Holy Solitude


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Kind solitude
Away from the world and the noise
Divine quietude,
Silence, like the night!

Happy the other that possesses you,
And tastes your sweetness,
The cure of all ills!
Unfortunate are those who do not love  you!

It is blessedness,
To be heart to heart with God:
There no disquietude
Troubles the peace of this place.

~~Madame Guyon

(tr. Rev. Nancy C. James)

Wishing for the Reign of Love


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Ah, reign over all the world,
I desire, oh my dear husband,
This and no other reward
But to see all hearts turning to you.

Afflicting my soul, I long
To see you reign over all the hearts
Of dear ones that you love!
Holy Spirit, where is your passion?

All the hearts are made of ice;
Yet for the world they feel ardor:
Melt their ice with fire,
And give us all new hearts.

~~Madame Guyon

(tr: Rev. Nancy C. James)

Camp NaNoWriMo


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I’ve decided to take a break from A Sand County Almanac while I work on my current project, Eliora.

A promise made a decade ago brings two former lovers back together again. But Sigrim is engaged to be married to Hanne, and Eliora is being wooed by the very jealous Bela. A series of misunderstandings sets up a feud between Sigrim and Bela that comes to a head more than twenty years later.

I have decided rather than set this book in the past of this world, which would involve a lot of research to make it historically correct, I will set it in a future Thirteen Kingdoms and it will take place a couple of centuries following the events of The Hallowed Treasures Saga.

Hallowed Treasures

The trilogy is currently available on Kindle for 99¢ each.



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By Charles W. Schwartz

It’s December in A Sand County Almanac, and Aldo Leopold is musing on a few subjects. He begins by discussing how he is curious about learning about an animal’s home range through its actions.

“A sudden yip-yip-yip gives us notice that a rabbit,” he writes, “flushed from his bed in the grass, is headed elsewhere in a hurry. He makes a bee-line for a woodpile a quarter-mile distant, where he ducks between two corded stacks, a safe gunshot ahead of his pursuer.”

“This little episode tells me,” he writes a little later, “that this rabbit is familiar with all of the ground between his bed in the meadow and his blitz-cellar under the woodpile. How else the bee-line? The rabbit’s home range is at least a quarter mile in extent.

“The chickadees that visit our feeding station are trapped and banded each winter,” he continues, then writes, “By noticing the furthest points from my feeder at which banded chickadees are seen, we have learned that the home range of our flock is half a mile across in winter, but that included only areas protected from wind.

“In summer, when the flock has dispersed for nesting, banded birds are seen at greater distances . . .”

Leopold then moves on to deer, noting the fresh tracks of three deer he noticed in the previous day’s snow, which he follows backward to discover a cluster of three beds, clear of snow, in the big willow thick on the sandbar. He then follows the tracks forward.

“My picture of the night’s routine in complete. The over-all distance from bed to breakfast is a mile.”

Grouse, he discovers, for the duration of a soft snow (which would show tell-tale tracks), cover their home range a-wing and not afoot, and range was half a mile across.

“Science knows little about home range,” he writes, but concludes, “Every farm is a textbook on animal ecology; woodsmanship is the translation of the book.”


White Pine

Next Leopold turns to pines, one of his favorite trees.

“The pine’s new year begins in May,” he writes when the terminal bud become ‘the candle’. Whoever coined that name for the new growth had subtlety in his soul. ‘The candle’ sounds like a platitudinous reference to obvious facts: the hew shoot is waxy, upright, brittle. But he who lives with pines knows that the candle has a deeper meaning, for at its tip burns the eternal flame that light a path into the future.”

If by June 30th of that year, the pine’s completed candle has developed a terminal cluster of ten or twelve buds, it means that it as stored away enough sun and rain for a two- to three-foot thrust skyward the following spring. Four to six buds mean a shorter spurt of growth.

Hard years can be seen as shorter spaces between successive whorls of branches.

Leopold claims that much can be divined from pines, “in March, when the deer frequently browse white pines, the height of the browsing tells me how hungry they are.”

A full deer, for example, will nip at branches no more than four feet from the ground while a really hungry deer will stand on its hind legs to crop at the branches as high as eight feet above the ground.

By May, Leopold says that when he finds wilted candles lying in the grass, he knows that a bird has alighted on it and broken it off.

“It is easy to infer what has happened,” he writes, “but in a decade of watching I have never once seen a bird break a candle. It is an object lesson: one need not doubt the unseen.”

In June, some candles wilt and turn brown before dying.

“A pine weevil has bored into the terminal bud cluster and deposited eggs;” he explains, “the grubs, when hatched, bore down along the pith and kill the shoot.”

Leopold also notes that only pines in full sunlight are bitten by weevils; those in the shade remain unscathed.

In October, bucks are beginning to rub their antlers against the trees, rubbing the bark from the trees as they rub the velvet from their antlers.

“The three species of pine native to Wisconsin (white, red, and jack) differ radically in their opinions about marriageable age,” he writes.

The jack pine sometimes blooms and bears cones a year or two after leaving Leopold’s nursery.

