Nov 20 2009

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Culture Wars in the Woods

Posted at 10:42 am under Blog Post

A few days ago, I dropped everything and headed for the hills.  I hiked the Long Trail south from Route 15, taking full advantage of unseasonable warmth and sunshine.  I wore a red flannel shirt to announce myself to hunters.  My dog, Matika, wore a blaze orange vest.   I followed trail markers up a dirt road hugging Smith Brook to a clearing about a mile back.  From there I would either stay on the trail or bushwhack in one direction or another.  I hadn’t decided yet.

At the clearing, I looked over and saw a pickup truck parked next to the hunting camp. I had walked past this camp many times before but had never seen anyone there.  Since I’ve been bushwhacking and guerrilla camping in these woods for a dozen years or more, I thought maybe I should stop by and get permission to do so.  The land between here and the northernmost boundary of Mount Mansfield State Forest isn’t posted, but it never hurts to get permission.  So I knocked on the door.

A tall, thin man about my age in full hunting regalia opened the door.  He immediately invited me and my dog inside.  We exchanged names.  Adrian sat down at the ancient Formica table and gestured for me to join him. He lit a cigarette.  Did I mind if he smoked?  Of course not.  What the heck, I thought, it’s his camp.

We talked about an hour.  At first we kept to safe subjects like the weather, what the beavers and other wild animals in the neighborhood were doing, and the beauty of the surrounding forest.  Then we kicked it up a notch: bears coming around camp, and coyote predation.  Did I like bear meat?  I prefer elk or deer, I told Adrian, adding that my favorite wild food is brook trout.  I’ve taken and eaten a few from the nearby stream, in fact.  With a nod he approved of that.

Am I a member of the Green Mountain Club?  Yes I am, I said.  Since I regularly hike the LT and other trails maintained by the GMC, I feel obligated to pay dues at the very least.  And with that announcement, the fun began.

Adrian told me his family has owned this land, through which the Long Trail passes, for many years.  His grandfather used to log it.  Now the logging here is done mostly by the Johnson Company, on the other side of the brook.  But every once in a while, some hiker would leave a note on Adrian’s door telling him he shouldn’t cut the trees.  It’s ugly and bad for the environment, or something like that.  A hiker left a note on his generator once, telling him it was too noisy.  Other hikers have broken into his camp – when the nearby shelter was full.  In recent years, the GMC asked for an easement, thus assuring that the Long Trail would forever pass through here.  Adrian’s family has always allowed the trail to cross their land but was offended by the Club’s desire for a 200-foot no-logging buffer on either side of the trail.  And so on.  I got the message loud and clear.  What started out as a friendly and casual arrangement had degenerated to Us-versus-Them.  Soon the LT would be rerouted to a strip of land the GMC had acquired just east of Adrian’s property.

Towards the end of the hour, we both agreed it was time to stop talking and get into the woods.  November days are short.  Before leaving, though, I mustered up the courage to ask Adrian’s permission to continue hiking and camping on his land.  He granted permission with a shrug of the shoulders, as if that was the least of his concerns.  So I thanked him and said goodbye.

A short while later, I was so lost in thought that I missed a turn and accidentally left the Long Trail.  But instead of backtracking, I continued down a snowmobile trail until it crossed a small brook.  Then I bushwhacked downstream to a cranberry bog I’ve been meaning to visit for years.  Eventually I retraced my steps, hiking out of the woods.  But when I passed the camp in the clearing, Adrian’s truck was gone.  I hope our conversation didn’t sour the day for him.  Nothing leaves a bitter taste in the mouth quite like politics does, no matter how civil the discourse may be.  I had tried to listen respectfully, but the ghosts of past belligerents still haunted the man.  And there would be more of the same in the future, no doubt.

One response so far

One Response to “Culture Wars in the Woods”

  1. reneéon 22 Nov 2009 at 12:57 pm 1

    great post.
    i can’t help but feel that you are brave for knocking on that camp door.
    it’s funny how our binary political system has created a mirror in our feelings about the wilderness too.