Hubbardton, Vermont: Zen Mind, First-Generation Mind

April 17, 2021. Hubbardton, Vermont.
Soundtrack:
Druids – Yeyin

“We need to hike,” she told me.

“Yes.”

It was never an argument. As I may have mentioned by now, Vermont is nothing but woods. She alleges that she is a green witch. Woods are green. For my part, I liked the experience of being out in nature before all the eggheads started publishing fringe studies suggesting that a walk in the woods and eating fruit is better for your mental health than blowing rails of Pixie Sticks and watching 10 hours of Netflix alone in your bed.

There was also Beefton to consider. He forgets he’s a lethargic couch ornament when you take him into the woods, and goes caroming through the underbrush, gasping like a sleep apneiac in a doomed effort to catch wildlife. The furry little golem is too slow to catch other dogs, let alone squirrels or rabbits, but we must imagine Sisyphus fulfilling his evolutionary pack-hunting imperative. “Sweet dreams of the chase, and a mouthful of blood,” as Thomas Harris put it.

The Witch and I had both grown increasingly feral over the quarantine, I from my anachronistic training regimen and unyielding dedication to my unga bunga bullshit, and she from her penchant for collecting and cataloguing rocks, a pursuit she regarded as equal parts secular and spiritual. The prowling and hauling had left her long limbs knotted with muscle, and I found her nonchalant ability to move faster than me along hiking trails both impressive and irritating.

So why, then, had we spent so much of our brief time in arboreal oblivion locked in the haunted farmhouse, gnawing steak and charcuterie?

“It’s still raining,” I said.

“Well, we can’t just not hike in Vermont,” she said. “But a lot of the trails are washed out because it’s ‘the muddy season’?”

“The muddy season.”

“Yeah.”

“When you say washed out,” I asked, “do you mean we’re wading upstream? I’ve got the big waterproof boots. I’m good to go. Never had to use them when it’s 40 degrees, but I gotta get out of this room. The chair is whispering again.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Never worry about it. Washed out?”

“A lot of it is hills and canyons,” she explained, gesticulating in a fashion both attention-deficit and highly Italian, “so the trails just… wash away. Wash off the mountain.”

“So it’s like a cliff. Hiking cliffs, like mountain goats.”

“Maybe? Good thing we got Cap stelliums to go around, huh?”

“Athena sends her soggiest battles to her antsiest soldiers. Beefy! We ride!”

Beefton launched from his concrete mattress and stretched into a flawless downward dog pose to evince his readiness.

“It is a good day to die,” Beefy said, though not in so many words.

The rain didn’t stop, but it shuffled its feet and hesitated long enough for us to find the Taconic Mountain Ramble, known and beloved far and wide for its Japanese Zen garden trail.

“Look at all that infrastructure,” I said. “There’s no way this leads to a state park. We’re going to get out of the car, and a cannibal hermit is going to put us on meathooks in his basement.”

“We’ll have to steer clear of basements, then.”

“He’s gonna take our skin, Witch,” I said. “You roll around in cocoa butter all the time, and I subsist on water and fish oil. Finest hides in Vermont right now. You saw the Vermontians at the restaurants. Woeful skin. Like the before pictures on a ProActiv commercial.”

“It’s because they’re always drinking maple syrup, I’ll bet.”

This was true, and disgusting. Maple syrup is to Vermont as ouzo is to Athens, in that no matter where you go, what you order, or what time of day it is, they will give you a little cup of it. I asked for hot sauce for my french fries, they asked “hot sauce or wing sauce?”, and I said hot sauce again. They brought me a little ramiken of wing sauce, and my highly refined palette immediately determined that some rabid anarchist jackal poured maple syrup in it.

“Gross,” she added.

We parked the car and I covered my bases.

“Beefy, there will likely be an abduction attempt. I need you to eat our kidnappers before they eat us. Your bloodline reaches back to the molossus, the great Roman dogs of war. You were bred for this.”

Beefton leaned across the center console and licked my face.

