Road of Omission

So fellow travelers, a zen moment of awareness from yesterday’s trek in spring weather.

 It’s late February

Here in Upstate NY, if spring weather shows up in March, we consider it early. 

Spring weather in February is well, it’s just so unnatural, frankly it’s unnerving.

Then again these days what isn’t?

Don’t get me wrong. This birdacious seeker of sanctuary is deeply grateful to be walking paths usually buried in several feet of snow and hearing red wing blackbirds not due to return for a couple of weeks.

Signs of a changing world.

Not a comfortable thought.

Then again these days what is ?

Here’s the haiku which emerged as I walked the path processing recent interactions.

It’s safe and smooth this

Road of omission a straight

Line to the desert

Often more meaning is present in what’s not said than in what is.

Walk gently on the path my friends for kindness matters.

Treasure Hunt : Looking for Lewis and Clark

So fellow travelers, I first met Lewis and Clark  at PS 26 in Yonkers NY.

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Faded filmstrip images from third grade history lessons peaked my interest. Soon I was scouring the shelves of my local public library, reading everything I could find about their journey. The details of their expedition ignited a lifelong desire to wander in nature.

Yet it was the story of the extraordinary friendship between William Clark and Merriweather Lewis which drew me in.  As a bookish “slant-eyed” kid who preferred climbing trees to dressing Barbies it was easier to go solo than fit in. Lewis and Clark’s tight well balanced camaraderie intrigued my solitary spirit. Since the longest we lived anywhere was four years, any close friendships I did form were left behind like unforwarded mail (although the advent of social media has forged some reconnections from my childhood and teens.)

Twenty years ago I visited the Museum of Westward Expansion at the base of the St. Louis Arch. I could have wandered the exhibit for hours and the view at the top of the arch (yes, if you get there, it’s worth the time and effort to make the trip up) with its vast horizons stretching  east and west put their journey into mind bending perspective.

And I have been to the historic locations in good old Philadelphia where they gathered supplies for the expedition. Whenever we get stuck at an airport on our coast to coast travels I remind myself a 24 hour delay is nothing compared to obstacles like the month of portage it took for the expedition to make their way around the Great Falls of the Missouri River.

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Photo Note: This is not the Missouri River, but it is a fitting image. This is  the Crooked River which runs through Smith Rock State Park in Oregon. Photo by Emma Rahalski

The historic Lewis and Clark trail ends on the northern coast of Oregon. By a serendipitous bit of good luck , the little Air B&B beach cottage I found available for two nights was located at Sunset beach, on the northern coast of Oregon….

on Clark Road, just past Lewis Road

 a mere fifteen minute walk from the one end of the Fort to Sea Trail.

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I would have the chance to walk in the footsteps of my life long heroes.

The Fort to Sea trail runs between a quiet stretch of the Pacific Coast and Fort Clatsop, the shelter built by the expedition when they arrived at the Pacific Coast in November 0f 1805, knowing they would have to winter over before beginning the trip back East. It turns out the trail is a six mile hike each way over some tough terrain, so most hikers arrange for a drop off at the Fort and pick up at Sunset Beach  rather than hiking uphill back to the Fort. So hiking the full trail would be an adventure for another time.

I decided to walk from the coastal trailhead up the trail away from the beach. I simply hiked until I could no longer see the parking lot, then  stood taking in everything I could see and hear at that vantage point.I made myself a promise to return and hike the full trail from the Fort down to the coast.

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It was a cloudy and misty day, a flat light not great for photography, but good ambiance for historic imaginings. As I walked back towards the ocean, I passed a large exhibit which described a massive coastal storm which hit the Northern Oregon coast in 2007.  It destroyed much of the coast line snapping huge trees like match sticks. You can still see the aftermath nearly ten years later.

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As I came out of the coastal brush to seagrass covered dunes, I made note of the point where I first heard the sound of waves

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and I turned to look back at the hills

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before walking the final steps

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to the great Pacific Ocean

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Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.


Solace and Solitude

So fellow travelers, there are moments in the steady onslaught of things which must be done when every fiber of my being cries out for respite.

Late this afternoon was one of those moments so Delilah and I headed for a park which I knew would have less foot traffic than our usual walking trail by the lake.

