Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Pilgrimage 2018: St. Cuthbert's Way with Cuddy the Eider Duck

Image result for St Cuthbert and animals
St. Cuthbert's Prayer by Kate Leiper

My long walk this year begins August 3 in Carlisle, U.K. with a visit to St. Cuthbert's Church near Hadrian's Wall in Beltingham, Northumbria, England. Then on to Melrose, Scotland, to start the pilgrimage path of 70 miles to Lindisfarne on the North Sea Coast and Holy Island. This long walk is sponsored by a generous fellowship from the Institute of Pilgrimage Studies, College of William and Mary, Virginia. This experience is part of my ongoing research into the ecology of pilgrimage, how environment and nature intersect with the spiritual and religious journey of intent. 
Image result for St Cuthbert and eider
A Wild Bird and A Cultured Man, illustration by Maria Sergunia for the forthcoming book by Alexandra Goryashko (2019).

Walking the newly established path of St. Cuthbert's Way will be a chance to explore northern pastoral landscapes, the edges of the wild sea, and to talk to the people who are the stewards and keepers of the sauntering saint's favorite routes that connected Holy Island at Lindisfarne to the Bishop's Abbey at Melrose. I'm taking an eider duck to keep me company. Really, there's an eider in my backpack...

Cuddy, carved by Mike Lathroum, ready to ride in my pack across Scotland!

Now that the English Reformation Era ban on pilgrimage has been lifted (Summer of 2017) it will be interesting to see how this nearly lost art of the sacred saunter will return to the landscape - who will take it up, when, where? Will we see a new body of poetry, art, and literature come of it? I hope to speak to church folks, wardens, and vicars about how they will welcome and support pilgrims who come through their villages and towns. In a conversation via email, a vicar of one of the Parishes of the Wall, wrote "It is high time we walk again with our beloved saints across this land."


Kate Leipet is one of my favorite illustrators, a Scot of the North Sea Coast, who explores the stuff of northern legend through our love and longing to connect with birds, sea animals, and the wildlings of Scottish mythology.   http://kateleiper.co.uk/

Excellent blog post by Dmitri Lapa for Orthodox Christianity on the story of Cuthbert,  Holy Island,  and the many places that carry his name. http://orthochristian.com/92028.html

St. Cuthbert's Way website for routes and sections. http://www.stcuthbertsway.info/

Parishes By The Wall is an association of churches near Hadrian's Wall (the path my son George and cousin Molly hiked in 2017) that has been very helpful in prior research to Cuthbert's travels along the Roman and Frontier Borderlands region. I look forward to meeting the church warden at St. Cuthbert's in Beltingham where the saint preached during a rest in his travels returning from from the Synod at Whitby as he made his way along Hadrian's Wall to the North Sea Coast. https://parishesbythewall.org.uk/

With deep gratitude to George Greenia and the Institute of Pilgrimage Studies for making this year's long walk possible! https://www.wm.edu/sites/pilgrimage/

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

PA Black Moshannon State Park: Wandering

On a recent professional training visit to State College, PA, I took a few hours before heading home to enjoy one of my favorite PA State Parks. Black Moshannon contains over 3,000 acres of Allegheny Front wetlands and forest.  Once the setting for multiple lumber camps, lumber mills, and a thriving 19th century village the main area of the park in the early 1990s had a large hotel-tavern, dry goods stores, post office, a bowling alley (!) and a school.  Now only the school remains while equally historic CCC structures replace the structures of Antes, a ghost town with only an historical marker to remind us of the busy logging town.  

The lower section of Black Moshannon Lake is marshy and fringed with bog habitat.

When the lumber ran out in the early 20th century (of course, no one ever believed that could be possible in the 19th century) the landscape was littered with the remains of forest and subject to frequent wildfires. I've lived in northern Vermont where the forest history is much the same. The devastation of slash fires, too frequent to allow the forest to recover, kept the landscape deprived of its pioneer growth. Erosion scarred the land and silt built up behind old mill dams. What is now Black Moshannon Lake is the silted-in expanse of mill ponds now covered in shallow freshwater marsh.

