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Jun 18 2017

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Daybreak on the Stream

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After surprising three deer crossing the road, I parked my car then stepped into the woods. My dog Matika was right on my heels. The sun was just clearing the eastern horizon. I had crept out of bed a little after 4 a.m. and was now approaching a mountain stream at daybreak. A hermit thrush greeted me with its flute-like song.

I ignored the mosquitoes while tying a fly to my line. A cool breeze wafted down the brook as the first shafts of sunlight broke through the trees. The tumbling stream rushed along, unraveling my thoughts. Next thing I knew there was a brook trout tugging my line. I lifted my rod and brought it to the bank where I was crouching, much to Matika’s delight. She danced about in predatory play. The small fish slipped back into the drink faster than she could react.

I caught a few more fish and lost a few while slowly making my way up the stream. It hardly mattered. My casts were more out of habit than intent. I was enthralled by the deep green tunnel directly ahead – the dark hemlocks, vibrant moss and ferns, and slick gray rocks around which the stream flowed. Fishing was just the excuse that brought me here, what got me out of bed.

Upon reaching a deep pool at the base of a boulder, I gave up all pretense of fishing. I sat on the stream bank admiring the unspeakable beauty all around me and soaking in its wildness. Eventually, after killing a dozen or so mosquitoes taking turns at my forearms, I removed the fly, reeled in all my line, and hiked out.

Back on the road, I felt the full power of a sun only days away from the summer solstice. Not even mid-morning and already the air felt warm. It was going to be a hot day, but I’d already enjoyed a cool reprieve at the beginning of it.

 

 

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Jun 08 2017

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In the Green

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I’ve heard a lot of people complain about all the rain we’ve had lately, but I don’t relate. Rain makes everything grow, makes the forest lush, and the vegetation is a more vibrant green as a consequence. I like that vibrancy. So this afternoon I went out to simply enjoy it.

I didn’t have to go very far. Stepped right out my door, in fact, and slipped into the green. My dog Matika followed, happy to get out of the house.

With no real plan in mind, I just walked. I decided to circumnavigate the quarry once I was under the forest canopy. I’ve been meaning to do that since I moved here last year. There’s no apparent trail along the backside of the quarry, so I figured it would probably be a rough bushwhack. And it was. But I was fine with that.

I wasn’t disappointed. Plenty of lush vegetation all around me, and the sketch of a trail most of the way. But Matika wasn’t in the mood for bushwhacking. First chance she got, she popped out onto a nearby road, hoping that I would follow and take one of the more beaten paths back home. And that’s exactly what I did.

I often indulge the old girl these days, knowing that her hips don’t like the extra up-and-down work that bushwhacking entails. Whatever. I got my woods fix for the day. That’s all that really mattered.

 

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May 29 2017

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New Anthology in Print

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The World Engaged, the new Wood Thrush Books anthology of nature writing, is now available. I collected work for it for nearly two years, and spent the past three months putting it together. So I’m very pleased to finally have this book in print.

Unlike previous WTB anthologies, this one is a full-length book: 158 pages of nature-related poetry and prose. 23 contributors. Some of them have had their work showcased by WTB before: Howard Nelson, Benjamin Green, Michael Jewell, and Helen Ruggieri to name a few. But there are new voices in this anthology as well: Susan Cohen, Stuart Bartow, Vicki Graham and half a dozen more. And a piece by yours truly, of course.

This time the selections are as diverse as possible, from deeply personal accounts to philosophical rumination, from conventional writing to the experimental, and touching upon a wide variety of subjects. Everyone has a different way of engaging the natural world and I wanted this anthology to reflect that.

You can get this book at the Wood Thrush Books website. I just posted it. Or you can get it from Amazon.com. It’s available there print-on-demand. Either way, you’ll have it in about a week. Enjoy.

 

 

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May 24 2017

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Gone Fishin’

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Yesterday morning, while I was trying to get some work done, I got an email message from Vermont Fish and Wildlife: SLOW DOWN – GO FISHING. That sounded like a good idea. So I purchased a fishing license, put my dog Matika in the car, and drove to a favorite trout stream.

The brook was running fast and high because of rain the day before, but I didn’t care. Any excuse to head for the hills is a good one. I took my time running line through the ferrules of my fly rod and put on a dry fly. I was happy enough just listening to the stream and grooving on the wild beauty all around me.

The first hour was a lot of practice casting and stream walking. My old dog was having a hard time negotiating the boulders, steep banks and downed trees, so we did more walking through the woods than I would have liked and missed a few choice holes. But when I stumbled into a patch of foam flower in full bloom, that hardly mattered. The woods are magnificent this time of year.

When finally I approached a deep hole with a relatively slow current in it, I crawled into position and carefully dropped my fly on the water. Still no rise, despite the fact that mayflies were hatching. Then I heard the voice of my ol’ buddy Walt Franklin, who does a lot more fishing than I do. “Go deep,” I heard him say. Then I exchanged my dry fly for one of the Bead Head Hare’s Ear nymphs in my box that I had tied several years ago.

