Nasty, Brutish, and Short

There’s a time for inspiration, for imagination. If you have the din in your ears of the bully reminding you incessantly that only he, the strong man, can rescue you from a life nasty, brutish, and short, shouting back only confirms that life is nasty, brutish, and short. Thus I welcomed a radical change of consciousness culled from the pages of this blog, something on joy that had been quietly fermenting in the cellar since 2013.

Joy is an elusive bird, hard to track down, hard to recapture after she’s fled, perfectly convincing when she’s mid-tune, scary when we realize that each tune ends, and we’re thrown back into the nasty, brutish, and short — or the merely humdrum.

Robert Lewis Stevenson tells a fable that I recount in full under Joy a condition of life II (this blog  June 17, 2013). It’s a tale, he says,

that touches very near the quick of life: the fable of the monk who passed into the woods, heard a bird break into song, hearkened for a trill or two, and found himself on his return a stranger at his convent gates; for he had been absent fifty years, and of all his comrades there survived but one to recognise him.

The terror in Joy is the implicit consciousness that it is a transport out of the everyday that may well remove us from all we had known — we might well return strangers to the world we departed as ecstasy swept us up.

Stevenson captures, in this fable, the eternity of pure joy, its capacity to stall clock time and the time of duties and appointments. And he captures the anxiety of life caught between the serenity of the enchanted song that gives joy and timelessness and the grubbiness of sifting through the nasty and brutish and boring in search of that elusive serenity, that elusive bird, that elusive enchanter.

All life that is not merely mechanical is spun out of two strands: seeking for that bird and hearing him. And it is just this that makes life so hard to value, and the delight of each so incommunicable.

In the brute world of power and violence there is no space for “the note of that time-devouring nightingale” of whom “we hear no news.”

When tough-talk and chest-thumping, wrestle-mania taunts and incitements to kill, seem to fill the air — leaving  so little air for even the hope of a “time-devouring nightingale,” where do we turn?

Stevenson avows that the realism of life nasty, brutish, and short is not true realism, that true realism leaves space for seeking and hearing enchantment. He goes so far as to say that

the true realism were that of the poets, to climb after [the nightingale] like a squirrel, and catch some glimpse of the heaven in which he lives. And the true realism, always and everywhere, is that of the poets: to find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all.

I think Thoreau seeks — and finds — enchantment and joy in his “befitting reveries” — say his reverie kneeling at the edge of Walden seeing his face and the face of her maker in still waters, joy circulating amongst all three. Stevenson pleads that we can’t afford to

miss the personal poetry, the enchanted atmosphere, that rainbow work of fancy that clothes what is naked.

But I think there is no way to poeticise the brutish world of nasty politics. Nevertheless one must nourish the soul, a space of personal poetry, for otherwise the chest-pounding and threats win out, at our great loss.  There can be no greater loss.

It must be a matter of faith, I suspect, to affirm, with Stevenson,  that “no man lives in the external truth among salts and acids.” He wants to vouchsafe an internal truth of rainbows, joys, and enchantments. He thinks the appearance of acids and brutishness all the way down is false.

But it’s become painfully clear, to me at least, that against Stevenson’s truth, too many in fact live in angry exuberance “among salts and acids” backing the strong man when he says life is nasty, brutish, and short, and reveling at the chance to take vengeful brutishness to all who stand in their way — led, of course, by the curses and insults of the strong man.

I save a space in my heart for Stevenson when he affirms a faith that “salts and acids” can be muted by “the painted windows and the storied wall” of music, poetry, and imagination. But I take this as personal soul-nourishment and heart-maintenance rather than as political credo, advise or action. Naked power is naked power, not to be prettified,  excused or ignored.

A Wedding by the Sea

Welcome to this happy celebration.

I’m a Mainer, former hiker and canoer — and a dear friend of the couple whose marriage we witness and celebrate this afternoon.  I profess philosophy as a vocation. When I confess religion, it’s a religious naturalism pretty much Thoreau-style.

Lyman and I first met some ten years ago over a beer to share our common passion for Thoreau.  Lyman’s a philosopher. And it may surprise you that Noel is too. She has an abiding interest not just in Math but in Moose.

If you’re from “away” Moose are strange ancient creatures, both alluring and mysterious.  To be fascinated with the alluring and mysterious makes one a philosopher, even if one prefers math or chemistry.

Moose are mysterious and alluring, and so are Geese. Noel reports a flock that descended in terrifying numbers to occupy the wetlands outside her front door in Michigan.

