Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Foot, A Field

Over the past few weekends my wife and I have gone on a number of walks in the woods. One tramp was to Fish Pond and the other was into the High Peaks. On the walk to Fish Pond, I’m not going to reveal which Fish Pond, we didn’t see a single other person or vehicle. On the walk to the High Peaks we saw tons of cars but relatively few folks actually on the trails. Maybe it was the time of day, maybe it was the trails we chose.

Over the years we’ve done both of these ambles many times. We’ve traveled by foot, snowshoe and skis. We’ve been caught out in sunshine, rain, snow and dark. And for many years prior to going I always read the guidebook before we left the house. On many occasions the guidebook was also stowed in the map pocket of my pack. I will admit that these last two times I didn’t bring the guidebook or even a map.

I have wondered if guidebook reading is a regional pursuit. But I guess it depends on what kind of guidebook you are looking for. I can remember when I purchased my first guidebook. Although, I will admit that my wife had a well-worn copy before me. It’s not that I didn’t think one was necessary it’s just that she started hiking in areas requiring a guide before me. Looking at our shelves we have guidebooks for all sorts of outdoor activities. Some get used more often than others. I was never a big fan of the foot by foot rendering of a trail. I prefer a more big picture approach with highlights along the way. That way I always feel that, no matter how often I’ve been that way and no matter how many others have followed that course, it’s all kind of new to me. I get to discover, or rediscover, things along the way. That’s also the reason why I stopped checking off hikes, climbs or paddles. I did keep track for a long time, ticking them off one by one. But now I take the view that if I don’t remember it I get to discover it all new, for a second time. And anyway, the travels are new depending on the weather, mode of travel and company.

I have also at times written journal entries, haikus, short essays or now that I’m aware of the term prose poems describing the hike, paddle, weather, company or thoughts along the way. I can also remember times of bring along the writings of others and sitting in a similar spot enjoying the same view that they had written about years ago. It is an arresting experience to read another’s thoughts while gazing off at distant vistas that had not changed over time, the feeling of connectedness is striking. And sometimes if you are lucky you don’t have to travel far. Last year, on a sunny June day, a friend and I hiked Mt. Baker. I had recently come across the writings of Adelaide Crapsey. Ms Crapsey had moved to Saranac Lake in 1913 to cure. And perched out on some sunny rocks I read her poems dealing with life and death in Saranac Lake. A sunny day is a good time to read her poems. Ms. Crapsey died in 1914 and most of her works from her time in Saranac Lake deal with what she realized was to be her untimely end.

I didn’t bring anything to read on our walks over the last few weekends. And because of where we were going there was little need to review the guidebooks. But I was interested in remembering. And so I took the time to stop periodically and examine the view both coming and going. For me the views along the way unfolded like a well-worn and treasured book. In these cases I can open the covers and step right into the text. I know where I am because I’ve read this section of trail before. I can see what the author has written and can truly become a part of the landscape, both the written and earthly landscape. And that is what a good guidebook can do for me. I can reopen it and read over our travels past and present those for years to come. And like I said, when I reread a book I will have an idea of what’s ahead, but it is still a new hike each and every time.

See you at the Library,

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