Looking for Wilderness

A bear needs five square miles of wilderness in which to live. If wilderness is worth $1000 an acre, is a bear worth $3.2 million?

For many years the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has made a census of grouse along nine habitat routes, each about forty miles long, representing every variety of cover within the state. Lately new highways and real estate schemes in the southern counties have forced the biologists elsewhere, and some of their paths have been pre-empted by motorcyclists or Sunday walkers. I recently had the fun, though, of walking the wildest, northernmost Grouse Survey Line, which crosses the headwaters of the Connecticut and Androscoggin rivers, country as remote and untarnished as any in New Hampshire—owned by several lumber companies and by Dartmouth College, it’s emptier than the much better known Presidential Range and the other mountains and valleys of the White Mountain National Forest, lying to the south. My companion was Karl Strong, who is the department’s senior biologist north of Concord.

Though Strong’s grouse path is mentioned in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide, he hadn’t been eager to have me accompany him because the trail is never hiked on, is marked only very obscurely, and could be destroyed for useful game observation if the outdoor fraternity ever really discovered it. A path through splendid country that is traversed only twice a year, not worn into ruts by a river of feet, is nowadays a great rarity and a precious one. He said I could come along if I could keep up with him, didn’t get blisters, and if I recognized to begin with that any account of the New England wilds must be something of an elegy to pleasures now past, not a current guide.

This walk used to be made in midwinter on snowshoes as well as during the summer, but now that life is softer for everyone, it’s done instead twice in the summer. Strong and his partner used to pack in their supplies and sleep over, but first they dispensed with their packs, trucking their gear in ahead of time, and now they arrange to drive home each night. Strong was lucky we were doing it that way because on one of the nights, August 24, a freak killing frost developed that would have wiped out his vegetable garden if he hadn’t been home to hose down everything early in the morning. Gardening is his passion, though one day in June when I talked to him he was also on a schedule of waking up every three hours at night to feed an orphaned puppy. He’s a reserved, lean, soft-spoken man, pale in complexion like a Scandinavian, not in any sense a softie in appearance but a cold-weather man, and the depth of his affection for living things does not show immediately. In talking to paper company officials, I found he is called “the missionary.” When I mentioned this to him he laughed and said that his grandfather was a minister and that, like a minister, he himself puts in lots of work and accomplishes little.

He’s a deer specialist. He’s uncannily attuned to deer and astonishes the paper company foresters because he can actually smell a deer two hundred feet off. A gland in the deer’s heel cords gives off a sex scent which he describes as resembling the smell of a certain fungus that is found in rotting birch stumps. Although birds aren’t his specialty, this Grouse Survey Line is Strong’s particular darling. He’s walked it himself for fifteen years, watching his body gradually age when measured against its miles and seeing the trail and the rivers change as logging and even sport fishing become modern industries. Logging may soon be done with laser beams or pressurized thin jets of water. Already the more technologically advanced companies cut pulpwood with monster-sized timber harvesters that can shear a tract of forest right down to the level of its roots, and then the logs, right on the scene, can be fed into chippers which dice them into papermaking fiber, to be trucked to the mill like freight. This is not done in New Hampshire yet, but there have been plenty of changes.

We started at Second Connecticut Lake to go to Cornpopper Spring, which is under Magalloway Mountain. The sky drizzled intermittently, the temperature stayed around forty-five degrees, and we walked with clenched fists and “dishpan hands,” as Strong put it. It was miserable enough, but the raindrops stippled the beech leaves beautifully, and the firs in the rain looked as gray as steel. My hat was red, which looks black to a deer or a bear but which birds, with their sharp color sense, are alert to, so Strong planned to be extra alert himself.

Once out in the woods, he seemed younger immediately, lighter and gayer than back in town, remarking on the balsam smell in a soft voice—and remembering a day in 1959 when he had caught his limit of big fish in a beaver pond that we saw on Smith Brook, using only the naked hook itself, which he had twitched like a fly. We saw a kingfisher plopping from high up to catch a chub there, and a merganser diving. The forests around the Connecticut Lakes are a baronial showpiece owned by the power companies that maintain the lakes as reservoirs, but we soon got into bushwhacking country where the tourists don’t come. Strong says by nature he should be a Democrat, believing the Democrats are closer to the biblical injunction that we must be our brother’s keeper, but that the tourists are making him more conservative. He walks with quick quiet strides because the grouse will try to steal away on the ground if they hear a man at a distance. When he thinks he has heard one of them call, creaky and peeping, he tramps noisily into the brush and claps his hands to scare up the covey so he can count it.

