Sep 05 2020

Profile Image of Walt

Landslide

Filed under Blog Post

It’s just about the right time of year for an early afternoon mayfly hatch on the Cotton Brook, so I hiked a mile beyond the access road gate then bushwhacked to the mouth of the stream. When I crossed a heavily silted stream cutting through the woods, I knew something was terribly wrong. Upon reaching the mouth, all I found was a pile of dead trees that had been washed downstream and a carpet of silt and loose rock where the brook had been.

With this much silt and debris, I figured a landslide had to be nearby. I walked upstream expecting to see it just ahead. I walked twenty minutes before catching the first light filtering through the forest.

Upon reaching the landslide, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ve seen plenty of landslides on mountain streams during the past 35 years, but nothing like this. Half the hillside was denuded and nearly every living thing on both sides of the brook had been swept away. So much for a mayfly hatch. So much for rainbow trout.

Once I was above the landslide and back into the cover of trees, the stream cleared out. I casted my fly into pools for an hour or so, getting a few rises from small brook trout, but my heart wasn’t into it. I couldn’t help but think about the frequency of landslides during the past decade or so, and wonder how big the next one would be.

I could rant on about how we need to act now before things get really bad, but everyone with any sense already knows this. Core samples from ice caps make it clear what’s happening. Anyone who denies climate change is delusional. To understand what exactly climate change means, one should look at the Geologic record. During the history of this planet, the climate has taken some severe turns. What we call the balance of nature is a tenuous thing, indeed. Survivability is questionable, and billionaires talking about colonizing Mars does not console me at all.

This morning I read online about the Cotton Brook landslide. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation website tells the whole story and warns about another slope failure there. Their message is clear: stay away. As a fisherman, I had already decided to go elsewhere. Again. This is becoming a common refrain. I imagine that my great, great grandchildren won’t be able to go trout fishing at all.

No responses yet

Aug 29 2020

Profile Image of Walt

Big Water or Small?

Filed under Blog Post

Several times during the past month, I have gone into the mountains to fish small streams for wild trout. That’s what I usually do whenever I pull out my fly rod. But yesterday I did something different – something I haven’t done in years. I stayed in the lowlands and plied the relatively big water of the Missisquoi River instead, up near the Canadian border.

Shortly after leaving the muddy bank and wet wading into the murky waters of the slow-moving river, I hooked into a brown trout. An Adams fly did the trick. Then I tangled with the trout’s wily kin, missing most of them. Caught and landed another brown before too long, then watched daylight give way to twilight while being outsmarted by the rest. Good fun. But I must admit that I felt a little out of my element.

Yeah, yeah, I know how to read the river, match the hatch, and do that 10/2 cast made famous by A River Runs Through It. But that’s not my style. Not really. I’m more of a crawl-through-the-rocks kind of guy, more accustomed to crouching low and side-casting, usually on my knees, into a pool of clear, cold water only ten or fifteen feet away. Pagan fishing, I call it, because fishing for brookies in mountain streams is all about stalking the trout, immersing oneself in the surrounding forest and going a little wild in the process.

Unlike most fishermen, I prefer small water to big water. I prefer the diminutive brook trout to the larger brown or rainbow trout. That said, it sure is a lot of fun to work a foot-long fighter to the riverbank. A brookie will fight like hell, but they are usually not more than 8 or 9 inches, so my rod never bends over much.

So there it is. Soon I’ll go a-fishing again, returning to my natural habitat up in the heavily forested mountains, scrambling over rocks on a clear, fast-moving stream. But when the urge to play with the big guys strikes, I’ll be back on the wide river. It’s all a matter of priorities, I suppose.

2 responses so far

Aug 16 2020

Profile Image of Walt

Backcountry Excursions Reprinted

Filed under Blog Post

In 1990, I published a slender, olive green paperback called Tracks across the Forest Floor. It was my first attempt to write a nonfiction narrative about one of my ventures into the woods. Tracks went out of print a long time ago, but I included it in a set of six hiking narratives called Backcountry Excursions, released in 2005. That book has been nearly out of print for several years now. Well, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Tracks, I have reprinted Backcountry with a new cover and preface. And a few fixed typos to boot.

