Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Often Overlooked State Park

Many people would consider Highway 24, which runs between Green River and Hanksville, Utah, to be a desolate stretch of highway. The road cuts across barren and dry ground. To the west is the San Rafael Swell, a rock outcropping that rises above the plain. Canyon country is to the east and to the south, the Henry Mountains rise up on the horizon. You can see forever in this country and I love it. This past July, when we were on vacation, we took this road. I’d been on it before, but had always been in a hurry to get somewhere. This time I made sure we had enough time to wander off the main highway and explore an enchanted place, Goblin Valley State Park, which is a small state park about 20 miles off Highway 24. Unfortunately, it was the middle of the day when we arrived, not the best time for photography, but it was fun to explore the valley floor where goblin-like figurines abound. Erosion has carved the softer rock away faster, leaving the harder rock above which creates the “heads.” Also, small pits in the harder rock create an eye-like illusion in the rock. There are thousands of these sculptures. I’d first heard of this unique place from my secretary in Utah, who’d gone there with her husband and friends to camp on a full-moon. It would be a wonderful place to explore in the light of the moon, and very scary. If you go, be sure to take all you need with you, as it is a long ways to any kind of services or restaurants. If you’re spending the night, camping is your only option. There are hotels in Green River and Hanksville, but they’re a good hour away. Click on the photos to enlarge. Enjoy...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Brief Essay on "The Prodigal God"

Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York: Dutton, 2008), 139 pages.

There are two kinds of sinners, as Timothy Keller explores in this book. One kind of sinner is rather obvious. They live only for themselves, breaking God’s laws and perhaps even the laws of the land. Such sinners are represented by the younger son in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, who after wishing his father’s death so he can inherit his portion of the estate, is given his inheritance and runs off to a foreign country.

We have a love/hate relationship with the younger boy. In God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, James Weldon Johnson captures the flavor of American-American preachers early in the 20th Century. Many of these preachers could not read and write, but the way they told stories were poetic. In a sermon on the Prodigal Son, the preacher paints a vivid picture of the young wayward son with his daddy’s inheritance burning a hole in his pocket…

And the young man went with his new-found friend,
And brought himself some brand new clothes,
And he spent his days in the drinking dens,
Swallowing the fires of hell.
And he spent his nights in the gambling dens,
Throwing dice with the devil for his soul.
And he met up with the women of Babylon.
Oh, the women of Babylon!
Dressed in yellow and purple and scarlet,
Loaded with rings and earrings and bracelets,
Their lips like a honeycomb dripping with honey,
Perfumed and sweet-smelling like a jasmine flower;
And the jasmine smell of the Babylon women
Got in his nostril and went to his head,
And he wasted his substance in riotous living,
In the evening, in the black and dark of night,
With the sweet-sinning women of Babylon.

Why is it that we are fascinated with the younger son? Certainly we’re glad that he’s redeemable, but we also relish in the visions of his sinful past. If truth be told, we’re a little jealous of his freedom. Over time, the parable has even been named for him. He’s the prodigal, the one who lavishly spends his inheritance. And we forget about that this is a parable of two sons.
Timothy Keller reminds over and over again that there are two ways to be separated from God. Yes, we can be like the younger son and live wildly. This is the popular view of a sinner and many of us have been down that road. But we can also be the dutiful son and do what’s expected of us, but deep down despise the father for whom we work. Sometimes even free-spirited younger sons can become zealous older brothers. The sins of the older son are not so evident. Such sins live in the heart where they fester and boil and eventually boil over in anger and rage. Keller makes the point that churches are filled with “older sons,” those who look down on their younger brother’s sinful ways. But these “older sons” don’t enjoy the father’s company any more than the “younger sons” who want to strike out for the territories, sowing their oats along the way. Older sons are those who give religion a bad name and make the church seem harsh and judgmental. Because of their hard hearts, they don’t get to enjoy the banquet the father throws for the return of the younger son. Instead, they sulk in anger, showing the condition of their hearts.
Prodigal means reckless extravagant, having spent everything. Keller suggests that the true prodigal in the story is the Father in the story, who represents God. God goes to great distances to restore the lost son, that even though the son has already cost him a fortune, he spends it again to reclaim the boy. Redemption is not cheap, as the older boy discovers, for he feels the father is stealing from what belongs to him in order to redeem the younger boy. He's not gratiful at all. Keller is writing, not to call the wayward younger son home, but to remind those who have never left, the older brother, not to be so self-righteous and to look down on others. This book calls those in the church to task, asking that we not be so judgmental. It’s also a book that confirms one of the main critiques made against the church, that it is a place of hypocrites. Certainly, if our hearts are like the older brother, such a critique is justified. We should take the critique as a warning for in the story, it is the younger son, not the older boy, that experiences salvation.
This is a good, easy to read, book. It can easily be read in a sitting. I recommend it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Day on the River

Trisket and I took off yesterday and drove up north a bit to the Muskegon River. I’d never paddled the river the before and we’d arranged a canoe livery to shuttle my truck and paddled from Croton Dam to the railroad bridge in Newaygo. The vegetation is changing and there is a hint of fall in the air. I love the ways the trees reflect in the calm water. The bushes and vines are all at full color and the brilliant greens have faded from the hardwoods. In another two weeks, this section of river should be beautiful with the trees being displaying the variety of color of an artist’s palette.
It was great to be alone with the dog. This is a self-portrait and I notice that I have my hat on backwards (the tighten string is in the front)
It was a beautiful day to paddle. The morning temperature was in the low 60s and it was only 70 when I got off the river at 4:45 PM. The cooler air made the trip pleasant as the river is broad and there was little shade. I didn’t have much luck fishing, but the first of the salmon are moving up river and you could see them in the water. Although there were a few fishing with fly rods and salmon eggs, I stuck to using a spinning rod as the wind was too much to try to fly fish in boat drifting downstream. I only had two strikes.
Arriving at the take-out point.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dutch Oven Cooking (with recipes)

This is a response of request I received in my last post… All my Dutch-ovens are designed for outdoor cooking. They have legs on them (so they can stand over the coals), and lips on the lids so they can hold coals. I have cooked with wood, but it’s easier to use charcoal briquettes. At home, I prepare everything (cut excess fat off the meat, prepare the vegetables, etc). When I get to the site, the first thing I do is start the charcoal. Then I set up my stove—a large 2-burner camp stove that uses a 20 pound propane gas tank. I use the stove to brown the meat and afterwards to help me clean the ovens. I then get the ribs on (since they’re in liquid, you don’t risk over-cooking, as you do with the chicken. Then I put on the chicken, then the potatoes. The last thing to cook is a cobbler. In addition to Dutch oven cooking, my lunch included Carolina-styled Cole Slaw and a vegetable tray and plenty of ice team.