The low country was lush with raspberry bushes in hoops and flowers head-high. We saw a broadwinged hawk and saw beaver work in the sandy-bottomed brook that we crossed and recrossed—Strong said he thought the man who had laid out the trail must have been on snowshoes, unable to see the brook. Strong recently made the mistake of blazing it with a paint called International Orange, which in some way sets the bears off; nearly every blaze had been chewed. Up in the woods, the trail was cool and shadowy till we got into a logging area, where I learned from smelling the birch stumps that white birch is odorless (which is why it is used for Popsicle sticks), that black birch smells like wintergreen (and is a flavor for chewing gum), and that yellow birch has a delicate, mellow, somewhat minty smell. The stumps of the latter were a wonderful yellow-orange inside. We saw one a hundred years old, just downed.

In the rain the skidders, which are a kind of modified, big-wheeled tractor most effective at hauling logs, had churned several hundred yards of poor Karl Strong’s trail into a comically mucky, concretecolored soup; the ruts, four feet deep, were running with rain. Slipping like a monkey on roller skates and balancing wildly with his arms, he insisted on walking the route anyway, laughing because laugh was all he could do.

We descended to Smith Brook again, finding a clearing where five bunkhouses and a horse hovel had once stood, near the remains of a log-driving dam and a tote road, trestled and corduroyed. There was a grouse’s scrape-hole in a dusty spot where the grouse had bathed itself. We saw a brood of three— our count was eight grouse for the thirteen miles that day. Up on Hedgehog Nubble we found the abundant turds of a moose that had wintered there. Moose winter high and deer winter low. New Hampshire has very few moose but if they were anywhere, they would be here. At the turn of the century the last three caribou in the state were sighted and shot close by.

The clouds swelled gray and silver, settling on us. We saw a waterfall, and moose and bear tracks, and more than one tucked-away valley with ferns, mosses, and snapdragons, and usually an old hunting cabin with the owner’s army dog tags tacked on the door and some claw marks where a bear had tried to break in, hungry in the spring. The resident hummingbirds flitted close to my red hat, sometimes half a dozen in the space of an hour, to investigate why it should be the color of their own throats. Up on Diamond Ridge at three thousand feet was a cold fir forest, very remote. Karl Strong hunts from a cabin on Magalloway Mountain, using a muzzle-loader to make it a little bit harder for himself. Last year he and his friends had sighted in on a mama bear with her hackles up and three cubs, and there was lots of black smoke but no kill. He told me how tough it is to pull a three-hundred-pound bear out of the woods, or even a bear weighing two hundred pounds—they stretch when you pull, but they don’t move. Boy, he said, they seem smaller, though, when skinned out.

He has no laws to assist him when he advises the timber operators on behalf of the wildlife (nor do they seek his advice—he just goes around offering it). He’s always polite, the foresters say, and will come into the offices of the Brown Paper Company and simply tell them, “Well, we blew it,” when a key stand of evergreens has been cut and some deer are going to die as a result. The whole forest is wildlife habitat, of course, but he restricts his marking activities to the 10 percent of the woods where the deer winter, or he wouldn’t get anywhere. Even so, he cannot expect that more than about three fourths of the trees he marks will be spared.

Deer must shelter under mature softwood growth like fir or spruce in a snowy climate. The boughs block some of the wind and catch part of the snow, holding it up where it evaporates. Deer don’t browse on trees of this sort unless they are starving; they look for young hardwood saplings like maple, poplar, and birch to gnaw on and peel, trees of a size not yet worth harvesting commercially. But before any other consideration they must have shelter. Rather than freeze in a zero wind or flounder about in deep snow where a dog could kill them, they will stay in a softwood grove and slowly starve.

Strong’s job is to intercede with the foresters so that a mix is left of clearings, glades, openings, and some sizable timber for shelter, too. Although the personnel are getting brisker, more impersonal, the companies, feeling the pressure of the times, make a big stir about “multiple use”—land with game on it, land lovely for hiking—and he can appeal to that. The traditional cutting cycle was seventy or eighty years, and the best foresters cut only about a seventh of the timber at hand in a decade, so that timber of every age was growing. Now in the rush for fiber, younger and younger trees are cut, the cycle is down to forty years, and it’s increasingly complicated to manage a forest so that the different requirements of dozens of creatures can be fitted in. Rabbits, for instance, thrive in an area five to fifteen years after the woods have been cut, and grouse fifteen to thirty-five afterwards, but some of the furbearers and birds need much older timber.

