Sep 18 2023

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Otter Creek Retreat

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Judy misses camping on a mountain stream now that her backpacking days are behind her. So last week we did the next best thing. We secured a cabin only steps away from the Otter Creek, a few miles outside the western boundary of the Adirondack Park. It turned out to be quite the place: a nearly new cabin with all the amenities. Quite comfortable. A lot better than camping, that’s for sure.

Judy left the cabin only to walk down to the creek and groove on it. A pair of Adirondack chairs just outside the cabin was the best place to be, with a full view of the stream. She spent considerable time there. I, on the other hand, explored the area – restless soul that I am. On the second full day of our stay, I walked the nearby Independence River with a fly rod in hand. For several hours I saw no one or any kind of development. Caught and released a couple trout in the process.

The fishing was pretty good for this time of year, but I opted for a one-day license since I was more in the mood to hike. I scouted a couple trailheads in the Independence River Wild Forest. Oddly enough, I ended up hiking at Whetstone Gulf State Park instead. I figured that way Judy wouldn’t worry about me. “State park” sounds safe, doesn’t it?

Whetstone Gulf turned out to be a bona fide canyon. A big sign at the trailhead says you must be 18 or be with someone who is in order to hike it. I hiked the North Rim Trail out, and the South Rim Trail back, completely circumnavigating the gulf. Five and a half miles altogether. Most of the time I was no more than a couple feet from the edge of the precipice. Some fantastic views along the way. A lot more than expected.

Our last evening at the cabin, we enjoyed a campfire in the fire pit down by the creek. With temps cooling off fast, thanks to a wide-open sky overhead, we sat close to the fire. Once again in comfy Adirondack chairs. The amber stream rushed past as the campfire crackled. It was a good finish to a very pleasant getaway. We’re already talking about doing it again next year.

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Sep 10 2023

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No Frills Walk

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Sometimes walking is a form of meditation, enabling me to center myself. Other times it’s an escape from the computer screen – a much-needed break from the cyber world and all its abstractions. Quite often it’s form of therapy, working out the kinks in the psyche through sheer physical exertion. But on rare occasion, a walk is just a walk.

Yesterday I walked a section of the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail about eight miles from my home. I just needed to be outdoors for an hour or so, stretching my legs. I kept a good clip, but not intentionally. I sweated a little, but it wasn’t a work out. Not really.

Sometimes I ruminate while I’m walking, digesting difficult philosophical problems. There was none of that this time. Sometimes I daydream while walking, especially during long, lazy walks in high summer. No, not this time. This time I simply walked, as if walking itself is reason enough to be alive.

The Rail Trail – a wide and improved gravel path – is close to being flat. It passes through forest and field, skirting the occasional wetland or housing development, and often runs parallel to a stream or a road of some kind. My favorite section of it is this mostly wooded stretch east out of Greens Corners. I like the way the trees canopy the trail. I find that comforting, as if nature is giving me a great big hug.

Bicyclists cruised past while I was walking. I encountered the occasional dog walker. A hint of color in the trees, goldenrod in full bloom in the sunnier places, poplar leaves quaking in a gentle breeze – not much else to report. Temps in the sixties, which is ideal for walking. Partly cloudy sky overhead. No bugs. The perfect recipe for Saturday morning happiness. No frills.

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Aug 25 2023

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Going Deep

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With all the rain that has fallen lately, I was a little worried about driving the 6-mile, unimproved dirt road all the way back to the trailhead parking lot and leaving it there for the next three days. I could handle anything on the trail, but a washed-out culvert on the way out could confound me. All the same, the Whitehouse trailhead put me within a day’s hike of Canary Pond, and I really wanted to go there.

When I hiked the Northville-Placid Trail through the Adirondacks back in 2006, I passed a beautiful little pond and vowed to go back and spend some time there someday. So that’s what I set out to do three days ago, crossing the suspension bridge swinging over the West Branch of the Sacandaga River then plunging deep into the woods.

It was a 7-mile hike back to the Canary Pond, nestled in the heart of the Silver Lake Wilderness. I figured I could handle that and the 700-foot climb directly ahead, with only a 30-pound pack tugging at my shoulders. I was half right about that. Yeah, I managed to do it, but I arrived at the pond late afternoon completely wiped out. “What’s wrong with me?” I wondered as I slowly set up camp. Oh yeah, I’m 67-years old.