Three of the narratives in this collection appear in other collections of mine, namely Loon Wisdom and The Great Wild Silence. Tracks and the remaining two can be found nowhere else. Just as important as Tracks, I think, is the 25-page narrative about a trip into northern Maine that I took in ’96 with my buddy Charlie, following Thoreau to Mt. Katahdin by water and land. We used a two-man sea kayak instead of a bateau and ended up hiking a different path up the mountain, but it was great fun all the same. And it gave me a reason to recount one of Thoreau’s excursions into the Maine Woods.

The real reason for reprinting this book is simply to keep it in print. Backcountry Excursions is now available at Amazon.com as well as the Wood Thrush Books website. Most of my readers are already familiar with this book, but now it’s out there for everyone to see how I got started, and what kind of critter I really am.

No responses yet

Aug 01 2020

Profile Image of Walt

Breadloaf Wilderness Revisted

Filed under Blog Post

The news is all bad, especially now with the pandemic raging. Judy and I felt it was high time for us to spend a couple days in the woods away from it all. So we packed up our gear and headed for the Breadloaf Wilderness when finally there came a break in the weather, between heat waves and t-storms.

A few weeks ago I scouted the headwaters of the New Haven River, looking for a good place to camp. I found the spot just inside the Breadloaf Wilderness boundary where Judy and I had camped once with our granddaughter Kaylee. That’s where we landed.

Kaylee was 6 the last time we camped here. Now she’s 23. Time flies.

Judy sat on a large rock, taking in the sights and sounds of the wild forest. I sat nearby, writing in my journal. The stream flowed incessantly before us. A squirrel ran across a fallen tree bridging the stream. The sun sank behind the trees before we started dinner. Soon we were staring into a campfire, surrounded by darkness. Where did the day go?

We went to sleep to the sound of rushing water. A little later I awoke to that and the song of a waterthrush. While sitting on the big rock in predawn light, I watched another squirrel run across the fallen tree bridging the stream. I recalled camping farther upstream with my brother Greg back in the 90s, and remembered a dozen other outings in this wilderness area since then, by myself or with others. Time flies.

When Judy arose, I fixed her a cup of hot tea. She had a rough night. Sleeping on the ground is a lot harder for us 60-somethings than it used to be. So late morning we packed up and hiked out instead of staying another day.

On the way out, I recognized a patch of ground beneath a copse of full-grown maples that had been a clearing when I first hiked through here. That was back in the 80s. Seems like a lifetime ago. Yes indeed, time flies.

No responses yet

Jul 16 2020

Profile Image of Walt

Siamese Ponds Wilderness

Filed under Blog Post

After months of reading and research for a new book of somewhat abstract, philosophical speculation, I figured it was high time for me to venture into deep woods for a while and get real. I loaded my old expedition backpack, scrawled my destination on the white board in the kitchen, then kissed Judy goodbye. The 3-hour drive into the south/central Adirondacks was an easy one. I was on the trail a little after noon.

For many years I have wanted to visit the Siamese Ponds Wilderness. I think about it every time I go back to the West Canada Lakes Wilderness – my favorite haunt immediately to the west. There’s no time like the present, I figured, so I hiked the narrow path six miles back to Lower Siamese Pond. It felt good to stretch my legs and work up a good sweat again despite the bloodsucking bugs. One of the scattered t-storms in the area caught me half a mile the pond, but I didn’t mind. A cool downpour on a warm day when my t-shirt is already soaked with sweat isn’t a bad thing. The rain stopped by the time I reached the pond.

A loon greeted me with its wild call shortly after I reached the pond. I made camp on a knoll out of sight from both the water and the trail. I gathered up some wet wood, stripped the bark from it and had a good campfire blazing a couple hours later. After a late dinner, I walked down to the edge of the pond to groove on the great wild silence as the last bit of twilight faded away. Then I settled into bed as a pair of barred owls hooted back and forth. Loons called out all night long.

