Wilderness (n): Wild or uncultivated land.

Location: Shenandoah National Park (in reflection)

[These notes were taken a week after a long weekend’s worth of camping and hiking in the Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. I did not bring my notebook on my hikes as I’d intended, as I was having too much fun with friends and just generally enjoying everything around me… but I figured it was worth seeing what I could muster for your, and my, benefit. Brackets are added/edited material. Otherwise these are the way the notes formed on the page…]

[Locale 1: Overall Run, from Matthew’s Arm Campground back via the Traces trail, Saturday Oct. 10th]


Hike[d] down to an overlook. Hear[d] a bear. This is wilderness not park. Rather than set aside it is preserved. I could not help but look up all the time (and nearly trip). The leaves closest to sun change first and the best colors are up there. There is something to say about the leaves being so vibrant before they fall, before the death of things and the silence of winter. I have never bothered to know the names of things, what kind of tree beyond evergreen and not. A lack of evergreen around here, lack in Shenandoah. It’s going to gray. the branches are so gray already – pale and spiney stretch out toward the path, shifting gaze and filtering sunlight. On a gray day there are no shadows, just forever woods, tree upon tree upon tree. Man interferes where fallen trees block the path but otherwise influence/maintenance is unseen. Oh, and also signage telling where the trail is heading [which is needed so we can make our way].

A park differs from wilderness in that wilderness is set aside not designed. A distance to get there. Not necessarily democratic. The enjoyment of a park can be felt without you being there walking through it. 500 acres [of Franklin Park] feels small compared to this. $15 entry fee. Wilderness is uncultivated. I feel a general awe for what Nature provides all on its own – in a park I feel a general appreciation for those though thought enough before me to keep the city from overwhelming all green space knowing all along pipes and sewers and built bridges, even groupings of trees, were designed. To see old photographs of the making of Franklin park is frightening. It is all torn apart and bulldozed – a clean slate. But Olmsted always considered what would occur over time, knowing the shape of the land was out of his hands. All he provided was a foundation, with consideration for growth and consumption – consideration for life.


In wilderness the foothold is our footsteps. Is the land we traverse because other have walked a path before us. In Scotland the walking paths were once practical – from hamlet to hamlet for the delivery of goods and resources and friendship… not sure about these.

On Overall Run the stream that once fed a waterfall is reduced to a trickle. Summer’s rain did not feed it familiar from the last occasion of my looking at it. A mere trickle. In ponds you can restock the fish. We swear we hear a bear. All these spectators out to see the fall and it [the waterfall] is missing. The trek back [was] slightly sad and the sun [was] going down.

Shenandoah 109

We take photographs of each other and the expansive landscape [the “impossible Nature” as my housemate describes it]. It seems impossible – mountains that stretch farther than our gaze. Again, the trees are coloring, but there are just so many of them. We stop to examine fungus and root, caterpillar and leaves upon leaves upon leaves. We have a trajectory – a way out and a way back – so we gauge our path by giving ourselves markers –stopping to inspect the scenery. I think Olmsted would want this of his parks but brought to us by wandering instead of trajectory. Paths or roads are splintered out so there is a choice or a loop or a long arrival [in a park]. Fewer bends than paths. Pockets of things. Getting away instead of getting to. But on the trail we are so surrounded there is little sense of place until emerging at an overlook. A park is all about place. Sensing where you are and where you are not. Escaping the city but all the while knowing its presence affects the immediate experience. A park is a built thing –with consideration for sight and scenery, but with anticipation of ground. A new found plan with attention to how things might grow.

[Locale 2: Little Devil’s Stair & Keyser Run, Sunday Oct. 11th]

Shenandoah 148

Rock scramble. Reminds me of the white mountains in NH tromping over stream and brook and begging being. I kept wandering off to stare up at things (again). The canopy, the small waterfalls, the rockface of the gorge the stream had carved over years and years and years. All glimpses framed by golden leafed things and blue sky. Horizon masked by the treeline. Shenandoah 146

Maybe a park is all about horizon. Where land meets sky and the middle ground that fascilitates this meeting. We descend down into the gorge and pretend as though it is not difficult. We return on the fire road. A slow steady incline. We find pleasure in the difficulty, in the achievement. [I hung back from the group to process things… it made the trip longer]. The park is not about progress. It is the antithesis of labor. It is escapism. It is forgetting about the other things requiring progress. A momentary trajectory is not always progress or in pursuit of progress. The leaves shift as the breeze moves them –we can hear them but the current doesn’t always strike our cheeks. The sense of place is different. This is new. A park almost instantly becomes familiar–especially [now] after [I have spent] so much time hanging out with Olmsted’s writing. Sometimes knowing increases meaning. Sometimes investigation requires zoning out for a while. Attention is a form of homage. I paid homage the entire time.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s