Ribs: I’m from North Carolina, so ribs mean pork! I use either babyback or country-ribs. On a stove, I lightly brown the ribs, then place them to a Dutch oven and cover them with some of my homemade sauce. My sauce includes apple cider vinegar, tomato ketchup, hot sauce (Texas Pete’s, if available), coarse ground pepper, salt, and the lemon squeezings. I put place 8-10 pieces of charcoal on the ground and put the oven on top. I add another 8 or so pieces to the top of the oven.

Chicken: For one 12 inch, deep-sized Dutch oven, I’ll use a 10 pound bag of legs and thighs quarters. Cleaning the chicken, I cut off excess fat and separate the legs from the thighs. I dip the chicken pieces into milk, and then roll in a spicy bread crumb mixture, then brown on a skillet. Once brown, I pack into a Dutch oven (I usually have the oven on the other burner so the metal will be hot before I place it on the coals. When filled, I place the second pot on top of the first and add another 8 or so pieces of coals to the top lid. I use a thermometer to make sure the chicken is cooked.

Potatoes: Before starting to cook (or the night before), I wash and thinly slice the potatoes and onions (for a deep 12 inch Dutch oven, I will use about 5 pounds of potatoes and 2 pounds of onions. I lay out strips of bacon to cover the bottom of the oven. I then set out a layer of potatoes, then onions, the sprinkle with seasoning (I like to use Ms. Dash). I keep repeating this till the oven is filled. On the top, I place another layer of bacon. I set the oven on top of the oven with the chicken, and place coals on top of its lid. The potatoes will be done in 45 minutes to an hour.

Cobbler: The cobbler is the last thing to be cooked, as it only takes 30 minutes or so. I use a smaller oven (10 inch). I take ½ of a stick of butter and rub it into the oven. Then I add cherry pie filling (3-28 ounce cans). On top, I sprinkle a chocolate cake mix and then add pats of butter (the rest of the stick). That all, I’m embarrassed to say! I do have some other recipes that call for all kinds of things, including nuts and chocolate syrup, and they are good, but not that much better than this simple recipe. I put the cobbler on right before I start serving the rest of the meal, so it’s hot when people are ready for dessert. Sorry, but I didn’t get a photo of the cobbler.

I hope you have a healthy appetite!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Some Stuff

I worked as a chef this past Friday. Last summer, for a charity auction, I offered up my outdoor cooking abilities with Dutch-ovens. A director of a local agency won the bid and had me to cook for her staff. So Friday, I hauled my stuff out to their office and prepared lunch: barbecued babyback ribs, baked chicken, Dutch-oven potatoes, Carolina-style Cole slaw, and a chocolate-cherry cobbler. The photo is of me showing off my potatoes to a hungry worker.

Things have been rather crazy in my world over the past few weeks. It’s often that way in September and this year has been no different. We’re having some crazy weather here! Yesterday morning, when I went out with the dog it was 40 degrees, today it was 70! After a wet spring and early summer, the skies dried up, but this morning we received a welcome drizzle. I’m glad we’re not getting the deluge some of you received down South. We’re here in a race to get a project roofed before winter sets in and need to have good weather this fall.

I just haven’t had time to research or write about the political issues of today, but last week I came across this video at Courting Destiny's blog. It's about the current health care debate in our country enlightening and funny. It’s amazing that we pay so much for so little. If that video gets your blood pressure up too much, watch this one. It's not political at all and is kind of funny, unless you're a cop without a sense of humor.

Hopefully, soon, I’ll be able to write more of my Appalachian Trail hike. I also have an upcoming canoe trip planned for a river that I’ve not yet paddled, one in which I’m hoping to catch some fall colors along with the fall salmon run.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Duncannon to Delaware Water Gap: A hike through Northeast Pennsylvania

Sorry that I haven’t been around regularly reading up on people’s blogs. I was out of town for two days and have been busy the rest of the time. I did finish this post on another segment of my Appalachian Trail hike in 1987. I think the photo is of Port Clinton (if not, it’s Duncannon, PA). I need to copy some more photos from this section of the trail, but I didn’t get many good shots as the air was often hazy (or it was rainy).

I ran into Slim Jim and Daddy Long-Legs at Peter’s Mountain Shelter. It was good to meet them, as they seemed to know a lot about me. They’d been reading my adventures in shelter logs since I got on the trail three weeks earlier at Swift Run Gap in the Shenandoah National Park. For the rest of the trail, we’d often hike together and a couple months later, Jim and I would both finish our journey on the same day at the top of Mount Katadhin in Maine.

That morning, Jim (my friend from Harrisburg) had dropped me off in downtown Duncannon, where he’d picked me up two days earlier. I set out hiking north (at this point the trail actually heads northeast). The heat and humidity was almost unbearable. Thunderstorms started moving in that afternoon and, after only twelve miles, I decided to hold up at the shelter. A few minutes later Jim and Daddy Long-legs joined me. Other hikers keep stopping by, including a nine member group from a hiking club (thankfully, they all stayed in tents, a couple from Colorado who was hiking the trail and an African American guy who was at least 100 pounds overweight. He’d started hiking in Duncannon, going north in the hopes of making it to Katadhin and losing weight. He carried with him a half-gallon canteen filled with rum and coke, which he kept offering to the three of us.

