Of Opie, emotions and the mystery of it all


By Bob Quarteroni

Mark Twain famously said that ““I believe our Heavenly Father invented man because he was disappointed in the monkey.”

He was sniffing down the right path, just had has animals a little mixed up.

I was thinking this during a marathon two-and-a-half hour run with Opie, our beloved 18.8 pound rescue doggie (getting fat on Paul Newman jerky, but his personality is stronger than mine and I can’t refuse him) and Molly, who is at least 16 (another rescue so who knows) and is as deaf and allergic to authority as I am.

We were hiking Bear Creek Camp, a magnificent religious-affiliated outdoor masterpiece that holds no animus against atheists or anyone else, when we came to the Sanctuary, an outdoor retreat and meditation center and I plopped down for a rest.

Fast as only an overstuffed little sausage mix dog can move, Opie came bounding up, leaped onto my lap and started furiously kissing my nose which really isn’t as big and bulbous as it looks in the photo, he says pathetically.

Opie’s lovable tongue lashing – he can seemingly produce about 30 licks a second — as always made me laugh and filled my heart with joy.

Dogs are, it seems to me, slightly smelly perfection. Their joy in life, their innate goodness, their almost scary capacity to love always makes me marvel.

Which leads me back to Twain, god, monkeys and why we can feel such incredible emotions in a seemingly uncaring universe.

If there were a god, wouldn’t it have been sensible enough to look on the puppies it created and say, yes, this is my finest work; I have turned fur and saliva into perfection; now I can rest.

Seems like a no-brainer to me. You’d have to be nuts after gestating a black lab to keep going and create the two-legged mess that is mankind.

Just one more reason I don’t believe in the Big Unlikely. Even a god couldn’t be that blind – or stupid. But What about chance, chaos getting Opie and me to the Sanctuary, bubbling over with emotions.

Quien sabe.

This is where it gets messy. I don’t know how Opie got here or what filled him with such an abundance of grace, love and the most beautiful, artless passions.

And if I don’t know how I certainly don’t know why. Why passions so intense, so searing; often giddily happy yes, but just as often, almost unimaginably painful?

What gives?

It seems obvious to me, as Annie Dillard wrote, “Our excessive emotions are so patently painful and harmful to us as a species that I can hardly believe they evolved.”

Me neither, but they have, and they are our heaven and hell, our alpha and omega, our purest joy and our deepest pain.

To go from the cosmic to the little panty-crotch eater, why does Opie leave the sniffing and running he loves to stop and show me his boundless heart? What does he get out of it? Nothing it would seem. But love, canine or human, may be magically inexplicable, but is a fact writ large.

The confusion compounds when you consider that most of creation, flatworm to clam, snail to lizard, operates quite nicely, thank you, without these messy emotions.

If a slug misses the ecstasy of love, it also escapes the pain of a caring that a loved one is dying.

It’s only a few of us with the problematic gift of deep emotions. And it’s not just people we’re talking about.

In a segment that made my heart lurch when I first read it, Dillard noted that some higher animals have emotions that we think are similar to ours:

“Dogs, elephants, otters and the sea mammals mourn their dead. Why do that to an otter? What creator could be so cruel, not to kill otters, but to let them care?”


It’s a mystery, a gift and a burden. If we feel deeply, we must feel pain as sharply as pleasure.

So while I bask in Opie’s kisses now it’s with the knowledge that soon, perhaps very soon, one of us will vanish from the scene and the other will mourn.

The terms are clear. The happiness we feel today, and tomorrow, and next year, comes with an expiration notice.

That sounds bleak but it isn’t. Real bleakness would be not experiencing the joy of Opie’s kisses and all the other emotions that separate us from the placid frog and the indifferent caddis fly.

So I can turn to Opie right now, snuggled in his blanky and pressed against my hip, happily sleeping and making the wonderful little sounds we call purring, and know for a moment the small slice of peace I am allowed and cherish.

We won’t have this forever, but we have it right now and right here, and that’s enough for me, and as far as I can tell, for my baloney-breathed little love bug as well.


Come join us and see the hidden natural jewel, Crystal Lake.

If you’re local, come join us on this hike. I’ll be reporting on it for the Citizens’ Voice. Be sure to register.

Here’s a little history.

