Tag Archive 'the elements'

Jul 17 2016

Profile Image of Walt

Before the Rain

Filed under Blog Post

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.

 

 

Comments Off on Before the Rain

May 20 2015

Profile Image of Walt

Green World

Filed under Blog Post

vernal eveThe sky breaks open just before dusk, giving the setting sun a chance to illuminate the verdure all around me. I haven’t been paying close attention. Suddenly all the trees have leafed out, lilacs and crab apple trees are in full bloom, and air is full of birdsongs. Where have I been?

Hiking through the woods the other day, I found only a few violets and lilies in bloom. The canopy has closed already, bringing an end to the opportunism of the early spring wildflowers so thick on the forest floor. It all happens so quickly.

The mosquitoes are out now. I took a few hits the other day. A few drops of blood seem a small price to pay for the vernal beauty that is everywhere on display. Dark clouds gather but now they only mean one thing: a good watering. Suddenly I am living with the elements, not against them.

We live in a green world. This is not apparent in the depths of winter, but in May it is undeniable. I work some bark mulch around the plants in my flower garden, surprised by how much they’ve grown already. I hadn’t noticed, until now. Nature steadily advances despite how distracted we are by other things. It seems a waste of time to do anything but revel in it.

 

 

Comments Off on Green World

Jan 05 2015

Profile Image of Walt

First Hike of the Year

Filed under Blog Post

NiqBayJanAMLike most everyone else, I was busy through the holidays so I didn’t get outdoors much. It can be put off a long while. But there comes a time when nothing else is that important, when I have to push away from my writing desk, don several thermals and layers of wool and get out there. That time came this morning around 9.

My dog Matika and I went to Niquette Bay State Park. No other cars were in the parking lot when we arrived, which suited me just fine. I pulled the Microspikes over my boots and away we went down the icy trail. Temps were in the teens and falling as an arctic high blew into the region.

The sun played peekaboo through the fast-moving clouds overhead, occasionally illuminating the snowy forest floor. Trees creaked. The wind roared through the canopy. Granular snow crunched loudly underfoot. Not the best day to be outdoors, yet I found it strangely exhilarating.

The frigid air stung my cheeks. I broke a sweat while cresting the hill. Hot and cold. Between the two I kept tramping, one carefully placed footstep after another. My long-haired German shepherd looked wolfish as she ran through the woods, leaving paw tracks in the snow. The arctic did not feel far away.

Times like these, I live up to my blog handle: woods wanderer. My thoughts go places that they simply cannot go when I’m comfortable indoors, walking through town, or in someone else’s good company. I wonder what it is about this elemental world that is so alluring. Regardless of the season or what the weather is doing, it feels right to tramp through the forest, entertaining whatever image, idea or memory that leaps to mind. Sometimes it seems like every tenth step liberates some taboo thought. I wander, I wonder, then later go home to write about it.

Wildness, I’m convinced, isn’t a behavior. It’s a state of mind.

 

Comments Off on First Hike of the Year

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

Apr 15 2014

Profile Image of Walt

Awakening

Filed under Blog Post

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.

 

One response so far

Jan 15 2014

Profile Image of Walt

Icy Hike

Filed under Blog Post

winter hike at duskBecause of the thick coat of ice covering everything during the past few weeks, my dog Matika and I haven’t been outdoors much. Restless and feeling pent up, we went out Monday in spite of it.

A January thaw had melted off most of the ice and snow. All the same, the trail was difficult to negotiate. Good thing I was wearing Yaktrax rubber and wire traction devices on my boots. Without them I would have been sliding all over the place. As things were, I did better than Matika.

I was busy doing literary work most of the day so we didn’t leave the house until late in the afternoon. That put us on the trail just before dusk. We did a short loop that only took an hour. I had stashed a headlamp in a jacket pocket before leaving the house, but I really didn’t want to use it.

A little exercise, fresh air, and the sound of wind whispering through the trees. These are reasons enough to go for a hike no matter what the conditions are, even in the dead of winter. Matika is always ready when I am. The hardest part is getting out of the house.