First cast, nuthin’. Second cast, bam! I had a big one on the line and was not ready for it. I danced along the gravelly edge of the stream trying to figure out how to land it. Matika saw the fish once I drew it closer, then started dancing with me. I landed it long enough to snap a photo. Then back into the water it went. Matika wanted to go after it but the big brown trout moved so fast that she didn’t stand a chance. I laughed.

That was it. I walked the stream another hour, trying all kinds of flies, but not one more rise. It was a warm, sunny afternoon on the stream all the same. I went home quite satisfied.

 

 

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May 09 2017

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Year of the Lily

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Green explosion. My eyes drink in the bright, light verdure suddenly appearing in the bushes and trees this time of year, and I am happy enough. Green is all I need. But there are wildflowers scattered across the forest floor as well. They seem an extravagance. Then robins and other migrating birds join resident cardinals and chickadees in a midday chorus, and it is almost too much.

I fear that I might awaken to find myself at the beginning of yet another dreary winter day. But no, all this is real, along with the rabbits and other critters that I encounter during my long walks, and the peepers that break into song at dusk. It is the middle of spring and Nature is just beginning to strut her stuff.

Wildflowers are an extravagance, indeed. Dutchman’s breeches, round-lobed hepatica, spring beauty, bloodroot, wild ginger and violets all bloom early, then comes a tidal wave of lilies. A few days ago, I came upon patch after patch of trout lilies in full bloom. Yesterday I saw white trilliums sprawled along the trail. And more lilies are on the way. In the wooded, un-lawned portion of my back yard I’ve discovered an assortment of them – bellwort along with purple and white trilliums. I am seeing wild lilies everywhere it seems. There are more of them this year than I’ve ever seen before, or is it just my imagination?

This green and flowering world is too beautiful for words. On a geological time scale, flowering plants are an anomaly. They’ve only been around for 130 million years. That’s a small fraction of the Earth’s history. Fortunately, we are here when flowers are. There’s probably a good reason for that. This green and flowering world is our world. And I for one quietly celebrate that fact each and every springtime morning.

 

 

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Apr 27 2017

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Early Spring Overnighter

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Every once in a while I feel an overwhelming urge to spend a night alone in the woods. Either that or my wife orders me to do so when I become too grumpy. Yesterday the urge came hard and fast.

My dog Matika became very excited when the backpacking gear came out. She knows. She was all smiles during the ride to Johnson. There I left my car at the Long Trail parking lot and headed south.

I like to hike the LT south from Route 15 in early spring because there’s not much I can do to damage the trail. It crosses a meadow, tags a rail trail, follows a logging road, then becomes a skidder trail as it climbs into the mountains. By the time it’s a bona fide footpath, I’ve left it and am bushwhacking along a stream.

The loggers are taking a break during mud season so I had the woods all to myself. Just me and my dog, that is.

I travelled light, only taking with me what would fit in my old rucksack. A three-mile hike put me deep into the woods. I found a nice place along the stream to make camp. Afterwards I collected wood and made a small campfire. I can sit and feed sticks into a campfire for hours. Matika likes just looking around and chewing sticks.

An hour or so after dark, I slipped beneath the tarp to sleep. Matika was already there waiting for me. The sky broke open and the stars came out. You know what that means. Radiational cooling. I froze my ass off despite the fact that temps shot into the 60s yesterday and the 70s today. But it was worth it to crawl out this morning to a sun cresting the nearby ridge, deep in the woods. The mountain stream roared endlessly. And a breakfast campfire made it easy to shrug off last night’s chill.

Hiking out, I found a small patch of spring beauty, then a purple trillium in bloom – one that had still been closed the day before. Ah, spring! Matika crossed paths with a red fox that vanished in the blink of an eye. Something for both of us.

 

 

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Apr 19 2017

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Prospect Rock

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With all the rain in the forecast for this week, it seemed a crime to waste a fair day staying indoors. So I grabbed my rucksack and hike boots before heading to Hyde Park to do some book hunting yesterday. I worked the book sale for a couple hours, then drove to a trailhead for the Long Trail just west of Johnson.

My dog Matika was overjoyed at the prospect of hiking in the woods again. Finally! It’s been days! And a day without a hike is a day wasted as far as she’s concerned. Hmm… She might be on to something.

It’s a short hike from the road to Prospect Rock, but it feels longer due to the 500-foot ascent. Got me huffing and puffing, anyhow. One look from the cliffs made it all worthwhile. The Lamoille River Valley unfolded before me in all its springtime beauty. Not much green other than conifers, and still a little snow in the distant peaks, but beautiful all the same.

