Tag Archive 'expectations'

Nov 18 2010

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Hiking at Dusk

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After running errands in Burlington, I went to Indian Brook Reservoir to exercise my dog and stretch my legs.  It was already late afternoon by the time I reached the trailhead.  The dark gray sky overhead made it seem even later in the day than it was.  No matter.  With less than an hour of light left, Matika and I headed down the trail.

Deer hunting season is in full swing now.  My wife had insisted that I take blaze orange with me, at least for the dog.  Good thing I did.  Without it I wouldn’t have risked taking Matika into those twilight woods.  Should have had some blaze orange on myself as well.   I made my dog stay close at hand, more for my protection than for hers.

Mine was the only car in the parking lot.  Matika and I were the only creatures afoot – the only visible ones, anyhow.  A rare thing, indeed, on an otherwise busy trail.  I reveled in this unexpected solitude, until the last bit of daylight piercing through the clouds faded away.  That’s when I started thinking I should get back to the car.  By then Matika and I were a mile into the woods.

With the air temperature well above 50 degrees, it felt more like September than November.  But the defoliated trees and the shortness of the day told the real story.  Everywhere I looked: stark and uninviting woods.  The slippery mud underfoot made for slow going.  By the time I reached the feeder stream at the far end of the reservoir, the forest was dark.

Having hiked this trail many times before, I navigated it more by memory than sight.  That’s the big advantage of experience.  You come to know what to expect.  Without even seeing them, I knew where all the treacherous spots in that trail were.  I also knew that hurrying out of the dark forest would only increase my chances of falling down, so I took my time.  And I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the walk.  Life’s better when it has an edge to it.  Just a little, that is.  Just enough to vanquish petty concerns.

Daylight had completely vanished by the time my dog and I reached the parking lot.  Matika didn’t care and neither did I.  We were both happy to have hiked while we could.  We shared the liter of water that I had on hand, then climbed into the car.  I drove home by headlights, making sure to call my wife so that she wouldn’t worry.  Next time I’ll make sure to hike earlier in the day.  But darkness often comes sooner than expected this time of year.  Whatever.  I take my small pleasures when I can.

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Oct 07 2010

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Peak Foliage

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People talk about peak foliage as if there’s a week, a day, or an hour when the autumn colors are their most brilliant, when they can’t get any better.  I’ve been listening to this kind of talk for over thirty years, and I’m more certain now than ever that it’s absolute nonsense.

I suspect that the people who invented peak foliage are also the ones trying to convince the world that the colors in New England can’t be beat.  Okay, I admit, the fall foliage is beautiful here – especially in Vermont in early October.  It’s as good or better than anything I’ve seen elsewhere, thanks to the climate, the soils, or whatever.  But peak color?  C’mon now.  That’s taking the advertisement a bit too far.

Fact is, each species of tree has its own way of turning, and each individual tree follows its own timetable.  Much depends upon latitude, elevation, terrain, whether the tree in question is healthy or stressed, and whether the tree is rooted in wet or dry ground.  Add to these factors the variances of weather from year to year, from week to week, from day to day even, and that magic moment of peak color is anyone’s guess.

At best peak foliage is only a rough estimation of when the autumnal colors should be optimal, based upon the law of averages.  At worse, it’s just an excuse to keep from fully enjoying what is right before ones eyes.  A tourist chasing leafy rainbows is a sad thing to witness, especially when so much natural beauty is overlooked along the way.  Better off to completely disregard the color change and take each day at face value.  In that regard nature rarely disappoints, here in New England or anywhere else, in autumn or any other season.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love to see the color in the trees when the green washes out.  I love the brilliant reds and oranges of maple trees, the bright yellows of birches and beeches, and even the more muted reddish-brown color of oaks later on. I love to watch the leaves rain down with a strong gust of wind, then settle on the ground inches deep in places.  This is one of the reasons I live in this part of the country.  The seasonal change is dramatic here, with nature always providing something new and interesting to see.  But don’t ask me if the fall colors have reached their peak yet.  I’ll say that you just missed it, that it happened five minutes ago.

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Jul 26 2010

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Into the Clouds

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I headed for Smuggler’s Notch before dawn, hoping to hike up the short, steep trail to Sterling Pond and fish it before day hikers swarmed out of the nearby resorts.  Stowe is well known as a ski destination in the winter, but in the summertime it is almost as busy.  And the trails surrounding that resort town get a lot of traffic.

