Tag Archive 'Green Mountains'

Jun 03 2015

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A Good Hike

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lush forest2I awaken undaunted to the wet, overcast day. After being trapped indoors by two days of steady rain, I’m going out no matter what. A couple hours of work early in the morning then I grab my rucksack and go. My dog Matika is all for it, of course.

An hour later I am tramping a rare section of the Long Trail that passes through a farmer’s field. The wet grass completely soaks my pants. No matter. I press forward. Then the trail markers follow an old railway bed before reaching a logging road that goes deeper into the mountains. Better than staying home and staring at a computer screen, that’s for certain.

I am dressed more for early May than early June. That’s why I don’t mind the cool dampness of the forest. I break a sweat, in fact, while pressing uphill. That’s fine. Sometimes sweating is a good way to relax.

My thoughts are a jumble of memories of previous hikes mixed with the sights, sounds and smells of the lush forest all around me. It keeps me from thinking about all the work I do on a regular basis. I dig my hiking stick into the ground and keep going.

A mountain brook winds into the trail. After crossing the stream a couple times, I sit down next to it to groove on rushing water for a while. No bloodsucking insects, surprisingly enough. Foamflower blooms across the brook. It’s easy to miss. A waterthrush sings in the distance. A thin drizzle commences.

During the gradual descent back down to the trailhead, I veer off the LT, following a new snowmobile trail for a while. It winds through the kind of ultra-green forest that I dreamt about during the frigid days of February. Eventually I tag the LT again. Then back across the wet field, thus completing my hike to nowhere. A good hike, actually. Just what the doctor ordered.

 

 

 

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Jun 15 2014

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Bagging a Peak

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JayPeakViewEvery once in a while, I get the urge to climb a mountain. They aren’t hard to find in Vermont. One of my favorites is Jay Peak simply because it’s close to home. The trailhead for it is only an hour from my doorstep.

Jay Peak is also fairly easy as mountain climbs go. Only takes a couple hours to get up and down it. And there’s a great 360-degree view on top.

I set foot on the trail to Jay Peak a few days ago. Had my dog Matika with me, of course. She got up front right away and stayed there during most of the hike. I stopped several times along the way to catch my breath and admire wildflowers. Painted trillium was in abundance, and yellow clintonia was just coming out. I also found patches of Canada lily, false Solomon’s seal, and wild ginseng – all late spring wildflowers. Yeah, it’s that time of year in the mountains even though summer has already arrived in the Champlain Valley.

Jay Peak is the last mountain on the Long Trail headed north, just a few miles shy of the Canadian border. Every time I climb it, I recall my thru-hike along the LT back in the 90s. There are plenty of good views of the Green Mountains towards the top, with Mount Mansfield usually visible. Makes me realize how lucky I am to live in Vermont.

Since Jay Peak has ski trails on its eastern slope, there’s a lift going to the top of it. That killed any desire I might otherwise have had to linger on the summit. After consuming a granola bar and half a liter of water, I was ready to descend. I daydreamed all the way down – one of the nice things about hiking alone.

I felt rejuvenated when I got back to the car, having cleared the stinky thoughts from my head. Bagging peaks is good for that. And the rest of the day was gravy.

 

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Mar 26 2014

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Last Winter Outing

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snowshoes, Preston BrookI had hoped that by now I’d be hiking in cold mud, but winter lingers. I drove to the mountains anyway. Had to get out. Couldn’t stay cooped up inside, snow or no snow.

The snow was deeper than expected – about a foot and a half. Good thing I had brought along snowshoes. I strapped them on and ventured up a narrow trail packed by a lot of other restless souls. Eventually I stepped off trail and cut tracks down to Preston Brook.  My dog Matika followed, post-holing yet just as happy as me to be outdoors.

I followed a set of bobcat tracks that pointed upstream, threading through the woods. The brook remained hidden for the most part. Temps remained below freezing but cutting tracks is hard work so I stripped down to shirtsleeves to keep from sweating too much.

Upon reaching a favorite spot along the brook, I took off my snowshoes, donned a heavy sweater, and made a seat out of the foam pad I’d brought with me. With my back against a tree, I was quite comfortable sitting there for a while.  The sun shined brightly, illuminating the snow. The brook murmured beneath the snowpack. Trees creaked in the gentle breeze.

Back on the move again before catching a chill, I took pity on my post-holing dog. I looped over to the beaten path instead of retracing my tracks. She was happy to have solid footing again. I followed her. I tramped along in something of a daydream, remembering previous outings along Preston Brook on much warmer occasions. Soon spring will begin in earnest, I kept telling myself. Soon, very soon.

 

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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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May 14 2013

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Springtime Overnighter

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spring hikeA tidal wave of green sweeps through the Champlain Valley during a succession of warm, dry days, giving me a serious case of spring fever. There’s no sense fighting it. I load my backpack, usher my dog into the car and head for the hills. Next thing I know, I’m hiking up a logging road winding deep into the mountains.

The road narrows to a trail shortly after crossing a brook. I leave the trail, following the brook upstream until I reach the edge of spring. There I find painted trilliums just opening up. There I set up my tarp on a high piece of ground, just in case the clouds gathering overhead deliver the rain that has been forecasted.

