One day last week, I explored a few of the smaller mountains around our place. I started on the mountain that last summer, had part of its green hide torn off by some tree cutters. Not a big slice though, so most of the mountain is still forest.
To get to the beginning of this trail, I have to hike across a large hayfield. Where the field meets the clear-cut I turn to the left. From there I follow the trail up the side of the mountain.
It had rained heavily the night before. So I learned that there are more kinds of slippery on a mountain than those caused by ice and snow. There’s the very slick muddy mountain, which, when covered with dead leaves, is an invitation to go hidy-ho-hoeing down the mountain on your keister. Luckily, I was carrying my walking stick. I also grabbed hold of helpful branches and thin tree trunks where they were available.
These mountains are criss-crossed with old logging trails. So, on my venture into the forest I had to be careful not to get side-tracked. What I did was lay dead branches down at the entrances to these side trails. The trickier sections are where the trails split off. In those places I made doubly sure that I made my barricades obvious. Lots of branches and whatnot.
Now I do carry a roll of trail marker ribbon or tape. I could use the ribbon, but the problem is, if I mark too many spots, I can make it even more confusing when I don’t know the area well. Anyway, I ventured on.
What do I love about the forest? The quiet, for one thing. I also like the wee sense of danger. I carry a can of bear spray in my knapsack.
The thing is, when I hiked the forests around the cabin in Ontario, I really only worried about one big critter, the bear. Not that I had too much angst about him or her, but there was always a tiny apprehension. Because they have been known, from time to time, to be unpredictable in a harmful way, especially the rogue young male bears.
However, in the forests of Cape Breton, there seem to be more critters to worry about. There are the over-sized Eastern coyotes, which are far more aggressive than the Ontario version, the bears, of course, and the moose. All these creatures have a mythology built up around them in this neck of the woods. So I carry bear spray. One friend up here calls her walking stick a ‘coyote whacker’.
We have lopped off several branches,
cut her skin to the white bone,
run wires through her body and her loins,
yet she will not change.
Ignorant of traffic, of dynamos and steel,
as bloomers and bustles
she stands there like a green cliché.”
Louis Dudek, Tree in a Street
I find myself very alert to what’s happening around me. The funny looking tree trunk, a leaf, an empty bird’s nest, tiny moths, the wind, my thinking, and I become aware of a communication with the other.
I use the term ‘other’ to describe the music and sounds of the universe we mostly miss in our busy routines. I also use the term ‘other’ to describe those little critters, like the birds, insects and other small creatures that are so easily discounted, when, for example, there is an oil spill and you hear the spokesperson for the spillers say, “No people or wild life were impacted.”
Come on. The emperor has no clothes. He’s going to be arrested if he keeps parading his crown credentials around so often and in so many places.
Thy summer’s play
My thoughtless hand
Has brush’d away.
Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?
William Blake, The Fly
On this hike, I followed a brook further and further into the forest. I could hear a waterfall somewhere and a thick fog was moving in. Also, it was getting late into the afternoon and the sun was starting to pull down the shades.
Can you visualize the atmosphere? The fog, the foresty silence, the waterfall, a wee pre-evening breeze picking up speed, my breathing, rustling sounds, my heartbeat, (for which I was grateful) and more?
However, I am never caught up in unreal sentimentality when I leave these sanctuaries. For I can see the scar on the side of the mountain. Why, I’d hiked in it last year when it was like the forest I’d just left. Yet, in a matter of a day, that section of mountain forest had been cut away.
I don’t always hike alone. One of the reasons I was exploring these mountains was to be able to find a suitable snowshoeing route, so I could guide a group of snowshoeing folks into this part of Cape Breton without getting us all lost. Once the snow arrives, that is.
I love the forest.