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Nov 18 2019

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Early Winter Hike

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Last week a big storm dumped 8 inches of snow on northern Vermont, and temps haven’t warmed up enough since then to melt it off. Not unusual for this time of year, but it caught me off guard all the same. I still haven’t put winter tires on my car.

Snow or no, I had to get into a pocket of woods and stretch my legs yesterday. Too much time staring at a computer screen makes me cranky. So I grabbed my boots, pulled the a set of crampons called Microspikes out of my closet, and headed for Niquette Bay State Park. I went into Burlington to meet a friend for breakfast, actually, and stopped by the park on the way home.

By the time I reached Niquette Bay, it was late morning and temps had already reached into the twenties. The sun was shining brightly, as well. Without a doubt, it was going to be a pleasant walk.

I pulled the Microspikes over my boots and voila! Excellent traction despite packed snow and ice. I hiked along the trail effortlessly and shot up the icy ledges as if walking across bare ground. The air was crisp and clean, and the climb just rigorous enough to get my blood up. Descending the ledges on the other side, I came upon three people struggling on all fours to negotiate the treacherous, icy slope. Their crampons were still in storage.

Upon reaching the beach, I was surprised to see nothing but open water in the bay. The lake hasn’t even begun to freeze over yet. Then again it’s only November. A few ducks floated close to shore. Why are they still here? Evidently, they haven’t received the memo yet: winter has arrived.

I could have kept going, but a couple miles was enough. I looped back on a shorter trail and reached the parking lot about fifteen minutes later. I’m not a big fan of winter but crampons sure make it a lot more tolerable. With them I can stretch my legs just about any time the snow isn’t deep enough for snowshoes. So I think I’ll keep them in my car until spring.

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Nov 08 2019

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Walking the Shoreline

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Taking advantage of a two-day, off-season special at a hotel appropriately called The Seaside, Judy and I escaped the leafless landscape of Vermont for the late-season foliage and slightly warmer temps of the Maine coast. As far as Judy is concerned, it’s all about the water, of course – her passion for the ocean matching mine for wild forests.

We arrived on the coast in a driving rain at dusk so we simply went out to dinner then settled into our hotel room for the night. But we stepped out on the beach first thing in the morning, before breakfast. By then the rain had passed, leaving the rising sun all by itself in a calm, clear blue sky. Light jackets were all we needed to keep the early morning chill at bay. We walked the length of Kennebunk Beach, taking in the sight and sound of waves breaking gently to shore, between encounters with a few dogs and their owners. We collected pieces of sea glass as we meandered along, deeply inhaled the salty air, and basked in the negative ions emitted by the sea.

During the middle of the day we did a lot of nothing – window shopping, a nap, another meal, a little cafe sitting. When the sun sunk towards the western horizon, we went back out to walk the shoreline again, enjoying the play of light over water, rock and sand, happy enough to keep things simple.

The next morning we went out for one last oceanside walk before checking out of the hotel and driving back to Vermont. With temps in the 30s, we were bundled up. Still ours was a pleasant, late autumn stroll along the beach. What a shock it was, then, to return home later that evening and find two inches of snow on the ground. From one season to another in the same day. Good thing we got away when we did.

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Oct 30 2019

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The Long Shadows of Autumn

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With the sun shining brightly and temps approaching 60 degrees, I decided it was time for a walk in the woods. Now that she’s retired and her time is her own, Judy asked if I’d mind her coming along. I told her I certainly wouldn’t mind. In fact, I was thinking to going to the Saint Albans Town Forest, which would be a perfect fall walk for us to do together. After all, it’s short, easy and she hadn’t been there before.

We reached the trailhead early in the afternoon, after Judy had done some work on the end-of-life doula class she was teaching, and after I had done a round of writing and a little work on my book biz. With all that out of the way, we both felt free to take our time. So that’s what we did, meandering along the trail, stopping frequently and hardly breaking a sweat. “Forest bathing” Judy called it in reference to the recent fad. We both found that humorous. We’ve been grooving on nature for decades, long before it became the therapeutic thing to do.

We kicked up a lot of leaves as we walked, now that most of them are on the ground. Evergreen wood ferns, moss and a copse of hemlocks still shouted their greenness into the world, but most of the forest around us was gold, burnt orange and various shades of brown and grey. It’s that time of year, after all – a time when hunters are ready to chase down deer, geese are heading south, and the days are noticeably shorter.

There is something both beautiful and melancholy about the long shadows of autumn on a pleasant afternoon in the forest. The earthy smell of drying leaves is intoxicating, and their color is still dazzling when the light catches them just right, even this late in the season. That said, we all know what comes next. For those of us living this far north who love to watch things grow, that means waiting another four or five months for the growing to begin all over again. Yet the cycle itself – this endless parade of seasons – speaks volumes about the passage of time and our place in it, doesn’t it? That too is beautiful.