I usually avoid busy trails, but the one to Sterling Pond is an exception.  I hike it once a year, drawn to it by the many brook trout at the other end.  Sterling Pond is one of the few bodies of water in Vermont located above three thousand feet.  Wild and beautiful, it is well worth visiting even without a fishing rod.  That is, if the crowd there isn’t too dense.

At dawn I parked my car in the notch, grabbed my rucksack and charged up the trail.  My dog, Matika, led the way, of course.  A fierce wind blew through the mountains, making me doubt the wisdom of this outing.  But the weather forecast called for sunny skies later on, so I kept going.

Halfway up the trail, I slipped into the clouds.  That’s always a weird feeling.  I broke a sweat in the cool, wet air and kept sweating.  The wind died away.  By the time I reached the pond, the clouds started thinning out.  An unseen morning sun brightened them considerably.  I expected the sky to break open any minute.  But the clouds stayed with me while I fished.

I wasn’t really fishing.  It was more like practice casting.  Not one trout rose to the surface.  And when I switched from dry flies to wet ones, there was still no tug at my line.  Yet standing on the edge of that still pond was no less pleasant.  Even Matika got into it, occasionally looking up from her chewed stick to look around.  We had caught Sterling Pond in one of its better moods.  I stopped casting several times just so that I could groove on its wild silence.

Even as I descended the trail back to the parking lot, I braced myself for the hordes of hikers to suddenly appear.  But no one showed.  For the first time ever, I hiked up to Sterling Pond and back without seeing a soul.  Very strange.  As rare as getting skunked there.  Not that I’m complaining.  No people, no fish.  Not what I expected, but a good trade-off all the same.

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Jul 21 2009

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A Perfect Day

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A few weeks ago, when Mason turned five, I promised my grandson that I would take him hiking and fishing for a day.  Just the two of us – no brother or sister along.  Incessant rain and my busy work schedule made it difficult to make good on the promise right away, though.  When finally a rain-free day appeared on my weather website, I called Mason’s mom to arrange an outing.  I picked up Mason right after breakfast and we headed for the nearest body of water.

We caught a few sunfish at Arrowhead Lake, but it wasn’t the kind of rock-and-roll action I’d been hoping for so we drove over to the Lamoille River.  Didn’t do any better there.  Surprisingly, Mason didn’t complain.  When I suggested that we go for a hike next, he was all for it.  We went to Niquette Bay State Park and hiked down the broad, flat path towards the beach.  Mason shouldered a teardrop pack loaded with all kinds of stuff, keeping the park map firmly in hand.  I carried along a fishing rod, just in case.

While standing on the shores of Lake Champlain, we saw the forested point where the park attendant told us to fish.  We headed for the point, walking the beach until it disappeared into reeds.  The lake is high this year, due to heavy rains.  No matter.  Mason charged up a goat path heading straight uphill.  I warned him that it looked like a tough climb but he didn’t care.  He was ready for the adventure so up we went, huffing and puffing, our feet slipping in sandy, loose soil all the way.  At last reaching the Beach Bypass Trail on top, we took a break.  We drank water and ate trail mix and talked about stuff until we were ready to go again.  I said we could take the easy path back to the car if he was tired, but Mason wanted to keep going to the point.  Okay then.

Beyond a deep ravine, the path narrowed as it wound up and down through woods and rocks until we reached the point.  There a broad, flat rock dropped into deep water and, sure enough, we got into a few more fish.  But it was nothing to brag about.  We were distracted once by a frog leaping across the rock and again by a gaggle of teenage girls nearby who started jumping into the water.  Mason wanted to do the same, but I reminded him that we didn’t have bathing suits with us – truly an oversight on such a warm, sunny day.

While hiking out, Mason and I took turns spotting chipmunks and red squirrels half hidden in the surrounding forest.  “Good eye!” I told him.  Then we talked about coming back here with his mom and brother and sister someday.  I took a deep breath, then exhaled, saying how much I love the smell of the woods.  Mason did the same.  Then I mentioned how lucky we were, with all the rain lately, to have such good weather to hike.  “Yeah,” Mason said, “It’s a perfect day!”  I smiled at that, all the while thinking how the day could have been better.  Then I agreed.

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