Saturday, September 24, 2022

Up close and personal with Polar Bears

Here is a compilation of the video documentation taken on my long journey around half the world at the fringes of the Arctic Ocean, getting to within 600 miles of the North Pole, visiting Svalbard (Norway), Iceland, Greenland, Arctic Canada, and Alaska.

For a collection of the still images I took, and for more commentary, please visit the parallel post on my new Hiking Hermit blog:  An up-close visit with polar bears - The Hiking Hermit

Saturday, July 2, 2022

if I gave a TED Talk ...

... it would start in an auditorium.

Of course it would.  And you are there, sitting in the audience, right?

But the whole point of the talk is to get you out of your seat and out into nature ... walking!

Below is a written version of the message--not a transcript but the script, or the intended outline:

* * *

Good morning, folks.  I'm the Hiking Hermit and I'm here to talk about walking.

There is NOTHING ... NOTHING!!! ...more natural to us than walking.

We exist as a species because we walk, and walk well ...

LONG, HARD, All-day Hunter-Gatherer walks.

We got smart because we walked out of the jungle on two feet.

That freed our hands to use tools.

Learning to use tools expanded our brains; and we found we could make better and better tools.

Ever-more-clever tools to do our walking for us.  To do our thinking for us.

And what happened?  (This ought to come as no surprise.)


Our tools have taken over our lives.

We have become slaves ... chained to our tools, captive inside the artificial spaces we built for our comfort.  They've become voluntary jail cells, keeping us away from our true nature.

Look around you at this moment.  At least 90 percent of what we see and experience, at least 90 percent of the time, are our own tools.

They've swallowed us up!  We're drowning in them!  GASPING for air!

Our tools are destroying the world!


How on Earth did we fall into this trap?  How did we let ourselves get so stupid?

The answer is simple.  We got away from our true nature.

Our true nature IS nature itself.  We are good solid products of the natural world, crafted through Billions of years of trial and error.  We're made of good stuff.  But we're denying it.

And as I said at the start.  Our TRUE NATURE is walking.  Walking is the root characteristic that defines our species.

So the best way out of our trap -- the best way to SAVE THE WORLD -- is to GET UP, walk out of your artificial space, walk away from the Tool Monsters, and return to the lifestyle that makes walking the most important part of every day: as Thoreau put it, "The enterprise and Adventure of the day."

The GOOD NEWS is that the solution is EASY.  It's the most NATURAL thing we could do.

Because there is NOTHING ... NOTHING!!! ... that can transform your life more quickly and easily (and at practically no cost--no equipment to buy) than WALKING.

So for God's sake ... for your own sake! ... get up!  Get out of your chair and come along with me.

We're going on a REAL adventure.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Giving Back - an Announcement

I would appreciate feedback and will be seeking it. I'm announcing that I intend to develop and offer a comprehensive course on Day Hiking the Appalachian Trail, with application to any long-distance trail, and with emphasis not just on logistics, preparation, and execution, but on getting the most out of the experience--how to find peace of mind and a transformed outlook on life by immersing in the serenity of nature.

In conjunction with this course, I will be releasing my long-delayed hike memoir about my 2012 double Appalachian Trail hike. I am the only person in the world who has hiked the AT twice in one year without camping--that is, by doing all of it in 270 out-and-back day hikes. The first one was on January 1st and I finished on November 3rd. It was a truly transformative experience, and through the following years I have come to deeply appreciate the value of regularly getting out and 'setting down Footprints in the Wilderness'.

As I develop this course, I will be asking friends and fellow hikers for their input, and as it is actually being offered, I hope to join class graduates as they hike the AT in 2023. More news to come.

Now, as a bonus for those who visit this blog, here are some other recent Appalachian Trail scenes and recent photos of new blooms seen along the AT and around the Cloister at Three Creeks.
Solomon's Seal - loaded with flower buds
a very similar, closely related plant, the Canadian May-lily
Virginia waterleaf
a cluster of pink Lady's slippers.  Enough for four ladies!
Yellow Lady's Slipper
up close and personal
Wild azaleas at an AT viewpoint
Wild geraniums and Ohio Spiderwort along the AT
Tulip tree blossom, Liriodendron tulipifera
a closer look
Rare and very unusual four- and five-fingered Sassafras leaves

Friday, May 20, 2022

The Hiking Hermit - After two years in the woods, it's time to come back...

Footprints in the Wilderness:

Over the past twelve years, I've come to understand how transformative hiking in wild places can be.

