Mountain Calls

snowy mountain and treeI went to the Rax – the last peak in the Austrian mountains – with a novel in mind. I had planned it as a piece of nature writing segueing into coffee-house debate in Vienna over our looming environmental crisis. The novel, Mountain Calls, is a travelogue of my last two significant trips to the Rax, both of which were in late winter. The original experiences of blizzard and snowstorm on the peak mingled with early Spring birdsong in the valley below are now overlaid with the experience of honing the passages of a book that give them second life. With a little effort however I can dig the original memories out from under the prose, and in doing so I am transported.

I start, cold, in the car park outside the guesthouse in the valley. Here I have to look up at the mountain wreathed in weather, an early thrush calling. I set off fast, to warm up, and arrive at the cable car ready for the three thousand feet ascent. The valley spreads itself out below, we punch through clouds, we arrive for the fitting of snowshoes and sticks. Hauling myself up the first slope towards the plateau, the interior, I prepare to abandon myself to the call of the mountain. For, yes, it has called me back again.

I walk, flomp, flomp, over creaking snow in the odd but exhilarating quadrupedal form of propulsion over the tops of small pines poking out of drifts, who knows, twelve feet deep in places. On a wind-scarred slope further on the snow has been scoured away for mosses and dried grasses to sustain a herd of deer; struggling up the next slope I glide over where it has been heaped high. I stop at the old guesthouse that was Sigmund Freud’s favourite summer-time retreat, now boarded up with shutters and a twenty-foot drift. From there it is time to head to the interior where what ski-tracks remain are being erased by fresh snowfall. I am completely alone now.

I stop, panting, the wet snow falling on a pine bough just warmed enough by a fitful sun to yield its fragrance. I have to get my bearings carefully now under the anonymous greyness of low cloud, then conscious of the big personalities of cloudbanks above me lit up here and there. I have come to listen, reminded that once in my home snow-shires near Oxford I had also stopped to listen and had been surprised by the sound of falling snow, then powdery and cold enough in a trillion tiny collisions to add up to a murmuring, the sound of love.

I have chosen a course to a pine on a ridge, perhaps over the heart of the mountain, a place where the story of its heart and the story of my heart would mingle. A crow, or perhaps an Alpine chough, calls in the silence. At the ridge the opposite peak of the Schneealpe fades in and out of view with the fury of the rising snowstorm; I have a glimpse of the landmark that will take me back to safety; I stop now for as long as cold and gathering dusk will permit. The grey light is brilliant, rounded, my eyes softly range over the endless monochrome expanse, over bush, tree and snow-mounds, snow-fields, snow-eddies. No words come to me, unlike the time in the valley at sunset when the peak loomed larger the longer I walked away from it but unable to prevent its call, its query, its charge. It has asked me to ask the world, what are we doing? The mountain knows us as the pinnacle of Nature, it knows us as the lord of all creatures, it knows us as the discoverers of unconditional love, so it asks us, what are you doing? Only here, with all trace of the human erased, can a human be asked this question; only in blizzard and snowstorm are the elemental forces of Nature powerful and dangerous enough to ask of the most powerful and dangerous animal, the human: what are you doing? What on Earth are you doing?


Mike King is a writer living in rural Suffolk, England. His environmental novel Mountain Calls was Mountain Calls Coverpublished in 2017. You can find his books and essays at stochasticpress.com and on Amazon. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, Ethical Capitalism. Photo by the author.

My Body an Island

At first I sleep under a princess veil, a bug net shielding me loosely from the mosquitos and the night. My body is fleshy and new, jumpy at the powdery moths that flutter towards my face and the ants that crawl over my feet. The night passes half imagined, half rolled in wool blankets. The moving air outside the trap door walls catches in the spruce cones and makes the familiar sound of washing. The sea below the rock steps meets the shore in methodical, watery pushes. Loons howl for each other across the expanse of seaweed and herons scold the darkness like their reptilian ancestors.

two chairs look out at the ocean

At night I leave on the red bulb like a channel marker guiding boats to the mouth of the bay and soon my metal bedframe is transformed into an eight-foot dory and I drift out into the waves. In sleep the waves grow bigger no longer made by the wind off the land and become great spaced out swells. Waves that are born from storms circling the Cape Verde Islands, waves that have traveled to the Tropic of Capricorn before heaving my little bed up to each crest and sliding me down into each trough.

evening sky at sunset

Before the loons, before the herons, before the fossils this island had a shoreline long and straight, made from a combination of rock: granite and schist. Over time too long for my human body to know the soft schist was melted away by the constant ocean leaving only granite. This skeletal bedrock, flecked with mirrors and ash now forms the island’s edge, curved like my spine.

