Tag Archive 'camping'

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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Sep 30 2014

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Gaining Perspective

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PrestonBrookSeptAt long last, Judy and I went for an overnighter. We had planned on doing so this summer, and had tried again Labor Day, but circumstances kept preventing it. No matter. With unseasonably warm temps holding, we cancelled appointments, shouldered our packs and slipped into the woods together.

We have a favorite spot next to a mountain brook where we like to camp. Although there’s nothing special about it, we’ve infused the place with fond memories through the years. As a consequence it has become our number one destination whenever we feel the need to get away.

A hard September frost brought out autumnal color earlier than usual. The forest canopy was a beautiful mix of green and gold leaves. The stream, though running low, broke over and around rocks as it made its way downhill. The sound of it unraveled our nerves. We sat back and let rushing water work its magic.

As the forest filled with evening shadows, Judy and I conjured up a small campfire. We kept it going well past dinner – flickering flames dancing in the darkness. With each stick thrown on the fire we grew more reflective, more philosophical, slowly gaining perspective on the world beyond the forest. Campfire gazing is like that sometimes. While meaning with a capital “M” was not forthcoming, we went to bed with a better bead on things. And the incessant rush of the nearby stream washed away all worry.

The next day we sat all morning and part of the afternoon, tending the fire and listening to the brook. Eventually we broke camp and hiked out. Then we returned home refreshed, though we’d be hard pressed to explain why.  Every woods retreat is like that.  Simply reconnecting with the wild seems to do the trick.

 

 

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Aug 27 2012

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Time Out

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A few days ago, Judy and I went for an overnighter in the woods. Our work schedules aligned, making it possible. It was a bonus outing for me, and a much needed getaway for Judy. She hadn’t been overnight in the woods in years.

We have a favorite camping spot along a mountain brook about an hour from home. It’s less than a mile from the dirt road where we leave our car. Half that distance is a bushwhack, though, so the spot is very private. We’ve never seen another person there.

We didn’t do much during our stay.  Judy read a book. I did a little fishing. We stared into a campfire, talked, and went for a dip in a nearby pool. Our dog Matika was with us, of course. She chased the chipmunks out of our camp then lounged about. All three of us slept well during the cool, dry August night.

Few bugs, great weather, and the constant rush of a small stream. Completely immersed in a green, leafy world. Can’t imagine how things could have been better. These hybrid outings – part camping, part backpacking – suit our purposes well. We’ve learned how to make the most of them, anyhow.

We lingered the second day. Neither Judy nor I wanted to leave. Next year we’ll make it two nights in the woods, but for now we are satisfied. It was a perfect time out.

 

 

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Jul 14 2011

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A Night in the Woods

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Every once in a while I get the urge to spend a night in the woods – not a night in a tent, but in the woods.  A tarp set-up is a good way to do that.

It takes longer to set up a tarp than it does to set up a tent.  In order to shed rain, the tarp has to be angled just right.  Even if I set it up right, it’s not easy to access.  Sometimes, when I’m tired, it’s a real annoyance.  But it’s always worth it in the end.

During the buggy summer months, I fashion a mosquito bar beneath the tarp.  This takes even more time and energy.  Matika has learned to wait for me to get situated before she joins me inside the netting.  Smart dog.

I use a set of aluminum tent poles to hold up the high end of the tarp, but my walking stick is often a part of the rig.  That way I only need one tree to anchor down my set-up.

Flat, well-drained ground is essential, of course, but I often choose a spot for its aesthetic value.  I like to wake up with a patch of wildflowers, the nearby stream, or moss-covered blowdown in full view.  Last night I enjoyed all three.

Granted, a tent provides better protection from wind and rain, but there are few things more pleasant than having your brow caressed by a gentle breeze in the middle of the night.  And when the moon rises, you know it right away.  Same goes for nocturnal animals.  I’ve seen a lot of creatures this way that I’d never see otherwise.

Predawn is the best part.  I’m a morning person so I like to catch the first light.  Sometimes I stay in my sleeping bag, listening to songbirds as daybreak transpires.  I’m almost always up before the sun breaks through the trees.

Yeah, when I want to get intimate with the wild, a night beneath my tarp is the way to go.  To most people, it seems impractical and insecure.  But don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.  Short of sleeping with no cover at all, it’s the best way I know to be in the woods.

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May 28 2010

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Sitting in the Woods

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After hiking hard for several hours, I leave the groomed trail and bushwhack along the brook until I’m way back in the mountains.  Then I drop my rucksack on a knob of high ground next to the brook and start making camp.  It’s an unseasonably hot day in May.  The leaves of birches and maples at this elevation are just opening up, so I’ve taken cover beneath a copse of conifers.  The terrain around me is rough but I’ve found a relatively flat spot to pitch my tarp.  After doing that, I fashion a small campfire circle then sit down to rest.

