No, not the wonderful Bill Bryson book, but a revitalizing trek today through Highland forest one of our local county parks. I have been lamenting lately that it has been three months since I had the pleasure of hiking in one of my favorite places on Earth, the Adirondack Mountains. While it is true that I traveled north on consecutive Saturdays in October to first join other volunteers for the annual fall trails day with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and second to do a public program on bones and fossils for the Adirondack Interpretive Center, but indeed, it had been since September that I actually went north with the only goal being to hike.
This time of year always provides some “down time,” when I am not teaching, or teaching very little, a brief window which frees up my schedule a bit, and makes taking day to go hiking much easier to manage. I was all set to go this week (teaching load picks up next week) when I experienced a medical challenge. I damaged my back several years ago, and along with that my left leg. I have managed to deal with the discomfort with stretching, exercise, and when needed pain medication. Recently my doctor decided to try a new medication to help manage my pain, the butran patch was prescribed. The patch is something I apply once a week and which provides consistent, and continuous pain relief. It has been working well for the last 6 weeks, and then over the last two weeks it appears that I have become allergic to it. I removed the offending patch, and have stopped using them. This led to increased back and leg discomfort, worse actually than before I started wearing the patch. This fact left me with a conundrum, strapping a pack to my back, and enduring the discomfort, because now is my opportunity to get out there, or be really cautious, and not go. I chose a compromise which leads me to my walk in the woods.
After having another rough night last night with discomfort, and difficulty sleeping, I decided to abort the alarm’s ringing at 3:30 AM, and not make the 4hour drive to the mountains, and then hike 10 miles up a peak, and then make the drive back home. I fell back to sleep knowing I still needed to get out. After thinking about it a bit over coffee, and oatmeal, I decided that I would head for Highland Forest, a really nice track of forest land about an hour south. My plan was to bring my full pack, and hike around the forest, a 10 mile loop. I really needed to get out, but I also wanted to test my back and leg to see where things stand before attempting more challenging hikes.
A fresh coating of about an inch of fluffy snow had fallen over night, really enhancing the beauty of the park, and the joy of hiking as these flakes slowly floated down, mixing with occasional peeks from the sun, and temperatures in the teens with little wind made it an especially enjoyable experience. I met know one else for the first seven miles, in fact, the only tracks I saw besides my own, were of bobcats, deer, and squirrels. I was finding my happy place. Why do I love to hike, to be in the natural world? I really do not know where this desire, this passion comes from, but it seems that perhaps there is a hiking gene that I was born with for no one else in my family is a hiker, or particularly enjoys time outside. My innate curiosity about how the natural world works drives me outside, and once there I am enveloped by the silence, the stillness when all I hear is my own breathing, my own heartbeat. There is an indescribable feeling of amazement, and wonder as I observe, silently, and thoughtfully, the natural world around me. Perhaps it makes me happy because it is an escape from all that waits for me at home, work, and family obligations. Perhaps it is observing the landscape, and understanding why it looks the way it does, and in so doing, I can easily transport myself back in historical, and geological time, and imagine what life was like. I lose track of time, and of any concerns waiting for me at home, hiking is indeed a tonic, a therapy for me.
As I hiked along, I passed several areas that were designated as “forest management areas,” basically, areas that have been selectively logged. It appeared that the management of these stands of forests was done responsibly, and as I walked by, I nodded to myself, acknowledging the value that proper management of a forests provides. While some species may be moved out of these sections seeking thicker woods, other species benefit, as they move in to take over newly opened niches. As trees, and shrubs begin to grow to replace what was cut, habitats are altered again, and new species move in. It really is a case of humans living in harmony with nature, and not as the sole purveyor of the Earth holding the fate of all other lifeforms in their hands. I also paused, and nodded once again as I passed another section of woods that while not virgin forest, it had not seen any recent logging, and the woods were left completely to their own devices, and that too made me smile.
I am so thankful that John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and others understood the value of wild places, not only for the sake of preserving the Earth’s biodiversity, but also for the revitalizing of the human spirit, and soul, equally important in my view. While I am a little sore tonight, it was a good day.