Friday, October 30, 2009

Appalachian Trail: Delaware Water Gap to the Hudson River

I’m struggling to find time to write with everything else going on. But I am enjoying reliving my 1987 hike on the Appalachian Trail and this is another segment of the trail. Interestingly, I picked up a copy of Kevin Codd’s, To the Field of Stars, earlier this week and have been enjoying it. The book is about his hike to Santiago de Compostela, following the old pilgrim’s route and in this section of along the Appalachian Trail, I found myself constantly thinking about pilgrimages. The first two photos are of Delaware Water Gap.
I caught up with Shari and Bowser late in the afternoon of June 29, after having climbed the ridge out of the Water Gap. She’d set out a few hours before me, while I was “slack-packing” the 15 miles I’d yet to cover from Wind Gap to Delaware Water Gap. Having completed the 15 miles in five and a half hours, I picked up my mail at the post office. There was a short letter from Debbie, along with my grades from the last semester of school. I took care of business, forwarding the mail on and sending film to Kodak in mailers that had left in packets for my parents to forward with me along the way. Afterwards, I had a quick lunch and grabbed my pack which I’d left in the hostel at the Presbyterian Church and headed out across the river. The trail crossed the water along the small shoulder to the side of Interstate 80. It was a precarious crossing, with trucks flying by at a high rate of speed and I wondered how Shari had handled it with her dog. Getting back on solid ground, the trail began to climb up the south end of Kittatinanny Mountain. It felt good to again be wearing a pack and I hiked almost six miles, not stopping until I got to Sunfish Pond, where I found Shari and Bowser taking a break. We hiked on another mile or so, camping on the top of the ridge. Where there were breaks in the trees, we were treated to fantastic views of the Water Gap. We each fixed our own dinner and ate, enjoying a beautiful sunset. The winds were strong; we talked for a while then turned in for the night. Shari and Bowser slept in her tent; I stayed under my tarp.

The wind continued through the night, but the skies remained clear. I got up early, enjoying a wonderful sunrise as I sipped tea and ate oatmeal. We took our time getting on the trail. The hike was easy, mostly flat, and it became clear early on that Shari’s dog was going to be a problem. The mutt was part Lab, part Basset Hound. His short legs made it difficult for him to navigate boulders and the rocks were tough on his pads, but he was devoted to Shari and she loved him, referring to him as “The Best.” I’d been concerned when I learned she was bringing the dog, but she was sure the dog would be fine and could carry his own. She had purchased him a pack, in which he carried his food and a water dish. Shari tried to get him to drink treated water, but the dog didn’t have anything to do with iodine-flavored water, preferring to drink out of creeks. We made a short day of it, stopping after only ten miles, camping just south of Flatbrook Road. I continued to read The Genesee Diary along with Augustine’s Confessions. Shari and I also spent a lot of time talking about the trail, about Bowser, about life, about politics and religion.
It rained during the night, which is more always favorable than showers while hiking. At night, you can stay dry and be lulled to sleep by the patter of the rain on the roof, but this evening, the rain was a problem because Bowser got sick. Shari got him out of the tent and I got up. Sitting under the tarp, she cuddled her dog and sobbed. My heart hurt as I wished there was something I could do to make it better. I could see the worry in Shari’s eyes. After a while, the dog settled down and we all went back to sleep, but several times between then and morning, I could hear Shari checking on her dog.
We took it easy the next day. When we set out, I had Bowser’s pack strapped to the top of mine. We hiked a little over 7 miles, arriving at Brink’s Road Shelter just before the skies opened. It felt good to sit inside a shelter as a rain poured and lightning cracked. We decided to stay in the shelter for the night… Since Shari joined me, I’ve noticed that I’ve not been reading or writing as much. But I’ve been thinking a lot and have enjoyed our conversations, having not had such discussions since Reuben left at Harpers Ferry. We’d barely known each other, except that we’d both planned to spend the summer hiking and decided we’d try it together. We were not doing it as a couple, and kept those boundaries, even though I often found myself mesmerized by her smile. We’re both in school, working on advanced degrees. Shari already has a Masters in Media Relations and is now in law school. But we’re also so different. I’m Presbyterian and she’s Jewish, although doesn’t consider herself religious. Yet, we had lots of interesting religious discussions and I was fascinated to learn of her family’s experience with the holocaust. She tells me about a family trust, from her grandparents, that she’ll inherit but only if she marries another Jew. Her prospects haven’t looked good as she’s dated atheists, Baptists and Buddhists. I jokily tell her I’d convert for a little while. We also talk about politics, about the writings of Ayn Rand, pitting the author’s heartless capitalism against a faith that calls us to transcend worldly values to a different plain of morality.
Shari is also a vegetarian. As she’d brought her own food, this has been no problem, but I’ve not been eating much meat along the trail either. As I’m fixing dinner, a Lipton Chicken Noodle package, Shari reads the ingredients and is horrified that there is no meat product in it even though it’s advertised as “Chicken noodles.” We have a good laugh even though I’m sure I’m consuming plenty of unsavory chemicals. During the night, Bowser got sick again.