Finding just one other car in the parking lot made good on my assumption.  We set out for the path which wove through the woods, I seeking solitude and Delilah seeking critter scent trails.

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Take heed denizens of the forest, the Huntress is on the prowl

As she zigzagged across the path from promising brush pile to hollow log I listened to the sweet songs drifting down from the trees. Vireos, thrushes and song sparrows warbled a chorus punctuated by the sharp bright alarm calls of chipmunks startled by our wanderings.

This small sanctuary so peaceful and gracious, allowing me to take in the softness of wafting popular seeds

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the magic of light on the green canopy

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the sweet smell of wild blossoms

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all reminders there is solace from the harshness of humanity’s inhumanity found in the solitude of the sacred spaces. Keep seeking, it may be just ahead on the path.

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Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Return to Sterling: postscript

So fellow travelers, a few more thoughts rattling around my brain about the first hike of the season.

I returned from my Spring Equinox hike feeling more peaceful than I had in weeks. As I said in my earlier post, I didn’t know what shifted, I just know something settled in my heart which eased my troubled mind and lifted my spirits.

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That night I woke around 3am from a dream so lucid and powerful it took a few minutes to understand why I was laying in a dark room. Just seconds ago I was sitting at a picnic table next to my camper, writing notes in my journal. Everything, I mean everything, made sense and I was writing it all down in concise, clear phrases.

Of course the knowledge of what I had actually writing faded with the dream, so unlike Einstein, who discovered his famous E=MC2  in a dream, I have no worldly wisdom to impart yet the sense of clarity stayed with me.  I settled back to sleep feeling content and solidly grounded.

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A few hours later, I would wake to my phone buzzing with an emergency message from our High School crisis team. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt my ability to be fully present through the difficult day ahead came from the grounding experience of my Equinox hike and the resulting dream. This kind of mysterious, almost mystical alignment is not the norm for my trail adventures. As much as I enjoy hiking, most of the time it’s simply a good long walk with a few bird sightings and maybe even a handful of photos worth keeping. I think this is why I didn’t write about it originally.

Over the next two weeks, trails called to me in a more meaningful way and I continued to seek guidance and solace by hiking in whatever location came to mind, drawing strength from solitude. I sense a deeper level of awareness has been opened and wanted to acknowledge this. Even as a kid growing up in the Bronx I felt a strong connection to nature, although my experience was mostly limited to simply climbing a favorite tree by our apartment. Yet now I feel more deeply attuned to the little sacred moments which will fill my heart with hope and keep my footing steadier on the Path.

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Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

Return to Sterling: Lakeside

So fellow travelers, if there is one lesson I have learned and taken to heart, it is this:

When my soul is restless, when something is amiss, when my body, mind and spirit are out of sync there is only one reliable remedy I can take.

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I take a hike, or at the very least a good long walk, where I am likely to encounter more birds than humans.

This is not a remedy unique to me, as I know from reading the most excellent writing of other bloggers, many of whom I am blessed to also count as friends. In fact it is not uncommon for someone to write about an experience which happens in sync with one I have just had. The synchronous posts used to deter me from writing out of a self imposed concept that being authentic had to also be completely original. Gradually I realized this synchronicity was actually a hallmark of how connected many of us really are.

After all my standard salutation “fellow travelers,” is a reflection of my true belief that we are all on this journey together, whether we walk parallel or different paths. We all need joy, yearn to love and be loved, seek peace and want to be heard. Allowing myself to put my experience into words and images, even when they were similar to other posts was a conscious choice to acknowledge my experiences.  The more I do, the clearer my voice has become to me, because when I started this blog I had no idea how to write with “voice.”

Even before our school community faced the challenges of coping with a student suicide, I was struggling with a vague feeling of foreboding. Reading pieces from my creative friends told me I was not alone,  a reassuring and clear directive to listen to my restlessness and seek calm where I knew to find it best.

So it was I found myself on the trails at Sterling Nature Center.

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The eerie sights and sounds at the heron rookery did nothing to calm my uneasiness.  As water, even in stormy weather, is my favorite centering element I decided to head for the Lake Trail. Along the way I watched an ermine dart along the opposite edge of a creek, too elusive for me to photograph clearly.  Some moments of joy are not meant to be held.

