Oct 26 2016

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Road Kill

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bone-on-the-roadLate October and the leaves are coming down. A few trees are still bright but most are past peak now. Today is cool and overcast. I wear a hat and jacket as I walk. Yesterday I saw the first specks of snow in my back yard. It’s that time of year.

Last week, while driving a busy New Hampshire highway in early morning traffic, I hit a deer. I was going 65 miles an hour like every other driver. Didn’t see it coming. Two seconds later or earlier and the deer would have been hit by someone else.

The deer bounced off the passenger’s side of my little car then disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared. From the damage it did to my car, I know it’s dead. The car is totaled. I’m okay. Had it been a moose instead of a deer, though, it would have been a different story.

I’m in a funk today, partly because winter is imminent and partly because I’m not enjoying the hassle of dealing with the insurance company. Being without a vehicle doesn’t help. But there’s something else going on in my head as well. One moment it’s another beautiful day and I’m going about my business per usual; the next I could be snuffed out of existence just like that. No warning. Boom! and it’s over.

It’s a grim thought for a grim time of year, certainly. Halloween is only a few days away. Halloween is the time of year when we dress up in funny costumes and make light of death. And so we should. If we stared sober at it during every moment that we’re awake, we’d go mad. So go ahead and have fun with it. The reaper catches up to us all soon enough.



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Oct 18 2016

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Autumnal Bliss

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fall-color-lookoutThe trees surrounding my house look like they’re on fire, making it hard to concentrate on work. With temps shooting into the 70s by noon, this may very well be the last warm day. So I don hiking clothes and head for a pocket of woods I haven’t seen in a while: Niquette Bay State Park.

In the mood to make tracks, I shoot down the trail at a good clip. My dog Matika keeps up with me despite the many interesting smells along the way. Even though I’m stripped down to a t-shirt, I break a good sweat while going uphill. Looks like autumn but it feels like summer.

A strong wind blows through the canopy overhead. Leaves rain down – the season being true to its name. The path underfoot is covered with them. The forest is all green and gold. The afternoon sun burns brightly through it, casting long telltale shadows. Winter isn’t far away.

After cresting the hill, I come to a lookout with a good view of Mt. Mansfield in the distance. But more impressive is the color in the hills close by. The fall foliage is peaking in the Champlain Valley right now, a week or so behind the higher elevations. My eyes soak it in.

Back home a little later, the sky suddenly darkens as the front blowing this way brings heavy weather. For the next few days gray skies and rain will be the rule. So I’m glad I got out when I did. A little autumnal bliss goes a long way.



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Oct 06 2016

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A Touch of Wildness

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town-forest-pond-early-octThe smell is the first thing I notice, stepping into the local town forest. It’s the smell of withering ferns, newly dropped leaves, and something distinctly autumnal that doesn’t quite sync with the mostly green canopy overhead. It all comes as something of a shock. Is it that time of year already?

My dog Matika and I amble down a trail still muddy from the previous day’s rain. Impressed by the recent trail work, I wander in circles while tracing three of the four blazed paths here. The late afternoon sunlight penetrates the shadowy forest in places. I glide along effortlessly, moving in and out of it.

Surprising silence. No birds singing out, no chirp or chatter, no wind. Suddenly it feels like I have stepped out of time and am now walking through another dimension. I start daydreaming. Startled frogs jumping into water snap me out of my reverie as I approach the pond…

Still pond gathering light from a clearing sky. Brilliant fall color just now coming out. But there’s something else going on here – a slow and subtle end to all growth. Too soon it seems, greenery lasting not more than six months at these latitudes. And yet it’s all right on schedule. Nature adheres religiously to its own rhythms.

Climbing a gentle rise away from the pond, I break a sweat despite the cool air. I’m moving faster now, heading back to my car at the trailhead, back to the work at home that still requires attention. It’s like that sometimes. I start leaving the forest behind before even stepping out of it. Yet my blood is up now, so a touch of wildness will stay with me a while longer.



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Sep 22 2016

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On the Trail with John

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view-from-prospect-rockFor six years I made excuses before getting back on the trail with my old hiking buddy, John. It’s shameful, really. No one is that busy. But at long last we met in Manchester, shuttled cars, then set foot together on the white-blazed AT/LT, headed north.

John is section hiking the Appalachian Trail. He has done 70% of it so far. Six years ago, I did a 40-mile stretch in central Vermont with him, then shuttled him south so that he could do another section alone. This time I joined John for 19 miles, between Kelly Stand Road and Route 30. I didn’t think my flabby body couldn’t handle more than that. I set aside 3 days from my allegedly busy life to do it.

We went up over Stratton Mountain first thing, tracing the same route that I had hiked with my grandkids a month earlier. A steady rain kept us cool and John let me set the pace. As a result, we got up and over the mountain with little difficulty.

We talked our way through the first day and into the next. We talked and talked. Six years is a long time. We had a lot of catching up to do.

