Monday, September 30, 2013

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Box Turtle

I ran into a box turtle after watching a flock of turkeys disappear like ghosts in the woods today. Box turtles always make me smile. This one looks old and wise to me.

I'm no expert and I didn't want to bother it by picking it up, so I don't know if it's a male or female. I was content to just visit for a moment and let the turtle be a reminder to slow down and enjoy the day. Forest time is not the same as city time, and most things of the forest go unnoticed simply because we do not take the time to really see.

Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina )

Becoming Lighter

I wonder how much all my backpacking books weigh? Maybe not as much as Colin Fletcher's backpack, but it's definitely a lot. Fun question, but I'll save the library weigh-in for another day because right now I want to briefly sing the praises of Mike Clelland's delightful little (10 oz) book, Ultralight Backpackin' Tips. If you want to enjoy backpacking more, you simply must get this book! Seriously.

Don't let the title fool you. Ultralight Backpackin' Tips is much more than 153 random tips. I have found it to be nothing less than a hiker's manifesto for lightweight, carefree travel. While the outdoor industry encourages us to lighten our load while simultaneously buying more and more gear, Mike urges us to get serious about lightening our load so we can enjoy our time on the trail.

Although Mike seems to assume you are already a backpacker, I would encourage even the novice to buy this book first. It's that good and that complete. For one thing, Clelland's book is not primarily about stuff. Going light is as much about how we think and operate as it is about buying a titanium cookset. If the ultimate goal is to enjoy walking in wild places, this book will book will help you do it.

Ultralight Backpacker

For a quick glimpse of what's in Mike's bag, check out this video.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Into the Forest

The more I go into the forest,
the more the forest goes into me.
And I am better for it.
It's just that simple.

"There is nothing so sanative, so poetic,
as a walk in the woods and fields."
~ Henry David Thoreau, 1853

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Nature Revealed

Leaf, Glacier Bay, 1948 - Ansel Adams
"Today, we must realize that nature is revealed in the simplest meadow, wood lot, marsh, stream, or tidepool, as well as in the remote grandeur of our parks and wilderness areas." — Ansel Adams

Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite Valley, 1944 - Ansel Adams

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Walking till Sundown

Having witnessed the fire of sunset glowing in the tree tops, I returned home by the light of a fading headlamp this evening. I couldn't help but think of John Muir's famous sundown quote:
I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.*
Walking at sunset is one of my favorite times. First, there is the glow of sunset itself, in the sky and in the trees – reflected fire, as if touched by the finger of God. Next there is a wondrous change in the forest light. For a few minutes between sundown and night, somewhere between the light and the dark, there is magic among the trees. Everything is transformed, and even the familiar seems different. Space and dimension seem altered, and the forest is hushed, trembling on the brink between night and day.

You don't get to see this if you're in a hurry to get out of the woods before dark.

I am also thankful that I have an understanding wife and there was a dinner plate saved for me when I came in.

*This journal entry can be found in John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938, republished 1979), edited by Linnie Marsh Wolfe, page 439.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Wilderness Travel

“Wilderness areas are first of all a series of sanctuaries for the primitive arts of wilderness travel, especially canoeing and packing. I suppose some will wish to debate whether it is important to keep these primitive arts alive. I shall not debate it. Either you know it in your bones, or you are very, very old.”― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
Boy Scouts hiking at Virgin Falls

Friday, September 20, 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Nature's Pace

"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Frustrated with Internet and Wifi problems at the house this morning, these calming words came to me at just the right time. Perhaps I should just go for a walk and reset my clock. Walking in nature always calms my busy mind.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Evening Song

Tonight I have been standing on the porch listening to a lone owl calling in the forest until the call faded and was lost in rhythmic song of cricket, katydid, and other night insects. After a few minutes all is quiet - noisily quiet.

Calm. Peace. Feeling happy.

I want everyone to hear this, to feel this. I write hoping to get others to step out on their own porch to look and listen. Even the noisiest city street has a chirping cricket or a spider busily creating a marvelous and delicate web - whether we pause to notice or not.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Waking Power of a Morning Walk

I go for a morning walk pretty much any day I don't go to work early. This morning I saw something I hadn't noticed before: The forest seems to have the same waking power as coffee. I know that sounds crazy, but I think it might be true.

Still not awake after a second cup of coffee this morning, I decided to saunter through the hollow before the day got too hot. Though still somewhat tired from too little sleep, my walk in the forest fully awakened my senses. My groggy head was clear and I felt much more alert, present, and ready for the day. I was I am so blessed to live in a forest!


