Countryside Wanderings

It's amazing how things develop. After all, this blog started out as a news section for the rest of the website. With encouragement from readers, it has become a place for relating my countryside wanderings and musings about the world of outdoor activity. Walking, cycling and photography all are part of what I do out of doors and, hopefully, they will continue to inspire me to keep adding entries on here. Of course, there needs to be something of interest to you, dear reader, too and I hope that's the case. Thanks for coming.

Category: U.S.A.

A longer reading project

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

Over the years, I have been prone to buying books with good intentions and then hardly getting around to reading them. This has been known to apply as much to paper books as their digital counterparts and I have been getting through a backlog of the latter since last autumn.

The reading material itself has been varied with travel writing from the likes of Dan Kieran, Bruce Chatwin and Jack Kerouac seeing inclusion along with other subjects covered by the likes of Clive Aslet and Christian Wolmer. Amongst these have been works from Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, with the latter featuring through every month from last November until this one.

What I have discovered is that reading nineteenth century prose takes more effort than what is found today. Sentences feel longer and have more packed into them. The same applies to paragraphs that spread from one page to another. Even so, there are rewards in revisiting observations from another time for the sort of descriptive writing from centuries ago is more of a rarity today.

Returning to the Scottish naturalist and conservationist John Muir, my chosen task was to work my way through an extensive compendium of his collected works along with a volume in tribute and it is that which is the main subject of this post. In the U.S.A., Muir remains a revered figure and he is someone who appears to have fitted much into his lifetime too.

It was not just a childhood spent in Scotland prior to a move to Wisconsin either. Still, that childhood was a severe one with corporal punishment at home and school so go with schoolboy scrapping. Throughout all of this, there was a growing love of nature that was to define him. Engaging in that persuasion often got him punishment from his father yet he and his brother continued regardless. Such things were regardless as straying away from the path of Christian righteousness.

The hardship continued in North America with lots of hard work to build up a block of farming land from what was wilderness. Still, the appreciation of nature grew and there even was time spent inventing various clocks and other contrivances. That time was made by getting up part way through the night, an act that bewildered his own father.

The inventions were to see him heading away from home on an early trip to a fair and that was followed by four years spent at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Though a degree was not gained, there was plenty of mental enlightenment that preceded a time of factory working that was ended by an accident that nearly blinded Muir.

It after recovery from that incident that he began his long walk to Florida by way of Kentucky and Tennessee. Along the way, he had plenty of time for observing natural beauty before a bout of malaria laid him low. Though he made it as far as Cuba, the intended journey to South America had to be abandoned in favour of one to California that took him via New York.

It was his explorations of the High Sierra that would make his name. Yosemite, King’s Canyon, Hetch Hetchy and other such spectacular valleys would allow him to investigate the effects of glaciation. Mountain tops like Mount Shasta would see him climbing them, even when the weather was not that hospitable. One incident on Mount Shasta got a repeated telling. All the while, his health improved and his strength advanced as he observed grand fauna like the giant Sequoia trees endemic to California. Variations in weather were much experienced too with storms being relished; when most of us would stay indoors, he would be heading outside. Quite what people must have made of this and his other exploits would have made interesting reading not unlike what some write in our own times.

From California, he went north as far as Alaska while also visiting Oregon and Washington State too. The Grand Canyon was another place that he visited as was Yellowstone National Park. His trips to Alaska had him exploring glaciers with a view to seeing how their action related to what he saw in California. As well as Muir’s own published accounts, Samuel Hall Young also published his own tribute to the man with whom he too explore places such as Glacier Bay. Muir embarked on a summertime sea journey to the Arctic as well so he got to know Alaska and neighbouring parts of Russia better than many at the time.

There was one trip back to Scotland later in life and he also appeared to get to other parts of Europe as well as Asia and South America. Before all this, he married and settled down to run a fruit farm though that was not his real calling. His wife often sent him away to mountain country to get his fill of the wild places that he so cherished.

That love of nature must have turned him to conservation for he was one of the founding members of the Sierra Club, an organisation that continues to exist today. It also was reflected in his writing for he campaigned for National Parks and decried the effects of sheep grazing on wild meadows. Lumbering was not seen as a legitimate activity always nor was the building the railways. It was after an unsuccessful campaign to stop the building of a reservoir in Hetch Hetchy valley that he passed away.

His legacy has persisted with people still reading works like My First Summer in the Sierra, A Thousand-mile Walk to the Gulf or The Story of my Boyhood and Youth. These are just a small selection of what I ended up reading over the last few months. There was some repetition along the way but that probably can be found here too. The nineteenth century prose took some effort to read and things undoubtedly have changed since the times in which it was written but there was much to enjoy. In their own way, Muir’s books and other writings describe many parts of the world that I have yet to visit and the effort was worth it for all that. The enthusiasm and alternative approach to life percolated through the narratives too and the thinking has remained until our own time. Let’s hope that it does so into the future.

