The sun was beating on the outside of my tent, turning it into something like that of a sauna. The evening before was damp and the condensation was dripping down the inside walls. I wanted to wake up early to catch the sunrise on my first summit but I was being lazy about breaking down camp. I was 6 days into my section and to say the least I was sick of all the food I had brought and I had only a couple days left on trail leaving me with few options, so for now I would opt out of my nasty ass oatmeal. This was not my best morning and I was fairly tilted.
Being I was short on supplies, mainly food because I had shared a bit during my second night at camp, i figured a half of a joint and a cup of instant coffee would work for now and I would ration my two days of food over the next three. At least between the two I could hopefully get moving sooner than later and make up some time I had lost while being grumpy about the rain the day before. I broke down camp and on I went.
I make it a habit to stop about a mile into my mornings. Usually i perform my foolish and eccentric stretching rituals, run a toothbrush over my teeth and dig a hole for my morning duties. Normally, this fifteen minutes is extremely uneventful. Today was different. I stopped and dropped my pack. Sadly, after only a mile, dropping my pack was a well needed moment of peace. Now truly, and to give TMI, the stretching, teeth brushing and hole digging is pretty fucking boring. The shit though…. its the most peaceful shit youll ever have. Birds are chirping, the suns shining, your body is weightless from instantly shedding weight from the pack. Call me crazy, but shitting in the woods is a friggin passage to manhood…..and hikerhood as far as im concerned. Believe me when i tell you its a much preferred method over a privy, pre dawn, with a headlamp. The flies are relentless and shitting in the dark is of no talent of mine. So here I am all squatted up off trail a few seconds…. the silence is overwhelmingly loud as you listen for hikers nearing your pack, or bigger game approaching you as to say “hey why are you shitting in my living room.” (I am not sure this happens, but i duly note it none the less.) Crack* snap* crack* THUD! Oh this is great, i decided to shit under an oak tree. Who squats under a tree that fights back? Apparently I do. Crack* crack* snap* crack* THUD. I think to myself, “isnt it a bit early for acorns to be falling.” So now that I have provided you a mental picture of me squatting under a tree trying to shit in peace while laughing at my own stupidity, picture this. I have my back against the tree and mere inches over my right shoulder on the trunk of the tree i catch movement out of my peripheral. Well for you who dont know me, im deathly afraid of snakes. That’s is the first thing that came to mind. I dive off the tree, praying to mother fuckin earth that i miss my shit in the process. (I did if you were wondering…fortunately) Unfortunately with my drawers around my ankles i take a little fall. I start laughing hysterically at the outer body vision of me laying there, balled up laughing hysterically with a shitty friggin ass. I glance past my bare back side and see a chipmunk on the tree. I start swearing and laughing at the little bastard. Now, im much a fan of nature and not so much one to take a life. That being said, had I been able to derive a way to catch that son of a bitch right at that moment, I assure you I would have made him my lunch without a second thought. Here comes lesson one about becoming nature. When diving out of the way to avoid shit and random animals…. do watch where your toilet paper is. Personally, I did not, and realized I had so conveniently kicked the toilet paper into my shit. I literally was about to become nature as I found myself picking the biggest leaves within my vicinity. Good thing I perched up to an oak tree and not a pine. Although, if you are not familiar with oak trees, they have a considerably small leaf. So there it is… becoming nature 101. Wiping your ass with a leaf.
Now onto a much cleaner subject. I assure you I was still giggling to myself as I picked my pack up and threw it upon my shoulders. The mental picture of the event had me shaking my head. I could not help but wonder about that fucking chipmunk. I wondered a lot of things, but mainly about his ballsy curiosity that not only put him willing within inches of a human, but within smells distance of human crap. I assumed there were some seriously fucked up facts about chipmunks I did not yet know. I kid you not at that very moment, and only seconds after I put my pack on, contemplating my idiocy, I rounded a corner that had a log protruding onto the inside of the trail. There sat a chipmunk. Acorn in fucking hand. I can recall making some stupid comment like “hey you little fucker, your brother got me good a few minutes back.” He scurried off at the sound of my voice. Around another corner I go… surer than all hell there sat another fucking chipmunk smack dab in the middle of the trail, acorn in hand. At this very moment I began questioning my sanity. I had decided to pass it off as an abundance of both acorn and chipmunk. Besides, what the hell do i know about chipmunk preferences. For all I know, maybe I just shit at the bottom of the holy grail and mother of all acorn trees and they were angry.
