damp feathers on my hands 
and arms, I let the both the music and my emotions move me 
around the floor.

The bird was surprisingly docile, given what must have been, for him, the otherworldliness of the situation. There I was, with the other three men, being watched by half the village, and the reality of the situation broke through the fog in which the tequila had shrouded me. While I was very much in the moment with the sensation of the warm, damp feathers on my hands and arms, I also felt a transcendent sense of peace and contentment as I let the both the music and my emotions move me around the floor. Then a very conscious thought rose through the raw motion: a prayer that I would never forget this magical moment.

Eventually, the loud music and less serene dancing returned, and the turkeys disappeared. A few minutes later, four young men crossed the dance floor, unceremoniously carrying the now limp bodies of the big birds by their necks. But, since everyone already had eaten dinner, I was left wondering what became of them. Still in my reverie, I never thought to ask.

After the turkey dance, people seemed to look at me differently, with approving smiles, I thought. I did my best to engage in small talk, but couldn't make out much of what they said above the thunderous music and my re-thickening fog of inebriation.

About midnight, we decided that, after such a long day, we'd find the hotel Silverio had booked for us along the road back to Puebla. But one of the wedding couple's relatives wouldn't hear of it, insisting we stay at his home. So we got our bags from the van and ambled off with him down the street. The music abated long enough for an even noisier round of fireworks.

A deafening aerial bomb went off, rattling the few religious 
trinkets decorating the walls.

The house was relatively nice compared with most of the working-class Mexican homes I'd seen, with several sparsely decorated, apparently unused, small bedrooms. Kip and I shared one of them. The beds were quite nice, with decent mattresses, but, as in so many Mexican homes, the room cringed under the harsh light of a single bare bulb.

Just as we'd settled in, turned out the light and closed our eyes, the music started again at the party, blasting as if it were coming from the next room. At the same instant a deafening aerial bomb went off, rattling the few religious trinkets decorating the walls. Kip and I both burst into laughter at the amazing experience...and the obvious futility of trying to sleep.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

DANCING WITH TURKEYS – Spirits Take Wing at a Small-town Mexican Wedding (part one of two)

My wife and I have taken a couple of tour-type vacations. You know, the ones where a guide takes a whole group of you around on a big tour bus. This kind of trip has a few distinct advantages, but experiencing authentic, unscripted local culture is not one of them. Generally, you're steered to events that appear to be staged especially for tour groups and, uncannily, they always manage situate you so you can’t get back to the bus without a trip through the gift shop.
     Traveling on one's own, especially if you can do so with someone who lives there, often proves richer and more memorable. For it’s one thing to witness the culture of a place and a people; it’s another to live it. It’s a rare opportunity, one that seldom occurs without a convergence of effort, connections, and timing. Oh, and sheer dumb luck.

                                                        *     *     *

The weather in Mexico City was sunny and clear, but for the usual blanket of brown smog pressing down on this, the sixth largest city in the world. It was clear enough, though, to see Popocatepetl, crowned with clouds. Popo, Mexico’s most active volcano, is only 45 miles away from the center of Mexico City and her 20 million inhabitants and about half as far from Puebla, with another two million. It is within striking distance of all of them, a cataclysm-in-the-making, since eruptive activity has occurred as recently as January, 2008.

I was traveling with my Mexican-American friend and Spanish tutor, Silverio, along with two of his other students, Anne and Kip.

Silverio’s friends, Ignacio (Nacho) and his wife Martha, picked us up in the van he’d rented for us for the week. We drove right from the airport about 80 miles southeast to the state of Puebla and the small village of Santiago Tenango de Reyes, where we were to attend the wedding fiesta for one of Nacho's friends.

We three unusually tall, unusually pale norte- americanos) walked in to what seemed only slight curiosity from the 100 or so locals.

As we drove into Santiago, we realized just how small a town it was—only about eight blocks long and maybe three or four wide. Its population couldn't have been more than a couple hundred. We parked the van and walked a couple blocks on nearly-deserted cobblestone streets before we came to a broad alley between two cinder block buildings. There the stark space had been converted into a cheery hall by a huge bright yellow-and-green-striped tarp strung between the second stories above.


The six of us (Silverio, Nacho, Martha and we three unusually tall, unusually pale norte- americanos) walked in to what seemed only slight curiosity from the 100 or so locals—evidently half the folks in town—sitting at long rented tables. Within a minute, though, Nacho was proudly introducing us to the bride and groom (the groom Nacho’s co-worker in Mexico City), to the groom’s parents and to the couple’s padrino (something like a godfather). Pony beers and tequilas were in seemingly endless supply, and for the rest of the evening were cheerfully placed into whichever of our hands happened to be free at any time.

A ten-piece mariachi band dispensed its energetic music from the far end of the hall. The charro, or lead singer, is one of Nacho's cousins. Before I knew it, he was announcing something into the microphone about guests from far away and then something more familiar: “...por Cheff, de Meeny-sota…” Suddenly, I was aware that all the guests had now stopped talking and turned to look at us.

