Tag Archive 'bushwhacking'

Jan 08 2017

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A Good Winter Bushwhack

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A few days ago, I drove to a nearby state park for a short walk at dusk after a full day’s work. My dog Matika enjoyed it, but it wasn’t nearly enough for me. So the next day I did only as much work as necessary before stuffing a few essentials in an old rucksack and heading for the mountains. Time for a taste of wild country. Actually, it was long overdue.

The inch of fresh snow covering the icy woods road provided sufficient traction so the Microspikes stayed in my pack. A mile up the road I turned onto a trail hidden beneath a couple inches of crusty snow. I crunched my way down to the brook, which was still open surprisingly enough. Yeah, it has been a squirrelly winter so far: freeze and thaw then freeze again.

The trail petered out beyond a downed tree. Suddenly I was bushwhacking the familiar route to a favorite spot along the brook. There I once buried the ashes of my first German shepherd dog, Jessie. Matika romped through the woods like a pup despite her eleven years. I was happy to see it. Looks like she’ll be hiking with me a while longer.

Just above the campsite, recent storms had ravaged the banks of the brook, creating mudslides and thickets of downed trees. It was rough getting through there, but it felt good to be in the trackless woods again. I took cover from a chilling breeze coming down the mountain then ate a quick lunch with Matika. My wife Judy had given me an energy bar that’s good for both dogs and people, so Matika and I shared that after our respective meals. People food or dog food? – hard to say.

With temps hovering around 20 degrees, I didn’t linger at the lunch spot. I tagged the trace of an old skidder trail leaving the brook then slowly made my way back to the woods road. Matika negotiated the slippery slope with no difficulty. I dropped to all fours once to do the same.

Out came the Microspikes as I descended the woods road. That made the walk easy enough where I could lose myself in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. In the distance the mountain summits looked cold and forbidding. No matter. Here in a heavily forested hollow, I was having no trouble. In fact, I got back to my car a bit sooner than I would have liked.

A good winter bushwhack. Won’t wait so long before getting out again. There’s more to life than work, work, work.

 

 

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Nov 09 2015

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Hunting Season Tramp

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November woodsAfter reading John Burroughs’ Time and Change yesterday morning, I felt an overwhelming urge to get outdoors and stretch my legs. A blue sky underscored the urge. My dog Matika is always ready to go, of course. So we climbed into the car and drove to the pocket of woods on nearby French Hill.

Since it was the first day of deer season, Matika and I wore blaze orange. Usually I stay out of the woods when hunters are in them with high-powered rifles, but yesterday I simply couldn’t resist the urge to tramp through the woods without the constriction of a trail underfoot. I have days when only a good bushwhack will do.

It’s stick season now. All the leaves are down. They rustled loudly as I plowed through them, scaring off the local deer. Gunfire in the distance. Trees threw long shadows across the forest floor at midday, thanks to a drooping, late autumn sun. I crossed an old, stone wall, and that gave me my bearings while skirting a large beaver pond just out of view. Been here before. Without the distraction of a trail, it’s a lot easier to read the terrain.

There’s something about tramping through a trackless forest that calms me as nothing else can. It’s the absolute freedom of movement, I suppose, combined with a total lack of purpose. I tramp therefore I am. There’s nothing more to it than that.

Yet I couldn’t resist following the old logging trail that swept southward back towards the car, even though it muddied both my boots and Matika’s paws. The deer tracks we found there got our attention. And for a short while I was a hunter without a gun. It’s like that sometimes. I go into the woods with one purpose and end up doing something else. That’s what bushwhacking is all about.

 

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Sep 04 2015

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Cooling Out

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Version 2Judy said I should go into the woods overnight. She’s been around me for 30 years so she knows better than I do what I need. Between publishing, book promo, and my online bookselling, I’m going to be very busy this fall. Best to get out while I can.

I packed up a few essentials, loaded my dog Matika into the car, and headed for a mountain brook where, surprisingly enough, I’ve never camped before. I followed a trail a mile back, until it veered away from the brook. Then I bushwhacked upstream. Sweating profusely in an unseasonably hot afternoon, I looked for a pool at least the size of a bathtub. There I would make camp and dunk by overheated body.

