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Bushwhacking

08/07/04 12:00AM By Alan Boye
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(Host) Every so often commentator Alan Boye likes to take compass in hand and try to get from here to there... the hard way.


(Boye) It doesn't much matter where you walk in Vermont; sooner or later you are going to find yourself well off the beaten path and needing to just plunge blindly through the woods.

I stand in a clearing at the end of a class 4 road and sight down my compass. I can see a bit of Myles Pond in the valley below the woods, but I know that as soon as I step into this thick tangle of trees, ferns and brambles, I won't see the water again until I'm almost there.

I'm no more than a mile from the pond, and my plan is to bushwhack in a straight line from here - to there. I check my map one last time and then bury it deep in my pocket. From the looks of things it won't be of much use anyway, because the woods are so thick, I won't be able to see a thing.

I check and re-check the compass, setting a course a few degrees north of due east. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't carry any navigation tools more complicated than a good compass and a topographical map.

My compass points to a skinny maple tree about a hundred yards away. I plunge into the thick underbrush and head to it as straight as I can. At first I'm entangled in a forest of ferns, and my pant legs are soaked with dew. I wade through the ferns and reach the small maple. I pause in order to check my compass, and soon pick out my next destination: a tall cedar just beyond a tangle of thick blackberry bushes. I'd like to go around the thicket, but I don't want to go that far off course, so I dive in and claw my way through the brambles. The going isn't too bad, and once I emerge I barely even notice the tic-tac-toe of red scratches that crisscross my bare arms.

I continue my way down the easy slope by stopping every few yards to site my compass on another landmark and then I walk straight to it. Finding your way by compass is slow going, but that's part of the beauty of it. Instead of blindly following a path, or fidgeting with some electronic gadget, using a compass to bushwhack cross-country lets me slow down and pay attention to the smaller details of life.

This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.

Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College. He spoke from our studio at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury.
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