Lyman reminds me of other alluring and strange things: Thoreau shooting rapids on the Merrimack or climbing Ktaadn straight up, without switch backs.

We’re celebrating a special couple. They’re philosophers, avid hikers, and love lobster. Whether or not they yodel, they “love to go a-wandering” — in the Presidentials of northern New Hampshire, up Mt Washington — and back down.

Have you seen the Mower-Chang web site?

It’s amazing!  I’ve never seen such a wonderful wedding welcome.  They beam all over, even as tots — thoroughly cute, romantic, and funny!!   If I had a screen behind me, I’d show you.

Lyman studied Religion and Henry David at Syracuse. Noel did Math and Chemistry in Illinois. I’d take Lyman to the train station for his commute to Champaign-Urbana, where he’d watch Patriot’s football and chase Geese.

I hear Henry Thoreau is a familiar figure at the Mower Estate – along with the late family cat who survived a hawk attack and protects Noel from ghosts.

There are only two figures that threaten to upstage Noel and Lyman at the Mower Homestead: the notorious Boston tag-team, Brady and Belichick.

Brady-Belichick, White Mountains, Thoreau, Noel and Lyman, Moose – all of these give us Goose-bumps.

I get Goose-bumps being here.  A certificate in my pocket empowers me to make this wedding official. I shudder to think of it.

Let’s send out some good vibes: if you like what’s about to happen, clap or shout a good “Yah-who

**  **  **

I’ll give a hint of religion here by citing some Biblical passages.  In Isaiah we glimpse the life Noel and Lyman can hope for:

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

The Book of Ruth offers pledges of loyalty and devotion:

 Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.

Ecclesiastes underlines the great good of togetherness:

Two are better than one, for if one falls, the other will lift up his fellow. And if two lie together, they keep warm – how can one keep warm alone?

Our common ancestor from Concord preaches a New Gospel, a religion of meadow and stream – and he promises a new dawn for each of us.

Thoreau preaches a Church of waters and woods, of wonder and awe. Whether a lily or a sunset, there are moments when something takes over. Moments like this — just a stone’s throw from the Piscataqua, where sea and river meet.

**  **

Thoreau layeth down by still waters.  His cup runneth over.

He peers into waters and has an epiphany.

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.

I drink at it: but while I drink I see the sandy bottom.

I would drink deeper:

fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.

We fish for happiness and joy. Henry’s eyes soak up fish — and then soak up stars reflected in the stream. He could drink deeper, for there’s endless joy and wonder to absorb.  If you don’t have a stream, just peer into the eyes of someone next to you.

At the pebbly bottom fish and stars mingle in a wedding of earth, sky, and water.  We’re all invited:

“Come! Let’s cast our lines down into the stream and up toward heaven!”

Joy is contagious. It embraces the couple before us and all here on this hillock.

Thoreau adds a wish,

I always regret that I am not as wise as the day I was born. 

It’s wistful hope for the innocent wonder and wisdom of childhood. We wish for a marriage with innocent wonder and wisdom hovering over it. Jesus asks us to become as little children. Thoreau longs for earlier days of wisdom, wonder, joy, and trust.

Love abides where there is passion and where there is poetry in vision and song;

it abides in marriages of heaven and earth beside still waters;

it abides in this lovely marriage in Portsmouth where salt and sweet waters mingle.

**   **

Here’s a second Walden moment. Thoreau finds himself prayer-like at the edge of the pond:

Why, here is Walden, the same woodland lake that I discovered so many years ago;

it is the same liquid joy and happiness to itself and its Maker, ay, and it may be [joy and happiness] to me.

He rounded this water with his hand, deepened and clarified it in his thought, and in his will bequeathed it to Concord.

 I can almost say, Walden, is it you?

Can we be that romantic – that crazy-romantic – to whisper beside waters, “Is it you??

Joy spills from a Creator to the Pond and spills further to cover Henry, kneeling at her edge.  Let joy cover Lyman and Noel. Let joy cover all on this hillock – the salty-sweet joy that floats love.

We find life through everyday smiles of joyful affirmation, through smiles between friends, between mother and father and child –in the joyful smiles between Noel and Lyman that hover over us all.

Henry tells us Joy is the condition of life. We want Marriage to be a pinnacle of joy, love, and companionship.  She rounded this couple, — family and friends — with her hand, deepened and clarified them in her thought, and bequeathed them to all in this happy place.

We take in the Wonder of it all in joy, trust, and innocence.  Noel and Lyman, you are clearly meant for each other.