Button Bush, Cephalanthus occidentalis

During the 1920s, former Chief of the U.S.Forest Service, Governor of Pennsylvania, Gifford Pinchot tried out a new idea on this and dozens of other deeply damaged landscapes across the Commonwealth.  He and fellow Governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had devised a work-to-restore program that in both states served as the model for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Present camp store was built by CCC and used as a park residence. Built to last!

When FDR became President, he made the CCC one of the premier New Deal programs that brought employment and much needed recovery to both people and the land. Black Moshannon though, was already under restoration thanks to 200 men encamped at the former Beaver Mill lumber logging camp site.  As one of the first official CCC demonstration projects in Pennsylvania those boys had a bit of a head start first fighting fires then replanting the forest. They went on to build park structures and develop the trail system.

A juvenile Eastern Phoebe hanging out in the shade of hemlocks.

I had no destination in mind as I wandered around the park, sampling this trail then another, in all about five miles. I walked a few miles on the Mosse-Hanne Trail, did the Bog Trail coming and going, then did the 1 mile loop on the Sleepy Hollow Trail. I made a mental note that the Allegheny Front Trail, a 40-mile circuit around the park through the state forest might make a great off-season multi-day hike. I checked out the cabins, available year-round for rent. Oy - I need to come back!

A bouquet of carnivorous plants - Pitcher Plant.

The Bog Trail boardwalk was a nice but short excursion into the acid tannin water bog of a side cove and there I observed pitcher plants, lots of flycatchers (Wood Peewee, Phoebe, Kingbird, Great Crested) all diving and zooming around catching winged things.  Hidden from view but startling me on the way out was a Great Blue Heron hunting just beyond the cattails. He didn't go far, however, and stalked along parallel to the boardwalk making short work of fish who thought they were safe beneath the lily pad cover.

Wood Peewee.

Returning to the forest, I wandered down a trail with old plantation pine to one side and thick maple/beech/hemlock woods on the other side. Red-eyed Vireos followed me along above in the maple canopy while Chickadees followed me through the pine woods. My escort kept up until I came to the trail intersection with the Allegheny Front trail when - tempted as I was to go farther - I turned around to head back the way I came. I noticed all the mossy stumps of harvested trees scattered throughout the older forest.

Skid team at Star Mills. 

Lumber camp near Beaver Mill, later the site of a  CCC camp. 

Pine plantation.

I walked a shady lane lined with old cabins and cottages, a car pulled up and a nice lady asked if I was there to lead a group of kids from a summer camp. Now, I had had an experience with another nice lady in State College who, just hours before who - for the life of her - could not figure out my front registration plate as the Scottish national flag. She kept insisting it was a southern confederate flag - a symbol of racism. The nice lady at the park was insistent too, so naturally I was a little leery.  "Certainly you are our tour guide! You are!" I quickened my pace and she rolled along in her car behind me. "Where should we meet you?" Seeing another trail ahead, I politely explained I was there for a few hours hike and that I was sure a park ranger or naturalist would be by soon. She looked defeated. I ran for the trail head. A park ranger did drive up and a busload of LOUD kids invaded the bog trail. No wonder the nice lady was so insistent!

Woods minus the gypsy moth oaks. 

As I fled the scene, I entered another landscape transformed - Sleepy Hollow Trail - where once giant white oaks towered the valley. What was missing, however, were the oaks. The gypsy moth infestation of the mid-century had resulted in a massive salvage harvest of dead oaks in the 1990s.  A new forest of spindly maple and stick-wide hickory is taking their place.  A very nice ranger supervising a trail crew spent some time explaining to me how the loss of the white oak forest has taught him to see the woods in new ways, but he was worried. "The combination of losing our oaks, increasing summer temperatures, intermittent drought, and a longer growing season means we really don't know how to plan for new pests and invasions. If the gypsy moth taught us anything it was to ready for surprises." A few old oaks and giant pines persisted along this trail, however, and they sheltered tiny ecosystems in their root pools, stem hollows, and canopies. 

Mayflower and Partridge Berry in a pine stem hollow.

White oak offering space for a small fern and a carpet of moss. 