The next day we were back at Cornpopper Spring, starting from there by seven o’clock, with the weather a little colder but the sun a bit brighter, the wind having blown the rain away. We had ten and a half miles to go to Hell Gate on the Dead Diamond River, where the Fish and Game Department has a camp. Strong said he felt like putting his snowshoes on; the only way to get good and warm is to put on a pair of heavy snowshoes.

The first mile of the grouse walk today was a logging road. We met some loggers, Americans rather than French Canadians, who seemed direct but limited men. We stood at the edge of a clearing watching three of them work without being detected by them. Strong’s lip curled in amusement—what kind of woodsmen were they? He waited for them to notice us until he got tired and, like an Indian feeling benevolent today, simply walked peacefully away through the trees.

Since grouse usually run before they fly, a windy, disruptive day like this one was bad for hearing or spotting birds. They were plentiful, because June, when the chicks were new and likely to die of pneumonia if chilled, had been very droughty—a June without storms is not good for the trees but is good for the grouse. Once grown, they are rugged birds and winter right on the scene, eating birch buds and diving deep into the snow to sleep, leaving no tracks on the crust for a fox to follow.

Raw, deer-season weather. Strong blew his nose with his fingers, and pointed out where his nephew at seventeen had hit a bear with six shots, the bear dashing on till it finally dropped, nipping off strips of its own intestines as they fell out and trailed (the nephew has never come hunting since). We watched two hummingbirds feeding on jewelweed in a glade where Strong once saw twenty. We noticed a woodpecker hole high in a stub where two swifts were nesting. In the depths of the woods we came to a deer lick, with well-defined trails homing in like the spokes of a wheel; I heard one deer flee. The mud was white with minerals, and the roots of the trees had been exposed by the hooves. Strong used to lie here in a blind on moonlit nights to observe the goings-on—three or four deer at once drinking in the shallow pools.

We picked hatfuls of hazelnuts for Strong’s teenage daughters, and saw lots of neon-red bunchberry and bear-chewed blaze trees, but the trampled-looking grass that I would have assumed was another sign of game turned out to be just a casualty of the hard rains. We talked about how most naturalist writers rate rather poorly with full-time workers in the field, Thoreau and Fenimore Cooper and Ernest Thompson Seton included. I was wearing Strong’s spare pair of rubber boots, and their good fit seemed to represent the friendship budding between us.

We were on the grassy banks of the East Branch of the Dead Diamond River, whose headwater springs ten miles away we had seen the previous day. It had taken me until the late evening to get the bones of my hands feeling warm again, yet now we were sweating. The temperature was fifty-eight degrees (whenever Strong saw a grouse he took wind and temperature readings). We lunched partly on hazelnuts—a squash-and-seed taste—overlooking a sixteen-foot thunderous falls and its twisty catch-pool, a stretch where once in the 1950s Strong caught and threw back two hundred fish in a couple of hours. People had hiked in from what was then the closest road, in Maine, to catch four-pound brook trout. These holes were now empty of fish.

We watched a bulldozer cracking down trees for a winter haul road, which would need no gravel, only the natural mud architectured into shape on the night of the first freeze, whereupon for the next five months the log trucks would roar back and forth on the ice. This was a forest whose patterns Strong had helped to create, and even his management plans for the streams—that the skidders not silt up the spawning beds by operating along the banks—had been followed. so what we saw was not agitating to him. We followed the old tote road on the riverbank, used in log-driving days. We’d crossed from the township of Pittsburg (three hundred square miles) to the Atkinson and Gilmanton Academy Grant (fourteen square miles of woods, once sold by the aforesaid academy for four hundred dollars). Dartmouth, which owns the adjoining College Grant (forty-seven square miles) near Hell Gate, leases the recreational rights to this land at a dollar an acre annually so that its alumni and guests may feel free to spread out. Strong, like most other state people, resents the exclusion of the general public by these rich guys, but like me he had to admit to being glad that these woods would resemble a wilderness a little bit longer than unprotected forests. On the other hand, Dartmouth men kill only about seven deer for every ten square miles of land they have, in the fall, whereas the public on ordinary timberland kills twice that many. This is not favorable news to a man like Strong, who on his snowmobile tours finds twenty deer per square mile starved to death in the wintering yards on even the public lands.