Daddy Long-legs looking over a ledge in New York State

July 2 started off cool and rainy. Shari decides that they can’t continue. I suggest we forgo breakfast and hike to US 206, where there is supposedly a restaurant and store. It’s a three and a half mile hike and we arrive by 9:30 AM and enjoy an late morning breakfast. Shari talks to the owner, who arranges for someone to give her a ride into Port Jarvis. She calls her brother, but he’s not able to pick her up until the following moring, so she also makes a reservation at the Holiday Inn for the night. We say our goodbyes and I store Shari pack in a stranger car and then shoulder my own as we depart ways. I hike on. After nine miles, I stop for lunch and to dry off from the rain at Mashipacong Shelter, spending some time writing about hiking with Shari along with reflections of Nouwen’s book and on hiking. For some reason, I am now repulsed at the macho ideal of the individual hiker conquering the trail. Even though I hike and endure my sufferings alone, there are many others before me who have paved the way, including all the trail crews who make this possible. Although an individual feat, it’s still a group effort.
I leave the dry comfort of Mashipacong Shelter behind and head on north. I make good time as it’s too cold to stop. I wear my rain jacket for warmth and think about the hermit that Nouwen visits in The Geneses Diary, who praises the rain and says we should always be happy when it rains and willing to get wet, for its’ the Lord sharing his blessing. I would like a little less blessing. I stop again, this time at High Point, the tallest mountain in New Jersey and warm up in the Ranger’s Station. I then use the payphone outside to call Debbie and check in and let her know that it looks like I’d be hiking alone to Katadhin. It’s a short call and she seemed distant. I wonder if she was upset with me over hiking with Shari. I then called Eric to see about my next mail drop, but he wasn’t in, so I leave a message. Then I called the Holiday Inn in Port Jarvis. Shari and Bowser had arrived safely and were enjoying the rainy day inside a hotel room.
Leaving High Point, I hike down down it’s north flank, stopping for the night at the High Point Shelter, only a mile away. It’s been a good mileage day as I’ve hiked nearly 20 miles. Slim Jim and Daddy Long Legs are there. I though they were further up the trail as my mileage had dropped with Shari along, but then I learn that they’d had a long and interesting evening in town to celebrate Jim’s 21st birthday and they too hadn’t been up to the long miles.
The rain continued and the next day the three of us set out. We took a half mile side trip into Unionville for an early lunch. The skies then cleared and the cool rain gave way to steamy heat. According to the data book, we hiked 23.5 miles, but we probably covered another 3 or so miles with our side trip and a detour around a sod farm (definitely the most uninteresting part of the trail so far as we walked 2/3 the way around a field that had to be a square mile in an attempt to keep us off the road for another mile). Walking along the sod farm was hot as there was no shade to be found. It’s July 3 and we can hear the sound of fireworks in the distance, a preamble to the next days celebration.

New York State freeway

On July 4th, we hike 16 miles to Fitzgerald Falls, arriving mid-afternoon. It’s cool and refreshing by the water and we notice two women walk up. Daddy Long Legs and I put on a show, talking about how nice it would be to have a few beers for the Fourth and in a few minutes one of the women catches on and offers me a ride into town. I leave my pack with Slim and Daddy Long Legs and jump into Sue’s car, a Honda CRX which she drives like a race car driver. We fly into town and I pick up a couple of six packs. Heading back, we drop the extras into the cold water and the five of us begin drinking the cold beers which taste good after the long and hot day. While I was riding with Sue, Slim and Daddy Long Legs were talking to JoAnne, who invited us all to a party. We’d planned on hiking another two miles and camping at an overlook of New York City, but the promise of food and drinks and a bonfire sounded more exciting than watching the fireworks on the horizon.
JoAnne and her husband Bob own a 30 acre mini-farm right next to the AT. The evening started out wonderful, with all kinds of food and drinks. We talked for a while with Bob about his Vietnam experiences, roasted hotdogs over the bonfire and shot off firecrackers. As more and more drinks were consumed, a fight breaks out between Jo and her husband. The three of us look at each other and whispered about heading back into the woods, but with a swell of cursing, Bob goes inside and crashes. Everyone else were leaving when JoAnne came back out and said her husband was sleeping and offered to put us up for the evening or to have us sleep on the porch. We asked if, instead, we couldn‘t sleep out under a pavilion that was away from the house, saying we’d be gone early the next morning.
We didn’t leave as early as we’d planned the next morning, none of us exactly ready to jump out of bed, but we were on the trail at 7:30 AM and hadn’t heard anything stir at the house. We heading passed Mombasha High Point, where we had thought we’d camp the evening before in order to watch the New York City fireworks. On a clear day, you are suppose to see the Manhattan skyline, but the day is hazy and humid and we can’t make it out. We cross the New York State freeway, filled with six lanes of traffic which seems odd for midday on a Sunday. We then continue on through Harriman State Park with its beautiful hemlocks and straw covered grown. The interpretative signs tell us about the importance of iron mining at this site, especially during the Civil War. Daddy Long Legs and I joke about the that iron being made into cannon balls to lop at our great-great granddaddies. One of the highlights of the trail is the “lemon squeeze,” where the trail goes through a house sized boulder split in half. You have to squeeze through it, without your packs and we all end up with bloody knees for our effort. Later, we find a water tower that is overflowing and we all take cold showers. We stop at a grill for hamburgers and I call Charles, a friend in New York who's also a hiker, but he’s unable to make it out as he has to be at work early the next morning.
We stop for the evening at the William Brien Memorial Shelter after hiking 20 miles. Camping with us is Bill, a guy I’d meet briefly back at Harpers Ferry. He’s taken the trail name “Shiloh,” a name given to him by Doug, “The AT Believer” who’d asked him what the most important battle in the Civil War and he’d suggested Shiloh. Shiloh is a teacher in Memphis and had attended Westminster Theological Seminary for a few years. I told him I couldn’t image studying there, that I had an image of the Orthodox Presbyterians being too self-righteous and thinking too highly of their own piety that it couldn’t have been much fun. He laughed and said that whenever there was too much God-talk in the cafeteria, there was a custom where someone would stand up and shout, “Princeton Rules” and everyone would know to change the subject. Westminster was founded in the 1920s, when a few professors felt the older school had become too liberal and left Princeton to form Westminster.
I woke early on July 6, dreaming of my ex-wife. It’s been two years since I’d last seen her, at a school reunion, and over four years since we’d split up. In the dream, she was married to the guy she’d married the day after the divorce was final and we ran into each other and we each began to brag about how good life had been for us since the split. I woke up troubled. It was my second dream I’d had about her along the trail. I got on up and packed and fixed breakfast, oatmeal and tea, and got an early start along the trail. Sunrise was beautiful. Along the way, I saw an owl and a turkey.
I arrived at the tower on Bear Mountain at 8:45 AM and it didn’t open till 9, so I took a break. Jim and Daddy Long Legs arrived at the tower as I was leaving. I told them of my plans of staying at Graymoor Monastery and of trying to get into Peekskill to get my boots repaired, again. They planned to continue on, so we said our goodbyes, knowing we’d meet back up again. I saw them later, around noon, at a picnic area just outside the zoo. Harry, a police officer from the Bronx was there with his family and we’d started talking and he’d invited me to have lunch with his family. He’d had to work the fourth of July weekend, so was now taking time off with his family and they’d come out to Bear Mountain to escape his “jungle.” I asked about how it was to be a police officer in the Bronx and he said his precinct had four murders on the Fourth. He gave me a hamburger fresh off the grill along with chicken wings and a beer. While I was eating, Slim and Daddy Long-legs came by, their mouths watering.
Afterwards, I followed the trail through the zoo and then across the Hudson River on the Bear Mountain Bridge, the lowest elevation along the entire trail. I arrived at Graymoor at 2 PM, dropped off my pack and caught a bus into Peekskill. There, I found no cobbler. I walked to Buchnam, but only to find that the cobbler had closed early for the day. I was worried about my boots, feeling that I was walking on borrowed time. Next, I washed my clothes and brought some groceries and hitchhiked back to Graymoor. I wasn’t exactly sure of the way, as the trail map didn’t cover the nearby towns, but with a little help I found myself back there in time for dinner. I sat with Doug, the AT Believer, and Fathers Adunatus and Bosco and enjoyed a wonderful meal of spaghetti with sausage and a salad.
It was interesting talking to the two monks, having been reading Henri Nouwen’s book, The Genesee Diary. But I felt dirty and was wanting a shower and ate hurriedly. Father Adunatus watched me eat for a bit and then suggested that I slow down. He’s from Italy, having come to the United States with his parents in 1938, when he was sixteen. “In my home country,” he said, there is an old saying, ’He who goes slowly, goes with good health and goes far.’” Later in the evening, after a shower, Adunatus and I talked more. He suggested I seek out a spiritual advisor, one who could help me watch out for the “devils in disguise.” His last comment for the evening was that “Patience is a virtue, but an example is the best we can give--An example sounds like thunder!” I spent the night in a vacant “monk’s cell,” a simple room consisting only of a bed, table and lamp. I slept well.

