This purple martin was a little camera shy. He was sitting, nicely poised, atop the roof of this multi-family bird commune. As soon as I lifted my lens–POOF–away he flew.
I guess that officially qualifies me as paparazzi, eh? 🙂
When I write, I pick a picture, post it, and let the picture tell me what I should write about. I wait for it to speak to me, to spark a memory or a feeling. And then I write. Sometimes I write exactly about the thought that entered my mind. Sometimes, what I start out writing is totally different than what exits my fingers as I type. Its oddly therapeutic and sometimes spooky. The writing is often a vent for feelings steaming right beneath my surface that I am not necessarily cognizant of.
Of late, I am converting many of my photos to black and white. Not sure why. I can tell you that the colors feel…uncomfortable. Too bright, too much. I need the simplicity? I need things to be in black and white? Things are, perhaps, too complicated in my life right now, having just enjoyed a short retreat from the hectic world of my work. Now, I’ve plunged back in, completely immersed in chaos.
No, I definitely like the simplicity.
“Ethel Merman”, a famed singer for you younger types, was the first image in my mind when searching my little brain for a title. Ethel would belt out a tune like no other. She has long passed, but I can still hear her voice from many a musical, reverberating in my head. The form and shape of the iris reminded me, I suppose, of an open mouth, waiting to belt something out. Shouting, perhaps, into the black and white abyss to its left.
Welcome to my therapy session.
Please stay tuned…
There is some level of comfort in the cycles and predictability of the seasons.
Late spring brings the upcoming Memorial Day weekend to our local beaches. Park workers, who virtually disappeared in the cool weather months, are suddenly as numerous as the hummingbirds at my little red feeder. Signs of the upcoming season begin to appear and, cold or warm, the beach goers will faithfully return in a show of dedication to their beloved sandy beaches.
I’m ready for the warmer weather with its thunderstorms, picnic ants, and stifling heat.
For awhile, anyway.
I know no season can last forever. But they always return.
(Note: Please see previous posts for the first two days of our hike).
This was our shortest day of the hike. By miles. Not by time. I was certainly short on patience. I was in pain, and it was not improving. Two and a half days of PUDS (hiker abbreviation for Pointless Ups and Downs) does not make for a happy woman. I was eating Advil, starting my day with three and making sure that I did not go past 2.5 hours before I took my next dose. At this point of the hike, there is no turning back. You simply keep going unless you can no longer go.
By mid-day, I was ready to sell my equipment, and so proclaimed with some other obscenities to my vastly patient and also worn-down husband. He later told me he was considering the same but was afraid to say so, lest I actually try to barter with the next stranger I happened upon.
The trail, a true analogy for life’s own ups and downs, sometimes smiles upon you in the form of trail angels and trail magic. Trail angels are the individuals who provide the trail magic. They’ll often leave soda or snacks for hungry or thirsty hikers at trailheads. They leave their numbers posted in shelters, in case someone needs an emergency ride out. Trail angels are often former thru hikers, giving back the magic they found on their own 2,170+ mile journey.
And so we were smiled upon in the midst of an arduous and painful day. Several hundred yards away, as we crossed an older dirt road, sat two individuals in lawn chairs near a large white truck. We waved and continued our pace down the trail. We were not exactly making good time and, in an era where one needs to be a little extra cautious about their safety, I simply continued to walk, my husband close behind. As I trekked down the steep hillside, I heard a sweet, soft, “Excuse me, excuse me”–couched in a fairly light, although discernable, Southern accent. I stopped.
“Excuse me,” said the woman. “Are you friends of Antman?” It took us a moment to realize she was referring to our friend, Dave–who we hadn’t seen since this morning. “Yes, yes, we are–is he okay?” I responded. “Yes,” she replied, “but he wanted us to let you know he waited for you for a bit and moved on. He’ll meet you at the shelter tonight.” Antman was not one for sitting still too long. We try, however, to take a 15 minute, packs-off break every 1.5 hours. It really helps when you start to tire, and you often wear down without realizing how tired you’ve become.
“Excuse me.” Southerners are so polite. “Would you like a piece of chocolate cake?” Southerners are GREAT. In what was probably the fastest pace I’d moved in the last 48 hours, we made an about face and trudged uphill to meet our angel. My new, ultra-polite Southern friend apologized for making us come back up hill.
The angel introduced herself as Hotflash and her husband as Flash–their trail names for their 1987 thru-hike. Hotflash (Ruth) and Flash (Hal) are pictured in this post’s gallery, in a black and white photograph with my husband, telling us stories about their hike as if they had just come off the trail. “It’s my birthday month,” said Ruth. “Let me get some cake and ice tea for you.” Ruth was 64 this month, and Hal was 67.
For the next forty-five minutes, we sat and listened to our angels. It was some of the best time I have ever had on the trail. Imagine someone you know who is utterly kind and humble. People you like to be around just because they make you feel better when you are near them. If you know people like this, you’ve met Hal and Ruth. The gift of our hike.
When we realized we had to move on (lest Antman send out the rangers, as we once had to do when we lost him–another story for another day), we thanked them for their kindness and offered to donate some money for oncoming thru-hikers. They would not accept, but wished us well and thanked us for listening. Reluctantly, we moved forward and back down the trail.
I swallowed a few more Advil. I had been enjoying myself so much, I’d forgotten to take a dose. I did not realize it until the pain began to surge through my knee and up my leg. Damn. We still had quite a few miles to go, including a two mile uphill climb, followed by several short PUDS. I wanted to sell my gear again, or stab my eyes out–whichever I could achieve first.
