Walking and Seeing


I once had a conversation with a young man at an outdoor store about the Appalachian Trail; he told me that he would never do the Appalachian Trail because one of his friends said it was just a long green tunnel. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Appalachian Trail is a lush green trail with something to amaze you every inch of the way.

For many reasons, there is no better place for a long distance hike than the Appalachian Trail. Going on a long distance hike is an opportunity to live life simply and with clarity. It is a world that moves only as fast as your step. At this pace you can take the time to observe the world around you and see all of its abundance.

The whole idea behind this website and the book The Gentle Art of Wandering is to help one cultivate the mindset to see. It is giving yourself permission to see something that you had nothing to do with and realize that it is a gift for you to enjoy. It is not about racing to the top for a “killer view” but about experiencing everything along the way.

And when you do this, you will find something no matter where you are. If you are fortunate enough to take a long walk on the Appalachian Trail, you will see plenty of bears, moose, and deer. But most of the life you’ll see will be little life such as this red eft.

Or an adult newt in its aquatic stage.

The newt and I probably spent 15 minutes looking at each other before I moved on.

Or you might stir up a snake as you walk through the woods.

Or you might see a nest of caterpillars.

If you can quiet your mind and listen, you’ll hear the sounds of insects, birds, the wind, streams and waterfalls. One time, while sitting on a log eating my lunch, I could tell that the dried leaves on the ground were alive with grasshoppers. It sounded like popcorn popping, and I still remember that moment, fifteen years later, like it was yesterday.

In addition to little life, you will see amazing textures all the way from Georgia to Maine.

The Appalachian Trail in Maine

As you walk along the trail, you will also see the change of seasons. When you start your walk in Georgia it will still be late winter, or very early spring, without a trace of bud or a leaf.

Springer Mountain shelter in Georgia in late March

But as you walk north it will eventually get warmer and you’ll find yourself in the middle of spring and flowers will be everywhere.

Eventually it will become summer and the trees will be fully bushed out.

This shot was taken near Bear Mountain in New York. The Manhattan skyline can be seen far in the distance.

And you’ll have wild blue berries at your feet all the way to Maine.

If your hike goes a bit longer, you might find yourself in the middle of a New England fall as you finish your hike in Maine.

As you go on your journey you can keep an eye out for evidence of prior human use. One example is this old road now starting to fill with brush. If you have time, it might be interesting to see where this old road goes.

If you pay attention you might spot this old apple orchard. A southbound hiker in the fall might be able to pick an apple off one of these trees. I wonder if it will still taste good.

When you cross the Hudson River in New York State, you’ll start running into stone walls from abandoned farms. If you have the time, it might be fun to explore along the walls to find remains of the former farmstead.

Although this blog post only shows a very small tip of a very large iceberg, I hope it shows enough about the possibilities that await you when you adopt the mindset of wandering. You’ll soon find out that every step of the journey, which could be well over four million steps on an end-to-end hike of the Appalachian Trail, will have something new and exciting to offer. All you have to do is to get out of the way and let your senses experience all that the trail has to offer.

But the Appalachian Trail is not the only place for the mindset of wandering. The mindset of wandering can help you make discoveries wherever you are. You might notice something odd like this miniature orange (only an inch across) growing at the base of orange tree in someone’s front yard in Los Angeles.

Or you might see an arrowhead the next time you take a walk in the backcountry. This particular arrowhead is only about a half inch long.





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