With so many people in and around the shelter, I didn’t sleep well and was on the trail by 6:30 AM the next morning. It was June 21, the longest day of the year, and I made good use of it, hiking twenty three and a half miles. This section of the trail was beautiful as it snaked along ridges of Pennsylvania’s Anthracite coal region. The unbearable heat of the past several days didn’t return. Although still warm, it was pleasant hiking weather, with a light mist that kept the temperature down. I passed the site of Yellow Springs, a former coal town that seemed haunted in the fog. At Rausch Gap, I took advantage of the shelter to take a nap out of the rain. Later, at Swatara Creek, where an old steel truss bridge had been restored for use by hikers, I fixed my dinner. Afterwards, I hiked another couple of miles, crossing an interstate and climbing the ridge out of Swatara Gap, pitching my tarp for the night at level site on the top.

It continued to rain the next day, as I made my way north. Mostly it was a light drizzle, interspersed with several drenching downpours. I secured everything in the pack, wore only a t-shirt and a pair of lightweight running shorts. My socks were thoroughly soaked and it would be days before my boots dried. I noticed a rip in one of the seams, where water oozed out with each step. The hip band on the pack began to rip out where it was attached to the pack. Every time I hosted the pack, I had to be careful that I didn’t rip it further. Early in the morning, I stopped at Pilgrim’s Rest, a place where Count Zinzendorf, a Moravian missionary to the native population, had camped centuries earlier. Before heading out, Slim Jim and Daddy Long-legs came hobbling in. Daddy Long-legs was also having problems with his boots. We camped that night Ney’s Gap Shelter with Larry and Mo (they’d left Curly at home), two girls from Maine who are on a trip from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia to New York State. We learn that the Brits are not far ahead, as they’d been camping with the Brits for the past couple of nights. (An interesting side note: a few years after the trail, one of the Brits would marry Mo). The sound of rain on a tin roof was pleasing to the ears and I spent much of the evening in the dry shelter stitching my hip band back together with dental floss. It was suggested that my trail name should be "Dental Floss."

It was still cloudy and foggy when I woke early the next morning. I wasn’t too anxious to get an early start, as the rain of the previous day was still falling from the trees, so I stayed in my bag, and finished reading On the Road. When the rest started to stir, I got up and fired my stove, listening to the complaints. I was using a new MSR multi-fuel stove that burned gasoline (which made it easy to resupply my fuel) and could boil a pot of water in three minutes. Unfortunately, it also sounded a bit like the Space Shuttle taking off, and while it was running, it drowned out the sounds of nature. Sitting a pot of water on my stove to boil, I stuffed my sleeping bag, rolled my pad and began to pack up. When the water began to roll, I fixed a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of tea. Jim and Daddy Long-legs were also fixing their breakfast and we ate and discussed the day. Like me, Daddy Long-legs was having problems with his boots. The three of us decide to hike to Port Clinton, a small town along the Schuylkill River, some seven miles away. From there, Daddy Long-legs and I would leave our packs with Jim and hitch into Hamburg, a town a few miles further away which has a cobbler.

A couple hours later, we arrived in town and set up camp at the picnic shelter in the park, where they allowed hikers to camp. I took the waistband off my pack and, with it and my boots in hand, took off to Hamburg, hanging out a thumb every time a car approached. After covering about a mile, we were given a ride and arrived in the city just in time to catch the cobbler before he took off for lunch. We heard great things about this cobbler, but he seemed rude and bothered by our appearance. Looking at Daddy Long-leg’s boots, he shook his head and handed them back, saying they couldn’t be repaired. But he took my boots and my waistband and promised them back by 5 PM. Next stop was a pub for lunch and a few beers. Then we headed out to search for Daddy Long-leg’s some boots. Finding none that fit, he purchased a pair of red Converse high-top sneakers, hoping they’d make do till the next town. At five, I picked up my shoes and waistband and was surprised when he refused to take payment for his services. Instead, he gave me a wooden nickle, advertising his business, and asked that I send him a postcard from Maine. I felt bad that I had earlier judged him so harshly and when I completed the trail, I did send him a postcard.

Getting back to Port Clinton, the three of us headed to the local bar for dinner. With the exception of the bartender, an elderly woman, we were the only people in the joint. Looking at the menus, we began to make our request, only to be told she didn’t have any of this and that. Finally, we asked what she had, and she listed several sandwiches that she could make. We decided the menus were just for table decorations and ordered sandwiches and beer. She suggested Yuengling Beer, a local brand brewed in Pottstown, PA and reported to be the oldest brewery in the United States. She poured each of us a twelve ounce glass, which cost 35 cent each. An hour later, after having finished our sandwiches and having down three glasses of beer, the woman cut us off. We thought his was a little strange as the glasses were small and we were walking. We headed back to the town’s picnic shelter, where I spent the evening reading Henri Nouwen’s The Genesee Diary.

I set off early the next morning, leaving Jim and Daddy Long-legs behind. The climb out of Schuylkill Valley was relatively steep, 800 gain feet in a little over a mile. The day was clear and warm and I made decent time. At Pulpit Rock, I stopped for a catnap. Jim and Daddy Long-legs caught up with me and we had an early lunch and an afternoon nap, soaking up in the sun. I’d heard horror stories of hikers who’d fell asleep on a rock, their white feet exposed to the sun, and waking up a few hours later with their feet burnt and in no condition to hike. I was careful to keep my feet covered. After an hour nap, I headed on north, leaving the two of them behind. I passed along the edge of the Eckville Hawk Sanctuary, and then down into a hollow. There, near the bottom, Cindy Ross and Todd Gladfelter had a hostel for hikers. The two of them had hiked both the Appalachian and the Pacific Crest Trail. Cindy was home when I arrived, but going into town, so I just got to say hello. I’d known of her from her book on the Appalachian Trail, which I’d given to a former girlfriend. I realized I’d never see the book again. (A few years after this time, I’d read Cindy’s book on the Pacific Crest Trail, which is still on my shelves. She also has another book out on the Continental Divide Trail, a trip she did with her husband and their children).

