A Journal of Life Pursued

Posts Tagged ‘Camping’

By the Wilson Stream.

In Adventure, Life, Nature, The Examined Life, Writing on September 18, 2012 at 6:00 am

Against the night.

I camped along Wilson Stream last week, not far from Toby Falls–four nights in my sleeping bag, crawling out of my tent in the morning, welcomed by crisp fall air and the scent of pine. By Saturday night the weather had turned from cool to cold and I woke in the dark of my tent and searched for my tee shirt. I had my summer bag, rated to forty degrees. It is no longer summer in Maine and the summer bag will be stowed and replaced with my fall-winter bag, rated to zero less eighteen. At one point, deep in the night, I exited the tent and studied the night sky. The northern night sky, void of light pollution and reflecting a black ice clarity, always makes my heart sing. The big dipper hung overhead and from the ladle I traced the line to the north star, steady in the sky. There is a short period, three minutes or so, after crawling from a sleeping bag, where the warmth of sleep clings to a body, insulating against the elements. But, like so many protections, this too is brief and temporary, and a scramble back into the bag follows without delay.

I slept next to moving water and there is hardly a thing better than going to sleep under the north star on the bank of a lively stream.

I am not sorry to see summer go. Fall is my favorite season and now I’m steeling myself for cozy nights and short days and plentiful reading and thinking and earnest study.

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I relish evening fires with new friends, faces in dancing orange and amber, curtain of night descended. I find great comfort in a community fire ring. There is warmth and protection and sturdy friendship constructed there. It is deep in our brains a friend said, this satisfaction. Yes, I agreed. One hundred and fifty thousand years ago my ancesters and your ancesters and all our long-forgotten families sat by the fire as protection against the unknowns of night, finding comfort in one another. That is but one reason to seek out the wild. It feeds an ancient longing that cannot be defined; but if one is still and is patient this ancient thing might speak to you.

No Boxed Thinking.

In Adventure, Life, Nature on September 2, 2012 at 6:00 am

Blue Lobster, photo by Mike Billings, Portland Press Herald, 8/31/2012

The morning paper carried the story of a blue lobster caught by a blue lobster boat on the evening of a blue moon. The lobster–transported in the photo above by sternman Mike Billings–will presumably live, a curiosity ensconced in a saltwater aquarium in Bangor.

Blue moon is the term for a second monthly full moon. (The full explanation is more complicated, but we will settle for simplicity.) No one seems certain why it’s called a blue moon. It does not appear blue. There is a blue moon every two and half to three years–more than once in a blue moon, it seems.

I observed the almost-full soon-to-be-blue moon rise from camp this week. I was sitting at the fire, pondering the tendrils of sparks launched into the gloaming, and it rose from the northeast, over my shoulder, and illuminated our campsite. It rose simply and singularly for us alone and we where selfishly delighted. I watched Virgo rise from the west and knew that libra was waiting patiently below the horizon. I don’t know much about the night sky and remain in a state of ignorant awe when enjoying it.

We camped on a bluff about twenty feet above the Cupsuptic River in Rangeley. It’s a small river at this spot, easy to wade across, and produces a soothing melody by which to fall asleep, or to be enchanted. The name “Cupsuptic” derives from the Abenaki language (the Abenakis where a tribe of original Mainers), meaning “a closed-up stream.”

Next week I journey west to hike a stretch of the Colorado Trail with son Tim. The CT stretches five hundred miles from Denver to Durango. I’m going to bite off just a small portion and will chew throughly.

A Facebook posting recently caught my attention. It was a photograph of a tent glowing from an inner light, against an indigo backdrop of  water and rock and mountain. The text read: Think Outside. No box required. I like that. It would make for a good tattoo.

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Have a good week, friends. Thanks for reading.

Acoustic Living

In Life, Nature, Technology on August 27, 2012 at 6:00 am

Cupsuptic River, Rangeley, Maine

We are camping next week in Rangeley. In a state with an abundance of outdoor venues, Maine makes my head spin. Rangeley, one of the state’s most popular regions, is nestled to the northwest, in the corrugated topography of the Appalachian plateau. I don’t know Rangeley very well, having only passed through a few times. So, in an effort to expand my experience (a discipline I recommend, expanding one’s experience), Rangeley it is.

