Archive for September, 2013

Sep 22 2013

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Campfire Meditation

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campfireThere comes a time when nothing here in the developed lowlands can cure what ails me, when I must load a few essentials into my backpack and head for the hills. It doesn’t have to be a vast wilderness area. Any pocket of wild woods will do.

I go alone. No one but my dog Matika accompanies me, that is. She makes good company in the woods because she’s not human.

I hike for several hours, sweating away much of my frustration with what passes for civilization. Then I start looking for a good place to camp. By the time I am comfortably ensconced in the woods, it is getting on towards evening. I build a fire to cook dinner. Afterward, as the sun is setting, I slip into campfire meditation.

Flames dance inside a small circle of stones at my feet. I feed thumb-sized sticks into the fire to keep it going. Placement is essential otherwise the pan-sized fire will quickly burn out. I pay careful attention. Eventually random thoughts give way to something else, to a deep calm, to clarity.

Hours pass. The moon rises, an owl hoots in the distance, the nearby feeder stream gurgles, and all is right with the world. When I start running low on wood, I let the fire burn down to embers. Then I put it out. But in the morning I do it all over again – this time with a pen and field journal in hand. Campfire meditation becomes campfire philosophy. And that’s pretty much what I’m all about.


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Sep 16 2013

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Shadows and Light

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AH side trailSeptember is a great month for hiking. The bugs are down, the air is cool, and there aren’t as many people in the woods. Yet there’s something ominous about the natural world this time of year – something that gets my attention before I’m distracted by the brilliant display of autumnal color.

I see it in the blue and white asters that grow along the trail. I feel it in a chilling gust of wind. I smell it – a whiff of fungus, aged foliage and dry earth filling my nostrils. The long, languid days of summer are behind us. And while it’ll be a month or two before the first snow flies here in the Champlain Valley, there’s no doubt that the growing season is coming to an end.

These days a walk through the woods is a walk through shadows and light. The canopy overhead is thick, but sunbeams still get through. More to the point, the day is noticeably short, bookended by what seems like longer periods of twilight. And an overcast day that I would have shrugged off in midsummer really affects me now.

None of this is cause for alarm. Autumn is a good time to be outdoors and it is just now beginning. But I find myself more pensive during my walks this time of year. While the fruits of the land are being harvested, I take stock. I ruminate. I ponder matters at length now – matters that seemed too heavy to even consider when the thermometer was pushing 90 degrees. My mind these days is also a curious blend of shadows and light.

No cause for alarm at all. My frame of mind is merely changing with the season. The best months for thinking lie directly ahead. For a guy like me, who wonders as much as he wanders, that’s a good thing.



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Sep 08 2013

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Canine Companion

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Matika, JA photoYesterday, while I was out promoting my Adirondack book, a fellow asked me what my next adventure would be. I told him that I wanted to do the Cohos Trail in northern New Hampshire. Would I be hiking it alone? he inquired. No, I told him, my dog Matika will be accompanying me. He looked at me like I was crazy.

I have a few friends whose company I enjoy on the trail, and I like going out with my wife Judy every once in a while, but Matika is my #1 hiking companion. She’s my #1 fishing companion, too. In fact, during the past seven years, she has been with me on nearly every outing. Usually I mention her sniffing around in the background. Occasionally I write about her at length. Sometimes I don’t mention her at all. But she is almost always there.

Matika is a long-haired German shepherd that Judy and I rescued from an animal shelter in 2006. Her origin is hazy but we know the breed. We had another dog like her several years earlier. When we rescued her, the vet told us she was about a year old. In dog years, that makes her about my age now. If we’re going to do another trek together, we’d better do it soon.

Matika is smart, quite attentive, and gentle. She’s a good dog. She’s bossy with other dogs, though – a trait I haven’t been able to correct. She loves people. I can’t help but feel she’d make a good companion to a good number of dog handlers. But it’s my good fortune (and Judy’s) to have her in my life.

Matika loves the woods as much as I do. She also likes her soft bed and other creature comforts so I had my doubts about her penchant for wildness at first. But that doubt vanished when she hiked the 100 Mile Wilderness with me. After that trek, I’ve called her Wilderness Dog. And for the most part she has lived up to the name.

We’ve walked many brooks, bushwhacked, and hiked countless miles together. We’ve been overheated, bug-bitten, cold, rain-soaked, and muddy together more often than I care to recall. She’s slept with me beneath the tarp so many times that it would seem strange now to sleep under it without her. Matika is not my pet. Nor am I her master. She’s my canine companion, and there is no one who understands my wildness better, my wife notwithstanding.

Who is going with me on the Cohos Trail?  Wilderness Dog, of course. And that seems perfectly natural to me.


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