North American dreaming

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

While recent tidings from North America might have felt foreboding to many, virtual explorations of its wilder corners have been offering some solace in my life since the year began. In its early months, I considered some possibilities for car-free excursions from among America’s National Parks. That this is the centenary of the foundation of the the National Park Service over there, the pondering seems more apt. More recently, I began looking at the wilder corners of New York state like the Catskill Mountains and the Adirondack Mountains as well as the Finger Lakes and even Niagara. There may be an article elsewhere arising from those efforts too.

That is not complete and I even started to ponder Canadian escapades too. After all, you find National Parks like Banff and Jasper among the Canadian Rockies that line the boundary between the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. Both Vancouver and Vancouver Island have come to my notice too and Canada is going to suspend charges for entry its National Parks in 2017 as part of its sesquicentenniary (150 years) of its founding. That has been enough to get it to the top of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel country list for 2017. The scenery looks stunning in any photos too so dreaming can continue.

Some travelling by television viewing has happened too, be it a BBC series on the Klondike Gold Rush or one travelling the American railways around eastern states of the U.S. or another following nature’s eruptions of beauty during a calendar year. Each of those could either quell or encourage dreaming as could details of logistical realities of North American explorations. Realising quite how wild some of these places are cause more than a little pause for thought, not just for their expanse but also about their wildlife with bears coming to mind.

Maps have accompanied such mental meandering and software from Routebuddy, Memory-Map and Avenza has facilitated virtual ambles over faraway countryside more easily than paper maps ever would. Along the way, my listings of map publishers and software providers have expanded and could have a use for explorations nearer to hand too. There may have time for virtual wandering but its real world counterpart offers more lasting memories. It can be good to dream without losing track of reality, especially during tumultuous years like the one we have had.

Released?

Monday, February 9th, 2015

As anyone with elderly parents should know, life can be a roller coaster ride when their health declines. It certainly has felt that way over the last few years for my family and I. However, escaping out into the countryside has helped in its own way when dealing with life’s rougher moments. Getting through December 2012 certainly called for those head clearing escapes, be they into Tatton Park near Knutsford in Cheshire or along Irish country lanes. Both of my parents were frail then with my mother having been shook up by a hospital visit and my father’s strength in freefall since the summer. By Christmas, he really needed to be in a nursing home but mentioning the subject only resulted in angry exchanges. It took a brush with death due to a kidney infection for the matter to be forced and the issue to get resolved as it needed to be. He still was not intent on staying where he needed to be, and it was a nice place too, so no one could relax and a walk along the Macclesfield Canal between Congleton and Macclesfield as well as a shorter stroll around Buxton were well needed.

What really changed everything was my mother’s passing away not so long before what would have been her eighty first birthday and the loss was a raw one that not only resulted in next to daily evening walks by the River Bollin but also had me venturing further afield is search of a spot of solace. April 2013 saw me make two trips to Derbyshire and the area was to see me more than any other in that year. The of those April visits had me encountering banks of snow left over from a late winter as I hiked from Hayfield to Glossop, rounding Kinder Scout from below as I did so. The weather was much milder later in the month when I embarked on a circular yomp from Bakewell that took in both Ashford-in-the-Water and Monsal Dale. These were followed in June by a walk from Bamford to Edale that took in the southern edge of the Kinder Scout plateau and a walk from Monyash to Bakewell via Lathkill Dale. That last big walk of the year had me passing swollen rivers too; it had been a month of heavy rain and much flooding. A July escape to Fort William that took in Glen Coe and Glenfinnan could not have been more different with its sweltering temperatures and dry sunny weather. There also were sunlit walks from the Cat and Fiddle Inn back to my home that took in Shining Tor and Lamaload Reservoir. The first of these took me onto Rainow and Bollington while I passed close to Shutlingsloe on the second.

The combination of the scare that began 2013 and the loss of our mother meant that I tended to be more precious about my father and I suspect that my brother probably felt the same. The sense was that we could lose him sooner rather than later and it pervaded most of 2013. It sounds churlish to say it now but I started to wonder in the light of my father living longer than we might have expected if it was not before time to abandon any putting of my life on hold that there might have been. That is not to say that there was any sense of abandonment because, if anything, my visits to Ireland became more frequent. For much of 2014, I crossed the Irish Sea on a monthly basis.

In between those though, I began to get out and about again and last summer saw me make three visits to the Lake District. The first was to Buttermere when I crossed the top of Haystacks while the second facilitated a walk from Patterdale to Grasmere that went over the top of St. Sunday Crag and the last revisited Orrest Head and Loughrigg Fell. January and November saw me spend time around Llantysilio Mountain near Llangollen with the first trip enjoying bright sunshine all day and the weather disintegrating to spells of rain while I was up high. That makes an excuse for another return sometime though I did get more than a little compensation from spending some time by the Mawddach estuary near Barmouth the next day. There were more Welsh visits though with a summer solstice one that visited Sgyryd Fawr and Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny and a September retracing of steps between Rhossili and Port-Eynon in glorious weather. Yorkshire too saw a visit before the Tour de France did and that took in Pateley Bridge and Brimham Rocks in Nidderdale on a largely grey day. Northumberland was paid a visit during October with the delights of the coastline around Bamburgh being sampled on a day that felt more like it belonged to summer. Local trots around Macclesfield were not neglected either with Alderley Edge and Hare Hill seeing two visits. A pesky Jack Russell terrier took a set on my left leg the first time around so a hospital visit was advised and no such intrusion was experienced the second time around though I could have done with more sun.