We arrived at the Punchbowl Shelter around 6:30 or 7. Antman looked a little concerned. I understood why when he told me he’d arrived three hours before we did. Two other hikers were also at the shelter. Tom, a biologist for a local hospital and an experienced hiker–and Joe (see gallery), an attorney and not-so-experienced hiker. They would be our shelter mates for the evening. I was glad to have the additional company. We had been twice warned, both by Ruth and Hal, as well as the former day’s ridgerunner, that Punchbowl was an actively haunted shelter. A young child by the name of Ottie had died near the area in 1891. It is thought that his spirit inhabits the shelter. Rumor is that the shelter is regularly vacated by thru-hikers in the middle of the night due to Ottie’s (or whomever’s) antics. We would soon know. It was dusk.
We settled in for the night. The moon was so bright it actually never got dark that evening. What I could see at 8 pm I could see at midnight. The peepers were loud enough to scare any ghost away, and little Ottie could have walked all over me and I’d have never known. I was beat–and surrounded by four men, sleeping in various stages all around me. I was not concerned, nor did I feel spooked, as I have in other shelters on various nights. No, if Ottie was here, he was friendly.
The evening past without incident. Since we were hiking out, I gave Tom some extra water purifying pills, as he’d run low on his iodine and had several days left. We bade Joe and Tom farewell, wished them luck, and moved on for our final day.
Things were looking up.
(Please see previous post for the first day of our hike).
There were good points to the second day of our hike … and not-so-good points. I actually took no further spills for the remainder of the trip, a huge positive when you are already limping your way, up and down mountains. On the other hand, I smelled putrid. But then again, so did everyone. This is a good thing, as your own hiking odor is so pungent that you cannot actually smell anyone else–nor they you. A strange but true comfort of the woods.
We left the Priest Shelter around 7:30 am for the day’s 17 mile trek. Thankfully, the terrain was generally smooth rather than the more-often-than-not-copious-boulder-fields one finds themselves crawling over, under, and down on the Appalachian Trail. The trail itself today took us up and down mountain saddles approximately seven times. None of the climbs or descents were extensive, for which my knee and I were eternally grateful. One thru-hiker we passed in the midst of a valley said, “You know, its either uphill or downhill on this trail–no inbetween.” True, in fact, or so it seems to a backpacker’s weary legs. The nice thing about thru-hiking is that, once you arrive in VA, you have your physical conditioning pretty well intact. Section hikers, such as ourselves, are not so fortunate. You can run, you can walk with a pack on, you can go up and downhills–but there is no better preparation than several weeks of doing it. If you are only able to hike four to seven days at a stretch, you are likely going to be in some sort of pain most of the time (this goes for the middle agers–I suppose the twenty-somethings bounce back a tad more quickly).
We ran in to a ridgerunner–Mike–about half way through the day. Ridgerunners are usually volunteers, either of the local trail club or the Appalachian Trail Conference. They are harbingers of good faith, and watchful eyes for people in trouble or people making trouble. You do not see them very often, but when you do, they are a welcome sight. Mike gave us the run down of what we could expect and where the scenic views were for the rest of the day’s hike. He made sure to point our attention to a large tree growing out from a boulder, about a mile down the trail. It made for an interesting photo, which I’ve included in today’s gallery.
Our day ended at the Cow Camp Shelter. Nothing fancy, but a very decent shelter. Dave S (whose trailname, by the way, is “Antman”) had arrived well before us. In his company was an older gentleman who called himself “Statesman”. Statesman was in his late 60’s, recently retired from teaching high school and university biology. He looked like a biology professor–round spectacles, curly hair, thin and lean-bodied, and somewhat quirky–I did not take his photograph. Statesman was looking for some peace and quiet. He seemed a gentle soul, out to bother no one, and social enough–but rather private. So I respected that. He tented by the stream, even though it stormed voraciously throughout the night until nearly the time of breaking dawn.
We awoke to some owls chattering like three women in beauty shop. A beautiful alarm clock sound which I am fortunate enough to frequently fall asleep to most nights at home. It was amusing–you could almost visualize them talking to one another, somewhere up in the high foilage. We completed our morning chores, bid our goodbyes to Statesman, and trod off for what was supposed to be our shortest and easiest day of the hike.
Sometimes things don’t work out the way you visualize them.
More soon. Hike on.
This is dedication.
While out and about one early weekend morning, scouting retinal-damaging sunrise photos (my usual M.O.), I wandered out to one of the lake’s bay areas. Easter weekend, if I recall. The wind was blowing hard, and it’s typically about five degrees colder near the lake than the rest of the county.
Forty degree morning. Five degrees colder near the lake. Probably another five degrees lower for wind chill….yikes. Thirty degrees! And yet there this man sat, enjoying (I hope) the early morning sunrise and, what I surmise to be, one of his favorite things to do.
Either that, or he’d had a bad falling out with his wife and sittin’ on the dock of the bay–cold or not–seemed like the better place to be.
“Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch ’em roll away again, yeah….”
(recorded by the late Otis Redding)
How is it, how does it happen?
How do you go from having your hand held before you cross the street. Having someone check under your bed (for the monster). Having someone cut the crusts off your sandwich. To being the one who holds the hand. The one who checks for monsters. The one who cuts the crusts.
When glancing in your review mirror, you realize he has been following you…most of the night…because you’re 16, and you’ve only had your driver’s license for a couple of weeks. (Smile). He stays safely behind you, he thinks, just out of sight. Still watching out for monsters.
In what seems like the blink of an eye, those we love stand before us. And then are no longer standing.
Even more amazing, you suddenly realize its been well over a decade since they left. It feels like they are fading at times. You can’t picture them anymore. And like the child you were, and the child you still are, you need them to look for the monster under the bed. Just once in awhile.
There are days when I can still feel his large, rough, hardworking hands, guiding my little, little fingers in just-warm-enough, soapy water as we washed up before dinner. I can still feel his love.
I miss you, dad.