I’d arrived at the hostel at 4 PM, too early to call it a day. I lounged around, reading a magazine article about hiking the Shipwreck Trail along the British Columbia coastline and from The Genesee Diary. Jim and Daddy Long-legs still hadn’t come in and I was worried about where they were as the seven or eight miles of hiking from lunch had been relatively easy. I decided to fix dinner and then hike on and to camp on the top of the ridge. In my pack there was a can of tuna and a package of tuna helper. It was my heaviest meal, so I prepared it knowing I could leave my can in the trash at the hostel and not have to haul it anymore. Having meat on the trail was a luxury. As I finished dinner, the two wayward hikers stumbled in, having spent several hours napping on the rocks. We talked a bit and then I headed out a little after 7 PM. The trail out of the hollow was steep, climbing 1000 feet in two miles, but it seemed easy. In an hour, I’d covered the 3 plus miles from the hostel to Dan’s Pulpit, a rock outcropping with a view to the east. There, I made a dry camp (with less than two quarts of water), and as the skies promised to continue to be clear, camped under the stars. Snacking a bit before bed, I was shocked to see a mouse run between my legs, looking for a handout. I chased him away and hung my food from a tree and then collapse for the night. I’d hiked 19 ½ miles.

The next morning I was disappointed that the sun rose too far to the north and wasn’t visible from the outcropping. Leaving early, I hiked a little over a mile to a spring where I fixed breakfast: Oatmeal, hot tea, and a cold glass of strawberry instant breakfast mix, made with powder milk. When a spring was available, this was a real treat which I made by adding the mix and powder milk and spring water into a wide mouth water bottle and shaking. Throughout this area of the trail, there are many examples of early iron works. The iron industry got its start here in the Revolutionary War, when the British embargo forced the colonies to become more independent. In these hills, charcoal operations along with coal mines and pockets of iron ore provided the materials for a cottage industry to develop and eventually grew into the steel industry that, even in the late 80s, were dying. I continued on north. Before reaching Blue Mountain Summit, Jim and Daddy Long-legs caught up. To our surprise, there was a German restaurant at the summit, where PA 309 crosses the mountain. Although it was early for lunch, just a bit after 11 AM, we decided to stop. I had sausage and sauerkraut and a salad and several glasses of ice tea. The restaurant had German beers on tap and I’d decided to shun them knowing I still need to put in some miles before stopping. We loitered around as long as we could in the air conditioning, learning from the television behind the bar that Jackie Gleason had died.

With our stomachs’ full, the three of us hike together through the afternoon. It was hot, humid and there was little breeze. Although I had filled all three of my water bottles, I found myself drinking constantly, trying to quench my thirst. Although lunch had been delicious, I paid for the salty food all afternoon in the heat. We didn’t make very good time, stopping several times to nap and to explore the rock outcroppings along the knife edge and at Boers Rocks. We decided to camp to Bake Oven Knob Shelter, six and a half miles from the restaurant. By the time we arrive, about 6 PM, I’d gone through two bottles of water and was into the third. To our horror, the spring at the shelter, which requires a steep climb down into a draw, was dry. We had no choice but to continue hiking. The next water and shelter was eight miles away.

That evening, the three of us stay together, talking and nursing our water, taking only sips. None of us had any to spare. The heat continued as the sun sank in the west. We hiked on the ridge, high over the northern extension of the Pennsylvanian Turnpike that ran through a tunnel underneath us. It was dark when we approach the George W. Outerbridge shelter. Near the shelter, we heard running water and found a pipe spring gushing with cool water. The three of us dropped to our knees and scooped water up with our hands, drinking and splashing ourselves. Water never tasted so good. Afterwards, we set up camp in the shelter with another hiker.

The other guy in the shelter was allusive about who he was or where he was heading. He mostly sat in the corner and smoked cigarettes. We gathered he was going southbound, but maybe he told us that because we’re heading north. He constantly got up in the night and looked around, while smoking a cigarette. I woke up during one of the episodes, having dreamed that I was in a house fire. The next morning was foggy. We headed out early, with thirty six miles separating us from Delaware Water Gap. My boots have again ripped and Daddy Long-leg’s feet were hurting from hiking in his Converse High-tops. Jim was meeting family at the Water Gap and Daddy Long-legs planned to tag along with them to a backpacking store in New Jersey, where he hoped to replace his boots. I was also meeting a friend at the Water Gap, who was going to try to finish the trail with me. We hiked in the fog and a light drizzle, crossing Lehigh Gap. The climb up the other side was sickening. We’re heard about this stretch that is void of trees from the smelters in the Lehigh Valley. The rocks were sharp and slippery. We talked about the other guy in the shelter and wondered if he was running from the law.

We stopped for a late lunch at the Leroy Smith Shelter. Wet and cold, we prepared a hot lunch and built a fire. We decided to make for Wind Gap, a little over three miles away, where we knew there was a motel, deciding to split a room and enjoy a warm shower. A room at the Gateway Motel, with two beds and a roll away, cost us $36. We struck up a conversation with Ray, a construction worker in the next room, who seemed interested that we’d come in all muddy and with backpacks. He called us over to his truck and opened a cooler and offered us a Straub Light, a local beer. After talking a bit, he offered us the use of his truck so we could drive to a restaurant for dinner. We tried to talk him into coming along with us, but he refused, so we accepted his offer, but first showered and cleaned up.

