By Jay Hanks
E-mail author at WITEWTR58@aol.com
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Living with only what you can carry
It is incredibly freeing to be on foot in the wilderness. To know that you are living with only what you can carry for several days at a time, with no phone calls or imposed intrusions by the rest of the world is amazing in this technological age.
I have driven around the Hiawatha National Forest in the Eastern U.P. for almost 30 years, and yet I hadn't really seen it the way I was going to now.
Breathing became a form of music
Once you stepped away from the road as we did on that Friday morning, the perspective changed dramatically inside my own mind. Life slowed to the pace of one moving on foot through the wilderness, and it fell into the timing of the rain beating on my hat.
Breathing was a form of music that rose and fell with the exertion. It felt like the world had fallen away at my feet and somehow I was standing on top of it, even though the mud squishing up from the sticks in the beaver dams indicated that I was only close to it, and even then precariously.
Discovering the true sounds of the world
It only seems quiet when I first enter the wilderness. After a while, you discover the true sounds of the world: the air moving in the branches of the trees, the fluttering of the last stubborn leaves of the season clinging desperately to the branches, and the distant conversations of the birds.
The loudest noise is the nylon of our clothing scritching and rasping against the brush as we pass, but it blends into the woodscape after a while. Now I can truly hear and see the world.
Finding a delightfully anonymous bivouac spot
Camp that evening was delightfully anonymous. The joy of bivouacking is having the skill to camp anywhere and leave it as you found it.
Considering the darkness rapidly encroaching we barely could determine our overall position as we gazed out of the trees.
I ended up sleeping with my head slightly downslope as I could only guess at true level with my tiny flashlight.
I was grateful for the relaxation of tired muscles because it allows me to sleep anywhere.
Feeling a million miles from anywhere
Morning dawned and I found I was the last one to awake. Quickly packing everything up while eating got me ready to go just in time.
We walked the ridge in the sunshine that had not been predicted by downstate meteorologists. As we forded the first creek I felt like I was a million miles from anywhere. The coldness of the water assured me all the comforts were left at home. And I got to do it again a quarter of a mile later!
The world was holding its breath
The afternoon grew still and the air barely moved. I think we were at the edge of a stalled weather pattern because it was like the world was holding its breath. Nothing unusual happened, just quiet and lots of it.
We wondered as we neared camp that evening near East Lake if we would need a "walking moon", but there was just a little more light in the evening this time to set up camp. The dead leaves of the forest floor provided a cushion that rivaled the finest down mattress as I drifted off in the moonlight.
Off-trail compass-work is rewarding
Another day free from rain and we set off into the woods. Some off-trail compass-work rewarded us for choosing the path less traveled. I never felt lost for a moment; indeed I felt like I was much more at home than usual. I typically spend most of my time in the wilderness in the company of my canoe, so off-trail activities are not very extended around a river. Now I was deep in the woods, and it felt great.
Feeling like we were on a mountain
We rose onto an esker-like formation on the south side of Schlehuber's Marsh. It felt like we were on a mountain after the cedar swamp we came out of. As we reconned the valley below, it became clear that we would have many places to choose from to camp.
It was finally decided to set up right down in the dry marsh bed, and although it seemed odd when I first looked at it, it rapidly took on the trappings of another wilderness bivouac. The more I sat in the dried grasses and looked around, the happier I felt. I am still at peace.
Walking...I am so free
It was with sadness that I packed up for the last time. I had packed well, and had used everything I brought. I shouldered the pack with unusual lightness.
I was uncomfortable when I arrived at the shoulder of the road and gladly headed back into the woods when the time came. Even the railroad trek was preferred to the pavement.
The snow began to fall and all I could dream about was that I did not want to stop walking.
I am so free
View Gail Staisil's photo album from this trip.
Read another photo-journal.
In God's wilderness lies the
hope of the world,
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