Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Happy Birthday America!

Isn't life funny? I wasn't planning on being in West Virginia over the 4th of July holiday weekend but that is exactly where I wound up. It's exactly where I was supposed to be.

Rhododendron in bloom. 
I was just a girl on her way to the ashram and then something came up. Somewhere I needed to be and all of the sudden I was in central PA and had 48 hours to kill. After being chased off the trail due to thunder (ughhh- story of my summer hiking), I spent an hour researching parks, sending texts, and making phone calls trying to figure out where to go next. This alone was a test of patience, not because I don't like having a plan, but because cell service in the middle of the PA woods is shoddy at best.

You see, I was kind of excited! All of the sudden 2 days of unexpected adventure was unfolding before me and I had no idea where I'd end up. I just got to sit back in the passenger seat and enjoy the ride. All I had to do was say yes. So I did.

As much as I love spending time at the ashram, I needed trails along cliff tops, raging whitewater with boulders as big as houses and waking up with the excitement of a 5 year old on Christmas morning. I needed dark sky and stars that make you feel small, hodge podge history lessons from crack guides and the best smoked ribs I've ever had in my life. I needed a motley crew of welcome faces and smiling eyes- people that love wild spaces and testing their limits as much as I do and the out of the way sanctuaries that harbor that lust for life. I needed fireworks on the 4th of July.

From the Endless Wall.
I made it down to the New River Gorge National River late that night. The darkness was encompassing and the sheer number of stars visible was astonishing. I haven't seen a sky like this in a good long time. In spite of feeling the requisite awe over it, I also felt a pang of something else deep down. It's hard to place words to it. It was a bit sad really. That this sky is there- every single night- and I've been so selfishly consumed with my life that I haven't gandered a look up at it. I choose to live in a city with light pollution that fades out the magnificence of it. Seeing the sky lit up with the millions of blazing stars made me miss something that night. I'm not exactly sure what, but something big.

The next morning was like Christmas! I'll try to explain this concept. Sometimes I like getting into new places when it's dark and all that's really left to do is go to sleep but I just kinda lay there too excited to doze off in anticipation of exploring the next day. When I wake up, it's like Christmas morning. You never know what you're going to get. Life is too short to not pursue the things that excite us- the places that turn us on, the situations that challenge us.

One or two bridges?
Christmas I tell you and Santa Claus was the New River Gorge. That place is full up of wildness and the heart of it all is the raging river that runs through it- pumping life into the 70,000 acres that surround it. Fact or fiction? The New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world. As NPS explains here, the New River is incredibly old- it formed with the Appalachian Mountains and they are arguably the oldest mountain range in the world. However, fossil evidence and erosion rates indicate that it may not be the second oldest river in the world as many contend. It may not even be the oldest river in the Appalachians but age is just a number anyways. That place has got soul!

I'm a mom and pop kinda gal. Lucky for me, I was rafting with New and Gauley River Adventures operating out of Lansing, West Virginia. They offer various river trips ranging from a few hours to multi-day for all ages and experience plus you can camp onsite and have access to their facilities. They also offer other outdoor adventures like horseback riding, mountain biking and snowshoeing.
They are a humbly brazen crew of guides who disguise their immense knowledge and respect for the river with quick wit, humor and stories.

Blue skies peaking through on the New. 
Rafting down the New River is like being on another planet. I love the water. Period. I've always wanted to try whitewater rafting, mostly because I'll try anything once. I paddle flatwater usually, the slow winding rivers into Lake Erie or the Bay on a calm day. I didn't expect to fall in love with fast moving water but I did.

There's something called surfing. It's where you wedge your raft into a rapid and ride the water until it kicks you out. I could've done that all day. I mostly got to sit there and after a while, I couldn't do anything but stare into the smooth crystal clear water cascading over the bronze rocks below. Time stood still that day, cradled by the water, sunshine on my face, a smile on my lips and a home in my heart. There is no place like the wild places and the people we share them with.

