Monday, July 22, 2013

Going east. Discovering new ways...

I have been planning on going into the woods again for some time, but always found an excuse not to. Too many things to do, didn't feel like it and most of all too warm. Today was forecast to be the coolest day of the week, with temperatures reaching 20°C around 14:00. That sounded just perfect, so I asked my wife to wake me whenever she'd wake up. That usually means somewhere between 06:00 and 06:30. 
Shortly befor 07:00 I got a nudge and I quickly got up, grabbed my clothes and made a light breakfast.  I had prepacked my trusted German backpack the night befor, I added 2 canteens of water and some food for lunch to that and was off at 07:20. The sune was already high in the sky, but at these latitudes that's unavoidable. I set out with a special purpose; instead of playing around with gear, sticks or stones I wanted to see if I could use some of my own "gear"; my eyes, ears and other senses. I wanted to go and do some exercises, suggested in a recently purchased book; Tom Brown's field guide to nature observation and tracking. He suggests that, instead of stomping around, you should slow down, take your time, adjust your way of walking and hone your senses. These are the first "lessons" in his book.
I brought my Finnish beakboots for travelling on the gravelroads, but also took my mocassins for "offroad" use. Using these on the gravelroads is both quite uncomfortable, even painfull and it would ruin the soles in no time. My goal was to explore a new area due east from where we live. There's yet another lake. As I walked down the roads towards the lake the sun was already quite warm and I somehow doubted if this would indeed be a cool day. For now however it was and I deeply inhaled the still fresh air.
About half an hour later I reached the shore of the lake. As one of my intentions was to try to wake as silently as possible and to try a new way of walking, I took of my boots and socks and slipped into my mocs. The way in was all but silent, but what can you expect of loose gravel? I turned of the gravelroad onto a more overgrown gravelroad. Luckily the gravel here had not been renewed for a long time and the stones were much smaller. It still was a bit unpleasant and painfull at times. But on the other hand, the contact you immediately have with the ground beneath your feet, the feedback your feet give you and the lighter way of walking were sheer bliss! 
Tom Brown says that today we walk the wrong way, in what he calls the city shuffle, hammering your heels onto the ground, looking down, leaning forward. He suggests something like the fox walk; touching down on the outerpart of your foot and roll it down, face forward, body straight. So for the next few hours I was going to "mind my step" and it worked! The combination of other footwear and the new technique meant that I could move much more silent, even in the bonedry forestdebris. Fantastic!
As I sneaked along the road I came across all kinds on things; many animalsigns and scores of insects. There were particulairly many butterflies And I even discovered a forestanthighway. It was a path, about 5cm wide, coming out of the undergrowth at the edge of the road and it was black with ants. It first branched off to the left and a bit further it branched off again; to the right this time. It was an awesome sight and there were so many ants I could actually hear them walk! They made a "tsktsktsk" kind of soft rattling noice.
After I had watched for a while in amazement I continued, checking the map every so often. My new way of walking combined with the fact that I deliberately walked a lot slower meant
that my inner distancecalculator malfunctioned. Normally I keep a pace of about 6km/h and offroad that is about 5km/h on easy terrain, such as this. But now I was maybe going 2,5 or 3km/h, messing up my e.t.a.-calculations (estimated time of arrival). These have become an imprinted second nature, so hard to let go....
The further I went the more overgrown the road became and at one point I came across a young tree, partly uprooted and the top nibbled clean. However the leaves were still fresh! That meant something larger had been feeding here a short while ago! The tree was about my size and that was to high for a deer. Unless it had first uprooted the tree and then ate the top. But deer aren't that strong and selective? Why eat only the top? So I was guessing the tree got uprooted by accident during feeding...