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Ermine, hiding behind the logs on the far side of the creek.

I spotted salamander egg bubbles on  another creek’s surface, a sure sign of spring which fortified my resolve to face the single digit wind chills I knew were blowing in off the lake.

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The rhythmic pulse of waves grew louder as I approached the shore. Signs of winter’s force blocked one trail, so I headed towards the beach. Weird ice formations in random spots decorated the shore like a mad artist’s sculpture garden.

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Flat, grey lighting made it difficult to capture the full impact of these images. At least the shoreline provided a colorful array of stones, rolling like gems being polished in a tumbler.

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I sat for a while on a large fallen tree and let the waves wash through my mind. I sat, I am not sure for how long, feeling the waves shifting and rearranging my jumbled thoughts until I sensed my face had gone numb from the cold winds.

I stood and headed to the trail leading back up the hill, yet my feet trudged past the trail and kept going up the shoreline, climbing over more fallen trees, walking, walking, walking on tired legs until I reached this view

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A sharp cry above me drew my attention to an osprey flying inland from the lake, pursued by several gulls intent on stealing the fish clutched in it’s talons. They were moving too fast for me have any chance of getting a focused shot; I made a conscious decision to watch rather than reach for my camera.

And suddenly there it was ~  I felt the jumble in my mind shift, like the tumblers of a complicated lock clicking into place.  In that decision to consciously be in the moment whatever it was I seeking settled in my heart.  I had no idea what it was, only that it was there and my spirit was calm.

Suddenly aware of being tired, hungry and quite cold, I headed for the trail leading back to my car, promising myself one stop on the way home

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Comfort food from Rudy’s a Lake Ontario legend.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

Return to Sterling

So fellow travelers, a few weeks ago the Vernal Equinox dawned on a Sunday morning with a cold, unforgiving forecast.

It would have been easy to hunker down in the warmth of my favorite reading chair and finish the compelling book I was reading about bees.

Yet some persistent need sent me rummaging for my hiking boots and daypack. The simple fact that I could even consider hiking on the first day of spring was an extraordinary opportunity not to be missed. Trails are usually still buried in snow well into the early weeks of spring.

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A brief  glimpse of sun through the kitchen windows sparked my resolve to head Northward to a favorite trail along Lake Ontario.

I left a disappointed dog sitting in the hallway.”Next time,” I promised her each time she wagged her tail hopefully while I laced up my hiking boots.

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I am never quite sure how I manage to leave this face behind.

This trip would be a scouting expedition. There were reports of owls nesting  in the midst of a Great Blue Heron Rookery as well as an eagle nest in the same area. With the trees still barren of leaves, the opportunity to spot returning migrants darting through branches is at its best right now.  All too soon, the forest canopy will fill in making it more challenging to spot those elusive songbirds and the hungry birds of prey who follow their migrating meals.

Lake Ontario is less than an hour’s drive north, provided of course I am not distracted by say a flock of wild turkeys dashing across the road requiring me to pull over and snap some photos.

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or stop to check if the trumpeter swans have returned to their nest in a small swamp along the way

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No one at the nesting site but a lone red wing blackbird

and I took a few wrong turns because I forgot to grab the GPS when I left. Sterling Nature Center is at the end of an elusive dirt road reached by a maze of several smaller country roads which may or may not still have their signs intact after a season of snowplow passes. Once I pulled into the parking area, this glimpse of brilliant blue water under a crisp blue sky encouraged me to brave the brisk winds blowing off the lake.

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As I’ve mentioned,  hiking in high winds is something I avoid whenever possible.  So the distant cry of hawks over Dragon Fly pond encouraged me to pull on a wool headband and head for the trails to the heron rookery

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But first a little photo op  with this happy fellow, who was so busy at the feeder he didn’t mind my quiet approach and shutter clicks as he ate.

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Chickadees may not be a rare sighting yet I am always thrilled to see them anytime, anywhere. They are loyal little spirits who keep my connection to nature alive through winter’s fiercest weather and remind me warmer days and greener views will come.