Back to my wandering, I tried to focus on the quality of the forest floor. Indian Pipes grew in clumps among the singular leaves of Mayflower and Partridge Berry.  A wounded but open and healing forest enclosed the trail but there was such vibrancy of birdsong and the mosaic of color in the leaf litter,  that when I happened upon a singing brook I looked up and saw such a beautiful glade of young hemlock that it almost took my breath away. The glade and the little brook seemed to hold each other in dappled sunlight, deep shade within a sun-filled forest of new growth.

Indian Pipe.

How can you not think of Gibran?

Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, 
if it finds you worthy, directs your course.
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.

But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:

To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart 
and a song of praise upon your lips.

- Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet (1923)

Black Cohosh, Actaea racemosa.

Kahil Gibran, 20th century Lebanese poet, came to mind as I sat on the shady bank of the small brook. The little stream had a song of its own that I hadn't been aware of while hiking down the path through the cut-over woods. Listening closely, I could make out verses and refrains, music of  water over root and rock so sweet that Gibran's poem came to mind of  "a brook singing its melody to the night."

White Oak stump crowned with moss.

I left the beautiful little glade and passed a final White Oak stump along the trail, crowned in moss like a bird's nest in which acorn caps were nestled along with the brown, thin leaves of black cherry. I stopped by the CCC-era camp store, once a residence and general store. The very sweet staff person at the counter shared her knowledge of the history of the place. She cooked a few hot dogs, one for me and one for herself. I love log cabins from that era, built tight, bright white chinking contrasting with dark stained logs. Just outside was the old school, its bell on a stand in front.  I walked back to the Bog Trail where I had parked along the road lined with tidy cottages.

Bullhead Lily, Nuphar variegatum.

Fragrant Water-Lily, Nymphaea odorata.

Rounding a bend in the road, Black Moshannon Lake came into view spanning the horizon from near to far, blanketed with pond lily and cattail. What great bass habitat - but not so much for fishermen who often grumble at having their lures tangle in the tangle of stems and roots below the surface. There were quite a few Great Blue Herons hunting! Mallards and Canada Geese paddled purposefully through the carpet of round leaves and blossoms, pulling up juicy bits and pieces of stringy roots. Among the white blossoms that were fully opened a riot of bees and flies hummed busily. 

Pond lilies as far as the eye can see!

Yellowneck Caterpillars snacking on blueberry leaves.  


Counted 12 Great Blue Herons for the day, many of them juveniles.

Wandering back to the parking area via the Bog Boardwalk one more time (I walked it three times as I love bogs so much) I met a young herpetologist and his dad enjoying the bog together. He had just seen and photographed a  Smooth Green Snake - a lifer! Hurray! So many Great Blue Herons along the way and a beggar of a Red Squirrel who was convinced I was about to share my trail mix with her. When I didn't I got scolded for being a rude human.

Red Squirrel

Not a very high mileage day, maybe four miles. But I do plan to go back with more than a few hours to spend in this magnificent area. The Allegheny Front highlands area has so much to explore, not to mention several multi-day backpacking trails and the large state forest that surrounds the park. Pennsylvania has a few ghost towns and Antes is one of a dozen lumber town sites marked. The park office has many historic photographs inside - worth a stop in to take a look.


Field Guide to PA Pond Plants http://wcdpa.com/wp-content/uploads/Pond-Field-Guide1.pdf

Black Moshannon DCNR

Friday, June 29, 2018

PA Swatara State Park: Bear Hole Trail - Swatara Rail Trail 11 Mile Circuit

My plans for Sunday were radically altered after hearing a story from a fossil thief.  I decided to make a sleuthing trip to find evidence of his last and riskiest heist attempt. I found it ten miles into this long, humid day hike on my second summer visit to the Blue Mountain Complex in Central PA. Someday this will be heck of a mystery story, I told him. "Just publish it after I'm dead," he said. " I don't want to go to jail in my 80s." What was it? You'll have to wait for the book. In the meantime, enjoy the puppy.

My little pit after an hour digging - one cool little fish impression popped out. 

