Tuesday, August 13, 2019

PA Horse-Shoe Trail: RT 113 to Saint Peters

When I last checked my hiking log I noticed it has been a while since I've done a section of Pennsylania's Horse-Shoe Trail (HST) so with the weather forecast of low humidity and decent temperatures (no stupid heat), I decided to do a one-way thru for Map 2 from RT 113 to Saint Peters where I left off back in 2017. I posted a question on the HST FB page about finding someone to help shuttle me to the start of my hike and very soon had a reply from a HST hiker. I met Suzanne at the upper parking area in Saint Peters and we had a great chat on the way to the trail crossing at RT 113. I'll repay her the favor by providing a shuttle for she and her husband when they come west to try a section of the Mason Dixon Trail!

A bit of wading through high brush in spots but oh! the butterflies!

There's some of road-walking in this section but less now that the trail has been moved to field edges and pasture boundaries across some beautiful farmland. A lot of this was overgrown but long pants, bug spray, and hiking poles (to thrash a path through nettle and thistle) made it doable. I counted eleven species of butterflies in these sections and saw more monarchs than I have anywhere in years.

Eastern Box Turtle 

I helped a Box Turtle across a twisty road where cars seemed suddenly appear and zoom past without any regard for a hiker much less a turtle. I got a few confused, darting glances from drivers as I jogged across the road and slipped around a pasture fence with the scooped-up turtle.  I walked him waaaay across a field and placed him just inside the woody edge far from the road. One less box turtle casualty this year. I really wish people would slow down - everywhere.

HST trail markers are a mix of real horseshoes, posts, and paint blazes

I'd sprayed my legs, socks, and boots with Deep Woods Off in preparation for ticks and mosquitoes, but still pulled two traveling ticks off my pants leg. They didn't look too well, tho' - I really doused my pants with that stuff. What I wasn't prepared for were the hundreds of orb weaver spider webs that, along with their owners (really laid back spiders - they don't bite), I carried on my hat, backpack, hiking poles, clothes, and face (yes, my face). I began using my poles to wave ahead of me and clear webs but I missed a bunch trying to use my poles for actual hiking uphill and that added more webs to my wearable spider silk collection.

Haying season is well underway. 

The HST is about 140 miles long with the north terminus at the AT above Harrisburg to Valley Forge National Park at the southern end but add in a few side trails to visit historic towns and sights, and you can add another 25 miles to the HST section hike adventure. As far as long distance trails go, the HST wasn't designed to serve well as a thru-hike. There just aren't enough places to camp to make it feasible (and legal) but I know a few who have done it. Most have "stealth camped" in parks after dark and been up and gone before the park opens the next day. Not my cup of tea, tho' so I'm happy with day hikes.

Coventry Ice Cream Parlor in Coventry - YUM!

The river has been up with all the rain this season so I found a notice on a trail pole that crossings are at your own risk. Had I been with others I would have considered going down to the river and take a look to see if it was lower than chest high (!!) but a detour was provided, and I was solo, so I took it. More road walking into the sweet little crossroad village of Conventry and LO! the best ice cream parlor and lunch spot! I wandered in thirsty and hungry and had the best sandwich, chips, two sodas and an ice cream. It was exactly what I needed when I needed it. And, as a bonus, the wait staff found my spider web collection to be really interesting and were not at all bothered by it.

Horses had already passed through Warwick County Park section - no spider webs!

The road walk continued through the village and down across French Creek on a road bridge. I found the trail again at one end of Warwick County Park. I've hiked here before and it was just as beautiful as the first time. The old woods roads serve as trails. They are wide and well cared for.  An oriole and redstart sang from the edge of the river just out of sight from the trail. After a few miles the HST comes into the main park area and I was able to refill my water bottle at the bottle station at the park office. I'd only seen one other hiker the whole day so far so it was nice to see lots of people enjoying the day outside.

HST follows an old road in Warwick County Park

Another few miles and I came into the French Creek valley approaching Saint Peters Village. The HST passes through a rich geological area and I slowed way down to admire the diabase creek boulders and outcroppings of sedimentary gravels and sandstone that slant upwards along the carved-out banks. These layered beds are Triassic in origin and not far from here have been found to contain dinosaur trackways. I hiked up a steep rise of frost-shattered talus to find the trail junction with the HST and the blue-blazed side trail that leads into Saint Peters where my car was parked at 15 miles from my start.