The next song, apparently just dedicated to me by Nacho, was Como Quien Pierde una Estrella (Like One Who Loses a Star), my favorite of the songs Silverio had taught us in class. I always love mariachi music, but I was especially moved by this rendition and Nacho's thoughtful gesture!

I kept wondering if I'd be so generous and thoughtful if roles were reversed. 

After about an hour the parents of the groom asked us to join them. Leaving the other guests to their dinners, we walked about a block down the street to their home. Waiting for us inside were the bride and groom, still in their wedding finery, five or six other adult members of the immediate family and a few kids.

We sat down at the dining room table and were served what Silverio explained is a sort of appetizer course traditional for weddings: two types of tamales freshly steamed in corn leaves, two bright little gelatins which tasted like they might have been flavored by chiles, a sweet, crispy, deep-fried sort of cookie, and atole, a hot, creamy, corn-based drink flavored with chocolate, cinnamon or other notes.

It was already the experience of a lifetime just to attend the fiesta, but this—being welcomed like this into this dear family—made us feel deeply honored. I kept wondering if I'd be so generous and thoughtful if roles were reversed.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

STROKES OF WONDER – An Ode to the Canoe

Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle 
a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature. 
PIERRE TRUDEAU, Former Prime Minister of Canada

When I was ten, my cabin group at YMCA Camp St. Croix set out on what ranked then—and may still rank—as the longest canoe trip ever undertaken by the camp's trip program. In eight days we paddled 360 miles from Hudson, Wisconsin down the St. Croix and then the mighty Mississippi to East Dubuque, Illinois.

I'd canoed before—I spent my summers just a few blocks away from a
particularly quiet and beautiful stretch of the St. Croix further north. But the long Mississippi trip was the first time I'd learn the finer points of this, the most serene of water craft.

Those eight days, for a ten-year-old, might as well have been a trans-continental expedition for all I learned about buoyancy, balance, wind, waves, currents and navigation, not to mention the capacity of my own body and spirit.

I feel more comfortable sitting on that cane seat 
and paddling than I do walking on dry land.

Since that great adventure, I've been lucky enough to paddle many other rivers
and streams, as well as much of northeastern Minnesota's amazing Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), a mostly wild network of more than 1,000 lakes and rivers, most of them interconnected with portage trails. There,
I've learned still more, handling rapids, beaver dams, knee-deep muskeg and June
snow squalls.

I've had my own canoe for 35 years. It's a Mansfield Osprey, a thirteen-foot wood-and-fiberglass fishing model made by the Stowe Canoe Company in Vermont back in the early 1970's. In the thousands of hours and miles I've spent in that sweet craft, much of it paddling solo, we've gotten to know each other very well.

This newer model of my Osprey has a portage yoke.

While I'm far from a competitive paddler, that canoe's taught me how to turn on a dime, go forward and backward, even sideways. I can paddle with barely a sound; wild critters walk away from me instead of bolting in terror. I can flip her up onto my shoulders, where her center thwart sits so lightly that I don't even need a yoke.

I can honestly say I feel more comfortable sitting on that cane seat and paddling than I do walking on dry land. The balance, the control, the movements have all become second nature to me.

What other craft can you carry for a mile or more and plop down in waters otherwise inaccessible? Which will let you glide through places barely two inches deep? Does any let you drift silently, close enough to birds, animals and fish to practically touch them?

Is there another transport that offers a more fair and honest exchange of your energy for movement, one which treads more lightly and leaves no trace of your presence when you leave?

Swirly footprints mark her passage, then congeal back into glassy reflection.

If waterways are Nature's arteries, my canoe lets me feel their pulse. Their waves rock me—sometimes a bit too roughly; their upcurrents and eddies lift and turn me; their temperature seeps through the thin ash ribs so I can feel the cold and warm spots on my feet.

And then there's the sheer beauty and grace of a canoe. Those sumptuous curves, converging at the apexes of bow and stern. The way it gently parts the waves, presses them down and then releases them. Swirly footprints mark her passage, then congeal back into glassy reflection.

Two Men In a Canoe – Winslow Homer, 1895

I've always preferred wooden canoes—or at least partially wooden. Aluminum canoes, though durable, are cold, noisy and heavy. Kevlar canoes are light, but their translucence is unnerving. The material's extremely tough for its weight—but only against impact, not abrasion. It can practically stop a cannon ball, but running it up on a gravel beach a few times will bring it to its knees.

Paddling a wooden canoe is like sitting inside a piece of fine furniture, one that transports you both physically and esthetically. Because much of its material comes from Nature, I always feel like a wooden canoe belongs in Nature.

In touch with the water, open to the sky, quiet as a breeze, I feel my surroundings embrace me—and I them. More than any other thing or place in my life, my little Osprey bonds me with Nature, reminding me not just where I truly belong, but who I really am.