“No, dammit,” I said. “I need your war face. Who wants blood? Huh? Whom wanna drink blood?”

His ears lifted higher onto his head.

“I do,” he said.

“You wanna get a little blood? Huh? Who’s a blood drinking boy?”

“I am! I drink blood!”

I opened the back door and he uncoiled like a spring, bolting out into the forest teeth-first, jowls waving in the cold mist.

“Go get ’em!” I said. “Save yourself! Kill them all!”

We followed the trail down past an incongruous trailer. The Witch suggested the park rangers probably used it when the trails were open during the non-muddy season, but that first sign suggested that the great state of Vermont wasn’t funnelling too much of that good maple tax lucre into the parks system. Just beyond the trailer was The Spot.

Which, conveniently, faces away from the trailer, keeping you leaned back in the Adirondack, off balance and too distracted by nature’s splendor to notice the chloroform rag until it’s too late.

We wended our way into the Zen garden, which was gorgeous even in shitty weather, and must be incredible when it’s nice out.

There were two huge boulders with chairs at the top, but only one was accessible. The ladders were washed out from the other one. We could have feasibly freeclimbed it in the summer, but with the frozen moss and our wet, clunky hiking boots, we opted to take turns on the first.

Beefton flew into a screaming frenzy when we climbed the ladders, which were arranged in short, tiered platforms, not unlike the level design of the original Donkey Kong. He found his way up one, then panicked and jumped back down, slamming his chest against the earth and using the bounce to propel himself in a noisy, savage loop around the whole little lagoon. Fortunately, he is indestructible, and learned an important lesson about ladders.

We loitered on the rocks, amassing karma until we got hungry enough to go find something else undoubtedly made with maple syrup.

Love,

B.

Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


It wasn’t bad, for fanfiction about trees. I just couldn’t figure out a practical way to use this book. That said, the ideas Wohlleben presented were interesting, and I learned a lot. He anthropomorphizes the hell out of the trees, but in trying to frame the forest as a superorganism that communicates chemically and, to a lesser extent, verbally, through its roots and through fungal messengers, you would sort of have to.

Verbally is a stretch, but not only do trees generate their own bioacoustics, they can “hear” other frequencies operating at 220 Hz and grow toward them. Trees stick together. They’re a cooperative bunch. Wohlleben would undoubtedly call them social organisms, if nobody stopped him. He talks about a tree stump in one of the forests he rangers in, chopped down and unable to maintain its biological processes for hundreds of years, yet still alive due to the life support provided it by neighboring trees transfering over nutrients through their interconnected root system.

He goes into great detail about various “behavioral patterns” of different trees, and this is where he started to lose me, since I don’t have enough background knowledge of trees to appreciate it. He holds forth about the wacky hijinks of birches as compared to the more sedate beeches for 40 pages of translated German and I don’t have the context to shake my head ruefully like “oh, those kooky birches”. For that reason, I suspect this book would get a better than 3-star rating from real naturalists, long-time Boy Scouts, and native German speakers.

It’s an awful dry read for a book that draws on so little empirical science, but it’s illuminating in its scope. We think of trees as inanimate objects, the same way we think of walls, or the structural metallic garbage we huck everywhere. Trees are alive, and not just alive in the way bacteria are alive. We have skin, and trees have bark. We have blood, and trees have sap. If you cut through the bark, they lose sap, and become susceptible to infections and parasites. Trees will fight to survive, will attempt to scab over the wound, will deploy poisons and tannins and, sometimes, mercenary fungus to fight off the potential threats to their life. Not only that, they will communicate to the trees around them that they’re under attack using chemicals and acoustics, shooting through what’s functionally an arboreal internet of connected root systems that encapsulates whole forests, and the trees in that vicinity will respond to their “warning” by bringing their own flood of tannins to the surface of their bark in preparation for the coming attack.