“My 13-year-old reds first bloomed this year,” he writes, “but my whites have not yet bloomed; they adhere closely to the Anglo-Saxon doctrine of free, white and twenty-one.”

Leopold remarks that each year in midsummer, the red squirrels tear up the jackpine cones for seeds, “under each tree the remains of their annual feast lie in piles and heaps.”

“Pines, like people,” he writes, “are choosy about their associates and do not succeed in suppressing their likes and dislikes. Thus there is an affinity between white pines and dewberries, between red pines and flowering spurge, between jackpines and sweet fern.”

Each species of pine also has its own constitution, he says. “which prescribes a term of office for needles appropriate to its way of life. Thus the white pine retains its needles for a year and a half; the red and jackpines for two years and a half. Incoming needles take office in June, and outgoing needles write farewell addresses in October.”


banded chickadee by Charles W. Schwartz

“65290” is the final segment in this chapter.

“To band a bird is to hold a ticket in a great lottery,” Leopold writes. “It is an exercise in objectivity to hold a ticket on the banded sparrow that falleth, or on the banded chickadee that may some day re-renter your trap; and thus prove that he is still alive.”

Leopold says that, “the real thrill lies in the recapture of some bird banded long ago, some bird whose age, adventures, and previous condition of appetite are perhaps better known to you than to bird himself.

“Thus in our family, the question whether chickadee 65290 would survive for still another winter was, for five years, a sporting question of the first magnitude.”

65290 was one of seven chickadees constituting what Leopold calls the ‘class of 1937’.

“By the second winter our recaptures showed that the class of 7 had shrunk to 3, and by the third winter to 2. By the fifth winter 65290 was the sole survivor of his generation.”

“During his sixth winter 65290 failed to reappear, and the verdict of ‘missing in action’ is now confirmed by his absence during four subsequent trappings.

“At that, of 97 chicks banded during the decade,” Leopold concludes, “65290 was the only one contriving to survive for five winters.”

“I know so little about birds,” Leopold continues later, “that I can only speculate on why 65290 survived his fellows. Was he more clever in dodging his enemies? What enemies? A chickadee is almost too small to have any.”

Musing on that, Leopold notes, “The sparrow hawk, the screech owl, the shrike, and especially the midget saw-whet owl might find it worth while to kill a chickadee, but I’ve only once found evidence of actual murder: a screech owl pellet containing one my bands.”

“It seems likely,” he continues, “that weather is the only killer so devoid of both humor and dimension as to kill a chickadee. I suspect that in the chickadee Sunday School two mortal sins are taught: thou shalt not venture into windy places in winter, thou shalt not get wet before a blizzard.”

Many birds, not just chickadees seem leery of the wind, for as Leopold notes, “Wind from behind blows cold and wet under the feathers, which are his portable roof and air conditioner. Nuthatches, juncos, tree sparrows and woodpeckers likewise fear winds from behind, but their heating plants and hence their wind tolerance are larger in the order named.”

Leopold ends the chapter with what he considers the third commandment: “thou shalt investigate every loud noise.”

Why? Because falling trees expose the chickadee delicacy: ant eggs.



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by Charles W. Schwartz

In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold begins his chapter on November with a discussion of the wind and its sound and effects on the landscape and its inhabitants. This brief discussion is followed by a lengthy discourse on trees and his thoughts behind whether they should be axed or not.

“I have read many definitions of what is a conservationist,” he writes, “and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an axe. It is a matter of what a man thinks about while chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land. Signatures, of course, differ, whether written with axe or pen, and this is as it should be.”

Later, he adds, “The wielder of an axe has as many biases as there are species of trees on his farm. In the course of the years he imputes to each species, from his responses to their beauty or utility, and their responses to his labors for or against them, a series of attributes that constitute a character. I am amazed to learn what diverse characters different men impute to one and the same tree.”

He goes on to name some examples–why he likes aspens (they glorify October and feed his grouse in winter) and his neighbor thinks of it as a weed (because it grows so well in land that was meant to be cleared). He discusses tamaracks, cottonwoods, wahoos, red dogwood, bittersweets,  and hickories, as well.


by Charles W. Schwartz

“It is also evident that our plant biases reflect not only vocations but avocations,” he writes, “with a delicate allocation of priority as between industry and indolence. The farmer who would rather hunt grouse than milk cows will not dislike hawthorn, no matter if it does invade his pasture. The coon-hunter will not dislike basswood, and I know of quail hunters who bear no grudge against ragweed, despite their annual bout with hayfever. Our biases are indeed a sensitive index to our affections, our tastes, our loyalties, our generosities, and our manner of wasting weekends.”

He then writes: “Every farm woodland, in addition to yielding lumber, fuel, and posts, should provide its owner a liberal education. This crop of wisdom never fails, but it is not always harvested. I here record some of the many lessons I have learned in my own woods.”


Leopold realized soon after he purchased his woods that he had “bought almost as many tree diseases” as he had trees. “But it soon became clear,” he writes, “that these same diseases made my woodlot a mighty fortress, unequaled in the whole county.

“My woods is headquarters for a family of coons; few of my neighbors have any.”

Why? Because a fallen and diseased tree on his property became a safe haven against coon hunters.

