Photo courtesy jimforest @ Flickr
Traveling trails — including the trail of life — takes many forms and evokes many prayers, such as this one by Thomas Merton. See if you can identify with his heart.
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Bobcat courtesy Base Camp Baker at Flickr
Over coffee one day a fellow backpacker commiserated about his recent Appalachian Trail hike. “I really like being out there,” he said, “but I just seem to walk and walk without seeing any wildlife. Where do the animals go? Am I frightening everything off?”
I smiled and sipped my dark roast. “I think I can help you change that in about five minutes…”
Here’s what those “five minutes” are all about.
Hikers and backpackers sometimes get caught up in putting down miles. Certainly even competitiveness has arisen among long distance walkers, whose sights are on finishing trails in specified time frames or chalking up double-digit daily miles. While reaching this goal they often miss seeing the animals who call the forest home. Their single-minded passage alarms the greenwood ruminants, who take notice and scurry for protection.
Moose courtesy Douglas Brown at Flickr
The simple “five minute” secret to seeing the wild creatures involves breaking free of the mileage pressure and following these steps:
- Pick a time of day for wildlife observation. This can be during a rest break, at lunch, or after dinner.
- Shed your pack and find a rock or tree you can sit against and become still. If you’re in a group encourage your fellow hikers to join you in your wildlife watching time. Conversation has no place here, just become silent and still.
- Within a few minutes (about five) the wild things will become active again, since the disturbance and noise is over. It usually begins with birds, whose songs may have ceased when you came near. Take some time to enjoy the renewal of their songs. It’s a good idea to check your bird identification skills from the calls they make. Other forest residents will start to move, such as whitetail deer and smaller mammals. Simply sit quietly and observe.
- You’ll discover this exercise works best during times of good weather. Heavy rain and threatening storms usually force animals to take cover, so you are unlikely to have as much success in your viewing.
- When you’re ready to move on, try to ease into your backpack quietly. Move down the trail as noiselessly as you can. You will likely continue to be delighted by the song birds as you move through their home, and other animals may cross your path.Racoon courtesy Sherwood411 @ Flickr
Please follow this link to Bill Irwin’s page for information about his hike and his life, and check out the video below.
Photo courtesy BottleLeaf @ Flickr
They’re out there. They’re getting ready. Some of them will set out from Springer Mountain before snow has left the ground. They’re the ones I like to call “the early crew,” getting out the door and down the trail before the annual army of thru-hikers has departed.
April 1st is the traditional “start day” for most thru-hikers. Plenty of time to get to Maine, lots of time to admire the view. But in recent years a small herd has chosen to take to the Appalachian Trail for their thru-hike beginning in March or even February. I’ve yet to hear of a backpacker out in January, but that day will likely dawn.
Heads up from a Southerner. I can, does and will snow on the AT during February-March. Be under no illusion that somehow just because it’s “down South” that spring flowers will be in bloom and bees will be buzzing. Having been born in North Carolina and now living in New England for some years, I can attest that the weather in the southern highlands and New England mountains is comparable. Were I starting a thru-hike in February or March I would have snowshoes or Kahtoola micro-spikes at least. During the February-March window, and even April-May, the southern Appalachians can be host to severe winter weather. Be advised and prepare accordingly.
I’m not sure what brings out the early crew. Perhaps the magnetism of the trail is too great to resist. It certainly does “call” to hikers and backpackers with a burning romance and the promise of adventure. It may be that simple.
So here’s to the early crew, blazing the trail for the mainstay crowd of seasonal thru-hikers who will join them in the weeks and months to come. Be happy, hike safe, and stay warm out there!
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach has the key to my head (more on this in a moment).
When I’m backpacking or hiking I have an inner soundtrack that plays in my mind. Since I can readily recall and play music it in my head I don’t need to take an MP3 player when I’m on the trail. I find it’s better that way; no extra weight, no batteries or recharging involved, plus I can hit pause at will.
If music could express how I feel about backpacking, here are some significant pieces from my playlist which stand out:
When I was climbing summits on the Long Trail in Vermont, or venturing along scenic ridge-lines: Soundtrack to “The Last Valley,” by John Barry.
When I’m stepping through deep, dark forests: Overture to “Parsifal” by Wagner.
Want to get inside of my hiker’s head? Well, the piece of music to describe my passion for the Appalachian Trail would be: Cello Concerto in A minor, by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
I want you to perform an experiment. Sit back, relax, close your eyes, and listen to the feeling and passion behind this music.
There — you’ve just seen inside my hiker’s head!
After walking around the lake I bought a broom. I needed a broom to replace the corn broom I’ve had for eight years, which was no longer effective and looking a bit shabby. Too much sweeping of the sand and salt mixture from my sidewalk wore it down, and since I couldn’t find corn brooms at a major retailer, I went to my local hardware store to fetch a replacement. Brave new world! — I even compromised my “corn-broom-only” position and got one which was a sort of artificial-tree-of-the-corn-broom-world variety.
Photo courtesy wayne’s eye view at Flickr.
As I walked home, broom under arm, admiring the frigid, blazing sunset, I was ambushed by a cliché. Rising from nowhere it came — “time to make a clean sweep of things…” Ouch. (Yes, I know it’s cliché, but did it ever occur to you that we keep hearing maxims like this because there’s a big grain of truth in them?)
I dare say the phrase arrived to haunt me in a timely way. I often fall into this sort of space between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. It’s a sort of “thin place” where I start out feeling unsettled and is quickly followed by an awareness of needing to set aside time to think and plan how I wish to have things different in the future.
Which leads me to my point. “Write in Front of Me” will be changing in 2014!
In reflecting on my “seeing what’s there — saying what’s needed” theme, I realize I’ve not been sharing many things that are in front of me I feel are important and interesting to share; not just about the Appalachian Trail and hiking and backpacking. Make no mistake: I will still be posting about these topics as ideas, news, and observations arise. But expect me to “wander afield” and expound on other topics of interests in hope of enriching you — my readers.
Meanwhile — at the end of 2013 — Happy New Year!
…out under the sky. No ceiling obscures my gaze of the heavens. There are no walls to shield me from wildlife. There I am witness to unfurling miles of forest. I tackle durable mountains, am lulled by rolling hills, and rest by springs of water. I am alive, in the wild, moving, breathing. My soul expands in the out-of-doors. Limits fall away even as summits rear themselves; they call, even as they provoke — “Are you up for the task?” I respond by embracing them with effort and sweat, slips and falls, muscle stretch and ache. My recompense is in catching my breath, sleeping under the stars, being awed by the views. Such endeavor brings reward — gratitude — and joy!
Merry Christmas to hikers and backpackers and lovers of the wild everywhere!