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Oct 16 2017

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A New Place to Hike

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Sunday evening I slid into a funk and my wife Judy had to deal with me. Once she realized how deep my funk was, she emailed me the info for Milton Pond. When I get this way, the only solution is a good hike.

Milton Pond is located in Milton Town Forest. I’m all the time complaining that I’ve hiked everything close to home, but somehow I missed this place. When I parked my car at the Carriage Barn trailhead, I knew why. It’s not well marked and easy to miss.

The trail itself is very well marked, almost to a fault. It crosses a field, enters the woods then soon reaches Milton Pond. Passing maple sugar lines along the way, I got the feeling that this place isn’t so wild. There are power lines crossing the pond as well. But the fall foliage was beautiful and I had the place all to myself – just me and my dog Matika that is.

I hiked the trail circumnavigating the pond, which is a little over two miles. While it showed some signs of wear, it became clear to me that this town forest is a fairly well kept secret. On the far side of the pond, I took a side trail down to its edge for the view. I stumbled upon a beaver lodge there that Matika found very interesting. But I quickly became chilled in the cool autumn air so I urged her to keep moving.

The terrain becomes a bit more rugged on the east side of the pond. There I felt the wildness stir within me despite the syrup lines, power lines, and new trail signs. When that happens, I know I’m onto something. So I made a mental note to come back here soon and hike the rest of the trails in this area. It’s always good to have a new place to hike.

 

 

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Oct 07 2017

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Breaking Away

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Yesterday I awoke with a powerful urge to drop everything and head for the hills, but instead of doing that I set to work on my book biz. New acquisitions had to be listed and orders needed to be filled. Then I moped through the first half of the afternoon thinking it was too late to break away.

2:30 pm. With only a few hours of daylight left, I pulled on my hiking boots and hopped in the car. Then I drove as deep into the Green Mountains as I could get in an hour. Some things just can’t wait.

After parking the car, I hiked up a logging road for twenty minutes before bushwhacking over to Basin Brook. Felt good to be in the woods. Felt even better to be sitting next to the brook, listening to the endless murmur of water finding its way downhill.

My dog Matika chewed on a stick as I smoked a cigar. I pondered matters both great and small while sitting there. Eventually I felt the urge to get moving again. So I wandered through the forest with no particular destination in mind. Then I tagged the logging road and headed back to the car well before sunset.

Just what the doctor ordered. Though I’d be hard pressed to explain what it is exactly that I get from a wild place when I visit it, there’s no doubt in my mind that it fills a need deep within. I returned home feeling much better, and ready to resume work.

 

 

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Sep 28 2017

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First Autumnal Walk

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A long bout of unseasonably warm weather broke last night, with a cold front ushering in autumn. Never mind that the Autumnal Equinox took place nearly a week ago. For all practical purposes, the season began today.

The trees started turning weeks ago, of course. But the real color won’t come out until we get a few frosty nights. That should happen soon.

I went for a walk in the woods this afternoon, trying to get my bearings after a ten-day road trip back to Ohio to see my dying mother. A dysfunctional health care system, rude drivers on the highway, credit card fraud, and the madness of civilization in general – there was plenty to keep me off balance during the trip. But all that dissipated during my short walk on the trail. Then there was only sadness.

The first fallen leaves scattered across the trail. Acorns dropped as a gentle breeze whispered through the trees. A touch of color. What usually brings me joy this time of year, brought only sadness.

I might see my mother again before she dies; I might not. If I could have a wish granted right now, it would be to walk through the woods with her one last time, enjoying the early autumnal color together. But there comes a time when one must simply let go. So I walked in sadness.

No matter the season, the forest is always beautiful. And always there are fallen trees on the ground even as others reach towards the sky. The forest, in all its beauty, is full of living and dying. So it goes.

Hard to say when exactly the first frost will come. But it will come. I look forward to the colorful display that will follow. Then I will go for another walk. Perhaps the sadness won’t be weighing so heavily on me by then. Perhaps it will be worse. The autumn forest will be beautiful regardless.