There was more to my normalisation with a bike trainer being put to good use to see if my fitness could be bettered. The second half of 2014 also had my father see a good run of health that lasted until last month. There was a smaller scare in February 2014 but things steadied after that and I felt in the need of all that walking. Still, he was growing weaker as I found during last Christmas and I returned to Britain before New Year sensing that we might be on the cusp of a big change of some sort. In fact, I also wondered to myself how he would fare if he caught an infection. That question was about to get an answer only weeks later. A heavy chest infection was to confine him to bed after a traumatic experience when the nursing home thought him strong enough to sit up in a chair for a while. With that in mind, I made what I thought was a flying weekend visit in case there were to any further developments. Much of Saturday was spent with him and my brother was there too. When we left, he was comfortable and we thought that a peaceful night was in store. That changed after midnight and we dashed to the home. By the time that we got there, he had breathed his last only minutes before. Some would find that heartbreaking but the final peace is what I recall. His suffering was over and that nearly was more important than we might have felt.

A word said during one of the many conversations we had with others over the ensuing days remains with me: release. My brother and I felt it while nearby neighbours were stunned by our father’s departure; they surely felt it more than we did and some were crying on the phone to us. There may be another factor: we both had our homes and our lives while they see breakage in a continuity that they held dear. Also, the period with our father allowed us to come to terms with where things were going and have a partial glimpse of where things would go after he went. Of course, there are ups and downs as well as twists and turns of which we know nothing yet. The turbulence within me after my mother’s passing has not come after my father’s and there are times when I wonder why though that is not to see that there was no weeping or no jabs of the heartstrings. Maybe it’s that sense of release again.

There are matters that need attending yet but my mind also is starting to explore possibilities too. Visits to Ireland are sure to continue but not at the same frequency and certainly not with the same purposes as before though you hardly can abandon your relatives or former neighbours. There may be opportunities to visit places in Connemara, Mayo, Donegal or Wicklow that I have yet to see. That would be continuing something that they did after their own parents were deceased and there was many trip to Kerry and West Cork. Some of those gave me the love of hill country scenery that has taken me around so much of Britain and the Isle of Man. Over the past weekend, I was strolling around old haunts in Edinburgh like Blackford Hill, Bruntsfield Links and The Meadows before crossing over to newer haunts like Dean Village and Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens. Except for the occasional incursion of rogue clouds, there was sun shining on me throughout and I pondered the possibility of spending a week in the city sometime. Even in a place like Edinburgh, there was much opportunity to wander down memory lane (I graduated from one of the city’s universities) and have time and space to yourself if you needed it. Nearer destinations will remain attractive in a new life situation.

Speaking of memories, there is one that returns to my mind when I mention Edinburgh for I gained a research degree in a science subject while there. My parents were hoping that I would find a job in Ireland afterwards but the world of science is an international one, especially if you fancy a career in academic research. Some of my contemporaries gained post-doctoral jobs in the U.S. and that option did appeal to me not a little. The phrase “seeing the world” came to my notice and sharing it while on a trip back to Ireland must have tugged rather too strongly on parental heartstrings for I was asked to leave such designs until after they were gone. Now, youthful naivety has been displaced by realism so I now am amazed at the sorts of thoughts that went through my mind back then, especially when after experiencing more of the delights of Britain and Ireland.

Even so, that is not to say that I am not tempted by foreign destinations. The likes of the mountains of Canada or New Zealand or the American Rockies may not be what I have in mind but other spots in Europe have a certain allure. For instance, business trips to Sweden appear to cultivated a soft spot from Scandinavian destinations such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark or Iceland. There are areas of hill country in three of those and any photos of Norwegian fjords that I have seen look stunning. The Faroe Islands also have detained my attention and it helps that they are compact too. Going there would build on a 2008 escapade that to Scotland’s Western Isles and the islands of Orkney and Shetland have not missed my attention either. To return to the European theme though, you cannot overlook the Alps or the Pyrenees and they are but some of the mountainous regions on the continent that get mentioned in walking magazines from time to time.

None of this means that responsibilities are about to be overlooked and it can feel that you are able to make new obstacles for yourself too. The ones that appear of their own accord are enough for anyone and a life after my parents will bring its ups and downs will come soon enough. In between, pondering those other destinations may bring its own comfort while realising that short visits only uncover so much. After all, I lived in Edinburgh for over four years and still have parts of it to see anew along with those nooks and crannies that I continue to revisit. As ever, only time will reveal what comes to pass and what adventures may be had yet.


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