Tag Archive 'bushwhacking'

Aug 27 2022

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Tending a Campfire

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Earlier this week, I went into the woods overnight just to get away from my work and chill out. I walked up a logging road winding into the Green Mountains, cut across an overgrown meadow, then bushwhacked along a crystal clear stream until I found a beautiful spot to camp.

Setting up my tent and making myself right at home didn’t take long, but the woods were wet from rain the day before, so it took a while to strip off the bark on the wood I gathered. Wood without its bark dries out fast and burns well. After gathering plenty of it, I ate lunch, did a little naturalizing, and wrote in my field journal before taking a long nap. Backwoods adventure? No, more like seriously goofing off.

That evening I placed some birch bark in the middle of the campfire ring I had created, built a small tipi of tiny sticks over it, then struck a match. Ten minutes later I had a good fire going. Another ten minutes after that I had water boiled up in my handy little one-quart pot. I kept the fire going as I drank hot tea with my dinner. I continued tending the fire long after its usefulness.

The sun disappeared behind a nearby ridge. Daylight faded away. The campfire slowly became the center of my universe. I fed sticks into it, carefully placing them to maximize the burn. My thoughts wandered. The water in the nearby stream rushed over rocks incessantly. The fire snapped and crackled, occasionally kicking out a blue flame. It mesmerized me as darkness closed in. I lost track of time.

Late in the evening I let the campfire slowly die out, becoming embers. Then I hit it hard with several pots of water from the brook before going to bed. In the morning I fired it up again, letting it die out quickly after breakfast. Then I dismantled the campfire, tossing the stones in the brook and burying a couple handfuls of cold ashes. No trace of it remained when I hiked away.

Pity the poor souls in the distant or perhaps not-too-distant future who will be unable to build a campfire anywhere. You can’t buy the kind of solace a campfire provides. It is a good reason to go in the woods, venturing off-trail, if you ask me.

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Apr 09 2022

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A Humble Pleasure

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This time of year, when the trails are wet and so easily damaged, I like to walk a brook. The one that first comes to mind winds through a valley in the Green Mountains shadowed by Camel’s Hump. I’ve been walking it for decades. It’s like an old friend to me.

You could call this a hike, but the way I do it these days it’s really more of a walk. I take my time, traveling half the speed I did when I was half my current age. I want to bushwhack into my 70s and 80s, you see, so I’m setting the right pace to do that now. Slow but sure.

After leaving a nearby dirt road, I follow a rough track a quarter mile to the brook. Then I start bushwhacking. I have a compass tucked into my shirt pocket, but it’s not necessary. The brook guides me through the woods and every feeder stream is a way home that I’ve taken before. So my mind is free to wander, or to groove on the wildness all around me.

Evergreen woodfern and Christmas ferns are still pressed firmly to the ground. It’s early spring and the snow cover has just melted off. Polypody ferns rise from moss-covered boulders, though. That, the clubmoss, and hemlocks green up the otherwise bleached, brown landscape. A few icy patches still lurk in the hollows of rocks, but this is a springtime world not a winter one. The spongy, half-thawed earth underfoot is proof of that.

Because the stream is running lower than usual this time of year, I ford it several times to avoid large mudslides. My boots get wet and my feet get cold in the process, but I don’t care. That too is part of this springtime ritual.

A couple miles back, I bask in sunlight while stretched across a flat boulder next to a deep pool that harbors brook trout. Here I eat lunch. A moth flutters before my eyes. A chickadee sings in the distance. The leafless trees all around me reach toward the deep blue sky. Meltwater rushes past incessantly. I have daydreamed about this place for months. Now here I am. And the walk out that follows is a moving meditation.

Soon the world will green up and the warm season will unfold to everyone’s delight. But it’s enough, for me at least, to tramp through snow-free woods when there’s still a chill in the air and the first wildflowers haven’t risen yet. It’s a different kind of beauty and happiness – subtle and anticipatory. It’s a humble pleasure.

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Jun 27 2020

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Matika Put to Rest

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Yesterday afternoon Judy and I bushwhacked along a mountain stream to a favorite old campsite of ours. We were on a mission. In my daypack was a can holding Matika’s ashes. Matika was a wonderful, long-haired German shepherd dog who played an integral part in our lives for twelve years. A year and three months after her death, we decided that it was finally time to put her to rest.