 

 

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Sep 08 2017

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Forces of Nature

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Well, it’s that time of year again. Hurricanes are brewing in the Atlantic and making their way towards the Americas. One recently devastated Texas. Another is wreaking havoc in the Caribbean and headed for Florida. More are on the way. Six years ago Hurricane Irene reached as far north as Vermont and did a lot of damage here, blowing out streams and rivers with ridiculous amounts of rainfall. Seems like there are more of great storms now, and they’re bigger and more powerful than ever before. But our climatological records only go back 150 year so it’s hard to say.

There are huge wildfires out West. Mexico was just hit by a big earthquake. Iceland is expecting one soon. Here in the North Country, we get our share of nature’s wrath in the form of winter blizzards. Tornados are common in the Midwest where I grew up. Nature flexes its muscles everywhere.

I was living in Oregon when the volcano Mount St. Helens blew. I heard it that day, even though I was hiking in the woods 200 miles away. The next day everything was covered with a blanket of light grey ash. In the 1800s the much bigger volcano Krakatoa erupted in Indonesia, creating a tsunami far worse than the one that ravaged that part of the world a few years ago. The planet is a dynamic system. Not nearly as intense as it was 4 billion years ago, but active all the same.

Some of the big natural events happening today are the same ones we’ve been dealing with for thousands of years. Others have more teeth. We all know why. It’s getting harder and harder to deny climate change, even though some folks believe they have a vested interest in keeping their heads in the sand. Then again, Homo sapiens isn’t quite as sapient as advertised. Not collectively, anyhow. Even as individuals, some of us do some really stupid things. I can’t help but wonder why anyone would buy oceanfront property in this day and age. As arctic ice sheets melt, sea level rise, making storm surge much more devastating. Can our engineers build any kind of barrier that can adequately deal with what lies ahead?

A hurricane is just a swirl of wind, but it’s big enough to be seen from the moon. And in the near future, they’re likely to get bigger. I’d take that bet, anyhow, if I could find anyone willing to bet otherwise.

Maybe someday we’ll get it – we’ll finally figure out that despite our cerebral prowess and very busy hands, we aren’t in the driver’s seat. The mind-blowing, dynamic system that we call Nature was here long before we came along, and will be here long after we’re gone. Yeah, maybe someday we’ll finally find our place in that system. But I’m not holding my breath. Human nature hasn’t changed noticeably during my lifetime.

 

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Aug 27 2017

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The Promise of Another Day

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Morning sun breaks through the trees – the promise of another day. Forget the madness of civilization on full display throughout the media, and focus instead upon here and now. A calm, clear, azure sky. And you are alive. Cherish it. Your days will not go on forever. So whatever your troubles, however distressing the human condition may seem, there is this day. And you are alive.

It’s hard to believe that Nature has no agenda, that all this living and dying all around us isn’t to some good purpose. The sun burns brightly, suggesting divinity. Or am I just imagining it? Each and every one of us walks the fine line between reality and illusion. Only the truly mad amongst us think that they are completely sane.

The sun, moon and stars move across the sky, marking time. Together they hint at something eternal – something that we call the universe. But that’s of no consequence to us really. Our days are numbered. From the first hominid to the last there are only so many days. So we should make good use of them. What then should we do? More to the point, what should I do today?

The promise of another day. Each and every day is fraught with possibility. Perhaps I will do today what I couldn’t do yesterday. Perhaps the passage of time is all that’s needed to beat the long odds and accomplish something truly remarkable. Perhaps today I will truly understand the world and my place in it. Stranger things have happened, haven’t they?

 

 

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Aug 17 2017

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Last Days of Summer

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The other day I noticed goldenrod in bloom along the roadside. I’ve been seeing it everywhere since, including my own back yard. Goldenrod. We all know what that means. Summer is on the wane.

