Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: The Glade

Henderson's glenI have been experiencing potent daydreams over the last week.  Really they are little flashes of transference, brief moments where my conscious self is in a different place than I am.  It is less than an out of body experience – a concept which my reason will not allow – but it is much more than simply thinking about or remembering or longing to be somewhere.  Everyone has had similar experiences, when all of a sudden another place or time from memory, or even a fiction from imagination, floods into one’s head so strongly that the smell, sound and feel of it is palpable.

My daydream is no fiction: it is a small glade two thousand feet up and three miles in along the bushwhack route we take to Lost Brook Tract.  Some disturbance created it many decades past, a long enough span of time so that almost no trace of downed trees remains.  Since then the fortunes of wind and slope, of patterns of water running down the bedrock below the soil, have kept it from filling back in.  Surrounded by a ring of birch, spruce and balsam, it is perhaps fifty feet by thirty feet in extent, carpeted in ferns and boreal undergrowth.

At the northern end of the glade sits its distinctive feature: a mountain ash that long ago rooted its opportunistic self in the newly opened patch of forest and hung on, stubbornly fighting the wind, elevation and bitter winter cold.  It never grew very tall, its stunted crown kept low by the severe conditions.  But as the years accumulated their weight upon it, the bark grew thick and rough, the trunk and lower branches widened and twisted and the upper branches found ways to push out to the sides, curving under their own weight and making a canopy more like one might expect from an old apple or cherry tree.  There it sits, welcoming those who might stumble into the glade – all animals surely, for no people venture there – postured like an ancient, benevolent fruit tree marking the seasons in an long-abandoned English garden.

No one I know but me has ever lingered in this glade.   No one has spread a picnic lunch at the foot of the old ash tree.  It is a quiet, lonely place, a very still place, a place that feels for all the world as though it has been undisturbed since before human memory, maintaining its small bit of acreage from icy past to beyond any imagination of death.  I always linger here on the way to Lost Brook Tract, its boundary no more than a quarter of a mile distant.  I’m drawn to linger, made to, because of feelings I cannot really explain .

This time of year as the first snows fall, my longing to be in the Adirondack wilderness becomes a physical pull.  It always starts in mid November, like clockwork.  But this is something more.  Three nights ago I was lying with Amy, intertwined under the covers in drowsy twilight.  Needing the bathroom she began to gently wriggle toward the edge of the bed, her warm skin peeling away from mine.  At that moment I suddenly found myself transported.  I was in bed with her, my arm still draped over her back as she shifted away.  Yet I was in the glade as well, my feet compressing the soft loam, the ferns brushing against my calves, staring at the old ash tree as though I was waiting for it to address me.

Amy finished extricating herself from my embrace.  My arm fell away, the last touch of her lost.  A void filled the space between us, an absence,  a dead space, cold and clinical.  To feel Amy part from me is always to feel such a void, but this time the last of my presence in the bedroom vanished and I was swept whole into the far Adirondacks.

As I faced the canopied ash, its welcoming pose made for no man, something of the glade, of the wild otherworld, spoke to me.  It said to me there is nothing of your life here.  All you have known or done is nothing.  Your children are gone, your past has died away and I have been here, living according to the rhythms of the primeval for a thousand generations.

Even as I heard these thoughts I remembered that there is also the void, beyond all things, beyond even the glade, beyond my antique wellspring of fading memories and youth, waiting to be filled, to be satisfied in some way.

As I age and my less meaningful vestments fall away, I come to the certainty that there are only two powers that can answer the awful, terrible need the void requires of me, to make it flush, to overwhelm its emptiness.

One is Amy, always and ever, inseparable, as final as the void itself, maker of it, arbiter of it.

The other is the Adirondack wilderness: Lost Brook Tract and the tarn below Redfield and Moss Pond and most of all that glade, caring not for my being, knowing not of any designs of men or lovers, yet able to speak like nothing else to everything that I never was, ever was and ever could be, to my ancestors and to my future family, unconceived and unborn.


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Pete Nelson

Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.

When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.

Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

5 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    Beautiful, Pete.

  2. Paul says:

    Wow, this is really something. Thanks for sharing this. This reminded me of one of my favorite writers Sydney Lea, Pete perhaps you have read some of his work. I am sure you would like it. He is the poet laureate for Vermont:

    My favorite is a book entitled “hunting the whole way home”. It is more of a collections of “poems” (some are essays like this) on the true experience of being in the woods and what it means to many people who participate in this activity. But much of it applies to anyone spending lots of time in the wilds.

    Thanks again.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Thanks Paul, for the thoughtful comment. I do not know Sydney Lea but will be sure to read him now.

      Thanks again,


      • Paul says:

        Another good one is “Place in Mind” also by Sydney Lea (in this case a novel). This piece also reminded me of that. You can see how your piece made me think of that tittle! In the book he talks more about the importance to him of the places and how he thinks about them rather than the story or the actual places he describes. But the story is good also (that one is about looking back on a life of trout fishing).

        It is really perfect for some of the discussions here. It is about the friendship of a man (a professor (again thought of you)) who spends his summers at his riverside cabin where he fishes with his friend and caretaker (the superstitious woodsman local guy). This as development spreads all around them and threatens to change their world. Much of the dynamic that we see play out in these discussions is in this novel.

        It is very much a “River runs through it” type of “fishing” book.

        • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:


          I finally got a a chance to go read some Sydney Lea. I could see immediately why you mentioned him. The thematic undercurrents to his writing have much in common with things I’m feeling. I appreciate you bringing him to me.



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