Aug 15 2019

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Focus on the Adirondacks

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Have returned home from another 2-day tour of the Adirondacks, similar to last month’s trip. Visited several bookstores to promote my old Northville/Placid hiking narrative, The Allure of Deep Woods, along with my latest book, The Great Wild Silence. Tuesday evening I schmoozed with a couple dozen writers and even more readers during Authors Night at Hoss’s Country Store in Long Lake. That was fun. But just being in the Adirondacks again is what really made the trip worthwhile. How I love that wild country!

Once again, I spent the night in a shelter at John Dillon Park, falling asleep to the call of loons then awakening to them in the morning. The second day, after one last stop at The Book Nook – a new bookstore in Saranac Lake – I climbed Baker Mountain. It’s located right on the edge of town. Only a mile to the summit, though rather steep towards the end. On top I enjoyed a nice view of the High Peaks with Saranac Lake sprawling below.

I’m shifting my focus. After hiking the Cohos Trail through New Hampshire’s White Mountains and beyond, I’m now looking west. Oh sure, I’ll continue visiting familiar places in the Green Mountains right here in Vermont, but what I crave is wide open country, new wild lands to explore during the years to come. I’ve only tramped though half of the Wilderness Areas and Wild Forests inside the Blue Line. I’d like to spend time in them all. With that goal in mind, I have picked up two more maps of the Adirondacks – part of a set of six canvassing the entire park. I now have five.

Six million acres and most of it wild country. The Adirondack Park is roughly the same size at Vermont. Forests, mountains, streams, lakes, ponds and bogs. And a thin network of roads and tourist towns to boot. Plenty to keep me busy during the next decade or so. Looking forward to it.

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Aug 11 2019

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Monarch in the Goldenrod

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Last week the mountains were calling me so I dropped everything and drove over an hour to a favorite valley where I bushwhacked along a trout stream for the afternoon. That happens more often than not. But this morning I was in a different mood, feeling an urge to walk through sun-drenched fields. So I headed for the nearby Rail Trail.

Blue sky, mild temps, and poplar leaves quaking in a gentle breeze. A tricolored blackbird sang out. Queen Anne’s lace, chicory, birdsfoot trefoil, and clover lined the gravel trail. Sometimes it feels good walking with no goal or purpose in mind, especially on a summer day.

Suddenly I was missing my old dog, Matika. She and I walked this particular section of the Rail Trail together many times. It’s conveniently located right on the edge of town. Just then it dawned to me that I was walking here for the first time since she died. Ah, well… life goes on.

Cornfields and distant hills reminiscent of my childhood in Ohio. Maybe that’s why I like to hike across open ground like this every once in a while. I love the shady forests that blanket three-quarters of Vermont. But occasionally I hunger for sunlight.

A good distance from the car, I stopped to look around. That’s when I spotted a monarch butterfly fluttering across a large patch of goldenrod just starting to bloom. The charm of late summer in a nutshell, I thought. Then I smiled into the sky before turning around and walking back the way I came. Sometimes if feels good just to be alive.

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Jul 29 2019

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A Short Midday Hike

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The good thing about being self-employed is that you can take a break whenever you want. But actually doing so isn’t as easy as one might think. My little book biz makes demands. I’ve been working hard at it ever since I came off the Cohos Trail a little over a month ago. All the same, at noon today I felt the urge to pull on my hike boots and make a beeline for a patch of nearby woods right after dropping off the day’s shipping at the post office. So that’s what I did.

Midday, high summer. Okay, maybe not the best time to go hiking. With temps in the upper 80s and the humidity through the roof, the forest would be a sauna. But I needed to stretch my legs while traipsing through the woods, if only for a short while. And I was prepared to sweat. Sometimes you just have to go for it.

The hike wasn’t as sweaty as expected. The shady woods diffused some of the heat, and an occasional gust of wind made the humidity quite tolerable. I meandered along the trail happy to be back in my element again, if only for an hour or so. Had the woods all to myself, of course. That was a bonus. And the bugs were nothing like they were a month ago. Is there really such a thing as a bad time to go for a hike? Thoreau would have said no.

While walking through the sultry forest, I thought about my hike on the Cohos Trail last month. Told myself that I really should start writing about that outing while my memories of it are fresh. But I’d rather be hiking. Funny how it goes. Hiking and writing about hiking are two different things. Ah, well… I do as much of both as I can. I’ll be able to do both in August, now that my book biz has been squared away. It all works out.

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Jul 19 2019

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Civilized Camping

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Six years ago I discovered John Dillon Park tucked away in the Adirondacks, just north of Long Lake. Earlier this week I spent a night there again, while out promoting my most recent book, The Great Wild Silence. The place was even nicer than I remembered it being.

John Dillon Park is an unusual phenomenon, owned by International Paper, run by the students at Paul Smith’s College, and open to the public. The entrance to it off Route 30 is easy to miss, and the two-mile unimproved dirt road back to the Welcome Center is a little rough. But all nine shelters are well kept and easily accessible. Only one site can be driven to, but the five- or ten-minute walk to the others along a gravel path is nearly effortless.