From an icy ledge, I enjoyed a good view of Mount Mansfield all blue and frigid-looking in the distance. A short while later, a swath of pink streaked across the sky. I caught glimpses of it through the barren trees.

In winter, when the flora and fauna are dormant, the elemental aspects of the natural world are more pronounced. Every time I witness it, I resolve to get out more this time of year. But the dire warnings of weather forecasters keep me hunkered down at home more often than not. My mistake.

 

 

Comments Off on Icy Hike

Nov 26 2012

Profile Image of Walt

Thinking with my Feet

Filed under Blog Post

Some people sit down whenever they ponder any of the big questions. Others like to think with their feet. I belong to the latter group. When faced with a matter of life and death, or any other major philosophical problem, I take a long walk. That seems like the best way to start dealing with it.

Recreation is a form of escape to many. They go for a long walk, rigorous hike or good run to stop thinking altogether. Or they exercise their bodies to simply stay in shape, caring little for the mass of grey matter resting on top. But the mind recreates whenever the body does, and a refreshed mind thinks better than a stale one.

The thinkers I admire most – Emerson, Thoreau and Burroughs – were all big walkers. It is no mistake that they are considered nature writers as well. Nature teaches what indoor study cannot teach. While all three were avid readers, each recognized the importance of direct experience. Each learned as much from the elemental world as they did from books, if not more.

In the Information Age, it is easy to believe that anything we need to know can be found on the Internet. But the same mistake was made for centuries by those entering great libraries. Truth is, some things can only be learned viscerally. Some things can only be learned from wind, earth, trees, and water.

Yesterday I went for a walk on the nearby Rail Trail. I put on thermals before going out. The thin layer of ice covering pools of standing water along the trail convinced me that I’d done the right thing. The long shadows reminded me that dusk follows quickly on the heels of late afternoon this time of year. The sun was just above the trees when I finished my walk. A chilling wind numbed my cheeks. Half frozen earth crunched beneath my feet. By the time I got home, I was glad to be indoors again. But my head is full of fresh air now. I’ll think better today as a result.

 

Comments Off on Thinking with my Feet

Aug 26 2011

Profile Image of Walt

Geologic

Filed under Blog Post

Some aspects of wild nature are more mesmerizing than others.  I can walk a trail all day long without seeing anything more than “the green tunnel,” but a stream walk usually produces at least one geologic formation that gives pause. The most dramatic is a great fist of rock hanging over a favorite stream in northern Vermont – one that never fails to make me stop and think.  It appears at the end of a mile-long section of water that I often ply for trout.

More than once I have hiked to the overhang just to sit at its feet and question the ways of the world, much like a pilgrim seeking out a guru.  It never fails to impress.  Sometimes I ponder its incongruity, marveling at the fact that such a small stream could carve out a formidable wall of rock. Other times I wonder how many years will pass before the overhang collapses.  Either way, past or future, the rock’s story dwarfs my own.

This unusual rock formation is not indicated on any maps that I know about.  Surely others have seen the overhang but I’ve never seen anyone else near it.  Nor has anyone I’ve talked to ever mentioned it to me.  Does it exist outside of my imagination?  The moment one asks that question, one has reached a sacred place.  So I often go to the overhang to exorcise my personal demons.  It’s a good place for that.

Geo-logic.  The natural world makes sense in a way that mocks the human capacity to reason. Certain rock formations are especially good at this.  We are good at making tools, designing systems, building grand structures, and manipulating our environment.  But we often miss the obvious.  We fail to see the big picture, or simply ignore it.  We act as if a five-year plan is really thinking ahead, and relegate everything that happened fifty years ago to the history books.  But certain rock formations have been works-in-progress for millions of years.  More to the point, nothing about the natural world is static on a geological time scale.  Given enough days and nights, everything changes . . . and changes profoundly.

Newspapers are chock full of stories of little or no importance, yet my overhang tells a tale that everyone should take to heart.  I take it to heart, anyhow.  And when I walk away from it, all my troubles diminish.  It is good to think beyond the human scale of things every once in a while.  It’s instructive.

