Notes from a hike

Time is short and so in lieu of writing up a narrative, here are some notes and images from a recent traverse of Graham, Balsam Lake, Hunter, East Rusk, Rusk, and SW Hunter — 27 miles that left me tired and hungry, but which contained several memorable moments, thanks to glorious February sunshine, dramatic winds, and the unavoidable adventures associated with nighttime bushwhacking.

The pleasure and value of every walk or journey we take may be doubled to us by carefully noting down the impression it makes upon us….It was not till after I got home that I really went to Maine, or to the Adirondacks, or to Canada.  Out of the chaotic and nebulous impressions which these expeditions gave me, I evolved the real experience.  There is hardly anything that does not become much more in the telling than in the thinking or in the feeling.

— John Burroughs

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Notes from a hike

Losing Traction

Driving up to the Catskills early one morning, it was another dim day, with overcast skies smothering the light and fresh snow blotting out the wintry landscape’s subtle colors.  The Shawangunk Mountains slid by in the rear view mirror, slate gray and dusky taupe beneath a patchy sky, and when I finally glimpsed them, the Catskills’ southern escarpment looked no more distinct than a layer of fog.  The scene lacked contrast and energy, but this doesn’t matter when there are mountains to climb….

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Losing Traction

Burroughs on “Observing”

The east coast naturalist John Burroughs was a passionate observer of the forests, animals, and especially the birds of his native Catskill Mountains.  He wrote unabashedly, “I find I see, almost without effort, nearly every bird within sight in the field or wood I pass through (a flit of the wing, a flirt of the tail are enough, though the flickering leaves do all conspire to hide them).”

This was no idle boast.  Theodore Roosevelt, himself a great birder, acknowledged Burroughs’ mastery in his 1905 book, Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter, where he wrote that “No bird escaped John Burroughs’ eye; no bird note escaped his ear.”

As a Burroughs fan and someone trying to improve his own skills, I was thrilled to discover recently that the master had left behind some advice on the art of observation.  Several of his essays contain how-to tips, including “The Art of Seeing Things,” “Sharp Eyes” and The Gospel of Nature, which I’ve tried to summarize in this blog post.

But first a few words of caution, in the form of a caveat Burroughs offered his readers:  “I have as little hope of being able to tell the reader how to see things as I would have in trying to tell him how to fall in love or to enjoy his dinner. Either he does or he does not, and that is about all there is of it. Some people seem born with eyes in their heads, and others with buttons or painted marbles.”

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Burroughs on “Observing”

First-ever Winter Bushwhacks

On the drive up to the Catskills, the early morning clouds were tinged with red, and then as the road snaked higher into the mountains, a burning eyeball appeared in the rear view mirror, a circle of fire smoldering between mountain ridge and lowering sky; it was like someone had opened a furnace door.  But on reaching the trailhead, all was gray again, and snowflakes were twirling in the air.

A few minutes later, my friend Amy arrived.  Her friend Serguey was supposed to meet us, too, but he was running late and had texted her not to wait, so the two of us set off.  My weekend goal was to bag six peaks, four of them off trail, and these would be first-ever winter bushwhacks for both Amy and me…

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First-ever Winter Bushwhacks

Finding Energy in the Dark

Driving north on the Thruway, I peered through the windshield, seeking a glimpse of the Catskill Mountains, curious how their appearance today would compare to past trips.  But a layer of clouds had spread across the sky and blocked the sun, and when the mountains’ southern escarpment finally came into view, it was just a dark gray wall beneath a gray horizon.  A dim and gloomy scene, with little contrast or detail, lacking energy, listless.  My heart sank.  Gone was the dazzling light I’d experienced in late December, when a fresh cover of snow and rime ice flashed brilliantly under clear skies.  Today it seemed better to sit by the fire, drink coffee, read a book — yet I was determined to climb several mountains this weekend, even if it was pitch black:  surely there would be something to see and feel. Continue reading “Finding Energy in the Dark”

Finding Energy in the Dark

Sights and Sounds of Winter

Henry David Thoreau, transcendentalist philosopher and author of Walden, wrote an essay on the colors of fall foliage.  But what about the colors of winter?  With this question in mind, I set the alarm for 5:30 AM and went to bed early.  Tomorrow’s agenda would be to climb four of the Catskill high peaks with the goal of making progress toward the Catskill 3500 Club winter patch, as well as the Grid.  And perhaps I’d see or learn something along the way that would help me better appreciate the winter mountain landscape.

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Sights and Sounds of Winter