Each day my feet are scrubbed by spruce cones, cut open by clam shells and glued shut again by pine sap. I swim in the brine, sit naked in the wind and dry on wood planks. Soon I too find my soft sediment beginning to erode like the shoreline. This is human scaled geology, 32,000 days to a life, but in just twelve I have seen my softer rock begin to slide into the sea and there is something under there, something deep held and ancient, perhaps an island.

old cabin in the woods

Tomorrow I travel back to the mainland, back to “America,” back to the interstates and I worry about the sediment that will immediately begin to accumulate in these new coves of my body. I want my body to remain like this island, salty and acidic with a curved shoreline. I want to store my memories like the white mound of oyster shells and herring bones, covered by ferns. Memories like the Indian midden are a mix of meals and broken axe blades, chards of a clay bowl broken by a child’s impatient hands. I want my body to remain this island, my edge defined by the sea, my inland continual and perfect even in succession. Let me be scarred by hurricanes, lightening, or the ax but never let me fail to be grubs for the thrush so I can feed the song of the woods, to be fireweed for the tiniest hummingbird and mites for the absurdly large turkey. Let my body hoard spruce cones for the winter and ferment Beach plums in the August heat. Let my body be windblown snags for the quarrelsome squirrels and dust mounds for the companionable ants. Let me remain this island, eroding slowly but with a core of granite bedrock resolute against the prevailing Northeast winds, bowing like a thousand fiddleheads but never breaking to all that is change and all that is constant.

Moning sky at sunrise


I started watching birds when I was eleven years old. My love for the feathered opened a door into the natural world that never closed. I followed this passion to a career in museums, non-profits, science and environmental education that now spans fifteen years.

Over this time as a communicator, teacher, and naturalist, I have come to believe that connecting people to the environment is crucial for the individual, the community, and our shared biosphere. I achieve this through written, visual, and spoken communications, developing community partnerships, non-profit strategic planning, classroom teaching and environmental education.

To learn more about my background or work please visit my website: http://www.alexanderdunn.org/

For more information about Hog Island and the residency, the link is: http://hogisland.audubon.org/programs/artist-residency-information.

Photos by the author

Memory of Another Winter

Only half-way through January and already it feels onerous and way too long. Is it advancing age that places this heavy mantle on my shoulders? Is it the contemplation of yet two more months of crippling snow and deep freeze?

The other day I tried to imagine what it would be like to live in Alaska, to roll out of bed every day and face the challenges of life in the frozen north. Nearly constant darkness, temperatures dropping lower than the worst ever chronicled on the summit of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. Nibbling on frozen whale blubber to stave off gnawing hunger pains that growl to be sated. Orca on the half-shell. Just plain awful.

It was not always like this. I can remember earlier years when I welcomed the onslaught of a strong winter storm. Together with other young couples we would head to the sledding hill of a friend in a nearby town, leaving a baby sitter to care for five sleeping children.

A cold and clear night, bright canopy of stars overhead, roaring bonfire, mugs of hot rum and the fun camaraderie of other young marrieds like ourselves. We felt such freedom from the daily responsibilities of our young lives. Icy winds, bitter cold temperatures, none of it mattered.

A fifty-year old memory? Impossible. It still seems like yesterday. Now, when wintry winds howl outside I retreat to my comfortable chair with a good book, snuggle a warm lap blanket closer around my knees, hunker down and long for the warm days of April.

mother and son walk in snowy forest


Patricia Sullivan is a dedicated writer of short essays. In addition to Nature Writing, her work has been published in a Life After Seventy anthology, The Boston Globe newspaper, Regis College Creative Writing magazine, and Still Crazy Magazine. Mother of five, grandmother of seven,she stays young by spending time with kids and grandkids. Her celebrated wine cakes have appeared on many community tables, always with attached recipe. Patricia and her husband, Paul, live in a small house on Winnings Pond in Billerica, Massachusetts, USA, known as “Sullivan Central” to the members of her large family. A first attempt at writing in later years was a piece of “foolish doggerel” whose odd message she then accepted:

An Old Woman Dozing in Bed,
Heard an odd voice inside of her head.
“Wake up you old fool
and go back to school
There’s more years behind than ahead!”

Photo by vladsogodel

Discovering the Interior: Insight in the Heart of Alaska

This. This place. “The Interior” of Alaska. Gold country. Cold country. Whether traveling over or through it, regardless of the means of transport, one must admit that it covers a vast area. An area that is very largely devoid of infrastructure. There are few roads and most of them are rough, many not passable in winter and dubious in inclement weather. There are rivers and lakes and highlands that afford means of transport, but the continuity of these passages is convoluted. In some areas it is so dry as to be a veritable desert; a sub-arctic desert. In others there is so much water, the boggy marshlands seemingly have no end.

