Tag Archive 'Lake Champlain'

Nov 07 2018

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November Wind

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After shipping out packages, I head for the nearby town forest to stretch my legs. No rain today – a rare event lately – with temps up around 50. Not a day to be wasted.

I put blaze orange on myself then on my dog Matika. Not likely that hunters will be in the woods in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, before rifle season opens, but why take the chance? The extra layer is no big deal.

I kick up dry leaves while hiking along the barely discernible trail. The forest smells like autumn, like so many leaves slowly rotting away. A sliver of blue sky peeks through the otherwise gray sky overhead. A strong November wind kicks up, clattering the naked branches and rattling the beech leaves still clinging to trees. The wind feels ominous, but not as a mere threat of rain. It feels like winter is blowing in. I’m not fooled by the warm temps. That’s temporary.

The forest is lit by muted light. Daylight Savings Time started last weekend so now the sun sets at 4:30.  That’s less than 2 hours away. A short day. And a parade of long nights directly ahead.

Pensive and quiet, I finish the hike a little sooner than expected. My old dog has a hard time getting back into the car. I help her up, then get in and drive away.

Shortly after cresting French Hill, I catch the sun breaking through the clouds in the western sky, illuminating Lake Champlain in the distance. The wind is still blowing but it doesn’t matter so much now. I’m okay with it, with the prospect of winter. Yeah, bring it on.

 

 

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Oct 13 2018

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A Fairly Good Hike

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I thought I could fake out my old dog Matika by taking her for a walk in a nearby park first, but I had my hiking boots on so she expected a lot more. After the walk, while I was back home taking care of business, she wouldn’t let me out of her sight. Finally I patted her on the head then left without her. I had in mind a hike that I knew her hind legs couldn’t handle.

Mt. Philo was on the way to Vergennes where there was a book sale going on yesterday afternoon. Yeah, it was a combination work/play outing. I’m doing more of those these days. Was the book hunt an excuse to go for a hike, or vice versa? Good use of gas money, either way.

The parking lot at the base of Mt. Philo was full. I soon found out why. While a few patches of green lingered in the canopy here and there, the autumn color was fast approaching its peak. A thin layer of fallen leaves covered the road climbing to the top of the oversized hill. Too beautiful for words, really. I took it all in while ignoring the steady stream of people. Usually I hate hiking busy paths. This time I didn’t mind it.

I barely broke a sweat during the mile-long, road-grade ascent, but it was still the most rigorous hike I’d done in a month or two. Mt. Philo is a monadnock – what used to be an island in an interglacial sea – so it rises quite dramatically from the Lake Champlain valley floor. When I reached the top, I gazed across the sprawling lake and rolling farmland below to the not-too-distant Adirondack Mountains. A great view for relatively little effort.

The descent went quickly. Soon enough I was driving again and attending that book sale. I collected a box of new inventory for my book biz then headed home. The traffic going into Burlington was pretty intense but I didn’t care. I had squeezed in a short hike during a workday and was feeling very relaxed as a result. Not the kind of deep woods outing I prefer, but good all the same.

 

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Feb 15 2016

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The Power of Wind

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Lake Champ in FebFeeling cooped up after three days of subzero temps, I went to Kill Kare State Park for a short walk. My dog Matika was just as happy as I was to get out of the house.

I walked the icy road from the park entrance to the parking lot, stepping aside for passing cars as several ice fishermen left the area. Others hunkered down in their shanties, while one hearty soul sat exposed to the elements with his back to the wind. My eyes teared up as a gust of frigid air hit my face.

Walking out to the point, I leaned into a powerful wind blowing from the southwest. With temps rising rapidly, I knew this was a warm front moving in but it sure didn’t feel that way. I buried gloved hands in the pockets of my jacket and pressed forward.

The lake was iced over as far as I could see. Ominous clouds gathered over the Adirondacks. I didn’t stay on the point long. Matika had already turned back and was waiting for me to follow.