The black flies are out and looking for blood.  My dog, Matika, and I retreat beneath the tarp where the mosquito bar keeps the flies at bay.  By early evening, the temperature has fallen dramatically and the black flies are gone.  I make a seat out of my foam pad, leaning it against a big rock so that I can sit for a while, grooving on the wild.

At first I am busy cooking dinner, but when daylight fades to twilight I just sit, throwing thumb-sized sticks on the campfire and jotting down my thoughts in a journal.  Tightly wound nerves slowly unravel.  The incessant rush of water helps.  Soon I’m looking around, admiring the woody chaos all around me and wondering why I’m so lucky to be alone out here.  Why aren’t these woods full of other people doing the same?

Darkness slowly consumes the forest.  My modest woodpile has dwindled so I call it a day.  Matika is already lying in front of the tarp, ready for bed.  As I settle in for the night, the stars come out.  They twinkle through the canopy.

In the morning, just before sunrise, a gentle breeze sweeps down the mountain.  The forest smells like clean rot.  I go down to the brook to splash some cold water into my face and fill my pot.   It’s time for breakfast.  The small tepee of twigs bursts into flames in no time.  Soon I’m sitting in the woods again, journal in my lap, coffee in hand.  A wood thrush sings in the distance, as if to remind me that this is where I belong.    A wood thrush is always singing, it seems, when I am happiest.

Eventually I grow restless.  I want to start hiking again, so I break camp and pack up.  By the time I have bushwhacked back to the trail, I’m sweating heavily.  Yeah, it’s going to be another warm one.  But I don’t care.  It’s a glorious, summer-like day and I am footloose in the forest.  It doesn’t get any better than this.

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Apr 22 2009

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A Dry Wind

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I went into the mountains earlier this week to spend the night – just me and my dog, Matika.  I hiked a logging road uphill for a half hour, then followed a small stream a quarter mile to a favorite camp spot.  At 1500 feet, a few patches of snow still lingered in the woods.  Although some furled leaves pushed through the forest floor, no flowers bloomed at that elevation.  That’s okay.  I hadn’t come to botanize.

In early spring, I don’t expect much.  But I do expect to enjoy a long, meditative evening feeding sticks into a campfire.  With that in mind, I gathered wood shortly after setting up camp.  But it was still too early in the day to start a fire, so I went fishing for a while.

I broke out my fly rod and retraced my steps back to where I’d seen a brand new beaver pond.  Figured that would be a good place to start.  I flipped my line into the pond and every quiet run or deep pool I could find while working my way upstream, but no trout rose to my offerings.  That’s okay.  I hadn’t come to fish.  Not really.

By the time I returned to camp, I was ready to start a fire.  I crumpled a little birch bark and built a small tipi of sticks around it.  But a dry wind blew down the mountain, kicking up leaves all around me.  Hmm…  My wood pile, the leaves, the surrounding forest – everything was very dry.  As I put a match to the tipi, I told myself to be very careful.  I had a couple liters of water close at hand just in case.

The parched tinder burst into flames and every stick I added to it burned hot and fast.  I kept the fire small, but had to put out an ignited stray leaf more than once.  Stressful.  I burned just enough wood to boil up a pot of water for dinner, then immediately snuffed out the flames.  So much for campfire meditation.  I donned a sweater as I sat in the chilly woods at twilight, while brooding over this unexpected turn of events.

A gust of wind blew down the mountain with enough force to rattle my tarp.  I fretted about the impending storm as I tied down the tarp edges with more guylines.  Then Matika and I crawled under it.  The wind roared in the distance.  The temperature dropped as the forest grew dark.  I nodded off but awoke around midnight to the sound of sleet hitting the tarp.  Matika groaned.  Several times through course of the night, the wind tugged at the tarp, threatening to pull it from its moorings.  But we awoke at dawn still dry and under cover.  The forest calm at that time seemed rather peculiar.

With very little wind blowing and leaves subdued by dampness, I enjoyed a breakfast campfire well into the morning.  It wasn’t what I had planned, but when you’re in the wild, it’s best just to go with the flow.  During the past 24 hours, Mother Nature had shown me a face I’d never seen before.  I pondered that while sipping coffee and poking at quiet embers.  Twenty-seven years in Vermont woods, you’d think I would have seen it all by now.  But the wild, by definition, can always surprise.

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