Triassic sedimentary beds rise out of French Creek among more recent igneous intrusions - now a boulder field.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

ME Rachel Carson Cottage

Rachel Carson's summer cottage is on Southport Island, Maine. It sits above and behind a steep granite ledge, sheltered from the sun beneath a canopy of birch, maple, and pine. It reminds me of Carson's public persona - courageously on the edge but carefully exposed, partially hidden, semi-private, serene. This July I made the cottage my home for a week when my friend Colleen, a Maryland poet and writer, invited a few close friends - writers and artists - to stay with her here in Maine.  She had been awarded a cottage stay through the Rachel Carson Homestead Association and surprised us all with this amazing invitation. Of course I accepted (!)  and was soon standing in Rachel Carson's kitchen, looking through to family room and out the wide picture windows to Sheepscot Bay.

As I research, walk, and write about environmental pilgrimage, this place I have long had on my list to experience, though I couldn't imagine I would be sleeping in Roger's bedroom for a week! Her adopted son, Roger and his family still own and maintain the place and it is available through family contacts for summer rental. But Colleen's stay was arranged through the Rachel Carson Homestead Association near Pittsburgh and Colleen intended for it to serve as a fellowship among writers and artists. Our one task was to take in the place and its surroundings as Rachel had loved it, to discover its inspirations and memories, and to reflect upon the experience in our own mediums. I took along my sketchbook and a limited set of colored pencils, selected shades of ochre, steel gray, white, and sienna.

Southport Island is just barely connected to the mainland by a small bridge at Boothbay Harbor. There are a few very small towns on the island, just intersections really, general store, library, old cemeteries, and a school. There's a fire house and a town hall. At the southeast end of the island is one of those old grand summer resorts, Newagen Seaside Inn, where you can enjoy a stay in quaint room or in a cottage by the sea. Rachel's ashes were returned to the sea here, off a boulder strewn shore where two Adirondack chairs mark the place where she and her best friend Dorothy would come. This is where they sat for the last time together on Southport, the summer of her last year. Rachel Carson had battled cancer and the insidious side effects of chemo treatments  as she was writing Silent Spring in the early 1960s. Once completed and published on a late summer day she and Dorothy watched a river of monarch butterflies flow over their sitting spot and across the bay on their migration south. She knew she was dying and that she would not be back to enjoy her cottage the following summer. "I shall always remember the monarchs," Rachel wrote in her lovingly written goodbye letter to summer and Dorothy ...

 ....that unhurried westward drift of one small winged form after another, each drawn by some invisible force. We talked a little about their migration, their life history. Did they return? We thought not; for most, at least, this was the closing journey of their lives.

I visited that spot on the rocky knoll overlooking Sheepscot Bay twice during the week. The staff at the front desk showed me the path and even spent a bit of time explaining what the place would have been like in the 1950s. They pulled out post cards, a historical letters binder, and made me copies of everything. The place seemed to speak most clearly to me of her life as a creative, impassioned writer, a soul in love with the natural world, one who could see and hear - as few can - the complex symphony that is the dance of life above and beneath the sea.  I read the letter aloud standing over the memorial plaque set into a granite boulder. As I walked down the path back to the inn Newagen I stopped to watch a lone monarch in a wildflower meadow. 

But it occurred to me this afternoon, remembering, that it had been a happy spectacle, that we had felt no sadness when we spoke of the fact that there would be no return. And rightly — for when any living thing has come to the end of its life cycle we accept that end as natural.
For the Monarch, that cycle is measured in a known span of months. For ourselves, the measure is something else, the span of which we cannot know. But the thought is the same: when that intangible cycle has run its course it is a natural and not unhappy thing that a life comes to an end.
That is what those brightly fluttering bits of life taught me this morning. I found a deep happiness in it — so I hope, may you. Thank you for this morning.

When my housemates had gone out to explore the shops and eateries of Boothbay Harbor I stayed behind and visited Rachel's study. Its wall length desk and built-in bookshelves opens to the deck through a screened door that overlooks the Bay. It is a private space that can only be accessed through her bedroom.  The window at the desk looks out into the Lost Wood, named by she and Dorothy for the long stretch of undeveloped forest that separated their cottages. As I sat sketching at the desk, a lone monarch fluttered past the window. Just one. No river of orange wings, just one "fluttering bit of life."

