Archive for May, 2012

May 28 2012

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A Crazed Bushwhack

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At first I was only looking for a place to go for an easy day hike, but when I saw Bone Mountain on the map, I felt an old, familiar urge to push myself to the limit again. So I grabbed my rucksack, loaded my dog Matika into the car and headed for that rugged high ground.

There are no trails to Bone but a brook tumbles from a notch between that peak and Woodward. I tagged the brook and followed it until I was a mile or so away from the road.

As I recalled from a bushwhack many years earlier, the notch between Bone and Woodward is so cluttered with rocks and fallen trees that one can’t actually touch the ground while traversing it. Not good for my dog, so I left the brook long before reaching the notch. I started moving uphill through the trackless forest, following a compass bearing east southeast, towards a shoulder of the mountain.

Hobbled by hobblebush, sweating profusely, and stopping frequently to catch my breath, the climb was as hard as any climb can be. More than once I dropped onto all fours to negotiate steep pitches. Matika did better than me as a rule, but it took my eye to find a route up through cliff walls. When finally we reached the summit, we were both played out and running low on water. That’s when I caught a glimpse through the trees of another peak half a mile away – one that looked more like Bone than the summit I was standing on.

Bone Mountain has taken on religious significance for me over the years precisely because it’s so damned hard to reach. I’ve only been on top of it a few times, having missed it more often than not. As I sat on that false summit, stewing in humility, I realized that I’d missed it again.

The descent was long, steep, and hard on the knees. Once I had to rescue my dog from a cliff’s edge where she got stuck. After that it was a tiring slog down to the brook that took us out.  I was happy to see the car again, but just as happy to have done the bushwhack. After all, I got what I was after.


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May 18 2012

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At long last, I made the pilgrimage to Slabsides that so many nature lovers make. I drove five hours south, walked a hundred-yard path through the woods, and there it was: a statement of rustic simplicity erected during the height of America’s industrial expansion. I could hardly believe I was there. Just me, my dog Matika, and the ghost of John Burroughs.

The old nature writer built this cabin in the summer of 1895 with the help of his son Julian. He spent a good portion of his latter years here writing, reflecting, and entertaining visitors. Peering through the window, I could see the table near the fireplace where he did his work. Books and papers have been carefully arranged on top of it.

The John Burroughs Association opens Slabsides to the public twice a year, but I wanted to be alone with my thoughts when I first saw the place.  Good thing I was. The place took me somewhat by surprise.  An imposing structure, the cabin is something of a contradiction – like the man himself. Rustic in appearance, yes, but a little oversized for a backwoods retreat if you ask me. And it sits on the edge of a two-acre wetland. What’s that all about? One easily imagines Burroughs communing with nature here, yet he built the place to escape “domestic tyranny.” His wife Ursula, that is. Hmm…

I hung out at the cabin for a short while, walked around the little swamp that Burroughs once drained, then drove an hour northwest to a trailhead in the nearby Catskill Mountains. There I shouldered my old army surplus rucksack and hiked up the Kanape Brook. Once I was back far enough, I traced a feeder stream away from the trail, effectively disappearing into the woods.

I spent the night camped near an old cellar hole where some poor soul tried to scratch a living from this rugged, rock-strewn land. There I conferred with the ghost of Burroughs about all matters literary, commercial and philosophical. We disagreed on more points than we agreed. No surprise there. We are two strong-willed men living at different times, in different places. The only thing we share is a deep and abiding pantheism. That and a love for all things wild. Perhaps that’s enough.


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May 07 2012

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A Trip to North Hero

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Every once in a great while, Judy and I make a trip to North Hero. We go late in the fall when last color is fading, or early in the spring when the trees are just starting to leaf out. We think North Hero and the other islands in Lake Champlain are prettiest at those times.

I like state parks during the off-season when they have been abandoned by summer folk and the signs scattered around them have become largely irrelevant. In fact, I rarely visit them otherwise. I’ve never been to North Hero State Park when it’s officially open and can only imagine it during high season. I’m sure its a busy place.

Judy and I walked the narrow, paved road winding through the park, past the primitive camping area, all the way to a small gravel beach. Judy used a bright orange “chuck-it” device to whip a tennis ball down the road for Matika. That gave our dog a little extra exercise. Occasionally Judy stopped chucking the ball so that Matika could catch her breath. Matika doesn’t know the meaning of the word “moderation.”

Upon reaching the small gravel beach, we donned our jackets. A steady wind blew across water still cold from spring runoff. Lake Champlain is deep. At its lower depths, it holds a winter chill well into summer.

During the walk back to the park entrance where we left our car, we passed under a stand of poplar trees. Their leaves fluttered in a gust of wind like thousands of tiny green flags. The rushing sound of them washed through us, dispelling the last of winter.

A pileated woodpecker surprised us with its loud cry. We looked for it among the naked branches overhead but the large bird remained hidden somehow. A woodchuck showed itself briefly before ducking beneath a lean-to. Matika caught its scent a few seconds too late to do anything about it.

There are times when I desperately need the tonic of deep woods. But on a cool, sunny day in May, with Judy by my side and my dog happily running about, a short excursion into a semi-wild area suits me just fine. Yeah, state parks have their charms. Not every outing has to be an adventure.



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