Yearly Archives: 2013

Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

The Journey IS the Destination

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Call me crazy but living outside for five months sounded like my kind of adventure.

There’s a bumper sticker on my Toyota with the words, “my other car is a pair of boots.” Years ago when I bought it, I had no idea those words would become reality and that someday I would walk from Georgia to Maine.

“Someday” for me began on May 4th when I set out with my brother from Georgia’s Springer Mountain on the world-famous 2175 mile foot path called the Appalachian Trail. This meandering trail follows the backbone of the eastern U.S. through 14 states, ending in Maine on what the Abenaki People call “The Greatest Mountain”–Katahdin, in Baxter State Park.
 Before we’d even left Georgia, it became obvious my brother and I had different priorities and different paces.

Known on the trail as “The Lollygagger”  I was always finding reasons to stop. There was such beauty!

I wanted to take it all in, record it in my mind, in my journal and with my camera so I could share it later. My brother didn’t share my desire for lollygagging and left me to go on ahead, continuing on the same path, only at a faster pace. Though saddened at the prospect of continuing alone I was determined to finish what I’d started. Of the 3-4000 people that try to walk the entire trail each year less than 500 succeed. I wanted to be one of them!

 I found satisfaction in living simply and in knowing I was totally self-sufficient, able to carry on my back everything necessary for survival.

But while hiking and camping by myself was something I was comfortable with, the details of getting into and out of towns and “re-suppling” overwhelmed me. Emerson once said, “The greater part of courage is having done it before.” I saw the truth in this as with practice things like hitchhiking and eating at restaurants alone got easier.

I learned there was value in talking to strangers and that most people are kind and generous.

Many went out of their way to help: waiting while I did my grocery shopping, shuttling me around town, offering food, a hot shower, wishes for safe travel. Without wanting anything in return. Encounters with these “Trail Angels”(as hikers call them) account for some of my most memorable moments.

 

Other memorable moments came from my willingness to dally. Alone and on my own schedule, I prioritized making time to enjoy the places I’d worked so hard to reach, sharing stories with people I met and allowing for “detours” to off-trail attractions. I found a balance between making the necessary miles and lollygagging. There were nights I stopped well before dark because I’d reached a spot I couldn’t pass up–a site beside a pond or on a mountain.

How rewarding it was to step out of my tent and watch the sun rise up through the fog, painting the sky glorious shades of orange and gold or to get into a canoe at dawn and paddle out into the mist.

Or, after a steep and difficult ascent upon reaching a flat rocky slab, I sat to soak up the sun and enjoy the view. It was with a sense of awe that I looked out at row after row of mountains stretching in every direction and realized I had been on top of some, only hours or days ago!

 I often felt rich beyond anything money could ever buy, was sometimes overcome with pride and joy– like a child learning to ride a bike, wanting to shout to the world, “Look, I’m doing it!

Of course there were moments when I felt only exhaustion, discouraged and unhappy that I’d committed to what seemed sometimes like an impossible task, when the burning pain in my feet and the aching in my joints was too much to bear. No wonder so many people quit! It was easy to understand given the sheer difficulty of the trail– mountain after mountain to climb, the path littered with obstacles: boulder fields, near-vertical passes, slippery rocks, ankle-deep mud, roots, rain-filled rivers to ford. Add to that hot humid afternoons, biting insects, cold, rainy days, hail, thunder and lightning storms, frigid fall temperatures. At times when I felt I could walk no more, when I wondered if I had what it took to make it, I thought of all the people rooting for me and I pictured myself in Maine.

katahdin-2654I closed my eyes and imagined myself on Katahdin, the sun on my face, the world spread out around me, my arms raised in victory.

And every time, it was enough. I took a step and walked on. And on. And on. Days became weeks, steps became miles.Until a cloudy day in October when I reached Katahdin, making the vision reality.

Standing on that mountain was my proudest moment, a shining example of strength of body and mind uniting to achieve success.

I believe that I am a better person for overcoming the challenges and richer for making the journey as important as the destination. I can look back without regret, confident I got the most out of my experience. Sometimes I can’t help but exclaim– I walked from Georgia to Maine!  Like the words on my bumper sticker, my other car REALLY is a pair of boots!!

Click HERE to Read more about my journey on the AT

Power

Always remember the power of many; alone you may not be much, but together, so much more is possible! 

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Stillness

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Sometimes, just BE still. Stop rushing around long enough to let peace into your soul.

Hummingbirds Head South

bird-9289It’s getting to be that time of year when the hummingbirds are fattening up for their long journeys south. Most will  double their body weight, which during the summer is anywhere from 3-6 grams. (For reference, a penny weighs 2.5 grams) They feed on flower nectar (which they lap up with their long tongues) and small insects, feeding every 12-15 minutes.

In the last two weeks my two feeders have been buzzing with activity, the males crazily guarding their nectar source that never runs out. I am religious about keeping the feeders cleaned and full because I love watching the birds so much. Such joy they bring to my life! I always feel a tremendous loss when they depart each fall, an emptiness that takes weeks to adjust to.

In the next few weeks the males will disappear from the feeders, heading south a few weeks before the females. Their migration in my opinion is one of the most amazing things in the entire animal kingdom. Long ago people thought they must ride on the backs of Canada geese or other migrating birds, for surely, how could such a tiny bird complete such a harrowing flight? But of course this, like many “facts” related to animals, is just a myth.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate to Central America each fall, all by themselves.