Conservation Leaders, DCNR Dedicate 1,500 Acre Addition To Pinchot State Forest In Luzerne County

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn Thursday joined conservancy, Bureau of Forestry officials and local legislators in a dedication ceremony celebrating the addition more than 1,500 acres to Pinchot State Forest in Luzerne County.

“Visitors will appreciate the increased access and recreational potential this land affords, and we salute the Earth Conservancy and North Branch Land Trust for working tirelessly to make this happen,” Dunn said. “With the addition of the Wanamie and Crystal Lake land parcels, both in Luzerne County, comes increased watershed protection and assistance in the bureau’s efforts to curtail forest fragmentation and safeguard state forestlands.”

The acquisition of the 1,132-acre Wanamie property in Newport Township, Luzerne County, was facilitated by the Earth Conservancy; and the purchase of the 389-acre Crystal Lake tract, was overseen by North Branch Land Trust, in Bear Creek Township.

“We are extremely pleased to have participated in the collaboration,” said Mike Dziak, Earth Conservancy president and CEO. “Projects like this are critical to Earth Conservancy’s mission of revitalization in the region. Not only does preserving this land protect open space and wildlife in the area, but it also adds to outdoor recreational resources for the public.”

Click Here to watch a video of remarks by Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, at the dedication event.

Deeded to the Bureau of Forestry by the Earth Conservancy, the Wanamie tract has an existing mountain bike path that is maintained by the conservancy. Its acquisition will enhance other state forest recreational opportunities, including camping, hiking, wildlife watching, and hunting.

The North Branch Land Trust recently purchased the 389-acre tract in Bear Creek Township, with an eye to protecting the Delaware River watershed and improving public access and recreation opportunities on land surrounding Crystal Lake. It, too, has deeded the property to the bureau.

The tract sits atop the Delaware River Watershed and harbors wetlands and headwater streams feeding into the Delaware River via the Bear Creek and Lehigh River. Trails on the property connect to existing trail networks on the neighboring state forest land.

Both land purchases were facilitated through grant support from DCNR’s Bureau of Recreation and Conservation Community Conservation Partnership Program, with funding from the Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservation Fund; and the Open Space Institute’s Delawarecrystal River Watershed Protection Fund, made possible with funding from the William


If there really were a god, he would have stopped at dogs

kisstwoSitting outside in the cold at the Bear Creek Camp Sanctuary during a two-hour plus run with Opie and Molly, the Opster bounded up and gave me a torrent of sloppy, warm kisses which, as always made me laugh and filled my heart with joy.

Dogs are; it seems to me,  slightly smelly perfection.  Their  joy in life, their innate goodness,  their almost scary capacity to love always makes me marvel.

And if there were a god, wouldn’t it have been sensible enough to look on the puppies and say, yes, I have created my  finest work….and not go on to create the mess that is mankind. Seems like a no brainer to me.

I don’t know how to reconcile my bleak, random view of existence with the presence of a creature who is to me, pure beauty, total innocence, a rebuttal of all my negative beliefs.

For me, Opie is a miracle, inexplicable and total. His joy in life, the radiance of purity that emanates from him, his sheer sweetness and total Opieness are an ineffable gift that I do not understand, but fully treasure.

He is everything that, essentially, I don’t believe in.

But the fact is that he is here and is beauty, grace and pure happiness incarnate.

Belief in an uncaring universe and the presence of a miracle with fur??? I can’t explain it either.

This question of explaining the beauty of the world co-existing with the most awful evil has been bedeviling me my entire life.

And it’s the central question of Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” the single work that has been the most influential in my life.

“Cruelty is a mystery, and the waste of pain,” she writes. ‘’But if we describe a word to compass these things, a world that is a long, brute game, then we bump against another mystery: the inrush of power and delight, the canary that sings on the skull.”

That mystery of why both cruelty and beauty exist hand in glove is — to steal from Winston Churchill –“a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

We can only ponder, and wonder and watch the show.

“Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them,” Dillard wrote. “The least we can do is try to be there.”

So I do. I sit with Opie on the couch and he does his simple doggie things that I see as joy incarnate on four paws. He is a magical mystery pup, and I can’t explain or understand it. But as Norman Maclean said in “A River Runs Through It,” “We can love completely what we cannot completely understand.”

Soon I’ll be going to the great perhaps without having figured out this eternal riddle. I know how little I know. But this I do know; Opie, I love you.