There's the pure joy of being in the place, in the moment. There are the well-documented health benefits, both mentally and physically. And there are the connections, to people and to nature, to wild places and what they mean to people, to new and vivid ways of understanding the world and our place in it.

I began this experience climbing a 20,000 foot moiuntain in South America back in January 2010 after more than two years of whipping myself into shape. That was a bucket list achievement, but it didn't feel like an end.

I was in top physical form and never felt better. I wasn't going to go back to being a couch potato. In order to retain the clear health benefits I was experiencing, I started hiking trails around a big reservoir near home. The hikes grew in length and in purpose. By fall of 2011 I had decided I was going to try to hike the entire Appalachian Trail both ways in a calendar year. I (finally) have a book coming out about the experience, to be released in a couple months.

The AT hike was truly transformative for me in a multitude of ways; and I've met and witnessed the transformation of many other fellow hikers who were on the trail with me. Many of them have turned to a hiker oriented life style as a result. Their whole lives have been infused with new and wonderful purpose, finding a way to do what they love for a living, giving back to the trail community what they have gained.

For me, the transformation sent me on an even greater hiking quest than the AT. I undertook to hike to the doorstep of every one of nearly two dozen places that I've called home throughout my life--making a physical connection to them all on foot. I hiked over 20,000 miles in the process, reaching places like coastal North Carolina, Key West Florida, the upper peninsula of Michigan, and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado--all connected by a continuous trail of footprints. Finally in fall of 2019 I accomplished that goal just in time for the world's sad transformation brought about by Covid.

In part in response to Covid, and in part simply following my gut, I then chose to walk away from society and the mess that it had become. I settled in the woods, sort of like Thoreau did at Walden Pond, and began another transformation--more of a spiritual one but also a very practical one. I gained an understanding of who I was and how I fit in to the great scheme of nature--from the tiny filaments of fungi helping to feed the roots of trees, to the cosmic filaments sprawled across the universe connecting clusters of galaxies with one another stretching through all known time and space.

It has taken two years of combined contemplation and decompression, but the transformation now seems complete. I begin to feel that it is time to return to society, acting as an ambassador from the Wilderness, in order to help other people find the kind of deep serenity and purpose that I have found.

In this video, presented as a rambling discussion as I hiked on a hot day in the woods, I share my thinking about some of the ideas I have that can help people find their own transformation. It's just the germ of the process--the very first stage. I hope to more fully organize and flesh out what I will offer--what I will do--in future talks. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

May 17th -- Ladies Day

On a beautiful sunny mid-May day at 3200 feet elevation near the Appalachian Trail and about three miles from the Cloister at Three Creeks, I spent the day on another of my nature quests.

Today I was looking for the hard-to-find wild orchid known as the Lady Slipper. The pink variety, Cypripedium acaule is far more common here, and today I saw several dozens in three separate locations, including the deepest pink variety I've ever seen. It was almost red.

But today's big prize were the rare yellow lady's slippers, Cypripedium parviflorum.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Catawba Rhododendron blooming, declaring the beginning of summer

Yep, summer has arrived at the Cloister at Three Creeks, and its only early May.

No, don't give me any of your technical gobble-de-gook. Just open your eyes and look around. Listen to the birdsong echoing off the rich, fresh green forest canopy. Take a deep breath. Inhale the scents of the woods come fully alive again on a misty, damp May 6th morning ... and you *know*.

Friday, May 6, 2022

The strange, the scary, the sublime: May 5th

The strange: A Monster Violet plant.

The scary: almost stepping on a Rattlesnake, just minutes after photographing the first bloom of Rattlesnake Weed (how aptly named is *that* ?!!!)

The sublime: basking in the multi-sensory experience of the spring woods at the Cloister at Three Creeks.

Below are some of the featured photos from the video, for blog viewers to peruse at their leisure.

Daisy Fleabane, in the aster family: Erigeron annuus

Shagbark hickory

Wild Yam: Dioscorea villosa

Wild azalea plant in peak bloom, photo-bombed by a passing Black Swallowtail butterfly

Black Swallowtail at rest, sunning on a rock.

Rattlesnake weed, first bloom: Hieracium venosum

Very distinctive leaves of Rattlesnake weed.  It is such an aptly named plant--it shares an ecosystem with rattlesnakes and blooms at the same time that the reptiles come out of their winter dens.