I crept from my tent the second day aching from head to toe but limbered up a bit after puttering around camp. That’s when the fun really began. A whole day doing a lot of nothing: watching dragonflies patrol the shoreline, listening to the faint summer breeze barely rustling leaves, and taking pictures of the many different kinds of mushrooms. I scribbled in my field journal until my mind went blank. Then I stripped off all my clothes and slipped into the surprisingly cold pond to swim around. After that I sat cross-legged in camp, completely lost in the moment. When I snapped out of it, I said: “Ah… now I get it, Buddha.”

Owls kept me awake the most of the second night with their incessant hooting, but I didn’t mind. I packed up early the third day as rain clouds gathered overhead then got back on the trail. Mostly downhill, it was an easy walk out despite the many bogs and mud holes. I saw no one, realizing that I’d seen no one since a couple of thru hikers passed me two days earlier. Yeah, it was a good outing. And the drive out of the woods was no problem. No rain fell until I returned home.

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Aug 16 2023

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A Pleasant Surprise

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After a lengthy session on the computer, putting together a collection of philosophical essays, I pull on my boots, grab a teardrop pack then head out the door. I drive to the Milton Pond Town Forest only half an hour away for a day hike. I’m not in the mood for a longer drive into the mountains, but I need a woods fix. This’ll have to do.

Late morning and mid-week, there’s only one other car parked at the trailhead. This town forest isn’t a wilderness, but it looks like I’ll have the place pretty much to myself for a while. That’s good. That’ll make it easier to groove on the wild.

The three-quarter-mile Pond Access Trail is a beaten path, ten feet wide in places, but it gets me to Four Corners where there are several options. Usually I do the Pond Circuit Trail, as most people do, but this time I opt for the longer Ridgeline Trail. A much narrower trail, it winds deeper into the woods, away from the pond, then swings around in a 3-mile loop. I break a sweat as the path slowly rises to higher ground.

Numerous mud holes, high humidity, and red efts on the trail tell the story: it has been a very wet summer. The vegetation is thick, giving this forest a wilder feeling than one would expect while hiking anywhere in the mostly developed Champlain Valley. I’m digging it. I’m also maintaining a steady, two-mile clip and feeling the burn in my legs. Yeah, after nine straight days of philosophical abstractions, it feels good to be physical. It feels good to connect with my animal self.

Just before reaching a saddle between two hills, I stop long enough to catch my breath and drink some water. There’s no breeze, no birds singing, no sound at all. I’m pleasantly surprised by this deep forest silence. The rest of the hike is just as pleasant. A pair of hikers slips past me while I’m lounging at a lookout, eating lunch an hour later, but I’m still feeling the wildness. And before even finishing this hike, I resolve to come back and do this trail again soon, real soon. It’s so close to home.

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Jul 25 2023

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Cause for Concern

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During the drive over to the Adirondacks, I pay close attention to rivers running high and fast, wondering if I’ll be able to reach Blue Mountain Lake. Last week heavy rains flooded parts of Vermont and northern New York, washing out bridges and roads. All’s clear to Tupper Lake, but I get into washouts around the hamlets of Long Lake and Blue Mountain Lake where construction crews are patching the shoulders of the road. I start thinking that maybe this outing isn’t a good idea.

Then there’s the smoke from wildfires raging in Canada. Yesterday the haze was bad. Health authorities advised against doing any rigorous exercise in it. Today the smoke isn’t bad at all, still I fret about it. Will the smoke roll back into the area during my hike?

Anyone who dismisses climate change simply has their head in the sand. Record breaking heat is happening in the American southwest and elsewhere in the world. I can’t help but fret about my grandchildren’s future – what this planet will be like for them, their generation, and the generations to come. I worry as the car I’m driving kicks even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. What are we doing?

Upon reaching Blue Mountain Lake, I find the trailhead I’m looking for. The narrow, muddy path going off into the woods looks inviting. I park my car and try to leave my worries behind. I tramp up and over a hill before reaching a footbridge crossing the waterway between Rock Pond and Lake Durant. I’m thinking it won’t wash out if there’s a sudden downpour – not between these two quiet bodies of water. Beyond the footbridge I’m in the forest and headed for Cascade Pond. A pleasant two and a half-mile hike puts me there around noon.