And isn't really that what we all are? Each of us a small bit of life,  journey-bound to the arc of our days leaving a legacy - like it or not - for our children and grandchildren. Suddenly everything seemed so fragile - I felt a lump rise in my throat and I was nearly in tears. I returned to Roger's room where my sleeping bag lay flat and soft atop the bedspread. I sat on the bed for a few minutes then looked towards the Bay through double screened windows with the wide sill and imagined a small boy arranging his tide pool treasures to dry in the breeze.  A large white hawk levered out of the wind and thumped loudly above me. Did an osprey just land on the roof? I crept out the back porch door  and looked up. Sure enough, there was an osprey looking down - thank you, Rachel. She fluffed up her feathers and shook water from her wet wings.

Environmental pilgrimage is a form of walking devotion on the land and sea. No indulgences required. No prerequisite faith or religion needed.  It asks of the pilgrim "How do I belong to this path? Who am I following? How shall I care for you?" The week in Southport allowed me the luxury of time to wander and think about those questions in relation to my own path and how Carson's work changed the world I was born into with her writing.  Because of Silent Spring I can see hundreds of eagles and osprey every summer on the Chesapeake and Susquehanna. I show them to my grandchildren and tell them the her story, lingering in each telling a little longer about how she lived and worked in her final years. Passion, drive, through the pain and sickness. Never giving up. The work was too important to let cancer stop her.

The cottage was less a destination than deep dive into the solitary life of a writer in her best and last years. The place was full of memories and yet very much alive with us chatty women congregating in the family room at night to share our day's adventures. We wandered on our own through the rooms, down the lane, to the general store, to the Newagen Inn. We wandered alone down to her beach, a small patch of white sand surrounded by a fortress of granite cobble and stone ledge. We agreed to stay out of each other's way but loved coming together after dark to tell of how encountered Rachel on our walks - even in the closet. Colleen found her there by accident, her hand writing in pencil marking how Roger had grown each year on the back of the pine plank door. Roger's writing is there too, marking the height of his own children.

I'll fold this experience somehow into my book-in-progress on environmental pilgrimage. It will take some time, however, to distill the solitary walks and hours alone in the cottage,  Rachel's as spirit, a presence, a butterfly, an osprey. That was my take away, I said during one of our sit-down-talk-it-out sessions late on a stormy night, "she's here in the pinewood of the cottage, sitting on the deck watching birds, tucked into the Adirondack chair at Newagen with tea and her notebook and her best friend at her side." How shall I care for this path?


With the greatest of love for friends, I thank Colleen Webster, writer and poet, and Jeanne Cecil, director of the Rachel Carson Homestead Association, for this once in a lifetime experience. http://rachelcarsonhomestead.org/

The Newagen Seaside Inn gave me wonderful background, a tour of the tea porch, and walked me to the path that led to her favorite sitting place. The desk staff tolerated my back-to-back afternoon visits with friendly smiles and iced tea for my water bottle. https://newagenseasideinn.com/history/

Always Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman, 1952 - 1964, The Story of a Remarkable Friendship. Concord Library, Beacon Press (1996)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

NJ Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

To break up a very long drive home from Prince Edward Island I stopped off at Great Swamp NWR in Morristown, New Jersey, for a good stretch and a few miles of walking.  Had things worked out differently for this glacial lake basin I would have been visiting a New York Port Authority jetport with four 12,000' runways!

Entrance to the Visitor Center. Trail heads are scattered throughout the refuge. 

One of two one-mile-long boardwalks.

I'm glad it's all grasslands, swamp woods, and marshes today but I didn't appreciate how intense the battle had been to save it until I met two Friends of the Great Swamp volunteers at the Visitors Center. I neglected to get their names but was treated to a first-person account of what it took to keep the land out of the hands of the New York Port Authority. Halfway through their recollections, the gentleman behind the information desk looked over at his wife as she was helping a visitor in the gift shop. "You know, there's a movie about all this. It's better to watch it than listening to us go on and on!" (See Notes.) But he hastened to add that the success of this story was made possible because of the wealth and political influence of certain members of the community. This is no David versus Goliath story, he said, it was Goliath versus Goliath. But I was intrigued and knew there was more to the story. I wrote the name of the documentary down in my sketchbook to watch when I got home.

Abundant meadowsweet was fragrant and full of pollinators.

What I needed and wanted at the time was to walk off my stiff body and take in a new (to me) national wildlife refuge. I love the NWR system and want to see and explore as many of these "blue goose" gems as I can. So I set out to do a three mile walk on just a few of the trails available and promised myself a return trip to walk the rest in the fall.

Another boardwalk. All lead to blinds over wet meadows and marsh. 