Hikes along the AT in the Summer of 1987Hiking the AT in Northern Virginia

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mercury Falls: A book review

I've read Diesel's blog (Mattress Police) on and off for several years. If you enjoy his quirky humor, you might enjoy his first novel.

Robert Kroese, Mercury Falls (St. Culain Press, 2009), 337 pages

What do you get when a computer geek steeped in Calvinist thought spends his evenings listening to oldies on the radio and his wife screaming about the buckling linoleum in the kitchen while reading the Left Behind series? One possibility would be a novel like Mercury Falls.
This book is a hoot. I was immediately caught up in Christine’s world (as opposed to Andrew Wythe’s Christina’s World). Christine, a reporter for a Christian news magazine, travels around the country checking out doomsday prophets who always seem to miss the mark. In the opening chapter, she’s covering the supposedly end of the world in the desert outside of Elko, Nevada (it may not be the end of the world, but you can see it from there). It turns out that the Church of the Bridegroom wasn‘t able to produce the ten necessary virgins with the lamp oil. This time, unlike the parable in scripture, there‘s enough oil to go around, just not enough virgins. When the sunrises and Jesus fails to show, the supposedly virgin bridesmaids begin to point fingers, blaming each other and allowing the prophet‘s embarrassment to be replaced with righteous indignation (even though he‘s part of the reason the church lacks virgins). Christine hates her job.
While Christine is reporting on the failure of yet another apocalypse, a demon slips into her Los Angeles apartment and just about burns it down while fixing a toasted cheese sandwich. When she finally gets back in the office, after getting a lucky deal for new linoleum for her destroyed kitchen, she informs her boss that she’s done with reporting on two-bit prophets and their predictions. So Harry, her boss, sends her to Israel to cover the beginning of a new war, one which might be the beginning of something big, like Armageddon. There, while interviewing an Israeli general, she is nearly killed. The general wasn’t so lucky; he is killed. Also, in the chaos, she’s given a briefcase to deliver to a guy named Mercury in Berkeley, California. It turns out Mercury is an angel, a rather lazy angel who loves Rice Krispy treats and playing ping-pong. She and Mercury then meet Karl, the Anti-Christ, another real slacker, a 37 year old lover of Katie Midford’s fantasies and greasy food. The Anti-Christ lives with his mother in Lodi (a town featured in a Creedence Clearwater Revival hit).
For the next three hundred pages, we follow Mercury and Christine and a host of other angels and demons on various planes within the universe. Although the apocalypse is an iron clad doctrine (worked out between the attorneys of Satan and God), Satan is looking for a way out. After all, as Christine points out, who’d want to play by the rules when in the end you get locked up in a fiery furnace? Satan’s plan includes using a wimp as an Anti-Christ, and instead of meeting up with God’s army at Megiddo, invading the earth through Christine’s kitchen, launching a surprise attack on Michael’s forces. Complicating matters are a host of other characters, some who are also intent on trying to gain the glory for themselves. It’s all very complicated, so I won't tell you anymore. Besides, I don't want to spoil the ending. but I assure you, they'll be a lot of laughs as you get there.
For a work of fiction, Kroese provides a rather accurate and humorous account of the history of predictions on the end times. A few details, like an angel saving William Miller at the Battle of Plattsburgh in the War of 1812, are conjectures, but it does explain why Miller felt he was God’s chosen voice to announce (unsuccessfully) the end of the world a couple of times in the 1840s. This book is also helpful in explaining the demonic ties of many linoleum installers along with Satan’s role in the designated hitter rule in the American League. However, Satan is not to be blamed for the proliferation of family restaurants.
This book is funny and it gives the reader a lot to ponder, especially about the nature of free-will. As a warning, don’t take the book too seriously or literally. I’d take this book about as serious as I would take a book on the apocalypse written by a tugboat captain (i.e., Hal Lindsey‘s, The Late Great Planet Earth). For me, I’m just hoping that heaven (and hell) isn’t a bureaucratic as Kroese describes. If so, eternity will be a long time…

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Post of AT Photos

Blogging is taking a back seat to other things in life right now. For some reason, I don’t feel like writing. It may have to do with the pages of writing I’ve been doing for work. Randall had recently asked about more photos along the Appalachian Trail and I dug into boxes and have copied some slides from along the sections of the trail in which I’ve written about. These photos are mostly from Pennsylvania. You'll have to go back and read my posts of the past two months to learn more about the photos. Enjoy and I’ll have a more sustainable post soon. Along the trail, cold spring water is always a treat.
Watermellon spitting contest at the Presbyterian Church hostel in Delaware Water Gap. The guy in the center is Doug, the two other guys are brothers, but I don't remember there names.
The Presbyterian Church at Delaware Water Gap. The hostel is located in the basement.

Trees that have lost their leaves from the gypsy moths. (this was in Northern Virginia)

Slim Jim and Daddy Long Legs, resting on a day of hiking in the fog and rain.