First thing in the morning, I went back down to the pond’s edge to splash a little water in my face then sit on a rock just looking around, thinking about nothing, nothing at all. Eventually snapping out of that trance, I said out loud: “God, I love the Adirondacks!” Then I returned to camp for a leisurely breakfast. When I was good and ready, I broke camp, packed up and left. I savored the hike out, moving as slowly as possible, stopping once to sit next to the East Branch of the Sacandaga River, which was moving even slower than I was.

Two days later I’m still a little sore, but the overnighter cleared my head. Have returned to my philosophizing and other literary work with renewed vigor. Oh yeah, it’s truly amazing what a little time alone in deep woods can do.

2 responses so far

Jul 09 2020

Profile Image of Walt

Judy’s Hummingbirds

Filed under Blog Post

With the pandemic raging, Judy and I have been spending a lot of time in our backyard lately. Oh sure, I’ve been getting into the woods some. Earlier this week I hiked into the Breadloaf Wilderness to find a camping spot that I intend to use in a week or so, and I’ve done a little trout fishing to boot. But with hummingbirds visiting on a regular basis, our backyard seems like the place to be.

For years Judy and I have tried to attract hummingbirds, but only this year have we succeeded. Judy brought home a couple large hanging plants with red, tubular flowers. We hung them from wrought iron shepherd’s hooks not far from our patio, along with a couple feeders. We displayed all this early in the season, and Judy has been diligent about keeping the sugar water in the feeders fresh since then. Lo and behold, the hummingbirds came! First they came once or twice a day, then all day long.

Living a few miles outside of town, with our home backed up against some woods, we’ve had plenty of other visitors as well. Barred owls hoot in the evening and have flown across our yard a couple times. A flock of turkeys passes through daily, taking whatever grubs they can extract from our grass. Woodpeckers and various songbirds visited our feeders in early spring. Deer, skunks, raccoons, garter snakes, dragonflies, toads, field mice – we have plenty of visitors. But the hummingbirds are something else.

What is it about these little creatures that make them so attractive? Is it the sheer beauty of their iridescent feathers, the way they hover in mid-air, or the sheer speed in which they come and go? Whatever it is, hummingbirds captivate us – not just Judy and me but a good number of people. Go to any hardware store and you’ll find a wide variety of hummingbird feeders there.

I have every intention of getting in the woods again very soon, midsummer heat or no. But I won’t expect to see as many creatures up close and personal as I do in my backyard. The hummingbirds now feed while Judy and I are sitting on the patio only a few feet away. And that feels pretty special.

Comments Off on Judy’s Hummingbirds

Jun 27 2020

Profile Image of Walt

Matika Put to Rest

Filed under Blog Post

Yesterday afternoon Judy and I bushwhacked along a mountain stream to a favorite old campsite of ours. We were on a mission. In my daypack was a can holding Matika’s ashes. Matika was a wonderful, long-haired German shepherd dog who played an integral part in our lives for twelve years. A year and three months after her death, we decided that it was finally time to put her to rest.

Before leaving home, we buried a handful of her ashes in our Buddha garden just to keep part of her close, and to ward off the squirrels invading the back yard. I swear there are times when I can hear Matika barking from her ashes whenever the squirrels are scurrying about. She never had any patience for those pesky rodents.

Upon reaching our old campsite, we each took some of her ashes and released them into the brook. The ashes clouded the water for a few moments, looking rather ghostlike as they floated downstream. Then the water cleared. We both shed a few tears in the process.

After that we buried the remainder of Matika’s ashes at the base of a maple tree, next to where the ashes of our other German shepherd dog, Jesse, are buried. Two stones now mark their graves. In the future I’ll stop by occasionally to visit our deceased canine companions. As for Judy, well, she had a hard time reaching the old campsite so there’s no telling if/when she’ll be back. All the same, this is where she and I both want some of our ashes buried when we die. Then the whole pack will be back together again.

Comments Off on Matika Put to Rest

Jun 18 2020

Profile Image of Walt

Order and Chaos

Filed under Blog Post

I have a lot of time on my hands, thanks to the pandemic. As a result, I’ve been doing two things a lot more than I usually do: reading and gardening. And in a strange way, these activities are related.