The Tipple at Nuttallburg.
We explored an abandoned mining town named Nuttallburg later that day. As the need for coal grew, mining towns such as this popped up along the New River, housing the coalminers and feeding America's energy needs, later to be abandoned. This town was transferred over to the care of the National Park Service in 1998 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Since taking over, the NPS has added interpretive signage, made a good dent in invasive species removal and stabilized structures like the tipple that moved coal down the mountainside to the awaiting railroad cars below.

Of course, it wouldn't be the Fourth of July without a barbeque, fireworks, and a bonfire, right? To my utter delight there were gluten-free cornbread muffins. I seriously think I let out a little cry of joy at the sight of them! Cornbread just so happens to be my favorite and there it magically was- along with kind faces (human and canine) who invited me in. We watched the fireworks explode over the New River Gorge Bridge, a magnificent 3,000 and some feet steel arch that spans the raging river below. There was a bonfire later and with tired eyes we gathered around and tried to make popcorn in one of those little foil pie pans that puffs up as it pops. We failed brilliantly at the popcorn but the company was good, the night was cool, and the fire was warm so all was not lost.

The New River. 
We stood in a driveway in the middle of West Virginia gazing up at the dark sky. I don't think I'll soon forget that sky or the way it made me feel- a part of something much bigger, a feeling that is home even though I'd never been there. Maybe that's what was missing when I gazed at those same stars the night before.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Soulshine Sunday!

I'd never heard of a so called Peddle-Paddle until a few months ago. The idea of biking to your boat and paddling to your ride (or vice versa) in one day just seems like a no brainer. Like a concept that I should have thought to do myself.

We dropped our boats in Everett Park in downtown Newark, Ohio. It's number 8 if you click through. That PDF also provides the other put-ins on the Licking River. Careful, you don't drive up onto the grass through the fence (despite it looking like you can). The parking lot is close enough to carry your boat. We locked ours down and set off to Blackhand Gorge where we were to begin and end this Soulshine Sunday Ohio adventure.

Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve

Blackhand Gorge is a little remnant of Ohio history located in rolling Licking County. It's named after a dark petroglyph of a hand on the sheer sandstone cliffs cut by the 40 mile Licking River that winds east into the Muskingum River. The petrogylph was detroyed in 1828 during the destruction of the Ohio-Erie Canal. Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve boosts 10 miles of trails and 4 miles of paved bike paths. Currently 1 mile of the bike path and access from Brushy Fork Road is closed. You can access the other 3 miles of trail from the Toboso Road parking lot.

My view.
We parked and hopped on our bikes to head back the 11.5 miles to our boats. To head west through Blackhand Gorge, we would need to access the entire length of the bike path there. Due to slippage of the trail, that was not possible. We hopped on Toboso Road (273), took a left onto 146 and picked up the Licking Park District Panhandle Trail at Marne Road access just after the underpass. Once on the Panhandle, the ride was cake. The trail follows an active railroad line and you can take it all the way down to Everett Park.

Once we got to Everett Park, the only issue was potable water. As in there wasn't any- so if you are doing this peddle-paddle and don't want to go further into town, make sure you bring enough fluids and snacks.

The carved sandstone. 
The river. There is something about water. I grew up in the water- chlorinated with a large stripe on the bottom. I spent countless hours going up and down that line over and over again. Countless hours holding my breath, countless hours dissappearing into meditation. That's what it was, you know. I never realized that until later, when I began studying such things. Swimming was my meditation in motion and water was the medium. It was the canvas that calmed my mind. It has been ever since. Water.

The paddle was about 13.5 miles in total and pretty relaxed. There were a few strainers to be careful of but the water was low and most were easily avoidable if you were paying attention. Which I wasn't always (a bird, a butterfly, a pretty get the idea how my mind works). It was a hot day and an easy way to test if my new Samsung S5 really is 'water resistent'. Well, folks, after about 5 minutes at the bottom of the Licking River, it's just fine. I will not however, be trying that again!

