High Ground 2

High Ground II: Hiking Appalachian Topographic Culture

high_ground2_largeSome of the most famous ground in the mid-Atlantic region is high ground. In this book, we hike the clifftops above Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the high dune beside the Assateague Lighthouse, the mountaintop meadow at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park, and the summit of the Maryland Catoctins. Along the way we’ll talk about the Native American use of high ground botanicals, the relationship of the high ground at Harpers Ferry with the Civil War, and the abundant wildlife that finds its home on the high ground.

With maps and essays, we see high ground as a multi-faceted concept, exploring aspects as diverse as gourmet wild food of the mountaintops, forest aesthetics of high cliffs, and perspectives on astronomy from a wilderness plateau. The geographic scope of the hikes roughly encompasses the Blue Ridge Mountains ( 65% ) and Allegheny Mountains ( 35% ), none of the hikes extending beyond 5 miles in length. (Paperback) $15.95

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From the introduction of High Ground II:

map2Hiking manuals, with their connections between points, present hiking as an end. Those who practice that approach use hiking as an emotional outlet, a way to regain energy to fight the order of their lives when the hike ends. To them, hiking runs against the grain. For such an approach, stay-on-the-trail warnings of government agencies are appropriate; from the trail signs of the hike, they move to the trail signs of life, the warnings to remain within cubicles.

There is no such trail of life. We are too far from that view of the mountain crest or the fragrance of that broken sassafras branch. Our hikes are journeys rather than exercises — necessary foot travel. They are not confirmation of divisions but means to perceive harmony and carry it through to the rest of our existence. This is hiking with the grain, and hiking into topographic culture.

drawing2Harmony evidences itself through various mediums. There is the pure perception of a view. There is the dimensional perception of a night sky from a mountaintop. There is the understanding of some wild plant’s benefit to us. There is the recognition of an animal’s signs on the earth, the sense of a shared existence. All appeal to our common sense and down-to-earth instinct, and all remain with us, becoming metaphors and figures of speech for life.

Here, at our own risk and within the law, we wander off of the regulated trail, with the assurance that we, too, reach point b from point a, and explore some of the means.

Excerpt from High Ground II:

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They are big animals, bigger than us — 300, 400 pounds. Occasionally, a large one deep in the wilds creeps up silently and kills a hiker. They interest us. All through time, we have arranged our meetings with these animals on the tops of mountains, more with cameras in America, more with bait and rifle in Canada. We meet in the autumn, when they are fat and set in a pattern of living more so than usual. We meet under beech trees.

Climbing, bear claws leave prints — tear-shaped indents with the nail print above, sliding lines mirroring a difficult ascent with the smooth toenails.

Bear claw marks are one of the few permanent signs of wilderness.

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