When I discuss the outdoors, I bring what I believe is an interesting sensibility to the topic because it truly does encompass my entire life, my very nature. I consider myself fortunate to have spent the better part of my childhood boating, camping, fishing and hunting in the back woods of Maine. What makes this particularly meaningful, is that -- without realizing it -- I was trained through all of this by my father, Hu Holden.
He taught me all the outdoors skills -- observing the weather, tracking, trapping, stalking, hunting and fishing -- teaching me how to live off the land year-round. I'm a good woodsman; Hu was the consummate woodsman, betraying the family's multifaceted Native American heritage. He taught me archery early on, such that I was instructing older kids at 12, and consistently out-competing others in informal competitions . I now appreciate that he taught me to shoot from the heart, as well as with my eye - "if a shot doesn't feel right, don't take it". "Wait". "Be patient". Good lessons, still. Taking that one step further, Dad taught me to Still Hunt, waiting patiently for game. Sounds simple but it's not. It means sitting absolutely still -- not moving -- for endless minutes, which (seemingly) become hours. Not moving an iota - not even with bugs crawling on you, not to scratch an itch. An amazing lesson for an active 12-year old, considering how all kids fidget restlessly.
I now realize it was the first time I meditated because that's what happens when you slow time down, you get to watch the shadows move, your breath slows as does your heart-rate. I remember squirrels, rabbits and raccoons coming up to me, perhaps wondering "what the heck is this kid doing?", then wandering off. I was more comfortable with neighboring Black Bear and Moose than I was with most people, preferring to disappear after school into the woods 'til long after sundown to track and watch my animal-friends. Since I spent a lot of time fishing on Moosehead Lake, many times my father or grandfather would have me take friends of theirs to great fishing spots we knew. So I guess I started guiding at an early age.
It was in this period, also, that I first became interested in old roads. Where we lived in central Maine was made up of hundreds of abandoned farms from the 1800s and the woods were threaded with old roads. I had a fantastic imagination and could easily see French and Indians, revolutionaries and settlers and their wagons coursing these same paths. No wonder that as soon as I arrived in Woodstock I started exploring our backwoods. I became endlessly fascinated by our mossy-overgrown old roads, some deeply rutted from heavily-laden quarry-carts, and started mapping them out. To date, I've spent forty years following many (most?) of Woodstock's old roads, noting the hundreds of bluestone quarries many of them lead to and from.
I became friends with Alf Evers, Woodstock's retired Town Historian and noted author of "The Catskills" and "Woodstock: The History of A Small Town". Alf, unable to explore anymore due to infirmity, nevertheless traveled vicariously through me as I told him of my adventures and explorations. He was the spur for my continuing searches and would tell me much lore of the places I found. Over time, I discovered that some of the old roads followed long pre-existing Indian trails and I've learned somewhat of their history, which is fascinating and I think can help point us to the future, as I discuss in my "Ancient Trails, Old Roads and Paths to the Future" talk. So, as you can all see, several years ago, when I decided to start my Hiking Guide service - Woodstock Trails - that I came naturally by it. I am an amateur naturalist and interested in local history and geology, so that most times a Woodstock Trails hike is not a high-energy endeavor. I'm more of an ambler, a saunterer of the John Muir school - more interested in the details, and trying to fit together these glorious pieces of this fantastic puzzle we call life in the Catskills.
You are welcome to join me."
May 12, 2017
Alf and I had some great times. Like he says here, we shared many interests and would talk for hours. He particularly loved it when I was avidly exploring backwoods Woodstock - walking with me in spirit, vicariously enjoying my jaunts. Indeed, there were times when I could either feel his presence or just know he had walked there earlier on, before he became infirm (though he was never healthy - one more reason it was amazing he made it to 99). He wrote this for me to show to a land-owner, to introduce me. Sort of an explorers “get out of jail free” card. I loved Alf and miss him all the time.