Friday, April 6, 2012

Hiking New Jersey Highlands, Photographing Plants, Fishing for Pickerel and Bass

We visited a copperhead den we discovered on our own last summer, and won't divulge the location because in this day and age we discourage collecting. We photograph what we find and let go on its way. Climbing the steep trail, I recalled a couple of months of frequently hiking a dozen or so Kittatiny Ridge trails in my late 30's. Then I viscerally remembered what it was like to hike in my teens and 20's. When I hiked 150 miles or so of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina at age 23, the shape this beat me into by completion really amazed me. I remember having filled my pack with food at a crossroads and just blowing by day hikers without packs at two or three times their walking speed, hiking 20 miles a day with ease among peaks 5000 to more than 6800 feet. I was a clam treader then, earning my living by selling to the wholesale market and had to struggle for each clam by more and less jogging backwards for four or five hours a day, but this didn't beat hiking with a heavy pack among the highest mountains of the Eastern United States for getting in shape. At age 38 I felt as if I had lost the world by comparison. But at 51 I no longer feel directly what it was like in my 20's, but for a number of years now I don't have a difficult time climbing a steep trail. I just bear down, persistently breathe in a controlled way, and keep my awareness centered low at my diaphragm where it helps generate the will to overcome the rising altitude. I am steady on my feet and I never complain.

When I've been up in the mountains awhile--even for an hour so long with intense interests exercised--I am elevated to reason beyond stresses amounting to coercive forces which distort people's (mine too) being and tend to make us less than fully human. My being a writer, you might suppose that I should hike into the mountains a lot with pen and notebook to catch that reason, but this isn't the point. Writing always implies a certain amount of volume--it's a way of making a world in words--while this mountain awareness is lean. I haven't much desire to assert it beyond ascending the next ridge and taking keen interest in observations; it has happiness in a lightness of being. I think environmentalism is, above all, the reasoned experience of environments rather than political dealings, although this of course includes environments in which politics are practiced.

We visited a large vernal pool. I actually did expect to see frogs. We did not, but plenty of eggs are ready to hatch. We saw a pair of wood ducks, very exciting for me, but for Matt they stirred only ascenting indifference, since he keeps his focus on reptiles and amphibians (and fish for the catching). 

Without snakes about, I took intense interest in emmerging plants and related this to my son. "I'm not into plants," Matt said.

"I was the same at your age," I said. "As you grow old, your mind expands."


"Yeah." I smiled broadly.

A book I purchased over the winter at Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary's New Jersey Audubon Society nature center where Matt and I volunteer care for reptiles, Hiking the Jersey Highlands by George Pettty, is one I need to read and have meant to read for months now. I really began to fall in love with this whole region last year. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area has been special for my hiking since age 17 and many times since, but now I want to know everything about all the Highlands and Ridge.

We hiked out, went to the Jefferson Diner, real cool place. Calamari for me, cheeseburger for Matt, good conversation, and then off to Ryker Lake by a roundabout route on roadways and through towns I've never visited.

Matt caught a bass; I caught three pickerel in under an hour. We missed a couple of others. One of them had struck explosively at the surface, this despite heavy wind (whitecaps on a 30-acre lake) from the northwest under cloudless sky, temperatures somewhere in the 50's. 

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