Tuesday, October 27, 2015


A month in paradise eventually comes to an end. As one with an adventurous spirit, this is a fact I knew all too well. It was summer in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom—July, one of the prettiest months—and my only obligations were to my slept-in bed and the half-full woodshed. Winter would be along soon. You could feel it whisper in the night.

Connor Island, common loon nesting ground, NEK, Vermont. Photo by Matt Reilly
    As I had many months to prepare for the sojourn, I was bubbling with a diverse bucket list, though I was without an agenda or timeline of any sort. That’s simply not how I operate. In the afternoons, and sometimes before breakfast, after my duty to the woodshed was filled, I disappeared.

    The tires of my mountain bike repurposed wintertime snowmobile trails, dry and cobbled in the warm season. Hiking and bushwhacking to unnamed ponds, mountainous peaks, mysterious rivulets, and feeder brooks preceded my fishing efforts, and were enjoyed much the same, if not more for the discovery. The larger ponds, Bald Hill and Newark, which gleam crystalline within the folds of the mountain I called home, I plied thoroughly with an aluminum-hull canoe, sometimes late into the night, and rarely without finding finned supper. Minks and otters of the shoreline, fish, vistas, landmarks, and intriguing features alike fell prey to the sharp memory of my digital lens. Blueberries were picked after an afternoon swim in the frigid glacial lakes with the dogs. Little time was lost for thinking.

    There came a time when the day had not yet been exhausted. Dinner had been concluded, and the late sunset of summer in New England was only looming. A short bike ride to aid in metabolism, down an old logging road and around a shallow, boggy pond, landed me at the lower end of Bald Hill Pond.

    I followed a trail of large boulders, extending out into a shallow bay, hopping carefully all the way, and found a relatively flat place on which to sit. My back to the few camps built upon the shoreline, human habitation was undetectable, save for the faint smell of smoke and my own thoughts. The cooling evening pulled air down from Bald Mountain, accented at the peak by a locally recognized fire tower, pooling above the lake’s surface the exquisite smells of spruce, hemlock, and maple.

    Life was evident. The frilly howls of common loons echoed through the hollows as quintessential reminders of the untamed character of the North Woods, as they pinwheeled from one pond to the next.

    The pond’s surface was calm, save for the erratic but delicate dimples of egg-laying mayflies. Because of their small size and constant movement, dimples are often the first indication of their presence from a distance, and they focused my attention on the happenings in the film.

    These insects spend most of their life as aquatic nymphs. Should they be fortunate enough to evade the hungry gaze of a trout during their time underwater, they become particularly vulnerable when they reach maturity and ascend in the water column and attempt to wriggle free of adolescence and into winged adulthood.

    The successful adults I could see, celebrating their victory by completing the circle of life. Upon depositing their embryos upon Bald Hill’s glistening surface, the mayflies took off—up into the air, only to disappear. It was then that an observant pair of finches took their turn in the process of life, darting rapidly from the haven of an adjacent cedar tree into the air to nab one of the unsuspecting parents, and returning to a limb to feed and prepare to do it again.

    Life is markedly short for the mayfly.

    To look back on that time, when I had no job, no commitments, from a time of intense study and work, I am thankful for the clarity it provided.

    It’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. Not what’s important to society or our community, but what’s important to us as individuals. That may seem an inherently selfish resolve, but without the time to allow our own minds and souls to be stimulated, it is hard to be outwardly and genuinely individual. We were all endowed with gifts meant to be manifested, and without pausing from time to time to reflect on those, there is waste. A gift is a terrible thing to waste.

*Originally published in The Rural Virginian

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