The next morning, Ray offered us a ride into Delaware Water Gap. Although we had fifteen more miles to go, we took him up on the offer, knowing we could come back and “slack pack” the trail between Wind Gap and Delaware Water Gap. It was a Saturday morning and I hoped to find a cobbler to once again sew up my boots. Jim’s family was coming in that afternoon. We drove into the Gap and dropped our packs off at a hostel in the basement of the Presbyterian Church. I learned that the closest cobbler is in East Stroudsburg and we catch a bus there, arriving just before the guy closes shop at noon. He said he was in a hurry, but grabbed my boots and stitched them back together in just a couple of minutes, charging me fifty cent. Afterwards, the three of us washed clothes and spent time in a bar named Rumors. We had several drinks, and then I retreated to the hostel for a nap while Jim waited for his family. A number of other hikers stumbled in, including the Brits and Doug, a hiker who has been hauling a fly rod from Georgia, fishing at every stream that appears worthwhile. (In the book the National Geographic Society published after the 50th Anniversary of the trail, there was a picture of Doug in Damascus, Virginia). That night, a group of us headed back to Rumors, where a rock-and-roll band was playing. Several times that evening, I found myself dancing with a girl named Michelle, who was with a group of friends at the next table, celebrating her 21st birthday. We all arrived back at the hostel around 2 AM, and only then I realized that I hadn’t eaten lunch or dinner.

The next morning, I got up early and fixed breakfast. Doug and I decided to go upstairs for Sunday School. A few more hikers joined us for worship. That afternoon, the church had a potluck on the lawn and invited us all to attend. We feasted and talked to folks and, to show them just how uncouth we were, we held a watermelon spitting contest. I also arranged a lift back to Wind Gap early the next morning (Jim and Daddy Long-legs had hiked this section on Sunday). Later in the day, Doug and I walked down along the river and I watched him fish. It felt that the Water Gap, where the Delaware rushes through the mountains, was a special place. That night, Shari came in with her dog, Bowser. The next morning, I left my pack at the hostel and taking only water and a couple of granola bars, caught the ride back to the Wind Gap and quickly did the 15 or so miles. I then picked up my pack, crossed the Delaware into New Jersey and headed north to catch up with Shari.

Other stories from my hikes on the Appalachian Trail
Duncannon, PA
Getting to the trail in Georgia
Folks along the trail in North Georgia
Folks along the trail in North Georgia and Southern North Carolina
Hiking the Berkshires, Massachusetts
Sugarloaf Mt, Maine
My Hiking Stick

Friday, September 11, 2009

Goodbye to a River: A Narrative (a book review)

This week got away from me… I have been hard pressed to get everything I needed done, done. Therefore, I haven’t had much time for blogging. I wish I had the time to take a trip another trip, one like John Graves… Here is a book that I started to read for Maggie’s Summer Southern Reading Challenge. I ended up substituting another book, The Cape Fear, in that challenge, but I still wanted to read this book and I’m glad I did.

John Graves, Goodbye to a River: A Narrative (1959, Vintage Books, 1988), 306 pages, a few drawings and one map.

Traveling alone by canoe, one has an opportunity to do a lot of thinking. And that’s what John Graves did in the mid-1950s. A series of dams were being proposed along his beloved Brazos River in the hill country of Texas. As a final goodbye to the free flowing river, Graves and a puppy spent most of a November floating the river. Passing familiar bends, he stops to recalls the history of the area. Other times, he reminisces about a favorite fishing hole or the site of a hunt he’d enjoyed. He tells the stories of old settlers and in some places encounters folks whose roots to the river go back into the nineteenth century, at a time when the river was really wild.

The book flows as slow as deep water, allowing the reader to savor the stories. Graves recalls “the People,” or the Comanche, who’d controlled the area before Anglo-migration in the 19th Century. He tells the stories of settlers who died at the hands of “The People,” as well as those who helped “stabilize” the area. But it wasn’t really settled. Rough times preceded and followed the Civil War. Lynchings were common, feuds fierce and revenge a way of life. Lynching wasn’t just reserved for African-Americans. Caucasians, Mexicans and even in one case, a mother and several of her daughters found themselves with a rope around their neck and dangling as a “pendant from a limb.” “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord,’ but the good citizens of Springtown, Parker County, Texas, appear to have honed themselves on His cutting tools.” Because of the feuds and desire for revenge, he admits that many stories were lost for they were not told because “like a broken-back rattler, [they] still had a bite left in them.” Graves also spends time pondering how stories have changed over time.

Life was as harsh in this country in the 19th Century, not just with the lack of law and order, but also with the limits of the soil as farmers and cattlemen strove to eke out a living. Graves tells about the various settlers and styles of cabins they’d built and about how, in time, pecans had became big business. But it’s an investment for the planter’s children, as the trees slowly reach maturity. Graves also ponders the blending of faith along the river. “Calvinistic fundamentalism and its joined opposite, violent wallowing in sin settled that part of the world and have flourished there since like bacteria in the yolk of an egg.” A little later he notes that it’s a good thing there are a “few Mexican Catholics around” for they “dull the spines of the Baptist prickly pear.” Even the pious were not above the feuds as he tells the story of a Methodist Episcopal Church-South preacher named Jim Truitt, whose testimony helping convict a man. In the end, the man’s son took care of the preacher.

Throughout his journey, Graves notes the calls and the habits of certain birds. He also is reminded of his time during the war, on islands in the South Pacific, a theme that seems to haunt him. Although he hunts and even shot a duck on the water for his Thanksgiving diner, he reflects on how he changed from his childhood. As a kid, he’d shoot any animal that moved, but now only shoots for meat. He also fishes, using a trotline when he needs meat. But he confesses his love for the fly rod, although he wouldn’t argue it with “a man who finds his joy in hurling treble-hooked bullets through the air, and winching his fish to boat or shore with an apparatus that practically thinks for him.”

As the end of the trip approaches, he finds himself pondering life off the river, noting, “It didn’t go on forever, the river.” In a like manner, I remember the last week of my trip on the Appalachian Trail, when I wished the trail didn’t end on that mountain ahead. But his trip came to an end and returned home to write this book.