First rattlesnake sighted right on the grounds of the Cloister.  I suspect this is the same one who frequented the grounds all last summer--a big old gal or fella with 8 or 9 rattle segments.

First Mountain Laurel bloom of the new season--this plant's bloom, for me, has always heralded the start of SUMMER!  But it's May 5th!

Second Mountain Laurel bloom, just opening

Oxeye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare, an import from Europe

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Five feature flowers, and a photo bombing bug

Five short videos featuring five flowers.

The first is the size of Indian Pipes, with the same general form and shows no green, just like Indian Pipes, but it is not Indian Pipes. My internet searching at the time I made the video came up with no ID, but a more careful search the next day, after revisiting the plant and studying it, turned up the ID:

It is One-Flowered Broomrape, Orobanche uniflora. It is parasitic on herbacious plants such as asters and saxifrages.

The second is Mayapple, featured to celebrate May Day. Third is Anise Root, a member of the carrot family, whose tissue carries a strong anise/licorice scent. Fourth is a close-up look at Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum. Finally I found a Mountain Laurel that is almost ready to burst into bloom, which was a surprise, and probably more evidence of climate change shifting the seasons.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Parental discretion advised: A chat with Bad Axe Jack at the Mean Boys' Pit

This is a big change from my usual material. Beware of the foul language.

Forest predation by humans (deforestation, both government-sanctioned and illegal, and tree poaching) is one of the most serious threats to our world, and unfortunately, it will never be solved by regulation or enforcement. If there's a buck to be made, no matter how hard you try to stop it, greedy people will operate outside the law to make it. Same as for pollution emissions in general and for the use of fossil fuels in specific. Sorry for the pessimistic point of view, but you can't regulate human nature.

There are so many threats to our forests. Invasive species, animal and vegetable and in-between, the aforementioned ongoing deforestation, fires and drunken forests (melting of perma-frost) made worse by climate change are just some of the biggies. If I stop to think about it, as I did today while a helicopter ran rampant above the valley of the Cloister at Three Creeks, I either get so depressed that my day is ruined, or, alternatively, I try to find a way to change the way I deliver my message, speaking for the trees. Today's video is an experiment with a new message. Did it work? Only time will tell.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

What do I do? A chat with my buddy 'Easy Listener'

Time to talk out my future options and plans. What comes next? Another long distance hike?

In the past twelve years, since I got my first GPS unit, I've recorded 20,000 hiking miles and counting. I've hiked from Katahdin in Maine to Key West, Florida, the Appalachians to the Outer Banks via NC's 1100-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail where I pioneered and was the first to hike a new 300-mile route called the Coastal Crescent. I've hiked from the AT at Harpers Ferry, WV west and north via PA's Standing Stone and Mid-State Trails to New York's Finger Lakes Trail then west via the North Country National Scenic Trail, Ohio's Buckeye Trail, and Michigan's Iron Belle Trail across all of Michigan's Upper Peninsula to northern Wisconsin, then south along Wisconsin's Ice Age trail to Illinois, then west across the Great Plains to the Colorado Rockies.

In those 20,000 miles I completed the goal of walking to the front door of every home that I've ever lived—almost two dozen of them.

But my wandering feet are not satisfied. They long to continue west from Colorado and stick my toes in the Pacific Ocean, and then to wander up toward Alaska and Canada's Northwest Territories to touch the Arctic Ocean too.

Big dreams. Along the way I would hope to continue to raise awareness of my nationwide ‘Fifty Trail’ route and advocate for building and establishing a network of connected trails in the US that could start to rival the amazing national trail network in Switzerland, which includes no less than seven different continuous cross-country trails.

I'd also hope to promote my AT-hike memoir, which I'm finally, ten years after the fact, finished writing and ready to publish.

Yet I'll be turning 74 this year. One of the things I'm usually good at is 'listening to my body' and understanding its needs and limits. At this age the art of 'resting' becomes as significant as the goal of staying fit and active. The scales find a different balance than they did ten years ago when I hiked the whole AT twice in one year. It takes longer to recover from a long hard hike. I hike slower, and when I do I find that I'm appreciating what I'm passing more than ever—stopping to 'smell the roses' in ways that I had not done before. But that means fewer miles per day—longer time needed to accomplish any goal.

So ... what should the next goal be? Or should I continue my hermit-at-the-Cloister lifestyle of retirement from cross-country hiking and just focus on full immersion in this amazing place?

In today's video I use the camera as my 'easy listener' - my sounding board to air out my thoughts while rambling through the woods on a gorgeous spring day.