Twilight Glow in Blackhand.
My favorite park of the trip was the last few miles when we were paddling through Blackhand Gorge. We entered in early evening when the birds were calming down and the crickets were starting to call. The hush that occurs around twilight during the changing of the wildlife guard is a magical time but espcially on this night as we paddled into the lush forested banks, boulders bigger that cars and sandstone cliff faces that make me stare up in awe. The air shifted, the energy changed and all of the sudden we were in a different world. Right there in Licking County. Oh Ohio, you have a piece of my heart!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Places We Go

Oh me, Oh my, the places we go!

New River Gorge, 7/14
Every spring as the buds start to blossom, the peepers ring their calls through the chilly evenings and the first red admiral flits by, I get the itch. I want to go. No, I need to go. I'm not exactly sure where this wanderlust comes from but it's there and it always has been. Since I was a little girl I wanted to leave. To go. It didn't really matter where to me, so long as I went. I've spent a lot of years not going and a lot of time planning and a lot of time going. I spent quite some time thinking I was crazy, that life is perfectly fine staying in one place and about drove myself over an edge. So now, now I just go.

Blackhand Gorge, 6/14
Maybe it was the Kerouac I read in high school or the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Maybe it was the Snyder, the Hemmingway, the Hughes- hell, maybe it was my darling Sylvia. I'm pretty sure the Monkey Wrench Gang had something to do with it. Perhaps it was The Dead, The Band (Acadian Driftwood), or good old Cat. Maybe it was the stories my dad told of his travels. I have no idea. I've since given up on figuring out why I feel most comfortable with the unfamiliar. I just try to accept it as a part of me, like my eyes being green or the fact that as many times as I quit drinking coffee, I start back up again. It is who I am and denying myself of travel- seeing a new horizon, a new pair of eyes, a new slug- well, that just equates to a wretched form of self-mutilation to me and I have since ceased fighting all things- not some things- all things, especially myself.

CycLicking, 6/14
I've been running around here and there the past couple months. Nell and I have found some new trails and been thundered off some familiar ones. I've met new faces and am so grateful for their guidance. I've seen backhills bluegrass in churches cloaked in red, whitewater rapids framed by cobalt sky and chocolate mint monkeys hanging on for dear life. I'll try to fill in the blanks as much as I can but I'm just going to keep going while the going's good. I can write tidbits and sort photos when the weather turns...unless I take up skiing this winter!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hueston Woods & John Bryan State Parks.

Stand tall. (Bloodroot)
Always take the table with a view.
Mingle. (Dutchman's Breeches & Trillium) 

Hepatica, two poses.
Turn your face to the sun. 

Grow. (Rue Anemone)


Change is the only constant. (Cocoon) 

Take a breath, and look again. (Ravine Salamander)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hiking Into the Heart of Things

I did do some actual hiking at Hoosier. Nellie and I skipped down the road with happy eyes and wagging tails to Tipsaw Recreation Area. There is a 6 mile loop around the lake. Nell was in heaven. Other than a handful of boats on the lake, we had the place to ourselves! The falling water from the previous day added to the already swelling creeks, streams and shorelines. It also made adorably fun, muddy conditions- my favorite.

We took our time making the circuitous route. We weren't long on the trail before we encountered the first vernal pools. How noisy they were! Every year, I debate (around the conference table in my head) which is better- the spring or summer choir? It's a close call. I adore the singing insects that grace our ears come summer time but the feeling of sweet relief of winter's end that accompanies the sounds of spring is always a welcome one. After the winter we've had, spring is certainly winning. Come July though, I'm sure to change my mind...

The vernal pools were popping with spring peepers, wood frogs and chorus frogs. While Nellie's curious nose sent them all out of sight, their calls continued to echo as my eyes continued to relentlessly (and fruitlessly, I might add) scan. 

We encountered many creeks and feeder flows adding to the already flooded shores. A few two-lined salamanders and again with the massive crawdads! We found a few cocoons and a handful of moths our presence disturbed. We saw our first butterfly of the season- a morning cloak.