The trail through the coal country in NW PA

An overlook. Notice how hazy it is due to the heat and humidity.
The Lehigh River

View of the valley, this may have been in Virginia.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hiking north from Harpers Ferry

It's been a busy week and I haven't been able to get around to writing for my blog. This post covers my hike from Harpers Ferry, WV to just outside of Duncannon, PA in 1987. The photos are copies of slides. The shot of me was taken somewhere between Northern Virginia and Maryland. It looks a bit out of focus; I think I need to recopy the slide. For more of post from my journey along the Appalachian Trail, check out these post:
Hiking the AT in Northern Virginia (the hike before this one)Duncannon, PA (the hike after this one)Duncannon to Delware Water Gap
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

I left Sandy Hook a little after noon. The trail headed east, paralleling the Potomac along the towpath of the C&O canal, the most level four mile section along the entire 2000 mile path. I stopped to take photos of the old locks along with snapping shots of several trains making the run from Harpers Ferry to D.C. A couple miles after Sandy Hook, the trail left the level ground of the former towpath and climbed steeply up the Weaverton Cliffs. After nearly two days off, it felt good to be back on the trail and I didn’t stop till I reached the top, a pinnacle overlooking the Potomac River. It was hazy and humid and after a few photographs, I continued along the ridge of South Mountain, flushing up two turkeys. Five miles later, I stopped at Gathland State Park and took a brief walking tour. The park is the site of an important Civil War Battle and the War Correspondents Memorial built by George Alfred Townsend in 1896. Townsend was one of the youngest war correspondents in the Civil War and developed this site, giving it the name Gathland, which he derived from his initials (GAT). Afterwards, I hiked another half mile to Crampton Gap Shelter where I spent the night. Although close to civilization, there were no other hikers. I’d done another 10 miles along the trail, not counting my roundtrip mileage from Sandy Hook to Harpers Ferry to get mail.

There was something eerie about Crampton Gap, as if a part of me had been here before. To the east, at the base of the mountain, on September 14, 1862, part of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was caught off-guard by a much larger Union force led by General William Franklin. It was the Union’s second prong of an attack on the small detachment from of Lee’s army positioned along South Mountain to protect his flank. The rest of his army captured the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and collected food from farms around Western Maryland. The Army of the Potomac should have easily won the battle. Not only did they significantly outnumbered the Confederates, but they also had been blessed with a copy of Lee’s orders, in which had divided his forces into five parts. One of Lee’s officers had wrapped his copy of the orders around three cigars and dropped it into his coat pocket. Somehow, the cigars and orders fell to the ground and were recovered by Union soldiers, giving the north the superior intelligence for the upcoming engagements..

For some unknown reason, Franklin waited till noon to attack the southern flank along South Mountain. The Confederates, outnumbered 10 to 1, retreated up into Crampton Gap, where they were reinforced. After intense fighting and large losses, Lee pulled his troops off the mountain and sent out orders for his army to gather along Antietam Creek where, two days later, the bloodiest day in American history would be lived out. Lee’s first invasion of the North had come to an end. The Battle of South Mountain is overshadowed by the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg). But South Mountain played an important role. The delay the Army of the Potomac experienced allowed Lee enough time to reunite most of his forces. The North was unable to seize the advantage and decisively defeat South. Had the North been successful on South Mountain, the war could have easily been over three years earlier. The battle also played on Lee’s mind, making him second guess his tactics. The next summer at Gettysburg, remembering his fear of a divided Army, Lee refused the advice of his commanders to divide his forces and to attack the north from two fronts, deciding instead to keep them together and hit the Union’s middle, in what’s known as Pickett’s Charge. The ghosts of South Mountain led to the South’s greatest blunder and, in that way, hastened the end of the war.

June 12 was wet and misty as I hiked over land that fought over on that September day in 1862. I passed two groups of hikers and had a long talk I had with a man along the side of a road, who was taking a break from mowing, and another long talk with Cathy, a southern belle from Charleston who charmed me with her accent. Cathy was working as the park naturalist at Washington Monument State Park. Unbeknownst to me, the first monument for George Washington is in Maryland. Although not nearly as stately as the marble statue in the District of Columbia, the rough rock monument built early in the 19th Century is still a sight to behold. The trail was relatively level as it continued along the ridge of South Mountain, and I made good time, covering 20 miles. Once again, I camped alone, this time at Hemlock Hill Shelter.

The next day, a Saturday, I continued hiking north over Buzzard Knob. On the ascent up the Devil’s Racecourse, toward Raven Rock, I took a midmorning break and was amused by two chipmunks, obviously in a mating ritual, chase each other under my legs, unaware that I was even present. Even in animals, it appears, sex seems to drive them to take dangerous risks. I also noticed an ant carrying a dead beetle that probably weighed ten or fifteen times his size. Although I knew the answer, such display of strength got me pondering whether or not the ant sweated and what might be his reward for such effort. Continuing on north, I crossed the last road in Maryland and realized that my time in the state would be over by the afternoon. The next crossing, a road and railroad, was on the Pennsylvania border. Lunch was on high rocks, a bluff with views of the patchwork land to the west, each plot containing a farmhouse and barn. There was a platform here for hang gliding and a local told me that most weekends, people would be gliding off the mountain. But today, the air was unstable and I was kept comfortable in the heat by a steady breeze. Throughout the morning, I’d heard thunder. As I finished lunch, it appeared another storm was brewing. I put my rain cover over the pack and hoofed it off the rocks, hoping to make a park at the bottom of the hill, about two miles away, before the rain. I didn’t make it and was caught in a sudden thunderstorm about 20 minutes from the park. I hiked on, seeking safety under a picnic shelter, Soaking wet, I laid down on a picnic table and watched the lightning and rain for a few minutes, and then picked up my book, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and began to read. Although wet, the air was still quite warm.

