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Posts Tagged ‘forest’

Some things prompt thought and activity simultaneously. Hiking is one of those things. Hiking requires muscle activity and decision making. Hiking can prompt deep breathing and all senses on alert. It helps us learn to live with the gear we have and to live without unnecessary gear.

Hiking allows the imagination to become active. It helps you to see differently and to listen differently. Hiking helps you recognize the blurry line between beauty and danger. It helps you show reverence to both. Hiking will help you to appreciate undeserved gifts.

Hiking is like a trip to the cinema. The colors and acoustics and textures and contrasts and movement provide a live action performance going on all around you. Even the scenery reaches out to touch you. You respond to what is going on out there. And it responds to you. There is interaction. Hiking puts you into relationship. You are granted admission to a one time showing like no other. And you become part of the show.

Hiking surrounds you with life. You cannot take it all in. Annie Dillard says “in the top inch of soil, biologists found ‘an average of 1,356 living creatures in each square foot.’” Even if this figure is off by a creature or two this is a lot of life. She goes on, “ignoring them won’t strip them of their reality.” Life is in front of us, behind us, above us and beneath our feet. Hiking helps us understand that creation has us surrounded.

There is a practical element. Hiking will take you someplace. You might even grow from the experience. But the benefits are more than practical. You might make a discovery. You might get to know yourself. Hiking will do something to you. This is activity for the soul.

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Getting Outside

Earlier this week I was walking toward the east as the sun was climbing higher in the clear sky. It is February but the air feels like spring. A red tailed hawk flies into my view. He comes nearly overhead and then circles back toward the east. As he gets closer to the sun the light shines brilliantly through his outer feathers. As if he is outlined with angelic pinstripes. It is like he flew into a Thomas Kinkade painting. I watch until he is out of sight before I move on. It is just good to be outside.

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“I try to spend as much time as possible in the winter forest. It is a great place to sharpen the senses. Contrast, movement, and sound call attention to themselves in a hurry. Things are more visible in the bare deciduous woods, including evidence that something has already been there before you arrived. Then there is the winter forest at night. The senses sharpen more clearly. Temperature heightens the sense of cold on your nose and cheeks. Looking at the sky feels like a spectator sport. Noise and movement gain your attention quickly. It is not difficult to find yourself on the alert. If you are nothing else in the winter woods at night, you are aware. Sometimes you hear something, see something, discover something that makes this all feel like an adventure. But the fact is, in the forest it is always likely that you were discovered first. Some things are sure to grab attention, like the cold of a winter night. Other things are subtle and require sharpened senses. I hope to be attentive.”

– from Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p. 29

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I am a traveler in the forest. Winding my way through the dark, through a light snow and through the trees toward the trail that will take me back to the road. I see my breath against the clear sky where a slim crescent moon and a brilliant evening star shine the brightest.

I am one who listens to the night. Waiting for a song or a call in the distance but all I hear is the wind in the branches of nearby trees. Blowing across some of these creates a whistling sound. Blowing against others causes a percussion effect. Tonight’s entertainment is acoustic and instrumental.

I am a weather watcher. I think of Annie Dillard’s comment “We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.”

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It feels like Winter, finally. And the forecast calls for snow. Makes me want to do something wintry. Maybe I’ll put on a lot of layers. Test the strength of the ice on the lake. Get out the snow shoes. Light a fire. I have been watching the trailer for the movie The Revenant which looks like a winter adventure. Maybe I’ll go check the trap line, fight a bear, and crawl back to camp. Or maybe I’ll just go watch the movie.

I am reminded of the following;

I try to spend as much time as possible in the winter forest. It is a great place to sharpen the senses. Contrast, movement, and sound call attention to themselves in a hurry. Things are more visible in the bare deciduous woods, including evidence that something has already been there before you arrived. Then there is the winter forest at night. The senses sharpen more clearly. Temperature heightens the sense of cold on your nose and cheeks. Looking at the sky feels like a spectator sport. Noise and movement gain your attention quickly. It is not difficult to find yourself on the alert. If you are nothing else in the winter woods at night, you are aware. Sometimes you hear something, see something, discover something that makes this all feel like an adventure. But the fact is, in the forest it is always likely that you were discovered first. Some things are sure to grab attention, like the cold of a winter night. Other things are more subtle and require sharpened senses. I hope to be attentive.(Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p.29)

Sounds wintry. I am glad I do not have to fight a bear or crawl back to camp in the snow in order to experience some winter adventure.

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The timber rattlesnakes were active in the forest this week. I only know this because I walked up on two of them. Neither of them seemed to be concerned about my presence. These are awesome creatures with their large hefty body and colorful pattern. So large it makes the triangular head appear small. As he moves away from me, it appears to be a strain for this small head and narrow neck to pull such a large body behind it. One of them raised its tail that transitions to a darker color before the rattle begins. I followed it until the cover got so thick that I no longer had a clear view of its dangerous head.

But that was not the most impressive creature I encountered. Walking along a well-worn path I noticed a black tail lying out in the open. Thinking it was a black rat snake I carefully moved closer hoping to get a glimpse of its length. As my eyes followed its tail into the weeds I noticed the body became thick rather quickly. At first I thought maybe it had eaten recently and this was a bulge until digestion was completed. However, this snake appeared thick all the way to its head. There was no visible distinction between head and neck which made the head look large.

When it realized it had been discovered it began to move away. I followed and it turned to see what had disturbed its hunting time. Easily six feet long, this thick body was black with a chainlike pattern that was visible when light hit at the proper angle. Its belly and chin appeared to be white. We stared at one another for a while before it raised its head and flicked its tongue. For a moment I thought it was going to speak “Are you alone out here? What are you doing so deep in the jungle?” Oh wait, I am thinking of the Jungle Book.

The field guide suggests that this is Lampropeltis nigra, a combination of Greek and Latin words that roughly translate as “radiant black small shields.” I had never seen an Eastern Black Kingsnake in the wild before. Interestingly, I also read they are immune to the venom of timber rattlesnakes and will eat them when opportunity presents. Maybe that is what he was hunting for. Perhaps I should have shown him where to look. It is a snake eat snake world out there. I wonder if Kipling got ideas for his stories from adventures like these.

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Summertime Serenade

There is something enchanting about the forest at night. I was gathering firewood and setting up the tent when I first noticed the volume of background song being offered by cicadas. This continued while I took a short hike, while I read by the fire, and while I cooked meat on a stick. Cicada song is so common in the summer that we do not always notice when it is there. What is even more surprising is that I did not notice when it stopped. It was nearly dark when I realized the only song I could hear were katydids. It made me wonder what this sounded like at the transition. Is there a moment at dusk where harmonies can be heard as cicada song fades into a katydid chorus? The katydids were still singing after I had laid down looking up into a starry sky.

I awoke in the middle of the night, startled by a light shining directly into the tent. I turned slowly to see where it was coming from and was relieved to find the moon had positioned itself perfectly overhead to wake me with moonshine (don’t tell my mother). I lay back down and noticed the katydids were quiet and the constant background sound was now provided by the nearby stream. A whip poor will added occasional notes as I faded back to sleep.

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