Tag Archive 'walking'

Apr 13 2018

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Landscape All Brown and Gray

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“April is the cruelest month,” the poet T. S. Eliot said, and we northern New Englanders know all about that. The funk of winter persists in our hearts despite the first green shoots pushing up through the newly thawed earth. And when the weather forecasters warn us about a coming snowstorm, those among us dreaming about t-shirt temps are outraged. It shouldn’t be this way, some say, but this is par for the course around here.

Snow, or the lack of it, is the main reason why I enjoy a simple walk along the Rail Trail this time of year. The landscape is all brown and gray, but it feels good just being able to move freely again. No slogging through slush, sliding over ice, or post-holing in deep snow. Only a relatively effortless foot-to-the-ground forward movement again. I had almost forgotten about it.

The starkness of April is the mirror image of November, only now the prospects look good for lovers of growing things. The days are getting longer, the birds are back, and soon the grass will be greening. After that, well, we all know what’s coming.

So I’ll take it. The grey skies, morning fog, and all-day rain – yeah, sure, bring it on. Even a little snow thrown into the mix, why not? It won’t last. This time of year, even a hard-nosed realist like me leans towards optimism. The great vernal bloom is inevitable. The growing season is already underway, though one has to look hard to see it. And these brown/gray days have a certain dismal charm. I revel in it.

 

 

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Jan 03 2018

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After the Deep Freeze

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After six days of sub-zero temps my poor dog Matika was bouncing off the walls. I was hankering for a walk as well. So we headed out at noon today (pushing away from the computer) to stretch our legs. Temps were in the balmy teens by then.

Aldis Hill was on the way home from the post office where I ship daily. I parked the car near the trailhead then bolted into the woods. To my surprise, the snowy trail was hard-packed from heavy use. I was slipping and sliding around from the start. Didn’t think to bring my Microspikes. Oh well. Matika motored right past me with ease. She has four-paw drive.

A typical January day with snow on the ground and a partly cloudy sky overhead. The woods quiet, stark and leafless. The gradual climb kept me warm enough. I let go of work thoughts as much as possible. Plenty of time for that tomorrow when the big snowstorm arrives. My right knee ached, more from a lack of use than from overuse. Note to self: get outdoors more. Use it or lose it.

I’m glad the holidays are over so that I can focus on my literary work and the bookselling biz. I have yet another book ready to publish and look forward to getting it ready for the press. All the same, I’ve been feeling an urge lately to get out and go for a long hike, snowshoe, whatever. Soon, real soon.

Funny how winter doesn’t weigh on me as much as it did when I was younger. After 35 years living in the North Country, have I finally become a Vermonter? Well, the other day I returned home from a short trip to the grocery store and told my wife Judy that the near zero temps weren’t that bad. “It’s a dry cold,” I said.

After getting my fill of fresh air, and Matika her fill of sniffing, we returned home. Back to work. I don’t mind this season so much anymore. As long as I can get out every other day or so, I’m good. Pity those poor folks who fly south every year to escape the arctic blasts. They’ll never get used to it.

 

 

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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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Sep 28 2017

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First Autumnal Walk

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A long bout of unseasonably warm weather broke last night, with a cold front ushering in autumn. Never mind that the Autumnal Equinox took place nearly a week ago. For all practical purposes, the season began today.

The trees started turning weeks ago, of course. But the real color won’t come out until we get a few frosty nights. That should happen soon.

I went for a walk in the woods this afternoon, trying to get my bearings after a ten-day road trip back to Ohio to see my dying mother. A dysfunctional health care system, rude drivers on the highway, credit card fraud, and the madness of civilization in general – there was plenty to keep me off balance during the trip. But all that dissipated during my short walk on the trail. Then there was only sadness.

The first fallen leaves scattered across the trail. Acorns dropped as a gentle breeze whispered through the trees. A touch of color. What usually brings me joy this time of year, brought only sadness.

I might see my mother again before she dies; I might not. If I could have a wish granted right now, it would be to walk through the woods with her one last time, enjoying the early autumnal color together. But there comes a time when one must simply let go. So I walked in sadness.

No matter the season, the forest is always beautiful. And always there are fallen trees on the ground even as others reach towards the sky. The forest, in all its beauty, is full of living and dying. So it goes.

Hard to say when exactly the first frost will come. But it will come. I look forward to the colorful display that will follow. Then I will go for another walk. Perhaps the sadness won’t be weighing so heavily on me by then. Perhaps it will be worse. The autumn forest will be beautiful regardless.

 

 

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Dec 05 2016

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Snowy Illumination

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snowy-walk-1For days a dismal grey light prevailed as the above-freezing temps slowly melted off Thanksgiving snow. Then this morning we awoke to it: a fresh coat of the white stuff brightening the world. And just in a nick of time for yours truly, sinking into a funk as the days grow shorter and the nights seem to go on forever.

