When The Pond in Winter Turns to Spring

A few years ago, I forced myself to finally read Walden. I hadn’t gotten around to reading it in high school or college and it seemed like one of those books I was supposed to read. I bought a copy while traveling for work, probably in 2007 or 2008, read the first 10 or so pages, and set it aside for several years. Books written in the 1800s are so hard to read, being full of long, run-on sentences that contain six different ideas. While I have been told that I talk that way (putting one idea into another and and then another, working my way deeper and deeper within the same thought), I don’t like that style of writing or reading.

I finally read Walden, after years of it sitting on my bookshelf.

So it took me forever to get around to reading Walden, and then another forever (or at least most of a winter) to actually read the entire book. It was good, but it wasn’t magnificent for me; it didn’t bowl me over the way that it apparently has for other people. [Sidenote: Instead, I’d recommend Braiding Sweetgrass which also contemplates the interaction of nature and humans; it was beautiful, and I had to read it in small, savoring bits because it was so breathtaking that I could hardly read a section without crying at something sad or beautiful or profound.]

But I liked Walden well enough and there were definitely many nice pieces of text that I underlined to save for later, and I expect that someday I will go back, reread the book, and think to myself: This book is amazing! Why didn’t I recognize this the first time I read it?!?

One thing that I like about Walden is that it is written as the year progresses, starting in the spring. Aldo Leopold starts The Sand County Almanac with the new year in January, but I think that if I ever write a book about this place, I would also be inclined to start it in the early spring because that feels like the new year to me. Because Walden starts in the spring, however, it means that the chapters describing winter felt really long and boring. There’s not a lot going on in the winter for Thoreau to observe (although he does observe more than the rest of us who tend to stay inside where its warm), and so there seem to be pages of detailed descriptions and long contemplation. During the near-final chapter The Pond in Winter, I couldn’t help but wonder: Will anything more happen before the book ends? 

Our pond in winter. Pretty boring, but at least the sun is out.

But there is one last chapter—Spring—that starts with the ice melting on Walden Pond. In the span of a few pages, the writing picks up and goes into rapid-fire descriptions of all of the changes that are happening: lake ice melting, ground thawing, a robin, geese, rain, and green grass. There is still plenty of cumbersome mid-19th century prose, but at least there is excitement—and many exclamation points!

This is how the end of Walden felt to me: There’s ice and snow. There’s still ice and snow. Let’s ponder all this ice and snow, and some Hindu gods too just because there’s nothing else to do. The ice is starting to melt now. The ice is going away. Hey, look at this. And this! And this! And this! And this and this! Spring! Ta-da! The end.

The ice is starting to melt (in western Massachusetts earlier this week).

And, funnily enough, I got to thinking about this today, because this is how life is feeling right now. We are currently right between “The ice is starting to melt now.” and “The ice is going away.” A week ago, I was feeling anxious and frustrated, which is really just being asymptomatic of cabin fever. [Another sidenote: This is why the tag Winter Never Ends is one of the most frequently used on my blog.]

Now that the trees are tapped and the ice is starting to melt, I’m feeling a bit better. Two nights ago, we went out to do some work on our land; I heard geese, and that made me so happy. Spring is not quite here yet, but in a few days I’ll be talking like this:  The ice is going away. Hey, look at this. And this! And this! And this! And this and this! Spring! Ta-da!

Happy spring!

p.s. As I was writing this post, I recalled a post from last year called Spring Starts a New Year and I wondered if I’d already written about some of these ideas. It seemed vaguely familiar—too familiar. Yup, I covered a lot of this same (frozen) ground year at pretty much the exact same time of the year. But I decided to keep going because this version is a bit different and captures my experience this spring.

Are you a woodpecker or a hummingbird?

Have you found your passion yet?

I haven’t, and it’s super-annoying.

Across many of the podcasts, websites, and books that I enjoy, there is a seemingly constant focus on finding that one thing that captivates your attention, sucks you in, and takes you along for the ride.

Call it your passion, your purpose, or your calling—call it whatever you want—once you find and unleash it, you’ll know exactly what to do with the rest of your life.

Perhaps this sounds ridiculous on the surface, but then so many people—including folks like Steve Jobs—talk about it so, well, passionately that it’s hard to dismiss the idea. And so I got sucked in and spent a long time wondering: What’s my passion? What’s that one lovely, magical idea that makes my soul sing and that I’ll pursue to the end of the earth?

I spent a few years looking. I didn’t find it, and that was dissatisfying. There just doesn’t seem to be one big, all-encompassing thing that I love more than anything else.

The author Elizabeth Gilbert knows her passion—to write—but after years of telling people to follow their passion, she realized that there were people like me that just didn’t get it. And so she came up with a great analogy that describes this divide.

There are people who know their passion, the one thing that really captivates them. These are the people that can focus day in and day out on that one single thing, diving deeper and deeper. There’s one thing they want to do and they love it. These people just hit that one thing over and over. She calls these people jackhammers because of this singular focus, but I’d rather call these people woodpeckers.

Why? Because she also points out that there is another type of person, whom she calls hummingbirds. Rather than keep hammering (or pecking) away at one single thing, these people have a much broader set of interests. They float over the landscape sampling a variety of ideas and cross-pollinating the various things that they find.

(Some people are using the term multipotentialite for this roaming set of interests. But while I agree with the idea, I can’t quite get behind the term. I’d rather be a hummingbird.)

