The gentle exhalation of Lake Michigan is caught up this morning in hoarfrost and rime, ghosting weedy stems and low shrubs and the jagged bright lines of tree branches. From here, Bohemian Valley appears in delicate patterns, like receding layers of white and brown feathers.

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Taking a break, I’m glad to be away from my desk for a while; glad to wander in the woods and fields close to home. With so little daylight in December, there never seems to be enough time to wander.

These days, I spend hours reading reports and papers on atmospheric chemistry, climate change and the loss of species in the inevitable shift of ecosystems. And there are long conversations with the researchers working to prepare us for what’s next. They say things like adaptation, assisted migration.

But this week, I said goodbye to a dear friend in a Lansing hospice and the feeling of it pulls on me. I see light flicker across the hillsides and ridges furry with maples and remember her last visit here. We spent an August evening celebrating fifty-something, her last birthday, watching the orange and crimson light ripple across the water and up the slope into some beech trees. She wanted to talk about how to save more of it, to preserve the trees and openings of Leelanau County.

As old friends do, we talked of families and friends, recent trips, and the surprising passage of time. A simple conversation turned poignant. We did not talk of death and dying, the ephemeral nature of life. There was still business to be taken care of, a legacy to consider.

From that perspective, I think, one separates from the day-to-day complaints, wants, and disappointments. Our institutionalized system of consumption and greed is laid bare; maybe we finally rise above it to see humanity within the context of real earth systems. Of course, it is an inescapable truth that all life is dependent on these distinctly limited systems; but the meaning of that truth seems so brightly lit at the end of day.

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