From the Visitor Center several trailheads are just a few miles drive or bike away and I was soon at the parking area for the popular boardwalk trails.The air was heavy but also wonderfully saturated with the distinct aroma of acres of Meadowsweet (Spirea latifolia) in full summer bloom. The open glades were loaded with it. I walked both one-mile-long boardwalks through a collage of wet woods, cattail meadows, and broadleaf marsh and loved the thick perfumed air so much that I forgot about the heat. It was intoxicating.

Song Sparrow  plucks supper from the  grasses.
A Great Blue Heron squawked from somewhere deep inside this Cattail marsh. 

I tried to imagine the place as a runway but was distracted by two large snappers nudging slowly through a watery meadow of Broad-Leaved Arrowhead. I quickly forgot about tarmac and focused on just how graceful the big turtles were and, despite their size, how they maneuvered silently and deftly through the stems. Every now and then a stand of leaves would bend and twitch as a snapper slid by, its mossy shell barely covered with water while a large powerful head would rise slowly for a look-see. Swamps are incredibly complex ecosystems and every living thing, whether plant or animal, muck or tree, plays an important role in how the wetlands function.

Blue Dasher, female.

As I learned later, the story of how the Great Swamp was saved makes for a good case study that highlights what powerful influences can achieve when natural places they value are threatened. But it also revealed how complex the human efforts were to make the area a national wildlife refuge. Stakeholders represented a wide cross-section of local residents and local-to-national organizations. Housewives and farmers played important roles. Over 450 towns and 60 non-profits banded together to save the swamp. Scientists, naturalists, and conservationists from around the state came together to support the effort. And it took a lot of community activism and political savvy. The whole history makes a good case study for one of the earliest efforts in community-based conservation before CBC was even a thing.

Great Blue Skimmer

With two miles completed just following the boardwalks, I needed to add another mile so I walked from the parking area down the road to a road bridge and back. All along the road I heard the booming calls of bull frogs until, when I came to open water that came nearly to the edge of the road, the sound was intense. I believe they were alerting to oncoming thunderstorms as air pressure changed and high clouds stacked up overhead. I looked up and down the road, through the thick wet woods, and out across the marshes and remembered what the docent had said, quoting a line from the film. "The Great Marsh may have been saved but it is not safe."

Button Bush.

There are innumerable challenges and risks associated with surrounding land use changes as well as changing weather patterns. The oncoming storm could drop many inches of rainfall in a short time, I thought, and I could find myself stranded in the low flooded road before the marsh could absorb it all. Frequent heavy summer deluges have become the norm for Mid-Atlantic and I've already had some very close calls with flash flooding at home - while hiking and behind the wheel.  I hurried to get back to the car as the first rolls of thunder shook the ground.  As I slipped behind the wheel, drops of rain, fat and loud, crashed on to the car. It was a quick shower, however, yet full of thunder and wind. Better than the roar of jet engines, I said aloud, as I pulled out into a stream of small frogs hopping from one side of the road to the other which were better than a line of baggage carts on tarmac!

Related image


Plant List for Great Swamp NWR https://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/Region_5/NWRS/North_Zone/Great_Swamp_Complex/Great_Swamp/GSWildflower.pdf

Friends of the Great Swamp https://friendsofgreatswamp.org/site/

Great Swamp Watershed Association https://www.greatswamp.org/

"Saving the Great Swamp: Battle Against the Jetport." Available on Amazon Prime https://www.amazon.com/Saving-Great-Swamp-Battle-Jetport/dp/B07K7ZM5F7 )

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Well Done, Faithful Hound

I haven't been doing a lot of hiking or posting to this blog these past several months due to not wanting to be very far away from my beloved hound, Bug.  A week ago I said my goodbyes to her, holding her long velvety coonhound ears against my face as the hospice vet administered the drugs that would bring her life to a peaceful, pain free end.  Up until her retirement in 2018, Bug had walked and hiked thousands of miles with me. She was one of the best hiking companions I've ever had and I will miss her tremendously.

Goin' hiking!

Thirteen is old for a coonhound and I must say that up to the last two-and-a-half months, when illness and age really took a toll, she lived her life full-on, exuberantly and vibrantly. She loved to hike and was as reliable and constant a companion as a person would want. Coonhounds as a breed love trail walking - even running - and nothing is better for finding critters than the ground-scanning nose of a black and tan coonie. Bug was very good at finding turtles! I figure she'd found over a hundred box turtles on our walks over eleven summers and it seemed I could never find one without her.

Puppy Amos in long-distance hike training with Bug, soon to retire in 2018.

