Welcome to 2023!

A walk in the woods


Walks in the woods are a chance to reflect in my downtime. I rarely have the time or energy in large parts of spring, summer, or fall. I feel like I stumbled on a collective theme of thoughts out there, which I offer for food for thought.

I found this first scene where a lot of deer traffic comes through. Wild grapes and abandoned orchard are found ahead, and behind are white pine, beech, and oak. All different food sources they traffic between. It was fun to notice that some of the older hoofprints were actually higher than the nearby ground. They were compacted and frozen from a different snow event, and something about them caused them to stay while the looser snow melted or blew away. Got me thinking of how so many complex problems often have an apparent solution which is the opposite of the truth. Who would have thought that an indentation would show as an elevation? How many scientific or intellectual inquiries look at a heap and don't think "well, that's just the bottom of a hole and we lost everything else around it!" Reflective thinking, done with time and patience, is the only thing that can dodge that error.

Talking of things not being as they seem, the abundant wild grapes here have got me thinking about what I call the human bias of control. In my observations it seems that people have a bias towards control. If they had the option of a situation being out of their hands, with a guaranteed mediocre result, or a situation being in their hands, with a high probability of failure and a low probability of a success, they'd take the scenario of things being in their hands- being in control.

I guess I'll explain that every year, I think about buying some grape vines. Vines are a challenge anywhere and certainly a challenge here but somehow I feel like I want my own grapes in my control. The fact that half the hedges and groves in my area are covered with wild grapes goes over my head, because skimming off of nature's abundance doesn't feel as good as piloting my own vine program- even if I were to pilot that program right into the ground.

The wild grapes, though not very sweet, can be harvested for their rich flavor and have sugar added after. My first homemade wine ever was in fact wild grapes plus honey- it tasted very much like a mid-price-range Port wine. But somehow my mind always creeps towards that bias that the more resources spent on something- money, time, - the more success there will be. It simply isn't true. I could take the tens and tens of hours and hundreds in equipment in vineyard maintenance, and in a fraction of the hours and equipment, harvest these wild grapes. But they're not in my control.

This is a shot of two intertwined root systems of uprooted trees. It's a shallow soil with bedrock not far down, in a perpetually wet part of the forest. Roots grow shallow in the overly wet soil and it's not uncommon for a wind event to take down bigger ones. Seeing the two downed together got me thinking about how we try to manage risk through diversification- whether it's a crop plan or stock portfolio or anything else in life. I had a brief foray in a bureaucratic job once, and there, we had a social form of diversification of risk, in the relationships we developed. But how many times are our risk strategies ignorant of the interconnection of things? Suppose a bird built one nest in each of these trees. These two trees that had grown their roots together around the same shallow, mucky soil, waiting to be taken by the same once-every-100-years wind blast?

Seeing something like this provokes me to revisit my "diversification" in life and question if I truly have done so.

The family woods I walk in are in a heavily hunted part of the world. The deer cross laterally through many long, thin parcels of land. It's not uncommon for a deer injured by a hunter to die many parcels away. I found this heavily gnawed shoulder blade on the walk. It gets me thinking about our human bias towards viewing something as a waste. Or as a resource. All these terms are making a value judgment of something- declaring it as essentially ours, and any other use is a misuse. Now the hunter who shot this deer may have felt it was a waste. They spent a few hours, a dollar's worth of ammo, all for nothing for them. That deer spent years adding on body weight, trying to pass on genes, all these other things- but our final valuation of it is based on its brief intersection with us.

But the coyotes in the area rely on injured deer as part of their diets. When this deer passed away, very little went to waste. Whatever the coyotes didn't get went to the bacteria, the soil, which will eventually result in better plant growth for future generations of deer. And of course, the coyote scat will also fertilize more growth. Finding the shoulder blade was just a reminder that after our brief, hours-long forays into nature, nature keeps on doing its thing. We are really a small part of it, insignificant except in our collective action as a species.

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