I read a biography of John Muir, and his passion for nature inspired me to follow his footsteps into the mountains. But I hesitated. According to the bio, Muir believed that nature was love, goodness, an expression of God, and never evil, and he was often frustrated by his peers, whom he found materialistic, conformist, and indifferent to nature. But it seemed to me that logically, if humans are part of nature, then everything we do must be an expression of love and goodness, regardless of our attitude toward the wilderness.
Rocks and waters, etc., are words of God and so are men. We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love.
This Thanksgiving, if you’re spending time with family and friends, that’s fine, but if you consider yourself an “Epicurean,” that is, someone who places a high value on fine food and drink, unfortunately, I can’t find any philosophical justification for your preferences.
As a fan of the Stoic philosophers of Ancient Greece and Rome, I thought it was only fair to give the other side a fair hearing, and so I set out recently to learn something about Epicurean philosophy, thinking it would be a study in contrast. After all, the dictionary defines Stoicism as endurance of pain without complaint, while Epicurean signifies devotion to sensual pleasures, especially fine food and drink. But I discovered, to my surprise, that this is not the real story.
“Of course you’re slowing down — you’re getting older,” the voice whispered, and I hated it. But it was true: this morning’s 1-mile repeats were disappointing, averaging around twenty seconds slower than earlier this year. “Age is catching up with you,” the voice continued, its tone at once insinuating and damning, “it’s getting harder to sustain speed.”
It’s not the fist time this voice has piped in; actually, I’ve heard it on and off for years. But when I looked at the data, I interpreted a different story.
In a recent post, I compared a weekend spent hiking in the Catskills to Henry David Thoreau’s two-year sojourn at Walden Pond, as both were experiments in natural living and self-sufficiency.
But then my daughter Emeline brought to my attention a recent article entitled “Pond Scum.” The author, Kathryn Schulz, questions why we still admire the literature of a man who was mean-spirited and a fake. She summarizes her opinion in no uncertain terms:
We are incredibly proud to announce the winners of the 2015 Long Path Race Series! We call these winners “Disciples of the Long Brown Path,” in a nod to the memorial plaque for Raymond Torrey, one of the Trail Conference’s founders and an early promoter of both the Appalachian Trail and the Long Path.
Created and maintained by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, the Long Path is an incredible 350-mile hiking trail that reaches from New York City to the outskirts of Albany, along the way traversing some of New York’s most beautiful natural parks and preserves, including the New Jersey Palisades, Harriman State Park, Schunemunk Mountain, the Shawangunk Mountains, the Catskills, and the Helderberg Escarpment.
The goal was five more of the Catskills’ high peaks on one of the last weekends before winter, part of a quixotic mission to summit all 35 hiking barefoot. Odie and I piled into the car right after breakfast, and the drive to Windham went smoothly — except for route 23, where we had to stop at three traffic lights in a row, which sorely tested my patience, and then navigate a construction zone with a needlessly restrictive speed limit.
Yet once out of the car and on the trail, these frustrations vanished quickly. The path to Windham High Peak was a delight: smooth dirt at a moderate grade — a rarity in the rocky rugged Catskills — and I moved almost as quickly barefoot as I would have in shoes. From the summit, we looked south at the distinctive silhouette of the Blackhead range, which Odie and I had climbed just a few weeks earlier. Back then, we had marveled in the details: traversing three peaks and three notches, experiencing scrambles, slabs, and sometimes smooth trail, and discovering different plants and trees with each step along the way. Now for the first time, we got the big picture.
If you don’t know Mike, he is retired professor of forestry at Paul Smith’s College, author of The Catskill Forest: A History, and a preeminent expert on the Catskills. Whenever I have a chance to hike with him, I learn not only to identify different plants but also the unique stories of how they fit together in the natural environment. Our mission on this recent hike was to locate a 50-year old abandoned power line and follow it up the mountain until we could discover the original first-growth forest, which started at around 2600 feet, just above where 19th century tanners and loggers were able to reach.
On Sunday, November 1, I completed the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon, my 68th race of marathon or ultra-marathon distance.
I headed into this race with limited training. Back in August, I completed the Beast of Burden 100-mile ultramarathon in bad shape, having unwittingly strained my hip adducters, and it took three or four weeks to recover. As this injury gradually healed, I developed a stress reaction in my left foot from barefoot running. On any given day, it seemed that if one injury felt better, the other was worse. I backed off, and both injuries healed, but September and October were lost to serious training. My running log showed no long runs since July, no quarter-mile splits since June, no Yasso splits since early May, and I couldn’t even remember the last time I had run on pavement.
Upon reaching a mountain peak, one may be rewarded with a sweeping vision of the land, assuming the weather is clear, something that in times past would have helped chart a course through the wilderness. But even today, when maps and GPS all but eliminate the practical value, we still experience special feelings when reaching a vantage point: surprise at the immensity of the landscape, joy in making distant connections, wonder at new sight lines, reverence for nature, humility, awe. In certain cultures, climbing mountains is part of a quest for spiritual vision.