When the storm let up, I walked around Pen Mar Park looking at the exhibits. Today, the park is a quiet spot for picnics, but early in the century, this had been a happening place with rides and music. The park had been built by the Western Maryland Railroad, as a way to boost passenger traffic. Even in the depression years of the thirties, the park was still successful. But with fewer people coming by trains with the nation’s new interest in automobiles, the railroad decided to sell the park. It continued on as an amusement park until the Second World War, when gasoline rationing and deployed soldiers caused a drop in attendance and the park closed. Today, only the large pavilion and a few picnic shelters remain.

my camp near Antietam Creek

With a break in the storm, I headed off and before long, was caught in another thunderstorm. I got to Mackie Road Shelter, a little over three miles away and took a break. I‘d thought about staying for the night, but the shelter was filled with kids from about age six to fourteen, who’d made the place their playhouse. Not wanting to camp with the Little Rascals, I pushed on . Soon, I was caught in another brief storm and then another, a total of four thunderstorms for the day. The next shelter, Antietam, was also filled, this time with Boy Scouts. They offered to make a place for me, but I decided to pitch my tarp and found a nice place to camp near Antietam Creek (This creek, in Pennsylvania, was different from the one in Maryland where the infamous battle occurred). I’d hiked approximately 19 miles.

The sun’s rays burned off the fog early the next morning and leaves on trees and bushes seemed to be steamed dry. I packed up and hiked on to a meadow, where I laid out my tarp and set out my boots to dry in the sun while I read about an hour from the Bible, the Book of Acts. I hiked on, over Chimney Rock, which had good views. Along the way, I met Ken and his partner Joanne, who were from Florida. We talked a bit. He showed me a small boot he was carving and then gave me his address, telling me that if I’d send him a post card from Katadhin, he’d send me a boot. To this day, that boot is one of my prized Christmas tree ornaments. I passed a number of other day hikers, the most memorable being a southbound woman wearing incredibly tight shorts and even tighter and undersized bra. For a moment I thought about changing directions, but then thought better of it.

I arrived at Caledonia State Park in time for lunch. Afterwards, I called home and learned that I have a new niece, who was born yesterday morning. I also called Debbie and caught up on what’s happening in Pittsburgh as well learning about her preparations for her brother’s wedding. Then, I took a swim in the pool. Afterwards, as I was packing my gear up, I realized I had lost my Appalachian Data Guide. For a few minutes I panicked, as I had recorded phone numbers and addresses on the back inside cover of the book. I looked back around at the phone booth and in the locker room and it wasn’t at either place. Then I thought about asking at the gate into the pool and sure enough, someone had found my book in the phone booth and turned it in. Relieved, I hiked a couple more miles, stopping for the night at the Quarry Gap Shelters, two small three sided shelters next to one another. I’d been an easy day. I’d only covered 12 miles, but it had been hot and I’d had taken time to dry my boots and gear and to rest.

I looked like I was going to be alone again. I fixed dinner and was eating it when a family of five came trucking in, the oldest child being six or seven. They had hiked up from Caledonia, hoping to put in five or six miles, but realizing that was never going to happen with three small children. They claimed the other shelter. As I cleaned up, the dad set about getting ready for dinner by assembling the stove. I listened and heard him curse and complain and try everything. Finally, I decided to offer a hand and found that out he’d been sold a Svea cook kit that included a windscreen for a Svea stove, but he’d also been sold the much more expensive MSR stove that didn’t fit his windscreen. The guy didn’t believe me at first, but then I showed him my stove and windscreen. I helped him rig a way to cook off his stove (as he’d left the parts of it that didn’t he didn’t think he needed at home). As we worked, I looked at his gear and figured that this guy was a dream come true for some sales clerk working on commission. In addition to his non-working cooking gear, that probably set him back $150, he had new packs and sleeping bags which cost him several hundred dollars more. The family was ready to abort this trip, which was going to make his night out pretty expensive. It was a good thing the man was a physician and seemed unconcerned over his cash outlay.

I left early on June 15. The hot weather was continuing and I wanted to put in some miles. As I hiked, I thought about the journey as a metaphor for life and if, in my journey, I was running away or trying to find something. It seemed to be the difference between a pilgrimage and just traveling. At 7:45 AM, I took my first break at a powerline, enjoying the mountain laurel growing in the clearing and watching a yellow finch perched on the laurel. Later in the morning, I took a break at Birch Run Shelter, where a bird had built her nest in rafters. The bird, obviously distressed at my presence, kept squawking at me. Below the shelter was a Potomac Trail Club cabin, which looked to be a nice place to stay. The trail wasn’t difficult and I saw a number of snakes, a couple of black ones and a ganter snake. I got into Pine Grove Furnace State Park at 3 PM. This is traditionally seen as the half way point along the trail and many thru-hikers use this park as an occasion to celebrate by eating a half-gallon of ice cream. Instead, I had a quart, as I hadn’t come directly from Georgia (having done most of the trail south over a few summers). I also enjoyed several glasses of lemonade at the hostel, where I decided to spend the night. The hostel is the old home of the superintendent of the iron furnaces from which the park obtains its name. Joan and Bob, the caretakers invited me to dinner, which I graciously accepted. As it wasn’t going to be for another hour or so, I took a cooling swim in the lake. Dinner was enjoyable, all the spaghetti I could eat. We were joined with Ken and Joanne from Florida, who I’d met along the trail the day before. I’d covered around 18 miles of trail.

I left the hostel a little before 8 AM on June 16. At the pay phone down by the store, I tried to call Eric to make sure that he had my mailing off to Duncannon, then left the park, climbing back up to the ridge. I took a side trip over to steeple rocks and, in an attempt to cut across country, got lost and ended up on the bottom of the hill, necessitating me to climb back up and probably adding another mile to my hike. I crossed Whiskey Springs Road and could imagine how that road obtained its name. Later in the morning, at White Rocks, I was treated with a great view of the valley I must cross to get to Duncannon. It’s sad to think, but crossing the valley I will leave the “Blue Ridge” behind.. There, I meet two Kiwi’s, the older man a retired civil engineer and the younger man, his son, a museum curator. I hiked on to Campbell Springs Shelter, where I arrived early in the afternoon. Knowing that I had a long road walk ahead, I decided to hold up and rest and take off early the next morning with the hopes of making Duncannon, almost 30 miles away, the next evening.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

From my journal, 1997

I was ready to get home. My day started long before dawn as I caught the 6:45 AM flight to Salt Lake City, where I had spent the day in meetings. Finally, I was heading home . It was almost 9 PM when the gate attendant finally called my flight and I, along with 20 or 30 others, headed out onto the tarmac to cram into one of those SkyWest Airline cigars, a turbo-prop, the type of plane someone even my size has to duck to get into. My seat was on the right hand side, the row with a single seat. Next to me, across the aisle, was a young girl, maybe three years old. I stashed my briefcase, pulled out a book and began to read, hoping to pass the time quickly on the hour-long flight. The plane took off, climbing up into the night. After getting to our cruising altitude, the flight attendant came by with peanuts. Without looking, in a motion that seems to comes naturally, I tore open my bag. Without looking up from my book, I shook the peanuts into my mouth, downing the bag in no-time flat. The attendant then brought us drinks and I had to stop reading in order to lower the tray. When I did, I noticed the young girl looking over at me. I smiled and she smiled back. “Here,” she said, holding out a peanut. For just a split second I thought about shaking my head, “no.” After all, this peanut was in hands of a toddler and there is no telling where those fingers have been. But then I thought better of it, and took the peanut and said, “Thank you.” She watched me intently as I threw health advisories out the window and popped the peanut in my mouth. She beamed and dug down into her bag and offered me another. I was glad I didn’t squelch her willingness to share.