Each morning I go to the window before eating breakfast, open the shades and announce to my wife that it’s another beautiful day. I prefer sunny days to overcast ones, of course, but this time of year they are all beautiful. Fresh produce, t-shirt weather, everything in bloom – how can you go wrong?

Autumn is also a wonderful time of year, especially here in Vermont. Still I am saddened by the prospect of summer coming to an end. There is still so much I want to do before the big chill comes.

The march of time. Days go by, weeks pass, seasons change. I want to slow it all down, but there seems to be no way to do that. Yesterday I filled a pint container with blackberries for the first time this year. Already some of the best bushes are past their prime.

One day is just as good as the next, I suppose, regardless of the season. Nonetheless, I will try to savor these last few days of summer, making the most of them. That means spending as much time outdoors as possible. To confound myself, I have resumed writing already – something that I usually don’t do until September. And what do I write about? Being outdoors. Go figure.

 

 

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Aug 05 2017

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A Philosophy Tempered by Wildness

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Two weeks after leaving the woods, I am still processing what I thought and experienced while sojourned briefly at Pillsbury Lake. Most of this process is subconscious, though occasionally I think back to a particular moment during that retreat when something significant took place, or some important insight arose.

Early into my fourth day alone, while I was leaning against the shelter wall and writing in my journal, a butterfly landed on my leg. I had been writing down some heavy-duty thoughts concerning God, man and nature. The butterfly came to render its opinion – as if what I was writing had better match up to the reality of wildness. That’s how it struck me at that time, anyhow. How well did I do? It’s still too early to tell.

Earlier this week, a phrase came to me in the middle of the night: philosophy tempered by wildness. That pretty much sums up what my recent Adirondack retreat was all about. There is an indoor, utterly civilized way of looking at the world and another way that makes more sense in the wild. During my retreat, I opted for the latter.

There’s a book somewhere in all this, I’m sure. The trick is to let things ferment a bit, then to start writing while the memories are still fresh. The urge to start writing comes to me during my day-to-day affairs. Suddenly I feel distracted, as if some powerful insight is about to wash over me. Then it passes. Yeah, I’ll be hard at work on this book soon.

This time around, my number one critic will be that butterfly. Whatever I write has to win its approval. I’ll rely heavily on my field journal, of course, because that is a record of my outdoor thoughts at the time. But it’s still going to be tricky. There is a tendency to make ones wild thoughts make more sense than they should. On this journey, reason can only take me so far.

 

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Jul 23 2017

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Adirondack Retreat

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After driving in out of downpours for 4 hours, then making my way up several miles of partially flooded dirt road, I parked my car at a trailhead and started hiking into the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. My dog Matika was right behind me, just as happy as I was to be slipping into the wild despite a light rain falling.

The rain stopped halfway to Pillsbury Lake but the trail was a stream by then and the forest was soaked. A rumbling in the distance. Hmm… Sounded like another storm approaching. We rolled into the shelter at Pillsbury Lake right before the next big downpour. Surprisingly enough, Matika and I had the place all to ourselves that night. So I strung a line inside the shelter and dried out my wet clothes and gear.

The next day was a different story: mist in the morning burning off to a warm, sunny day. Buggy, yes, but a nice day all the same. I looked around for a good place to camp but didn’t find one. So I spent a second night in the shelter. Again, no one came along.

The idea was to stay put instead of pounding trail, to hang out by a lake for 5-6 days, groove on the wild, and record my thoughts in a journal. That’s exactly what I did. On the third day, Matika and I grew a little restless so we went for a day hike to another lake in the area. That took a few hours. But for the most part we just sat. And we had Pillsbury Lake all to ourselves for a third night.

On day four, I was feeling pretty crunchy. Staying put had mellowed me right out. Ditto Matika. Chipmunks, sparrows, butterflies, and other critters started overrunning the camp. Neither one of us did much about it. Meanwhile, I just kept on scribbling in my journal.