The stream rushes along incessantly. A few black flies swirl around my head without biting. I collect enough dry wood to keep a small fire going after dinner. Matika chews a stick, then another. The intoxicating smell of pollen, warm earth and forest rot fills the air. A slight breeze spits a few raindrops my way. I don’t care.

I feed sticks into the campfire for hours on end. A hermit thrush sings in the distance. Darkness descends. Then an eerie calm overtakes the forest.

A light rain falls shortly after Matika and I slip beneath the tarp for the night. It doesn’t last. I toss and turn a while before falling into a deep sleep. I awaken to a Virginia waterthrush singing loudly at daybreak. Matika licks me until I rise.

I stumble down to the brook to splash cold water into my face. The sun clears the ridge, peeking through the trees as I lounge before a breakfast campfire. When all the sticks in my woodpile are gone, I break camp.

An hour hike out takes two hours. I admire a patch of bleeding hearts along the way and stop by the brook crossing to daydream. Matika sniffs around. A forest calm lingers within long after I return to the car. The green overtaking the valley seems richer than it was the day before. I revel in it.

 

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Mar 06 2013

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Long Trail Book

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FUMF coverThe Long Trail book, Forest under my Fingernails, is back in print! Three years after buying up the last copies of the Heron Dance edition, I have reprinted this hiking narrative under my own small press, Wood Thrush Books. It is now available at Amazon.com as either a paperback or a kindle download. Rod’s illustrations are gone but the words are all there for any hiking enthusiast or nature lover to enjoy.

In the mid-90s, I had the distinct pleasure of backpacking Vermont’s Long Trail end-to-end. The rather elaborate cache system that I devised kept me on the trail for the entire month. The experience was transforming. I managed somehow to capture it in my journals, then later in this narrative.

I couldn’t be happier about having FUMF back in print. Its re-release is timely. My Adirondack hiking narrative, The Allure of Deep Woods, will soon be released. Those who enjoy that book will have something similar to read. Besides, the hiking season is right around the corner. What better way to prepare for it than to read something that elicits the sights, sounds and smells of the forest?

Those of you who have been following me through the years know that I have all sorts of books in print now: backcountry and travel narratives, poetry, philosophy, and assorted essays. I’ve edited several anthologies as well as the works of Emerson and Thoreau. But FUMF remains a favorite among readers. I’m sure that newcomers to my work will get a kick out of it.

 

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Oct 26 2012

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On the Calavale

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Taking a day off from writing as well as the hotel job, I grab my pack, load the dog in the car, and head for the hills. The sun is shining and temps are already in the 50s. I have a feeling that this might be my last shirtsleeves hike for a long, long time.

I park my car along the edge of a rough dirt road cutting through the Belvidere bog then tag an ATV trail skirting some flooded areas. A woman with a pack of huskies suddenly appears. They are followed by an old man leading a draft horse. After that five hunters come along on two ATVs dragging a dead bull moose. What next?

The rest of the hike is a solitary affair. I walk up the logging road to a stream crossing then follow the brook while recalling a similar outing years earlier. Back then I had gone on a walking meditation. I had traced the Calavale Brook to its source before turning around. On the way out, weakened by a daylong fast, I had stopped to nap on a flat rock next to the brook. When I awoke, I saw two brook trout swimming in the nearby pool.

Finding a pool similar to the one where I had napped years earlier, I stop to eat and rest. My dog Maika stands guard after lunch, half expecting another surprise encounter. I listen to the brook tumbling over a five-foot ledge to the shallow pool while jotting down a few stray thoughts in a field journal. The surrounding trees, mostly birches, have lost all their leaves already. Here in the Green Mountains, winter isn’t far away.

It’s hard to explain the primary benefit of an outing like this. A day alone in the woods has a leveling effect. Whenever my boots are wet and muddy, and I’m sweaty from a rigorous walk, I seem to be more receptive to wildness both without and within. Then I see the world in a way that’s not possible in the developed lowlands. It’s instructive to say the least.

Walking out is easy – downhill all the way. I soak my feet good while wading the flooded areas. Otherwise there’s no adventure. Matika keeps stopping to sniff clumps of hair and bits of bloody flesh that the dragged moose left behind. That’s amusing. But all too soon we are back to the car and driving home. Yeah, these daylong outings never seem to last quite long enough.

 

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Jul 05 2011

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Walking Out

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There is a woods road cutting through one of my frequent haunts.  Nestled deep in the Green Mountains, it is one of many such roads I have walked over the years – usually on the way out.

Unlike most foot trails, woods roads are gently graded and free of obstacles.  That makes them easy to follow.  That makes it easy to ruminate while walking them.

This particular woods road is one of my favorites because it is only one lane wide with virtually no shoulders.  With the exception of one summer home and a few camps at the very end of it, there is no development along this road.  That makes walking it almost as pleasant as being in the trackless woods. Sometimes even more so because here I can drift along, lost in my thoughts.

