Archive for August, 2013

Aug 26 2013

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With the Grandkids

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Walt and grandkidsEvery summer Judy and I have all six of our grandkids for four or five days. No parents allowed. We play, go fishing and swimming, do crafts, camp in the back yard, watch movies, and eat all the wrong food. It’s a lot of work, but there’s no better way to get to know them.

Now that the youngest ones are able to hike, we’ve started taking the kids into the woods. Now it feels like they’re getting to know me. The forest is my element. Walking with them in the tracks of wild animals, teaching them how to navigate trails while pointing out the wonders along the way, well, it doesn’t get any better than that. Not for me, anyhow.

This year we went for a short hike along the Long Trail – my old stomping ground. We split into two groups. The more restless ones speed-hiked with me to Prospect Rock, while Judy meandered along the trail with the rest. Judy’s group grooved on mushrooms and everything else they found along the way. My group enjoyed physical exertion and a good view from the ledge. We got back together for a picnic lunch beneath the footbridge spanning the Lamoille River. There the kids found crayfish and some interesting rocks. Yes, rocks: quartz, mica and the rest. Even in the digital age, kids find rocks fascinating.

After lunch, while finishing the hike at a much slower pace, we checked out a cave, collected hardened sap from a wounded tree, and gathered more rocks. Jewelweed growing in wet places caught their attention so I showed them how to capture the tiny, almond-like seeds that shoot out of their pods when they’re touched. It was a lot of fun. They were surprised by how good the seeds tasted. Then I showed them how to use the plant’s juices as a salve for mosquito bites and other itchy skin. They were impressed by that. And I couldn’t have been happier.


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Aug 18 2013

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The Wild for Everyone

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John Dillon ParkAs I go around talking about the deep woods and all it has to offer, I often think about those who can’t reach it. One has to be ambulatory and in relatively good shape to hike several miles into a wilderness area. But there are ways that even people who use a wheelchair can access the wild.

Everything at John Dillon Park is handicap accessible – the shelters, trails, picnic areas, fishing access and kayak dock. Located on land owned by International Paper, halfway between Tupper Lake and Long Lake in the Adirondacks, this is one of the nicest parks I’ve ever seen. And the folks at Paul Smith College do a great job managing it.

I stayed overnight here while promoting my book last week. I was amazed by the place. At the end of a two-mile dirt road, John Dillon Park rests on the shores of Grampus Lake. Here anyone can experience the wonder and beauty of the northern forest. With free firewood, storage bins for food and trash, composting toilets, and potable water, it is primitive camping at its best.

At first I was hesitant to stay here, not wanting to take a shelter away from someone who could put it to better use. But this small, private park, only seven years old, is underutilized. So check out the John Dillon Park website and spread the word.


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Aug 05 2013

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Late Summer on the Brook

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late summer brookA few days ago I went to a favorite brook to do a little fly fishing. Trout season had opened three and a half months earlier. I hadn’t been out yet. An outing was long overdue.

My dog Matika was with me, of course. When I grabbed her leash, she knew it was going to be a good day.

It mattered little whether or not I’d actually catch fish. Like Matika, I just wanted to sniff around. Yeah, the smell of the forest and the sound of cool, clear water tumbling through it is reason enough to be on a stream.

A mountain brook in late summer charms a guy like me in a way that is difficult to describe. My mind empties as I scramble from one promising riffle to another, stalking the wild trout, until suddenly I am face-to-face with unspeakable beauty: a flume, overhanging cliff, waterfall, or some deep, quiet pool that I must show my wife Judy someday. Then a hungry mouth splashes towards my fly, yanking me out of my reverie.

I’m not a very good fisherman. The rising trout usually catches me by surprise. I am easily distracted by the call of a thrush in the distance, the rustle of a forest creature in the nearby understory, or a wildflower blooming along the rocky bank where only moss should grow.

Two small trout landed in my lap despite my best efforts, not because of them. Then I meandered up the brook a while longer, rod in hand but no longer fishing, in search of god-only-knows-what. Deep within lies some vague desire to walk the brook for no reason at all. Sometimes I give into it.

I quit the stream around midday, hiking through the forest to the nearest road then daydreaming back towards the car. No doubt other motorists were cursing me as I slowly made my way home. Under the influence of the wild, I shouldn’t have been on the road.


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