Saturday, February 28, 2015

Late Winter Hike

Sauntering toward Wildcat Hollow
I went for a 6 mile hike around the "north loop" (M. Bell trail and Creech Hollow Trail) at Montgomery Bell State Park this afternoon. I had hoped to hike the entire 11 mile M. Bell trail, but it turned out I really didn't have time. I got a late start and the walking was much slower than expected. I just hadn't thought about the effect our recent snow and ice would have (lesson learned, hopefully). The trail was icy or muddy in several places. The easternmost side of the loop follows a road which was extremely muddy, sloppy, and slow.

I was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, and I very much enjoyed my time on the trail. It felt really good to just get out and walk.

Despite the sunshine, I had the entire trail all to myself and thoroughly enjoyed the day. I got a close-up view of many of birds, along with a few squirrels, chipmunks, and a deer. My mind also wandered to future hiking plans, and I sauntered lightly on many a trail unknown, happy to know I'll be doing a lot more hiking this year.

Wildcat Shelter

Wildcat Hollow Creek

Wildcat Hollow Creek

Mud and Ice

Ice and Pine Needles

Stream Flowing into Creek Hollow Lake

Creech Hollow Lake

Frozen Cove in Creech Hollow Lake

Very poor trail conditions at this routinely wet spot

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


The thermometer reaches 32°F / 0°C, and everything changes—everything, especially water. We often forget that the behavior of water at 32° is an incredibly powerful force. That this single factor could be so important is both simple and remarkable. And this is inescapably true whether you're a tree, a cloud, a stream, wildflower, or hiker.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Self Portrait

Self portrait — by John Muir, not me. Who knows? Maybe it'll be me in a few years, but Muir was actually younger here (48 yrs old) than I am now.

The is a self portrait by John Muir from a letter to Miss Janet Douglass Moores, Feb. 23, 1887

This drawing is published in The Life and Letters of John Muir, edited by William Frederic Badè, 1924 (available online here).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Delectable Madness

“I had better admit right away that walking can in the end become an addiction, and that it is then as deadly in its fashion as heroin or television or the stock exchange. But even in this final stage it remains a delectable madness, very good for sanity, and I recommend it with passion.

A redeeming feature of the condition is that no matter how heavily you've been hooked, you can still get your kicks from very small doses.”

—from the introduction to The Complete Walker, by Colin Fletcher.

Weather Permitting

Everything we do is on a “weather permitting” basis. Everything. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Vision of Ansel Adams

Yesterday marked the birthday of famed nature photographer, Ansel Adams, who was born February 20, 1902. When I was 18 or 19 years old, my perception of natural beauty was deeply and forever impacted by the clear vision of Ansel Adams. Although I was a biology major, I remember often going to the library at the University of Delaware, settling down in the photography section, and loosing all sense of time as I immersed myself in his images. Ansel Adams taught me to look closely and patiently, to appreciate shape and texture, to notice every subtlety of light, shade, and shadow. Above all, Ansel Adams demonstrated that nature's beauty is present wherever we look, from majestic mountains to lowly fern. Although I have only used simple point-and-shoot cameras of late, Adams taught me that quality photography deserves equal comparison with any of the fine arts.

What many people today might not realize is how involved Ansel Adams was in the early environmental movement. At age 17 he took a job with the Sierra Club as custodian in a Yosemite lodge. From there Adams became a vital member of the young environmental group and helped it grow to national prominence.

For those who might not be familiar with Ansel Adams, I'll leave you with three quotes and four photographs. Ansel himself might have preferred to leave you only the photographs. 
“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”
“Both the grand and the intimate aspects of nature can be revealed in the expressive photograph. Both can stir enduring affirmations and discoveries, and can surely help the spectator in his search for identification with the vast world of natural beauty and wonder surrounding him.”
“The whole world is, to me, very much 'alive' - all the little growing things, even the rocks. I can't look at a swell bit of grass and earth, for instance, without feeling the essential life - the things going on - within them. The same goes for a mountain, or a bit of the ocean, or a magnificent piece of old wood.”

Rain falling on snow

Rain falling on snow,
and strong, gusty wind.
I could easily stay indoors all day.

Such days are good once in a while, for they sometimes lead to quiet contemplation that sparks a fire within me that would have never happened on a day that we would call busy and productive.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Common Wildness

I often wonder, what is wildness really? Clearly a wolf hunting its prey in the boreal forest is wild. But isn't the robin hunting in my yard as wild as the wolf? The robin comes and goes as it wills, paying little attention to me and my life. Too often I think we associate "wild" with that which is merely uncommon. Isn't the dandelion in my yard (whether I want it there or not) a wild neighbor? Even if one lives in a totally human-dominated place, like the city or a sprawling suburb, wild nature is there. Nature may be harder to find, but it is most definitely there. Clearly then, one need not travel to distant lands to enjoy wild creatures. True wildness is all around us and can be enjoyed by all. To enjoy the wonder of wild things, all one must do is decide to look.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sylvan Ice

Box Elder (Acer negundo)

American Holly (Ilex opaca)

Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

Enchanted (and a little dangerous) forest

Our woods this morning was like an enchanted winter faerie-land. Well it was sort of like a faerie-land, except that each step threatened to dash me to the ground and there were periodic explosions of ice, twigs, and bark as branches smashed to the ground. Other than that, the frosted forest is enchanting.