I struggled up the steep, rocky ravine nearly an hour, until the brook was a mere trickle. Then it suddenly appeared: one of the biggest pools I’ve seen on any mountain brook in a long while – thirty feet across. But there was no good place to camp.  There was nothing even close to flat. I pitched my tarp on the overgrown remnant of an old woods road not far away, calling that home for the night. Then I stripped off my sweat-soaked clothes and went for a swim. Matika waded along the edge of the pool, getting her belly wet. That was good enough for her.

After cooling out, I settled into camp for the night. Building a small fire then cooking on the sloping ground was a little tricky. My things kept rolling away. Sleeping was even trickier. Matika and I gradually slid downhill through the course of the night. By morning I was in her place and she was no longer beneath the tarp. Poor dog! But it was worth it. A pool that big in such a wild and beautiful setting is the stuff of dreams.

 

 

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Apr 23 2015

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Slow Bushwhack

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PrestonBk.gorge.early springYesterday I visited a favorite mountain stream, taking a break from work and all other concerns. My dog Matika accompanied me, of course. First stop: a small gorge on the stream, where whitewater squeezed between rock walls on its way down to the already swollen Winooksi River.

Patches of ice clung to the rock walls of the gorge and nearby ferns were still pressed to the ground by snow that had just recently melted. Here in the mountains, the spring season is just beginning.

Above the gorge I meandered upstream following the semblance of a trail cut by deer, as small piles of scat indicated. Eventually I lost even that, finding my own way across the forest floor. I slipped between the trees without any sense of urgency, happy just to be in the woods – a slow bushwhack to nowhere.

As I walked, my thoughts wandered. Or to be more accurate, my thoughts gave way to a series of impressions: the fresh green verdure coaxed from the earth by warmer temps, the rusted remnants of early settlers, and ephemeral rivulets of snowmelt everywhere.

“Walking is not a sport,” Frederic Gros states outright at the beginning of his book, A Philosophy of Walking, though many people treat it that way. Walking slow and solitary, through the woods or in the city, opens the mind to introspection. Many thinkers have had their most profound ideas while walking. I know that is certainly the case with me. I do my best thinking while on the move towards nowhere in particular, slow and steady, with no trail underfoot.  After a while, it becomes a sort of mobile meditation.

A mile or so beyond the gorge, I found a nice spot to sit next to a feeder stream for a while. There my thoughts became more focused even as my eyes still wandered. Matika sat next to me chewing a stick. Time passed. When finally rain clouds gathered overhead, I got up and finished my walk, heading back towards my car. And that,my friends, is what I call a good day in the woods.

 

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Feb 11 2015

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Cutting Tracks

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snowshoeing in mtnsThere comes a day every winter when I have to drop everything I’m doing and head for the hills. That day came yesterday. I loaded my dog Matika into the car and drove an hour to my favorite place to snowshoe: a mountain brook where few people go.

I hiked half a mile up a packed logging road before putting on my snowshoes. Two feet of pristine powder lay before me. I figured it would be tough cutting tracks through it but didn’t realize how tough until I got going. My snowshoes sank 6-8 inches with each step. Matika stayed on my heels for the most part. Smart dog. I pushed forward, trying to set a steady pace, but was unable to go more than fifty yards without stopping to catch my breath.

I tramped for a little over an hour that way, following a mountain brook that barely murmured beneath the snow. I marveled at the silent forest – no birds, no trees creaking in the wind, nothing but my own heavy breathing. “This is why I come out here,” I kept thinking. Silence and a beautiful stillness.

When the going got really tough, I stripped down to shirtsleeves. I sweated profusely anyway. I was tiring but with temps in the teens and my thermal undershirt soaked with sweat I didn’t dare stop. Instead I pushed up a steep, narrow ravine, groping slowly back towards the logging road. Fallen trees blocked the way. At one point I passed beneath one. It showered me with snow in the process. Matika scrambled up the slippery sides of the ravine without success. Then she fell in behind me as I plodded forward, one carefully placed step after another.

