Tag Archive 'the forest'

Nov 16 2017

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Validation

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Today I have put the finishing touches on a book-length manuscript that explores the relationship between God, man and nature. After going through it several times, I can now see the argument as a whole. It doesn’t feel like I’ve done the subject justice, though. I question whether it can stand up to serious scrutiny. No matter. I pull on my boots and go for a hike to clear my head…

My dog Matika and I wander about a nearby town forest between bouts of rain, just as the sun breaks through the clouds. The grey trees, stripped of their leaves, cast long shadows across the forest floor at midday. My eyes drink in the remnant green of ferns, moss and clubmoss as the few dry leaves still clinging to branches rattle overhead. The leaves on the ground crunch loudly as I walk.

A pileated woodpecker sweeps through the trees at eye level. Matika catches the scent of something interesting and wanders off trail. I call her back. While standing on the trail waiting for her, I listen intently to the forest silence, marveling at the interplay of order and chaos all around me. And that’s it – all the validation I need. Pushing away from my desk after so many hours of abstract thought this morning, I harbored doubts about my pantheistic worldview. But while tramping through these woods, it makes perfect sense.

“So there is one thought for the field, another for the house,” Thoreau once wrote, “I would have my thoughts, like wild apples, to be food for walkers, and will not warrant them to be palatable, if tasted in the house.” I can relate to that. My wild thoughts regarding God, man and nature don’t make a lot of sense indoors. But on the trail, where such thoughts were born, nothing else does.

Reason has its limits. At some point one needs a direct encounter with the wild to fully grasp it and thereby see things as they really are. Thoughts and words are abstract. Wild nature is not.

 

 

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Jul 25 2013

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Identity

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Walt, trail's endI stepped away from my desk this morning to go for a hike.  It wasn’t a long hike – just long enough to remember who/what I am.

The moment I slipped into the woods I felt a tremendous sense of relief, as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  It’s always this way.  I am a denizen of the forest, first and foremost. Not so much a trekker, naturalist or adventurer as a simple woods wanderer. I wander, then wonder, then sit down to write about it all.

The other day a newspaper writer asked me to send a photo of myself to to accompany a short news release about my new book. She wanted a shot of me backpacking through the woods – an action shot, I suppose, or something where I look the part. I sent her  a photo of me sitting against a rock at trail’s end, instead. Lost in thought and scribbling in my journal, with by my dog Matika by my side. Yeah, that’s who I am.

A big part of book promotion, or any kind of promotion for that matter, is branding the work and its creator. In our culture of media hype, this cannot be avoided. That said, it is important to remain true to oneself, otherwise one can quickly become lost. The forest keeps me oriented. I can’t imagine trying to make sense of the world without it.

My dog knows who I am. She was with me during that grueling hike across the 100 Mile Wilderness. She has been with me on countless excursions since then. If she could be my publicist and speak for me, I’d be all set.

My wife Judy also knows who I am. After all, she’s the one who took that photo of me at trail’s end. She caught me by surprise that day, before I struck an inauthentic and self-conscious pose. Spouses are good at that.

 

 

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Jul 05 2013

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A Red Eft Day

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red eftYou know it’s a wetter-than-usual day when the red efts come out. They disappear when the forest is dry and seem to be everywhere after a good rain. On a particularly wet day, it is hard to keep from stepping on them. And that’s exactly the kind of day it was yesterday. 

Savage forest: hot, dripping wet, incredibly humid, and overgrown. Pools of water everywhere, and the trail underfoot nearly hidden by knee-high vegetation. Mosquitos in their glory. Not for the feint of heart – for those who think the good life is all about being comfortable all the time.

The savage forest brings out the savage within. Twenty minutes into it, I was bug-bitten, sweaty, wet from the waist down, and happy. A mood like this cannot be explained. One either recoils from savagery or embraces it. There are no half measures, not when the woods get like this.

Nature isn’t just pretty flowers, rare glimpses of wildlife, picture postcard waterfalls, and rainbows. Sometimes it has an edge. Sometimes it can be downright inhospitable. Yet there is something magnificent about its endless variations. I wouldn’t want it any other way. So let the mosquitoes and red efts have their day. I will wander the woods all the same.

 

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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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Jul 06 2012

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On the Stream

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Every once in a while, I get the urge to walk a mountain stream. I usually take a fly rod with me, hoping to get into a little trout action, but that’s not what it’s all about. I walk the stream to clear my head, to purge the negative energy from my system. Clear running water is good for that.

My tightly wound nerves start to unravel the moment I step into the woods and hear the rush of water nearby. By the time I’ve finished kneeling on the muddy bank and tying on a fly, I’m in a groove. The first cast separates my cluttered day-to-day life back in the developed places from the streamside here-and-now. From that point on, I’m home free.

After a few casts, I scramble over moss-covered rocks to the next promising hole. When large boulders or downed trees crop up, I step back into the woods, tramping through bracken, ferns and other understory vegetation. I often find a beautiful wildflower or some other delight along the way. My dog Matika often finds something interesting to sniff. Yeah, we’re both easily distracted.

Rock, forest and running water. Shadow and light. Keeping it simple. My tiny fly floats through the emerald pools, following the riffles, and I am ready to respond to the slightest splash. Sometimes it comes, most of the time it does not. The sights, sounds and smells of the mountain stream intoxicate me all the same.

A couple hours of stream walking and I’m ready to just sit and look around. That’s when I know I’m done fishing. I sit until I lose track of time. Then I tramp through the woods, daydreaming all the way back to the car. My boots and pants are sopping wet but I don’t care. The sun breaks through the forest. A thrush or other familiar songbird calls in the distance. I smile absently. I am in my element, and it feels good to be alive.

 

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Jul 21 2011

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Woods Dog

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  Every dog has a wild streak, I suppose, but Matika’s seems wider than most.  Or perhaps I’m only projecting my own wildness upon her.  Either way, she always looks comfortable in the woods, resting yet vigilant a few yards beyond camp.  I look up from my campfire and, for a few seconds, I fear that she has wandered off.  Then I spot her half-hidden in the understory, perfectly at home.  Yeah, that’s my dog.

I can relate.  I am never as comfortable in town as I am in the woods, miles away from the nearest road.  Most people think of time away from the amenities of civilization as “roughing it,”  but life in the woods is stress free compared to the alternative.  Ridiculously easy, I’d say, as long as there’s a dry place to sleep and enough food to eat.  No doubt Matika, if she could talk, would concur.

Of course I go into the woods to relax, not to earn a living, so it only stands to reason that my perception of forest life is skewed.  Earning a living is hard.  Lounging amid the trees is easy.  This is a subject that that 19th century woods wanderer, Thoreau, never adequately addressed.  And I, like him, have never fully come to terms with it.

It’s a dog’s life, we say, when things get tough for our pets.  And during these sweltering, dog days of summer, I don’t envy Matika when I leave her trapped in a house all day without air conditioning.  I may be just as cut off from the wild as she is, but at least I’ll be staying relatively cool today.  That said, we’ll both be daydreaming about a camp by the stream, immersed in green.  In that regard we share the same values, and the same fate.

 

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