Many do this by flying non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico, a journey of 525 miles.

Imagine! Such a tiny bird flying that far, that long, not stopping! It takes them on average, 20 HOURS to do this! Imagine flying 20 hours non-stop. Then, when they make it through that challenge, they have another 1600 miles yet to go! Think of the obstacles this bird must overcome… severe weather, storms, wind, navigating, starvation, finding food, cold temperatures, predators… no wonder why most ruby-throated hummingbirds don’t live through their first year. The average lifespan of the tiny bird is only 3 years.

When spring comes again, the birds change direction and head north, reversing their trips. What an amazing bird!

Looking for Beauty

Beauty is Everywhere….

When I lived in New York State and did adult slide programs more regularly, people would see my pictures and often ask where each was taken. They had so many questions! Were so curious about the details of the pictures. They were most amazed when I told them that many were taken right in my own backyard, or close to the place I lived, in a field down the road or a small park only locals know about.

I have learned that we don’t have to travel to far away and exotic places to find beauty. It’s right here, often right in our yards or along the way as we drive to our daily destinations.

The other night I was reclining on my couch, facing outdoors, with the sliding door open and the breeze blowing gently across my face.  Gray tree frogs were starting their nightly chorus. I was engrossed in a wonderful book, but kept getting distracted by both the hummingbirds visiting my feeder and even more so, the drama that sunset was bringing. It wasn’t long before I set the book down and stood in the doorway, looking out at the narrow swath of trees and forest behind my apartment, now silhouetted against a spectacular sky. I briefly considered getting in my car and speedily driving to some place a bit more exotic, but thought better of it. If I did that I might just miss the beauty in my frantic attempt to be somewhere “better.” I smartly realized that what I had, right then, right there, was a glorious view of the western sky that rivaled anything I’d seen lately. My mood went from melancholy to inspired and serene. I watched in silence at what looked like several bottles of ink slowing spilling onto the blank canvas of the sky above the black trees. Oh the colors! I ran for my camera and tripod, capturing the moment…

Beauty. It really IS everywhere. But it’s not always this obvious! You must be open to looking closely…

Where have you found beauty lately?

Simplicity

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Simplicity in all things is the secret of the wilderness and one of its most valuable lessons. It is what we leave behind that is important. I think the matter of simplicity goes further than just food, equipment and unnecessary gadgets; it goes into the matter of thought and objectives as well. When in the wilds, we must not carry our problems with us or the joy is lost.

-Sigurd Olson

What This Wren Did that Made me Smile

wren-0888For the past few evenings I have enjoyed watching the wren parents bring back all varieties of insects from small beetles, to crickets and caterpillars. The male was capable of singing with his mouth full, which amazed me, especially when he began doing it regularly. He liked to perch on the shepards hook and sing, as if announcing to the world that he was a star multi-tasker, and a good provider for his family. The best was when he had a worm or caterpillar dangling from his beak and went about his cheerful announcements. Sadly, as much as he liked to brag, he did not feel the same about getting his picture taken, so even when I tried with my 300mm, I still could not get a shot of him on the post. Shy one that he is.

The last few nights have been chilly and I have checked each night, finding mama wren nestled down in the tunnel of pine needles, keeping the little ones cozy. Seeing her there makes my heart smile, as does hearing the male belt out his melodious tune.

quote22-0091Today when I got home from work, I ran to the back door as I do every day, to check what’s been going on in my absence. I noticed immediately that two of the wren babies were on the deck, out of the nest. The parents were calling excitedly from somewhere in the woods behind my apartment and I quickly ran to get my camera and long lens. On my stomach, in full stalk mode, I inched back to the door, slid it open slowly and then resting the camera on a make-shift bean-bag rest, I watched as the two babies tried to figure out what to do. One gave in soon to the calls of the parents, disappearing over the edge. I could not go look for fear of scaring the other baby.

quote22-0093The last remaining baby seemed torn between following his sister or taking a nap. He could not decide, but it was obvious the napping urge was stronger. As I lay on my stomach, baking in the sun and looking through the camera lens, he stood in the shade of the deck chair, then slowly his head dipped down and his eyes closed and he fell asleep! Right there in front of me, with both parents still calling loudly from somewhere in the distance.

 

He's running for the edge!

He’s running for the edge!

A little while later he got some energy and perked up, looking around at first, as if wondering, “where has everyone gone?” Then, without much in the way of fanfare, he hopped to the edge of the deck, and took a leap of faith! I sprang up and ran to the side of the deck, hoping to see him, but already he had disappeared into the brush at the edge of the woods. The parents called loudly so I have to assume he made it safely. What a scary thing that must be, to leap from the deck, having never flown anywhere before and not evening getting any chance to practice first!

What a great sneak peak I had into the lives of a Carolina Wren family! How lucky I feel that they chose my bike bag for a place to nest. I hope the male still comes to sing to me now and then and maybe I will even get to see the babies around from time to time.quote22-0100

Nature gives us such wonderful gifts, daily if we pay attention and notice them. I hope all who are reading find a little spot of beauty and joy in the natural world today.

“The rare moment is not when there is something worth looking at, but the moment when we are capable of seeing.”  –?

Have you ever gotten the chance to witness a baby bird fledge or leave the nest? I’d love to hear about it! Use the comment box below to drop me a note.

If you want to read another post about what we can learn from Wrens, click HERE.