Archive for October, 2020

Oct 24 2020

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On Jay Mountain Ridge

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At Judy’s urging, I stepped away from my literary work yesterday and headed for the Adirondacks to do a day hike. With sunny skies and temps ranging up towards 70 degrees, it would probably be the last nice day this year. Best to take full advantage of it.

I reached the Jay Mountain Wilderness trailhead by 8 a.m. and immediately shot up the trail. My walking stick clicked against the rocks as I kicked up fallen leaves. In my pack I carried everything necessary to spend a night in the woods if it came to that. At my age, you can’t be too cautious.

After an hour of steady uphill hiking, I finally caught a glimpse of my destination: the western lookout on the Jay Mountain Ridge. It looked to be another thousand feet up. A short water break and a deep breath later, I ventured forth.

My legs were just starting to cramp up as I mounted the 3000-foot ridge. I walked a couple hundred feet up a side trail to the lookout for a magnificent 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape. Then, after another short break, I headed east along the ridge, determined to go as far as I could before my legs actually did cramp up.

Remarkably enough, I made it all the way to an unnamed, craggy peak without any cramping. It was a hard traverse up and down lesser peaks along the ridge, but the great views kept me spellbound. Only half a mile short of the summit, I decided to break for lunch. Afterward I retraced my steps back to the trailhead. Seven miles and over 2,000 feet of elevation change was plenty for this 60-something.

Today I’m sore all over but much more relaxed than I was earlier in the week. All the bad news I read about this morning rolled right off me. Whatever. After spending a good day in the wild, the collective folly of humankind doesn’t have the sticking power that it usually has. That alone is reason enough to do a long, hard hike.

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Oct 14 2020

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The Smell of Autumn

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As I have grown older, I have learned to be more flexible. I had planned on driving over to the Adirondacks this week for a daylong hike, but the scratchiness in the back of my throat convinced me that it was better to go for a much shorter outing close to home. So this morning, after a round of writing, I went for a walk in the local town forest.

Immediately upon leaving the parking lot, I looked up to see hundreds of tricolored blackbirds passing through the canopy. How uncharacteristic, I thought, but they are probably migrating or getting ready to do so. It is, after all, that time of year.

While tramping along the trail, I noticed that the understory was mostly green even though the thinning foliage in the canopy had already turned and was past peak. Most of the color was on the ground: fading yellow, burnt orange, and brown leaves covering the forest floor. Earlier than expected. It has been an unusual year in that regard.

I inhaled deeply, taking in the tannic, leaf-rich smell of autumn as I walked. There is nothing else quite like it. In the spring, and even well into summer, the forest smells mostly of pollen and humus-rich soil – especially after a good rain. Pleasant enough but nothing like autumn. This leafy smell is the smell of the growing season coming to an end. It inspires reflection. To smell this, I mused, is reason enough to go for a walk this time of year.

I broke into a cold sweat during the last leg of my walk. This was a sure sign that I had made the wise choice by going out for only an hour or so. My body is just fighting off a head cold, I told myself, but there is a much greater threat afoot this year. So I drove home vowing to take it easy the rest of the day. No sense pressing my luck.


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Oct 03 2020

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Restless in Autumn

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For six days in a row, I have been all wrapped up in my philosophical speculations, writing about Nature spelled with a capital “N.” Haven’t gotten out for much more than the occasional walk around the neighborhood in the process. Well, this morning I finally put on my boots and headed for the hills – for nearby hills to be exact.

French Hill is a pocket of undeveloped woods only half a dozen miles from my home. After parking my car along the side of a road adjacent to it, I walked a track a quarter mile back. Then I started bushwhacking. Most of the time I hike well-established trails like most other hikers, but every once in a while, I need to get off the beaten path. Bushwhacking is the best way to do that.

With a large pond in sight, it was easy to keep my bearings. I have done this tramp many times before so I knew that all I had to do was circumnavigate the pond and I’d eventually hit the track leading me back out to my car. Simple.

With the sky overcast and temps in the 50s after a day of rain, the woods were cool and damp. Not that I minded that. I stopped once to ritually burn a copy of a book that I’ve recently published, but stayed on the move otherwise. The hike kept me warm.

Just north of the pond, I came to a smaller annex pond created by beavers a few years ago. Unattended and overgrown with grass, cattails and other vegetation, I couldn’t see the dam at first. But when I finally found it, I crossed over with little difficulty. I stopped on the dam long enough to enjoy the fiery orange, gold and rust foliage on the far side of the larger pond. Here in the Champlain Valley, the autumn colors are nearing peak. Stick season can’t be far away.

Finally returning to my car, I drove home feeling much better. Writing about nature is like scratching an itch. It’s rewarding to do this kind of writing, but there’s nothing like the real thing. Have to get out every once in a while.

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