This road is rarely traveled.  I have encountered people on it but more often moose, deer and other wildlife.  I usually use this road to get out of the woods after a good day of hiking or fishing, so I’m in a good frame of mind while walking it.  A very good frame of mind.  In fact, I’m rarely happier anywhere else.

I have walked this road with others on occasion, but it’s a solitary road for the most part.  Just me, my dog and my thoughts.  I have walked this road for so many years that it feels more like home to me than wherever it is that I end up.  The road itself is my home.  From here I can go everywhere and nowhere.

I can feel myself aging as I walk this road.  I was in my twenties when I first walked it, and can easily imagine myself walking it in my seventies.  Nearby is a place where I’d like my ashes scattered someday.  This is one of the first roads I walked when I came to Vermont.  Maybe it will be the last.

What do I think about while walking this road?  Everything and nothing.  But always my thoughts end the same way: I’ve got to be at such-and-such a place at such-and-such a time, and my car is just around the corner.  Too bad for that.  Because, if I had my way, I would walk this road forever.

 

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Jun 04 2011

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Time in the Woods

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There are times when I like to stretch my legs and break a good sweat.  Then there are times when I just need a walk in the woods.  The other day was the latter, and it couldn’t have been a better day for it.  Cool, overcast and breezy – ideal weather for walking.

I went to Honey Hollow, a favorite haunt of mine deep in the Green Mountains.  After parking the car, I walked up the narrow dirt road reaching into the woods until I came to a red gate.  On the other side of that gate a jeep track swept down to Preston Brook and disappeared into a clearing with a single wild apple tree in it.  From there I bushwhacked upstream, savoring the lush green vegetation all around me.  At one point I passed through chest-high ferns.  Yeah, rooted things love all the water we’ve gotten lately.

The stream was surprisingly low and clear considering the recent downpours.  I saw two small brook trout dash across a shallow pool and for a moment regretted not bringing my fly rod.  But that’s okay, I told myself.  Sometimes it’s best just to walk the brook.

My dog Matika cavorted all over the place, happy to be running wild after a long stretch of days stuck at home.  I was happy, too.  It’s like that sometimes, now that I’ve gone back to working full-time.  Limited access makes time in the woods that much more precious.

I walked along the brook so slowly and quietly that I spooked a deer resting behind a downed birch.  Matika smelled the creature seconds after it had leaped away.  No contact, though.  The roar of the brook screened predator from prey.

I marveled at the high-water mark several feet above the quiet stream.  The washed-out banks, woody debris, and other indications of flooding took me somewhat by surprise.  Hard to imagine that much water passing through this little valley.  But wild nature is funny that way.  Its gentle disposition most days belies its latent power.

A couple miles back, I came to a favorite rock next to the brook where I like to sit and meditate.  The mosquitoes were out in force, though, so I didn’t stay there beyond a quick lunch.  I followed a game trail back to the dirt road and walked out as slowly as possible.  This walking reverie was meditation enough.  Not as much as desired, but enough for now.  Then I returned to my car wondering when I’d get back into the woods again.  In due time, I’m sure.

 

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Mar 16 2011

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Almost Spring

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A sunny day with temps in the high 30s.  Good day to head for the hills, so that’s what I do after a few hours of desk work.  “Is that a robin?” I ask myself, catching the shadowy shape of one on a rooftop while loading gear into my car.  On second look, it’s gone.  Maybe I was just imagining it.  Too early for migrating birds.  After all, there’s still a foot of heavy snow on the ground.

Stepping out of my car at the trailhead, I immediately hear the rush of water.  I walk over and, sure enough, there’s Preston Brook open and running fast towards the lowlands.  That puts a smile on my face.  I strap snowshoes to my rucksack and shoulder the load.  A trail of hard-packed snow points up Honey Hollow Road – closed for the season to all vehicles.  Then I begin what should be my last winter hike, going deeper into the mountains.

For nearly an hour I trudge steadily uphill, putting one foot in front of the other.  My dog Matika dashes from one sniffing spot to the next.  The woods are full of good smells this time of year.  Hares, squirrels and other forest creatures are awakening and moving about.

When the road levels out a bit, I fasten the snowshoes to my boots and leave the trail.  Matika runs across a thick crust of snow.  I sink no more than an inch into it, pleasantly surprised by this ease of movement.  Good thing.  Soon I’m following the trace of an old skidder trail next to a deeply cut ravine, descending rapidly towards the brook.  It’s a bushwhack now, just me, my dog and the trackless wild.

A smile breaks across my face when I spot the brook again.  It is rock-strewn and running hard, but still wide open and as clear as any mountain stream gets on a cloudless day.  The sun burns bright through naked trees, warming my face.  I’m hatless and in shirtsleeves now, yet still breaking a sweat.  Matika catches a scent then so do I.  It’s the nearly forgotten smell of the earth just beginning to thaw out.  Several days before the equinox, it is almost but not quite spring.  I caress exposed ferns and moss growing on the side of a huge boulder before following the brook farther downhill.

Matika cavorts about the woods, delirious with the freedom of the hills.  I tramp along as if living a dream.  The warm season is about to unfold in all its muddy, wet, bug-ridden glory.  And that’s a prospect that makes me happier than words can say.

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