Tag Archive 'forest solitude'

Jun 26 2019

Profile Image of Walt

On the Cohos Trail

Filed under Blog Post

Back home now after nine days on the Cohos Trail – a relatively new trail in northern New Hampshire that runs for 170 miles, from the heart of the White Mountains to the Canadian border. I tramped 62 miles of it, starting in Jefferson and finishing in the rather dramatic Dixville Notch. It was quite the undertaking for an old hiker like me.

“Old” is a relative term, of course. At 63, I’m a young old with plenty of hikes still ahead of me. But when I strap on a backpack, 40 pounds or more, then take on a rugged trail winding through mountainous country for days on end, I soon realize that I’m not the hiking machine I once was. The joints, for one thing, aren’t what they used to be.

The bugs were even more menacing than they usually are this time of year. A rainy spring created ideal conditions for them to multiply. I used a whole bottle of DEET. Black flies, mosquitoes, ticks and deer flies – yeah, I had plenty of company on this trip.

The Cohos Trail isn’t a well-beaten path like the Appalachian Trail. I was hoping to escape the crowd that swarms all over Presidential Range of the White Mountains just to the south. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I saw no one for 3 days while hiking through the Nash Stream Forest. Long stretches of deep woods solitude are just about guaranteed on the CT. I reveled in it, taking 2 days to just hang out at shelters and groove on the natural world.

Indeed, the CT cuts through some wild and beautiful country: over mountains, through northern hardwood and boreal forests, across streams, meadows and bogs, and around ponds. The trail itself is sometimes a woods road and other times a barely discernible path. I recommend it to anyone craving Northeast wildness. But keep your eye peeled for those yellow blazes and a map handy. This isn’t a trail for daydreamers.

One response so far

Aug 08 2016

Profile Image of Walt

Brief Sojourn in the Catskills

Filed under Blog Post

Catskill campI don’t like to mix business with pleasure. It’s hard to stay focused that way. But I made an exception last week when I headed south of Albany, New York to hunt for books for a couple days. Instead of car camping between book sales per usual, I parked my car at a trailhead Thursday afternoon, changed into hiking clothes, and slipped into the Catskill Mountains for the night.

I didn’t go far. A mile into the woods, I tagged a small stream and followed it back to a high, dry spot. A patch of wood ferns called my name. I pitched my tarp in the middle of them. Then I made a nice place to sit against a tree. Home sweet home.

Mine was a modest dinner: a cup of juice reconstituted from powder, an energy bar and a carrot. Lord knows I’d consumed plenty of calories on the road – mostly junk food. No campfire. I kept things simple. Didn’t want to smell like wood smoke while book hunting the next day. Yeah, business and pleasure don’t mix well. Not really.

A barred owl hooted while I was scribbling in my field journal. I hear them at home, now that Judy and I have moved to a wooded place in the country, but it’s different hearing them in the mountains. Alone in the wild, I felt closer to that creature.

I slept well that night despite having a rock for a pillow. The forest was cool and calming after a hot, crazy day on the road. Funny how I feel more comfortable in the woods than anywhere else. A lot people think it’s dangerous in the wild – bears, the prospect of getting lost, etc. – but I find the opposite to be true. I never feel as threatened alone in the wild as I do moving among my own kind. Few places are as dangerous as a busy highway.

Thirteen hours. That’s all the downtime I got. Enough to get me by. I broke camp in a hurry, eager to begin another so-called workday. I’d hiked out to the car and changed back into street clothes a half hour later. By mid-morning I was working another book sale, chasing the dollar. Yet a touch of the wild stayed with me. The people book hunting around me never knew the difference, of course.

 

Comments Off on Brief Sojourn in the Catskills

Nov 09 2014

Profile Image of Walt

In the Now

Filed under Blog Post

FrHillNovA trace of snow on French Hill. My dog Matika and I tramp down the leaf-strewn trail. No sound except our shuffling through leaves.

Rifle shot in the distance. No matter. We’re wearing bright yellow and blaze orange. No one here but us… and a spooked partridge.

The sun plays peekaboo through the clouds overhead. Dried leaves still clinging to beech trees rattle in a slight breeze. Stick season: the world mostly brown and grey.

The air cold enough to justify the wool and thermal layers I’m wearing. I break a sweat while moving all the same.

Leaving the main trail, I follow the tracks of animals. It’s like this sometimes. Getting out of town isn’t enough. Sometimes I have to leave any semblance of human improvement behind in order to clear my head.

Glad I am not carrying a rifle. I take a few photos but even my camera is a distraction.  I put it away.

In due time I achieve no-mind – the goal of true woods wanderers everywhere. Not so much what I think as what I don’t think… until the forest and I are one, until I have nothing to say. The ancient Chinese wanderer Han Shan would approve.

I wander aimlessly. Oh yes, now I remember: the wild defines me.

