Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Query

This is a different post for me this week. I usually write about some of the cool places I've visited during the week or write about natural and human history entwined. But not today. I am grounded from hiking due to a little health issue, no big deal, just disappointed I can't leave the house. It is International Peace Day and a big Climate March is happening all around the world. Aside from watching Twitter and Facebook to see what everyone else is doing to participate in one or both, I settled in for weeding the garden. Some thinking time, some praying time. It's been a different week.

I was called to do jury duty this week and appeared at the courthouse to join a line of 155 people waiting with summons in hand at the candidate intake room. A staff person came out and said "This will not be the usual process. We ask for your patience. You will be be here until you are invited to leave." By noon I had filled out two interview sheets (name, date, vital info) and a 37 page questionnaire. The first question asked if I had any religious beliefs that would prevent me from deciding in a death penalty case. I was aware of the rest of the room, everyone opening their packets at their tables and getting to the first page at about the same time as me. Some people gasped. The court officer asked for silence. I felt like a fish in a big school of bigger fish in a small dying pond, trying to come to the surface to breathe air. I responded to every question truthfully and thoughtfully, though some people simply dashed off quick answers so they could get in line for the initial interview, in hopes of getting dismissed. I finished near the end of the time allowed - two hours. And turned in my packet. I was directed to a room. I was asked not to share anymore information about the case, and I won't do so here. But the interview was serious, and the team read every response I had given in my packet, even reading aloud so the others could listen. I sat and waited while they read. 

Finally the judge put down my packet and looked at the team. Then back at me. "How many grandchildren do you have?" he asked. I answered. He asked "Why, if you are really a Quaker, did you serve in law enforcement? You carried a gun? You could have killed someone with it. And yet you claim nonviolence." I answered that I believed my role was to protect and defend - that to our natural resources and the laws that protect all living things, including people - was my service." He looked down, back at the team, then back at me. "Could you serve on this case and make the decision to sentence a man to death?" I answered, truthfully, and thoughtfully - as I had in the questionnaire - that I could not.  He nodded. Then sent me out to join a group that had been asked back in a few days.  There were about twenty five people in the room. I don't know if there were other groups, or where the other 125 people went.

I was told that I will have an opportunity to petition during final selections.  But why was I placed here?  Was it because I don't watch TV and have had no media influence or familiarity with the story? Or was it my long-ish response to the question about  bearing witness to gun violence? Or just that I took the time to think about every answer I gave? In any case, I prayed while weeding the garden this morning. 

I prayed for the family of the victim. I prayed for the victim. I prayed for the killer. I prayed for the family of the killer. I prayed for the attorneys and the judge. I prayed for the jury, whomever they might be.  I prayed I would find clarity to engage the team honestly this week. I was so focused on my thoughts that I didn't even feel the thorn that ripped my finger open. I was back in the house before I realized I'd left a blood trail. There was blood on my pants, drops on my boot, across on the porch, in the kitchen. In a way, I thought as I cleaned up the trail of blood and washed the wound, we all sit on a jury, we are all the accused, we are all the victims.

Today people are marching in NYC and in cities all over the world to bring attention to the state of our our planet. We are all complicit in its dying. As a human society we've made the decision to condemn it to death through our greed, our ignorance, and our apathy. What if everyone on the planet had to think about this decision as seriously as a Quaker being asked to serve in a capital murder case? Would there even be a death sentence for the planet if we could all just think and pray deeply about our next steps? Surely the planet has done nothing but give us its incredible bounty whenever and wherever we seek it: food, air to breath, fish from the seas, water to drink, raw resources to make our things, forests to build our shelters, stone to build our roads and churches. But we've been slowly (well not so slowly now, with accelerated effects of climate change on our doorstep) marking time as we march down a road that has no return. We can only go forward. 

Earth has been sending us plenty of signals that something is not right, for quite some time. Like a small child raised in a family of violence who knows no other way forward in life than to lash out, argue, beat his own children, and commit the most severe of all acts upon them - to maim and kill, we have been oblivious to the the planet's cries, and now its shouts, that something needs to stop. We all need to stop and look at the insane world we've inherited from our parents, from society, and consider the world we leave our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. We do violence to our home, to the mother that feeds us and cares for us, and she cries for the abuse to end. What message will we send home to her from our own prisons of selfishness? Will we ask forgiveness? Will we ask her to stop crying? Will we assure her that we'll work on making it better. It won't be easy. And we can't go back.

