Tag Archive 'wild mind'

Feb 06 2013

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Winter Walk

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You know you have a touch of cabin fever when you need to get outside no matter what the weather is doing. That is why I donned my thermals and wools even as a snowstorm was brewing. But it turned out to be a passing squall. By the time I reached the Rail Trail, the snowfall had diminished to a few scattered flakes and the sky was breaking open.

With each step I kicked up a couple inches of the fluffy white stuff. My dog Matika ran ahead, stopped to sniff until I caught up with her then took off again.  She was as happy as I was to be outdoors.

A lone chickadee called from the woods, reminding me of other walks deeper into the wild, and the great calm that comes over me whenever I’m back in my element. Even on the relatively tame Rail Trail only a few miles from home, I could feel it. Funny how it always comes as something of a surprise. Amazing how little it takes these days to trigger the feeling. Apparently I’m predisposed to it now.

A mile or so down the trail, I stopped to groove on the snowy woods all around me, letting my hungry eyes feast on the February sun as it cleared a remnant patch of clouds high overhead. The small stream nearby was frozen over. Animal tracks were few and far between. No matter. Even as she sleeps, Mother Nature is beautiful.

When I turned around and headed back towards the car, a wicked wind blew out of the west slapping me across the face. Just a reminder that we’re still in the thick of it, I suppose. Fine by me. Let the wind blow, bringing with it whatever travails it can brew up. I’m not so easily daunted these days. Like a gnarled old oak, I’ve learned how to weather the seasons. Growing older has that advantage, anyhow.


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Mar 25 2010

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Thinking about Hiking

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A reading group in Rindge, New Hampshire invited me down to talk about my Long Trail book, Forest under my Fingernails, so that’s what I did last weekend.  I read a few excerpts from the book then recounted my adventures on that trail – something I haven’t done in years.  That got me thinking again about long-distance hiking.  And while studying a New Hampshire road map on the drive back home, my eyes drifted to that section of the Appalachian Trail cutting through the White Mountains.  Talk about scratching an itch!

Last August, after the 100 Mile Wilderness beat me up, I told my wife that I was done with long-distance hiking.  But now, seven months later, I can see why she didn’t believe me.  This is a recurring theme in my life, I think.  The many small miseries of trail pounding shrink in importance, while memories of wild happiness loom large.  Each morning I get up and write about that trek, and each morning I wrestle with the long desire to get back into deep woods as soon as possible.

It’s spring, the beginning of a brand new warm season, and I can’t wait to really stretch my legs again.  The 2 and 3-mile walks I’ve been taking all winter long aren’t nearly enough.  I sneak furtive glances at topographical maps the same way other men look at beautiful women.  Snow-capped mountains taunt me every time I drive somewhere.  My boots are right next to the door, ready and waiting.  And my dog, Matika, looks at me each day, her eyes saying:  “Isn’t it time to head for the hills?”  Soon, very soon, I tell her.  Right after I finish this task and a few more.

No doubt about it, thinking about hiking leads to hiking.  The more I think about it, the more I want to get out there.  My body has been telling me as much for months now.  The desire is as physical as it is mental.  In fact, I can’t tell any more whether it’s my body or my mind egging me on.  All I know is that it’s time – it’s past time.  So soon I’ll grab my rucksack and go . . . right after I finish this very important task . . .

As an outdoor/nature writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about hiking.  I probably think about it more than I actually do it.  That is the terrible irony of my line of work.  But I suspect that many non-writers fall into this trap, as well.  Modern living encourages it.  We all live busy lives, which lends itself to more thinking than doing.

That said, I hope to drop everything soon and disappear into the woods for a day or two.  I’ll make it a point to take a longer hike this summer, and tackle yet another 100-mile stretch of trail before I grow much older.  Yeah, I’m a busy guy.  But whatever needs to be done, I’m sure it can wait.