Now, instead of telling people to find their passion, she tells them to follow their curiosity. I like that idea a lot better! I can’t embed the video, but you really should check it out here.

Via Oprah

What about you? Are you a woodpecker or a hummingbird?

The Sun Still Rises

In the morning, I found myself grateful that the sun always rises. Every day, cloudy or clear, the sun still spins on its axis, spinning circles among the sun and stars.

Before dawn, the sky was partly clear. Enough to make out the Big Dipper and North Star hovering above the woods. The North Star is high in the sky this time of year since the Northern Hemisphere leans toward it. Orion was visible to the south, providing the early morning greeting that I’ve gotten used to as I walk from my house to my car in the darkness.

The sky was brighter when I arrived at work, both because of city lights and because of the rising sun. Only two stars were visible, one dimly to the west and another bright in the eastern sky. The eastern morning star is probably a planet, probably Jupiter now that I have the time to look it up. In the morning, I stared at one faraway space rock while standing on another that was right under my feet.

Then, the sun rose. And it stayed up for about nine and a half hours. This might have been the best part of my day, even though I was indoors almost that entire time.

I’ve been a bit ornery the past few days. This time of year is always rough. I hate the time change in the fall because the abrupt shift to an earlier sunset makes me starved for daylight. Two hours of sunlight after work becomes one, and suddenly I don’t know what to do with myself with it getting dark by 6 pm. When can I find time to garden, run, or do any of the other things I want to do?

I’m not sure. That’s a struggle every year. But until I figure that out. I can watch the sky and be grateful that the world still spins and the sun still rises, every day and no matter what else happens.

15 Minutes in the Morning: Garden Edition

Do you ever think that we try to do too much? For example, I have a hard time going out for a run that’s shorter than 30 minutes because it seems too short. As if somehow running 27 minutes doesn’t count but anything over 30 does. Of course this makes no sense, and running (or doing whatever) for even  five minutes is just that—doing something for five minutes, not zero.

I only had 15 minutes in the garden this morning. But that was still enough to Continue reading “15 Minutes in the Morning: Garden Edition”

The Blog, Year 3

I recently realized that I’ve started my third year of blogging.

Happy belated b-day, Bloggy!


I started the blog in October 2013 as a place to record miscellanous ideas and travels. At that time, I only had a vague sense that I wanted to write, and was not very clear on the reasons why. In retrospect, the best answer to why I started blogging would probably be: mindfulness. As the pace of my career and my life picked up, I was realizing how disconnected I was from certain aspects of my day-to-day life. Continue reading “The Blog, Year 3”

Slow Down Summer

Summer is always such a swirl of activity. There’s a long progression from March all the way through June as the weather slooooowly gets better (wait for it… wait for it…) and then (bam!) suddenly it’s ridiculously hot out and July is half over.

I haven’t been writing much because I’ve been trying hard to actually get outside and play. Mostly I’ve been biking to work, training for a triathlon, and watching Sexy play baseball. This morning I spent two hours in the garden working, and then retreated inside when the sun started beating down and the temperature climbed above 80 by mid-morning.

The well-weeded garden.
The well-weeded garden.

With so much going on, I spend an awful lot of time thinking about how I should best use my time—which, of course, isn’t a great use of time. Mostly it’s just silly and unnecessary introspection, and I’m not sure I’m that much better for it. Continue reading “Slow Down Summer”

Making an Experience, Not a Commodity

I haven’t been writing much here lately. One big reason is because I’ve been writing like a madwoman at work, researching and summarizing every possible tidbit that I can find about how climate change is likely to impact forests in the northeast. It’s fun, but it can also be mentally exhausting and I’ve been short on ambition for evening writing.

But I’ve been plugging along here and there, and thinking a lot about what’s next.

I reached out to another blogger asking for their thoughts on why he’s been plugging away on one of his own sites for nine years, but pulled the plug on another. Both had good content, so what was the difference?

Personality. I gathered that he thought that the long-lasting site was true to his own self. It showed that he was a real person, and allowed him to build a relationship with readers. The loser site was just a resource, an encyclopedia, a list. It didn’t have personality.

Because of this the site was only a commodity and not an experience, people felt no connection to it and as such felt no need to help its success.

This is such a great point, but so hard. How do you let your personality shine though in a website or other writing that isn’t necessarily about you? Sure, it’s easy to have personality come through in a post like this one, but what about in something that’s more explanatory?

Curses! This is where the past 10 years of learning to write like a professional scientist may have led me astray. I work really hard to write good, clean, sentences: here are the facts or implications, unbiased, and clearly stated.

But my other writing is a mess. At Greatist, I could adopt its voice and write with that personality, which wasn’t too far of a stretch for me, and it worked. But as I work to create a new site, I’m still struggling to find the right voice for it, a personality that works for me and will resonate with the audience.

I have some more advice on this for another day (not from me—from another writer who actually knows stuff!). But, in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is there a website with a personality that really catches your attention?

Should I blog?

Last fall I started a blog. I was really unsure about whether it would be worth my time and very insecure about putting my thoughts out there. But the idea also appealed to me, so in the spirit of personal growth through discomfort, I committed to trying it for a year. Now I’m nearing the other side, having written at least twice per month since last fall, and it’s time to decide whether to keep going.

Eek! People may actually read this.

The Case for Blogging
My initial reasons for blogging were vague and varied. Continue reading “Should I blog?”