Go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Your hearts will say to each other,

Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.

And you’ll remember

Two are better than one, for if one falls, the other will lift up his fellow. And if two lie together, they keep warm — how can one keep warm alone?






Sorrow and Joy


It’s been a joy to have known David Kangas. It is with sorrow that I learn he has died.

He was an exceptionally good Kierkegaard scholar, and read Melville’s late poetry, too. A student of his and good friend, Aaron Simmons, has written a moving tribute.

In 2012 when he first found out that he had Stage 4 cancer, [David] emailed his good friend Martin Kavka and said this:

“First off, ‘stage 4’ cancer, which is what I have, is by definition incurable. So treatments are a matter of buying time. How much time is, of course, unknowable by anyone. I’ll take whatever becomes available. . . . Existentially, I consider myself fortunate to have never believed the human condition was ‘curable’ (the professional opinion of a philosopher which I couldn’t resist telling the doc). Nor, thankfully, have I ever put much credence in the techno-pragmatic complexes of our culture, never having believed that the human condition was a ‘problem’ to which the proper techniques of management are to be found. Mind you, I WILL let the technicians do with me what they will and can! But in the end there is the unmanageable and we would be trivial beings without it.   So, onward with my day!”

Here, David puts into remarkable practice the key insight offered by Martin Luther in the following passage, which David used as an epigraph for his book, Kierkegaard’s Instant:

Whoever searches into the essences and actions of
creation rather than its groanings and expectations
is without doubt a fool and a blind man. (Martin Luther)

David was neither a fool nor a blind man. He was, quite simply, a human who understood that passion, faith, joy, need, desire, hope, and grief are all part of the fragility and beauty of existence itself.

I know that I will hug my son, Atticus, a bit tighter today, and tell my wife, Vanessa, that I love her a bit more intentionally. This, you see, is what Kierkegaard missed out on. This is what David put into practice every single day. He lived well. He died well.

I hope that we all, as fellow Kierkegaardians will appreciate not only his legacy, his influence, and his scholarship, but his life. May we all be able to say in the end there is the unmanageable and we would be trivial beings without it. So, onward with my day!


Wonder and Discipline

Here is Sara Lewis in the Guardian, Sept. 6th, a scientist who has studied fireflies and knows that study is not the only mode of appreciation.

once we adopt this scientific mindset, through training or through proclivity, it becomes difficult to fully recapture that experience of newly-minted, breath-taking awe. This is a fragile wonder, easily suffocated by the narrow focus and tedium inherent in the scientific process.

She continues:

In his 1851 journal, Henry David Thoreau highlighted the tension between science and wonder.  One winter sunset, admiring a crimson cloud hovering over the horizon, he wrote

You tell me it is a mass of vapor which absorbs all other rays and reflects the red — by [this] trick of science you … do me no service & explain nothing. [You leave out]  how the cloud excites me, stirs my blood, makes my thoughts flow. What sort of science is that which enriches the understanding but robs the imagination?

Bending the Formats of Liturgy: An Interview with Edward F. Mooney

Philosophy Goes to Church

church in woods

Edward F. Mooney is an Emeritus Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Syracuse University. His most recent book, Excursions with Thoreau, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion was published by Bloomsbury in 2015, and he has also published numerous books on Kierkegaard. He still writes on Kierkegaard, and contributes to the interdisciplinary blog Zeteo on everything from Bach to Wittgenstein. He settled into Portland, Maine, after two years living and teaching at Tel Aviv and Hebrew Universities. He plays chamber music (violin and viola) and sings (bass). In a breakaway moment, he’s delivered several sermons at a local church. His email is

J. Aaron Simmons (JAS): You have spent most of your life as a philosopher working on the thought of the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard. He had a notoriously difficult relationship with the Lutheran Church in Denmark. That said, how has thinking with Kierkegaard helped you to think about the relationship…

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The Gift of Age

This is the third sermon/talk I’ve given for a local Portland congregation. It’s an attempt to keep my thought close to the hearts and minds of my listeners.

Luke: 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

Our little flock will fear not, for the kingdom is here; good news; but where is it amidst the trouble and darkness all about?

We know it’s not in our material wealth, nor in our possessions.

33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

The kingdom will be a place of spirit, a place of the heart. What do we gather as treasure in our hearts?  We gather memories, feelings, stories. These are a heavenly treasure. They give us our spirit or soul, and our worlds. In rich and varied memories the kingdom is nigh. In memories I am spiritually present to myself, and to my friends and neighbors, family and fellows, present to gardens and family cats. We co-mingle in that special memorial place.