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Oct 15 2019

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When the Foliage Peaks

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The setting sun illuminates the treetops and suddenly the sugar maples in my backyard are a fiery orange. If I were looking at a picture of these woods, I’d assume it had been photo-shopped. But I’m seeing this with my own eyes.

It’s a hallucination of color – the kind of thing that folks in the big cities to the south drive hundreds of miles to see. I just happened to step outside at just the right moment in the day, in the middle of the foliage season here in northern Vermont. We’re getting towards the end of the season, actually. The trees here in the Champlain Valley are the last to turn, a week or so after the foliage peaks in the higher elevations. That’s one of the things about fall color that makes it so elusive. It happens at different times in different places. Chasing it can drive a person crazy.

But here I am, standing in my backyard, still coughing after a week in bed with the flu, thinking that I’d missed my chance to get out and really enjoy the color. Here I am surrounded by peak foliage that’s completely illuminated. It’s a lucky break to be sure. And one that brightens my outlook while I am sandwiched between sickness and grief after the recent loss of both of my parents.

I have stepped into the light. Once again I am reminded how beautiful the natural world is, how absolutely phenomenal its most commonplace occurrences can be. It is good to be alive.

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Oct 03 2019

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Life Goes On

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Today I went for a walk for the first time since returning home from Ohio. I went back to Ohio to help my sister move my suddenly incapacitated, 90-year-old father into a nursing home. He died before that happened.

I went for a walk right after doing a round of writing and a little work on my book biz. I’m back into my routine now – writing, publishing, bookselling, and occasionally going for a long walk or day hike. Back into the daily routine, as if being there in the hospital room the moment my father died ten days ago was nothing out of the ordinary. The hard truth of the matter is this: life goes on.

I walked through local woods where the trees are just now turning. The autumnal season is well underway. There are splashes of gold and orange in the trees, fiery red sumac, purple asters in full bloom, a touch of rust and brown here and there, yet still plenty of green. Cool temps beneath an overcast sky. The high-pitched trill of crickets. I passed the nearby quarry where a couple dozen Canada geese have landed. One of them honked alarm at my approach. Soon they will continue their long journey south for the winter as they do every year. Life goes on.

The world keeps spinning and nature goes about its business despite the loss we experience at any given time. Nature is eternal. Individual life forms come and go, yet nature lives on. It’s a very simple truth really. But there are times, like now, when I find that hard to grasp, and even harder to accept.

My father lived a long, full life. He was independent and ambulatory up until the very end. I should be so lucky, the dementia he suffered notwithstanding. We weren’t that close in later years. That much said, I will still miss him, as I do my mother and my dog Matika who also died this year. It’s a lot of loss to deal with all at once, but I’m getting back to my affairs now, as all living things do. I grieve but I’m still alive and well. The seasons change, nature persists, and I will roll with it until my last day comes.

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Sep 06 2019

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A Great Day in the Mountains

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Early morning. With temps in the 50s and a clear sky in the forecast, I set my work aside for a day and head for the Adirondacks. A grin breaks across my face as I enter an empty parking lot at the Owls Head Lookout trailhead. Looks like I have the trail all to myself – until other hikers get out of bed, anyhow.

After signing into the register, I hike up a trail easing gradually uphill. Morning shadows dominate the surrounding forest until the sun shines straight ahead. A blue jay calls out, otherwise all’s quiet. I hear the faint sound of rushing water and soon cross a bridge over Slide Brook. From there the trail weaves in and out of a feeder stream as it steadily climbs towards a junction. From the junction it’s a short, steep climb to the top of Owls Head. I arrive with energy to spare.

Owls Head Lookout is located in Giant Mountain Wilderness. Giant Mountain peeks at me from behind a ridge that leads to it. Rocky Peak Ridge to the left of Giant is in full view. Farther left, the forested landscape breaks away like a choppy green sea frozen in time. To the right is Knob Lock Mountain, and farther right is Hurricane Mountain. In other words, it’s wild country in every direction as far as I can see, with stunted birches directly behind me and a 500-foot drop immediately in front.

I gulp down water between bites of an energy bar, quite comfortable in a wool shirt despite a light breeze. I’m not a big one for bagging peaks, but I must admit that sitting on top of the world like this feels pretty damned good. It’s especially nice because there’s no one else around. I linger for the better part of an hour before heading down.

My right ankle, still weak from a big hike in June, complains a little while I descend. I ignore it, leaning into a heavy walking stick as necessary. I’m all smiles and whistling by the time I encounter a pair of hikers and their two dogs at Slide Brook. I greet them while walking past, then finish my hike. Five and a half miles round trip. An eleven hundred foot ascent. No bugs. Just about as good as a day hike can get.

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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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