Before leaving home, we buried a handful of her ashes in our Buddha garden just to keep part of her close, and to ward off the squirrels invading the back yard. I swear there are times when I can hear Matika barking from her ashes whenever the squirrels are scurrying about. She never had any patience for those pesky rodents.

Upon reaching our old campsite, we each took some of her ashes and released them into the brook. The ashes clouded the water for a few moments, looking rather ghostlike as they floated downstream. Then the water cleared. We both shed a few tears in the process.

After that we buried the remainder of Matika’s ashes at the base of a maple tree, next to where the ashes of our other German shepherd dog, Jesse, are buried. Two stones now mark their graves. In the future I’ll stop by occasionally to visit our deceased canine companions. As for Judy, well, she had a hard time reaching the old campsite so there’s no telling if/when she’ll be back. All the same, this is where she and I both want some of our ashes buried when we die. Then the whole pack will be back together again.

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May 21 2020

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Three Trillium Camp

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What a dramatic change in weather! Frost warnings one week; temps climbing into the 70s the next. At long last, I can go into the mountains overnight without freezing my ass off. And no rain in the forecast, either. So without hesitation, I load up my pack and am out the door.

With a desire to avoid people altogether (pandemic or no), I head for the Calavale Brook. It’s located somewhere in northern Vermont and that’s all I’m willing to say. The access road to it is too heavily eroded for my little car so I approach the brook from another dirt road a mile away. Sort of. Actually, I drive that road until it becomes a track, then walk that track until it ends at someone’s deer camp. Then I bushwhack along a NNW bearing through the woods. Eventually I hear water. Then I see it.

I find a relatively flat spot near the brook and set up my tarp amid wild lilies. Then I create a campfire circle a little closer to the water. Home sweet home, with three painted trilliums marking the boundaries of it. A good place to relax, meditate, and scribble in my field journal. The constant sound of water rushing past is quite soothing. The black flies aren’t too bad. The sun slowly settles into the ridge behind me and soon I am staring into a campfire. Once I’ve had enough of that, I go to bed. The naked trees (leaves not yet unfurled) point to a thousand stars illuminating the heavens above. And it’s good to be alive.

Despite my tossing and turning, I manage to get a fairly good night’s sleep. But getting out of bed and into the chilly morning air is a bit rough. Temps dropped significantly overnight. I snuggle next to a morning campfire and life is good again. When the black flies come back out, it’s time to go. After making the campfire circle disappear, I head out the same way I came. Only now I’m in a much better frame of mind. A solo overnighter is good for that.

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Jun 08 2017

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In the Green

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I’ve heard a lot of people complain about all the rain we’ve had lately, but I don’t relate. Rain makes everything grow, makes the forest lush, and the vegetation is a more vibrant green as a consequence. I like that vibrancy. So this afternoon I went out to simply enjoy it.

I didn’t have to go very far. Stepped right out my door, in fact, and slipped into the green. My dog Matika followed, happy to get out of the house.

With no real plan in mind, I just walked. I decided to circumnavigate the quarry once I was under the forest canopy. I’ve been meaning to do that since I moved here last year. There’s no apparent trail along the backside of the quarry, so I figured it would probably be a rough bushwhack. And it was. But I was fine with that.

I wasn’t disappointed. Plenty of lush vegetation all around me, and the sketch of a trail most of the way. But Matika wasn’t in the mood for bushwhacking. First chance she got, she popped out onto a nearby road, hoping that I would follow and take one of the more beaten paths back home. And that’s exactly what I did.

I often indulge the old girl these days, knowing that her hips don’t like the extra up-and-down work that bushwhacking entails. Whatever. I got my woods fix for the day. That’s all that really mattered.

 

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Jan 08 2017

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A Good Winter Bushwhack

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A few days ago, I drove to a nearby state park for a short walk at dusk after a full day’s work. My dog Matika enjoyed it, but it wasn’t nearly enough for me. So the next day I did only as much work as necessary before stuffing a few essentials in an old rucksack and heading for the mountains. Time for a taste of wild country. Actually, it was long overdue.