“Making the natural landscape of the Adirondacks accessible to everyone,” is the principle behind the place, and both the paths and shelters are handicap accessible. Compost toilets, bear-proof food storage boxes, and bins full of firewood next to a metal fire ring – this is camping at its most civilized, I’d say. Roughing it, yes, but not by much.

I stayed in a shelter overlooking Grampus Lake, listening to a loon calling out at midnight and awakening to a chorus of songbirds in the morning. Only one other shelter was occupied and the air was perfectly still so I enjoyed the deep forest silence while I slept that night. Appropriate accommodations when one considers what I was doing on that trip.

I’d recommend the place to anyone young or old who wants a taste of the wild but doesn’t have the wherewithal to go backpacking. There are carts available in the parking lot for hauling in your stuff. Camping out doesn’t get much easier than that, short of car camping. And it’s free. All you have to do is reserve a shelter in advance.

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Jul 08 2019

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After a Big Hike

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Two weeks have gone by since my big hike on the Cohos Trail. All my sores and bug bites have healed now, and my joints aren’t bothering me any more. I’m well rested, well fed, and back into my work routine. I’ve been enjoying all the comforts of life here in the developed lowlands: fresh food, cold beer, soft chairs to sit in, being clean, and always having a dry place to sleep at night. And, most of all, the pleasant company of my wife Judy. There’s a lot to be said for civilized living. Yet I’m feeling the urge to get back in the woods again, hiking somewhere, anywhere. Effortless walks around the neighborhood aren’t quite enough.

As time goes by, I think less and less about all the hardships of the trail, and find myself recalling those precious moments in the wild: awakening to a chorus of forest songbirds, drawing water from a clear stream flowing around moss-covered rocks, and tramping down a narrow trail cutting through birches and ferns. The mind filters experiences before storing them away as memories. Yes, I also recall the bloodsucking bugs, the unpleasant boggy stretches, and that terrible last-mile exhaustion of the longer hiking days. But somehow those memories aren’t such a big deal any more. The highs seem to carry more weight than the lows.

Truth is, every extended solitary hike I do rocks my world in a way that doesn’t immediately make sense to me. Two weeks after my big hike, I’m still feeling a little off balance. It takes time to process an immersion in the wild – time enough to contrast and compare it to my regular routine, I suppose. Time for the mental journey to emerge from the physical one. Time for thoughts and feelings to resurface with a careful rereading of my field journal, or while looking at photos, or while simply reflecting upon a memory coming out of nowhere.

In due time, I’ll figure out what exactly happened to me on the Cohos Trail. Only then will I be able to write about it. But that won’t take place until I have a chance to get back in the woods again. After all, wild thoughts and feelings are best processed in wild places. My armchair reflections don’t quite cut it.

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Jun 26 2019

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On the Cohos Trail

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Back home now after nine days on the Cohos Trail – a relatively new trail in northern New Hampshire that runs for 170 miles, from the heart of the White Mountains to the Canadian border. I tramped 62 miles of it, starting in Jefferson and finishing in the rather dramatic Dixville Notch. It was quite the undertaking for an old hiker like me.

“Old” is a relative term, of course. At 63, I’m a young old with plenty of hikes still ahead of me. But when I strap on a backpack, 40 pounds or more, then take on a rugged trail winding through mountainous country for days on end, I soon realize that I’m not the hiking machine I once was. The joints, for one thing, aren’t what they used to be.

The bugs were even more menacing than they usually are this time of year. A rainy spring created ideal conditions for them to multiply. I used a whole bottle of DEET. Black flies, mosquitoes, ticks and deer flies – yeah, I had plenty of company on this trip.

The Cohos Trail isn’t a well-beaten path like the Appalachian Trail. I was hoping to escape the crowd that swarms all over Presidential Range of the White Mountains just to the south. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I saw no one for 3 days while hiking through the Nash Stream Forest. Long stretches of deep woods solitude are just about guaranteed on the CT. I reveled in it, taking 2 days to just hang out at shelters and groove on the natural world.

Indeed, the CT cuts through some wild and beautiful country: over mountains, through northern hardwood and boreal forests, across streams, meadows and bogs, and around ponds. The trail itself is sometimes a woods road and other times a barely discernible path. I recommend it to anyone craving Northeast wildness. But keep your eye peeled for those yellow blazes and a map handy. This isn’t a trail for daydreamers.

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Jun 12 2019

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A Glorious Time of Year

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After an unusually cool rainy spring, the past few days have come as a welcome reprieve. Finally we’re getting into sunshine with temps shooting into the 80s. That’s high summer by Vermont standards, but who’s knocking it? Put those flannel shirts away!

Green vegetation wherever you look, and a dreamy breeze. Add to that wildflowers blooming in fallow fields along with lilies, irises and other showy flowers in cultivated places and, well, it’s a glorious time of year. “Days of heaven,” I like to call it, when just walking around the neighborhood, lounging on the porch, or sitting at an open-window cafe is enough to make a person feel good about the world.