We argued about hunting: not that I could sensibly oppose hunting deer, but there are other beasts. I teased him about whether this predatory “naturalness” he touted so highly wasn’t downright dog-eat-dog Republicanism, but he wasn’t to be hobbled by consistency, and pointed out again that too many tourists with city ideas were turning him that way anyway. Of course the yearly symbolic deer he killed was like his assiduous gardening or the cabin he’d built for himself on Magalloway, as I understood. He said, though, that wildlife was public property, for all the people, and that therefore he resented anybody who posted land against the free access of hunters. My answer was that, first of all, wild animals were perhaps the property of no one but themselves, a question I was willing to leave moot if he wished, and second, that I resented any man’s going on any land, public or private, and shooting some creature, dwindling in numbers, whose like I might have trouble ever seeing in a natural state, and then tacking its hide on his living-room wall— that concept of private property was offensive to me.

Strong said, Well, if his hunting something really means that you may never see its like again, I agree with you, he ought not to be hunting it, it should be a protected species; that’s what biologists like myself are for. What I’d left out of the equation, however, he said, was the fact that many people who post their lands do not do so out of any beliefs corresponding to mine. Rather, they seem to think that in buying a piece of land they’re buying the wildlife that lives on it too, along with the pines and the apple trees.

OK, that infuriated me too; we agreed. He’d started defining us as conservationist versus “preservationist,” but I laughed and said, Look, if you and I name-call and can’t get along, then what hope is there that the wilderness forces can ever combine? He smiled. I said, Bear in mind too that some of the people who object to hunting are not as ignorant about the woods as you think. What arouses them is not that a deer is shot which otherwise would eventually starve to death but that the hunter gets such a kick out of killing it.

Do you see hunters butchering cows for kicks during the off-season? Strong asked. It’s not the pain, it’s the death, and not the death but the stalk and the woodsmanship and the gamy wild meat the fellow is after: the completeness of each of these complemented by the others. I understood what he meant, but, to be one up, I asked why, if the woodsmanship is the heart of the matter, there are so very few archers in the woods—archery requiring a woodsmanship of such a high order that it does overshadow the kill. He said bow-hunting is just too hard to do for all but that handful of hunters. Success comes too hard, and most hunters are firearms buffs as much as woodsmen and enjoy the big bang and the bird-in-the-hand. Besides, he saw no reason why the kill ought to be overshadowed. The naturalness of the kill was akin to all of the other pleasures one felt in the woods, and in no sense skulky or inferior. It was his business to see that no animal was hunted into oblivion if he could help it, but to have a deer herd protected like the animals in a zoo, just to be looked at, never shaken up by a hunting season as by the whirlwind of natural predation—this was not woods or wilderness, he said angrily; this kind of situation would arrive soon enough as it was, I should know.

We waded the East Branch just above where the Middle and West branches join, with a black-looking shapely knoll in front of us and a high hardwood ridge beyond, all forestland everywhere, with bluish tall firs in the foreground that Strong had managed to save. The day before I couldn’t have believed today would bring prettier country, but it was like parkland in Colorado—forest and wild grasses interspersed. Though I was getting a charley horse, the marvelous ungrudging succession of Valhalla views— of black knolls, green grass and green trees, the forest unrolling—and the sandy-banked river bending alongside, and long-legged Strong, put energy into my strides. As he talked, it became evident that this wasn’t just Dartmouth country; it was a private playground for a good many Fish and Game officers, too. They could get through the gates and could camp and fish where no one else could.

We saw a red-shouldered hawk, a meadow mouse, and bobcat droppings with a whole little mouse skull intact in one. We saw the tracks of a raccoon that had been hunting tadpoles, and two garter snakes, a goshawk’s nest in a dead beech, and lots of deer tracks. Two big red deer bounded off, showing each other the way with their fleecy long tails. We were in the principal deer yard along the Dead Diamond now, country that Strong tours during the winter.

On a suspension footbridge we crossed to the Hell Gate Camp—four grizzled huts in a breezy hayfield. We watched a party of Fish and Game recruits being taught how to disarm a hunter. They had been issued bird books and were learning how to identify ducks. Strong, as a biologist, has no police duties. Most of the time he wears no uniform and, unlike the wardens who were instructing them, can drop in on a hunting or fishing camp in the guise of a hiker; even noticing a violation, he can move on if whatever is wrong strikes him as really not very important.

These hearties do not let you go before you’ve had coffee with them. The next morning we were delayed while pleasantries were exchanged. I met no woodsmen among them, but I did meet outdoorsmen who, feet up on the table, relished being here in this kingdom, with the white water hissing outside, instead of down at the office in Concord.