I contacted a campground on Cupsuptic Lake and made arrangements for a site. Unlike many of the western states, Maine does not have vast regions of public land. One can go Ninja camping–find a spot and pitch a tent–but most likely you will be poaching on someone’s property–land owned by a lumber company or a public trust. I Ninja camp occasionally, particularly if I’m just knocking around the woods; but usually I stay in a campground.

This campground maintains about three dozen sites on the lake, assembled cheek by jowl, one abutting the next. That’s not my style. Instead, I reserved one of the “remote” sites a few miles to the north. Two of the sites are hike-in only, one site is accessible only via four-wheel vehicle, and two or three can be driven to. I went to the map store at Delorme in Freeport and purchased the topographical Kennebago Quadrangle of the area. (Proudly, I am a map nerd.) The remote campsites follow the Cupsuptic River north, dotting the water at intervals of about two miles. One site, called Moocher’s Home, looks particularly inviting. It sits at a twist in the river, about a mile before it spills into the lake.

I find it curious that the campground’s web page claims that “all remote sites have full cell phone service.” They perceive this to be a selling point. Perhaps it is. But not for me. There is an article in today’s Times called, Turn Off the Phone (And the Tension) that speaks to modifying the thirst for the technological. (Admittedly, a personal challenge both desired and illusory, a classic tension.) I’ve written before (read here, or go to my category “technology”) of my longing for a life less digital and more analogue, a life blend I don’t seem capable of achieving. The article quotes an academic of behavioral science who recommends “setting up a kind of screen diet, building in a period each day to go screenless, either by going for a run and leaving your phone at home, or by stashing it in a drawer during dinner or while hanging out with friends.” This sounds like an addict treating his problem by tucking his stash away in a sock drawer, but I guess one has to start somewhere.

Regardless, I am going into the woods untethered–by choice. It will be just a few days. Too, it will provide a warmup for a longer off-line period I’ve scheduled late in October. I’ve blocked off two weeks for what I am calling a “writing retreat.” I’ve rented a cabin Downeast and will go it unplugged, experiencing, if you will, the acoustic version of life. Two weeks is a long time for an addict to go without. It should afford me a clear measure of my problem. My name is Doug and I seek balance.

Let us consider…

In Adventure, Books, Life, The Examined Life, Wisdom on July 30, 2012 at 6:00 am
20120728-140244.jpg

Mt. Keneo, Moosehead Lake, Maine

There is much to share with you. It’s been a two week vacation and a universe can collapse in less time.

Yet, I worry that perhaps I’ve exposed too much already. I came to think on this during my time away.

I took a few days, after family visits and guests, to go into the woods alone. Upon hearing this a friend mentioned to Carole that “he just wants to get away from everybody, doesn’t he?” The week before, in jest, I mentioned a long-term project I was considering whereby I would go into the north woods and live in a cabin–or camp, as they’re called here in Maine–for a year. I envision a coming-of-middle age sort of experience. Carole’s response was supportive: “There’s no reason you can’t. I’ll come visit you.” (It is not lost on me that my absence might be just the ticket for her.) I mentioned it to a friend as a possible book subject. His response was, “Why write a book? Just go do it.”

I am not a misanthrope. I like people. One of my few skills is my ability to get along with them well. But most of the time I’d rather not. I don’t avoid people–but much of the time I’d rather be without. In reality, I don’t think I’m too different from many people. I suspect being an only child made my stamp a little deeper. I’ll take a comfortable chair and a book over a party, a fire in the woods rather than a reunion any time.

Part of this conundrum, for that is what it is, a conundrum, involves my blog. I enjoy this form of communication a great deal. And from the bits and pieces I can put together, I am under the impression that many of you, my reader-friends, enjoy reading my missives. Yet there is toil involved, and eventually our natural inclination to avoid toil must be considered. Too, there is the pressing business of how much one reveals and invests in a forum such as this, particularly if disappearing into the woods is on your mind.

One of the activities I enjoyed during my absence from “…the house…” was hiking up Mt. Keneo in Moosehead Lake. Keneo tops out at almost eighteen hundred feet. The trail starts at the elevation of the lake, about a thousand feet above sea level. It is a mile and short change to the top. An eight-hundred foot vertical climb in a mile or so, is a good workout. It gets the blood going. I like that. The physical appeals to me. It was also appealing that one hundred and fifty-five years–and two days–previously, Henry David Thoreau made the same climb. That night when I returned to camp, after I’d filled my belly, after Lucy had turned in (on the trail, when she’s ready for bed, she stands in front of the tent), I opened Thoreau’s essay, Life Without Principle. My eyes fell to an underscored sentence, a note I’d made in a previous reading: “Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives.”

