“The mountains are calling, and I must go,” John Muir wrote in a letter to his sister, Sarah.
There is a ridgeline a few miles from my home that appears to be a naturally created rock wall. The ridge was created from the eastern U.S. crashing into Scotland thousands of years ago. In some places, one can see the layers folded like a carpet laid flat, then pushed at the edge until it curls into several folds, lain over each other.
[pullquote]In the duff, or between tree branches, barely caught from the corner of my eye, a spider weaves a snare, proving to errant flies and other unaware winged creatures that the seemingly shortest way from A to B is not always the best way.[/pullquote]Atop the folds, in places that have not yet been reshaped by residential development, humungous rocks stand exposed, as though someone had come along with a giant blower and sandblasted around them so they stood free to make later humans wonder how that happened.
It would be nice to think the land always had been this way, but of course, it hasn’t. For one thing, as you strike out toward some distant landmark almost visible through the trees, you cross a road, not paved but packed down by some earlier line of wagons or trucks, likely used to carry logs off the mountain. Whether modified by human activity or more time consuming violence, the land is constantly remodeled.
Once upon a time, in another life in another state, a town planning board was asked to deny approval of a subdivision permit. The reason, according to opponents of the project, was that there was a wetland at the bottom of the hill and the houses and roads would disastrously alter the flow of runoff and destroy the swamp.
They had good reason for concern. Swamps – wetlands – whether natural or manmade, are wastewater treatment plants.
So the planning board adjourned to the proposed construction site.
“Look how pristine this land is,” one of the preservationists said, pointing out acres of woodland through which we walked.
And sure enough, it was pristine, including an amazingly preserved rock wall cutting through the trees, its great and small boulders stacked with care by some farmer from a past century. He had arrived, discovered the land fairly smooth, cut down the trees and laid claim to all the dirt within the boundary of his hand-carried wall. Eventually, he moved on.
Nearer home last fall, I found a wedge-shaped rock between two tree trunks, as though pounded into place by some long-ago hammer-wielding giant. I wondered how it came to be lodged there, the twin trunks growing around it, shaping themselves to its contour like the arms of a giant slingshot until someone in need of firewood or a home in which to burn it came along to saw them off just above the rock.
Much of the land – about 87,000 acres of it – has been, for a time, preserved. Would that more young people would wander these woods and notice how long it takes to make them, how patiently the planet endures our presence. Let them hike to where a stream comes out of the mountain, and walk on a carpet of acorns.
Memories of a summer wander: The forest is nearly silent, save for the wind, and an occasional songbird I never learned to identify. With luck, an occasional Monarch butterfly crosses my path or, down lower and nearer water, iridescent black Admirals cluster to pollinate and feed.
In the duff, or between tree branches, barely caught from the corner of my eye, a spider weaves a snare, proving to errant flies and other unaware winged creatures that the seemingly shortest way from A to B is not always the best way.
The winter freeze has been wonderful for renewal, for dreaming and planning for wanders to soon be taken across the mountains and along the streams.
Now, I’m ready for some hiking weather.