After spending a night at Stratton Pond Shelter, I was feeling pretty spry for a 60-year-old. I suggested that we push it all the way to Route 30 the second day instead of going just to Spruce Peak Shelter. That way he could get in a full day’s hike the third day. John thought it best that we go as far as Spruce Peak Shelter before making that decision. I agreed.

Our traverse through the dripping forest was a trip down memory lane for me. We skirted the edge of Lye Brook Wilderness where I’d spent some time alone some years back. Then we stopped for lunch at Prospect Rock. I had stopped there 21 years earlier while thru-hiking the Long Trail. This time John and I cooled out while watching clouds gather slowly over Manchester below. A pleasant break, indeed.

Sure enough, I was still feeling strong when we reached Spruce Peak Shelter early in the afternoon. With only 3 miles left, we went for it, popping out on Route 30 with plenty of time for a 2-hour drive south into Massachusetts. We parked my car at Dalton then hiked half a mile south on the AT to Kay Wood Shelter. There we stayed for the night. In the morning we retraced our steps back to my car where John picked up a 5-day supply of food before continuing north all the way to his car on Kelly Stand Road.

That was two days ago. Since then John has been hiking over Mt. Greylock and I have returned to my busy-ness. John and I have been having outdoor adventures together since we were Boy Scouts back in Ohio. We’re not done yet. Next year, I’ll join him on another tramp along the AT. No excuses. I’ve got my priorities straight now… and a year to get myself in shape so that I can stay on the trail with him longer.



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Sep 16 2016

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The Quarry

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Version 2Judy and I didn’t actually see the quarry until our house was well under construction. We had heard about it before our builder even broke ground back in February, but we didn’t think it was that big a deal. We were mistaken.

The folks who own the quarry kept telling us that we should check it out. When finally we got around to doing that, we were pretty impressed. It is much bigger and more beautiful than expected, with a shallow end that’s ideal for launching boats. We were encouraged to use the quarry so, when the grandkids came to visit shortly after we moved into our new house, that’s what we did. They loved it, of course. They kayaked, swam and fished there on several occasions. I think they would have camped out there if we had let them.

In the middle of the summer, I went swimming there for the first time. My dog Matika accompanied me. The hot sun warmed the surface, but a few feet down the water was cold. Another pleasant surprise.

A few weeks later Judy and I kayaked the quarry at sundown, breaking the glassy surface of the water with our paddles while making long, lazy circles upon it. A kingfisher called out then swooped low over the water. Then all was quiet. That’s when we realized just how charming the place really is.

It’s only half a mile away from our house. We go past the quarry while walking a two-mile loop around the area. The owners have told us repeatedly that we can use it any time, and I suppose we will in the years to come. But it still doesn’t quite feel real to us. It’s like having a small park steps from one’s door. More than we bargained for when we moved here, that’s for sure.



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Sep 08 2016

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First Color

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early-fall-colorI can’t believe it’s that time of year already. I look up while running my errands and there it is: a sugar maple starting to turn. Busy with moving, renovating the old place, and cultivating my book business, summer went by even faster than normal. Now here it is autumn.

The first sign of it came last month while I was hiking in the mountains with my grandsons. Hobblebush leaves were turning reddish-brown then – a sure sign of what was coming. Wood asters, one of the last wildflowers to bloom during the growing season, appeared in my back yard as well. And the crickets have been noticeably noisy for a while now.  Yeah, there has been plenty of warning. Still… I can’t quite wrap my brain around it.

Autumn in Vermont is always something special – there’s no doubt about that. I look forward to the crisp cool days, bug-less hikes, and the kaleidoscope of color. I’m returning to my literary work, too, after a four-month intellectual drought. But those of us who live here in the North Country are always a little sad to see summer fade away. The growing season is short in these parts. We never seem to get enough of it.

That said, I’m enjoying these last few barefoot days and consuming as much fresh produce as I can. The trees are turning but it takes a month or so for Mother Nature to change her seasonal garb. No sense getting ahead of ourselves. The present is all that really matters.



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Aug 26 2016

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Sunrise at Stratton Pond

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Sunrise Stratton PondA loon cried out as predawn light filtered into the tent. Hearing it, Hunter sat up for a moment. Mason heard it as well but he just rolled over. I went out to investigate, leaving the tent as quietly as possible. Our hike over Stratton Mountain the day before had been a tough one so I thought it best that my grandsons sleep a little longer.

The air was still. Insects dappled the glassy surface of Stratton Pond. No sound. The loon was long gone. Out of habit, I went to put on my heavy wool shirt but set it aside instead. No need. I was perfectly comfortable in a t-shirt.

The sun peeked over the ridge rising towards the mountain, promising another beautiful day. I heard the boys stirring inside the tent. When they came out I put them to work fetching water for tea, dropping the food bag slung in the trees, and making orange juice from the powder on hand. I fired up the camp stove.

We sat on foam pads drinking juice and tea, and eating bagels. A chipmunk chattered. A bird meep-meeped nearby. “That’s a nuthatch,” I told the boys, then I shut up so they could enjoy the deep woods silence that followed.