Returning to the car, I marveled at that one exposed fisherman on the ice thinking more about fish than comfort. As for me, well, I’d had enough, struggling across the windswept park as if making my way up Everest. If the weather forecasters are right, temps will be well above freezing in another day or two. I’ll go back out then.

 

 

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Oct 12 2014

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Natural Religion

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gastropod1On a balmy, partly cloudy day, while driving around the Champlain Islands admiring autumnal color with my wife Judy, I detoured to Isle La Motte to check out a rare geological phenomenon called Chazy Reef.  It’s the stony remnant of a coral reef that existed 480 million years ago, transported to Lake Champlain by the movements of Earth’s tectonic plates. Well aware of it for many years, I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

I parked the car at the entrance to Fisk Quarry, where more practical folk once cut and removed stones for buildings. It is now a preserve and national landmark – one of two in the area. Judy stayed in the car, more interested in the here/now than fossils. I understand. Like gazing at the stars, any venture into the depths of natural history is an exercise in imagination. What one sees is only a rough sketch of what once was.

At first I saw nothing as I walked around the preserve. After all, I have only a layman’s understanding of geology. Then I spotted a swirl embedded in solid rock. Then another, and another. The skeptic in me assumed that someone had carved them, but a closer look dismissed that notion. I knelt down and touched those ghostly apparitions, half expecting them to disappear when I did so. My fingers traced the fossils as if reading braille. Then I got it.  That is, I sensed an order to things in a world that so often appears to be utterly random and chaotic.

Truth is I have always been something of a pantheist. I don’t particularly like that label, but it comes closest to describing what I feel during those precious moments when I see the hand of God in nature, when the yawning chasm between mathematics and mysticism suddenly vanishes and I understand, on some level, how everything connects.

The swirls I saw in the rock, the vague outlines of marine creatures that lived hundreds of millions of years ago, remind me of the swirls of hurricanes and galaxies. There are forces at work in the universe that press our ability to reason to its limit. And when confronted by the Real, all I can do is genuflect. Nature, it seems, is wilder than our wildest imagination.

 

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Apr 15 2014

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Awakening

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hepatica 2014With temps shooting into the 70s, I dropped everything yesterday morning and went for a hike. Niquette Bay seemed the place to go: low elevation and close to home. Still too much snow in the mountains.

The first thing that struck me when I stepped out of the car was the smell of trees, forest duff and raw earth. That’s something I’ve missed terribly.

Ah, to have a soft muddy trail underfoot again! Remnant patches of snow lay hidden in shadowy places. A blazing sun illuminated the forest. And the air was full of birdsongs – robins, chickadees, and some other bird whose name I’ve forgotten over the long, hard winter.

Not far into my hike, I heard peepers in the distance. I left the trail in search of them – woods wandering once again. I stumbled into a vernal pool where a solitary wood frog floated. He clucked away incessantly as I kept a respectful distance. Then returning to the trail, I spotted something that took my breath away: round-lobed hepatica in full bloom. Considering how the snow and ice have lingered well past the Vernal Equinox, how is that possible?

A fierce wind blew cold across Lake Champlain. Down by water’s edge, I listened to fragmented ice tinkle as it jammed against the shoreline. Back on the trail, I crossed burbling rivulets of spring run-off making their way towards the lake. The elements on the move again.

Near the crest of a hill, while tramping dreamily along the trail with my dog Matika, a mourning cloak butterfly fluttered past. From a ledge I saw snow still clinging to cold, blue mountains in the distance, making me wonder.  Then a woodpecker telegraphed a message across the forest, removing all doubt as to what time of year it is.

In shirtsleeves yet sweating, I burned off the last of an indoor funk. Hope springs eternal in wild nature, when the world suddenly awakens.

 

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Mar 16 2014

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Chasing the Light

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MarchLakeChampWinter persists. A Nor’easter dumped over a foot of snow on northern New England this week, followed by an all-too-familiar cold snap. But the March sun melts the ice with ease at midday, and lingers into early evening. There is hope for us yet. The equinox, after all, is only four days away.

