Woods Wandering

An excursion into the wildness within

Walt McLaughlin

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photo by Walt McLaughlin

I stepped off the logging road, pushing through a tangle of young spruce blocking the way, and felt my nerves loosen for the first time in months. Springtime verdure was abundant in the lowlands, but in the mountains the leaf buds of the trees were just opening. The chill of winter held fast to the shadowy corners of the forest where patches of dirty snow lingered. I forged ahead, tracing a tiny stream back to its source, guessing that it led to the small, unnamed pond indicated on my topographical map.

I was out for three days in a largely overlooked corner of Groton State Forest in eastern Vermont, with a few essentials stuffed into a small rucksack on my back — just the wild and me. It was almost as good as being back in the Alaskan bush.

The sun broke through the clouds overhead. I broke a sweat, even though I was going only a mile an hour. I stripped off a sweater, stuffed the black bush hat I’d been wearing into my pack, then knelt next to the stream long enough to splash a little water into my face. I let my beard drip dry as I continued uphill, going deeper into the woods.

Pecker Pond

A woodpecker cried in the distance then all was quiet. The ground leveled out. The murmur of the tiny stream faded as it fractured into countless seeps emerging from moss-covered rocks. I crossed the muddy remnant of a snowmobile trail and soon spotted a patch of water glistening through a break in the forest. I had reached the pond.

I followed a set of moose tracks halfway around the pond then stopped to remove my pack. I crouched behind a large rock, scanning the surface of the clear, shallow water for signs of trout activity. I saw one rise then another as I extended a collapsible fishing rod. Minutes later, I landed a speckled brook trout not more than six inches long.

I landed a few more while working my way slowly around the pond. That’s how I found a sweet little spot to spend the night. I retrieved my pack from where I’d dropped it then set up camp.

While propped against a tree and writing in my field journal later that day, I was startled by the ungodly cry of some creature directly overhead. A woodpecker flopped to the ground shortly thereafter…

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Walt McLaughlin

Philosopher of wildness, writing about the divine in nature, being human, and backcountry excursions.