Upon reaching Cascade Pond, I encounter a washed-out footbridge over the outlet stream. A single board still spanning the stream keeps my feet dry as I cross. Not far from the outlet stream, I sit next to the pond, enjoying a gentle summer breeze and the great wild silence while eating my lunch. I linger at the pond afterward, munching blueberries ripening on the low bushes along the shoreline. It’s a good day to be in the woods. Still there is much cause for concern.

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Jul 10 2023

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Wild Beauty

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In theory I am trout fishing, but that’s not really why I’m here. Oh sure, I have a fly rod in hand and I cast my line into every stretch of water that looks like it might have a brook trout in it. But my eyes are drinking in the wild beauty all around me so it’s hard to care whether or not I catch anything. I am simply here.

Recent rainstorms have brought to life the forest, turning everything green. Not just a color wheel green, but a deep, surreal green convincing me that life is good. Elsewhere on this planet, forests are burning up and the landscape is drying out. But not here. This corner of the world is still lush.

Why am I so lucky to be slowly making my way up this mountain stream, deeper into the wild? I wade across crystal clear water that has a chill to it despite summer heat. I crawl over boulders reminding me that I’m no longer a young man. I kneel before emerald pools to keep from spooking the trout in them. I frequently stop casting just to look around, marveling at the tenacity of life taking root in every nook and cranny. All this I’ve done many times before, but today it feels like a moving meditation, a wordless prayer.

There is no philosophy or religion that adequately captures the wonder and beauty of existence. I have certainly tried to formulate a worldview that does so, but my efforts always fall miserably short of the mark. Some poets come closer, but even they can’t do it justice. What my senses tell me during an outing like this cannot be turned into a credo – not even a hedonistic one. While I’m out here, I am astounded by the sudden realization that I am a part of this incredible world. What else can be said? Words fail us all – philosopher, theologian and poet alike.

At some point, one must simply let go. I let go, sitting before a small waterfall, listening intently to the constant gurgle of running water as glimmering light dances across a rock face. Through the years I have become a lousy fisherman. I just don’t care about that anymore. Now it is only wildness that interests me, and I can’t get enough of it. Wildness draws me deeper and deeper into the forest until some part of me disappears – the part that believes that what I am and what I do is so important. Wildness tells me otherwise.

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Jun 29 2023

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Wet Summer Hike

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A combination of smoke from Canadian wildfires and stormy weather has kept me indoors lately, but I did slip away for a short hike on Tuesday. That whetted my appetite for more so yesterday I went to Niquette Bay State Park for a longer walk on the perimeter trail. Rain was in the forecast but I didn’t care.

I headed out mid-morning hoping to beat the crowd and just maybe get in a hike before the worst of the rain. I was surprised to find over a dozen cars at the trailhead. I set forth at a good clip, happy to be stretching my legs even though I’d be running into people. Whatever.

With temps in the 70s, it took a while to break a sweat. But when I did, the sweat just kept coming. So it goes when hiking on a humid day. Grin and bear it.

The trail was still damp from a shower the day before. Yeah, it’s been a wet summer so far, following a dry spring. The forest vegetation is loving the moisture, of course – especially the ferns. Everything is looking so green and lush these days. I don’t mind sweating for that. The bugs are loving it, too. Hmm…

I picked up my pace, happy to be hiking instead of sitting in front of a computer screen. While breathing heavily, fresh air filled my lungs. No forest fire smoke today. Even clean air shouldn’t be taken for granted.

A hermit thrush sang in the distance. Thrush songs are reason enough to hike in the woods, I think. I encountered a few people on the trail but it didn’t matter. I was alone for the most part – just me and a deep forest quiet.

Surprisingly enough, I got back to my car long before the rain started. Got back home even. Sometimes it’s best to ignore the weather forecast and go for it. Soaked with sweat instead of rain, but it was well worth it. A hike is good for body, mind and soul.

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Jun 15 2023

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The Rhythm of the Sea

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Nearly three weeks have gone by since Judy and I sojourned briefly on the Maine coast in a little cottage overlooking Goose Rocks Beach. I can still hear, someplace in the back of my head, the sound of waves breaking to shore. After listening to that steady beat for days, it is not something one easily forgets.