What a relief it was to get back to the packed logging road! I took off my snowshoes then strapped them onto my pack. I stopped long enough to feed my dog some kibble and wolf down an energy bar with a half-liter of water. The walk out was as pleasant as it was easy.

Completely exhausted, I went to bed early last night. Tough outing but well worth the effort. I flushed a lot of gunk out of my system in the process and am now in a better frame of mind to resume literary work. No surprise there.

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Apr 22 2014

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Following the Brook

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PrestonBrk.AprilIt’s a dry day with temps in the 60s – a perfect day for hiking in the woods.  I put Matika in the car and drive to the mountains.  Before noon I am bushwhacking along Preston Brook, headed upstream.

There’s no snow in sight. Just grey rocks, the bleached brown of forest duff, the dark gray/brown of naked trees, and the occasional splotch of pale green conifers, moss or ferns that have wintered over. Not exactly a lush forest, but this time of year I’m happy just tramping the ground again.

The stream is clouded by silt and roiling with snowmelt. To avoid mudslide areas, I cross it a half dozen times while making my way upstream. The first few times I rock hop across, but eventually I get wet. I get muddy as well. No matter. I welcome this elemental immersion.

The sky overhead is mostly blue. A woodpecker knocks in the distance, otherwise all is quiet.  Just the steady rush of water obeying gravity, and the occasional creak of a tree swaying in the gentle wind.

Matika is so busy sniffing that I lose track of her a few times. I lose myself in dreamy, early spring reverie. When finally breaking a sweat after tramping a mile, I can’t help but smile.  Compared to thrashing around in snow, hiking like this is easy.

Thirty years, I figure after doing the math.  That’s how long I’ve been following this brook. Sometimes I have a fishing rod in hand, sometimes I carry a daypack. I stop by a favorite camping spot and find the fishhook that I pressed into the bark of a young tree years ago. Yeah, this brook and I have history.

A couple miles deep, I reach the small, narrow bridge where the dirt road in this valley crosses the stream. I follow the road back to my parked car, occasionally stopping to look around. Not a spectacular hike but a pleasant enough afternoon in the woods all the same. In another month or so, once the trails have dried out, I’ll go higher.  Until then, these mountain stream rambles will do.

 

 

 

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May 23 2013

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Wet and Wild

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spring bushwhackInstead of hiking a well-maintained trail as planned, I changed my mind yesterday morning and opted for a bushwhack along a favorite mountain brook. Glad I did. A great weight lifted from my shoulders the moment I stepped into the trackless forest.

A carpet of foamflower in full bloom was there to greet me. The mountain brook, bank-full from the previous night’s storm, roared nearby. The intoxicating smell of ozone and raw earth hung thickly in the air. And when a vireo called out, its wildly undulating song filling the trees, I too felt like singing.

The dripping understory soaked my pants. Soon my shirt was damp with sweat. I crossed the brook several times to avoid the mudslides on steep slopes, thereby drenching my boots. After tramping for an hour and a half, I knelt down beside the brook and dunked my head to cool off. Then I was wet from head to toe.

I howled with delight as my eyes drank in the brilliant green world surrounding me.  I reveled in the wildness of it all – the mud, the bugs, unfurling ferns, rotting wood and leaf litter, moss-covered stones, songbirds, wildflowers and all the rest. I was crazy happy, or was it only the ozone going to my head?

Springtime in the Green Mountains. It doesn’t get much better than this. I hiked out a much healthier man.

 

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Mar 16 2013

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Last Woodlot Ramble

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WoodlotThere’s a woodlot on the edge of town that I like to visit whenever I’m the mood to wander about aimlessly without having to drive very far. When I was a child growing up in Ohio, I used to roam fallow fields and woodlots where few people ever went. Doing so nowadays takes me back to my roots.

The woodlot isn’t very big – no more than a half mile square if you count the adjoining fields full of briars and scrub. The heart of it is a cedar swamp of sorts where the water table is often just above the surface level. That’s why a day like yesterday is ideal for visiting the place. With no snow cover and temps just below freezing, walking is easy. All I have to do is follow animal tracks threading through saplings and downed trees.