Monday, September 9, 2013

Everyone needs beauty

Virgin Falls
Virgin Falls, South Cumberland Plateau, Tenn.
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike." — John Muir, The The Yosemite, 1912.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Come to the woods, for here is rest

John Muir's invitation resonates deeply within me, and I come to appreciate it more and more each year.
"Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains." — John Muir, from John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 235.
I had the day off from work, so I worked on my mental health today. I now feel calm, refreshed, and ready for another hectic day in the bookstore. Here's a summary of my day:
  • Woke up early and enjoyed drinking my coffee more leisurely
  • Read a couple chapters in a biography of John Muir
  • Took the dog for a walk in the woods
  • Took a nap for about an hour
  • Read some more
  • Took a late afternoon hike alone. Took a few pictures along the way.
  • Stayed out until sunset, and thought of John Muir's famous quote about only going for a walk.
"I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in." — John Muir

Leaf and stump
Elm leaves in afternoon sun
Tall Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Hiking in hot, humid weather

Self-portrait of a hiker
Resting in the shade
While autumn is my favorite season for hiking, I'm certainly not going to let the dog days of summer keep me indoors. Hiking in the heat does require some adjustments, however.

Last week I went for a hike that was longer than my usual daily saunter through the hollow, especially considering the heat. I was out hiking between the Harpeth River and the house for 4 hours in the heat of the day. When I left the house at half-past noon it was 92ºF on our back porch. When the temperature is combined with high humidity, the heat index was about 100º and the National Weather Service was urging caution. Because of the heat, I walked intentionally slow, drank lots of water, and took breaks. I also left my border collie, Sadie, at home, because I didn't want to worry about her. Dogs aren't very good at telling you when they're having problems with the heat. Despite the challenging heat, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the woods alone.

Walking in the heat takes a little more motivation and desire, but it's worth the effort. It will also magnify the glorious feeling of that first cool, crisp day of autumn when it finally does arrive.

I am by no means the final authority on hiking, but here are my tips for hiking in hot, humid weather. I've broken the tips down into three categories: Water, Clothing & Gear, and Knowledge & Behavior.
Harpeth River
Harpeth River

  • Carry water with you! This seems almost too obvious to mention, but my visits to public marks would indicate otherwise. If it’s hot, you’ll need at least a liter per hour. On a long hike, I like to start out with at least 2 liters.
  • Have a way to purify additional water collected along the way. Water is heavy, so you can only carry so much at a time. If you’re going to be out for several hours, you will obviously need to gather more water as you go. Plan for where you’re going to get it, and how you’re going to ensure it’s safe to drink.
  • Water treatment
    My normal water purifying system
  • If you’re on a long hike (all day or backpacking), carry a powdered sports drink mix. It will replace lost electrolytes, and the flavor will probably help you drink a little more.
Clothing and Gear
  • Wear cool, breathable, moisture-wicking clothing. Cotton is a bad idea unless your walk will be very short or in the super dry climate of the dessert.
  • Wear a hat. It will protect you from the sun, and partially shield you from spiders, insects, and sharp branches in heavy brush.
  • Carry a bandanna. You can use it to mop up the sweat dripping off your face so you feel a little more human. It’s also really nice to soak a bandanna in cool (or cold, if you can) water and then tie it around your neck cowboy-style. It’s almost like a portable air conditioner. Notice I said, “almost.”
  • Use a walking stick or trekking poles. Sure a staff helps you get up and down hills, cross streams, and keep a steady rhythm while walking, but in summer consider these additional uses: clearing spider webs that cross the trail; pushing aside blackberry canes and thorns so you can walk through with minimal blood loss; probing tall grass to warn snakes and other creepy crawlies of your approaching foot.
  • Hiking above the Harpeth River
    Hiking with trekking poles
  • Carry insect repellent & sun screen, if necessary. Depending on the situation, either one of these can be a life-saver.
Knowledge and Behavior
  • Slow down. Intentionally slow your pace compared to your normal hiking speed. Walking too fast will quickly overheat you and you’ll bonk.
  • Take frequent breaks. Again this just gives your body a chance to cool down. It also gives you a chance to drink more.
  • Stay in the shade, especially when you’re stopped for a break. You’d be surprised how few people think of this.
  • Camel up. Drink enough to make extra sure you’re fully hydrated before you start your walk. Drink a glass of water just before heading out. For longer backpacking trips, this process may take a couple of days.
  • Avoid the heat of the day. Walking the early morning or late evening will naturally be cooler.
  • Be prepared for a thunderstorm. Carry rain gear, and know when and how to take shelter on the trail.
  • Know the danger signs for heat-related illness. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are serious business, but can be avoided if you’re doing the things we’ve been talking about. Signs of heat exhaustion include pale skin, nausea and extreme tiredness, dizziness, headache, muscle cramps. Heatstroke signs include hot, red skin, whether it’s dry or still damp with sweat, rapid pulse and quick, noisy breathing, confusion and unwillingness to cooperate with people offering help, unconsciousness. The treatment for both is to cool down and hydrate. Heatstroke requires more aggressive efforts to cool the victim and needs medical assistance as quickly as possible.
  • Get acclimated. A farmer might be able to thrive outdoors all day long in the same weather that would zap an office worker in an hour. If you’re not used to being out in the heat, don’t expect to be out for prolonged periods until you get used to it. When advising my Scouts to get ready for summer camp during the first week of July, I ask them to spend at least an hour per day outside during the two weeks before camp. The best way to prepare for hot weather hiking is to spend time outside in the heat being active.
  • Passiflora incarnata
    Passionflower - a summer wildflower
  • Enjoy each season as it comes and rejoice in the wonder of each day. There is always something marvelous to see.