Judy is drawn to the ocean the same way that I am to wild, forested mountains. We have been going to the coast for decades, usually staying in a hotel, motel, or someplace located somewhere inland. But last year Judy had a dream come true when she found a somewhat affordable place right on the shoreline, literally a stone’s throw from the sea at high tide. She spent two ecstatic weeks alone there while I was traveling across the country.

This year I joined her for a week in that cottage, enjoying the sparsely populated beach in the cool, breezy days before Memorial Day – before the onslaught of the summer crowd. It was quite the experience. There’s a world of difference between staying in a place close to shore and being right on it. No wonder the cost of oceanside property is so high!

I noticed the rhythm of the sea most when I ventured inland on day hikes. Or I should say that I noticed it when I returned to the cottage, where Judy was ensconced in the enclosed porch with windows partially open. The calming effect of waves coming to shore, along with the cadence set by the high and low tides, does something to the mind that is indescribable. It’s similar to what I experience when I’m alone in deep woods for a few days. While immersed in either world, all the concerns that dog me during my workaday existence here at home don’t matter nearly so much. The waves slowly wash all that away, just like the deep forest silence does.

I am a landlubber at heart. I’m more comfortable in the woods, camped next to a clear mountain stream, than anywhere else. Still, I look forward to spending another week right on the shoreline next year. In that regard, Judy’s dream has become my own.

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May 28 2023

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Vermont Hiking Narratives

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I’m pleased to announce the release of my collection of short hiking narratives set in Vermont. It’s called Wandering in Vermont Woods appropriately enough. A few years back, I published a collection of hiking narratives set in the Adirondacks, and that has gone over well. My bookseller friend Donna at The Eloquent Page suggested that I do the same for narratives set in Vermont – my home turf. So here it is.

This collection opens with a relatively long account of a solo excursion in the Breadloaf Wilderness 35 years ago called “Tracks Across the Forest Floor.” Some of you may remember that from a previous publication. I’ve reprinted 10 other pieces from previous publications, as well – several of those books now out of print. There are two pieces in this collection dating back over 20 years that haven’t been published until now, and three brand new pieces seeing print for the very first time. It’s quite a mix, actually. But the spirit of the wild graces them all.

The Long Trail, southern Vermont, the Northeast Kingdom, or close to home – I’m all over the map in this collection. Sometimes backpacking; other times just out for the day. Sometimes bushwhacking; occasionally trout fishing some mountain brook. Usually alone, but not always. Sometimes contemplating philosophical matters while banging around in the Green Mountains; often just being being in the moment. Always the woods wanderer.

You can get a copy from Amazon.com, or by going to the Wood Thrush Books website. I hope this book inspires some of you to venture into the woods this summer. There’s nothing else quite like a little time spent in a wild place.

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May 13 2023

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Walking the Brook

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Remarkably enough, there were no black flies out yesterday when I set foot on the mountain brook. I don’t know why. They’re out in force in my backyard. A bug-free outing in the spring is a real treat, though. I walked the brook for several hours, pretending to fish for trout. But what I really wanted was the sound of rushing water, a cool breeze wafting up the stream, and wildflowers in bloom along the banks. I got all that and more.

Oh sure, I casted my fly into every emerald pool of water and did my best to entice brook trout to the surface, but nothing happened. No rises, that is, until the last hour of my outing. I caught and released one brookie at that time, happy not to be skunked, then lost another on a second rise. Slow fishing. But when the forest comes alive with that luminescent, vernal green it’s hard to care about anything else. The sudden explosion of leafy growth, both overhead and across the forest floor, is reason enough to be in the woods. Trout fishing is just a good excuse to witness it.

When I stumbled upon painted trilliums in full bloom, I couldn’t help but smile. Plenty of other wildflowers come up in May, but this is one of my favorites. There’s something about painted trilliums that brings joy to me. Perhaps that is because I associate it with the Green Mountains – my home turf – and with my first mountain brook outings a long time ago. Eternal renewal. That flower shouts it.

When I was finished fishing, I sat down on a large rock next to the stream. I smoked a cigar in celebration of a recently published book and counted my blessings. I have many, including the crystal clear stream itself. Just then several dun-colored mayflies rose into the air, similar to the fly I had been using. I reveled in the beginning of a mayfly hatch even though I was too tired to take advantage of it. Sometimes it’s enough just to witness such things. The miracle of spring is that even the harshest winter can’t prevent it from coming. And that is reason enough, I think, to walk the brook this time of year.

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