We waded the Little Dead Diamond, still steaming after the frosts of the dawn. It’s a noisy, energetic tributary stream, chiseling potholes and digging rock sculptures in rhythmic curves out of the limestone strata above Hell Gate. We followed it uphill. Six or seven years ago Strong used to catch his limit of ten trout here in an hour while he ate lunch, or fed crumbs to as many as twenty that were visible in the clear water. Now he’s lucky if he catches three little ones. The spring freshet, loaded with rocks and ice, wipes them out of the fishing holes, and the stream is too precipitous to be repopulated from the main river below. Until recently a new population would always wash down from the gentler stretches—the stream heads at Mount Pisgah—but now these nursery pools too are being heavily fished by people who reach them in rough-terrain vehicles. No surplus exists.

My left leg was swollen tight with various charley horses. Yet this walk of eight miles through dense, choppy, unpretentious country which had never been settled or farmed seemed like the best scenery of the trip and a kind of climax. It was ambush country; you couldn’t see far, but hidden away there were several quite glorious wilderness elms that Dutch elm disease hadn’t found. We saw a splatter of tracks left by a sprinting bobcat alongside the stream. The stream popped and sparkled in the sun, pincering past obstructions, cutting a hundred corkscrew twists. Leaving the Little Dead Diamond, we took its South Branch, ascending toward Crystal Mountain. Usnea moss (old-man’s-beard) hung from the dead limbs in the stands of young fir, a delicacy for the deer. The masses of moss covering the ground which Strong remembered from some of his early visits had disappeared since the last logging, replaced by raspberry thickets. We ate as we walked and saw two broods of grouse, the first mother leading two chicks and the second five. It was a lovely high-ceilinged day, platter-blue, good weather for grouse to be out and about—our average count for the whole grouse survey was one bird for each mile and a half walked.

We crossed into Dix’s Grant from the Atkinson and Gilmanton Academy Grant, both owned by the Brown Paper Company. Parts of the bed of the South Branch had been pre-empted by their logging trucks, so it was badly messed up. Where it forked, we turned from the South Branch to Lost Valley Brook, climbing south through a concealed niche in the ridge, a little lost valley indeed, very isolated in spirit, where a decade ago Strong was marking thirty-inch birch, and hemlock and pine forty inches through. Now even the sixand eight-inch pulpwood is being removed. We found a dead shrew with fine-grained gray fur; and lots of deer sign. The skidders had cut ruts waist-deep, partly overgrown, no joke to fall into.

At the source of Lost Valley Brook we entered a thick, dark, gloomy wilderness forest of pole-sized fir and paper birch that is one of the watersheds of the Dead Diamond and Swift Diamond rivers. The Swift joins the Dead fifteen miles or so below Hell Gate, and the waters of both go into the Magalloway River, then into the Androscoggin and finally the Kennebec, and on into the ocean at Bath, Maine. Even up top here it was swampy, though, with many toad polliwogs enjoying the bogs—frogs, which start bigger, would be out of the tadpole stage by now, said Strong. We saw hawks, garter snakes, hummingbirds, bumblebees, high phloxlike flowers, red mushrooms, and false Solomon’s seal with red berries. Often the ground was cut every which way by beaver channels, like an obstacle course. Moss, muck and sucking mud, bank-beaver holes, wild grasses and sedges, poplars, cattails. The temperature, sixty degrees, up fifteen from when we had started, had me wet with sweat. Fourmile Brook, a portion of which was our destination, heads at a pond so remote it is stocked with trout thrown out of an airplane.

This brook drops away down the ridge at such a steep pitch that the water sounds like a pistoning motor. We found an antique axhead, broad, rusty as ocher. The last go-through by the loggers had been recent and the growth was jungly and low, with plenty of the bugs and berries and wetness grouse like, but the hauling for some reason had been done with a bulldozer, not a skidder, and the ground had not been damaged too much. There was a heady honey smell everywhere from the flowers—purple, blue, yellow—and millions of bugs. Big-toothed poplar, willows and birch, moosewood and silver maples, alders, jewelweed and shadbush. More deer sign, more polliwogs; a grouse brood of four, cheeping like chicks, trilling like mice.

The wind from the south carried the smell of the pulp mill in Berlin, New Hampshire. If I stepped off into the brush for a minute Strong said, “Is that you or Berlin?” It’s a nagging, boiled-cabbage, boiled-egg smell at best, carried also on an opposite wind from the Canadian mills sixty miles north, or, on an east wind, from the mills in Oxford County in Maine. A wet light snowfall in the winter seems to sharpen it even more, which for a man with Strong’s educated nose must be disturbing.