Swatara State Park is probably best known for a now defunct fossil bank that once existed under the I-81 bridge over Swatara Creek. So much Devonian material was collected here that fossil hunters literally undermined the bridge to the point that it was unsafe for both hunters beneath and heavy trucks above.  A few years later the park tried to make up for closing the site by inviting diggers to a spoils area to dig through dump trucks of road cut material from a nearby construction project. The piles were reduced to bits within the year. Now all that remains of that site is a public digging area where some small but nice marine fossils can be found - with a lot of work and patience.

Old shale beds make for a nice public pit for digging and keeping what you find - but it's steep!

The whole park takes up a long stretch of sedimentary Devonian shales and mudtsone. Newer siltstone and sandstone banks can be found in old railroad cuts on the opposite side of Swatara Creek.  So if you know where and how to look, you can find lots of great stuff in situ but for pictures only. The public dig site is the only place in the park where you can dig and keep what you find. So I went to check out the public pit first and dug maybe an hour with my rock hammer and chisel (wishing I had brought my knee pads!) and found some nice small marine fossils and a fish - a small plated fish about two inches long.

Small plated fish with barbs - no tail. 

Very sharp shards - bring gloves. 

The pit is found along the very beautiful Bear Hole Trail hike/bike trail about a mile from the  Swopes Valley Road parking area. I was the only one in the park it seemed until about ten when folks started showing up with their dogs, bikes, and horses.  I made a quick return trip to the car to put away my digging tools then started out on an eleven mile circuit that combined Bear Hole Trail, a bit of the Appalachian trail, and return on Swatara Rail Trail.

Lock 5 of the old Union Canal.

A short way down the Bear Hole Trail, the Mifflin Trail leads to Lock 5, part of the long defunct Union Canal which was destroyed by a devastating flood in the 1860s. Parts of the canal are still watered but only in ponds and ditches, making for some great frog and turtle habitat. The bullfrogs in Lock 5 were impressively loud. The walls of the old lock are a fern lovers delight. Nature's original idea for a green wall.

Maidenhair Spleenwort growing in the canal wall.

Back on the Bear Hole Trail I spotted some lovely open forest glades that I assumed were old cabin sites since the trail was once a paved road. Most of the cabin-dwelling folks who lived in this area were forced out when the park was being established in the 1970s. These forest openings  are filled with wildflowers, humming with bees and sparkling with dragonflies. Poke Milkweeds were standing tall and seemed just about everywhere.

Poke Milkweed
Bordner Cabin

Several miles later I discovered by accident (I hadn't researched this trip at all so really all of it was a splendid surprise!) the incredible Bordner Cabin. It doesn't appear on the trail map, but I think the best places to explore aren't found on maps anyway.  I wandered in and out, sat on the porch, admired the view from every window, and read about the builder, Armar Bordner, a retired woodshop teacher and his wife, who were granted the only life-lease of all the cabin/cottage dwellers who were forced out. Granted, many of the cabins/cottages were in various states of disrepair and were not as beautiful as this hand-built log cabin, but I always feel a twinge of anger when hearing about displacements and losing home and camps under eminent domain.

View from  Bordner's great room of Aycrigg's Falls.

Armar and his wife, Peg, fought the loss of their cabin home to the state when the new park boundaries were being drawn up. Completed in 1939, Armar and Peg moved in during construction in the mid '30s and lived there for 70 years. When Armar passed away (in the cabin great room, looking up at the falls through the magnificent window) the cabin was adopted by the Boy Scouts then a Friends Group to care for it and keep it in good shape. Bordner, at age 89, gave a lovely interview in 1993 (now archived on You Tube - see Notes below), on his career as a tech ed teacher and how the cabin came to be. As a cabin dweller myself, this place really spoke to me.

Aycrigg's Falls

I could have stayed at the cabin all day but I had to remind myself of my mission - to find evidence of and confirm the fossil hunter's story. I hurried past more open glades of flowers and ferns, remembering that these spaces were once favorite family gathering spaces, hunting camps, or homes.
Nature has reclaimed all of it, but somehow the Bordner Cabin seems so perfect to be where it is.

