An Autumn Hike in the Woods: On a Sierra Club Hike

Sierra Club Hikers

Hike and Write participants
Hike and Write participants | Source

An Autumn Hike in the Woods


I met my group of local Sierra Club members at 9 am to guide them up Myer's Ranch Trail near Conifer, Colorado the last weekend in September. On this "Hike and Write" adventure, we began at the 8,000 feet trail-head amid clumps of bright yellow rabbit-brush, a woody stemmed plant that contains, amazingly, concentrations of latex, something much needed especially during World War II when there was a shortage of latex for making rubber tires. But, rabbit-brush proved to be too impractical.

As we began our hike past waves of frozen grass, we could see layers of yellow-tinged aspen gracing the mountain slope above us. We soon entered a Ponderosa pine-Douglas fir forest and took my delight in smelling the fresh vanilla scent of the orange and scaly bark of the ponderosa pines. Butter and egg flowers coated the open meadows still frozen in the early morning air. Willows, tinged with yellow, grew in abundance near trickling, icy streams. I explained to my group that there are over 250 sub-species of willow in the Rockies.

Now our trail began to rise sharply uphill past juniper shrubs laced with light green berries that distinctly flavor gin. A few people tasted them to double-check my story. Dried up squaw currant bushes grew here and there with completely dried berries that, earlier in the season, are edible. Chickadees sang from deep within the woods as ravens squawked raucously from their high perches atop pine trees.

We stopped to swill some cold water from our bottles and chatted a bit about our modern need for the natural world--a world of high tech, of government shut-downs, of undo profits made by various multinational businesses, but there stood rows on end of pine and fir to lead us back toward spiritual balance.

At last we arrived at a large, covered picnic table to sit down for the writing part of our hike at 8,300 feet. Out came their note pads and pens as I requested that they begin composing amulets,* a poem perfectly suited to ecological expression.

The John Muir scholar Terry Gifford writes in his insightful book, Reconnecting With John Muir (2006) that he regularly takes his college students out onto the moors of Scotland to have them write amulets. He explains that John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club and father of Yosemite National Park, once wrote that "everything is joined to everything else, sometimes in ways that are invisible." Gifford suggests to his students out on the moors to look around and jot down eight things that are connected including sky, rain, rocks and ferns.

I did the same with my group, except we were in Colorado, not Scotland. My people came up with sky, frost, mud, aspen and many other things. Each person, of course, developed his on list of things. Their next chore was to think of active verbs that these natural things are doing. Mud oozes and aspens quake, for example.

Then I explained what an amulet is: the first line is the same as the last line and the last few words of the first line become the first words of the second line with this interlinking construct continuing up to the last line. As Terry Gifford explains, the amulet is a perfect device to show inter-connections in Nature.

My Sierra Club group spent a half hour or so writing rough drafts of their amulets, and they were amazing. Each person read aloud his or her creation and we applauded each effort. I told them to polish and re-polish them before submitting them to our local Sierra Club publication, Peak and Prairie.

We descended from our writing perch down through the forest in a different direction to see a vein of Rocky Mountain dwarf maples, deep scarlet in color, mixed in with waves of yellowing aspen. By the time we reached our cars, we had all the more appreciation for an autumn hike in the woods.


* Here is an example of an amulet from Terry Gifford's book:

Below the grass dripping moisture

Below the dripping moisture crawling creatures

Below the crawling creatures hungry hearts

Below the hungry hearts living love

Below the living love the grass

Below the grass dripping moisture.

Scarlet Dwarf Maples

Rocky Mountain Maples turning color
Rocky Mountain Maples turning color | Source

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