Vast open valley of AlaskaIt is a land of permafrost, of tundra and taiga, of long and bitterly cold winters countered with hot and dry summers. The environment can be so harsh and unforgiving that one simple mistake can be fatal. It is sparsely populated, and for all we can tell, has always been so. It has been described as “a hungry country.” Yet, this place is, in many ways, magical. In my time there, I often found myself on the edge of wonder, amazed at what the place can be when one stops to look.

The Interior is marvelous; subtle, unassuming, intricate, treacherous, bountiful, hungry, raw yet refined. When exploring it, it can seem both very old and very young at the same time. It is a place that I lived, either in or near, for over 20 years. That said there was a defining period in the not so distant past where I had a series of experiences that caused me to gain a more significant and deeper appreciation for it.

It was the spring of 2012. Life had just taken a major and mostly unexpected turn. I fled into the woods as has often been my wont when under duress. I went first to a favorite camping spot out on the Chatanika River with my stalwart companion, the dogface; an aging sled dog that had been with me on many adventures, through thick and thin. The next day brought reluctance to return home, questionable as my welcome seemed to me at that point, and so I turned left on the highway instead of right, and ventured further out. I ended up driving a road I had been by, but never had followed to its end and it was remarkable …

* * *

Driving over US Creek road into the Nome Creek valley is a genuinely spectacular drive, (though often a particularly nasty road) and one I had undertaken several times. I like the White Mountains in general and most places there, out the Steese Highway. But I had never taken that left turn after the bridge across Nome Creek to drive down to Ophir Creek. Maybe it was my state of mind, maybe it was the time of year, maybe there was something in the air. Who knows, but, on that morning, it was like driving back in time, crazy as that may sound.

The road is not quite in the highlands, but neither is it really down in the forest. It reminded me at first of being in Yukon-Charley National Preserve, a place that I am rather familiar with, but this was different. These grasslands felt, well, older somehow. And the further I went out towards Ophir Creek the more that feeling struck me. Something about the place seemed very old indeed. On a whim, seeing it there on the side of the road, I stopped at a trailhead and we hiked to Table Top mountain, through an old burn in the taiga (the land of little sticks) and up the great rocky promontory. The dogface chased the wind and the ptarmigan and looked even more like the wolves she was likely descended from. We were the only ones out there. The views from the top were spectacular and put the place in perspective. Aside from the narrow, gravel track we had been driving, there was no sign of human activity as far as the eye could see. It was wide open, untamed, rolling land; the Yukon-Tanana uplands, a remnant of the fabled Beringia. I stood there in the wind that blew across the distant grasslands and forested valleys and barren hills. A seemingly ancient wind that blew right through me, as if I were not even there.

* * *

I shook off my reverie, relocated and followed the rest of the trail back to the truck, and we drove the rest of the way on down to the Ophir Creek campground. We stopped only briefly as there were a few too many mosquitoes for my liking, despite it barely being early spring. An ominous sign to be sure. Rather, we headed back up the road to a pullout that offered a good lunch spot with a view. While there, the dogface discovered a trail that was mostly hidden in the tall grass just off the road and so, after lunch, we followed it.

Down it went, switch backing through the stunted, scraggly trees, and there, at the bottom of the hill, at a bend in the trail, was a grave. Marked with a simple wooden cross and bearing a name and a date. It looked newer than the date claimed and so I expected it had been reconstructed at some point. “Odd” I thought, and continued down the trail.

The trail ends at the creek and there stand the ruins of a small homestead. A sign described the frontier life of a solitary gold miner named “Two Step” Louie, the unfortunate (or perhaps not) fellow now laid to rest back up the trail. Turns out, old “Two Step” was one of those guys that came to the Great Land seeking his fortune; judging by the serenity of the place where he chose to spend his last days I would say he found it, but perhaps not in the way he was expecting. Funny how things turn out sometimes.

There was no boomtown out Nome Creek way. It was no Klondike or Coldfoot. Even the little dredge that once churned up the world back upstream was short lived. Clearly there was gold, but only so much apparently. “Two Step” found a place to call home, a place that he could mine on a seasonal basis and support a subsistence lifestyle of hunting and gardening. His is an amazing spot, at a small bend in the creek with stunning views of the valley to the south. I am no expert, but I do have some experience with old miner’s cabins and this one – this place – did not have that air of squalor or desperation. It was not just a shelter. “Two Step” lived here and you can still sense that in the place.

I guess as both he and those that laid him to rest sensed, even in his passing, he still lives here. He always will. I did not know him, nor could I have; he died long before I was born. I had never heard of him and had no idea that this place was here before I stumbled onto it. Yet in that place, after driving that road and climbing that hill and seeing that country I understood.