What looks like a small snowfall here is entirely an accumulation of yesterday's sleet and freezing rain. Today this accumulation is solid ice—hard, smooth, and quite thick. I couldn't do much walking at all really. Moving on anything other than flat ground was nearly impossible. I wanted to walk our whole loop through the hollow, but going up the side of the steep sides was out of the question. Still, it is beautiful.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lessons Learned from Hiking

There are many lessons to be learned from hiking, and they don't just apply to the trail. Many of these lessons translate well to the rest of life, making it easier to cope and adapt to all the craziness life throws our way. Here are a few things I've learned on my journeys. Each point probably deserves elaboration, but for now, I'll just give you the bare list. I hope you find a few of these useful fuel for contemplation as you saunter your own path.
  • A path worth taking is rarely easy.
  • Obstacles don't always mean you're going the wrong way.
  • Sometimes the right path is not clear until you get there. Perspective is everything.
  • Sometimes the most critical step in a hike is the one out the front door.
  • Constant forward progress is far more important than speed. This is not just for the tortoise and the hare.
  • It's as important to know where you are as where you're going.
  • Maps may not be perfect, but they're usually worth trusting until proven otherwise. A good map represents the experience of those who've been there before, and a wise hiker ought to at least listen.
  • In the end, it's the journey, not the destination.
  • Poorly selected friends can ruin a good hike.
  • In the end, we all must hike our own hike.
  • A short-cut is just that.
  • No matter where you're going, one step at a time is the only way to get there.
  • Be prepared. It's the Boy Scout motto for good reason.
  • Sometimes the weather is perfect, and sometimes it's horrible. Either way, you just have to deal with it and find your way the best you can.
  • Any day on the trail is good day.
  • Travel light. You'll go further, see more, smile more, live more.

Friday, February 13, 2015


We live in a 24/7 world of our own doing. We have created this jumble for ourselves. Everything is rush, rush, and more rush. But the real world is longing to be inhabited by those who savor beauty and ancient rhythms, celebrants of spirit and mystery. This takes time. This requires we leave unused margins around the borders of our lives. Free time isn't magically dumped on us like an unexpected snow; we have to make it ourselves. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hiking the Past

Sometimes when I am hiking, I sense my trail is somehow connected with all the other trails I have ever walked. I can't explain how this can be, but I know it to be true—though not tangibly true.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ephemeral Beauty

We speak of beauty as if it is rare, but I am beginning to suspect that beauty may be all around us all the time. It is we who seldom notice and miss out on extraordinary common beauty. I think I caught a glimpse of such beauty on a recent winter morning. 

Stepping outside into the cold predawn air, as if somehow I could be closer to the moon, I felt truly privileged to witness such beauty. The word “luminous” should be reserved for such moments. Waiting on my morning coffee, I had glanced out the window and noticed the evolving scene in the forest. The setting moon had filled the forest with a sublime beauty, and I was drawn outdoors into the lunar glow. Ignoring the cold, still I stood, captivated as the round moon slipped through the trees and behind the hill. 

Before I poured my second cup it was gone. But I was there. I had noticed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


I spent my day today at a windowless desk tormented by wanderlust. All morning I was restless and easily distracted. Maybe it's cabin fever. Maybe it's the call of the wild. Maybe it's mental instability. I don't know. What I do know is that I can't wait for spring hiking season, and I can't wait to get back to Big Laurel Falls. I've only been there in autumn, and I plan to see it in springtime this year. The place is magic for my soul, and is best enjoyed in big doses in very small groups or solo.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

My birthday

I am 55 years old today and feeling like the luckiest man in the world. I am married to a beautiful, sexy, intelligent woman who is crazy about me for some reason. We have two fantastic kids who are now both in college and learning to find their way in the world. Both kids are in great relationships themselves, and seem to have found their soulmate. We are now blessed 4 years to live in a little house in the woods surrounded by God's wild creatures. We are neighbors to the trees, birds, wildflowers, and all the whole forest community. Beth and I both have good jobs that serve others and we enjoy. We will never be wealthy by standards of society, but I have riches beyond my wildest dreams and could never ask for anything more. I am truly blessed and thankful for every minute of being alive.