At the end there's a report on the half-dozen or so new first blooms seen today, April 26th.

Below, as a bonus for those who come to this blog, here are the new blooms spotted the last two days. Enjoy.

"Fall Color" on the Cutleaf Toothwart.  They, along with the Spring Beauty, have gone to seed and are now going dormant.
First Jack-in-the-pulpit, April 25th.
Early Saxifrage, Micranthes virginiensis
Pussy Toes, Antennaria plantaginifolia
Ohio Spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis
Blackhaw, Viburnum prunifolium
Artsy shot of a Blackhaw bloom from the underside
Baby Blue Eyes, Nemophila manziesii, native to California but abundantly self-seeded in the east now after escaping from people's gardens.
True wild strawberry (as opposed to the mock wild strawberry with yellow flowers), Fragaria Virginiana

Monday, April 25, 2022

Very early, very welcome guests arrive from Central America

The audio is the primary feature in the first video of today's three snippets: The song of the Wood Thrush.

Wood Thrushes winter in Central America, and according to Wikipedia they start arriving along the US Gulf Coast "during the first week of April." Here in the mid-Atlantic they have historically arrived (in my experience) in early June. Last year I first noted them in May, and now here they are on April 24th! A sign of climate change? I suspect so.

Also featured are three first-bloom sightings, and an overview of the Valley of the Cloister, with nature's green paint deepening and spreading up the mountain sides.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The unusual flowers of April 23rd

Here are three real treasures. Two are rare, hard to find varieties of common species found blooming today in the woods in some high valleys above the Cloister at Three Creeks. The third specializes in, and is found only in, a fairly uncommon mountain habitat.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

You never know what you'll find in the woods

April 22nd. A very diverse selection. To call the first scene man-made is kind of the tip of the iceberg. What man leaves behind, nature begins to shape into its own designs.

The second scene was only slightly man-modified - by me - and it really belongs among the seventeen happy places I sought out in yesterday's quest to bring bright thoughts to a dreary day. Had I seen this yesterday, I would have burst out laughing. It's really too good to be true.

Third scene is the one new sighting of spring wildflowers. In this case, you never know where or when, or what new species you'll come across.

Finally come two short clips of one of the fellow ramblers of the woods - and this, too, is a clear sign of spring.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Two depressing graveyards; Seventeen happy places

It was a dull, gray, dreary, blustery day today at the Cloister at Three Creeks, and for me it started off very much on the wrong foot.

Early in my daily ramble, I came across a truly depressing place. The weather didn't help matters, and so the sadness that I felt really got under my skin.

Basically, I spent the rest of the day looking to nature to cheer me up, seeking those small, simple joys that I can always find in abundance.

Mother Nature did not disappoint.

The weather never did improve much, but my attitude sure did.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Garlic mustard -- a uniquely troublesome invasive

In the woods near the Cloister at Three Creeks today, I came across an example of Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) growing in an apparently undisturbed forest area, and concentrated directly under a large dead oak, with only young red maples surviving in the area.

Could Garlic Mustard be contributing to the pervasive 'oak decline' we are observing at the Cloister and in the east coast deciduous forests in general?

I discuss this quote, retrieved today, 17 April 2022, from the Wikipedia article entitled 'Garlic Mustard as an invasive species':

"Garlic mustard produces allelochemicals, mainly in the form of the compounds allyl isothiocyanate and benzyl isothiocyanate,[9] which suppress mycorrhizal fungi that most plants, including native forest trees, require for optimum growth.[10] However, allelochemicals produced by garlic mustard do not affect mycorrhizal fungi from garlic mustard's native range, indicating that this "novel weapon" in the invaded range explains garlic mustard's success in North America.[11]"

Garlic Mustard is a spice that was used by my north German ancestors at least as far back as 6000 years ago. The remnants found in 'Funnelbeaker Culture' pottery is, in fact, the oldest known documented evidence of the use of spice by humans. It was brought to the US by European Colonists to grow in their gardens as a cooking spice, and escaped into the wild, just as so many other problem invasives here have.

But in this unique case, the damage is much more complex than simply physically out-competing native forest ground cover species. It acts chemically, to suppress growth of its competitors and to weaken the forest trees in its vicinity.