At this latitude, roughly 45 degrees, the days are delightfully long this time of year. Factor in the lingering twilight and it’s hard to stay awake for it all. People like me, who suffer through the dark days around the Winter Solstice, are energized by the approaching Summer Solstice. I become absurdly upbeat as a consequence of it. Every day, it seems, is a good day.

Soon I’ll be on the trail again, hiking for days on end as if nothing else matters. Oh sure, the bloodsucking bugs are out but I don’t care. Their bites are a small price to pay for the wonder and beauty of The Northern Forest in June. Like I said, I’m absurdly upbeat this time of year. And these long, magnificent days are too precious to waste.


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Jun 02 2019

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Coastal Forest

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Once again my wife felt the need to visit the seashore so we headed for the Maine coast early last week. With temps in the 50s, a chilling breeze and rain every day, it wasn’t weather for lounging on the beach. All the same, Judy got her ocean fix during a few shoreline walks, and I had plenty of opportunity to hike early in the morning while she was still sleeping. My best hike took place on the last day.

I drove over to Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve and meandered through forest and meadow just as a thick morning fog was burning off. I got there early enough to have the place all to myself – just me and the mosquitoes, I should say. With all the rain we’ve had lately, it’s been a banner year for them. No matter. As long as I kept moving, they didn’t bother me much.

Bunchberry, starflower and several other wildflowers were in bloom despite the closing of the canopy overhead. The many ferns in the surrounding understory were that vibrant vernal green that also brightens the leaves of the birches, maples and other trees. Coast, mountain or anything between, I love that green. And I love this time of year because of it.

I hiked the perimeter trail as it ran along the estuary then veered back into the woods. I particularly enjoyed the rather lengthy boardwalk cutting across a wooded wetland covered in sphagnum moss and other wet-loving vegetation. I’m not a big one for elaborate trail work, but in particularly damp places like this it minimizes impact and makes walking nearly effortless.

I feel more at home in the mountains, really, but anywhere a forest grows is a good place to be by my way of reckoning. With all the development along the southern Maine coast, I’m glad that some of its natural beauty has been preserved – estuary, wetland and forest as well as shoreline. All this complements the magnificent ocean view. We are enriched by it. We are enriched by all things that we are able to appreciate.

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May 21 2019

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Springtime Bushwhack

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After taking care of business this morning, I drove to French Hill for a much needed bushwhack. During the first two weeks of May, I was down with a flu bug that developed into bronchitis. It took another week after that for me to get my strength back. So I was eager early this afternoon to go for a walk in the woods again.

A passing squall anointed me with a few raindrops as I started down the overgrown skidder trail. No matter. A painted trillium and other spring wildflowers urged me along. Soon I left the trail to bushwhack up and over a small rise covered in unfurling ferns. My eyes soaked in the vernal green all around me. On the other side of the rise, I caught a glimpse of the familiar old beaver pond though the trees. I used that to keep my bearings as I stumbled over rocks, downed branches and trees, and soggy ground. Soon I cut my pace, thus finding my woods wandering legs.

I searched for the stone wall that I remembered from a previous hike in these parts, but found a brand new beaver pond instead. It’s engineer scurried out of the understory, quickly making for the water. I gave him plenty of room to do so, then crossed his rather tenuous dam. I got my new boots wet and muddy in the process. Good. They needed to be broken in properly.

To my surprise I came back out to the skidder road much sooner than expected, then finished my circumnavigation of the old beaver pond. I crossed plenty of deer tracks along the way. I listened to songbirds rejoicing in the season. I watched as the treetops swayed in the vigorous breeze. When my car came into view, I vowed to get back into the woods again as soon as possible. After all, springtime happens fast in northern Vermont. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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May 09 2019

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The Solace of Waterfalls

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I snuck out of the rustic room at daybreak, refusing the flashlight that Judy sleepily offered. Not necessary. There was ample twilight for me to get around.

The Middle Falls roared nearby. I followed the well-groomed path though its spray on my way to the Upper Falls. A solitary robin called out – its song barely audible above the cascade. A thin drizzle fell from the dark, blue-gray sky.

My mother died while Judy and I were on our way back to Ohio. After a slow deterioration spanning several years, her actual death seemed to come fast. She was 89 years old but had rebounded so many times that the whole family began to think she would live forever. Seeing her remains at the funeral home convinced us otherwise.

Judy and I left four days after arriving in Ohio, then drove to Letchworth State Park in western New York to seek solace in nature. The Glen Iris Inn was full but Judy was able to secure us a room in an outbuilding called Pinewood Lodge. Following dinner at the inn, we enjoyed Middle Falls all lit up after dusk before returning to our room. I had a fitful night all the same.

No one else stirred in early morning as I meandered to Upper Falls. Soon I caught a glimpse of white water tumbling beneath a railroad bridge. I knelt down before the waterfall, accepting its spray along with the drizzle. I thought about how much my mother would have loved it, then cried. No more scenic views for her. She was gone. Yet the water still falls…

After breakfast, Judy and I checked out of the Inn. We took our time driving through Letchworth State Park, admiring the Genesee River snaking through a deep canyon on its way to more gentle terrain. We made our way home via the Finger Lakes, getting on with our lives. But there’s a hole in me now that can’t be filled. So it goes.

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