My dog Matika was so restless this morning that I had no choice but to take her out for a run. She was my excuse, anyhow. Where to go? Usually I gravitate to the woods, but today I went to the lake. If I can’t have warmth and greenery, then give me blue sky and sunlight.

A wicked north wind greeted me as I stepped out of my car and walked to the edge of Lake Champlain. It was iced over as far as the eye could see. I tossed a ball for Matika while trudging across the icy ground between snowdrifts. Judy had warned me about this bitter, lakeshore cold. But I ventured into it anyway, chasing the light.

The many tracks in the snow assured me that Matika and I weren’t alone in our restlessness. A few hardy ice fishermen stood motionless on the bay ice despite the cold. For a moment I imagined lake water lapping gently to shore before me as it had the last time I was here.

My eyes watered as the wind blew, urging me to cut my walk short. Oblivious to the cold, Matika kept running after the ball. Clouds appeared on the western horizon and that was it for me. Back inside for another day. Spring will arrive soon, the optimist in me kept thinking. And I smiled when I saw a shamrock decoration plastered to the window of a house during my drive home.  Yes, spring will arrive soon, very soon.

 

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Feb 17 2013

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Sun and Ice

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lake iceToo tired to drive into the mountains, I went down to the lake yesterday just to get out of the house. I was surprised to find Lake Champlain iced over as far as the eye could see. One would think that recent thaws would have opened it up a bit. But the fist of winter remains clenched.

The sun was out, anyhow. That gave me hope. Lord knows I need spring to get here. I need a few days in the woods – the deeper the better – to unthaw my cold, hard heart.

I am hardened by the daily irritations of modern living: media hype, traffic, tax forms, economic woes, and all that idiocy in Washington. Doing too much literary work while holding down a job doesn’t help. Neither does the helpless feeling I get while watching loved ones suffer a broken health care system. I’m chronically tired, cranky and demoralized. Don’t know how my wife puts up with me. No doubt she would send me to the woods for a week if she could.

All the same a warm, February sun reflects brightly off the ice, reminding me that the coldest, darkest days are in the rear view mirror now. The first hints of spring can’t be that far away. Just have to hang in there a little longer. I’ll be tramping through mud and snowmelt soon enough.

 

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Nov 12 2010

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A Watery Perspective

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Every once in a while, I turn away from the woods and head the opposite direction, making for Lake Champlain.  It’s only a ten-minute drive away from my house, remarkably enough.  Sometimes what I need is the long view to clear my head – a watery perspective – not the comfort of trees.  In that regard, the lake never disappoints.

Kill Kare State Park is a day use area only a quarter mile square, located on the very tip of Hathaway Point.  I frequent it during the colder months, when the park is officially closed, when there’s no one around to tell me that my dog isn’t allowed.  There is plenty of open space to throw a ball for my ball-crazy companion, Matika, and a bench where I can sit and gaze across the lake when it’s time to take a break.

The park itself is manicured and very tame, but the lake has an elemental wildness to it that is clearly apparent whenever a bone-chilling wind blows out of the north.  The sky is usually busy with clouds, water breaks relentlessly against the rocks, and islands lead my eyes towards the far shore – away from the here/now and towards grand undertakings both past and future.

As I sit on the lake’s edge, I remember Adirondack hikes, a trip to the watery wilds of southeast Alaska, a Maine kayak adventure, and countless other excursions.  I think about how much my life has changed since I first set eyes on this lake, and how different things will be a decade or two from now.  Different yet fundamentally the same – just like this lake endlessly lapping to shore.  No doubt about it: time is relative.  Water proves that.

Sometimes I sit for half an hour.  Sometimes only a few minutes.  Much depends upon how hard the wind is blowing.  But one thing remains constant: the great calm within when I walk away from the lake, fortifying me for another round of literary work or busy-ness.  Whatever thoughts weighed heavily upon me when I parked my car and walked out here are suddenly much more manageable.  I am ready for the next challenge.  Large bodies of water are like that.  They suck the smallness and worry right out of us.  And that’s why it is good to live close to one.

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