Midday, after doing necessary work and running a few errands, I put on my boots and went for a walk. I kicked up light powder with each step. My dog Matika ran ahead, happy to be out of the house for a change. I slogged down the driveway, along the freshly plowed road, then slipped into the woods.

Snow clung to the branches. Snow kept falling. Snow piled up underfoot, everywhere, but I didn’t mind it. Much better than all that mud brown and sky grey. A winter wonderland? Not how I see the world but, like Matika, I was happy to be out of the house all the same.

Reaching another road, unplowed, I gravitated to the powder to keep from slipping in the packed, icy track of some car that had passed this way. I pulled my hat down around my ears as we turned a corner to face a bitter wind blowing steadily from the west. My eyes teared up. Still better than staying indoors. Plenty of time to thaw out later.

Back into the woods again, closer to home, I suddenly realized how good it felt to be outdoors, moving, and not altogether comfortable.  Hmm…  Explain that to those who have never found the sweetness in a chunk of stale bread, or to those who have never willingly done anything hard.

Note to self: do this more often, only next time head for the hills. Take a real break from the work… or suffer the consequences.

 

 

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Nov 08 2016

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Late Autumn Walk

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late-autumn-woodsEven though I have plenty of work to do, it’s simply too nice a day to stay indoors. I ask my dog Matika if she thinks we should go for a walk and, well, she’s all over it. So we head out.

Not in the mood to drive anywhere, I walk through local woods and along back roads. This isn’t the wild forest I prefer, but it’ll do for now.

With temps reaching into the 60s, shirtsleeves is the way to go. Late autumn light illuminates leaves still clinging to tree branches. At midday the sun is pretty bright. Yet long shadows make it clear what time of year it is.

I kick up a few leaves as I walk. It seems the thing to do. The woods are golden brown. Quite beautiful, actually.

I amble along as if I have all the time in the world. In a way I do. The difference between rushing and not rushing on this two-mile loop is only ten minutes. I can certainly spare that.

Back home, I pour myself a cup of cider to celebrate the season properly. Then I open the windows before setting back to work. But there’s a chill in the air that I hadn’t noticed while walking. The windows won’t stay open long.

 

 

 

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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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Dec 17 2015

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A Short Gray Day

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December Rail TrailAfter a productive morning on the computer, I went to the nearby rail trail to stretch my legs and clear my head. The sky overhead was full of clouds so I wasn’t real excited about getting outdoors. But the midday temps were well above freezing. That meant the walk would be pleasant enough.

The sun, hanging low in the southern sky, peeked through the clouds just as I was starting out. That was the last of it, though. A stiff breeze blew in more clouds from the west a few minutes later, obscuring the sun and assuring that it’ll rain this evening.

Here in northern Vermont, the sun rose at 7:24 this morning. It’ll set at 4:12 this afternoon. Yeah, it’s that time of year – a tough time for those of us who are energized by light.

Chickadees flitted through the trees, adding a little cheer to an otherwise dreary day. I flushed a great blue heron from a small brook. My dog Matika was happy just to trot along and sniff around. Watching her, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps I think too much.

Nature has its moods. It is best to roll with them, I kept telling myself. So I focused on the warm air, and the clear path underfoot as I walked – a rarity in mid-December. Be grateful for that. The deep cold and heavy snow will come soon enough.

The days will start getting longer in a couple weeks. Until then, I’ll illuminate the tree in my living room as grey light gives way to twilight. In fact, it’s time to do that now. In the absence of the real thing, artificial light will have to do.

 

 

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Oct 28 2015

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A Reflective Walk

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InBkRes LateOctIt’s late in the season now and most of the leaves are on the ground. Brilliant color remains in a few scattered trees but we know it won’t last. November is right around the corner, and here in the North Country that means snow.

I traipse around Indian Brook Reservoir lost in thought. My dog Matika, always in the moment, smiles broadly between her scent investigations. But I am still in work mode from earlier today, wondering what lies in the days ahead, and recollecting all the fun I’ve had since the last time I walked here. Mostly I reflect upon the recent past – upon the pleasant and joyful months of summer when everything was green and the temps are warm. Now the surrounding landscape is golden, as if it has suddenly aged, and there’s a distinct chill in the air.

I too have aged. Pushing 60, I’m thankful for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me – for all my good fortune through the years. Yet I am weary in a way that a good night’s sleep can’t fix. Is this what it feels like to be growing old? Even though I enjoy life more now than ever, I’ve lost most of my youthful enthusiasm for both work and play.

Yet the world is just as beautiful as it has ever been, and there’s something in the crisp air that makes me glad I’m alive. It’s a paradox to be sure – a riddle I know I can’t solve. So I cut my pace and try to be as much in the moment as my dog. That’s challenging enough.

 

 

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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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