5 Days into the Sun

Life Balance, Outdoor Adventure

The sun is the heart of our solar system; it is a driving force behind much of the activity (seasons, climate, currents) and life on earth. Throughout history the sun has been worshiped and debated; ancient civilizations built stone structures (calendars) to mark the sun’s path through the seasons. During the days of Ptolemy, most believed that the sun revolved around the earth. Then, much later, we learned it was the other way around. Today, many people are still excited about the sun, especially during phenomenons like the solar eclipse, but most of the time it sort of goes unnoticed.

This is an exciting time of year to notice the changes! During the next 5 days, I’ll make an attempt to be a bit more mindful of the sun by noticing its intensity and position in the sky. I may try to compare to the sun’s presence a month ago. Each day, I will post a photo taken “into the sun” as a way to reflect on the sun during this time of seasonal transition, when the sun becomes a bit dimmer and more pleasant, like turning down the lamp light in the house for a more relaxing mood. I hope this little 5-day activity inspires us to notice our natural surroundings more often.

Into the Sun - Day 1

Photo taken near “green pond” at Harriman State Park, NY

Fisherman on the bank

Outdoor Adventure

 

Fall is here and then gone like most things. The fisherman on the bank reminds Cait and I to maybe get a license next year and partake in an old hobby. The fisherman enjoys a day on the river in the Musconetcong valley; a place that is still plentiful in scenic beauty and natural resources.  A place impacted little by thousands of years of Native American settlement, but profoundly impacted by only 150 years of European settlement. John P. Brunner writes for the Musconetcong Watershed Association, about the physical and cultural transformation of the Musconetcong valley, as described in Peter O. Wacker’s book: The Musconetcong Valley of New Jersey: A Historical Geography. Looking forward to reading it!

Wednesdays are Hard

Life Balance, Outdoor Adventure

 

It is not easy to look forward to a Wednesday morning, but on this Wednesday I would not spend another chaotic day darting from one meeting to the next and staring helplessly at the computer screen as 50 more emails pop up. On this particular Wednesday morning, Caitlin and I would hit the road to embark on another adventure.

We set out for the White Mountains of New Hampshire to do some hiking and camping, but first we stopped at a town called Hancock (NH) and spent the night there at Hancock Inn B&B. People have stayed in this historic building since 1789 (George Washington’s first year in office). The town itself is located in the Monadnock Region and maintains its original character. Part of me wonders what it would be like to move to a town like this, away from all the madness.

The following day we arrived at Crawford Notch Campground in the White Mountains; an immense campground near the Saco River. We immediately headed for the trail and managed to squeeze in a short hike before darkness covered the mountains. We startled some people (and their dog) as they tried to peacefully smoke Marijuana, on the way to the waterfall, which was the big scenic point of this hike. The first night in the White Mountains was cool and crisp – the kind of mountain air that you remember breathing for months after the trip.

Next morning, we hiked Mt. Washington – the tallest peak (6,289 feet) in the Whites, which likely makes it the most popular hike. Still, it wasn’t too crowded until we made it to the summit. Most people apparently drive up to the summit or take the old railway. I doubt that we will be doing this hike again, but it is a beautiful hike and worth doing at least once. There are just far too many other trails to explore in this enormous landscape. Back at the campsite, we had a gourmet dinner of Ramen Noodles and found our beds in the tent in minutes, exhausted after the 11-mile walk.

As we dozed off listening to the owls in the distance, pleasant memories of the local flora and fauna floated around in my mind. Cornus canadensis (Bunchberries) – what looked like little mini flowering dogwoods carpeted the cool, moist ground. Perisoreus Canadensis (Gray or Canada Jay) came around to investigate as we hiked through the dimmed forest toward the end of the day/hike – they flew over our heads and landed just 2 feet away. They reminded me of Blue Jays, but bigger, black, gray, and white; not as loud, and their heads not triangular, but round. Finally, up near the summit, Arenaria montana (Mountain Sandwort) made for a spectacular display of white and yellow sprinkled over the rocks and gravel. I hope it won’t be too long until we return to this mountain wilderness for another adventure.

View from Harriman

Art, Hike of the Week, Outdoor Adventure

This is a quick watercolor sketch of the Hudson highlands in the distance and a glimmer of Lake Skannatati; one of the many lakes in Harriman State Park. The park is an outdoor paradise for city dwellers as well as suburbanites who travel here on weekends.  The trailhead parking lot was a sea of screaming adults, kids, and clicking cameras. Walk about a mile up the red trail or the “long path” and all the noise and calamity fades away. It seems that most people “experience nature” from the comfort of their cars. On a beautiful day like this, the only thing that could make it better is a nice cold beer after the long hike!

