Hiking Brown Elfin Knob in a Time of War

So much has happened in the world since the last time I posted. Russia invaded and occupied Ukraine. The US instituted sanctions against Russia. The cost of gas/petrol skyrocketed. A refugee crisis is looming throughout Eastern Europe. Meanwhile the leaders of the UN, NATO, EU, and US look on with horror and contrition but do essentially nothing to stop this war.

(The only way to stop the war, however, is to stop the war criminal behind it — in this case Vladimir Putin. And because the man is apparently a sadist and sociopath who will stop at nothing to retain power — even implicitly threatening nuclear Armageddon for any country with sufficient resolve to stand against him — he is allowed to continue his march to empire. Can we say Hitler-in-the-making?)

In the midst of all this insanity, it’s easy to retreat, escape, hide, or pretend nothing is happening. And though some might interpret my hiking in that light, I’d like to think it’s the opposite. Hiking for me is a way to get outside my comfort zone, do something that challenges me, and increase my desire to change the world for the better.

I hope this is true for you too.

In that light, I went hiking at Occoneecchee Mountain at the beginning of March. The day was bright and clear, with hardly a cloud in the sky. The air was crisp. The birds were singing. It was the kind of day that makes war seem unthinkable.

After parking, I got out of my car and joined Occoneechee Mountain Trail. Within a few hundred feet, I came to a curve.

Forest trail with sunlight through trees

Sunlight slanted through bare trees as the land sloped ahead, bathed in golden light.

After another couple hundred feet, I crested the hill.

Trail curves in bare forest under blue sky

Ahead of me the trail curved right and then left, hewing to the incline of Occoneechee Mountain.

Soon I reached the first junction, where I took a right onto Chestnut Oak Trail. Due to the bare trees and clear skies, I could see for miles through the canopy of the forest.

After a while, I passed a distinctive chestnut oak (Quercus montana) with a massive burl on its side. (You can see this in detail in my latest YouTube video.) Nearby I set up my tripod and took a quick photo.

Hiker on trail in a bare forest near sunset

(If you look closely at the top center of the photo, you can see the bottom of the burl, like a wart on the side of the tree.)

Within a half mile, I reached the end of Chestnut Oak Trail, signaled by the leveling out of the terrain in front of me. Then I took a left on the gravel maintenance road, walked about a hundred feet, and turned left on Overlook Trail.

Soon the Overlook came into view.

Sunset over forest and river with blue sky overhead

Thankfully my timing was almost perfect, as the sun hovered at the edge of the horizon. Above it, there was hardly a cloud in the azure blue sky. Below was the expanse of forest and river that epitomizes Occoneechee Mountain.

After fifteen minutes admiring the view, I continued down the maintenance road and joined Brown Elfin Knob Trail. Within a tenth of a mile, I reached the summit, looked around, and continued. (You can see more of Brown Elfin Knob in my latest YouTube video.)

On the opposite side, I took a right on Occoneechee Mountain Trail, hiked for another quarter mile, and emerged from the woods.

Pond at dusk with bare trees reflected in water

There in front of me was the fishing pond, where so many people try their luck in summer. For the moment, however, it was as barren as the forest.

And though no part of my experience did anything to stop the war in Ukraine, it did help to remind me that the world is still beautiful, inspiring, and meaningful in its own right.

And because of this, it’s also worth fighting for.



9 thoughts on “Hiking Brown Elfin Knob in a Time of War

  1. What a wonderful post Mark. Losing yourself in nature is a magical tonic for the mind, body and soul. I can feel all of tension leaving my body and I can relax and enjoy my beautiful surroundings. If only everyone could cherish nature and forget about power and wealth. The world would be a much safer and happier place.


  2. You wrote exactly what I have been feeling. Such a beautiful world and such horror in what is happening in the Ukraine. It is hard to balance it all in ones mind. You did a beautiful job of it. I too find hiking to be incredibly healing. May Peace come soon. Thank you Mark, for taking us along with you through your beautiful pictures and words.

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  3. Thank you for taking us along. What is happening in Ukraine is terriible. Two world wars and some have not learnt anything from them. The beauty of Nature gives peace, at least for a time.

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  4. I so agree with you – being out in the Lake District or up on Hadrian’s Wall seems all the more precious. I’m conscious that the planet is so, so beautiful and we human beings are so lucky to have some time here – and yet I’m also acutely conscious of devastation and misery in Ukraine (& previously in Syria… and countless other places).

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  5. Very lovely, Mark. I share your feelings about world events we cannot change. I thank God for the natural world which is where I go for sustenance. Be well Mark. Best wishes.


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