I chalked all the chipmunks up to chance and kept on walking. I made it a little over a mile albeit had ascended close to 2000 feet. It had been close to an hour and I was hot, sweaty, and somewhat fatigued so I took a quick break. The woods were becoming bristly and smaller. The roots starting to show as they do when you get up in elevation and thank god there were no fucking oak trees for sake of my own well being. I sat down and was eating the last of some dried apples I had. That’s when becoming nature 101 kicked it up a to level 2. Not a meter from my feet, that were resting peacefully on my pack as my back lay against a downed and rotted tree trunk, there was a mother fucking chipmunk. “ARE YOU SERIOUS!?” I bellowed loudly. No doubt the mountain heard me. The interesting part, he didn’t scamper off. Hindsight, I sing and whistle the majority of the time when I hike alone, so maybe he had become familiar with my noise making. Oddly enough, he had a serious fucking staring problem. That is when I noticed an acorn in his hands. Had I not been sitting, I would have no doubt fallen ta’ fuck over. For a mental picture… think… ICE AGE. There is with no question the idea that these chipmunks are stereotypical when it comes to their acorns. Or so I thought. That is when he dropped it. An all to familiar thud yet quieter due to a lack of free fall. He took a little hop, putting him a couple inches closer to my feet. Well, maybe this was the pot talking, as I had complimented my apples with the other half of my joint, but i struck up a very one sided conversation with the little thing. Which i hesitantly admit was cuter than all hell. Like a dog with his head a bit off center, he seemed to at least be hearing me.I dont believe for a second he understood me naturally but he heard me. I tossed a piece of dried apple fairly close to him. He moved so quickly you could have sworn he caught it with his bare hands before he ran off. Literal seconds passed by and there he was…AGAIN. I tossed another piece of apple over his way and wouldn’t you know it, he grabbed that and took off too. I began to think I was back home on the coast of Maine, acting as a tourist and flocking the seagulls around with my left over french fries. (Highly frowned upon by locals mind you.) He kept coming, I kept throwing. Each time he would disappear momentarily and come back empty handed. It was like a backwards game of fetch. I cant lie, I felt a bit used when I was not getting anything in return. (For the record, i dont try and make feeding wildlife any habit. We were many miles away from a lean to and chipmunks dont seem to be quite as deadly as say… a bear… right or wrong, I made my choices)
My rest had come to an end but I must admit that this little fella had some serious attention. I almost felt a little protective and responsible in regard to his well being. After all he did eat all my fucking apples. So…. I decided to watch him. Really, my attention had started because of the conversation. As I was walking off, I was still talking to him…. something along the lines of “alright pal, lunch was nice, but its time for me to go.” Mine you i tend to talk to everything in the woods. Numerous days on trail, and the trees make pretty peaceful hiking buddies. Don’t judge. Well, all the same, as I was saying my good byes and walking off I had noticed him head in a similar direction. We were up in tree line so his movement was no longer lost in the thicket of the tall pines and overgrown brush. I kept track of him…. well what happened next was becoming nature example number 2. For the next 4 miles… and when i say 4 miles… i mean a literal 4 miles, this damned chipmunk would pop out on a branch, log, or rock every hundred feet or more and we would continue our conversation. Now for the record, he was no longer carrying an acorn but every bit of me assumes this was exactly the same chipmunk that scared the shit out of me…. well to be accurate, scared me while I was shitting. I would not have believed this myself had I not watched him scurry with my own two eyes for these 4 miles. I would stop and talk for a second as he stared, even continuing our conversation as if he was on my shoulder when he scurried off… instantaneously as I would pass he would dive off about 15 feet into the woods and start running parallel to the trail. I could clearly and without doubt see him pop out. Don’t get me wrong, I know he wanted food. What impressed me most was the ground he covered. The intent he had. His ability to not be afraid. What confused me was where he had hid all the apples as he surely wouldnt go back to find them. How he had followed me to almost above treeline where the woods would be unnatural to him compared to the lower elevations. Or so I assume, again im no chipmunk expert here. I just simply could not believe what was happening. I had realized during these 4 miles that he was not scared of me per say. I was a visitor in HIS home. Not the other way around. To him, I was probably just a food source. To me, he was a friend. To us, we were one in the same place. At least for a little while anyhow. Our time came to an end but the memory, in combination with the entirety of my day, has never left. I had stopped at a water source to refill and as fast as he came, he went.