For now mosses are the only green showing in these woods

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although there were some splashes of color to be found here and there

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Perfectly framed by a rugged yet graceful arch

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Winter Aconite by the feeder gardens

The wind whistled through the barren tree tops and rattled dried leaves still clinging to bushes along the trail.

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Long dead leaves rattling in the wind like fortune telling bones.

Even before reaching the water, the haunting echo of geese and herons calling created an eerie atmosphere. Standing alone on the observation deck it was hard not to get spooked by the weird sounds and ghostly image of the twisted trees.  I regretted leaving my dog at home.

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Still, it was good to have my hands free to switch between my camera and big birding binoculars as I scanned the nests in search for the one being occupied by owls. There is a helpful photo posted on site with the owls nest marked which guided me to the right spot.  I could just make out two ear tufts flicking now and then in the blustery winds. Time will tell if the owls will still be here when Favorite Youngest Daughter and I set out for the annual Birdathon event in six weeks. Last year a mid April storm caused the nest to fail and recent bad weather may have the same outcome this year.

Meanwhile I had another section of the trails I wanted to explore, a path which would take me along the lake, an area I come to often when trying to settle an uneasiness in my spirit.

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to be continued

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

 

 

 

Ghosts in the Wood

So fellow travelers,  after a heart breaking day of helping students and staff work through grief that cast a somber silence through the halls of our high school, I returned home in a restless, unsettled state of mind.

My soul was asking me to journey someplace both familiar yet unknown. It took a few minutes of flipping through the many trail maps in my mind to know where I was being called to walk. This is uncharted territory, this ability to hike deep woods trails free from snow so early in the season. It has afforded me a new experience of some previously familiar paths.

While I sought the solitude of the woods, I also needed the simple comfort of an unassuming companion. Delilah was thrilled to see me bring out her walking harness.

Oh, the unconditional love of a dog, asking no more than to be with us where we are in each moment whatever state of being that is.  If there is a more powerful  balm for broken hearts I have yet to find it.

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The woods show me strange images in this portal between seasons. The light is harsh without a filtering canopy. I can see far deeper into the forest than I am accustomed to. Trees stand in skeletal clusters, wind rattling residual leaves like a fortune teller casting marked bones. Deer paths beckon off the main trails only to disappear like false promises. Early leaf buds have wisely held fast after unseasonable warmth gave way to waves of arctic chill. Everything is a dry, grayish brown. Only ancient mosses clinging to logs hint of the green still to come.

Even before the tragic news of this week, my recent hikes on these trails have felt haunted by an unsettling Presence. The spectre of life’s end has hung in my thoughts since an elder family member’s medical team gave us sobering news. No, I am not one given to morbid obsessions even as an increasing number of those I know reach advanced ages.  Death, as our community has experienced several times recently, can come at any time in unexpected ways. It has taken quite a few long, ponderous walks through these new to me forest trails to finally recognize the Presence shadowing my steps.

Time,  I thought,  I am running out of time.

I have no specific concern which would indicate my time to depart this life draws near. I am in relatively good health and take decent care of myself. Oh sure there’s things I could do, eat a few less desserts, engage in more weight bearing exercise to slow the loss of muscle strength, all things I am working on. Being one to fully engage whenever possible in the opportunities life presents, this sensation of running out of time  is a strange state of mind. It stopped me in my tracks for a moment.

And then Delilah stopped and sat still. She looked at me, then ahead on the trail and then back at me.

This is what I have trained her to do to let me know something approaching has caught her attention. It is a vast improvement over the lunging and explosive barking she used to exhibit when anything, other dogs, bicycles, strollers, runners, squirrels, anything came moving towards us. She is rewarded with praise and often a treat as well.

It took me a few seconds to see the two black eyes staring at us from far ahead on the trail. The slightest flick of a brown ear and glint of bone branching up revealed our observer was a young buck. The three of us stood frozen in an eternal moment.  Delilah did not stir a muscle even with the intensity of her olfactory exploration of the air.

You must not pass this way.”

The directive was as clear in my mind as if someone had spoken directly to me. This was no ordinary woodland encounter. I stood still for a few more seconds, gathering my balance making sure of my footing and then whispered to Delilah.