I continued, looking at the flowers and insects, thinking about the tree, and practising Tom Brown's splattervision (instead of focussing on one point only all the time, create a field of vision allmost 180 degrees wide) when I suddenly heard a twig snap in the forest next to the road. I froze and listened..... *crack* There it was again! Sounded like a real branch instead of a twig and quite close too! Very carefully I inched my way to the roadside and inbetween the treeline. *crunchcrack!* I stood motionless and listened.... I couldn't see much between the downhill going, dense undergrowth, but I could hear. There was something large moving down there and it was moving slowly. I could here it walk, occassionally stepping on a branch, I could hear it feed, ripping down leaves and moving bushes and I even could hear a muffled bark-like sound. There was something larger than a deer moving down there. I stood motionless, one hand leaning against a tree, my ears cocked and my senses hightened. I don't know how long I stood there, might have been 15-20 minutes, might have been half an hour, but suddenly my patience was rewarded as I saw a greyishbrown furcoat light up between the undergrowth as a ray of sunlight struck the left hindquarter of a moose! It moved at ease, seamingly unaware of my presence. But then I felt a breeze of air, coming from behind, flowing past my skin and I knew I would be spotted the next minute. For a moment the animal froze and then trotted off into the undergrowth. Damn, it was so close!!!

I remained in place for a while, trying to proces what just happened. How could I have come so close? I guess the moose came as close as 20 meters. Was it really the few basic lessons I was trying to put to good use or was it just luck? I also waited and listened, but the animal was gone. No more sounds.... So I moved on and a bit further up the track I came to the end of the road. I had planned to go from here to the next road and then round the far edge of the lake, but looking at the relatively young forest with its dense undergrowth made me decide otherwise. I did not feel like bulldozing my way through that today. So I turned around and tried some of the sidepaths I had seen on the way in; one being very close by and leading
to a small clearence. I decide to take a break here and hopped onto a rock and just sat there. I didn't move, I just looked and listened, still practising my broadviewvision or splattervision and using my ears. It wasn't long befor I could keep that vision untill I saw something of interest, focus on that, look at it and go back to "splattervision". It took a while befor the animals around started acting as if I wasn't there, but then some came real close. There was a large, black woodmouse, scurrying through the grass right in front of me, there was a hare feeding and sitting in the sun, just a few meters to me left and I could hear a larger rodent right behind me. I just sat there, maybe for an hour, maybe an hour and a half..... but I had already seen more animals then on my other walks!
my lunchtable
I heard another familair sound by now; that of a stomage, pleading for food! I hopped of "my" rock and was on my way again. Didn't want to brew a cup of tea here. Too much high grass and undergrowth. Level 4 forestfirewarning is still in effect and everything really is bonedry. Even the moss makes a crunchy sound, when stepping on it! So I went looking for more open terrain, which I found in another sidepath a bit further down the road. There was an old hunterstand and the terrain was cleared from brush and such. I picked a larger rock with flat top, cleared a spot to put down my messkitset and made lunch. Even while I cleared a spot to bare rock, a small piece of moss caught fire. There was quite a bit of wind and the flames from the burner regularly blew around. quickly extinguished it, cleared a larger area and remained there for a while, even after lunch, just to make sure nothing happened. I even poured the boilingwater from the eggs over the surface. If something here were to catch fire, there'd be real trouble in no time.
During lunch I regularly saw a large, shorttailed brown bird flying around, obviously in distress. She seemed quite uncomfortable with my presence and in between I heard some soft highpitched birdcalls coming from one of the trees. So I kept my lunchbreak short.....
some spiderweb in the sun
A casualty of nature and the killer's markings

After this I wandered around a little, looking here, listening there, but several fysical discomforts were making themselves noticeable. It had quickly become warmer than the predicted 20°C, I need to get used to bearing backpacks again, my feet and lower legs had become tired and painfull and haemorrhoids can be a real pain in the rear.... When I left the overgrown road again, I put on my socks and boots and actually welcomed that feeling.... for now. I took a short breather in the shadow by the edge of the lake and smelled the air the came blowing in... Then I made my way home.
But what a day it had been! So much I had learned and seen! Of course I need to practise a lot more, but seeing what I had already achieved, just by slowing down and using some of my senses...

the book that caused it all...

The soles of the moccassins actually showed the new way of walking.
They had slid to the inside of the foot.


  1. Very nice trip Ron, digging the scenery and the mocs. I may have missed it, did you make those?

  2. Interesting animal encounters. :) I always enjoy them when they happen, too.