Nell the Bell had side swimming plans! A dog in the water for the first time since last summer is quite possibly the best sight. I spent most of the trail laughing at her and towards the end, I joined in her joyful tramping as we crossed the last water-above-the boot-tops stream. The cool flow felt nice-ice cold. Invigorating, alivening- as in it opened me up again. The rush of spring water invaded my soul and a piece of it flowed on, out the bottom of my boots onto those river rolled flat rocks, right down the riffles and spreading into the calm, open water of the lake. I left a piece of myself there that day, as I stood in that stream a moment and glanced around. It was one of those moments, those days, hell- the entire weekend, that time stood still. Every moment was a prolonged pause, an answer to a question I didn't realize I was seeking. 

It's important to look around, to listen, to take it in, to be open. To just stop and pause. I don't do that enough. Everything else can wait. It just can. It's as simple as that. It's as simple as I make time for. So I do that day- I make the time to pause. To listen to the spring peeper. To find a cocoon. To chase a butterfly. To sink in the mud. To flip rocks. To stare up at the sky. To hear the wind through the pines. To smell the dirt. To watch my dog play in the stream.

To remember why I do what I do. It's not enough to work to preserve natural spaces and educate people. That is just not enough. There's a reason I do what I do and to forget that reason by getting caught up in the 'doing' of it- well that does nobody any good. So I take time- no, I make time-  to remember. 

Happy Earth Day, my friends. I hope you take a moment away from the fight, from the work, from the job, to remember.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Abe Lincoln & Santa Southern Indiana

I was able to get away the last weekend of March and I forgot how needed it was. The older I get, the more I realize the importance of self care. I can get so busy running from one thing to the next, that I sometimes forget to do the basics. You know- the things that make me feel good and allow me to be present in all that life throws my way. This balance between mental, physical and emotional health is my responsibility.

I've been planning this weekend away for some time now. In fact, I have weekends on my calendar marked 'GO' for the rest of the year! I'm a planner, what can I say? I saw the Two Lakes Loop in Hoosier National Forest on Backpacker Magazine's Facebook page in February. It looked perfect. Upon a little further research, I discovered the 202,000 acre forest contains over 260 miles of trails (bike, hike and horse), loads of lakes and a pick of campgrounds.

In an attempt to set myself up for hoofing the Two Lakes Loop in one long day, I drove over (about 4.5 hours) on Friday evening. I camped at Indian-Celina Lake Recreation Area. The north loop is open year-round and for $5, a non-electric site is yours in the off season.

Now this trip was Nell's first camp trip of the year. I have two tents and while packing, I was wondering why I bought that big one on close-out a couple years ago. Let's just say, I learned a few things camping with Nellie this weekend. Here are the highlights.

1. Get to camp before dark, that way Nell can explore the new surroundings. This was my plan, but a stop at REI in Cincinnati put me in rush hour traffic and added an hour to my drive time.
2. Bigger really is better. When car camping and space isn't an issue- always, always go with the big tent.
3. Nell is afraid of the thunder when sleeping in a tent. In the house, not a problem. In a tent, it's pretty much the end of the world (I may or may not be exaggerating- it was 4am). Getting in the car, alleviates this anxiety completely (and creates others, mostly mine).
4. For me, a 5 foot 7 inch, athletic built gal to sleep comfortably in the backseat of a Ford Fiesta hatchback, one must complete a few simple steps. First, move the front seats forward, with the back of the seat upright. Second, use whatever clothing or shoes or objects you have to make the the floor space between the backseat bench and front seats even with the surface of the back bench. And lastly, get comfortable sleeping in a 'V', if you don't want to kill your knees by having them bent all night.
5. Be really active all day and you can sleep just about anywhere!