I settled into a depression in the rock to eat my lunch and enjoy the view. Matika sniffed around – a bit too close to the edge at times. I called her back. A pair of hawks rode the thermals overhead. The sun burned brightly in the mostly clear sky, warming both me and the rock. A few other hikers came and went, otherwise I had the place to myself.

Early spring. I find it difficult to be unhappy this time of year. The warm season is just beginning and the prospects for a lot of day hiking look good. I hiked out of the woods thinking that these combination work/play outings might be just the thing this year. Any way to get outdoors is a good way. Matika concurs.

 

 

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Apr 10 2017

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Back on the Trail

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With temps soaring into the 60s this morning, there was no force great enough to keep me indoors working. I loaded my dog Matika into the car and drove to Niquette Bay State Park to do my first hike of the warm season.

The trail was surprisingly dry despite the recent snow melt-off and three days of rain. No matter. I made it a point to leave a set of boot prints pressed deep into the few mud holes that I came upon. Matika did the same.

I passed a couple other hikers with their restless dogs, otherwise I had the woods all to myself. A woodpecker serenaded me with his loud knocking. I listened to the telltale songs of nuthatches, chickadees, and robins as I tramped. Otherwise all was quiet.

The sun played hide-and-seek from the clouds overhead. A cool breeze blew inland from the punky ice still covering the edges and bays of Lake Champlain. Trees creaked as the wind whispered through their upper boughs. I caught a whiff of that intoxicating forest smell and instantly came down with a case of spring fever.

I cut my pace to a crawl just to savor the walk. Matika took notice but didn’t seem to mind. All the same, I broke a sweat as the trail turned sharply then started climbing. My leg muscles complained, grossly under-used through the winter. Yeah, I felt all of my 61 years as I climbed the hill, but didn’t mind it one bit.

There’s a time for thinking deep thoughts, and another for simply being in the moment. During this outing, all I wanted was to move through the forest, sweating, while grooving on the sights, sounds, and smell of it – more in my body than in my head, like my dog. It has been a long winter. It felt good to be back on the trail again.

 

 

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Mar 27 2017

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Dreaming West Canada Lakes

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This coming Sunday, I’ll be talking to the Mohawk-Hudson chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club about the Northville-Placid Trail in the Adirondacks. While going though my slide show for the event, I became transfixed by photos of the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. I plan on spending a week there this coming summer. That trip can’t come fast enough.

I’ve been waiting rather impatiently for the snow to melt off so that I can start hiking again. Looking at photos of the West Canada Lakes is like scratching an itch. There’s no place I like more than the sprawling forests of the southern Adirondacks. Once the snow is gone and the trees leaf out again, I’ll be headed that direction.

I’ve been in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness four times. I first approached it from Wakely Dam in 2002. Went through it on the NPT in 2006, spent a few days there shortly thereafter, and visited Brooktrout Lake a few years ago. Brooktrout Lake, shown above, pulls a close second to West Lake by my way of reckoning. But that entire wilderness area is wild and beautiful and visited by few people compared to, say, the High Peaks. A good place to get lost. Yeah, the West Canada Lakes are right up my alley.

I’m not sure what this says about me. I am drawn to sprawling forests time and again – especially to those places that most other hikers avoid. If I go there, step off the trail and start bushwhacking, it’s that much better. And if I find a backcountry pond with no trail to it, well, then I’m in heaven. These are the thoughts that drift in and out of my mind as I go about my daily work routine, selling books, writing or publishing them. That’s one way of knowing that winter is almost over. Such daydreams are as sure a sign of spring as the first robins.

So enough with the white stuff already. Bring on the cold mud, and let the hiking season begin!

 

 

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Mar 19 2017

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Last Day of Winter

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A nor’easter dumped two and a half feet of snow earlier this week. That’s a lot of snow even by Vermont standards. Aside from shoveling the white stuff, I’ve stayed indoors for the most part ignoring it. The bright March sun has already melted off half the snow. I figured I’d just wait out the rest. But my dog Matika kept bugging me so out we went today, tramping in the snow one last time.

Right out the back door, I strapped on snowshoes and cut tracks into the woods. I was sweating in no time. With temps pushing up towards 40 degrees and an unblinking sun overhead, I lifted several pounds of heavy wet snow with each step. Not a cloud in the sky, though, and the pristine snow looked inviting. I was almost as happy to be outdoors as Matika was.

Not far from the house, we flushed several deer from the woods. Matika got on their tracks right away. I followed them for a while. Then we reached the quarry where someone else has been out snowshoeing. Yeah, it’s hard to stay inside this time of year, no matter how good the books and movies are.

We didn’t go far. I stomped out a small loop near the quarry then headed back to the house. A half hour of that was enough. Truth is, I’m already thinking spring. The vernal equinox is tomorrow and the first unmistakable signs of spring aren’t far away. Hmm… technically speaking, tomorrow’s equinox makes today the last day of winter. Snowshoeing was a good way to send it off.

 

 

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