I have been avoiding the news, again, occasionally glancing at the New York Times and the Economist to be aware of the more significant happenings. But I will not watch the news-I cannot contribute to the Orwellian personality cult that has become my country.

There is finer sustenance at my table than the latest spew from the pumpkin man with daddy issues.

I went to the mountains this past weekend. I went despite the weather forecast of ice, wind, and snow. But, my wife would say that I never heed the forecast for what is considered “bad” weather. It seems that my twenty plus years of backpacking stories are full of ice storms, snow, torrential rain, and  hip deep mud.

I went because I had to-the mountains were calling and I had to go. To be more precise, the hemlocks offered me their rich, loamy embrace and I found myself lonely without them.


Norman Maclean wrote, in his novel, A River Runs Through It, “I am haunted by rivers” as he describes fly fishing and the truth found in the waters of western Montana.

As any of my hiking companions can tell you, I am haunted by hemlocks. I search for them along the mountain streams and in the shady hollows. I appraise the health of the smaller ones, looking for signs of the adelgid that annihilated some of the best memories of my childhood. I proclaim, with desperate hope, as I examine one small tree, that this particular specimen looks, “okay.” I quietly weep when I hike the Cedar Run trail in the Shenandoah where all of the giants are felled-the trail along the creek is littered with the immense carcasses of the once towering hemlocks. Briars have replaced what was once a cool, moist, dark forest floor. I follow the news of replantings and of scientific studies into ways to combat the killer, the wooly adelgid from Asia. (The United States Forest Service has some excellent resources.)

But all of this work just brings me more sadness. I know that all of these attempts are good and coming from the best of intentions; but what is left of the wild? This is just another example of manufacturing wilderness. So much has been altered and destroyed either by malice or neglect that man must intervene to save or manage what is left. Where then does one go to escape, for a moment, the teeming multitudes? Even these trees, miles from any trail head, have been tagged and numbered-a nail driven into their bark, a metal disk proclaiming each tree a number. Thankfully, some of these disks are hidden from view. But they are there.

No words or photos of mine have thus far paid sufficient homage to the giants left in relative peace on the side of that mountain in West Virginia. How can one avoid cliche and banality? My solution is to plan another trip. I guess I will need to return with camera and notebook and keep trying.









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