Photo by Coreen Evans Weilminster

When I had finished with my interview, I was shown to a smaller room where I was the last of twenty five people who had been asked to wait for further instructions. My attention was drawn to a woman sitting in the corner by a window where the shades were permanently drawn. No one could see in and no one could see out, just a sunny glow of light filtering into the room.  Her head was bowed and her lips were moving as if in prayer. Everyone was still and quiet. 

The judge came in and asked if we had any questions. The woman looked up and said "I will serve if asked, and do the best I can, but  we will have the opportunity to petition our inclusion in this case, is that correct?" He sat on the corner of a table and bowed his head. "Yes, as I said in the interview. You will have the opportunity next week to petition before final jury selection is made. We do not take this lightly. This is as serious as it gets and we want you to know we will honor your petition." He looked straight at me then back at her. "I know there are a few of you who would like that opportunity and we will honor it." 

Over the summer my granddaughter and I went storm chasing. It was her first chase and we ended up in the parking lot of a nearby grocery store along with others who had been following an enormous storm front blasting through our area. The storm was wild. It spawned a tornado five miles to the east, but here in the lashing rain and tearing winds, in the safety of the car, we laughed and cheered for bolts of lightening and the great enormous wall cloud that rose before our eyes. "Oh Grandmom! This is great! This is so great!" she exclaimed. Afterward an arc of brilliant color and light blazed across the sky. Onlookers in their cars, like us, were out snapping pictures and enjoying the gentle wash of showers that followed the storm. The storm in its fury and beauty made us pay attention, open our eyes, and consider it's potential. People rushing in and out of the grocery store stopped and gawked. Fellow storm chasers applauded the sky as if a great performance had just ended - and well it had. My granddaughter, caught up in the excitement jumped and hopped, clapped her hands with the crowd. 

I want my children, all grown up now, and my growing flock of grandchildren, to have many more experiences like this and that they remember our hikes, canoe trips, birdwatching and whale watching expeditions, star watching, mountain climbing, and storm chasing with a growing sense of commitment to protecting and sharing the natural world with their own children and grandchildren. But what will it take to make sure this can happen for them?  How often are we asked to think deeply, even pray, about our next steps as stewards, protectors, grandmothers and grandfathers, and citizens? How often are we asked to love what sometimes cannot be loved by everyone? That is the hard part. We aren't asked very often, and sometimes we miss the invitation to do so.

How can we love a storm, even after it has caused damage, sometimes so severe as to have caused us harm? Surely we love it for the message of power and fury it carries, but too, for the opportunity it give us to clean up, make things right again, and to grieve, if grieving is necessary, for things lost or destroyed. Learning the way of peace is so much harder than the way of war. Anger is easy. Seeing through the anger on our way to love is the hardest journey we will take. We have been messaged throughout our time here on Earth to choose love. The turn of seasons, the beauty of the sea, a child's laughter, the glint of sunlight in the eye of a bird, the longing for acceptance in the eyes of an outcast, even - and I am not reading into this too deeply - in the bow of a judge's head. 

In the tradition of the query, I ask myself in what ways do I petition for love, above all else? Can I petition for the life of a condemned man as I would for a condemned planet? Will those who march today for peace or  planet be able to, when presented with the most serious of decisions to make, choose love, forgiveness, and compassion over everything else? 

In Peace,

A Friend.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

MD Mason Dixon Trail -Map 6: Havre de Grace MD to Mason Dixon Line

Sunday August 17, 2014: Havre de Grace to Susquehanna State Park, MD, 6 miles

The MDT has taken us through a few funky waterfront towns at the top of the Chesapeake Bay, and today we started and returned to the funky-French-named town of Havre de Grace, Maryland. Nobody actually speaks French here, but General Lafayette did, and since he helped us win the Revolutionary War, and since he came through here a few times, he got to name the town. The MDT starts in the backyard of the Susquehanna Lockhouse Museum and connects to a set of beautiful community trails that took us north along the west shore of the mighty Susquehanna River.

Lockhouse Museum in Havre de Grace, MD

This was our shortest hike of the series so far. We gave ourselves a recovery hike after slogging 11 miles through Cecil County last time. The weather was cloudy but cool, with little sprinkles of rain and little peeks of sun. We followed the blue blazes up a wall of boulders at the Arundel Quarry boundary only to find ourselves stopped dead in our tracks by a wall - a three story high wall - of briars, tear-thumb, and cane-banks of thorns. With thick sticks we beat down a path, slipping and sliding backwards on the steep embankment. There were no blue blazes to be found anywhere and we hoped that the description on the back of the map was right "shooting range at top' but without the shooters. After a frustrating half hour, we topped out at the gate to the county police range. Closed on Sundays. Good, because I put away that kevlar vest years ago.