The inch of fresh snow covering the icy woods road provided sufficient traction so the Microspikes stayed in my pack. A mile up the road I turned onto a trail hidden beneath a couple inches of crusty snow. I crunched my way down to the brook, which was still open surprisingly enough. Yeah, it has been a squirrelly winter so far: freeze and thaw then freeze again.

The trail petered out beyond a downed tree. Suddenly I was bushwhacking the familiar route to a favorite spot along the brook. There I once buried the ashes of my first German shepherd dog, Jessie. Matika romped through the woods like a pup despite her eleven years. I was happy to see it. Looks like she’ll be hiking with me a while longer.

Just above the campsite, recent storms had ravaged the banks of the brook, creating mudslides and thickets of downed trees. It was rough getting through there, but it felt good to be in the trackless woods again. I took cover from a chilling breeze coming down the mountain then ate a quick lunch with Matika. My wife Judy had given me an energy bar that’s good for both dogs and people, so Matika and I shared that after our respective meals. People food or dog food? – hard to say.

With temps hovering around 20 degrees, I didn’t linger at the lunch spot. I tagged the trace of an old skidder trail leaving the brook then slowly made my way back to the woods road. Matika negotiated the slippery slope with no difficulty. I dropped to all fours once to do the same.

Out came the Microspikes as I descended the woods road. That made the walk easy enough where I could lose myself in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. In the distance the mountain summits looked cold and forbidding. No matter. Here in a heavily forested hollow, I was having no trouble. In fact, I got back to my car a bit sooner than I would have liked.

A good winter bushwhack. Won’t wait so long before getting out again. There’s more to life than work, work, work.

 

 

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Nov 09 2015

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Hunting Season Tramp

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November woodsAfter reading John Burroughs’ Time and Change yesterday morning, I felt an overwhelming urge to get outdoors and stretch my legs. A blue sky underscored the urge. My dog Matika is always ready to go, of course. So we climbed into the car and drove to the pocket of woods on nearby French Hill.

Since it was the first day of deer season, Matika and I wore blaze orange. Usually I stay out of the woods when hunters are in them with high-powered rifles, but yesterday I simply couldn’t resist the urge to tramp through the woods without the constriction of a trail underfoot. I have days when only a good bushwhack will do.

It’s stick season now. All the leaves are down. They rustled loudly as I plowed through them, scaring off the local deer. Gunfire in the distance. Trees threw long shadows across the forest floor at midday, thanks to a drooping, late autumn sun. I crossed an old, stone wall, and that gave me my bearings while skirting a large beaver pond just out of view. Been here before. Without the distraction of a trail, it’s a lot easier to read the terrain.

There’s something about tramping through a trackless forest that calms me as nothing else can. It’s the absolute freedom of movement, I suppose, combined with a total lack of purpose. I tramp therefore I am. There’s nothing more to it than that.

Yet I couldn’t resist following the old logging trail that swept southward back towards the car, even though it muddied both my boots and Matika’s paws. The deer tracks we found there got our attention. And for a short while I was a hunter without a gun. It’s like that sometimes. I go into the woods with one purpose and end up doing something else. That’s what bushwhacking is all about.

 

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Sep 04 2015

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Cooling Out

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Version 2Judy said I should go into the woods overnight. She’s been around me for 30 years so she knows better than I do what I need. Between publishing, book promo, and my online bookselling, I’m going to be very busy this fall. Best to get out while I can.

I packed up a few essentials, loaded my dog Matika into the car, and headed for a mountain brook where, surprisingly enough, I’ve never camped before. I followed a trail a mile back, until it veered away from the brook. Then I bushwhacked upstream. Sweating profusely in an unseasonably hot afternoon, I looked for a pool at least the size of a bathtub. There I would make camp and dunk by overheated body.

I struggled up the steep, rocky ravine nearly an hour, until the brook was a mere trickle. Then it suddenly appeared: one of the biggest pools I’ve seen on any mountain brook in a long while – thirty feet across. But there was no good place to camp.  There was nothing even close to flat. I pitched my tarp on the overgrown remnant of an old woods road not far away, calling that home for the night. Then I stripped off my sweat-soaked clothes and went for a swim. Matika waded along the edge of the pool, getting her belly wet. That was good enough for her.