I love back roads that lead to gravel roads that dead end in the trees. 
We woke up to rain Saturday, lots of it. I had a few hours to kill before meeting a friend so I figured a back road wondering towards the Ohio River (the southern part of Hoosier bumps up against it) was the way to go. Well, what I thought was a few hours. Somewhere between the campground and the gas station I stopped at for coffee and suggestions, the time changed. As in an hour difference. Suffice it say, I was a bit late. First impressions, right?
Ohio River on a misty morning...The opposite shore would be Kentucky. 
A little bird told me to never judge a day by its weather so I didn't. We headed to Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial . None other than Abe Lincoln spent 14 years of his lifetime there (1816-1830). There is a ton of history and displays to meander plus the resting site of Abe's mother, the tallest flagpole in Indiana, a bronzed cabin, the biggest crawdad I've ever seen, original hearth stones, a wedding, and a piece of the White House. Go and not just on a rainy day!
I adore this sign!
Right down the road is Santa Claus, Indiana. Santa Claus! How I've never heard of this, I'm not sure. We rode in on Christmas Boulevard. I'm giggling a bit just writing this. Things were mostly abandoned as the season for amusement & water parks is not quite upon us yet, but we still had to check it out. Roads, shops, restaurants- even the liquor store is named after the jolly holiday. It was cool and creepy all at the same time. I sat in a sled. We saw the oldest Santa statue. There were clowns. That about sums it up.
Sign pictures galore this trip. I would insert a smiley face here if I could. 
A campfire was made- using the log house method. Fitting, right? Hot chocolate. Spring peepers. Tangled Nellie. Wind shifts. Teary eyes. Warm hands. Cloudy sky. I woke up around 4am, peeked out. There were the stars.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Music & Daytrips

February and March were busy little months for this Ohio gal. While I didn't have a continuous weekend away until late March, I did have an awesomely informative weekend staycation. And now April has come and no writings from my head to your screen. I've been full. It's been busy. Life has been happening and I've been living it. Isn't that an awesome thing to say? As crazy as moving has been, I'm grateful for the opportunity to begin again. And again and again. Each day.

First things first. Listen to the music. Meaning my weekend trips around the heart of it all keep coinciding with good tunes. Case in point- February live shows of Yonder Mountain String Band and Gregory Alan Isakov. March shows of Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn  and none other than soul shining Brett Dennen. Sandwiched between all that musical love was the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association Annual Conference, the largest natural rock bridge in Ohio, blue Lake Erie ice and some quality time with family.

Yonder Mountain String Band
I haven't seen YMSB in years. A childhood girlfriend and I used to go every year around Velentine's when they came to Columbus. I never made it to the Tahoe shows (I can't imagine why?). They were joined by Sam Bush and John Frazier and it created just the right mix of goofy boys in a garage, expertly planned jams where every fiddle had a turn and genuine love of the music. They believe in what they play and they have fun doing it. I'm realizing more and more that loving what you do makes all the difference in the world.

OEFFA was quite an experience. A bit overwhelming at the options of workshops and talks but in an unbelievably approachable way. Everyone at that conference was excited about what they were doing and wanted to share experiences, ideas and kind words. I could write multiple blog posts about the things I heard- Ohio City Farm, Zane State sustainable ag, City Beets, bee keeping, garden bugs, fracking, hemp production, local food councils, 30 mile meals....the list goes on and on. Check out their website and some of the programming that goes on throughout the year. I love food and putting faces to the people that grow it.

Rockbridge State Nature Preserve Rockbridge State Nature Preserve is a golden slice of land in the Hocking Hills region. It's just off 33 after Clear Creek and worth the stop. It was late so I didn't walk the entire trail yet but plan on heading back soon. One of the awesome parts of this winter has been the ice. I've never seen icicles in Ohio so tall and gorgeous!
Giant icicles!
I'm not even going to begin to describe Stuart's Opera House the dueling (and complimenting) banjos, easy translation from Mandarin through inflection, and adorably quick back-and-forth between Bela and Abigail. To top off the musical bandwagon, I headed to Pittsburgh for pho with a good soul and the dance stylings of Brett Dennen in a converted church. He sings music that makes me happy. And I sometimes forget that being happy is what it's all about.

The blue Lake Erie ice off Marblehead Lighthouse was a spectacular show. Even better was that I saw it with my folks on a relaxing weekend trip north. We then had a million appetizers including the best crab cakes and French onion soup at the Crows Nest.
The view from Marblehead Lighthouse