Straight up the quarry dump wall into a thicket of thorns.

Lapidum Road leading into the park.

The road walk beyond our climb was  rather pleasant. We crossed over I-95 and rambled down the hill along Lapidum Road into a haze of cool drops hitting the humid air of the river valley. Our stroll ended at the Lapidum landing, now a boat launch, once a thriving riverside town and ferry crossing. We explored the river front, the remains of the canal and the foundations of an old hotel. The clouds broke apart and sunshine squeaked out. I could imagine Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon and their huge surveyors team coming across on the bateaus that served to ferry big wagons, men, draft horses, and oxen teams.

Colonial era ferry across the Susquehanna.

We hiked up the hill to find the MDT, blended with another trail for awhile, and soon skirted down the same hill to Rock Run Mill in the center of Susquehanna State Park. Full disclosure: I worked in this region as a law enforcement ranger so I am really familiar with this park, but it is still one of my favorite state parks as a hiker and kayaker. We visited the old mill still and it still  gives me a little shiver to think it's standing here after hundreds of years, dozens of calamitous floods, and that people still care for it and keep her huge overshot wheel rolling on days they open the millpond gate to run the equipment inside.

Rock Run Mill in Susquehanna State Park.

Trail marker for the MDT in the park.

Sunday September 14, 2014: Rock Run Mill, Susquehanna State Park to Glen Cove Marina

Back to a ten miler, we started at Rock Run Mill where we left off ...ummm... like a long time ago. This past month has been busy and we haven't had a chance to resume our hikes until now. Fall is in the air and temps to start - in the upper 40s, low 50s! It was nice! For this section we did the least amount of road walking so far, keeping mainly to well established and much cared for trail sections. 

Flint furnace along Deer Creek showing 2011 earthquake damage.

Our first stop was on the Deer Creek bridge on Stafford Road. As we left our little road section to pick up the Lower Susquehanna Greenway Trail, we paid the old flint furnace a visit. Here flint , quarried nearby back in the early 1800s, was reduced to a fine material here that was used in porcelain production, some of the finest in the region. The old stack is showing a bad set of cracks, that according to someone who looks at it almost everyday, opened up as a result of the 2011 earthquake. Creepy. But if I were a bat I would think it was the best thing ever.

Sycamore trees starting to show colors!

All the way to Conowingo Dam the trail was wide and getting a little busy with joggers, cyclists, dog walkers, and Sunday morning strollers (the push kind). Hands down the busiest we've seen any section of the MDT thus far. Another short road section up the hill and across Shuresville Road and we were back into the woods. We did not get lost this time because some one really enjoyed making blue blazes.

Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River, at Fisherman's Park.

Clearly they are not releasing water from the dam! Great catfishing!

This trail marker would surely leave an impression if you ran into it with your head.

There's no way you'll loose the trail on this section!

We crossed a very busy Rt. 1 (be careful here!) and entered the thick river hills woods, well-marked with lots of ups and downs through a pleasant oak-hickory forest. We pretty much apologized to every spider we met for whose web we walked through, ate, wore, or inhaled. Back to the spider web sticks! The breezes and river views were lovely and even included the world's largest warning sign and a bomb-shaped scary looking thing. My friend Ken (who served in the Royal Navy) says it is a oropesa, a bomb-shaped scary looking thing that was designed as a mine sweeping float towed behind a minesweeper ship. And it was the third one found since a flood washed them down river (two through the gates of the dam!) this past spring. 

A very nice trail marker at Conowingo.

I think they mean to tell us the gates are open.

Big bomb-shaped scary looking thing washed up in Hopkins Cove.

So there we were pondering the scary thing when Kim asks "I wonder if I can get it home?" She read on her smart phone an article posted by the Cecil Whig concerning the other two floaty things found down river. "What would you do with a mine sweeping float anyway? How would you get it in your van?" I asked, "It's fifteen feet long and several hundred pounds." She was lost in thought, however, no doubt plotting her salvage mission as we climbed over a stile that crossed a live electric fence, then walked next to the live electric fence on roly-poly rocks for about 200 yards trying not to tumble into it. We came out on to a beautiful pasture.

The hills are alive!

