Finding God, self, and community in wild spaces. The better we know our wild neighbors the more we'll discover ourselves.
A vision informed by Henry David Thoreau’s interpretation of sauntering, Jesus’ understanding of neighbor, Aldo Leopold’s concept of thinking like a mountain, Rachel Carson’s prophetic voice and John Muir’s way of capturing the beauty and uniqueness of wild neighbors with words.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

West Rim Saunter 11/21/2019

Mountain laurel thicket along West Rim Trail
West Rim Trail North Terminus (headed south along West Rim Trail)

Start time- 7:24am

Every ravine, stream cut, and moss-covered log in the Pine Creek Gorge holds its own treasures. The truth is that it doesn't take much to notice, but these things remain hidden to most.

I set off on my woodland pilgrimage not knowing why. Many times there is no big 'why' that emerges, and that's okay. When wild spaces call to me, if I can, I go. Simple as that.

But as I set off into the forest I recall that quote from John Muir;

"wherever we go in the mountains, or indeed in any of God's wild fields, we find more than we seek." (John Muir. My First Summer in the Sierra. Dover Publications Inc. Mineola, NY 2004. Page 103)

My first wild neighbors to greet me at the trailhead are a flock of American crows and a Cooper's hawk. Fortunately for the hawk the crows seem unaware of its presence, or at least they're preoccupied with something other than mobbing raptors at the moment.

sulfur-yellow mushrooms growing on an oak log
At the first stream cut, a hairy woodpecker picking bugs from a dead ash tree.

A half-mile past the Owassee Road crossing a mixed flock of nuthatches, titmice, kinglets, and of course leading the flock as always, chickadees!

At the next ravine brown creeper calls, while chipmunk chirps, and the crystal spring bubbles on into eternity as I read the words of the humble poet Nessmuk.

The lonely corvid cries "jay!," "jay!" while a big buck with at least eight long tines on antlers that extend well beyond its ears bounds ahead of me on the trail and ground pine creeps along underfoot.

A second blue jay mimics the call of a red-shouldered hawk and red-belled woodpecker works a dead snag while moss takes its good old time growing on the log upon which I've sat for a moment's rest.

More chickadees.

To commune with nature. Grace abounds. The fullest sense of community is to be experienced here!

On this day every sound along West Rim Trail is a sanctuary to my ears; the sounds produced by woodland animals, bubbling springs in steep ravines, the crunch of leaves underfoot...

At the next turn in the trail I see a black squirrel perched on the side branch of a large white pine. He watches me while I watch him. Peace be with you neighbor.

A thick stand of small pines comprised of hemlocks and white pines is now on my left. What treasures lie within? The spirit of curiosity stirs, so I investigate. In the thick of the small pines I glance down and see that a deer tick is crawling up my pant leg. Today one off-the-trail detour is enough to get me quickly back on it.

Tick- While you're communing with nature I'd like to commune with you.

Me- I'd rather not. Your presence is concerning but you are my wild neighbor, so I will not kill you but I will remove you from my pant leg.

Back on the trail

A ruffed grouse bursts forth from a laurel thicket, a light brown moth flutters at eye level, and gray squirrels bark from the mast of a nearby oak.

Raven croaks as she rides the wind overhead.

Blue jay opens the creaky door.

Leaves crunch underfoot a little more loudly now that the bright morning sun has warmed the forest floor.

View from Barbour Rock
10:00am- Now I'm in the land of red cedar and dwarf juniper. The first clear view of the canyon from West Rim Trail. A cool mist that fills the air is illuminated by the sun. The hills are all aglow with sublime misty tones of gray, white, and green. Each downward sloping ridge of the Pine Creek Gorge is framed by the tops of tall pines.

Is this heaven?

I contemplate the question as I munch walnuts and cranberries on my lofty flat rock perch with my back rested against a very thick trunked red pine.

A goldfinch cruises by shouting "po-ta-to-chip!," "po-ta-to-chip!," "po-ta-to-chip!" while juncos come to greet me.
Another view from Barbour Rock

Each member of this wild community brings a gift. The oak trees bring acorns. The birds bring their song. The water brings hydration to the landscape. As for me, I bring receptive mind, open heart, pencil, and notebook. Beyond the gift of Jesus, the greatest gift that God has given us is the gift of each other. As life blesses and sustains life we are all uniquely made to be channels of grace with and for each other; and grace is the totally undeserved love, kindness, compassion, and care of God.

Morbid thoughts from the trail: when I die I don't want it to be in some sterile hospital room hooked up to an IV. I want to live a long and good life, and I want to die in the company of my wild neighbors, perhaps overlooking a grand vista like the one I'm looking at as I write this, or perched next to a mountain spring.

To quote Muir again,
"Oh these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever." (John Muir. My First Summer in the Sierra. Dover Publications Inc. Mineola, NY 2004.Muir 34)

what a nice spot for a hot lunch!
11:30am- While I cook my lunch of rice and beans with Eastern hemlock tea, a raven is making its way back and forth along the canyon rim, calling and spiraling through the air as she goes.

Thank you, Lord, for this life-giving day, for this food and drink, for this fire, and for the company of all of my wild neighbors, especially the hemlocks and ravens; and recognizing all of these as expressions of your love, thank you!

After an hour I've put the fire out, and what logs are left have ceased smoldering. Time to begin the latter end of this day in the woods, heading northwards towards the trailhead.

"the bowl"
On the way out I've made it as far as the nearest rocky point that can be seen from Barbour Rock, the south end of what I like to call "the bowl" because of the way that the west rim of the canyon makes a bowl-like shape if looked at from above.

As I pass Barbour Rock on the way back north the wind is picking up, blowing through the gorge from south to north.

a la sainte terre

If my purpose on this outing was to commune with wild neighbors and cook my lunch over a camp fire in the woods then I'd say this day was a success.

I know I've shared this trail today with bear, raccoon, and bobcat. Though I have not seen either of these three, scat marks the trail. I wonder if these three have seen me.

Where West Rim Trail crosses Owassee Road I can hear cars along Route 6 as they pass through Ansonia. With today's woodland adventure coming to an end, I hear a distant raven calling from behind as if to say, "come back soon!"

Now after a seven hour saunter along the West Rim Trail of the Pine Creek Gorge I'm back at the car.

Before I make my way back to town there's two words I must say three times.

Thank you, to my Wild Neighbors.

Thank you, to the Forest.

Thank you, to the One who gives life to us all.

Finish time- 2:50pm



Camp fire spot






Eastern hemlock tea and beans & rice













beans & rice ready to eat
















Cheers! It doesn't get much better than fresh Eastern hemlock tea.
















My back pack all prepped and ready to go the evening prior.











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