After her sister Annie passed in 2016, Bug went into a months-long mourning and though she eventually found her way through, I thought it a good idea to bring a coonhound puppy into the house to keep her company and re-establish her pack. Coonhounds are famously social and are decidedly devoted to their packs that are made up of their human family and other dogs (even cats!). Amos fit right in and she loved him immediately. She taught him the protocols of hiking and he's turned out to be a delightful hiking companion. Since the last winter snow in February of 2019, she couldn't do long hikes anymore because of arthritis, so easy two mile up-and-back strolls on the flat River Road along the Susuquehanna was her favorite way to spend a Sunday morning.

Alert for deer on a ten-mile autumn fire road walk, 2016.

So in honor of Bug's extraordinary life hiking the hills, forests, river trails, and mountains of Pennsylvania, here are the Coonhound Rules for Amos. He knows he has big pawprints to fill but he is working hard to do her proud.

  • Always walk to the left and slightly ahead
  • When you smell a tantalizing scent, stop and alert, don't pull or bolt. 
  • Stop every hour and ask for water and a treat, good for both coonie and human.
  • Help pull human up steep rock climbs. 
  • Follow human on steep descents.
  • Celebrate every stream crossing with a good splash.
  • Every now and then, look back at your human and flash a big, wide coonhound grin.
  • Every now and then, let out a super big, bawdy, full-throated holler. It keeps bad things away.
  • Every now and then, just stop and lay down. It forces the human to appreciate surroundings.
  • Never dig holes in or poop on the trail.
  • Be polite to polite dogs. Be polite to polite humans.
  • Warn off aggressive dogs. Warn off sketchy humans.
  • Tree squirrels when off leash. Never pull your human up a tree on leash. It hurts them. 
  • When you get home, enjoy a long nap. 

Rest easy, Bug.  2006 - 2019


Coonhounds make excellent hiking partners, but do require consistent training early to learn trail etiquette. They "read" human companions very well and convey expressions and signals that I feel are the closest to dogs communicating with people that I've seen in any working/hunting breed. They love children and senior folk, are protective without being aggressive (unless required in dangerous situations), and extraordinarily goofy-funny-lovable.  If you want to bring a coonhound companion into your hiking and adventuring life, please consider adopting from the American Black and Tan Coonhound Rescue.  http://www.coonhoundrescue.com/ 

Monday, May 20, 2019

PA Appalachian Trail 10 Mile Honor Hike

I am very lucky to have the Appalachian Trail (AT) a short drive from home, so when word got out via social media that an honor hike was in order I was in. Thru-hiker Ron "Stronghold" Sanchez, a young combat veteran who served three tours in Afghanistan, was murdered on the trail last week by a knife-wielding mentally ill person who had been threatening hikers for weeks in Virginia.  AT enthusiasts - in fact, all long trail hikers - were asked to hike a few miles this past weekend in his memory. I took my two-year old coonhound hiking-partner-in-training ( a work in progress) for a ten mile trek from Whiskey Springs and the terminus of the Mason Dixon Trail towards Pine Grove Furnace State Park.

Boulder garden on the knob near Whiskey Spring. 

Every year I re-read a favorite hiking diary to welcome in the thru-hiker season and this year I chose to read again Earl Shaffer's classic Walking With Spring (1981). I'd already finished the book back in March but packed it anyway into my day pack along with snacks and Amos' collapsible water bowl thinking I would stop somewhere and read some of it to him. He does enjoy being read to!

Starry False Solomon's Seal 

Earl Shaffer a WWII combat veteran and a fellow York Countian was one of the first to thru-hike the AT and to document his walk thoroughly. His goal for the hike in 1948 was to "walk off the war" and seek the healing only a long trail experience can offer.  "Civilization is a sham," he wrote when he neared the summit of Katahdin in Maine six months after starting in Georgia. He wound up thru-hiking the AT several more times and devoted his life to the upkeep and fellowship of the trail by getting deeply involved in the Appalachian Trail Conference and the Keystone Hiking Club.

Ridging running towards Pine Grove Forest.

Shaffer served in the Pacific during WWII, a radar combat specialist with the Army. He and his best friend from York, PA, Walter Winemiller, entered the service together and promised that when they returned they would walk the AT from Georgia to Maine. Walter was killed on Iwo Jima. "Those four and a half years of army service, more than half of it combat areas of the Pacific, without furlough or even rest leave, had left me confused and depressed. Perhaps this trip would be the answer."  Like Earl Shaffer and thousands of other veterans who come home to confusion and the emotional-mental multiplier effect of untreated PTSD, Ron Sanchez also took to the trail to find meaning and direction in his post-war life.