Ah, winter, when hazels think of love, love, love

Ah, the yellow male catkins of one of my favorites, the hazel nut is looking robust and, well, sexy, and why not: winter is the summer of love for hazels.

The hazelnut is unique in that it blooms and pollinates in the middle of winter. Wind carries the pollen from yellow catkins to a tiny red flower, where it stays dormant until June, when the nut begins to form.hazel

This hazelnut was found along the back — the uncivilized side — shore of Frances Slocum which is hazelnut central. Some places along the shore are hundreds of yards of nothing but hazel.

Even so, you have to hustle to get a couple of nuts in the fall before the beasties, who just love, love, love them (as I do).

Some more hazel facts so maybe a few others will learn to love these guys like I do.

•Turkey is the largest producer of hazelnuts in the world with approximately 75% of worldwide production.

•The hazelnut became Oregon’s official State Nut in 1989.
•June 1st is National Hazelnut Cake Day.
•Hazelnut oil, which is not excessively greasy and slightly sweet, can be used for food preparation and cosmetic purposes.
•Is it a Filbert or a Hazelnut? There’s truly no wrong answer. Filbert is the correct name for both the tree and nut. The name is of French origin, and filbert trees were likely first introduced into Oregon by early French settlers. Some thought filbert was derived from St. Philibert, as August 22 is dedicated to him, corresponding to the earliest ripening date of filberts in England.
•Hazelnut is the name coined by the English and applied to the native species by early settlers. In 1981, the Oregon Filbert Commission decided to conform to the common standard and began emphasizing “hazelnut.”
•Hazelnut trees can produce until over 80 years of age.
•In Ancient Rome, it was customary to offer a hazelnut plant, the Corylus avellana, in the belief that it brought happiness. In the French tradition, on the other hand, this plant symbolizes fertility.
•In Germanic countries, hazelnuts are widely used in the form of flour for preparing cakes. The most famous of these is Linzer Torte, a pastry torte with a redcurrant jam filling



Barking up, down and around way too many trees

Bark beetles — whose variety and numbers are legion — may leave some aesthetically pleasing calligraphy on trees — as on this dead hemlock trunk in Frances Slocum, but they are causing a world of hurt to the tree population.

Bark beetles are fairly small insects, between 1/8 and 1/3 inch long, named for the fact that the best known species reproduce in the inner bark of trees.  It is a very large group, with approximately 220 genera.  Most species of bark beetles live in wood that is already dead, dying or at least weakened due to such things as drought, disease, root damage, smog, etc., and these play an important role in the decomposition of wood and in helping to renew forests by killing older and/or weakened trees.  However, there are some species, such as the Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) that attack and kill live trees.  Species of that sort are economically significant and are considered important pests, particularly for the lumber industry. Trees do produce some natural defenses against bark beetles, such as resin or latex–which can contain any number of insecticidal compounds that can kill or harm the beetles or even just trap and suffocate them with the sticky nature of the compounds–but when there is a full-blown outbreak of any of the pest species that attack living trees, a tree’s defenses can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of them.

Here is a list of some of the more well-known bark beetles, which are described in some detail in the Virginia Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet that you can link to below: Ips beetles (Engraver beetles), Southern Pine beetles, Conifer Bark beetles, Black Turpentine beetles, Elm Bark beetles, Shothole Borebarkrs, Peach Bark beetles, Ash Bark beetles, Birch Bark beetles, and Hickory Bark beetles.

Nature’s magic 365 days a year


“In seed-time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” William Blake

One of my favorite things about winter strolls is revisiting plants that have graced the woods from the first green shoots of spring through the beauty of flowering to autumn’s fruit, as with this wild hydrangea.

It any many others brighten the Back-Mountain trail waterfall and, mixing with the spray from the falls, make for an unforgettable experience any day of the year.hydrangea seeds (2) (800x772)

The clarity of fog


“I like the muted sounds, the shroud of grey, and the silence that comes with fog.” Om Malik

Only experience nature on sunny days and you deprive yourself of the near-mystical beauty that is a day heavy with fog, with air still as a thought and light that paints the shapes of nature in new and awe-inspiring ways.

In the total quiet, it’s like being the only person on the planet, and that is a magic to be savored, if you’re lucky enough to catch it.fog (800x533)