 

Comments Off on Geologic

May 06 2011

Profile Image of Walt

The Deluge

Filed under Blog Post

Here in Vermont, the deluge is all over the news.  Lake Champlain has just set a new high at 103 feet above sea level.  That’s three feet higher than it usually is this time of year, flooding shoreline camps, homes and roads.  The Islands are especially hard hit and the main artery to it, Route 2, is down to one lane.  Heavy snowfall this past winter has melted fast during the past couple weeks, adding more water to rivers and streams already swollen with seven inches of April precipitation.  And the rain just keeps on coming.

Last weekend Judy and I went down to the town park on Saint Albans Bay and walked the water’s edge.  It was strewn with driftwood and other debris.  The seawall was under water along with the beach.  The park trees have wet feet now, and the shore road is closed.  We watched some teenage boys use nets to catch the carp swimming about the flooded baseball diamond.  You don’t see something like that every day.  Yessir, this is a flood of historic proportions.

It’s amazing how great a role weather still plays in our lives.  Most of us live and work indoors most of the time, but walls do not insulate us from the impact that the wild has upon our world.  Hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, blizzards, earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods – when Mother Nature is on the rampage, you’d better get out of her way… if that’s at all possible.

Mother Nature is on the rampage a lot.  In fact, that’s pretty much the way she rolls.  Changes that we call cataclysmic are business as usual to her.  Mountain ranges are great seas of rock rising and falling on a geologic timescale.  Wind and water wear down all solid things, given enough years.  And everything burns, as the stars remind us nightly.  In a face-off between civilization and the wild, it’s a safe bet that the wild will prevail on anything other than a human timescale.  We sapient creatures aren’t really very sapient at all if think we can defeat Mother Nature.  At best, all we can do is piss her off and make life miserable for ourselves.  Oh yeah, that and maybe wipe out a million species of plants and animals in the process.  But Mother Nature doesn’t care.  There are plenty more life forms where those came from.

When most people experience Nature’s wrath, they think:  “This is the end of the world!”  But it is only the end of our complacency, of our false belief that we have the world in a box.  I love natural disasters for the way they humiliate humankind.  That said, I dread the prospect of going into my basement to assess the water damage down there.  I’m no dummy.  I know when I’m outclassed.

Comments Off on The Deluge

Apr 05 2011

Profile Image of Walt

Getting Wet

Filed under Blog Post

Undaunted by the cold rain falling all day long, my dog Matika and I head for the woods.  Just a short hike in the middle of indoor busy-ness.  No biggie.  I’m excited all the same.  The last of the snow in my front yard melted off yesterday so it looks and feels like spring to me now.  I can see the ground again, anyhow.

This isn’t the kind of warm, sunny day that most people fantasize about in late winter but it suits me just fine.  I like the rawness of April here in the North Country – the muddy starkness of it, the roughness, the attitude.  And the dampness doesn’t bother me.  With pants tucked into boots, rain jacket over several layers and a waterproof hat, I’m ready for a seasonal baptism.  Bring it on!

The trail is clear for the most part.  There are still patches of snow scattered throughout the woods but my eyes gravitate to the earthy places where evergreen wood ferns are still pressed to the ground amid the leaf litter.  Along the banks of a feeder stream roiling with meltwater, the moss clinging to rocks is slowly coming back to life.  I revel in the steady roar of water rushing downhill.  It is winter’s way of saying goodbye.

The temptation to wander through trackless woods is too great.  I leave the trail.  With each step my boots sink into the saturated ground.  Raindrops filter through the trees, falling quietly into ephemeral pools fresh with snowmelt.  In the middle of all this wetness, I squat down for a moment to let it all soak in, literally.  Then I catch a whiff of thawed earth and something stirs deep within.  Matika is wet, happy and running wild through the forest.  So am I.

By the time Matika and I get back to the car, we are soaked.  No matter.  We’ll have the rest of the day to dry out and warm up.  The important thing is that we’ve made an elemental connection with the world, inaugurating the season.  And you can be certain that we’ll get out there and romp around again just as soon as we can.

One response so far

Older Posts »