 

One response so far

Jul 05 2014

Profile Image of Walt

Rain Rumination

Filed under Blog Post

forest gladeAfter spending the better part of the morning reading a book about natural theology, I went for a short hike. My dog Matika needed the exercise. So did I. Besides, Vermont’s warm season is short. It’s best to get outside when one can.

I took a cigar with me. I had something to celebrate. For a week or so I had a dull yet persistent pain in my abdomen. It worried me. When tests showed it was only an ulcer, I breathed easy again.

A mile into local woods, I reached a fallen tree upon which I often sit and think. I did just that as a warm summer rain commenced. Had no raingear with me but didn’t care. It’s good to groove with the elements every once in a while. The rain kept the mosquitoes at bay, anyhow.

I stared into a small forest glade as the sky darkened and the rain intensified. Matika nudged me with her nose hoping to get us going again. I ignored her.

I pondered the definitions of God that I’d read about earlier and how they measure up to the natural world. Immersed in green, I puffed my cigar. The only God-talk that makes any sense to me is that which is perfectly in sync with wildness. The rest is just talk.

The rain kept falling. Eventually, I got up and continued my woods walk. Matika was happy to be on the move again. I was happy to be alive and well in such a magnificent world. I snuffed out the cigar then returned home to spend the rest of the day with my loving and beautiful wife.

 

 

One response so far

Sep 02 2011

Profile Image of Walt

Refuge

Filed under Blog Post

I recently discovered a small pocket of wildness in a nearby town that’s a great place to seek refuge when the stresses of modern living become too much.  My wife Judy brought it to my attention.  She learned about it from people she works with. Like most town forests, it isn’t well known.  And from the looks of the unbeaten trail, few people go there.

While roaming its complex network of paths, I marveled at the fact that I hadn’t discovered this place a decade earlier when I first moved to Franklin County.  But not every town forest is heavily signed or well-marked on maps.  Even when they are, it’s easy for us to miss them.  After all, we naturally associate smallness with insignificance.

Only ten miles from my house, this largely overlooked forest is good place to wander and wonder – a good place to let the nerves uncoil.  I reached a bench at an intersection of paths that proved to be an ideal place to sit and think.  No one came along while I did so.  Yeah, this is my kind of place.

Refuge, sanctuary, asylum, haven – the meaning of each of these words is nuanced, slightly different from the rest, yet they all indicate the same basic thing.  We all need at least one safe place to go when the bullshit becomes too much.  I’ve just added this one to my short list.

I prefer deep woods, miles from the nearest road, but time restrictions often prevent me from reaching such places.  So I go where I can – an hour here, two hours there.  And that’s how I keep road rage and all other forms of civilized madness at bay. Where do you go?  What do you do?

 

Comments Off on Refuge

Nov 18 2010

Profile Image of Walt

Hiking at Dusk

Filed under Blog Post

After running errands in Burlington, I went to Indian Brook Reservoir to exercise my dog and stretch my legs.  It was already late afternoon by the time I reached the trailhead.  The dark gray sky overhead made it seem even later in the day than it was.  No matter.  With less than an hour of light left, Matika and I headed down the trail.

Deer hunting season is in full swing now.  My wife had insisted that I take blaze orange with me, at least for the dog.  Good thing I did.  Without it I wouldn’t have risked taking Matika into those twilight woods.  Should have had some blaze orange on myself as well.   I made my dog stay close at hand, more for my protection than for hers.

Mine was the only car in the parking lot.  Matika and I were the only creatures afoot – the only visible ones, anyhow.  A rare thing, indeed, on an otherwise busy trail.  I reveled in this unexpected solitude, until the last bit of daylight piercing through the clouds faded away.  That’s when I started thinking I should get back to the car.  By then Matika and I were a mile into the woods.

With the air temperature well above 50 degrees, it felt more like September than November.  But the defoliated trees and the shortness of the day told the real story.  Everywhere I looked: stark and uninviting woods.  The slippery mud underfoot made for slow going.  By the time I reached the feeder stream at the far end of the reservoir, the forest was dark.

Having hiked this trail many times before, I navigated it more by memory than sight.  That’s the big advantage of experience.  You come to know what to expect.  Without even seeing them, I knew where all the treacherous spots in that trail were.  I also knew that hurrying out of the dark forest would only increase my chances of falling down, so I took my time.  And I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the walk.  Life’s better when it has an edge to it.  Just a little, that is.  Just enough to vanquish petty concerns.

Daylight had completely vanished by the time my dog and I reached the parking lot.  Matika didn’t care and neither did I.  We were both happy to have hiked while we could.  We shared the liter of water that I had on hand, then climbed into the car.  I drove home by headlights, making sure to call my wife so that she wouldn’t worry.  Next time I’ll make sure to hike earlier in the day.  But darkness often comes sooner than expected this time of year.  Whatever.  I take my small pleasures when I can.

Comments Off on Hiking at Dusk