Tag Archive 'mountain stream'

Apr 18 2019

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A Familiar Place

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At long last the snow is melting in the mountains, exposing bare ground. I drove to the base of a favorite valley, parked my car then hiked up the narrow dirt road still closed for the season. About a mile back, I left the road, bushwhacking down to the brook. It felt good to have soft earth underfoot, and to see the heavily silted stream shooting downhill, full of snowmelt.

I tramped through the forest with ease despite downed trees and a few remnant patches of snow, following the brook to places where I’d camped in the past. Then came the two mudslides. Usually I would cross the brook, thus avoiding the mudslides, but the brook had too much water in it. So instead I scrambled on all fours across one slide then the other, until I was deep in the valley. That’s when I stumbled upon a familiar place – a place I’d forgotten about, a place where I caught a sizable brook trout a long time ago.

I settled into an inviting niche along the edge of the pool, just below a huge slab of moss-covered rock. The sun shined brightly through the clear blue sky. The brook roared as it raced past. With temps in the 50s the gentle wind caressing me felt downright balmy. I drank some water, ate a granola bar, and jotted a few lines in my field journal while soaking in the beauty of the forest in early spring.

There are places, wild places, so familiar to me that they feel like home. Most of these places are located in Vermont’s Green Mountains. Some are in the Adirondacks. Upon reaching them, I suddenly get the feeling that everything is right with the world. And whatever was troubling me in the developed places doesn’t matter so much. Go figure.

While tramping out of the woods, I reveled in the great wild silence, happy enough just breathing in the clear mountain air. Once again I felt comfortable in my skin. A good hike is like that. A good hike is nothing more than getting back in touch with one’s animal self. That is enough.

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Mar 09 2019

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A Taste of the Wild

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All week long I worked on my book about wildness and being human, effectively scratching the itch of wildness. Come Friday, with temps reaching into the 20s and the sun shining, I dropped everything and headed for the woods.

The big question these days is whether or not to take my old dog, Matika. She can barely get around now so any walk with her is bound to be a short one. But she’s been cooped up for days as I have. I decided take her. No need for a big outing, I told myself. Just a taste of the wild would do.

I headed for a favorite mountain brook that runs parallel to an unimproved dirt road that’s closed for the season. A beaten path made walking on the snow-covered road easy, especially with Microspikes on my feet. Matika crept along – her legs, weakened by a debilitating disease, giving out every once in a while. I stopped and waited for her every fifty yards or so.

While Matika was catching up to me, I left the path just long enough to post-hole down to the brook for a look. The stream was covered over. There were a few open leads of water but mostly snow piled on ice. All the same, I grooved on the sound of water gurgling softly over the rocks below.

Back on the beaten path, I continued forging uphill, past a beautiful gorge nestled in hemlocks. Then the tracks of previous walkers came to an end. I went a bit farther but Matika was having a hard time of it so I turned around. No matter. The blue sky, mild temps and fresh air lifted my spirits. It was good to get out, if only for a little while.

 

 

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Jul 09 2018

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Cool Brook Afternoon

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After months of not feeling so great, Judy finally came to me and said she wanted to go into the woods. In particular, she wanted to spend a little time sitting on a mountain brook with no one else around – just her, me, and our dog Matika. No problem, I told her, so we headed out yesterday late morning for a place that fit the bill.

It was a short, easy hike to the brook, mainly because Matika can’t handle much. Old dog on her last leg. The slightest obstacle, like a downed tree, is a major challenge to her these days.

When we reached the brook, Judy found a nice spot on a large rock to sit and groove on both flowing water and the surrounding forest. She took off her shoes and dipped her feet into a crystal clear pool. It was colder than expected – a pleasant sensation on a warm day in July.

Matika rested on a gravel bar next to the brook. I sat a few feet away, propped against another large rock. The stream rushed by incessantly, clearing our heads of all urban workaday noise. A slight breeze wafted up the brook occasionally, rustling the leaves in the green canopy overhead ever so gently. We eased into dreamtime.

When leaving the brook, we were surprised by how hot the afternoon had become, and by how much time had passed. Before reaching the car, Judy said she wanted to get into the woods again soon. Next weekend if at all possible. We’re both looking forward to the backwoods retreat we have planned next month. That can’t come fast enough, even though each of these long days of summer should be cherished.

 

 

 

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May 13 2018

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Springtime Overnighter

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A couple days into a run of relatively warm, dry, sunny weather, I decided to take full advantage of the situation. I set all work aside earlier this week, packed a few essentials into my old rucksack, and headed for the Breadloaf Wilderness.

There’s a nice spot on the headwaters of the New Haven River where I’ve camped several times before. After leaving my car at the trailhead, I hiked there. It didn’t take long to reach that campsite, even with my old dog Matika hobbling along slowly behind me.

No bloodsucking bugs this early in the season so I set up my tarp without attaching the mosquito bar. Gathering wood was easy since I was camped off trail. I fashioned a small campfire circle that I would make disappear when I left. With that bright yellow orb beating down through the leafless canopy, I didn’t start a fire right away. It was enough just to sit next to the stream, listening to the endless rush of water breaking over rocks while basking in sunlight.

When the sun finally slipped beneath the trees, I put a match to a tipi of birch bark and kindling in the campfire circle. I was startled by how quickly the fire took off, and made it a point to keep it very small and controllable with bottles of water close at hand. Matika entertained herself by chewing up some of the sticks in my woodpile.

Spending a night in the woods was just what I needed after a long winter of philosophical speculation. Temps dropped fast once the sun went down, though, and Matika crowded me off my foam pad. Not the best night’s sleep, but arising to the song of a waterthrush, a refreshing mountain breeze, and early light breaking through the forest made me thankful to be alive.

I lingered for hours over a morning campfire before slowly packing up and hiking back to the car. I was giddy all the way home, rolling through the Champlain Valley as the trees slowly leafed out. Springtime in Vermont, after a long snowy winter, is absolutely wonderful.

 

 

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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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