  * * *

This is the Interior and there is no other place like it. “Two Step” may have found that, I do not really know. I do know that through him – and that place that he had called home – I certainly did. I think I found a lot of things out there that day, not the least of which was a way back “home”; back to my self. As I noted earlier, life had recently been turned a bit upside-down and I was unsure how to manage it. Something happened to me out there though that told me I had to find that out along the way. I had to discover it for myself. So too with life in general; we all have to make our own way and figure it out as we go along.

I am not going to tell you in any more detail how to find the place. I do not think I could really. Sure I could give you directions to go see old “Two Step” and his home, but to find the place? Well, I believe that can only happen through self-discovery. Like so many things really.


Christopher Houlette is an aspiring writer, baker, archaeologist, and once Alaskan wanderer. He has a fondness for small towns and big rivers, high mountains and wooded vales, open expanses and clear skies, and is primarily an observer and ponderer of his place in that world. He currently lives in east central Arizona with his Wife and Boy, 2 dogs, and 6 chickens. He sporadically keeps a blog, which you can find at akchrish23.wordpress.com. Photo by the author.

Winter Trees

I believe there is a particular welcome gesture in nature that announces another winter into the world. And if there is, it ought to be the nose-stinging coldness in the wind, a presence that makes breathing a painful chore. But like with all the challenges of life, you have to take it in, which is the only way to live a life of value. Winter season, to me, starts this way, with the chilling breeze preaching a stoic lecture on the struggles of life that are worthy of being undertaken. Every morning when I leave the comfort of my home to go to work, chill invades me wholly upon the opening of the front door. Listening to the click as the door shuts behind me, a surge of nostalgia fills my heart, momentarily reminding me of the warmth of the indoors, a comfort for which I have to wait till another evening, and work my way all through the day. Thus begin my mornings on any given weekday in the winters, with a tender fight between laziness and living.

As I walk along the pavement towards the tram-stop, I glance at the trees lined along the side of the bikers’ path, standing tall and stout. I see them slipping, with each passing day, into a calm slumber, like saints starting upon their meditation. As winter creeps upon the world, their leaves shed the green vigour little by little. Soon, as time for those leaves to depart from their shelters approaches, they adorn a yellow dryness upon themselves. And like that, one day they fall from their homes and become a carpet of nature for us to walk on. The trees are thus left barren and naked, and an aura of gloom reigns over them, covering all the signs of life from their branches for the rest of the season.

The look of these barren trees fills my heart with myriad emotions of dullness, as if the dreams of my life are at crossroads, as if they are lingering amid a confusion between abandonment and accomplishment. To make matters worse, the bright blue sky is replaced by a grey sadness, and daylight dims away from the world, as if the sun has gotten tired of us.

This is when the reality of winter is fully realized in my mind.

In this season, my insides are wired differently for the span of three cold months. All those multiple layers of clothing constrains me in many ways and makes me feel uneasy at times, especially when commuting. But it’s your responsibility towards yourself to be warm in a cold, stark world. When I think of it, it surprises me how true this is with the responsibilities of life itself. As you spend off your time year after year, and enter into the next seasons of your life, you grow more responsible towards everything that matters. Winter only mirrors this process, this cycle of life and its progress.

Daylight in winters seems to be too shy to present itself, and doesn’t really light up the sky until at least past 9 o’clock. But I can’t afford to wait for the sky to wish me a good morning. Hence, I wake myself up before the sun even opens his eyes to this side of the world, and walk out into the day and live it, or at least I try to.

But I still feel a strong presence of inactivity all around me. Nothing seems to be moving, all feels still and stagnant, as if the night doesn’t want to advance itself into a new day. The world seems so quiet in the winters, and I never yet clearly understood why. Perhaps it has to do with that feeling of stagnancy and slumber in the air. There seems to be an unshakable silence all around, which is sometimes soothing, and at other times, dejecting. Maybe this is nature’s way of telling us to explore the voices of our own hearts amid this hovering calmness of the season.

snowmanAnd then there is snow — that cold cotton tenderness falling out of the thin air above our heads… The place where I’m presently living at, Den Haag in The Netherlands, experiences snowfall only rarely, which is exactly what makes its arrival so special. It turns the city almost festive, especially in the eyes of children, and in mine. There is a mysterious bliss hidden in those moments that make you a child again, and a rare snowfall is surely one of them; at least to me it is.


Krishna Kanth is a writer from India who is presently living and working in The Netherlands. He writes fiction, non-fiction, short stories, and has a special place in his heart for literature that speaks of nature. The words of Henry David Thoreau from the pages of Walden had made him cognizant of our planet’s nature and its magnificent and unparalleled beauty. Ever since, it has become a vital purpose in his life to bring awareness about nature and its beauty to people through his writings. Some of his writings can be found in his new personal blog: www.hereiwrite.com.

Photos by the author