Supper’s Sting

It’s dark when I get home. I leave the car at the end of the driveway where I shoveled out a space for it and hike into the cabin. The stars are brilliant, my only light as I wade through the snow. The door creaks open on antique hinges and I stamp the snow off my boots onto the chipped linoleum floor. Then I push open the door to the cabin’s only insulated room and dump my papers. Whatever warmth the cabin had in it when I left that morning has long fled into the winter forest. If the night air is 10 degrees, the cabin air is 12. Stacked under the porch is a week’s worth of firewood. I pile split spruce and balsam in my arms, put a handful of kindling on top, and dump it by the woodstove. The stove’s cast iron sides are chillingly cold. The wood is dry, over-seasoned, and I can be sloppy building the fire. The softwood catches easily. In the kitchen, the dishes I washed that morning haven’t dried, they’ve frozen—and stuck together. I break them apart. The water in the water buckets is also frozen. I keep a pot of water on the cook stove; the frail heat from the pilot light is enough to keep it ice free. I start supper. Thirty minutes later, amid great billows of steam, I spoon rice and beans onto a plate. Next to it, also steaming, sits a mug of tea. The salad is frozen, its greens ice-rimmed and crunchy. In the living room, I put the plate and mug on the top...

An Errant Circumnavigation

Talk given at the Explorers Club in New York City. Sea stories about sailing around the world with Kianui, who was the beauty and did all the work. Prior to leaving, my only experience sailing was in keeping out of the way. Find it...

At home

The chainsaw lies on its side on clean newspaper on the unblemished concrete floor of the neatly organized basement. Bar oil, a scrench, two Stihl manuals uncreased, undog-eared and without oil spots, are lined up alongside the bar. The bar is sheathed in its original protective case. It’s thirty years old, he says. And, I know, well used. Until their recent move, he and his wife lived with a woodstove for decades. It is being given to me and uncharitable thoughts of OCD, anal, nerd clog my mind. Thirty years—in that time, best as I can remember, we’d gone through three saws. A fourth, stripped to its carcass, lies in a box under my kitchen table. At home, it fires in just a handful of pulls. I bought some cleaner thinking I’d have to strip and rebuild the carburetor, but it runs smoothly. When I release the trigger, it idles without stalling and the chain comes to a stop. I had doubted such precision of tuning existed in nature. Two days later, not paying attention, I drop a tree on it smashing the housing.   The tree is a red maple that blew over in a spring gale. The root wad is ten feet high and its crown rests on a family of yellow birch that bow to their knees beneath its weight. Red maples never achieve the majesty of their maple-brethren. Short, often with several trunks you can ring with your hands growing from the same root system, they look like shrubs. This one has three trunks, each larger than the chainsaw is designed for. It will be...

World Navigator Adrift in Central NJ

Suddenly, Siri quits talking to me. I look at my iPhone: temperature alert; it is in danger of frying and has shut down. The Mallard is a north country car: no air conditioning. I toss the phone into the shade under the dash and pull over. I have no idea where I am; no idea where I am going and no idea how to get back. At home an hour earlier, I Googled “NJ hiking”, tapped the Lat/Long of a likely trail into my phone and took off, mindlessly following Siri’s directions. Even if I had a paper map, I wouldn’t know where to go. The phone cools and reboots. I stretch out my arm squinting; my reading glasses, the most powerful Walgreens sells, can’t resolve the text; it is too small and too faint in the bright sunlight. I hustle out of the car and crash thru the brush bordering the highway until I find a leafy tree casting a shadow. Google Maps doesn’t remember where we are headed. I have to hunt for it. I bring up Chrome; it crashes. I bring it up again; it hangs. I click up Safari, grudgingly thankful that Apple makes it impossible to uninstall—I tried. Cars whizz past me, tires on hot pavement, every one of them hogging bandwidth. My phone takes minutes to resolve each page. I don’t remember the name of the website or of the trail. I tap in likely search terms. After some minutes, I find a list of trails that looks familiar and click thru it. Find it. I click on the lat/long to bring up...