Murf, in her eternal attempt to keep my humbled, has written a story from the girl's point of view.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"I'm Paddling in the Rain" (Don't worry, I'm using a camera and not singing)

I had planned to get away yesterday even though the weather wasn’t the best. But, according to forecast, the heavy rain was suppose to stay south of us and even then was suppose to end around noon. So a friend and I took off north, to a section of the Rogue River neither of us had run. The weather forecasters were wrong. It rained. At times it rained hard. It did slow down a bit later in the afternoon, but it never stayed gone. It kept raining. And the temperature was somewhere between 48 and 50 degrees (That’s a little under 10 degrees C for my readers outside the US).

But what a beautiful day to be on the water! And we didn't have to worry about navigating around other boaters. Wearing full rain gear, we set off down steam. The rain drowned the sounds of civilization (that was never far from us). The fall colors are almost at peak. The silver maples were bright yellow and gorgeous. We were joined by flocks of ducks—wood ducks that screamed as they took off in front of us and mallards that appeared more tame. There were a number of great blue herons, a few kingfishers.

And the trout! We did some fishing and did catch a few fish, some trout and a chub. There is nothing like seeing the flash of a trout as it goes for the spinner. I was using Panther Martins and my friend, who caught more fish than me, used a large Mepps spinner. I took along a fly rod but didn’t use it as it’s hard to use when someone else is in the boat. We should have brought waders. Of the fish we caught, we let go. Most were small except for one brown trout caught by my friend—and the season for Browns ended on September 30th.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

An Altar in the Word: a book review

Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (New York: Harper Collins, 2009), 216 pages

Where do we encounter the divine? Have we created a false dichotomy, partitioning God off into a corner, away from our daily lives? Do we try to contain God in a building or to a day of the week in order to keep God private and separated from our lives? In An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that just because we categorize things into the sacred and secular, God doesn’t. God created the world good and thereby we can encounter the divine anywhere, especially in the ordinary. “Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars,” she proclaims (15). This book is sprinkled with examples of how we might wake up to the divine. Taylor looks as things we do every day: waking up, walking around, getting lost, encountering others, going to work, saying yes and no, experiencing pain, and finally to being present to God in prayer.

Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal priest. For twenty years she served in the parish and for the past decade has taught at Piedmont College in north Georgia. Although she writes out of her Christian convictions, and draws deeply from theologians as well as people in the pews, she is also willing to learn from other traditions and quotes and draws upon Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim traditions and practices. She writes this book for both those inside the church who need to see God’s presence in all of life as well as those who are outside the church, but who seek to be spiritual and need to see the blessings of experiencing the divine in other people. I recommend this book to both the religious and those who think of themselves as irreligious!

Here are some quotes:
“Do we build God a house so that we can choose when to go see God? Do we build God a house in lieu of having God stay at ours?” (9)

“I am a guest here, charged with serving other guests-even those who present themselves as my enemies.” (13)

The practice of paying attention is as simple as looking twice at people and things you might just as easily ignore.” (33)

“Deep suffering makes theologians of us all.” (42)

“'Solviture Ambulando,’ wrote Augustine of Hippo…. It is solved by walking.” (61) If Sage was to create a coat of arms, this phrase would go on it.

"The Desert Fathers, a group of early Christians whose practice of community did not include a coffee hour… the deeper reason they needed one another was to save them from the temptation of believing in their own self-sufficiency." (88, 90)

“Sometimes that is all another person needs to know that she has been seen--not the cashier but the person.” (95)

“The point is to find something that feeds your sense of purpose and to be willing to look low for that purpose as well as high” (120)

"'God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by subtracting.' -Meister Eckhart" (121)
“No one who is in pain is allowed to give advice to someone who is. The only reliable wisdom about pain comes from the mouth of those who suffer it.” (169)
“Anyone who recognizes the sacramental value of a homegrown tomato sandwich can be my spiritual director.” (178)
"To say I love God but I do not pray much is like saying I love life but I do not breathe much." (176)
“I think it is a big mistake to perpetuate the illusion that only certain people can bless things.” (193)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Hiking the AT in Northern Virginia

A few weeks ago, I started posting about my 1987 hike on the Appalachian Trail. I should have started the hike at the beginning, which I am doing here. I hiked from June 2 to August 30 that summer, going from Swift Run Gap, Virginia to Mt. Katadin, Maine. This post takes me through Northern Virginia to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The photo to the left the Potamac at the end of this section. The second photo is from the Hill Top Hotel website.

On the evening of June 3, I sat on a boulder outcropping in front of Rock Springs Cabin, eating a Tootsie Roll and watching the sunset. The air, cleaned by late afternoon thunderstorms, tasted good and the sun was brilliant as it slipped behind the distant ridges. The place was haunted with memories. Eight years earlier, as a college student, I’d spent four February nights in the cabin. Some students are drawn south, to the sun and sand, but the mountains seemed to always calli me. I’d sat on the same rocks with my wife at the time, sipping tea and snuggling to stay warm as we watched the sun, partly hidden by a cold gray sky, sink slowly. After light faded from the sky, we’d remained, watching the stoplight n Stanley, a town a couple miles away and 1500 feet lower. On this early June night, the air had cooled a bit and the bugs were not quite as bad as earlier, but it was still warm. Leaves covered the trees, which provided needed shade during the day, obstructing my view somewhat. Other than leaves and weather, little had changed in the eight years since I’d been here. Cars still drove through the small town, stopping at the light, unaware of those up on the mountain looking down. That evening, I thought about another sunset, one a few months earlier, on Easter Sunday. I’d watched it with Debbie, the Dean’s secretary. She’d invited me to dinner with her family. Afterwards, we took a walk in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. Maybe it’s a sign of faith, I thought to myself, that we enjoy sunsets trusting that in the morning the sun will be back.