This was their first bona fide trip into the wild.  Oh sure, we’d been hiking and camping before, and had even backpacked to a “remote” camp site in a state park, but this was different. Several miles from the nearest road, they were encountering Nature in all its glory. The look in their morning eyes said it all. I reveled in their quiet astonishment.

An hour or so later, we broke camp. The boys were eager to hike again. They enjoyed the easy walk along the shoreline and the relatively flat Stratton Pond Trail that followed. It seemed to me like we were coming out too soon, but they got a good dose of it – a couple days in the woods they wouldn’t easily forget. I was quite pleased with myself for having arranged it.



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Aug 16 2016

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Wild Blackberries

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blackberriesIt’s late summer and the blackberries are ripening. A few steps from our new house they grow wild. I discovered them a few weeks ago.

They grow along the pathways between our house and the nearby quarry – a good place for a short walk. Wide pathways riddle the local woods. And where sunlight strikes, blackberry bushes magically appear.

From green to red these berries ripen. When they get that deep purplish hue, they’re ready to be picked. I can hardly resist. Their plumpness is alluring. Pop a couple in your mouth and you know what happiness tastes like. Sweet, yes, but with a zing to them that all wild fruit seems to have.

My wife Judy has gone through several pints of them. She went a-picking with me once but is happy enough just eating them at home. I, on the other hand, like picking blackberries more than eating them. It feeds my compulsion.

Don’t get me wrong. I eat plenty of blackberries as I pick them, popping one in my mouth for every two or three that goes in my container. That seems like a good ratio.

Between picking and eating, I grow lighthearted, almost giddy. Wearing only shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops, I am scratched by the thorny blackberry bushes and take plenty of bug bites, but I don’t care. I sweat in the sunlight breaking into the humid woods, but I don’t care. Picking becomes my raison d’être. I pick therefore I am.

Picking and eating, picking and eating… It’s a simple countryside pleasure that keeps me connected to the earth, making me glad to be alive. The world is going to hell in a hand basket, or so I hear. But while I’m a-picking, none of that matters.


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Aug 08 2016

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Brief Sojourn in the Catskills

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Catskill campI don’t like to mix business with pleasure. It’s hard to stay focused that way. But I made an exception last week when I headed south of Albany, New York to hunt for books for a couple days. Instead of car camping between book sales per usual, I parked my car at a trailhead Thursday afternoon, changed into hiking clothes, and slipped into the Catskill Mountains for the night.

I didn’t go far. A mile into the woods, I tagged a small stream and followed it back to a high, dry spot. A patch of wood ferns called my name. I pitched my tarp in the middle of them. Then I made a nice place to sit against a tree. Home sweet home.

Mine was a modest dinner: a cup of juice reconstituted from powder, an energy bar and a carrot. Lord knows I’d consumed plenty of calories on the road – mostly junk food. No campfire. I kept things simple. Didn’t want to smell like wood smoke while book hunting the next day. Yeah, business and pleasure don’t mix well. Not really.

A barred owl hooted while I was scribbling in my field journal. I hear them at home, now that Judy and I have moved to a wooded place in the country, but it’s different hearing them in the mountains. Alone in the wild, I felt closer to that creature.

I slept well that night despite having a rock for a pillow. The forest was cool and calming after a hot, crazy day on the road. Funny how I feel more comfortable in the woods than anywhere else. A lot people think it’s dangerous in the wild – bears, the prospect of getting lost, etc. – but I find the opposite to be true. I never feel as threatened alone in the wild as I do moving among my own kind. Few places are as dangerous as a busy highway.

Thirteen hours. That’s all the downtime I got. Enough to get me by. I broke camp in a hurry, eager to begin another so-called workday. I’d hiked out to the car and changed back into street clothes a half hour later. By mid-morning I was working another book sale, chasing the dollar. Yet a touch of the wild stayed with me. The people book hunting around me never knew the difference, of course.


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Jul 28 2016

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In Cool Woods

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the cool forestAnother hot day. It has been that kind of summer. Before going over to my old house to do some more renovation work, I slip into a pocket of local woods for a short, relatively cool hike. I know my dog Matika will appreciate it. They call these dog days, but this certainly isn’t her favorite season.

The forest is shady for the most part even though sunlight filters through the canopy. The bright hues of fresh springtime verdure have given way to a more mature midsummer green. The trail looks moist because of a recent rain. I am not deceived by it. I know that down deep the earth is still dusty. Thunderstorms are numerous this summer, yes, but we haven’t seen an all-day soaking rain for quite some time.

Hot and dry. I resist the urge to jump to environmental conclusions, hoping that August and September will be a little cooler and wetter overall. I plan on doing some serious hiking at that time, after finishing up the renovation. Lord knows I’m overdue for it.

But for now these woods will have to do. A few deer flies follow me as I amble up the trail. Aside from their buzz and the occasional songbird, all is quiet. Matika sniffs around, wondering where the squirrels are. My mind clings to work-related matters until I catch a whiff of forest decay. Then I entertain faraway thoughts. Yeah, a serious hike very soon – one to make me forget all the nonsense in these lowlands that passes for civilization. That’s what I really need.



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