Basking in the glory of my chipmunk whispering, a new found friendship, and my eventful day I decided that the pond I would be coming across shortly would be a great place to have a decent meal. I had heard there were some canoes on the shore that needed to be patched but made a perfect picnic table in the mean time until they were. The hike to the pond was relatively flat and muddy. Along the way I had seen many of tracks. Deer and moose mostly with some bigger bird tracks, i assume turkey. There they were, the canoes. So pleasantly placed beside them was a hose coming from the ground that was spitting fresh, cold mountain spring water. I dont think I had ever been so happy. I love mountain water… I am always carrying my sawyer filter, but when the opportunity arises… as a local Mainer familiar with springs…. i jump. There is nothing better than fresh mountain water and when it hit my lips… *sigh* what a treat. I decided to have the oatmeal I was dreading. Mainly in due part of the fact that I was almost out of food and my interest in the chipmunk has used at least a handful of snacks that I was supposed to be rationing. It was just then nature gave me the most appreciated treat of all. I had just lit my stove and placed water atop the flame when I had heard a splash. It took me a minute but as I had scanned the pond I saw water fly and heard another splash. How unaware I was that only 50 yards away, play a moose. Diving his snout into the water only to quickly take it out. With him came fountains of water and ….grass? Now again here, im no animal expert, but with my own eyes I made the assumption after many more minutes that he was playing. He was reaching down, picking out the grass and tossing it into the air, like a dog with a new toy. I had literally been so mesmerized that when I had turned back to throw my oatmeal in the water it had nearly evaporated. I added a bit more water and threw my instant oatmeal in. Suddenly the oatmeal was irrelevant. For all I had known, I could have reached down and grabbed handfuls of dirt and it would have been no different to me. The moose had played throughout the entirety of my meal. Which was short I will admit, but seemingly it was a lifetime. He seemed as if to never notice me despite the noise I made prior to realizing I had company. At an instant I realized I needed a picture… I got into my pack and dug out my phone, turned it on and when i brought my phone up to snap a picture… nothing. Like the chipmunk before him, he just disappeared. While hanging my head in disappointment i noticed a large moose track… then several more… all of them heading straight into the pond he played. I had practically followed him into the pond unknowingly. Part of me wished I had. I packed up and I continued on with the thought of my day clearly replaying in my head.
I learned plenty this day. Some of which I carry with me on an every day basis. Some of which I only carry on trail. For one… forget the fucking phone. As I sit contently at my computer typing this, only to contradict myself, I recall technology being the sole reason that I shorted myself time with the moose. Had I been content with the memory, i would not had wanted the photo. I learned to be patient. Had i acted upon my anger with the chipmunk, tossing rocks, screaming and swearing … he might not have been curious enough to know me. He might have scampered off long before he actually did. I learned to lighten up. My time under the oak tree normally would have ruined my day. Mind you I had three days left and now no toilet paper. This time though… I was able to laugh it off. Being content kept me light on my feet and my spirits high. Both i believe were necessary for arriving at the pond at the most opportune time. I learned to slow down. 15 seconds slower, taking the time to be more aware, I might have gotten the chance to share time with him just for only a few moments longer. A few irreplaceable moments. I think most importantly however I learned this. No matter the preparation you put in, you can never predict the trail. One slip in the mud calls for wet feet on a dry day. One stumble could cost you your life regardless of how quick you are on your feet. One picture can cost you a memory. So I strongly urge you, that when you are there, be there. There is time for pictures, there is time for all emotion. Just pick your times and remember that no matter how many times you go through the same stretch of trail, it will never be the same. Also, never forget where you are. You are only a visitor to become part of nature. Nature is not ours… its everyones but. The chipmunks, moose and trees… its theirs. Until we realize that we are only but part of a bigger picture we will never fully appreciate whats there. Every bit of trash has an effect. Every noise is heard. In the end, we share nature with the ones whom call it home, but it is not in fact our home.