After cooling out, I settled into camp for the night. Building a small fire then cooking on the sloping ground was a little tricky. My things kept rolling away. Sleeping was even trickier. Matika and I gradually slid downhill through the course of the night. By morning I was in her place and she was no longer beneath the tarp. Poor dog! But it was worth it. A pool that big in such a wild and beautiful setting is the stuff of dreams.

 

 

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Apr 23 2015

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Slow Bushwhack

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PrestonBk.gorge.early springYesterday I visited a favorite mountain stream, taking a break from work and all other concerns. My dog Matika accompanied me, of course. First stop: a small gorge on the stream, where whitewater squeezed between rock walls on its way down to the already swollen Winooksi River.

Patches of ice clung to the rock walls of the gorge and nearby ferns were still pressed to the ground by snow that had just recently melted. Here in the mountains, the spring season is just beginning.

Above the gorge I meandered upstream following the semblance of a trail cut by deer, as small piles of scat indicated. Eventually I lost even that, finding my own way across the forest floor. I slipped between the trees without any sense of urgency, happy just to be in the woods – a slow bushwhack to nowhere.

As I walked, my thoughts wandered. Or to be more accurate, my thoughts gave way to a series of impressions: the fresh green verdure coaxed from the earth by warmer temps, the rusted remnants of early settlers, and ephemeral rivulets of snowmelt everywhere.

“Walking is not a sport,” Frederic Gros states outright at the beginning of his book, A Philosophy of Walking, though many people treat it that way. Walking slow and solitary, through the woods or in the city, opens the mind to introspection. Many thinkers have had their most profound ideas while walking. I know that is certainly the case with me. I do my best thinking while on the move towards nowhere in particular, slow and steady, with no trail underfoot.  After a while, it becomes a sort of mobile meditation.

A mile or so beyond the gorge, I found a nice spot to sit next to a feeder stream for a while. There my thoughts became more focused even as my eyes still wandered. Matika sat next to me chewing a stick. Time passed. When finally rain clouds gathered overhead, I got up and finished my walk, heading back towards my car. And that,my friends, is what I call a good day in the woods.

 

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Feb 11 2015

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Cutting Tracks

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snowshoeing in mtnsThere comes a day every winter when I have to drop everything I’m doing and head for the hills. That day came yesterday. I loaded my dog Matika into the car and drove an hour to my favorite place to snowshoe: a mountain brook where few people go.

I hiked half a mile up a packed logging road before putting on my snowshoes. Two feet of pristine powder lay before me. I figured it would be tough cutting tracks through it but didn’t realize how tough until I got going. My snowshoes sank 6-8 inches with each step. Matika stayed on my heels for the most part. Smart dog. I pushed forward, trying to set a steady pace, but was unable to go more than fifty yards without stopping to catch my breath.

I tramped for a little over an hour that way, following a mountain brook that barely murmured beneath the snow. I marveled at the silent forest – no birds, no trees creaking in the wind, nothing but my own heavy breathing. “This is why I come out here,” I kept thinking. Silence and a beautiful stillness.

When the going got really tough, I stripped down to shirtsleeves. I sweated profusely anyway. I was tiring but with temps in the teens and my thermal undershirt soaked with sweat I didn’t dare stop. Instead I pushed up a steep, narrow ravine, groping slowly back towards the logging road. Fallen trees blocked the way. At one point I passed beneath one. It showered me with snow in the process. Matika scrambled up the slippery sides of the ravine without success. Then she fell in behind me as I plodded forward, one carefully placed step after another.

What a relief it was to get back to the packed logging road! I took off my snowshoes then strapped them onto my pack. I stopped long enough to feed my dog some kibble and wolf down an energy bar with a half-liter of water. The walk out was as pleasant as it was easy.

Completely exhausted, I went to bed early last night. Tough outing but well worth the effort. I flushed a lot of gunk out of my system in the process and am now in a better frame of mind to resume literary work. No surprise there.

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