This isn’t a fast book. It’s slow, but the stories are rich and the pace forces us to slow down. If you read this book, savor it!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Personal Thoughts on the Ultimate Punishment

This photo has nothing to do with this post. It's just an old photo of me cross-country skiing in the Sierras (and eating snow). The photo was taken in Jaunary 1989 on Kodachrome and is a digital copy of the slide.
I saw them just a few times that summer. They’d be walking to the mailbox or in their car turning into our shared driveway. I’d smile and wave and generally they’d wave back; I don’t think we ever spoke. They seemed sad, just a remnant of a family who lived in an old farmhouse behind me. They all seemed older than their years and probably were. I remember an older girl or more correctly, a young woman. She might have been attractive, had it not been for the gloom on her face, slumped shoulders and downcast eyes. I wondered if she was the one.

In the summer of 1984, I was director at Camp Bud Schiele, a Boy Scout camp located in the foothills of the Appalachians. The land that made up the reservation had originally been several dairy farms. They hadn’t yet built the director’s cabin, so I lived in a small house that had originally housed one of the dairy families. Behind me, in what had once been a farmhand’s house lived this family in a house they rented from the scout council. The summer camp area was about a mile and a half away, across a broad valley dissected by the tracks of the Clinchfield Railroad.

Right before I moved to camp for the summer, I had a conversation about the family with Tony, the camp ranger. We were in the former milk bar which had been converted to the camp’s shop and tool storage shed. A ranger from another camp that was a few miles from us was also present. He was either borrowing or returning some equipment.

“They need their privacy,” Tony said. “But keep your eye out for them and call me and the sheriff if anyone bothers them.” He then told me the story. The father of the family had recently been executed at Central Prison in Raleigh. If I remember correctly, his was the first execution in North Carolina following the reinstatement of the death penalty. A few years earlier, his daughter had come home late from a date. He’s taken shots at her boyfriend and when the law showed up to find out what was going on, he shot and killed two officers.

I made some quip about how his death wasn't going to solve anything. This was interpreted as a liberal cliché by the other ranger, who immediately challenged my statement. We entered into a rather heated argument over the necessity of capital punishment. As in most such arguments, neither one of us changed our minds. If I remember correctly, Tony didn't say much, just listened and shook his head.

I became an opponent of capital punishment fairly early in my life. At some point, I remember watching a movie about an innocent man being executed and it seemed that the only way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to end such punishments. Although I was only 11, I was relieved in the late 60s when the Supreme Court instituted a moratorium on the practice. My first political arguments with my dad were on this topic; he felt the Supreme Court’s decision to be foolish. But what sealed my position on capital punishment came when I was in the eighth grade. I was a student at Roland Grice Junior High School and my girlfriend attended Sunset Park Junior High. We knew each other through church. During the week, we’d talk by phone. We both had spies at the other school, snitches more than willing to tell tales. One day I confronted her about a guy she’d been seen frequently hanging around with and she snapped back, “What are you going to do, put me in the electric chair?” Ever a smart-ass, I responded, “Lucky for you, I don’t believe in capital punishment.” Then we forgot all about the allegations of her unfaithfulness and began to argue about the merits of the death penalty. She was in favor of it and I was against it.

In time, the reasons for my position against capital punishment changed. I began to base my arguments on moral and theological grounds, centering mostly on the need for society to set the example about the value of life. For the same reason, I have also been against abortion even though I’m horrified at the possibility of being identified with the pro-life camp, most of whom aren’t really pro-life, just anti-abortion. But that’s another topic.

Throughout my life I have had many encounters with those dealing with capital cases. When working with the Scouts, one of my district chairmen was an attorney. The country didn’t have a public defender, so the task was rotated among those who practiced criminal law. By the luck of the draw he was assigned to defend a young man who’d been charged with a double murder, the deaths of his girlfriend’s two children. There was little doubt of the defendant’s guilt as the bodies were discovered in his trunk. It was anguish to have to defend such a man and a year or two later, he quit practicing law.

Years later, when living in Utah, there was a horrible murder. A young man brutally attacked his ex-mother-in-law in front of his children. The victim was a respectful member of the community, a Paiute social worker who was seen by many within the tribe as a leader and nurturer. Again, I was friends with the attorney who had the public defendant contract for the county. It was his first capital case and we talked several times about it (enough so that when the case did come to trial and I was one of the 120 people in the jury pool, I was quickly dismissed!). Again, there was little doubt of his guilt and the defendant was found guilty and sentenced to death. When his attorney accepted the case, he confided to me that he had no problems with capital punishment. He admitted he’d never really given it much thought, but during the trial, as he got to know the defendant, he struggled with his beliefs. Although the defendant was guilty, he was still a human being.

I attended the final arguments for the sentencing phase. Outside the courthouse, a circus was on-going. The victim had been a member of the local band of Paiutes and many members of the tribe were out with signs asking that the defendant “fry.” The defendant was also a Native American, but a Hopi. Far from his native land, he had no supporters. I was sickened as I cleared security at the courthouse, wondering if those picketing would feel better once they obtained the revenge they sought. “Vengeance is mine,” say the Lord, but many people things the Lord can use a helping hand. The defendant, in what was an agonizing decision for the judge, was sentenced to death.

I saw that ranger from the neighboring camp, the one I’d argued with over capital punishment, once or twice more that summer, but the topic never came up again. A year or so later, two young men turned up missing and the fingers all pointed to him. Their bodies were found buried near his home. He was tried and found guilty and sentenced to death. I have no idea what ever came of the case, as I left the area shortly afterwards. But I’ve wondered about him as well as I’ve wondered whatever became of that family that lived in the house behind me. And yes, I’ve also wonder what happened to the mother of the two children, the wives and children of the law officers, the parents of the two young men and the daughter and grandchildren of the Paiute social worker. Did these additional deaths bring any peace?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Duncannon, PA (The Longest Day of Summer, for me)

This story took place on June 17, 1987. The first photo was taken either in Maryland or southern Pennyslvanna. The second, which is a bit hazy due to the humidity in the air, is of the town of Duncannon. The photo of the remodelled Doyle Hotel was taken from their website.