A month and a half ago, I finished putting together my latest book, Campfire Philosophy, for publication. Since then I have been hard at work, reading and doing research for a brand new book project about nature and the Absolute. Central to this project is the dance of order and chaos that we find in nature – something that has always fascinated me. To what extent is nature designed, subject to immutable laws? To what extent are the forces in it utterly random? Needless to say, these questions have taken me all over the place, from German Idealism, Indian philosophy and microbiology, to Natural Theology, evolution, and quantum mechanics. My latest stop: chaos theory. Egads!

Along with the entirely ordered gardens around the house that are full of utterly domesticated plants, Judy and I have cultivated a patch of forest floor in our back yard that we call the Buddha Garden. A stone Buddha lords over this somewhat haphazard experiment in what I call unnatural selection. In addition to a dozen or so domestic flowers that we’ve planted there – some of which are found naturally in the wild, like false Solomon’s seal and foamflower – we have allowed many of the native plants to stay. Among these are trilliums, baneberry, trout lily, and some rather aggressive asters. So you could say that this so-called garden, wilder than most, is a curious blend of order and chaos.

At any rate, while transplanting more flowers into it this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder what the laws of nature are and to what extent they dictate what happens in my semi-wild garden regardless of my tinkering. Meanwhile, the stone Buddha just sits there, seemingly detached from my pondering and handiwork, staring into oblivion as if there’s something about simply being in the world that guys like me completely miss.

Comments Off on Order and Chaos

Jun 04 2020

Profile Image of Walt

Campfire Philosophy Is Now in Print

Filed under Blog Post

Back in 2006, I self-published excerpts from my field journal in a slender staple-stitched chapbook. Last winter I added more excerpts to that collection, expanding it to this 138-page paperback. I call it Campfire Philosophy because these are all wild moments, reflections and insights written while I was in the woods – quite often while sitting next to a campfire. One can almost hear the campfire crackling in them.

The fragments in this book span 30 years. They have been drawn from the field journals of every major excursion I’ve taken into the wild, along with a good number of smaller outings. And while my worldview is worked out better in other books of mine, this writing best captures the spirit of decades of woods wandering. It is also presented here in nice little snippets that the reader can digest at his or her leisure.

At any rate here it is, Campfire Philosophy, my latest offering to the world. It’s available at the Wood Thrush Books website, and Amazon.com, of course. I hope it inspires some of you to get out and enjoy wild nature while the pandemic rages in the more developed places.

Comments Off on Campfire Philosophy Is Now in Print

May 21 2020

Profile Image of Walt

Three Trillium Camp

Filed under Blog Post

What a dramatic change in weather! Frost warnings one week; temps climbing into the 70s the next. At long last, I can go into the mountains overnight without freezing my ass off. And no rain in the forecast, either. So without hesitation, I load up my pack and am out the door.

With a desire to avoid people altogether (pandemic or no), I head for the Calavale Brook. It’s located somewhere in northern Vermont and that’s all I’m willing to say. The access road to it is too heavily eroded for my little car so I approach the brook from another dirt road a mile away. Sort of. Actually, I drive that road until it becomes a track, then walk that track until it ends at someone’s deer camp. Then I bushwhack along a NNW bearing through the woods. Eventually I hear water. Then I see it.

I find a relatively flat spot near the brook and set up my tarp amid wild lilies. Then I create a campfire circle a little closer to the water. Home sweet home, with three painted trilliums marking the boundaries of it. A good place to relax, meditate, and scribble in my field journal. The constant sound of water rushing past is quite soothing. The black flies aren’t too bad. The sun slowly settles into the ridge behind me and soon I am staring into a campfire. Once I’ve had enough of that, I go to bed. The naked trees (leaves not yet unfurled) point to a thousand stars illuminating the heavens above. And it’s good to be alive.

Despite my tossing and turning, I manage to get a fairly good night’s sleep. But getting out of bed and into the chilly morning air is a bit rough. Temps dropped significantly overnight. I snuggle next to a morning campfire and life is good again. When the black flies come back out, it’s time to go. After making the campfire circle disappear, I head out the same way I came. Only now I’m in a much better frame of mind. A solo overnighter is good for that.

Comments Off on Three Trillium Camp

Older Posts »