It was my second night on the trail. The day before, I’d left my parents home in North Carolina where I’d dropped my car for the summer. My dad had agreed to drive Reuben and me to the trailhead in Central Virginia. I’d done almost all the trail south of Swift Run Gap, the only exception being about twenty five miles at the beginning of Shenandoah National Park. As Reuben had already done that section, we decided to start at Swift Run, which would give us time to make Harper’s Ferry, where he’d catch a train back home. I didn’t have to be anywhere until the day after Labor Day and planned to keep walking till then or till I got to Mt. Katadhin, some 1300 miles away in Maine. On June 2, at 5 PM, my dad dropped us off at the trailhead. We shouldered our packs and hiked a little over six miles, stopping for the night near Pocosin Cabin.

Our second day was rather easy, as we crossed a few mountains and saw a few deer. We hiked hard in the morning, covering the ten or so miles to Big Meadows, where we ate at the restaurant and enjoyed an ice cream cone before hiking on. As we approached the shelter above Rock Springs Cabin, a thunderstorm was brewing. Even though it was only three in the afternoon, we decided to hold up for the night, having hiked fourteen or fifteen miles. About a half mile before the shelter, as we were rushing to beat the rain, we saw a bear cub scamper off the trail. Its presence reminded us that we’re in bear country and need to be careful with our food. Sitting on the floor of the three-sided shelter, I watched the storm and began reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. After the storm cleared, we fixed dinner on the picnic table in front of the shelter and was treated to a brown wood thrasher, who landed on the fire pit, then flew up to the other end of the table, in search of scraps.

We started out early on June 4th, eating just a granola bar for breakfast, knowing that three or four miles down the trail we’d pass the Skyland Lodge, another restaurant, where could get a late breakfast. It began to rain again shortly after we started hiking and by the time we got to the lodge, my boots were soaked. Even in the rain, flies were bad. Under the influence of Dillard, I asked Reuben if he thought God frowned on us when we killed a fly. “God may frown on you,” he proposed, “but not on me.” We hiked on that morning in the rain and by 3:15, reached Thorton Gap, where there was another restaurant. We had an early dinner, I enjoyed a delicious fish dinner and we split a carafe of wine. We sat in the restaurant for nearly two hours. After eating, we took turns using the phone, Reuben calling his wife and office and I called Debbie. It was good to talk to her. As we left the restaurant in the Gap, Reuben noted that we were getting a little spoiled hiking in the Shenandoah’s. It was a little after five, when we pulled out wet boots back on. We hiked a couple of miles to Pass Mountain Hut, which had a wonderful gushing spring. We’d covered 15 miles that day, mostly in the rain and the little toes on my feet were blistered.

We woke early on June 5th, at 5:30 AM when a whip-o-will landed on the fire pit in front of the shelter and serenaded us for a good five minutes. I’d never heard one that close and after a few minutes, I was ready to strangle the bird. We got a good start on the trail and the day turned out to be beautiful, with clear skies and a gentle breeze keeping things cool. In the morning, we caught sight of a black bear running away. I also saw several snakes, none poisonous. We stopped at Elkswallow Wayside for lunch, the last of the restaurants in the park. The hiking was wonderful, with several miles where the trail was outlined with blooming Mountain Laurel. The beauty was tempered by the leaves that held water from the rain and as we brushed aside them, drenching us. Examining the flowers, I noted that each one starts out as a pink bud, but then opens up like an umbrella. When fully open, they are mostly white.

As I hiked this morning, I thought about the first week of June 1967, twenty years earlier. I’d just finished the 4th grade and was in Vacation Bible School. The Mamas and Papas were popular and there was a war in the Middle East, which was the only topic us boys at church wanted to talk about, which drove our teachers nuts. I was reminded of the Six-day War from the newspapers that we’d read in the various restaurants along the way. Today was the 20th anniversary of the war’s beginning. Thinking back about such things helped me to keep my thoughts off my blistered toes.

For our last evening in Shenandoah National Park, we camped at Gravel Spring Hut, sharing the shelter with two French-speaking Canadians. He was a fireman and was studying liberal arts at the university and where his girlfriend, who was with him, taught art. I was intrigued with their dinner, built around garlic flavored couscous. I was unfamiliar with this African grain, but immediately saw the possibilities it held for hiking and later included it in my diet. As it only required boiling water to prepare, I’d often make it at breakfast and store it in a baggie, eating it for lunch.

The next morning we continued north, over the Marshall Peaks. As the trail had done throughout the Park, we crossed the Skyline Drive several times. At Compton Gap, we crossed the Skyline Drive for the last time and dropped off the ridge, leaving the park behind and hiking out across suburban Virginia. As we left the park, we encountered the first infestation of Gypsy Moths. The caterpillars had eaten the foliage and for several miles, the trees were bare and the sun beat down on us. But the weather was unseasonably cool, which kept the hike from being unbearable. In the areas of infestation, caterpillars dropped off the trees, falling on our heads and covering the ground. At first, I tried to stomp as many as possible and then gave up, as I continued to hear them squish under my lugged soles. Each step sounded like a bowl of Rice Kipsies, as the bugs snapped, crackled and popped under our feet. When out of the trees, we were in meadows filled with poison ivy. I rubbed soap on my legs, so that I could wash them off easily afterwards, keeping the poison from my skin. At Chester Gap, we crossed the Rappahannock River and hiked on another five miles. We stopped for the night at Mosby Campsite, named for the Confederate Calvary Officer that operated in this area. We’d covered 17 miles. My body was feeling good and strong, but my blistered little toes ached constantly.

June 7th was a long day as we covered nearly 21 miles, stopping for the night at Ron’s Hollow Shelter. Much of this section of the trail had been relocated and the maps and guidebook was of little value as we followed the white blazes. There were no good views and in places it seemed like we were walking through folks backyard. At Paris Mountain, we found a restaurant and stopped for lunch. Gypsy moths had eaten the leaves off most of the oaks. Locust were also buzzing around and poison ivy seemed to be ever present. Ticks were also problematic and in one meadow, I picked off a dozen of the them before they had a chance to dig under my skin.