It talks a lot about tree competition too, and the slow races to the top of the canopy to maximize photosynthetic potential. Mother trees dropping seeds and then limiting their growth by choking off their access to light, forcing the young trees to focus on strength of trunk and bark thickness for a hundred years before the mother tree finally dies, opening a hole in the canopy for her offspring to access the rest of the light, even as they draw on the decay of her trunk for nutrients.

The Hidden Life of Trees is ideal if you’re a hippie, some kind of deep anprim, or an absolute dweeb about plants. For the layman or hobbyist, it’s not hugely accessible, though not for the usual reasons. Still, I don’t regret the time I put into it. At least now I know that the psilocybin was telling the truth.



View all my reviews

Hidden in the Moors

August 12, 2018. Brookline, New Hampshire.

I was drinking the terrible, watery coffee and eating the terrible, watery waffles in the hotel lobby, carboloading for the art gallery we had slated today. Allegedly, they had early Monets. The TV was too loud, so I had no choice but to hear every detail of developing vandal scandal wherein somebody hit Donnie Trump’s walk of fame star with a pickaxe.

Obviously, I chortled. Who didn’t? My mirth enraged a squadron of portly dads, who proceeded to talk too loud about “these goddamn Democrats”, presumably for my benefit. I do have big black glasses and a beard. You couldn’t blame them for jumping to conclusions. After they didn’t point directly at me to tell me what was wrong with my generation, they quieted down and proceeded into some light racism.

The news then heel-face turned into a story about the New Hampshire Food Truck festival that was taking place a mere 15 minutes from my very table. Well, that settled it. To Hell with Monet. Life is the true art.

The Girl eventually woke and I explained to her that culture can only be absorbed by immersion. She blinked at me blearily and said, “That’s nice.”

It was decided. We drove out to the New Hampshire Dome in Milford.

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It was an imposing structure, but the trucks weren’t in it. When you consider what the trucks are for, it makes sense to not put them indoors.

The traffic cone rope and the tiny Hampshirians in their reflective vests pointed us up the hill, into the woods. The obvious choice.

We were not prepared for what we saw.

It was around 11 AM, and the expansive selection was still setting up; the juggalo-themed art tent wouldn’t arrive for another hour or so. We made a beeline to the Indochine Pavilion.

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The critics, as you can see, were raving. The N.Y. Times called them “Good”! To maximize our food truck festivities and truly appreciate all that NH had to offer, the Girl and I decided we wouldn’t get any actual meals from these trucks. Chicken garlic on a stick are three of my favorite things, so we started there.

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it was, at very least, a three-star affair

From there we proceeded to a local breakfast favorite, the fried manicotti.

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just like mom used to fry. excuse my product placement, Asics is giving me kickbacks

And what New Hampshire foggy moor outing would be complete without the statewide signature favorite, Hot Ballz?

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a bold claim

What are hot ballz, you may ask? A reasonable question. Imagine a hush puppy. Now, instead of spicy dough, fill it with mac and cheese.

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That was about the time I had a heart attack. Bloated with cheese and grease, the Girl and I waddled back out of the moors and, unbelievably, decided our best course of action would be a hike along the Andres Institute of Art outdoor exhibit.

I liked the freaky baby head, but most of the installments looked like the little brass sculptures you find in every flea market. Not to denigrate them; that’s exactly where I found Sir Tetanus the Tintinnabulatory, and he has been a trusted friend and guardian for well over ten years.

mymans

my mans

It started to rain in earnest, and the exhibits were not arranged in an overly user-friendly fashion. If you wanted to see them all, you’d need to take the 14 mile loop. We didn’t want to see them all.

The Girl and I bade a fond(ish) farewell to New Hampshire, and marathon drove home, pausing only to hit a Dunkin Donuts and listen to a hefty local woman scream vitriol at a teenage counter attendant over their lack of donut selection. Imagine her horror if she found outthey’re just called “Dunkin Coffee” in Europe.

And so concludes this leg of the chronicle. Now that I’m financially stable, and so firmly rooted in Philly that I occasionally say “jawn”, it’s time to begin local exploration in earnest.

Love,

The Bastard