Lessons from the Backcountry

Hike of the Week, Life Balance, Outdoor Adventure

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On a recent trip to the southwestern regions of the USA, my hunnie and I explored these regions through a familiar routine of: rent a car, drive to National Park(s), day hike, and stay at lodge. But, this time we spiced things up a bit by adding a pinch of camping and a dash of backpacking into the mix. While I am eager to share funny stories and rave about the geology and the trees of the American Southwest I feel more inclined to share a bit about the thoughts and feelings that came to me during time spent in the backcountry.  This is the first order of business, as I am afraid I will suddenly become unenlightened tomorrow morning.

As we shouldered our heavy packs and began our decent into the Grand Canyon I couldn’t remember why I’d want to spend my days dragging around a giant backpack and my nights waking up to unfamiliar sounds, while pretending that my bladder isn’t begging to be relieved. Was it the obscenely beautiful scenery? Surely, one can attain that without enduring all the hardships by taking a day hike or even scenic drive? Why do we do it? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but maybe it’s a combination of simplicity, physical challenge, self-reliance, the longing for a greater connection with the natural world, and a deeper appreciation for the things we tend to take for granted. In a way, backpacking is like being a track runner; it looks like punishment, but the high you get from it is well worth the discomfort. Here are some lessons I may have revisited on this brief sojourn into the backcountry:

Appreciation

Many Native American tales have a common theme, which is the importance of appreciation and thanksgiving. The Lenape people have a story about a great corn spirit, which took away all the corn from the Lenape people once they stopped giving thanks and began to take the gift of corn for granted. Life in the backcountry makes you appreciate modern conveniences like food in the fridge, flush toilets, and a nice warm heated home. Out there, it takes effort just to boil water to make tea, but it’s also the best bag of Lipton tea you’ll ever have. The backcountry makes Ramen Noodles taste like a gourmet meal and PB&J taste like Ben and Jerry’s. It’s the ultimate lesson in appreciation and thanksgiving.

Humility (well I tried)

Not all backcountry excursions allow for immersion in solitude, especially not the South Kaibab to Bright Angel route in the Grand Canyon. There were many different kinds of folks on the trail and at the campsites doing many different kinds of interesting things. For instance, there was a fellow that believed that hiking out of the canyon was a race to the top. I have no issue with making way for those who are stronger and quicker on trail, but this particular fellow lacked the physical ability to stay ahead, and as a result he kept falling behind, and then passing again with a sudden burst of desperate energy over and over again. Here was a lesson in humility. It took a lot of effort to avoid judgment and negative reactions, and I admit that I soon failed that attempt.

Simplicity

My favorite thing about backpacking is the element of simplicity that comes along with it. No need to pick out an outfit; It’s the same shirt every day. And, there are only three simple things on my mind: 1) what/when to eat, 2) Hey look at that pretty bird, and 3) Where to poop. This type of itinerary allows one to “live deliberately”, as Henry Thoreau once put it. I am not talking on the phone, while reading an email, while making hand signals, while picking my ear. There is no “multitasking” and I am focused on one of the three important things mentioned above. Unless of course, I am distracted by the pretty bird while eating or pooping.

When we reached the bottom of the Grand Canyon we were awestruck by the sight of the rushing mud colored water of the mighty Colorado River. I’ve always imagined the Colorado River to be an emerald green color, which it can be depending on the circumstances and time of year. A great feeling of peace washed over me and I tried to remember that other apathetic and unsettled state of mind we tend to fall into, where all relaxation techniques or the strongest of substances aren’t capable of bringing the kind of peace I felt standing near the river. A few days in the backcountry is the best physical and mental medicine that I know of. We resurfaced at the rim of the canyon a few days later, grinning from ear to ear, and we were downright giddy. These types of feelings don’t come along too often and I’d go as far as calling it “true happiness”. Now I remember why we lug around that giant backpack :)!

Catskill Vibe

Outdoor Adventure

Recently, I’ve been spending more time in the Catskill Mountains of southeastern New York State. It’s the closest drive I can think of that will get me to a mountainous region with a 3,000+ foot elevation. I would imagine that folks from the upper west coast would chuckle at that number. Well, these mountains may not be as tall as the ones out west, but they have their own unique beauty and vibe. According to geologists, these mountains are a result of uplift and erosion. The process that formed these mountains is different from the process that formed most other mountains, which involves folding, extensive faulting, magmatic activity, and other events that can be described as orogenic events. Today, the Catskills are described less as a mountain range, and more as a severely eroded plateau resulting in a sharp relief (Catskills GIS Atlas 2012).