I wanted to twirl like Julie Andrews and sing 'The Hills Are Alive!" as we broke into the warm sunshine, our most open section of the trail this day, when - still pondering her great recovery operation - Kim stopped and looked down. "Poop. Big poop."  Now, when you see a big poop and you are inside the electric fence, a few things go through your mind. Practically steaming poop in a bushel-basket-sized-heap could mean a sweet-natured horse just meandered by, or a protective cow strolling with her calf came here to nurse, or a nasty bull is waiting for us just over that crest ready to drive our bodies to mud with two stomps of his enormous hooves. We hoped for the horse. And moved along a little more quickly. I stifled the urge to twirl and sing. Make sure you close the gate behind you and drop the latch, advised the map.

Lava rocks. No really. Lava rocks.

The trail is getting progressively rockier underfoot. Long gone now is the Coastal Plain deposits, pebbly and sandy and soft and flat. Now we were well above the Fall Line at Conowingo where Captain John Smith had to turn back his expedition of the Chesapeake, above the lift of tides where his little boat could go no farther upstream. Now we were hoofing across lava rocks, well into the wickedly folded and metamorphosed river hills. Some of the weathered boulders still showed their ooziness. I picked up a really nice hefty clod of undersea lava and placed it in my pack for the collection at home. This sliver of ridge that runs about two miles from the dam to the north of Peach Bottom (my home) is the remains of a fore-wall of a volcanic island arc caught between the North African plate and the North America plate, a tectonic event that closed the proto-Atlantic Ocean and created Pangea. That rock added about seven pounds to my carry. It is very dense stuff. 

Glen Cove Marina open directly out on to the great lake behind the dam.

We tumbled off the ridge literally into the boat launch at Glen Cove Marina, ten miles north of our start at the mill. The launch is the flooded valley of a river hill ravine, carved over 650 million years by a swift little creek to the drop at the river. Now it is flooded by the dam pond. We snagged some ice cream from the little supply and bait shop there and talked to the owner about our trip. He's a really nice guy and cares very much about the MDT and the hikers on it. He's allowed thru-hikers and long distance paddlers to camp above the launch and has even treated weary travelers pizza and beer. "I love their stories," he said. I was reminded of my own 440-mile paddle trip down the Susquehanna in 1993 and how much I appreciated the river folks allowing me to pitch a tent, even inviting me into their homes for a meal or a beer, and always to tell and listen to river stories.

Kim told the marina owner about the big bomb-shaped scary looking thing and he assured her that it would be better off where it was. "Some guy towed that thing all the way around here one day," he said, "and tried to winch it up on his boat trailer. I asked him what he planned to do with this thing and he said he wanted it for a lawn ornament." I could see Kim was crestfallen. "That sucker must weigh twelve hundred pounds! He couldn't get even part the way up on his trailer. So he towed it back to where you found it."I asked her later what she would have done with it. "Lawn ornament sounds nice."

We aren't quite finished with Map 6 yet as there's still about six miles to go, but we'll save it for the start of Map 5 so that we can make a good 11 mile hike out of crossing the Mason Dixon Line.  Now I wonder how on earth did Charlie and Jeremiah do it? These hills are formidable. But then, so were they.

A bonus for this section - visiting with an old friend who lives near Glen Cove Marina. Hey Bob!


Link to the Susquehanna Lockhouse Museum:

The Cecil Whig reported on two mine sweeper floats down river from where we found this one in Hopkins Cove:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Summer Blues

With school back in session a lot of folks are blue that the lazy, carefree days of summer are over. So with blue as my theme this week, here is a photo essay on summer blues taken from this summer's explorations and travels.

Immature Little Blue Heron

Immature Great Blue Heron

Green Heron (yellow and blue make green)

Blue sky reflected in Horseshoe Pond.

Blue twinkle in a Common Buckeye's eyespots.

Blue-rimmed raindrop in Milkweed Spider's web.

Iridescent blue hindwings of a Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly

New York Ironweed

Scotch Thistle (red and blue make purple)
Blue sky over Peach Bottom, PA

Blue mountains in the distance from the cab of Bear Hill Firetower, VT

Blue blazes of the Mason Dixon Trail

Virginia Bluebells (not exactly summer, but blue!)

Blue-shirted hikers

Blue Damselfly

And our summer moon dream movie to revisit some of the cool places and things we did as a family and group of friends exploring the beautiful places found in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast! What a wonderfully cool summer it has been! Thanks for coming along!