That evening I sat on a stool in a smoky bar, wearing a pair of nylon running shorts, shoes with no socks, and a rain jacket. All the clothes in my possession were a washing machine in the Laundromat next door. My head was already spinning and I wasn’t sure why I was nursing another beer while catching up on my journal for the day. Exhausted, I was ready for bed. Although there were half a dozen or so other patrons, plus the bartender, no one paid me any attention. I assumed they’d seen plenty of hikers passing through and my unique outfit didn’t faze them.
I sat my pen down, took another sip from the bottle and began to think about the day. It began in the wee hours of morning, at Campbell Springs Shelter. I was the only one at the shelter that night, and hadn’t seen too many people on the trail for the past few days. Knowing the day ahead was going to include the infamous 20 mile road walk across a valley, known for being hot and without shade, I decided to get an early start. By three in the morning, I was on the trail. The first few hundred yards were tricky, as I followed the narrow trail and found myself relying on a flashlight to stay on the trail and to spot the blazes. But soon, the trail turned along a dirt road and I could turn off the light. A half mile later, the trail broke out of the woods and into open farm land. The road headed north, across the valley and over a set of railroad tracks. The air was still, damp and cool. Off the road a ways were farmhouses. At one intersection, there was a church and a few houses. Occasionally a rooster or a dog could be heard and once, I startled some cows sleeping next to the fence. At 4:30 A.M., I took my first break, sitting up my back along the bank of a ditch. The sweet smell of fresh manure scented the air. Looking above, I noticed Cygnus, the swan, and Lyra, the harp, with its bright star Vega, that seemed so close I can touch. The sky was clear and it would be a hot day. I was glad that I would be done with the road walk before noon.
And hour later, I missed a turn and hiked off a mile or two in the wrong direction. I backtracked, taking a railroad track that left me a couple hundred yards down the trail from where I’d left it. Continuing on, I passed the Pennsylvania Turnpike and then I-81, an interstate that follows the great valley on down through Maryland and Virginia. There’s history here. Settlers used the valley to move south in the 18th century. A century later, General Lee moved his force through the valley on his ill-fated northern invasion. Today, the valley has been carved into farms and mobile home parks. At 6:45 AM stopped at a diner for breakfast in Middlesex, near the intersection of the turnpike and I-81. I’d covered ten miles of trail, plus an additional few miles of backtracking. Half the roadwalk was behind me. Stashing my pack in a corner, I sat on a stool by the counter and ordered pouched eggs, corn beef hash, along with coffee and toast. Sipping coffee, I made a few notes in my journal.
Afterward eating, I continued drinking coffee as I read some in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and wrote in my journal. I waited till nearly eight to call Jim, a friend from school who lived in Harrisburg. He agreed to pick me up the next morning in Duncannon, a town along the Susquehanna River. That was about 19 miles away. I knew there was a good chance that I could make the town that day, but since Duncannon is one of the hiker’s havens and everyone always raved about the Doyle Hotel, I thought I'd spend the night there. Besides, I’d been following two hikers known as “The Brits” for two weeks now. According to what they’d written in the last trail journal, I knew they were also planning on being in Duncannon and I’d have a chance to meet them. I also knew that even if I didn’t make Duncannon that day, I could easily be there by the following morning.
Leaving the diner, I continued my northward trek, across Conodogunet Creek and up the side of Blue Mountain. I crested Blue Mountain and arrive at Darlington Shelter a little before eleven. I had beaten my goal of finishing the road walk before noon. The day was becoming hot, which when added to the humidity was a killer. I drop my pack against the wall of the shelter, lean back against it and sleep for nearly an hour. Then I fixed some lunch: crackers, peanut butter, and cheese, all washed down a quart water bottle mix of cherry Kool-Aid. I read a bit more of Kerouac. His story is captivating, as he seems to be only happy when he’s traveling. Getting the hint, I load up and shoulder my pack and head on, determined to have dinner in Duncannon. I have 12 ½ miles to go.

