This week marks the end of Volume Seven of this blog. Sunday, January 1, 2023, I will begin Volume Eight. It did not go where I had expected it to, though few things in my life, if anything, have gone where I thought they would. I also could not conceive that I’d still be doing this going on eight years. It proves the notion that if you just keep showing up, things happen.
When I started the blog in January of 2016, my father had just died a few months earlier, I was still senior faculty at a college in Virginia Beach, was still senior faculty at a university on the naval base, my mother still lived in a large condominium and my brother lived in Texas. None of those things are true anymore; or, the truths of those things are in the past, as most realities in our life tend to be, eventually.
I thought this site would be a simple escape into nature, and for a while it was. I wrote about geese, about the river and the bay, about the hawks and eagles here at Aerie, and about the wildlife we discovered here at night while looking at the stars. But as the weeks and months progressed, it became more about the nature of things, including and perhaps most significantly, human nature, particularly my own. I recognized a few of my many flaws, proving in some small ways to myself that “Writing to Learn” really does work, noting those times I wrote myself out of a depression or into a corner and back out again.
The changes kept coming, as they are apt to do: I left the college. I left the university (or the university left us, as it shut down because of Covid and never reopened). I lost touch with people I knew well for a very long time understanding finally that sometimes people we thought were friends were really simply colleagues with whom we shared a world. Mostly, I spent more time on the river, along the trails of the Chesapeake region. When I started this blog, President Obama was still in office. As the years moved drudgingly by, someone else came, and now President Biden holds down his temporary quarters. There was no such thing as Covid, we hardly ever used terms like quarantine, masks, social-distancing. Yet as we did, nature became more important, no longer simply a refuge, my escape, but a place to breathe without worry, a place to walk without concern.
Professionally, this blog led to a book, A Third Place: Notes in Nature. Among writers, blogs are somewhat controversial. Some believe it can distract from real writing, absorb your energy from completing more worthy works. I understand the argument. But I’ve always had several layers of writing going on at the same time. There is the serious material I know I want to send to publications, perhaps even in book form, as in the case of my current larger projects including Wait/Loss, Front Row Seat, and Curious Men. Then there is the raw material—the stuff I read in bars with the likes of Tim Seibles—stuff we generally don’t expect to be published and which certainly won’t appear here; stuff we prefer you hear when you’ve been drinking and where recording is strictly prohibited. Other work, too, got done. A reissue of a book about Van Gogh, Blessed Twilight, and The Iron Scar: A Father and Son in Siberia–this year’s book about riding the trans-Siberian railway with my son whose pictures grace the book in a gallery of several dozen of his shots.
But there is the middle work, the journaling, the reflections, the prompts, the thoughts, the spewing of anger at politicians, the rants at society for ignorance and negligence, and the confessions to those I know and those I do not know about so many of my shortcomings, failures, and misunderstandings. Many times what I thought would be a work about nature turned out to include my heart on my sleeve; yeah, I’ve exposed much in these six years and as a result some people pulled back, others gathered closer. This has certainly been a cleansing experience. Nothing wrong with that at all.
But in the end this blog is a place I simply am what I am. I do not know if I’m departing this life tomorrow or in thirty years, but when I do, I’m leaving everything I can out there, exposed. This blog has taught me, is teaching me still, to be who I must, something I wish I had learned decades ago.
It started with one reader—me. Last week the unique readership numbered almost 1500 people, averaging just around 1200 every week. I’m very pleased by that. But make no mistake: I have no illusions that I am changing people’s minds about anything, including my own. I simply found a place to express myself instead of calling you on your cell phone and doing it. You’re welcome. In the end every single blog posting from the start to the finish is for me first.
I have written about dear friends who I thought I’d spend my life with, confidants I counted on to be there and to be there for, but they moved on too soon, like Cole and Joe and Trish and Ed and Bobbie and Dave and too many more to count. I’ve written about artists who I’ve known and whose work made me feel like they knew me, even the ones who I was never fortunate enough to meet, like Vincent van Gogh and Dan Fogelberg, John Denver, Harry Chapin, Mozart, Chopin, Pachelbel, Marley, Nick Drake and so many more whose music plays while I’m typing.