We listen for places and people we treasure. This is a place thieves can’t enter, where no moths corrupt. It’s a kingdom of ample sustenance. We fear loss of memory because we fear loss of our souls and of the soul’s rich co-mingling with others and place.

I’m slow to give up my material possessions. I have no choice but to give up parts of my physical prowess. But I have treasure to husband close to the heart.

With age, I become more aware of needs and infirmities. Though age debilitates it also illuminates. As age increases, the body darkens — yet the heart can glow brighter. Age is only sometimes a curse. We remember trouble and also joys, loves and delights. These we take to heart, where no thief can steal nor moth decay. Culled and cultivated, they become seasoned wisdom to treasure and share.

Tharcisse died a few weeks ago.  I hardly knew him. I wish I had done more to hear his story. I thought of him as an elder. Young in calendar years, he carried himself with the dignity of age and experience. Modesty and deference often cloak a wisdom harbored by those of a certain age. Tharcisse died before I could hear his story; no doubt I’d stumble trying to give him a glimpse of mine.

Of course, we come to know each other by sharing activities, but today I’d add that we know each other by listening – sharing memories, getting the gist or glitter of anothers treasure or trauma.  Pat Taub maintains her blog Women’s Older Wisdom for sharing memories. Peg Cushman and Eunice Bentley collect data behind our stories — birthplace, children, work, favorite activities.

Moving from essential facts to the art of sharing memories is not always easy.  We stumble. Some don’t know how to start.  Others tell bits and pieces, but tell it out of tune – say as a boast or a put down of others. Some don’t know how to stop telling. We like to listen but don’t like to be drowned out. It’s an art to speak from memory and an art to listen.

We’re cognitive, social, religious and Darwinian animals, and through it all we’re singers of tales, story-tellers, hearers of stories.  This is the place of heavenly timeless treasure.

Memories and story-telling persist even as we lower our shoulders to get things done.  Action flows into tomorrow’s memories of what we’ve accomplished or heard today. Memories flow forward to fund more doing. Singing, hammering, knitting; birthdays, weddings and funerals, generate stories we tell ourselves the next day and often for years to come. Openness to memories is an art that yields harvests of happiness, satisfaction, joy.

The older we become, the more we replicate remembered activities. This Sunday replicates last Sunday, back to the beginning of time. Often the present is reinvention, reenactment. Today’s singing, hammering, knitting, and feasting consolidate experience and spiritual life as it invokes past singing, hammering, knitting, and feasting; and it consolidates wisdom by foretelling future feasting and knitting.

A recent New Yorker profile sketched a wise, many-sided woman I’ve known slightly for nearly 50 years. In Martha Nussbaum’s story we get a glimmer of her heart. The profile’s headline is “The Philosopher of Feelings.” It tells us that her “far-reaching ideas illuminate often ignored elements of life—aging, inequality, and emotion.”

I get a glimmer of what she feels about becoming Jewish while raised Episcopalian, about being a world-citizen while being a local university professor, about being a daughter, mother, and athlete who at 70 still runs four miles a day. I get a glimpse of her taking voice lessons to get a more intimate feel of Mozart’s arias; I cringe at what she must feel about her father boycotting her wedding.

Her star-quality accomplishments make headlines, but they distract from the gift of her wisdom. In her books she tells stories of love, detachment, tragedy, and community. Her years are a gift of age, of a wisdom gathered from wide experience held in the heart, richly orchestrated in telling – a heavenly treasure.

Seventy isn’t inevitably old with wisdom; some give up on the heart long before that. And 70 might be young. My friend reminds me that in Genesis you become wise well past 70.  “This is the length of Abraham’s life: 175 years. He took his last breath and died at a ripe old age, old and contented.”

Mid-life 30-60 is typically a time to build social identities – we become uncles, church-members, lawyers, rock stars, librarians, doting aunts. This life-phase is full of work to get somewhere, to arrive, to get ahead: to further a career or start a new one, to be a better parent, sibling, daughter, or neighbor, to manage failure and success, to stay in shape and in good faith.

As we approach 100 or 150, getting ahead drops out. We’re free to cull and cultivate memories as we co-mingle with others. We take memories to heart and share things a mere 50 yr. old has no clue about.  We tear up blueprints for building up a self in its many sites.  We turn over the past for footprints, memories: where do I come from (spiritually)? Where have I been? What have I done — and not done? What have I felt — and not felt?

