Monday, August 13, 2018

Walden Pond

Walden Pond – Concord, Massachusetts – 10/16/17 – 1.8 Miles

Our idyllic weekend in the charming countryside of Vermont sped by and a southbound plane awaited us in Boston. Looking for one last point of interest en route to the airport, you say?  May we recommend…

Walden Pond is the setting of one Henry David Thoreau’s experiment of simple living and his subsequent bestseller, Walden; or, Life in the Woods. At the age of 28, with the permission of his landowner buddy Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau built a tiny hut by the shore of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts and lived there for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days, fending for himself, observing his natural surroundings and contemplating the uselessness of civilization.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I won’t go into much detail because interested readers can Google as easily as I can.  Walden Pond State Reservation, a National Historic Landmark, is part of the Massachusetts state park system. The pond is a kettle hole, formed by retreating glaciers.  It covers about 64 acres and the walking path around it is about 1.8 miles. (There are more trails connections within Walden Pond SR). I understand that in the summer months it draws large crowds.  No thanks!

Jim and I walked the path.  The pond is rather ordinary as ponds go, but picturing it with Thoreau’s eyes, peeking through the trees, lends it a mystical quality – at least for an adult.  I’m betting that high school students find his writings about it as boring as I once did. 

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”


A replica of Thoreau’s cabin sits not at its original location, but near the Visitor Center which opened in 2017, just a year before our visit.  Aside from the obligatory bookstore and exhibits detailing Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond, the center engages visitors in interactive and interpretive displays of the area’s ecosystem and native critters. The building is a model of green technology with net zero energy use.  Something for everyone to engage in – biology, ecology, architecture, literature.

Tinges of fall among the trees surrounding the pond.  On this seasonably cool fall day there were several hardy souls in the water.  Now and again as Jim and I meandered along by the water’s edge, a swimmer would pop up unexpectedly from an incredibly long underwater submersion. 

Of course I bought a copy of Walden at the bookstore and read it in the subsequent weeks. Aside from his thoughts on communion with nature, many of Thoreau’s observations of human interactions, politics, and complications of working and/or living surprised me for their timeliness and timelessness.  Minimalism?  Tiny house craze?  Nothing new under the sun.

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Monday, August 6, 2018

Lye Brook Falls - Manchester, Vermont

Lye Brook Falls – Manchester, Vermont – 10/16/17 – 4.6 miles

It’s good to have friends who have cabins in the woods. Looking for a long fall weekend destination, Jim and I went way past our distance comfort range for the free use of a friend's vacation home deep in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Fly to Boston, rent a car, drive through the charming countryside, turn up the gravel driveway…and enter a skier’s dream home that sleeps a dozen or more.  I’m okay with that.

We explored the small towns and back roads of southwestern Vermont, and yes, it does look just like the coffee table photography books. We stopped at roadside apple orchard stands (two words: maple creemees!) and visited the Robert Frost Stone House where he penned his poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Great food, delicious beer and cider – so where’s a hiking trail?  Oh, yeah, besides the Appalachian Trail, which is four miles from Manchester…

Robert Frost Stone House

Lye Brook Falls was the ticket for a picture-perfect crisp fall morning, 60’s and sunny.  A heavily logged area in the early 1900’s, Lye Brook Wilderness is protected as part of Green Mountain National Forest. The trails in Lye Brook Wilderness are enjoyed by the local folks, and as a first-time visitor it was wonderful to find this gem to explore. I am very grateful for the people with vision to set aside, steward and protect natural areas.

At the start, the rocky path was covered with newly fallen leaves, making me long for my hiking poles (left them at home as I only had carryon luggage). My broken shoulder trauma this year has raised my caution flags high for stumbling and falling.  Soon the trail changed to a bed of pine needles…then it changed again to rocks…then leaves…

A glimpse at the next mountain over

In a couple of miles the trail climbs 900 feet, then drops 200 feet down to the base of the waterfall.  We were early enough to have a few minutes to ourselves. (Someone did show up to take a photo of us, though.) Lye Brook Falls is 125 feet high, one of the tallest in Vermont.  It wasn’t flowing fully today due to a stretch of dry weather, but still lovely.

When you sit with a waterfall, listening to the rushing water, watching swirls and miniature cascades, following a leaf as it floats by, glimmering pools, teensy lizards darting over rocks, it’s impossible to tell where you really are on the east coast – North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont.  And it doesn’t really matter, does it? 