All natural woodland ecosystems are highly complex, involving a tapestry of biological and chemical interactions between species that we're only just beginning to notice and identify.  The disruption that Garlic Mustard wields on the balance of our eastern deciduous forests is just one example of the sort of subtle, indirect effects that our forests are struggling, and largely failing, to adapt to.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Happy, sad, Happy

Spring is in full swing. My focus today was on building comfortable seats in the best locations for experiencing the while water at the Cloister at Three Creeks, and as rest stops along a favorite hiking route.

In the process, I paused to discuss some new spring developments among the community of flora, including the emergence of young shoots of Pokeweed. Pokeweed is poisonous to most mammals, but the young shoots, when boiled two or three times, with changes of water, are a wonderful spring treat that tastes much like asparagus, and the boiled leaves are not too different from spinach.

All other parts of the plant, and in all other times of year, Pokeweed is poisonous. Eating just a few berries, or especially the roots (sometimes mistaken for parsnip or horseradish) can kill, usually from respiratory paralysis.

But the eastern black bears love them. They have evolved immunity, probably simply because they have eaten pokeberries regularly over countless generations back into the dim reaches of time. Last summer, almost exactly eight months ago, I captured a 720HD video of an old gray-muzzle bear eating the pokeberries in the 'Yarrrrrrd' among the tulip-poplar plantation at the Cloister. Watch for that feature in the middle.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The end of the beginning

How, after all, did it ever come to *this*?

Well, here's a brief summary.

Really had fun with this one. Hope a few of you actually enjoy it!

Among the new flowers that appeared today was the badly invasive Garlic Mustard. Not showing a picture of that, but here are some of the others:

Wild mock strawberry, Potentilla indica, a native of Asia
Early meadow-rue, male flowers, purple variety, Thalictrum dioicum

Yellow variety, Early meadow-rue, male flowers

Early meadow-rue, young leaf clusters and flower buds, probably female

Coltsfoot, from Europe, Tussilago farfara

Sunday, April 10, 2022

New first blooms on a cold April 10th

On the morning of April 9th, I woke up to find the ground covered with snow. But that hasn't stopped new spring wildflowers from bursting into bloom.

Up in the forest canopy, enough leaves have unfurled now, that, when viewed from above, the Cloister's isolated mountain valley is taking on a green tinge.

Every day this time of year, nature marches new players out onto center-stage and gives them their cameo. The change seems fast-paced, because there are so many members of the cast. It's easy to miss something if you aren't vigilant. For this old hermit, it's such a joy -- an interactive, participatory performance where I get to meander around on the stage and interview the new actors who have just appeared and check in on the veterans who have been playing their part for weeks.

New today were the wild phlox, a pink variety, featured in the 'thumbnail' of the video, the unfurling of the white flowering dogwood buds, a variety of wild indigo with pale pinkish-white flowers, which is a member of the pea family, and the parasitic American cancer-root, also called bear corn, which shows nothing above ground but its flowers. There is no green here. The plant doesn't photosynthesize and needs no leaves because it gets all its nutrients from its host plant. Its roots tap directly into roots of oak or beech trees and steal their sugary sap.
Wild indigo, a relative of garden pea vines and climbing beans.
Flower detail
American cancer-root, Conopholis americana, which gets its nickname bear corn from the corn-cob-like appearance of these flower stems.  It was also called 'Squawroot' because America's first peoples used it as a treatment for women's symptoms such as menstrual cramps.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Five Quickies in the woods ... oooooh!


Going natural, as always, and finding new signs of spring at the Cloister at Three Creeks.

As a bonus for those who come to this blog, and don't just check the video on YouTube, here are Five Quickie still photos, further documentation of the progress of spring:

First, in the unfinished business department, I finally identified this plant, spotted in bloom a few days ago.  It is the Blue Cohosh, named for its blue berries: Caulophyllum thalictroides.

... but now I have another problem child.  This looks to be in the thistle family, but multiple internet searches have not produced any identity yet.  It has leaves that over-winter flat to the ground before springing up in this aptly named new season.

Here's a giant fungus with its own ecosystem, nearly a foot and a half across, decades old.  It's the Crack-capped Polypore, Phellinus robiniae, growing on a living Black Locust tree.  It is said (and it is my observation also) that nearly every mature Black Locust tree has its own resident parasitic Crack-capped Polypore.

Signs of spring in the canopy, the flowers of the Sassafras tree set off by the maturing winged seeds of the red maple.

Indeed, the canopy is now definitively showing its green tinge, as demonstrated in this zoom shot from a viewpoint.  Most of the tree crowns that are the greenest are tulip poplar trees.