At dusk when I went to put out my campfire and go to bed, I thought I had the place all to myself for a 4th night. But a pair of hikers came along an hour or so later. They were nice enough fellows. Still their sudden appearance broke the spell of my deep woods solitude. There would be more hikers on the way, no doubt, with the weekend fast approaching. So the next day Matika and I hiked out.

It’s hard to say what value the words I wrote in my journal have, or what exactly happened to me while I was out there, but I returned home incredibly relaxed, lighthearted and happy. My wife Judy found that amusing – so amusing that she waited a day before trying to have a serious conversation with me about anything. She saw the wild in my eyes. Hard to miss, I’m sure. Yeah, I went deep this time.

 

 

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Jul 15 2017

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Car Camping

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I drove up the winding Kelly Stand Road slowly, on my way to a favorite camping spot in the Green Mountain National Forest. I was tired after a long day of book hunting, and not crazy about setting up my tent in the dark, but really wanted a taste of the wild. In a few days I’d be slipping into deep woods for a week. The wild was all I could think about.

The drive was a lonely one. Didn’t pass another car or see another person. But a smile broke across my face when the familiar campsite finally came into view. I backed my car into the site then set up my tent. Twenty minutes later, I was comfy in my sleeping bag, making a journal entry by headlamp, and glad I hadn’t given in to the urge to stay in a motel. Two hours earlier I had been contemplating that while passing through a rainstorm.

The leaves rustling overhead lulled me to sleep. At first the ground felt hard, but my body eventually melted into it. I slept well, awakening eight hours later to grey light filtering through the screen door and the sound of robins singing. My eyes drank in the surrounding forest as I crawled from the tent.

I cleaned up a bit, drank some juice then broke camp. Day two on the road. The next book sale was two hours away and I had three. That meant time enough for a leisurely drive out of the mountains and breakfast in some diner along the way. It was going to be a good day.

I picked up a handful of birch bark that I found laying on the ground and squirreled it away in a plastic bag. I’d need it during next week’s backpacking trip into the Adirondacks. Really looking forward to that. But first things first: I had a couple more boxes to fill with books.

 

 

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Jul 05 2017

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Grandkids Climb Jay Peak

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We had to wait before setting foot on the trail. The rain was nonstop for days. And even when it did finally stop, the trail was all wet rock and mud with a stream running down it. No matter. We went up the mountain anyway.

I did my best to coax my grandkids into ignoring the mud and water, making sure they had good footing with each step. But that was a lost cause. They hopped around, trying to keep their shoes clean and dry, falling down in the process. We all have to learn that the hard way, I suppose.

“Are we halfway yet?” the kids kept asking, even though they all had energy to spare. As for me, well, I was huffing and puffing ten minutes out the gate, and reduced to a steady creep by the time they found a comfortable pace. The eldest boy Hunter was out front with orders to halt the group whenever they lost sight of me. That happened frequently.

They thought it was pretty cool when the broadleaf trees became conifers, and when the trail became steep and rocky. Reaching a ski path, I told them they could either take the easy route up that path or continue following the white blazes straight ahead. The blazes marked a steeper, even rockier ascent through stunted spruce. They charged up that section of trail without hesitation.

By the time we reached the summit, we were in the clouds. No view for all our hard work. But they thought hiking into the clouds was pretty cool, too. We stayed on the summit long enough to drink water and eat our energy bars. Then we ducked into the nearby building to warm up. That’s when we started missing Grandma. She could have taken the gondola up to meet us.

I think it was Maddie who noticed how dark the woods were when we left the open ski slope. Our descent after that was arduous, thanks to slippery mud and rock. All the same, everyone was glad to have done the hike when we finished. At 3,800 feet, Jay Peak was the biggest mountain any of them had ever climbed.

On the way down, there was some talk about climbing other big mountains in Vermont. But I think next year we’ll hike something with Grandma instead. It was a great hike, but she was definitely missed.

 

 

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