The creek starts its wide turn to the south and I checked out a few more old locks. A threat of thunderstorms was looming and with the intensifying humidity a chorus of bullfrogs and tree frogs erupted from the watered lock near the intersection with the Appalachian Trail. 

Compare this view with a 2012 visit by fellow long-hiker, "Gone Hikin' " (see Notes below)

Thunder started rolling and the frogs started calling!

I took a quick run down the AT to see the I-83 overpass where fossil diggers undermined the highway. Though I didn't think to take pictures because the thunder of traffic and thunder of an approaching storm kept me moving pretty fast, you can find good views on the "Gone Hikin'" blog post from 2012. You can plainly see how deep the undercut had become and how much cement was poured to shore up the road above! (See Notes below)

Waterville Bridge - a really nice truss bridge! 
I ran back to the bridge. The skies were darkening and I still had six miles to go. The Watervale Iron Bridge - an iconic waypoint for AT hikers - was engulfed in a cool mist rising from the creek. I turned right on to an abandoned road, now the Swatara Rails to Trail path - though there was a solid mile-plus of open road hiking in the humid overcast before the turn on to the old rail bed. If it weren't for the birding and the butterfly watching I would have been more discouraged than I was. I was beginning to think I'd been told a tale, but as soon as I was on the RR path I re-oriented to the directions I was given.

Catbird was scolding me for attempting to pick a berry - "My patch!!"

Exposed formation of sedimentary sandstone tilted vertical.
Northern Pearly-Eye Butterfly
Shade at last!

Bikers zipped past. Lots of tilted seafloor in the RR cuts. I examined pieces of very pretty siltstone that had fallen out of place during freeze-up/thaws. Then some really nice claystone showing ripples and worm burrows. This would have been extremely shallow water, sunlit, and full of filter feeders. I found what I had been told would be there and took lots of pictures. The storms rolled over and the sun was shining again, dappling the forest floor with light and color. I love a good mystery and the Father Brown in me was quite satisfied with the discovery. Onward.

On the old Philadelphia and Reading Line.

When is it appropriate not to share an exciting find in nature? I learned the hard way that publicly posting the location of an uncommon bird species nesting in a neighboring county brought grief to a property owner. I've seen poorly behaved photographers tramp over delicate habitat and disturb animals for "money shots" having learned of exciting finds on social media.

Eva, age 6 months, standing in for the fossil site picture. Cuter than old rocks!

Even though the creature has been long gone and is quite extinct, I feel its important to protect the site, though damaged from the heist attempt in the 1980s, from future harm. I think its important to protect the storyteller too, who confessed his past deeds to me in confidence. He'd read my recent post here about our trip to Penn Dixie Fossil Park in Western New York and wanted to share his excitement for fossil hunting - which happened to include his confession - hence the radical altering of my weekend plans. When I told him the site is still there, just as he described it he said "Well, let's hope its stays that way."  Here - look at this adorable search and rescue puppy-in-training instead. I'll let you know when I write that book.


Armar Bordner's interview on YouTube  https://youtu.be/r-jQBYR3xT4

"Gone Hikin'" did a lot of what I hiked this weekend, except back in 2012. Though it's only been five years, I found her winter shots of some of the same places I stopped to be great comparisons for how the forest and landscape features have changed. The company store at the end of the Swatara Rail Trail, however, is no longer there. It looks to have been burned very recently. I took no pictures. http://gonehikin.blogspot.com/2013/03/swatara-state-park-pa-with-state-game.html

Geology of Swatara State Park

Trail maps are available at the parking area kiosk - there were lots.  Here's the pdf map, too.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

PA Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area

In keeping with this year's theme of searching for Mid-Atlantic big trees and old growth forest, I ventured north to Blue Mountain to visit a relatively new conservation property for Pennsylvania. The land was donated to the Commonwealth by Alexander Boyd (1925-2013) specifically for the as a sanctuary for mature forest. These woods are thick, almost claustrophobic along some of the 12 miles of trails that follow old logging roads and are generally in excellent shape. I took my just-turned-one black and tan coonhound Amos for his first long hike and settled in to explore the conservation area's old roads and foot paths. When the woods are this thick, its good to have a keen scent hound along to discover what might be hiding in plain sight.