As we hiked back down the mountain, the masses had arrived, families, kids, lots of dogs.  Everyone looked happy, including us, because we early birds got the solitude – again. 

In the afternoon we checked out the Saint Bruno Viewing Center of the Charter House of the Transfiguration, a Carthusian monastery on the slope of Equinox Mountain.

The Charter House of the Transfiguration

The Charter House is the only Carthusian monastery in North America. It is not open to visitors.  The viewing center does a great job of explaining the foundation of the order and the monks who commit their lives there.  The monks live in silence in individual rooms, eat meals alone, spend the day alone in prayer and study, and the schedule of the day is very strict.  Family members may visit once or twice a year.  The monastery is not open for personal retreat.

At 3,855 feet, Equinox Mountain is a principle peak of southern Vermont. The land is part of the Equinox Preservation Trust and a toll is required to drive up the road to the summit where the viewing center sits.  There is one hiking trail that goes up the mountain, called the Blue Summit Trail (about 3 miles one way). There are also short trails leading from the viewing center parking area to Lookout Rock.  The views even from the parking area, and at pulloffs along the roadway, are spectacular.  Jim and I didn’t try out the trails – but maybe on our next visit?

How fortunate we were to spend a magnificent weekend in the Green Mountains of Vermont!  I hope that I pass through again one day while hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Until then, I will dream about:

“Fall, the time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.” ~Lauren DeStefano

Sunday, August 5, 2018

AT in NC: Siler Bald

Appalachian Trail in NC – Wayah Gap to Winding Stair Gap – 9/17/17 – 6.3 miles

So… trail conditions on the first day of this trip were horrendous; on the second day, no big deal. Now I’ve got a 25-mile gap and half a day for hiking.  Mike was going to help set up my shuttle and then head home himself, so if I ran into trouble I only had myself to get me out of it.  With all those factors in play, I opted to hike the little section between Wayah Gap and Winding Stair Gap, leaving 19 miles for a future trip.  U.S. Highway 64 bisects the AT at Winding Stair Gap, so that was the best place to drop my car.  Mike shuttled me to Wayah Gap and waved goodbye, and I stepped into the woods on a beautiful fall day.

In the first mile I was a bit dismayed to count 13 downed trees, but the second mile through rhododendrons looked almost untouched. I met a man and a woman hiking down from Siler Bald, flipping limbs off the trail along the way. They confirmed that there were no significant obstacles further along.

Thoughts: Tropical Storm Irma was pretty intense on its northwesterly path, it’s pretty hard to knock down rhododendrons, and it’s good to not be the first person out there after a storm.

The peaceful Sunday morning was punctuated by gunshots – hunting on Sunday?  It’s illegal in North Carolina between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.  The gunfire was intermittent for more than an hour as I hiked up Siler Bald, so it was likely someone’s private shooting range.  I hoped they were good at hitting targets and there were no stray bullets buzzing through the woods.  I have no philosophical differences with hunting, but on public lands where hunters and hikers co-exist, everyone needs to know and follow the rules in an abundance of caution. Hunters:  respect the setbacks and don’t shoot across the trails.  Hikers:  know the seasons and wear blaze orange.

The main event of this six-mile section of the AT is Siler Bald.  Some friends experienced last month’s solar eclipse at the summit.  Me, I’m just hiking hiking along on a Sunday morning and loving it.  Photos going up, views from the top, and going back down.  

The side trail goes up to the tree line and turns right to continue to the summit
Walking back down

Backpackers spent the night on the bald

If you are planning an overnight on this section of the AT, be aware that Siler Bald Shelter is not at the summit.  It’s a half-mile off the AT on a little loop trail. Depends if you are a shelter person or you like pitching your tent.  Personally, I’d rather tent on the bald.  There are plenty of shelters along the AT where there are no views. Just remember to BYOW (bring your own water) because there is none at the top of the bald.

The remaining five miles to Winding Stair Gap was a downhill jaunt through the trees, no more big views, so I turned my attention to the interesting things growing all around.  The last mile has a few tricky turns on and off forest roads, so keep those white blazes in mind.

View from Winding Stair Gap

With the music turned up loud, the long drive back to civilization went by quickly. Dinner with Jim, our son Brett, and his sweetheart dog Bodhi – always a welcome home.

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”  ~Henry David Thoreau