Hares, chipmunks, squirrels and all sorts of birds live in this woodlot. I got up close and personal with a barred owl here a few years ago. I’ve chased deer out of these woods and spooked ruffed grouse more than once. My dog loves the place because there are lots of interesting smells. Aside from a homeless fellow who once resided here, I’ve never seen anyone in this woodlot. Yet all I have to do to access it is leave my car in a grocery store parking lot and follow a track through illegally dumped trash and into the trees.

Towards the end of my ramble yesterday, I heard the hum of heavy equipment in the distance. After following an ATV trail to a field where I usually pick up the track heading back to the parking lot, I saw something that rocked my world. A huge building had just been erected in the field and all kinds of construction vehicles were moving around the place. The brand new WalMart, of course. I forgot about that. Developers broke ground last fall, shortly after clearing the last legal hurdle. Progress. Soon everything around the woodlot will be developed – perhaps even the woodlot itself. Yeah, just like the Ohio of my childhood. That’s why designated wilderness areas and forest preserves are so important. The almighty dollar changes everything.

 

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Feb 21 2013

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Reboot

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snowy treesIt’s amazing how a good walk alone in the woods can clean out the corners of one’s mind, cluttered as they might be with the petty frustrations of daily life. I hadn’t expected as much. I knew only that I had to jump off the merry-go-round for a while.

After driving an hour into the mountains, I left my car at the bottom of an unimproved road then followed a set of truck tracks back to a favorite jump off point. I stepped into the trackless snow beyond a closed gate, following an overgrown logging trail down to the iced-over brook.

A lone chickadee welcomed me. My dog Matika ran ahead, sniffing out wild animal sign. I tamped down four inches of heavy wet snow with each step I took, glad to have left my snowshoes behind. They weren’t made for these conditions.

The brook gurgled beneath the ice. That and the sound of trees creaking in an occasional gust of wind was all that broke the silence. Snow clung to tree branches, whitening the world all around me. I prefer being immersed in a green forest, but a white one will do in a pinch. The stark beauty of it worked its magic on my frayed nerves.

I stopped after bushwhacking for a mile and a half and turned my foam pad into a makeshift seat. Then I sat down. A strong gust of wind shook snow from the trees, chilling me to the bone. That cut my lunch break short. No matter. I sat there long enough to reboot.

The afternoon walk that followed was effortless – one slow step at a time. Not so much hiking as simply meandering through the woods, marveling at the silence and stillness of nature in winter.

Eventually I tagged the unimproved road and hiked out. But I was not the same man who had entered the woods a few hours earlier. I had reverted to my old, wild self and was happy for it. Too bad this frame of mind can’t be bottled.

 

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Sep 13 2012

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Early Morning Bushwhack

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Too restless to sit down and focus on any literary work this morning, I went to French Hill with my dog Matika. I felt guilty about not working as I slipped into the woods, which is a little odd when you think about it. How else is an outdoor/nature writer supposed to gather his or her material?

A few minutes into the woods I was fine, though. The forest doesn’t give a damn about creative output. And when I’m wandering through it, neither do I.

After thrashing through a tangle of brambles covering what used to be a logging road, Matika and I broke into the relatively open forest. A deer path took us to a familiar gap in the old stone wall. From there it was an easy walk along the semblance of a trail, so I started daydreaming.

Soon I found a place to sit down and groove on the woody surroundings. The sound of leaves rustling in the gentle breeze cleared my mind of all thought. Then I was hypnotized by early morning light breaking through the green canopy. The shadows of trees danced across the forest floor. Time passed.

When finally I snapped out of my reverie, I got up and hiked out at a good clip, completing an unintentional circumnavigation of a largely unseen beaver pond. I picked up a turkey feather along the way and held it as if it were a quill pen. Then my brain kicked into gear and I started working.

The boundary between grooving on the wild and writing about it is vague indeed. Sometimes I slip back and forth over that frontier as if there’s no real difference between mind and matter. Sometimes I wonder if there is.

 

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