May 18 2012

Profile Image of Walt


Posted at 7:59 am under Blog Post

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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