“The hunter had quit coonless because a fungus disease had weakened the roots of the maple. The tree, half tipped over by a storm, offers an impregnable fortress for coondom. Without this ‘bombproof’ shelter, my seed stock of coons would be cleaned out by hunters each year.”

He continues with more examples:

Oaks wind-thrown by summer storms become a harbor for grouse during winter snows, keeping them safe from wind, owls, foxes, and hunters. The diseased oaks also provide oak galls, a favorite grouse food. Wild bees fill his hollowed oaks with honeycomb.

Rabbits, he says, spurn red dogwood until it is attacked by oyster-shell scale. And, when he is harvesting diseased or dead trees for fuel in the winter, “every slab of dead bark is, to them [chickadees], a treasury of eggs, larvae, and cocoons.”

“But for diseases and insect pests,” he writes, “there would likely be no food in these trees, and hence no chickadees to add cheer to my woods in winter.

“Many other kinds of wildlife depend on tree diseases,” he says. Pileated woodpeckers, barred owls, wood ducks, and squirrels all take advantage of diseases trees.

“The real jewel of my disease-ridden woodlot is the prothonotary warbler,” he concludes the chapter. “He nests is an old woodpecker hole, or other small cavity, in a dead snag overhanging water. The flash of his gold and blue plumage amid the dank decay of the June woods is in itself proof that dead trees are transmuted into living animals, and vice versa. When you doubt the wisdom of this arrangement, take a look at the prothonotary.”


photo by Dominic Sherony; prothonatary warbler



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by Charles W. Schwartz

It is October in Wisconsin and Aldo Leopold turns to the subject of the fall hunt. I have to admit that I have only been hunting once in my life and that was because I was doing a story for a daily newspaper on a hunting club.

They tried to fool this Girl Scout into thinking that golden raisins were deer scat, but I knew better. Once they realized I (my husband who was photographing the story had hunting experience) wasn’t a nature novice, I was treated with more respect and had a wonderful time. And I never told them that I was secretly pleased that no deer died by our hands that weekend.

But in A Sand County Almanac, Leopold reminisces about hunting for grouse and pheasants:

“There are two kinds of hunting:” he begins, “ordinary hunting and ruffed-grouse hunting.

“There are two place to hunt grouse: ordinary places, and Adams County.

“There are two times to hunt in Adams: ordinary times, and when the tamaracks are smoky gold.”


Smoky gold tamaracks

“The tamaracks change from green to yellow when the first frosts have brought woodcock, fox sparrows, and juncos out of the north,” he writes. “Troops of robins are stripping the last white berries from the dogwood thickets, leaving the empty stems as a pink haze against the hill. The creekside alders have shed their leaves, exposing here and there an eyeful of holly. Brambles are aglow, lighting your footsteps grouseward.”

Musing on an abandoned farm that he passes, Leopold becomes aware that his dog has  been “pointing patiently these many minutes.”

“I walk up,” he writes, “apologizing for my inattention. Up twitters a woodcock, batlike, his salmon breast soaked in October sun. Thus goes the hunt.”

Leopold then reflects on early risers, what he says is a “habitual vice in horned owls, stars, geese, and freight trains.”


by Charles W. Schwartz

“Some hunters acquire it from geese,” he continues, “and some coffee pots from hunters. It is strange that of all the multitude of creatures who must rise in the morning at some time, only these few should have discovered the most pleasant and least useful time for doing it.”

“Early risers,” he writes later, “feel at ease with each other, perhaps because, unlike those who sleep late, they are given to understatement of their own achievements. Orion [the constellation], the most widely traveled, says literally nothing. The coffee pot, from its first soft gurgle, underclaims the virtues of what simmers within. The owl, in his trisyllabic commentary, plays down the story of the night’s murders. The goose on the bar, rising briefly to a point of order in some inaudible anserine debate, lets fall no hint that he speaks with the authority of all the far hills and the sea.

“The freight, I admit, is hardly reticent about his own importance, yet even he has a kind of modesty: his eye is single to his own noisy business, and he never comes roaring into somebody else’s camp. I feel a deep security in this single-mindedness of freight trains.”


by Charles W. Schwartz

“One way to hunt partridge,” Leopold notes, “is to make a plan, based on logic and probabilities, of the terrain to be hunted. This will take you over ground where the birds ought to be.

“Another way is to wander, quite aimlessly, from one red lantern to another. This will likely take you where the birds actually are. The lanterns are blackberry leaves, red in October sun.”

Guess which is Leopold’s preferred method.

“Red lanterns,” he continues, “have lighted my way on many a pleasant hunt in many a region, but I think that blackberries must first have learned how to glow in the sand counties of central Wisconsin.”

October-red lanterns

The red lanterns of fall . . .

“At sunset on the last day of the grouse season,” Leopold concludes, “every blackberry blows out his light. I do not understand how a mere bush can thus be infallibly informed about the Wisconsin statutes, nor have I ever gone back the next day to find out. For the ensuing eleven months the lanterns glow only in recollection. I sometimes think that the other months were constituted mainly as a fitting interlude between Octobers, and I suspect that dogs, and perhaps grouse, share the same view.”