Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Very Mercky Christmas

     Santa deserves extra cookies and milk this year. On Christmas Day we found a trove of presents under the trees of Merck Forest in Vermont. Most treasured was the gift of close friends to hike and visit with. Add the good cheer of lots of other folks out enjoying a late December day that felt like early October. Then there was the contented flock of sheep grazing in their high meadow and the wild apple trees still laden with fruit, both evoking lush bounty. Beyond was a pleasant trail winding up thru the forest to an open summit with scenic views. Finally, throw in a brief dog fight for a little excitement. What more could you ask for?

     Our family has a tradition of going out for a holiday ski tour but in snowless years I've noticed  that the skis don't glide as well. So Plan B is a hike. Last year we checked out the New Skete trails and marveled over the architecture at the monastery in White Creek. This year Susanna and Dara planned a camping trip and hoped we could join them for a few hours.
     The drive was like climbing a tree of water. First was the trunk of the Hudson River. Then we ventured along a big limb known as the Battenkill. Next came a side branch called White Creek
(stream names tend towards the monochromatic over here - there are two White Creeks, a Black Creek and its mate, the West Branch of Black Creek, and last if not least, a Little White Creek.) Finally, rising past Rupert, Mill Brook divides into a numerous little unnamed twigs that collect the runoff from the Taconic ridgeline. And out on the hiking trail we passed moss covered ledges seeping with individual droplets, the leaves of this sprawling watershed tree.

     During a Stewarts stop in Salem we were rewarded with a possible Santa sighting. There he was, a rotund gentleman with bushy beard wearing a tee shirt and shorts held up by suspenders. Combat boots completed the outfit! After his night of hard work I guess the old guy deserves to dress-down and visit the convenience store of his choice.
     Salem, like Cambridge, is sited on flat, well-drained outwash deposits ideal for building. After turning onto Co. 153 in the center of town I always look for a magnificent sycamore just past the Fort Salem Theater. Love that tree and the beautiful old homes that line the street. Beyond is classic hill country scenery with fields backed by wooded slopes. Soon you reach West Rupert and then Rupert, sibling Vermont hamlets that seem content to be far from the maddening crowd. The D&H rail trail parallels the road before heading north towards West Pawlet. It's a good route to walk, ski or bike.
     A steep hill leads to the entrance to Merck Forest and a narrow dirt road that ends at a parking area and visitors center. Walking from here we passed a cabin, sugar house, barns and sheep pasture before meeting Susanna and Dara for the hike up Mt. Antone. At 2600 feet, it's the high point. The maple forest was strung with sap lines ready for the sweet season in March. A colorful mix of birches and spruce were sprinkled thru the sugarbush along with rocky outcrops of slate and phyllite.

Lila ready to rumble

     I often do this trip as a ski tour in snowy winters, arriving on top sweaty and then chilled by a frigid wind, while facing the steep descent with a roiling brew of anticipation and abject fear. So it was pure joy to take in the amazing vistas in the calm warmth of this Christmas afternoon. At least mostly calm. Just as our happy crew was preparing to head down, another family arrived. They were accompanied by a couple of miniature dachshunds resembling fat sausages sliding steadfastly up the trail. Holly's dog Lila made it clear that the mountain wasn't big enough for the three of them and for an instant the fur was flying. Fortunately, intervention was swift, collars grabbed and leashes snapped. Befitting the day, a gentle peace soon returned. All that was left was to be like water and flow gently down hill towards home.

1 comment:

  1. These are fabulous Christmas celebrations photos. It was so good to know about your Christmas Eve. I too enjoyed with family as attended a party at one of iconic outdoor party venue NYC. Every one of us enjoyed there.