A truck had been left for us. As we drove back toward town alongside the Swift Diamond River, we saw that it had turned the color of mud from fresh logging that day. So had a stream called Clear Stream. Under New Hampshire’s clean waters act a fine of one thousand dollars a day can be levied for offenses like this, but it hasn’t as yet been invoked.

Strong stretched his legs the next day on the last lap of eight miles. We both hoped we hadn’t been chatting so much we’d spooked any grouse, so he stayed in front of me, letting me see if I could keep up. We went from Fourmile Camp up a steep hardwood ridge which is part of Crystal Mountain and down the other side. We saw many squirrel tracks at the rainpools, and a red squirrel and chipmunk confronting each other on a short log (the chipmunk the one with the food in its paws), and a rapid goshawk. Goshawks will plunge right into a pile of brush after a grouse, like an osprey hitting the water chasing a fish. Strong said he saw his last peregrine falcon in 1954. About then, he would see up to fifty horses going home at night on their own along these trails from the sites where logging was going on.

The ground where we climbed was heaped with slash sometimes five feet high, wet from the night’s rains, and the skidders had cut tank traps everywhere, making walking a hot, sweaty struggle. The grouse we disturbed called to each other. The cocks live alone, each in his own territory, to which he tries to drum mates in the spring. The females nest on the bare ground, usually in some slight depression that they find at an elevated place near the base of a tree.

In a clearing we found the remnants of a loggers’ supply wagon. Spruce had been the climax forest, and now that the big old second-growth hardwoods had been removed also, mostly fir was appearing, a short-lived, fast-growing species that buds very early in the spring, risking the frosts but shooting up, its root system shallow and its limbs flimsy. Yet a fir woods, too, requires at least forty years to reach a commercially plausible size, and in modern business enterprise who’s going to sit around for the next forty years with real estate like this, watching the dragonflies? Every management shake-up brings a change in plans, and Strong in his advocacy position with respect to the land is naturally on the firing line.

Understand that a bear, for example, needs a minimum of about five square miles to forage in for his food supply. This is not counting the extra land he will roam through in the course of a year, which might total seventy-five square miles, or more than two hundred if he is hunted hard. The five square miles is an irreducible wilderness area that will grow his food, and although other bears may overlap with him, he will include their territory in his wanderings. A single deer’s primary range for feeding is forty or fifty acres. A mink’s, in a fertile marsh, may be only twenty, and a raccoon’s ten, though, like the deer, they will each ramble a mile or more on occasion, utilizing the foodstuffs and crannies of a very much larger acreage, and could not live in a wild state for long if really restricted to such a space. Yet if an acre is now to become worth $1000 as recreational property, is that raccoon worth $10,000? Is a bear worth $3.2 million? As in the suburbs, a raccoon can parcel together a home out of snips and pieces of people’s backyards, but otters, bears, bobcats, and so on cannot. I had teased Strong about hunting, but I hoped he knew that the teasing had been a result of my admiration, that I understood that hunting by men like himself was never the villain in wildlife management. Rather, it was the summer people like me, who come crowding in, buying up, chopping up the land after the loggers have skinned off the trees.

A brook going downhill gave us a steady grade to the Swift Diamond. The temperature rose to eighty in the afternoon, from forty-five. The Swift, like the Dead, was originally employed for freighting out the virgin softwoods, so that there was no need to build roads into this country at all until, scarcely ten years ago in the case of the Swift, the loggers came back again for the hardwood trees, which don’t float as well.

We followed the road alongside the Swift for a half mile, then waded it and struck up Nathan Pond Brook, through a narrow wild brushy defile under Cave Mountain, with yellow birch and soft and hard maples and cone-bearing alders ten feet high. The hummingbirds swarmed to my red hat again and there were goldfinches, purple finches, and blueberry thickets where we stopped to feast, and shoulderhigh joe-pye weed, fireweed, goldenrod, and beaver activity and engineered ponds. Legally as well as perhaps geographically it is no longer possible just to throw a pack on your back in the Northeast and hike cross-country for weeks, because casual camping has been prohibited, but here in this obscure little bypassed valley bursting with undergrowth the illusion of the old hiking freedoms persisted. Even the vivid fish in their pools didn’t give me the feeling of claustrophobia and pity that I often get, looking at trout cramped into a brook. They had space and a churning current and complexity enough in their habitat to baffle a hunting mink. □