Field Trip to Willowemoc Wild Forest

Hiking with Catskills forest authority Mike Kudish is a great way to learn to identify trees, shrubs, ferns, and mosses and understand the history of the forests.  Last fall I accompanied Mike up the backside of Graham Mountain in his ongoing project to map the Catskills’ first growth forests, those regions that have never been disturbed by human activities like logging or farming.  We met again recently, together with my wife, Sue, and Odie the Labradoodle, to explore the Willowemoc Wild Forest, once again with the mission of mapping first growth.

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Field Trip to Willowemoc Wild Forest

Askeisis in the Catskills

This is a revised version of an earlier post in which I described an adventure in the Catskills undertaken in part as an experiment in “askeisis,” the ancient Greek concept of physical and spiritual training.  The revised version was published Saturday in Stoicism Today, a blog sponsored by University of Exeter on the topic of ancient Greek and Roman Stoic philosophy applied to modern living.

To read the post, click here:

stoicism today

Askeisis in the Catskills

Wandering Through the Laurel

Anyone who’s spent time wandering in the Shawangunks during springtime has witnessed the mountain-laurel in bloom.  But now that it was late June, the laurel flowers would have already come and gone, or so I thought as I headed out to cross the ridge…

Mountain-laurel flower buds

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Wandering Through the Laurel

Visions of the Gunks

In a post last fall, I shared a photograph taken from the summit of Twin Mountain and made the point that after years of admiring the Catskills from the vantage of the Shawangunks, I had for the first time made the reverse connection.

Last weekend I returned to Twin Mountain, but this time with my friend Steve Aaron, who is a talented landscape photographer.  And this time I saw something new….

Mohonk View From Indian Head (1 of 1)

Northern Shawangunks, seen from Twin Mountain in the Catskills.  Photo:  Steve Aaron Photography

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Visions of the Gunks

Training for Life

Reproduced with permission from the author, Lorraine Anderson, here is a recent social media post that caught my eye:

So I’m hiking in the woods, loving the serenity and alone time with nature, and all of a sudden comes running a super fast runner up the mountain I was going down. It was a man wearing only a black pair of shorts. He was really super fast and quiet, if it wasn’t for the leaves underfoot , I wouldn’t have heard anything, no heavy breathing, light on his feet, I cheer him on as he approaches I say ‘way to go, you’re doing great! He smiles and says yesterday I ran up here carrying a rock. I said, Omgoogness! That’s awesome! What are you training for I ask. He says ‘life’ with a big smile. I said I love it that’s the best

Credit:  Lorraine Anderson, feelfitforever

Note:  Carrying rocks uphill was a training method popular among Yurok Indians of northwest California.

You can follow Lorraine’s blog feelfitforever on — I particularly enjoyed a recent post in which she recalled her childhood love for nature.

Training for Life

Shifting into Neutral

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna advises Arjuna to “strive to still the mind,” which reminds me of a point made by 2nd century Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius:

It is in your power, whenever you choose, to retire into yourself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul.

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

One day, while waiting for the subway, I decided to give it a try.   Instead of fretting at the wait, I put away my phone and stood still.  Anxiety faded, and the surroundings came into focus, as I slowly let out my breath.

A visual image had helped me make the transition: I imagined moving a gear shift into neutral.  Then I wondered, could I shift into neutral while running?


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Shifting into Neutral

There’s Grit, and Then There’s True Grit

(An updated version of this blog post was published in The New Rambler)

In her recent book, Grit:  The Power of Passion and Perseverance, psychologist Angela Duckworth argues that the secret to success — whether for parents, students, educators, athletes, or business people — is not talent, but a combination of passion and perseverance she calls “grit.”

The dictionary definition of “grit” is “mental toughness or courage.” The term calls to mind gritting or clenching the teeth when facing up to an unpleasant task, or it makes us think of small particles of sand or stone that irritate skin, get in the eyes, clog machinery — the idea being that an individual with grit perseveres in the face of these frictions.

The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.

Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, Kelly, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2007

Packaged for a self-help audience, the book is filled with stories about how grit contributed to the achievements of celebrities and other successful individuals, and it makes for fun and informative reading.  However, many of us understand the point already, if for no other reason than we’ve seen the movie, True Grit (either the 1969 version starring John Wayne or the 2010 version with Jeff Bridges) or read the 1968 novel by Charles Portis on which the films were based.

While Duckworth does a nice job, her thesis falls short in that it fails to consider grit in the context of alternative mental strategies or consider the drawbacks and risks of grit.  Interestingly, a more balanced assessment comes through in a close reading of True Grit.

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There’s Grit, and Then There’s True Grit