The trail drops off Blue Mountain, crosses another small valley and then up Cove Mountain. So far, hiking had been easy in Pennsylvania, but on Cove Mountain, which appears to be one big rock pile, I get the first taste of why so many hikers complain about the state. Although there are no high mountains, there are plenty of rocks, most of which is upturned limestone that is jagged and can turn one’s feet to hamburger. By the time I crest Cove Mountain, I’ve already put 20 some miles on my feet. “Them dogs are getting tired,” I think as I feel each rock. But I continue to make decent time. I take another cat-nap at mid-afternoon, waiting for the heat to dissipate, but it doesn’t. Pushing on, I arrive at the outskirts of Duncannon late in the afternoon. I’m dirty and drenched with sweat. I stop by a small store and buy a Pepsi and hot dog, which I quickly gulp down. Then I hike on into town, passing houses tucked close together. Many have open windows and I overhear conversations around the dining room tables. Further on, I come into the business section: small stores, shops, restaurants, a hardware store and the Doyle Hotel. This was once a nice hotel, with impressive brick, iron and wood work. It was built by Anheuser Busch back early in the 20th century and had seen its better days. I head into the hotel and make a beeline to the bar.
It’s not hard to pick out fellow hikers and sure enough, the Brits are sitting on barstools at the Doyle Hotel. I drop my pack in the corner and join them. Having read their journal entries for some time, I felt that I knew them fairly well. But since I’d been behind them, they hadn’t heard of me. I order a beer and ask for a glass of water and we begin to get acquainted. Dave and Paul, with their English accents, have charmed the crowd and the patrons continually buy drinks for them. The next thing I know, I’m included in the rounds and another beer is placed in front of me. Dehydrated from the long hot hike, I drink more than I should and after downing a couple beers, my head is spinning and I excuse myself and check into the hotel.
You get what you pay for and for $7.42 a night, I got a lumpy iron-framed bed and a shared bath that had no shower, only a footed steel tub, the kind that might bring a small fortune in an antique store. After a bath, I put on my pair of nylon running shorts. I stuff all the rest of my clothes into a bag and head out to find a laundry mat. Running downstairs, I stick my head in the bar and see that Dave and Paul have left. They weren’t interested in spending the night in the hotel and had hiked on. I head down the street to the laundry mat. I have a puny load to wash: three t-shirts, a long sleeve shirt for cooler nights, a couple pair of boxer shorts, a pair of hiking shorts, two heavy pair of wool socks, two pair of liners, an extra pair of polypropylene socks, three bandanas and one half of a towel. As the washing starts, I walk over to the bar next door.
Across the bar from where I’d been sitting, a woman and a man began arguing. She’s attractive, tall and slender with wavy brown hair hanging down her back. I would guess she was in her late 20s, maybe early 30s. I’d seen her and the man next to her when I came in, but had paid them no attention. Then she changes her tone and the bar becomes very quiet. The bartender stopped drying glasses and stand still, holding his towel. The other patrons also turned to look at the woman and the man. Even the jukebox in the corner, that had been blaring song after song as patrons drop in quarters, seems to have shut down. Or maybe I just no longer noticed. With a soft sexy voice, the woman goes into great detail as she describes how she’d perform a particular sexual act with her mouth. I feel like we’re all listening in on a conversation that should be private, but there’s little helping it when she’s sitting across the bar from me, maybe ten feet away. When she finishes her description, she gave the guy a “go to hell look,” and pointed her finger in his face and said, “But you’ll never know.” She then walks out. Some of the guys laughed. The noise in the bar returns. As an interloper, I felt there was something incredibly sad about the whole situation.
I finished my beer and head back to the laundry to move my clothes to the dryer. Fifteen minutes later, my laundry done, I head to my room at the Doyle Hotel, my clean clothes stuffed into a small ditty bag. I’d worried about sleeping on the lumpy mattress, and had even thought about sleeping on my pad on the floor, but I was so tired that I fell asleep right away and didn’t wake up until the sun was high in the sky.

Epilogue: After breakfast the next morning, I was out on the street waiting for Jim to pick me up when I ran across the woman from the bar. She was pushing a stroller with two small kids. I nodded and she came over and asked if I wasn’t the hiker in the bar the evening before. Although we said nothing else about the evening, she apologized for her behavior. I told her it wasn't necessary and asked about her kids. She introduced them and continued talking, telling me some of her story, of a divorce and how she’d get out of town if she could, but is stuck there with her two children. I listened, making faces at the kids and feeling sorry for her. We were still talking when Jim pulled up. I wished her well, tossed my pack into the backseat and jumped into the passenger seat and waved goodbye.
As for the Brits, even after taking two days off, I was able to catch up with them a week later. They were pretty snookered when they left Duncannon and didn’t make it far out of town and weren’t up for putting in the long miles for several days (which is why I was able to catch them so soon). They spent the night I’d meet them in Duncannon in the open, sleeping down below the railroad grade of one of the busiest rail lines in the country. The fact that they could sleep next to the near continuous sound of freight is a testament to their condition. They woke up with an awful headache. I kept bumping into the two of them all the way to Mount Katadhin (they finished the trail a day before me). The three of us exchanged Christmas Cards for several years. A couple years after completing the trail, Dave came back to the States and married a woman whom we’d both meet later on the trail in Pennsylvania.
This week, I googled the Doyle Hotel and was pleasantly surprised to find that it open and still serving hikers. However, the hotel has been remodeled and the room rate has gone up considerably. A night at the Doyle now costs 25 bucks!

Other stories from my hikes on the Appalachian Trail
Getting to the trail in Georgia
Folks along the trail in North Georgia
Folks along the trail in North Georgia and Southern North Carolina
Hiking the Berkshires, Massachusetts
Sugarloaf Mt, Maine
My Hiking Stick

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

This and that

Busyness has returned and the past couple of days have been crazy and I haven’t been very good at keeping up with reading other blogs and even less able to write blog posts. But I have a few minutes, so let me catch you up a bit.

I’m working on several stories for my blog: a couple from experiences along the Appalachian Trail, an essay containing personal stories on capital punishment, and a book review. Stay tuned! But since I can’t seem to finish any of these, let me talk about the weather. It’s been cool here, even though it’s supposed to warm up into the low 80s today. Not to far north of here, they were warning of isolated pockets of frost yesterday morning.

Two bloggers, whose writings I enjoy, have written books. Mark C. Durfee, “The Walking Man” has published a new chapbook, Stink: the Poetry and Prose of Detroit. I enjoy the raw and honest emotions captured in his poetry, which often reflects the struggle of the city. In what little spare time I’ve had, I have been reading through this collection of writings, some of which I remember from his blog. His poetry reminds me of John Beecher’s work, especially his writings in the late 30s and early 40s.

Diesel (Rob Kroese) over at The Mattress Police has a new novel titled Mercury Falls. Diesel is very funny. His novel is about the apocalypse (not normally consider a humorous topic, unless you consider that The Late Great Planet Earth, which sold more copies and than just about any other book (on any topic), was written by a tug boat pilot on the Mississippi... Well, it was good enough for Mark Twain. Mercury Falls is due out later this month, of course, that's assuming Christ doesn't return beforehand. If that happens, I’ll be disappointed as I won a copy and wouldn’t want to read old news. Hal Lindsey may also be disappointed as there is no way he could have spent all the money he made on The Late Planet Earth.

For those of you who live in fear of the rapture (a concept which I don’t think is particularly Biblical, especially in the pre-tribulation fashion that it’s often depicted), you can now sleep a little easier by taking out rapture insurance for your pets. After all, they'll surely will be “left behind” and you'll want to hedge your bets. What will people think of next?

I hope your week is well is going.