To me, a mountain is anything that has dirt, rocks, plants, and an incline. Places like that tend to have “vibes”. I’m going to forget the fact that the area is crammed with resorts and that it is mostly known as the place where many young stand up comedians got their start. I drew my own take on these mountains as it hit me while camping there and hiking through the area. I cannot define that vibe in a word because I had many different experiences there.

We once camped at Mongaup Pond: a beautiful campground on a lake. We filled the raft with air and lowered it into the water. We paddled through the water and a bald eagle nervously floated from tree to nearby tree as if he were always uncomfortable. As soon as I opened a Victory Pils he was gone. Some time later, a golden eagle circled the lake over and over again. I don’t think he found what he was looking for. Some time even later: Witches (I think?). Into the night…awakened inside the tent by strange lights on the outside. In the morning, we tried to place the sounds we heard that night, but we could not tell what they were without adding imagination. What was the vibe….?

Back to our favorite campground: Woodland Valley Campground. The vibe is always really good here. No enchanted lake or breathtaking views, just a quiet place amidst oaks and other hardwood trees that I can’t really identify. The main attraction photo describing this place in the brochure was a photo of a leaf. The man working the visitor’s booth closely resembled Keanu Reeves. He didn’t talk much about surfing, but he had great tips for reserving campsites: “Just ummm pull it up on the website man, click reserve, and you’re golden, bra”. Nights here consisted of craft brews, lanterns, interesting humor, stars, hammock time, little mice on Harley’s, and the sound of the owls (if you are lucky).

While hiking; the air always smelled great (unless something crapped nearby). The climbs were challenging, rocky, and refreshing. Once at the top, sometimes you’d see peaks of similar size; cobalt and cerulean blue in the distance. Other times, you’d see hazy bodies of water down below or nothing but thick fog. In the woods, something was always scurrying around and rustling up the leaves. Now and then you’d feel a presence of something and then nothing. Suddenly, a bird of prey would leave in haste crashing through the trees, cursing you for discovering its hiding spot. You’d wait for your heart to slow down and then take some water from the stream.

What about the people? Not my favorite subject. What was the vibe in the Catskills? I’m not sure I’ve got it yet, but I’m excited to go there again.

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Works Cited

^ “REGIONAL TOPOGRAPHY”. Catskills GIS Atlas. Catskill Center. Retrieved 2009-10-12.

On Your Own Two Feet

Life Balance, New Jersey, Outdoor Adventure

My honey and I live in New Jersey and we’ve recently witnessed the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. The neighborhood we live in looked like a war zone after Sandy blew through the state. 90 MPH winds sent hundreds of giant eastern white pine trees crashing down on electric cables, across major roads (blocking them completely), and in most unfortunate cases; through houses. My grandfather believes that this occurred because New Jersey’s soil is sandy and rocky, which makes it impossible for trees to become deeply rooted into the ground. Luckily, our apartment building had almost no damage. Our hearts go out to those who were less fortunate and we gladly donated our clothing to those who needed it more.

But, I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw how the hurricane affected the dynamics between certain people and their beloved automobiles. Once Sandy had gone, these people suddenly needed to put gas in their cars NOW! No matter what! With all these giant trees blocking the roads, how were they going to get to the supermarket to buy crackers? They would have to do the unthinkable!!! They would have to put one foot in front of the other and walk an entire half a mile to the store to taste those yummy crackers. That’s right you can actually get to the store…by walking there. No need to run over police officers at gas stations or pull guns and axes on old ladies who happen to get ahead of you at the gas pump (yes, this actually happened).

I could go off on a rant about how the hurricane brought out the worst (and the best) in people, but I think we already know that, so let’s take a walk instead. It’s the most natural thing for us to do. That’s why we were created to walk upright on two feet. To me, walking is pure magic! It’s the best thing since sliced bread.

While walking you notice things. Is that a saw-whet Owl…in Jersey (who knew)? Your son or daughter walking beside you now remembers the moment forever. In really late fall you notice the cold gray-blue sky, the smell of dirt and dead leaves, and you feel the chill on your face and bones, and it makes you feel alive. It awakens the senses and inspires creativity. Henry David Thoreau and tons of other literary geniuses had their best ideas come to them in mid stride.

Sadly, I feel that very few of us take walks these days and even fewer are in touch with the natural world. When I tell people at work that I went for a walk after work, they look at me with utter disbelief, as if I said “I went for a walk after work NAKED”. The late great Edward Abbey totally called it back in the 60s when he said that the automobile will lead to the demise of our national parks, monuments, state parks, and forests. Yes sir, no profits to be made if we were to experience our parks mainly on foot or bicycle (other than profits in the form of mental and health wellness, but who cares about that).

Still, I am still hopeful that natural disasters won’t be the thing to finally unplug us from our machines and awaken us into the real world. OK, time to go for a walk 🙂