Archive for July, 2011

Jul 21 2011

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Woods Dog

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  Every dog has a wild streak, I suppose, but Matika’s seems wider than most.  Or perhaps I’m only projecting my own wildness upon her.  Either way, she always looks comfortable in the woods, resting yet vigilant a few yards beyond camp.  I look up from my campfire and, for a few seconds, I fear that she has wandered off.  Then I spot her half-hidden in the understory, perfectly at home.  Yeah, that’s my dog.

I can relate.  I am never as comfortable in town as I am in the woods, miles away from the nearest road.  Most people think of time away from the amenities of civilization as “roughing it,”  but life in the woods is stress free compared to the alternative.  Ridiculously easy, I’d say, as long as there’s a dry place to sleep and enough food to eat.  No doubt Matika, if she could talk, would concur.

Of course I go into the woods to relax, not to earn a living, so it only stands to reason that my perception of forest life is skewed.  Earning a living is hard.  Lounging amid the trees is easy.  This is a subject that that 19th century woods wanderer, Thoreau, never adequately addressed.  And I, like him, have never fully come to terms with it.

It’s a dog’s life, we say, when things get tough for our pets.  And during these sweltering, dog days of summer, I don’t envy Matika when I leave her trapped in a house all day without air conditioning.  I may be just as cut off from the wild as she is, but at least I’ll be staying relatively cool today.  That said, we’ll both be daydreaming about a camp by the stream, immersed in green.  In that regard we share the same values, and the same fate.


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Jul 14 2011

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A Night in the Woods

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Every once in a while I get the urge to spend a night in the woods – not a night in a tent, but in the woods.  A tarp set-up is a good way to do that.

It takes longer to set up a tarp than it does to set up a tent.  In order to shed rain, the tarp has to be angled just right.  Even if I set it up right, it’s not easy to access.  Sometimes, when I’m tired, it’s a real annoyance.  But it’s always worth it in the end.

During the buggy summer months, I fashion a mosquito bar beneath the tarp.  This takes even more time and energy.  Matika has learned to wait for me to get situated before she joins me inside the netting.  Smart dog.

I use a set of aluminum tent poles to hold up the high end of the tarp, but my walking stick is often a part of the rig.  That way I only need one tree to anchor down my set-up.

Flat, well-drained ground is essential, of course, but I often choose a spot for its aesthetic value.  I like to wake up with a patch of wildflowers, the nearby stream, or moss-covered blowdown in full view.  Last night I enjoyed all three.

Granted, a tent provides better protection from wind and rain, but there are few things more pleasant than having your brow caressed by a gentle breeze in the middle of the night.  And when the moon rises, you know it right away.  Same goes for nocturnal animals.  I’ve seen a lot of creatures this way that I’d never see otherwise.

Predawn is the best part.  I’m a morning person so I like to catch the first light.  Sometimes I stay in my sleeping bag, listening to songbirds as daybreak transpires.  I’m almost always up before the sun breaks through the trees.

Yeah, when I want to get intimate with the wild, a night beneath my tarp is the way to go.  To most people, it seems impractical and insecure.  But don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.  Short of sleeping with no cover at all, it’s the best way I know to be in the woods.

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Jul 05 2011

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Walking Out

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There is a woods road cutting through one of my frequent haunts.  Nestled deep in the Green Mountains, it is one of many such roads I have walked over the years – usually on the way out.

Unlike most foot trails, woods roads are gently graded and free of obstacles.  That makes them easy to follow.  That makes it easy to ruminate while walking them.

This particular woods road is one of my favorites because it is only one lane wide with virtually no shoulders.  With the exception of one summer home and a few camps at the very end of it, there is no development along this road.  That makes walking it almost as pleasant as being in the trackless woods. Sometimes even more so because here I can drift along, lost in my thoughts.

This road is rarely traveled.  I have encountered people on it but more often moose, deer and other wildlife.  I usually use this road to get out of the woods after a good day of hiking or fishing, so I’m in a good frame of mind while walking it.  A very good frame of mind.  In fact, I’m rarely happier anywhere else.

I have walked this road with others on occasion, but it’s a solitary road for the most part.  Just me, my dog and my thoughts.  I have walked this road for so many years that it feels more like home to me than wherever it is that I end up.  The road itself is my home.  From here I can go everywhere and nowhere.

I can feel myself aging as I walk this road.  I was in my twenties when I first walked it, and can easily imagine myself walking it in my seventies.  Nearby is a place where I’d like my ashes scattered someday.  This is one of the first roads I walked when I came to Vermont.  Maybe it will be the last.

What do I think about while walking this road?  Everything and nothing.  But always my thoughts end the same way: I’ve got to be at such-and-such a place at such-and-such a time, and my car is just around the corner.  Too bad for that.  Because, if I had my way, I would walk this road forever.


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