Sunday, November 14, 2021

A Basecamp for Fall Hiking

Early morning after the rain
After a night of rain and wind, dawn eases into a day of bright, crisp skies, the still air permeated with the earthy smells of leaf duff while fall colors carpet the trails with reds, yellows, and browns. Autumn is a beautiful time to hike, and Lacey-Keosauqua State Park in southeast Iowa provides some excellent hiking opportunities--a two-mile hike around the lake, unmarked trails above the lake that lead off onto the shoulders of the hills around the lake, and the River Trail hike that skirts the Des Moines River. I basecamped at the state park's campground for four nights, hiking every day and enjoying the beauty of the fall weather.

Lacey-Keosauqua State Park is close to home, and I've camped here many times. Although there are road-bicycling opportunities, the trails are for hiking only; therefore, this trip I left my folding Montague Allston at home because I wanted more time among the trees and on the trails. Especially after a rain, walking the fall trails is a pleasure. I can walk in silence because the wet leaves don't crunch with each footstep, and in that silence the small sounds of forest life are amplified. I feel myself merging with the sounds, pausing to be part of the silence and then moving along the trails that follow old deer paths, keeping to an even elevation that laterally follow the ridge lines which conserves energy, minimizing climbs and descents. 

A Basecamp for my old bones
Lichen and leaves on a stone bridge
My attention unconsciously narrows, and I find myself framing smaller images when I choose to photograph something, a single tree or stone bridge, lichen and leaves, a ribbon of river slicing across the vision. It's good to be alone, although it would have been equally enjoyable to share my hiking time with my wife as my companion--a different hike but also unifying. As it happened, I was hiking alone, yet not alone. It's difficult to describe, but I felt at home, even though I wasn't at home. I had traveled to this state park to spend time camping in my new Airstream Basecamp and hiking through the woods, and I was doing this, remembering the trails and re-discovering what I had forgotten. 

My brother passed away three quarters of a year ago, and I thought of how he would have enjoyed the walk around the lake. He would have enjoyed being out among the oaks and maples; he would have enjoyed sharing the moment with me when a buck leaped across the trail and up the hill, full-muscled with the fall rut season, its antlers gleaming pale among the darker fall colors. Mostly, though, I just walked and then stopped for a time, walked again and stopped again, enjoying each moment and allowing myself to ease into each moment--and maybe even forgetting time and just being in the woods, as simple as sunshine on a green leaf.

Earlier Keosauqua times with the "Green Goddess"
Sitting by the campfire every night, I read by "Kindle light" or with my headlamp from a paper book. For three of the four nights I enjoyed the early darkness by enjoying the fire, eating a dinner snack of saltine crackers and almond butter along with an apple. The fourth night was windy, so I basecamped it inside my trailer, cozy but lacking the flickering reassurance and the smoky musk of the fire. This trip I also had decided to cook more, so for lunches I whipped up baking powder biscuits, open-faced sandwiches, and baked vegetables. I used the Basecamp's kitchen more, accustoming myself to cooking inside and reassuring myself that it was possible to do so and not make a mess. I did cook outside some on an aluminum table I set up next to the trailer, utilizing its outdoor, 20-amp outlet to plug in a toaster oven and Instant Pot. Mostly I used these inside, though, making sure, of course, that the Instant Pot was vented outside because I was keeping an eye on the condensation level. I found that the Airstream Basecamp, larger than the tiny, standy trailer I camped in last year, was more comfortable, providing more room and amenities, even while winterized. That doesn't mean, of course, that I wasn't happy as a clam when out camping with our first trailer, an RTTC Polar Bear. Both provided a warm, comfortable haven from which I could take off for a day of hiking and then return to relax and gather my strength for the next day.

Just a walk through the woods
Being a loving and responsible member of my family, sometimes I find myself worrying, feeling the burden of these perilous, pandemic times with their health and economic challenges. I feel physically every hard knock my family takes, teeter on every precipice they have to negotiate. Being out in the woods and moving, hiking up the rises and carefully down descents slippery with leaves glistening with rainfall from the night before, just being more in the active moment helps me find a more stable perspective. I realize one situation I'm worrying about won't come to a decision point for another six weeks, that some decisions aren't mine to make. The best approach to many challenges is to act when the moment is right and to not dwell on negative possibilities prior to the cusp of that moment. I think hiking in the woods helps remind me of this. Nature reminds me that pivotal moments exist within larger rhythms and cycles, and that worrying about those pivotal moments doesn't hurry them along; the time to act is when the time is ripe. We have to learn to enjoy each moment and maybe to come to realize and live the ultimate truth--that we tend to superimpose "moments" upon cosmic reality, that we our plans should make life simpler, not more complex. We should make plans and then put them aside until the time of action arrives.

Watching the river flow, Ely Ford, LKSP
I'm trying to understand why I enjoy camping in the woods, why this state park draws me with its simple joys. The irony is that if I think too much about why I like to camp, I'm missing the point: thinking about being in the moment isn't being in the moment! My "moment of being" right now, though, is a writing moment, not a hiking moment. I'm at home, next to my wood stove that is crackling quietly as the fire cools. It's windy outside and dawn still awaits. The whipping moan of the wind wakes me early, and so I write in the quiet of the night, dawn a future moment in time, my reality right now the dark wind outside and my flow of thoughts and words. 

This is my reality right now, my remembrance of the fall woods and the joy of being well and hiking on a brisk fall day. My moments of serenity and light become like a string of pearls, unified into one single life, one of many lives and many shining moments. Camping in the "basecamp" of my body, I sit beside a campfire, night having arrived. Brilliant is the light, unfathomable is the darkness. Let the fire die down. I'll add more wood while it lasts, happy and warm in the moment.

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  1. Having lost a younger brother recently I also recalled his time at a lake near Omaha where we walked the 5.6 mile trail around the lake enjoying the time spent talking about good times with Aunt's, Uncle's and cousins. As I just celebrated my 77 year I too seek the trail of all seasons.

  2. Hiking isn't just good for the body; it's also good for the soul. You might also find this blog post about my brother interesting. It's from my writing blog. Sorry, but you'll have to copy and paste to follow the link.