“Leave it girl, come.”

I turned slowly in a seamless T’ai Chi pivot and walked down the path.  Delilah followed without a single glance back.

I do not know what transpired at that trail crossing. I only know it felt right as if Something had been Resolved.  My steps on the walk back felt lighter, not so much in joy as in the relief of simple acceptance.

Just before we turned onto the main path leading back to the parking lot the haunting laughter of a pileated woodpecker reverberated through the woods. Delilah and I stood still once more, listening to the echoes bounce through the trees.

“Ghosts”  I said looking down at her.  “Let’s go home girl.”

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Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

 

 

Return to Round Lake: Part Two Taking in a Natural Treasure.

So fellow travelers, photo storage problem solved at last.  I think the results have been worth the wait, so now feel free to shoulder those backpacks and head back on the trail with me….

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Round Lake is often missed by many who visit Green Lakes State Park.  All three access points to the trail are a good distance (over a mile) from either the campgrounds, main parking lot or popular swimming “beach.”   I  was coming from the upper trails that wind down to the lakes from the campgrounds.  Green Lakes has over twenty miles of trails which criss-cross and wind through the woods. I have learned from experience it is essential to carry a trail map and I often place trail markers at key cross roads to help me find the correct trail back.

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The trail from the campgrounds down to the lake begins in a certified Old Growth Forest

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I always experience a feeling of reverence as I start down this trail, as if I can feel the wisdom of the trees, some of which are over 300 years old.

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The trail is pretty steep in some parts.  August had been unusually dry, so the trail was not too hard to navigate, in fact,  I noticed as I crossed the creek bridge just how dry the season had been.

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Soon after the bridge crossing one can catch a tantalizing  first glimpse of the lake.

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A few more feet and the blue gemstone  looms closer

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As close as I was, I still took a  few moments to gather some photo ops

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Finally, the reward for the trek down the steep  mile long trail

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The lake’s stunning reflection was just hinting at autumn colors to come. I estimated peak foliage was about two week away when I would be at the Bedlam Farm Open House near beautiful Green Mountain National Forest along the New York-Vermont border. Something  to look forward to for sure.  Meanwhile the trail before me had treasures of its own to share.

Green Lake and Round lake are both meromictic lakes, which means the surface and bottom waters do not “turn over” in spring or autumn. Like the surrounding old growth forest, the lake contains many ancient varieties of plant and aquatic life. Although no one has spotted any Loch Ness sized creatures, the water is so pristine it is easy to see quite far below the surface. There are plenty of resting spots where one can sit and take in the view of the azure waters.

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quite often every  few minutes fish swim by

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little fish…

wait…. just a bit longer..there ….bigger fish!

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The upper woods trail joins Round Lake trail at just about the halfway point on the west end of the lake.  The official trailhead is at the east end of the lake where the historic natural landmark plaque is located.

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Most day visitors to the park don’t hike around Round Lake because the two small side trails which lead to it are at least a mile walk from the main parking area. Hiking out to the trail, around the lake and back to the parking area is a 3.5 mile walk.

Their loss is a gain for trail lovers like myself, who appreciate the quiet solitude of less traveled paths

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and cherish secret spots like my favorite meditation tree which I like to climb up and sit gazing down at the lake

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to gather inspiration like this

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A few yards up the trail I came across a rock which reminded me of the Buddha Rock I found on another trail adventure.

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As I contemplated where the original Buddha Rock might have ended up in that late summer flood, I thought I heard a distant rumble of thunder! Strange given the clear sunny skies above. Then,  as the rumble grew louder, I realized something was headed up the trail so I stepped to the side and watched this roll by.

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No wonder the path had seemed such smooth, soft walking today.  I was enjoying a new layer of fresh mulch.  Thanks guys!

Along the way back,  I played around with some in camera photo art, trying to capture the colors and light reflections on the lake.

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A single drop,  as if the forest too shed a tear reflecting the small sadness I felt.  As I turned back onto the upper trail I knew I was headed back to the final campfire of the season.   Ah well,  Round Lake will be there when the trails reopen next season.