That, friends, is the mission at hand.

N 45° 41′ 12.57 – W 70° 36’35.80

In Nature on August 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm

N 45° 41′ 12.57/W 70° 36’35.80

N 45° 36’35.80/W 70° 21′ 50.09

Above: Coordinates for Eagle Pond and Horseshoe Pond respectively.

I was humbled by the North Woods last month. The Audubon Society and Trout Unlimited put a call out to members interested in volunteering for a study of remote ponds in Northern Maine which might hold native brook trout. It is estimated that 97 percent of all native brookies resident in the lower 48 live in the state of Maine. But no one knows for certain. One way to find out is to fish the ponds and lakes which have never been stocked. Hence the call to anglers comfortable in the backwoods. I raised my hand, packed my gear, loaded my dog into the Escape and headed north to Jackman, a lumber outpost a dozen or so miles shy of the Canadian border.

I did not leave home leave without committing the Google maps of my ponds to memory, not without my compass and a quick brush up of orienteering skills. I used to be pretty good with a map and compass. No more. Of the five ponds I was to survey, I could not deliver myself to a single one. I knew where I wanted to go, but I could not get there, which feels like a metaphor for (my) life. Apt metaphors aside, I found the woods impenetrably thick. The deeper I got into them, the less likely I was heading in the right direction and the more concerned I grew about getting out. Frankly, I bailed. Me and Lucy, tails between our legs, came home humbled.

The difference between pride and humiliation is a matter of a few degrees. Where I was proud of back country skills, I was handed up a meaty dish of humiliation. But that was then. Modern technology has a solution and I embrace it wholeheartedly. I now own a Delorme PN-60 GPS, loaded with the lastest topo map and, most importantly, keyed with the coordinates to my assigned ponds. No matter how deep I crawl into those wonderful 27,000 square miles we call the The Great North Woods, I should find my waters–and my way out! Old school be damned. Maps and compass are so very yesterday. So next week I’m off , as Twain said, to parts unknown, seeking redemption and tight lines.

An attempt to strangle-hold summer.

In Dogs, Nature, The Examined Life on July 31, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Boats come and go under my balcony all day long. Sometimes, late at night, after I’ve gone to bed I, hear them plying the calm night water, slowly going up and down the slip out to the Fore River and the bay. It is a pleasant sound and one that comforts me, as the sound of the fog horn in the winter comforts me.

It is summer in Maine and the water-ways are full of traffic. I sometimes envy the boaters, power or sail there is no discrimination to my envy. I don’t have a boat, nor will I get one, but I envy the ready access to the water a boat affords. The best I can do, is get in the water directly. I tried to swim off the East End yesterday. Usually I can get in a mile or even two mile swim and be better for it. But yesterday it was choppy and windy and the bay was teaming with white caps and I turned back after only a half mile. As I walked out of the water a boater launching his craft from a trailer said he was going to get wet in the chop, that I had chosen to get wet but he wanted to avoid it. I’m sure he got soaked.

A boat is a thing and I’m trying to avoid the accumulation of things now. I’ve had my run at “things” and now am attempting to shed them. Eventually you come to understand that the things you own end up owning you. “Simplify, simplify, simplify,” repeated Thoreau. I grew up with that phrase but forgot to practice it somewhere along the way. Now I attempt to make amends. I have a tattoo on my left arm, Om mani padme hum–the Tibetian mantra. Perhaps I should consider Thoreau’s admonition on the other arm, as I tend to forget it.

Regardless of all that, summer is the time to be out of doors. And even more so here, where summer has a short–but intense–life span. Last week I was in the Moose River region, near Jackman, a dozen miles or so from the Canadian boarder. It is a remote area. And the weather can be challenging, even this time of year. I had to put on a heavy fleece when I got out of my tent in the morning. And in a cold downpour poor Lucy, soaked and obviously not happy, looked at me as if to question this strangle-hold I seem to exercise on the summer experience. Like youth, summer is gone before you know it.  I recognize this. It is a singular wisdom that I now grasp. Soon enough you realize that sleeping on the ground and scrounging for firewood was easier before hip replacement. This truism I realized a couple of years ago, but am too stubborn to accept. It is my nature to nurture this stubbornness as long as I can.