The next day we hiked only ten miles, but they were tough as the trail wound in and out of ravines and hollows. Gypsy moths, locust, poison ivy and ticks continued to be ever present. The highlight of the day was the “Devil’s Raceway,” just north of Snicker’s Gap. Rocks flow down the mountain as if it was a stream, each boulder being three to four feet in diameter. The trail crosses in the middle, with rocks extending up and down the mountain as far as I can see. We cross carefully. As a general rule, any geologic feature named “Devil” or “Buzzard” means you better watch your step. A little later, I was startled when a grouse stepped out in front of me and waddled down the trail, just out of my reach, acting if its wing was broke. When I got far enough away from the nest, the bird flew away and turned around and went back, an interesting scheme to protect the young.

We decided to spend the evening at Bear Dens, an American Youth Hostel. The place is a respite and I spent the evening reading from books in their library, Kenneth Brower’s Starship and the Canoe reminded me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I also was intrigued with sections of Michael Herr’s Dispatches, the personal journal of a war correspondent’s tour in Vietnam. Brian and Kim are the gracious caretakers of the hostel and they offer us a can of Spam that was left by a pervious hiker. We fry it up with our dinner and, borrowing some mustard from the kitchen, find that it’s pretty good, at least for trail food. There is only one other couple staying at the hostel. Bill and Karen are newlyweds, spending time hiking as they wait for an overseas missionary assignment with the Mennonite Church.

We’re up early on June 9th. I want to get to Harper’s Ferry before the post office closes, as I’m expecting packages from my parents and from Eric, a friend in the mail room at school. Eric is sending me my mail. I’m also hoping for a letter from Debbie. We head out at 6 AM. The first few miles are difficult as we continue climbing in and out of ravines. It rains for about an hour, enough to give us wet boots for the rest of the day. After a few miles, the trail joins a ridge and the hiking is easy. Shortly before lunch, I spot and a orange box turtle. He freezes when he sees me and doesn‘t move a muscle as I photograph him. When I pick him up, he retreats into his shell. I sit him back down and continue to watch him. He stays in his shell for at least five minutes, then slowly peaks out and looks around. I then take on off to catch up with Reuben, who’s a ways down the trail and is waiting for me where he has taken a break for lunch.

We arrive at the Post Office in Harper’s Ferry at 4:45 PM, only to discover it closed at 4:30 PM. We’d hiked nearly 20 miles. We then head to the train station where Reuben arranges his travels home. He’ll leave the next morning a little after seven and will be picked up by his wife in Fayetteville around midnight. We then get a room at the Hill Top Hotel, where we clean up and eat. It’s a classic building on the hill overlooking the rivers and railroad tracks. The room cost us $46 for the night, which doesn’t seem to be that bad for a hotel that had housed the likes of Mark Twain, Daniel Webster, Thomas Edison as well as numerous presidents. The next morning, I reconsider the deal as I’m sure I slept in the same bed Mark Twain used and that Thomas Edison himself installed the noisy window air conditioner unit. Later, before I knew how bad the bed and air conditioner are, I call Debbie and tell her about the hotel and she says she’d like to stay in such a place and that there should be a letter waiting for me at the Post Office. Afterwards, Reuben and I spend the spend the evening out on the porch, talking with a couple who’s on their 8th motorcycle trip across the country.

Reuben left the morning at 6:30. I slept in, waking up only to tell him goodbye. An hour or so later, I pack up, check out and head down to the Post Office. There was no mail from Pittsburgh, just a card from my Mom. While they are checking the General Delivery mail, I meet a guy named Edward, from the Netherlands, who was here on a three week holiday. An assistant doctor (what we'd call a resident), he’d hiked for two weeks along the Appalachian Trail and was now heading for Washington. We walk over to the Appalachian Trail headquarters where I ask about where to buy groceries. There are no grocery stores in Harper’s Ferry, but one of the women working in the office offers to take me to Charlestown, a town five miles away, during lunch. She lives there and said she was planning on going home for lunch and that she could drop me off at a supermarket. With several hours to kill, Edward and I set out to tour the park at Harpers Ferry. I’m back at one, to catch a ride to the grocery store and am soon back, packing up. I head back to the post office where I learned that the day’s mail didn’t contain anything for me. I knew there was a hostel at Sandyhook, across the river and along the C & O Canal, about two miles from town. As it was much cheaper than another night in a lumpy bed, I head there for the evening.

A group of Boy Scouts from Ohio are also staying at the hostel. I talk to the leaders and finish reading Annie Dillard’s book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. The next morning, the scouts treat me to a pancake breakfast. I then leave my pack at the hostel and walk back to town, only to learn that the mail wouldn’t come in till 10:30 AM. I walk over to the Mountain Café and read a newspaper while I drinking coffee and chatting to some of the other customers. At 10:30, I was back at the Post Office. A package of mail from Pittsburgh and a letter from Debbie, which made me happy. I’m upset that my grades are not in the mail and I’ll have to wait till Duncannon to find out how I did. I read Debbie’s letter first, then go through the package, paying some bills and sending the receipts and unnecessary stuff on to my parents for safe keeping. I walk back through town for the last time, cross over the Potomac and hike down the canal to Sandyhook.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A walk along the North Country Trail

Trisket and I headed out to the North Country Trail late this morning. It was a perfect day for hiking as we’d had our first freeze of the season overnight. By mid-day, the temperature had climbed into the 50s. We hiked for nearly two hours, then turned around and headed back toward the truck, hiking another hour before stopping at about 2 PM for lunch. My lunch counter was carpeted with fresh pine straw. Leaning up against a tree, I ate my lunch, sharing a bit with the dog. Then I wrote in my journal and read a chapter titled “The Practice of Getting Lost” in An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor. I did not get lost; after all I had my map with me (see the photo to the right). We’ll, at least I didn’t get lost in a geographical sense, but when I hike I do often find myself getting lost in my thoughts and that’s a good thing. We’re still a couple weeks away from the leaves reaching their peak, but there was enough color on shrubs to give a foretaste of what’s the come.

It's neat how the clouds show up better as a reflection in the water.
I love the way the dog marches around with his tail flying like a flag.

The North Country Trail, which passes about 10 miles west of here, is over 4,000 miles long. It runs from Eastern New York to North Dakota. In Michigan, the trail travels up the length of the state, crossing over to the UP and then along the Lake Superior shoreline toward Wisconsin.