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Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Return to Round Lake: Part One Writing with Snoopy

So fellow travelers,  I promised Andy Sigler,  I would demonstrate my use of the “Snoopy Technique” in my next blog post.  Andy is a fellow Bedlam Creative Group member and a fearsome writer with a forthright, honest, sharp edged humorous style of his own. (Check out his blog for yourself right here.)  He had commented “getting started is the hardest part.”  To which I made my promise.  When I am stuck for a beginning I literally begin with the opening story line Charles Schultz often used when portraying Snoopy as a writer, sitting atop his dog house with a typewriter.

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Here is how it works:

” ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ well no, actually the weekend I chose to fit in an end of season camping trip was in fact a stretch of perfect autumn weather.  I had realized the all consuming competition schedule for Marching Band had only one open weekend, which miraculously coincided with the October Open House weekend  at Bedlam Farm……”

the next thing I know I am off and writing.

This by the way works even if one is not writing about weather related events. In fact it works even better when the opening phrase is completely unrelated, because it generates a running dialogue, at least it does in my mind and I have now have words streaming onto the screen. Of course many of those words end up  victim to the <delete> option but I at least I have given myself some creative momentum.

 

So now readers  the final edit of Return to Round Lake:

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September’s gracious stretch of perfect autumn weather made me realize I needed to find time to fit in a camping trip before our luck ran out. This school year’s first month began with a shift in schedules, requiring continual adjustment to new assignments.  It had been hard to establish a routine. Downtime  had been almost nonexistent and by the third week of school my need for a good campfire and photo hike could no longer be ignored.

Fall is my favorite season for hiking and camping, however the all consuming competition schedule for Marching Band had left only one open weekend this year, a weekend which miraculously coincided with the October Open House at Bedlam Farm. While I felt blessed to be able to travel to Cambridge,  this left me with no alternative but to create my own extended weekend and camp from Sunday to Monday.  Well, for reasons such as this we have “personal” days, so I scheduled a substitute, booked my site, charged my camera batteries and made a hearty batch of salsa chicken.

For this trip, my good friend and favorite camping buddy Lisa had picked Green Lakes State Park, a local gem which features a disc golf course, swimming beach, myriad of  hiking trails and two stunning azure blue lakes.  It is a short drive from the rescue where I volunteer and we often bring the dogs to this park to walk the trails.

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Me and my buddy Bruno.  Adopted by a pawsome family in the summer of 2012.

Green Lake and it’s smaller twin Round Lake are glacial “kettle” lakes.  Unlike the long deep glacial claw-scratched Finger Lakes,  kettle lakes are deep but small and more rounded.  They are essentially potholes formed when land sinks below a chunk of glacial ice blocks.  Round Lake is particularly known for it’s pristine water and was designated a National Natural Landmark  in 1973.

I spent Sunday socializing at camp, taking the dogs for some long walks on more populated trails, enjoying a delicious dinner and a warm campfire under a clear spectacular star mapped autumn nightsky.  We lingered by the campfire long into the night, knowing this was our last trip of the season. Eventually I bunked down making plans for a more solitary, adventure the next day.

I woke at dawn to the harsh cries of fighting crows prying through a window I had neglected to shut the night before. I took it as an opportunity to head for a favorite trail, one reliable for early morning wildlife and bird activity.  Inspite of  heavy mist and a razor sharp chill in the air, the trail did not disappoint, starting with the faintest pinks of sunrise.

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First a morning fly over greeting

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Next, a chance encounter with a  sumac Fire Dragon

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and then carefully rounding a bend I came upon this gracious forest lady.  She froze, I froze then slowly in silent, minuscule movements raised my camera to my eye.  She stayed just long enough for me to focus and snap two quick shots.

Hello

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Goodbye

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Always on a photo walk I look for opportunities to experiment as I strive to master the versatility of my DSLR.  Further down the trail, a spider web glistening with morning dew provided what I needed.  I tried out various Fstop/shutter speed combinations to find the optimum settings.

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(I’m still debating which of the last two shots has the best detail.)

As rewarding as the meadow trail proved to be, I knew Round Lake trail held even greater visual promise, so after returning to camp for a hearty breakfast cooked by my good friend Lisa, I stashed some trail snacks and a long lens in my day pack and headed back out.

(to be continued)