It’s Crunch Time, Walkers…

Maple leaves fallen on a lawn.

Maple leaves fallen on a lawn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Walking and running are solitary by design.

Walk out the door. Keep walking, alone with your thoughts. Continue running to the sound of breathing and footfalls on grass or dirt trails.

Rhythmic.

Quiet.

But last evening I experienced ‘crunch time’. I heard every step even as I looked ahead in the beam of my headlamp to see the leaf covered ground and occasional twigs. My path lead me through patches of oaks and maples, 40, 50, maybe 60 years old. Serrated leaves dried, curled, fragile, carpeted the ground beneath my feet. And while I did not always see them I heard them. This short trail run was a feast for the senses:

visual (shadowy outlines on the ground in the light beam tunneling though the dark);

tactile (sensing the change in the feel of the ground, now covered with leaves);

auditory (hearing crunches, crackles, snaps, as the soles of my shoes pulverized these leaves once green than brightly colored and now shades of brown).

For the hill walker, trail walker and hiker, ‘hearing’ the trail is a rite of Autumn no less than observing the leaves’ quietly change from monochrome to their festive polychrome array.

See it. Feel it on the ground.

And hear it as you walk and run.

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Walking in a fog…

Fog obscures.

The “fog of war” explains how otherwise  civil men can be driven to act so uncivil. Fog is the rationale. Not only soldiers but poets too have turned their eyes toward the “fog”. For them it is a comfortable literary trope. “Fear death – to feel the fog in my throat and the mist in my face” wrote Sir Robert Browning (1812-1889). And when people look out their window and see the fog, they sigh as if only sunlight can bring happiness.

Last Sunday I hiked a route with which I am quite familiar, a 4 mile trail through boulder fields, along and over brooks, past a cascading waterfall and around fallen trees in an east coast maple-beech-birch forest in northern New Jersey. The trail includes over 1000 feet in elevation change and half of that is a 500 foot ascent up a section with several vistas along the way. From each viewpoint the panorama gets better and better until at the top one can see 30 miles and easily make out the skyline of New York City.

On a clear day.

Fog on Carris Hill Oct. 2013

Fog on Carris Hill Oct. 2013

On a clear day people make their way up the strenuous section which is almost two miles from the trail head. On a clear day a hiker will see others along the way and at the top,  in small groups or large or alone with their dog.

On a foggy, damp day you see no one at the top and just one or two souls  who have turned around complaining about the absent views.

But I for one saw value that day in not seeing. I took comfort in my obstructed view of that which I knew was there yet could not see. And for the first time in my life I made no effort to look past the slate gray cloud which enveloped the summit, which colored the nearby lime green leaves into a drab olive hue and totally hid the canopy only a few dozen feet beyond. No skyline was to be seen no how.

I surrendered any attempt to see beyond my veiled misty curtain for I began to understand that the nature of nature is that it is always beautiful if not always comfortable. We are guests in a vast abode about which we have no say. Yes, I could have waited for a sunny day. But Sunday last the fog at my fingertips was my panorama, and it was good.