With the gift of age we speak (or stay silent) with authority — the authority of many winters, many weddings, many graduations, many burials, many hospital visits – memories of many falls and many recoveries, many climbs to the mountain top and many descents to the valleys; we become familiar with the shadows of death and the bright dawns of birth.

Happily, with age, there are fewer with authority lying in wait to contradict me. And with patience, I hope to edit out false self-inflation or false self-deflation.

Grandchildren will listen, as will friends of recent acquaintance – those whose memories only partially intersect my own. Bits and pieces are the name of the game — no long narrations, no monologues, no tedious holding forth, no drowning out others. It’s an art to fit story to setting and listeners.

For my grandkids, I’ll pick and choose episodes from my infinitely long life that might carry a smidgeon of wisdom. They’re 7 and 13 and healthily impatient to have their own way. I’ll tell them an apt story of my own rebellions youth, and how I managed to get free – or didn’t.

As I think of telling my story (or hearing yours) I ask “Who am I?”  — “Who have I been?” — Just as important, I ask “Who will I be?”  The future needn’t slam shut quite yet.

Who will I be? Reading literature and watching films help. I get immersed in the felt-realities of persons I’d otherwise never know firsthand – a smart detective named Morse, Downton’s Dowager Countess. These help me imagine who I might veer toward tomorrow and after.

Will I be a bit more like the musical Inspector Morse, or link arms with David Copperfield’s upbeat innocence, or veer toward the acid wit of the Couness, Maggie Smith?  And I listen for the “lilt” and “sheen” of things that surround Morse or Copperfield or the Countess. Oxford, London, and Downton are part of the song of the world, the song that wisdom remembers – it’s the place we move and have our being.

These sheens, lilts and rhythms seem to arrive more vividly, subtly, and frequently with the quiet coming of Age. Not that life becomes quiet, but that the soul takes on a stillness that allows more space for resonance.

It’s never too late to become definitively who one is. By 1940, when Paris fell, you might have thought that Henri Bergson’s identity was complete, finished. He was 81, winner of the Nobel prize in literature, a friend of William James and Einstein. But it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

At the start of the occupation, Jews in Paris were ordered to line up on the street to get yellow armbands. Bergson, a Jew, might have dodged this order. For years he had been close to converting to Catholicism. A quick conversion would have saved him from the arm band.

As a world renowned thinker he could have wrangled an exemption. Freud, Wittgenstein, and other notables bargained for favors. A frail old man, he might have stayed in bed rather than descend the stairs for a miserable yellow band. On a cold day in June, 1940, at this defining moment, the question was open: What would he become?  Bergson went out and lined up in a cold drizzle, catching the pneumonia that would kill him.

His then-accomplished, solid identities did not dictate who he would become. In a crucial moment he became a soldierly 81 yr. old — a man of action, courage, resistance, and solidarity.

His gift of action was also a gift of memory and wisdom.  He bequeathed a story to be retold and re-enacted, in small or larger ways, generation to generation. We need stories more or less anonymous wisdom, and also need memorial big screen stories of heroism and wisdom. Bergson was never too old to give us his gift of age.

The gift lodges in memory, in feeling, in the heart.

This is the kingdom bequeathed.

Report from the Field

My friend David O’Hara posted this on his blog, “Slowly Percolating Forms,” this morning.

As a friend of Thoreau, I think you’ll be struck by its simple beauty and depth, reflecting the Thoreauvian depth, sensitivity, and honesty of the writer.


A Pretty Good Year

Posted: 06 Aug 2016 02:06 PM PDT

Last year was a pretty good year.  Or at least, what I remember of it was pretty good.

As my regular readers know, I’m a professor of philosophy and classics, and I teach a wide range of classes. (You can click on the “Teaching” link above to see a sampling of the courses I teach.)

Often people assume that means I wear tweed and a bowtie and that I spend my time in classrooms talking about old books.  All that is true, but it’s only a part of what I do.

In fact, most of my favorite classrooms are outdoors, where I’m likely to be found wearing jeans and hiking boots, a parka, or a wetsuit and snorkel.

Over the last dozen years or so my teaching and research have tended towards the environmental humanities.  Think of this as the merging of the humanities side of the liberal arts with a close observation of the natural world. I consider my work to be a continuation of the work that Thales and Aristotle did when they paid close attention to animals on the ground and to the skies above, and of the work of Peirce, Thoreau, and Bugbee, all of whom let a rising trout or a solar eclipse provoke philosophical reflection.