Striped Maple, Acer pensylvanicus

The conservation area straddles the ridge of Blue Mountain. With most of its 1,000 acres encompassing the northern flank of the mountain, a good portion of the property folds over the 1,200' ridge and includes the higher elevations of the mountain's southern flank. Hiking on the Janie Trail, which runs the frost-shattered ridge in a single lane footpath, I was able to note the tree and shrub species that preferred southern exposure to northern exposure. On the south-facing ridge were expansive stands of Paw Paw while on the north-facing ridge Striped Maple dominated.

Blue dot = Boyd Big Tree Preserve that straddles the ridge of Blue Mountain, Ridge and Valley Province.

Blue Mountain is a fascinating geological feature that serves as the front of the Appalachian Mountains  in Pennsylvania. It was a formidable barrier to westward expansion. Today, it's best known northeast of here as Kittatinny Mountain where thousands of people flock in the fall to witness the great raptor migrations at Hawk Mountain. Blue Mountain and Peters Mountain to the north form a wonderful canoe-shaped complex that is part of the biologically rich Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province of the Appalachian Mountains. Created during continental collisions, the Appalachians folded and buckled into very high mountains and deep ravine valleys, thrust-faulting  that stacked the highest peaks at over 20,000 feet. Over millions of years of erosion, the gentle folds and dips of the province can only hint at what a dramatic mountainous landscape this must have been.

Frost-shatter talus slopes, a signature of Pennsylvania ridges.

This preserve is named for philanthropist Alexander Boyd, who, while known for the development of many of the neighborhoods in and around Harrisburg, loved the mountain forests that by mid-century in Pennsylvania were approaching maturity once again thanks to robust conservation policies enacted when he was just a boy.  In 1999 he made the decision to donate his land on Blue Mountain to become a conservation area, adding to a long list of philanthropic endeavors for which he sought neither recognition nor award.

Plant impressions in sandstone - a thorny twig.
Sandstone shards found in the wide paths are darkened with fossil plant impressions. Like a scrapbook of old pictures, the shards contain images of veined leaves, tendrils of vines, twigs and seeds - impressions of an old forest long gone. Amos met an old man out for an early walk. He stopped and smiled. "A fine disposition!" he said as he ran his hands down my pup's flanks. He reminisced about coonhound hunting in these mountains when he was a boy. "My daddy hunted with coonhounds and his daddy before him. Coonhounds were all I knew for hunting companions and the retired ones became treasured family pets."  Coonhounds with their very short fur were the perfect for squeezing through "woods so thick that you could barely see where to set your next step." He described these woods as a second growth in his youth and trees that he remembered as young stands of 'doghair' oak are now thinned by natural process to feature the oldest surviving oaks, gnarled and thick.  Amos loved the attention. I loved the stories.

Chipmunk perched on a sandstone slab with a plant impression.

On the the mountain ridge a single-lane footpath replaced the wide gravel paths on the slopes below. Amos sniffed out a garter snake, a million chipmunks, and turkey that laid low until we were practically on top of her. When she exploded out of the thick understory, Amos and I both almost fell backward. His first-ever turkey, he looked at me as if to say "What on earth was that?!" Then he caught scent of something musky and pulled me along the trail. No doubt lots of animals must use this footpath for their own travels. Once out into the heat and glare of a power line right-of-way, he lost interest in the scent and watched instead a pair of hikers picking their way up the rocky trail towards from the valley below. 

Amos with Peter's Mountain to the north, across the canoe-shaped valley.

The right-of-way carved a broad corridor out the forest from mountain to mountain. I scanned the skies for hawks while Amos investigated butterflies. I busted some sandstone and looked for more plant impressions. Another turkey gobbled in the woods beyond. The armature of the old mountains was plain to see: fold and dip, valley, ridge.

Looking south to the Susquehanna and the SW curve of the Appalachians beyond.