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Mar 08 2010

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Rail Trail

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It’s mundane, really, this crushed gravel trail passing through farmer’s fields and woodlots, following the ghosts of past trains.  With its absurdly gradual grade and perfectly manicured surface, it doesn’t seem right to even call it a trail.  This is more like a sidewalk devoid of concrete, cutting through the countryside.  This trail couldn’t be any less wild unless it went right through a city.  But there’s nowhere else I’d rather walk today.  After all, it’s completely exposed to late-winter sunlight so it has been stripped of snow for the most part.  And until the next snowstorm comes along, I can press my boots into its soft, gray mud and pretend that spring has already arrived.  The Rail Trail won’t tell me otherwise.

The Rail Trail is one of my guilty pleasures – an easy alternative to woods wandering, when I haven’t the time or the inclination to drive half an hour to the mountains.  My dog, Matika, doesn’t care.  Rail trail, park trail, or deep forest bushwhack, it’s all the same to her.  All she wants to do is stretch her legs and sniff around a bit.  And yes, I have days when that’s all I want to do, as well, assuming that sniffing and daydreaming are pretty much the same thing.

Remarkably enough, I often feel a sense of desolation on the Rail Trail – something similar to what I feel in deep woods.  Not all the time, mind you, but on days when no one else is around, when it is possible to look half a mile in any direction and see nothing but empty landscape.  Empty of other walkers, that is.  That’s room enough for my mind to wander about wildly even though the furrowed fields all around me are shouting cultivation.  This is prove positive, I suppose, that wildness is more a state of mind than anything else.

While walking, I hear the caw-caw of nearby crows.  I stop and look for them, looking around as if I’ve never been here before, or as if I’m about to see something I’ve never seen.  But everything in view is very familiar after years of walking this trail, and the only surprise is the feeling bubbling up from within:  everything’s going to be all right.  As long as I can keep walking, with the wind or against it, everything is all right.

Everyone should have a place like this, minutes from home, to stretch one’s legs without having to think about property rights or passing cars.  My dog appreciates it and so do I.  Truth be told, my sanity is more dependent upon the Rail Trail than it is the wildest landscape, especially during this in-between season when the forested hills aren’t quite as accessible as they’ll be in another month.  No, not wild by the strictest definition of the word, but wild enough.  This’ll do for now.

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Feb 08 2010

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A Wild Urge

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I’m not a big fan of winter.  I envy those with winter sports to keep them outside all day.  When I go for a winter walk, it rarely lasts more than an hour or two.  I have snowshoes but only strap them on when conditions demand it.  I’d rather just walk, and dream of early spring when the cold mud underfoot yields to my step.  Truth is, I’m just biding my time, waiting for warmer days.

Before crawling out of bed this morning, I felt it: the urge to wander aimlessly through the forest.  Some days the urge is greater than it is other days.  This morning it is especially strong so I’ll head for the hills as soon as possible.  Snowshoes or no, I’ll bolt as soon as I’ve taken care of any pressing business.  Or maybe I’ll say to hell with work and just bolt.

Some people call it cabin fever; I think of it more as a wild urge.  The mind can be a wild place and I’m comfortable living in my abstractions most of the time, especially during the colder months.  But there comes a time when even the wildest thoughts are not enough.  At such times the short walk I take during my midday errand running seems more like a prisoner’s daily hour in the yard than a bona fide outing.  Then I know it’s time to bolt.

The mind can be just as wild as the body.  Most people don’t get that.  They think wildness involves lawlessness, irrational behavior or sexuality.  Sometimes it does, but there’s much more to thinking wild than that.  I call it creative thought, at the risk of confusing it with purely artistic urges.  But I digress.  There are times when wild thoughts simply do not suffice.  There are times when the body must be as free as the mind.

So enough blather already.  A wild urge isn’t placated by abstraction.  I call myself a woods wanderer because, when push comes to shove, that’s what I have to do to keep from going crazy.  Words fail me.  I’ve gotta go.

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