Tag Archive 'mountain stream'

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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Jul 17 2016

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Before the Rain

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Preston Bk in JulyMy wife wants me out of the house while window shades are being installed. That’s all the excuse I need to drop everything. Never mind that thunderstorms are in the forecast for this afternoon. As soon as I finish doing the bare minimum work for my business, I grab my fly rod, load my dog Matika into the car, and head for the hills.

By midday I am bushwhacking downhill to a favorite brook. A tremendous sense of relief sweeps over me as I tramp through the woods. This is my first excursion into open country in months.

The stream is low, even for midsummer. We need rain. That said, I hope the dark clouds gathering overhead hold off long enough for me to make a few casts. After that, it doesn’t matter.

The stream is beautiful. Crystal clear water finds its way down a rocky streambed surrounded by lush green vegetation. I have walked this brook or ones like it a thousand times yet they never fail to charm me. The rush of flowing water, the cool shade, and that earthy smell – I’m a real sucker for this kind of wildness.

Matika sniffs around as I ply the water with nearly invisible line and tiny fly. When I pull an eight-inch brook trout from its hiding place, she dances around me, chomping at the creature flipping about desperately in my hands. I release it into nearby shallows so that Matika can give chase. She doesn’t stand a chance. The brookie torpedoes out of sight in seconds.

Dripping sweat and menaced by biting insects, I hobble over rocks and around fallen trees for another hour or two, maintaining a low profile to keep from spooking the fish. I catch and release a couple more brookies despite the less-than-ideal fishing conditions. When finally thunder rumbles in the distance, I splash cold water into my face then leave the brook.

The uphill scramble to a dirt track is hard. The amble down the road is easy. I reach my car right before the first raindrops fall. It’s raining by the time the wheels touch pavement. On the highway it’s a downpour. All the way home, I marvel at how lucky I’ve been.

 

 

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Jul 28 2015

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Cool Brook on a Hot Day

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Deep PoolAfter weeks of relatively cool, wet weather, temps are suddenly very summerlike here in the North Country. To beat the heat, I went trout fishing on a mountain brook yesterday – not so much to catch fish as to wet-wade a shady stream and keep my dog Matika chilled out.

I was not disappointed. The forest canopy blocked out most of the direct sunlight and the water was cold enough to keep the trout happy. Wearing old, worn out hiking boots, I didn’t hesitate stepping into the fast-moving water. Matika was a little reluctant to get wet so I intentionally crossed deep sections of the stream several times, urging her to follow. She complied.

Despite the heat of midday, the trout rose to my fly. I caught and released half a dozen brookies and browns, losing that many again. I’ve been working a lot and not fishing much. That’s my excuse for not landing the surprisingly large brown trout that darted out of a deep side pool. Truth is, the white flash of its torpedo-like body rising to my fly excited me to the point where I overcompensated while setting the hook.

Towards the end of my afternoon fishing, I came into a deep pool way out of proportion with the small stream. I knew there was a bunch of trout holed up there, but for some reason I decided to let them be. Or perhaps I’d taken my fill of angling joy. I chose instead to sit on a stretch of high, flat ground and eat a simple lunch with my dog.

Sometimes it’s enough just to sit quietly and look around. The wild re-creates us in a way that recreation cannot. Afterward, I hiked out as slowly as the biting insects would allow. It was another good day in the woods.

 

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Jul 08 2015

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Butterfly Camp

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NewHavenHeadwatersTen days after my brief stay alone in the Broadleaf Wilderness, I returned with my wife Judy to spend some more time there. We camped in the same spot where I had been before, along the edge of the headwaters of the New Haven River, miles away from the nearest road. With fair weather predicted, neither Judy nor I could imagine a better place to be on the 4th of July weekend.

A little rain fell the first night but we were comfortably situated in our tent by then. The rest of the time it was cool and dry – perfect weather for lounging in camp. Judy knitted or read while I gathered wood, tended a campfire, or puttered about. Twice I fished the mountain stream for brook trout, which Judy had for lunch. Our dog Matika chewed on sticks when she wasn’t following me along the stream. We napped. We listened to the endless rush of water breaking over rocks. Yeah, we did a lot of nothing.

Black and white butterflies overran our camp in the middle of the second day. Later we would identify them as the birch-loving white admirals. They gathered on the clothes hanging from a line strung between trees, on our tent, my backpack, and whatever other gear we had strewn about. They were not shy. I had encountered them on this stream before, but never in such abundance. Clearly the headwaters of the New Haven is their world.

Judy had some trouble getting comfortable in our primitive camp. I could relate. It’s not as easy to lounge in the wild at our advanced age as it was thirty years ago – not while living out of a backpack, anyhow. But we were glad to be out there all the same. We returned home on the third day feeling more than just a little relaxed. The wild has a way of massaging all concern into oblivion, temporarily at least. Wish there was some way to can it.

 

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Jun 26 2015

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A Little Time in Wildness

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CampMedI’m going gangbusters on the bookselling business these days, but earlier this week I put it aside long enough to spend a little time in the Broadleaf Wilderness. My dog Matika accompanied me, of course.

I hiked to a favorite spot along the headwaters of the New Haven River and set up camp. After casting my fly onto the roily waters of that stream, and a simple dinner of ramen noodles and summer sausage, I settled into a comfy spot in camp. There I pondered matters while drinking tea and feeding sticks into a small campfire.

Every once in a while, I jotted down something in my field journal. But mostly I just took in the sights, smells and sounds of the forest, and appreciated the great good fortune of being alive and well in such a beautiful green world.

It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of modern living. Happens to me all the time. But every once in a while, I head for the hills to reflect. Such outings rarely disappoint, and on occasion I come away from them with a little insight into the human condition. If nothing else, it clears my head.

I threw a few more sticks on the fire and talked to the mountain stream tumbling incessantly towards the lowlands. In the face of such fluid eternity, nothing seems as important as simply being in the moment. I pondered that for a while.

Matika lounged nearby, chewing on a stick. The sun slipped into the trees and twilight soon followed. A thrush called out. I threw a few smaller sticks on the fire until all that remained was a pile of glowing orange embers. Then I went to bed, feeling more at home in the wild than anywhere else. Yes indeed, safe and secure in wildness.

 

 

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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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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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Jul 30 2014

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Brook Walk

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BlackFallsBrookAfter helping a friend move some stuff, I weighed my options for the rest of the day: do some work, sit and read in the backyard, or go fishing? I asked my dog Matika for her input. She made it clear that heading for the hills was the best choice. So off we went.

I parked my car along a dirt road then slipped into the woods. It was a short hike to the stream. With cool temps and a clear sky overhead, I expected the fishing to be half decent. But the brook roiled with runoff from two days of steady rain. The first few casts yielded nothing. No matter. I walked the brook anyway, casting into promising pools along the way.

Matika was in her glory. She ran through the woods, sniffed around, and negotiated the rock-strewn stream with surprising agility. I stumbled along feeling every one of my 58 years, thinking how much easier it was to brook walk back when I was in my 30s. No rises to my fly but I didn’t care. While grumbling to myself that fishing this brook was a waste of time, I listened to the tumbling water and inhaled the dank smell of the wet forest. My eyes feasted on the green foliage all around me.

Philosophers make lousy fishermen, I kept thinking. If I was serious about catching fish, I would have come out later on when the aquatic flies were hatching. But all I really wanted to do was walk the brook on a late summer day and contemplate the intricacies of wild nature.

The hours passed quickly. As I made my way back to the car empty-handed, it occurred to me that this would have been a great outing had I not been carrying a rod. Then, for a moment, I was almost as happy as my dog.

 

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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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