As the hikers continued their steady climb towards us, Amos alerted me to a dog that they had on a long lead. They came closer and the dog got bigger and bigger. An Irish wolfhound, the size of a small horse, peered up at Amos from an outcrop still far below us, but he must have given Amos some sense that he was much bigger and planned to be the one in charge when they met up. I could see his raised hackles from there.  My brave four-footed hiking companion circled around behind me and hid.

Tunnel-like single lane footpath of the Janie Trail.

And then they were gone. The two hikers and the big wolfhound must have branched off to one of the lower trails off the northern flank. Amos looked relieved when I told him "it's okay" and we began our descent. I went slowly, watching the right-of-way for animals and the sky for hawks. Amos tasted flowers and chased a cabbage white butterfly. We never did catch up with those hikers and the wolfhound. We re-entered the forest on an old wagon road and into the shade which made Amos very happy. Being a black hound in bright hot sun has its draw-backs on a hot day. As I took a drink of water from my bottle, he fell over and luxuriated on the cool gravel.  He was immeasurably content to lie there and nap.

Smooth and wide gravel bed of an old road make the way for the East Loop Trail.

The gift of old woods is best appreciated sitting still and listening, looking, and breathing in the sweet forest air. While Amos napped I sat down and listened to warblers and thrushes. A towhee called from the leafy forest floor and an ovenbird hopped on and off the road to catch ants and crawling things in the gravel. In the distance I thought I heard drumming. Could it be a grouse? It was too rapid and low-pitched to be a woodpecker. This are the kind of woods that beg for you to sit and stay a while.

Frost-shatter talus slopes hide springs that erupt from the rock into the path.

Beyond the bird song and leaf rustling of the million chipmunks, I made out, just barely, the sound of running water. We were still high up on the flank of the mountain, nowhere near the creek at the bottom. Then I realized that I was hearing springs running beneath the talus. When Amos decided he'd had enough nap, we continued on the road and found numerous springs erupting from the rocky slope. Some stayed at the surface and ran across the road to continue downhill while others burst out into the sun only to run underground again.

Springs appear then disappear back into the talus.

I am so fresh in soul and spirit
that life bubbles around me
in a thousand springs.

- Robert Schumann, composer

Power-napping on cool stone road.

The bubbling springs, birdsong, woodland insect chorus, and my footsteps on the path, combined with Amos' tingling bell and tags sounded together like a complex piece of music. What better excuse to listen to some Schumann? I found a nice orchestral piece by the composer to play from my phone, quietly, as a backdrop to long walk downhill. I can't imagine he was inspired by anything less than an exuberant early summer day in the forest  when he composed his symphony No. 3 "Rhenish" - complete with gurgling springs. The music seemed to bubble up and erupt just as we happened upon another gusher from the frost shattered stones. Great fun!

Squaw Root was everywhere. 

Enchanted Nightshade? 

The trail headed steadily downhill on the old graded road. Where the springs gathered together, small creeks formed tumbling over rocks through old gullies in the woods. Nearest these above-ground streams were the oldest stands of trees, though not ancient by any means. Century-old stands of oak shaded pools of water where I watched a mink scramble up and down, now-you-see-me-now-you-don't on the hunt for frogs. Double-trunk tulip poplars soared over the wet patches where skunk cabbage was beginning to brown and shrivel. End of spring is here as was the end of the long grade.

A double trunk Tulip Poplar towers over patch of wilting skunk cabbage

To end our hike in Boyd's woods, we found the spring-fed pond near the bottom of the preserve. Here a photographer with a big, long lens was taking pictures of blue gill and frogs. A green heron stalked along on the opposite side.  Down plopped Amos. He lolled about in cool grass as I talked to the photographer. Then he was snoring. Tired puppy after seven mountain miles!

Spring-fed pond.

I sat for another Amos nap until it was time to say goodbye to the photographer, then Amos popped up and we headed down the short trail to the parking area. He slept all the way home, listening to Schumann.

Short-grass prairie experimental area, Peter's Mountain to the north, from the parking area. 


DCNR Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area:  BoydBigTreePreserveConservationArea
There is a fine trail map downloadable from the Hiking section on the website, but I found the kiosk at the parking area well stocked with them.