I’ve written about my son. About my dad. But still, mostly about nature both human and natural, always from my perspective, never anyone else’s. The advantage of a blog is we’re like street corner preachers standing on a milk carton flapping our sentiments to the wind, and some people hang out and nod, others hang out and get pissed off, but most just walk on by. That’s fine. I’d walk by too. I’ve never had a guest blogger. I’ve never skipped a week except when traveling, and even then I believe I scheduled some writing. I’m proud of this blog. It makes me feel like I’m being constructive when I should be raking leaves.
And if I haven’t written about some people, it’s because I didn’t want to, don’t want to, and never will want to. If I’ve learned anything at all, it’s reflective of the sentiment of that Long Island philosopher William Joel, to “do what’s good for you, or you’re not good for anybody.” Something else I learned way too late in life.
But a few other things I’ve learned in these now 450 posts:
Heron get frightened easily. Geese change course if they see humans. Hawks are hyper-focused on food and if you walk by one while they’re eyeing down a squirrel, they couldn’t give a rat’s ass you’re nearby.
Standing at this river and watching rockets lift from over at Wallops Island raises the hair on the back of my neck, as does standing in the yard and seeing the stars.
Bare trees in winter are as beautiful as the colors of fall and the buds of spring.
I’m stronger than I thought I was but nowhere near as smart as people think I am. My strength is creativity not intelligence, and my true abilities lie in expression, whether through writing, photography, and at one time music. I suck at finances, am shaky with quantum physics, and I do not know how to build an erector set.
Some of my posts never made it to publication because they were too honest, too scathing, and not fair. Some never made it to publication because as soon as I finished, I thought they could do better than A View, and they have, including pieces which went on to the Washington Post, The Sun, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. Other entries just sucked so I deleted them.
I learned that people prefer to laugh hard or cry exhaustively rather than the simple, boring rants or blogs about education. I learned that everyone can relate to nature, wishes they spent more time in nature, feels more relaxed in nature.
I’ve learned that I prefer to be hit over the head by someone about how they feel about things rather than some slow reveal of the truth. And I’ve discovered that time spent with people who make you feel better about yourself is all there is left in life. There is no legacy, there is no endowment more valuable than that—to spend time with people who you love and who love you and who aren’t afraid to be truthful about that, no matter what, who are able to remain quiet without worry of that quietness.
This blog will continue with its bloated pretentiousness and condescending rants, but hopefully as well, readers will be more likely to notice the sun on the bottom edge of a cloud, the call of geese or the strong woosh of an egret’s wings. Too, I hope they are encouraged to reflect more often about how swift life is, and how we all know the simple truth is when we leave this world, we’re going to wish we had been more open with others, move loving, more honest with how we feel without concern of hurting or being hurt. And we will wish we had seen more sunsets. It is that simple.
The view from this wilderness is fragile and fast, and beautiful, and it is the same view as those reading in Mumbai, in London, in Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Mexico City, and Barcelona. The View from this Wilderness is not dependent upon coordinates. I’ve learned, too, that we need to help more people without them asking, and we need to let more people know we love them without worrying about their response. The old Japanese saying remains true: “Just because the message is not received doesn’t mean it is not worth sending.”
All artists like to know that people hear and appreciate us, but that’s not why an artist paints or a writer writes.
We write to remind ourselves that we miss too many sunsets, sunrises. We walk by too many flowers just beginning to open, and too many quiet lakes. We pass by too many mornings without opening the curtains and too many evenings without stepping outside. We move too swiftly through life, worrying more about grace than gratitude, more about lofty ambitions than love. And we believe everyone else does to, and we want to say so for them.
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Those of us here at A View from this Wilderness (that’d be just me) wish everyone a Happy New Year.
“Love when you can
Cry when you have to
Be who you must
That’s a part of the plan.”