While I don’t work in an indoor laboratory, I think that education is not about the imparting of information or the filling of an empty vessel with ideas.  Education is the kindling of a fire, as Plutarch wrote.  And that fire is kindled by the kinds of experiences that we get in labs, art studios, shared meals, liturgies, study travel, and seminars.  Lecture halls are a fine place to discuss environmental policy, to be sure.  But so is a prairie, especially when you’re waiting for water to boil on your camp stove, and watching the sun’s beams break over the horizon and melt a light frost on your tent.

When I’m at home, I like to take my classes outside to sit under trees on campus. In the fall, I try to bring my Ancient Philosophy students camping in the Badlands of South Dakota where we can view the stars far from urban glow.  Most Januaries, my students and I are in the subtropical forests of Guatemala and on a barrier island in Belize, studying ecology and culture.  I rarely take a spring break, since I usually take that week to teach a course in Greece.  Last summer I started teaching a class on trout and salmon in Alaska.

Those are all beautiful, memorable places, but I don’t visit them as a tourist.  I go to these places because I want my students to understand what is at stake when we talk about environmental regulations and practices.  I want them to meet displaced people whose permafrost islands are melting or whose forests are being burned down for meager cropland.  I want them to see the disappearing mangroves so that they can consider the full cost of seafood.  When they stay in homes in Guatemala, my students will meet people who can never again be a mere abstraction; after we return, my students will know that the people struggling to cross borders are not nameless, faceless strangers, but people who are looking for ways to feed those they love.

A little less than a year ago I was finishing up a year that had brought me to all these places.  I taught in the South Dakota Badlands, in Central America, in Greece, and in Alaska. Along the way, I had begun studying environmental law at Vermont Law School as a way of enhancing my teaching and my research.  It was a good year, and as August was winding down, my desk was covered with field notebooks full of observations from Alaska and Guatemala, ready to be written up.  My field notes are usually accompanied by thousands of photographs, and hundreds of sketches.  I began the fall semester last year ready to teach, and ready to write.

And then I wound up in the hospital with some serious injuries.  Those injuries put a sudden stop to all my teaching last fall, and for a long time I lost most of my ability to write.  (I’ll try to write more about the injuries and my subsequent disabilities later; it’s not an easy thing to write about yet.)

Now, as this summer hastens towards the beginning of another school year, I am able to look back on last year with a sense of good fortune – albeit mixed with one very bad day and its long-term consequences.  Physically, I’m regaining my flexibility and strength, a little at a time. I’m not where I was a year ago, and I may never be there again, but I’m alive and able to walk, so I’ll count that in the “win” column of my life’s scorecard.  Intellectually, most people seem to think I’m doing fine, so I’ll also count that as a win.  Although it left me exhausted each day, I was able to teach again this spring, and I plan to be back in my classrooms (Deo volente!) this fall.

But here are these field notebooks, and hundreds of unedited pages on my hard drive.  It was my habit to write daily.  Over the last year, recovering from a brain injury has made it hard to write more than a few sentences at a time.

This morning I was looking at some of my pictures from my research in the Arctic last summer, and I was hit with a feeling of loss. Those photos and those notes should be a book by now, and perhaps several articles and book chapters, too.  Instead, over the last year, as I have waited for my body and brain to heal, and as I struggled to do my teaching, I had no strength to write.

It feels funny to say that, but perhaps I am not alone in finding that a brain injury can be slow to heal and extremely tiring. I don’t say that to get your sympathy.  I am blessed with a very supportive community and an amazing wife who somehow has kept our life together and nursed me through my healing process.  I’m fortunate.  But if you’ve read this far, you might consider whether there are others around you who look like they’re doing well physically but who might be nursing invisible wounds or who might be struggling to cope with invisible disabilities.  This past year has given me a new perspective on that by making me aware of my own disabilities, most of which you won’t notice if you see me at the gym or in one of my classrooms.

I might not be able to write another book yet, so for now, here’s my plan: I’ll write a little at a time.  Thankfully, I’ve got my notes, sketches, and photos.  I’ll start with them.

If you’re curious about how a professor of philosophy and classics does research and writing about nature – and how he works to recover from a serious brain injury – you might check out some of my recent publications.  My book Downstream is the result of eight years of field research on the ecology of the Appalachians, with a focus on brook trout.  On this blog you’ll also find my recently published poem, “Sage Creek,” which might give you a glimpse of my ancient philosophy class camping and stargazing in the Badlands. Or feel free to look at my photos on Instagram. Even when I can’t teach in the field, I can still wander my garden with a hand lens and camera.