This way to Georgia...

I stopped at our half-way point at a campsite in a nest of ferns to have snack and water while Amos plopped down in all his coonhound glory to take a snooze. I scanned the book for my notes and many highlighted passages. I noticed that Shaffer didn't escape the effects of the war as so much found it everywhere in the people he met and the land he walked. He met fellow veterans who were rangers, fire tower lookouts, shop keepers, and farmers.  One farmer asked if he could talk to his adult son, a shell-shocked survivor of fierce fighting in Italy who could do little more than speak barely above a whisper. He noted the  old battlegrounds where the Cherokee fought the U.S. Army and Civil War sites where thousands died. He wrote about crossing the undeclared war zone of  the Mason Dixon Line and into the landscapes of the French and Indian War and American Revolution. Throughout the book Shaffer connects with others who have suffered war, but instead of bitterness and detachment, finds community, connection, and compassion. This is the trail community to this day.

Swainson's Thrush. 

I met three other hikers out for the honor hike. Two were day hikers from the Army War College in Carlisle, who enjoyed the botany along the trail.  I met a section hiker on her way to Pine Grove Furnace for the night's camp. She was walking 20 miles for the weekend and carried a small hand-made pennant with "Stronghold" painted lengthwise, hearts in place of the o's. A combat veteran herself, she talked about her annual "big hikes"  doing sections of the AT until she will have completed it over five years.

The poet's rest. 

 I also met a group of trail poets who had started in Harper's Ferry and were headed to the Pallisades. They were writing about their excursion in a shared journal full of poems and sketches. They'd found a delightful place to rest in a bear hug of boulders. They loved Amos and spoke quietly of what had happened in Virginia while one of them sketched him. "The AT trail community is tight. A loving, moving family of hikers all out here for their own reasons, but always safe and supported by each other," one of the poet-hikers said. Violence is very rare on the AT so the attacks and Ron's killing had shaken these women - as it had the entire AT community. They read a few poems that included Ron and the sense of violation they felt - a kind of emotional disarray.

Pink Lady Slippers

Ron Sanchez had discovered that long distance hiking was key to his recovery and for making sense of life after service. As I came across birds and flowers and spectacular rock formations I was sad that these were some of the things Stronghold would never experience in my home state.  Thrush song, some of the most beautiful Appalachian bird music, filled the forest. In the distance someone was running his coonhounds and their baying caught Amos' attention. 

Amos listens to coonhounds baying on a run.

As I stopped to read aloud again from Walking With Spring  a chorus of birdsong rose around me and a light breeze buffeted the canopy overhead. Chestnut oak leaves rattled and maples swooned. A light shower passed over but not a drop made it the ground, intercepted by the forest. Two section hikers came by and petted Amos. "Where are you headed?" I asked. "To the Delaware Water Gap, maybe in a week's time," one hiker answered while the other snuggled into Amos' ears. "Then we head back to Andrews Base until next year when we'll go from the Gap to the Whites." Andrews Air Force Base is in Southern Maryland and they had the look of military men.

Rock gardens of quartzite and lichen in the misty green light of late spring. 

The Appalachian Trail has produced its own genre of travel-adventure writing and nearly all of it pertains to the trail as a path for finding answers or healing. On my shelves at home I have all the AT classics from Grandma Gatewood's Walk to Becoming Odyssa and all are inspirational. I wondered about all the untold stories of finding purpose, redemption, healing, or transformation that the AT keeps to itself for the trail really is a parable of life, full of difficulties and hard choices, that most of us don't know another is dealing with.

Finishing with a bridge over Whiskey Springs!

When I returned home and posted my honor walk to our women's AT hiking Facebook page I was one among hundreds doing so. Other social media sites dedicated to the AT were full of honor walk pictures and the hashtag #ATSTRONGHOLD in remembrance. It was a great day for a hike with thousands of others around the country doing the same in honor of a hero.

Whiskey Springs to the Carlisle Road, 10 mile out-and-back.  


Earl Shaffer. Walking With Spring. (First Edition, Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  June, 2004). Fourth reprinting in paperback.

Katherine Miles of Outside Online featured this beautiful bio of Ron Sanchez:

Thursday, April 25, 2019

MD Deal Island at High Tide, Somerset County

Deal Island Wildlife Management Area was our destination for what was planned as a ten-plus mile 2019 Trail Challenge hike in Somerset County, MD.  High water, however, prevented us from making the circuit so we did what we could and explored the town and spit of land that is now the community of Wenona. What we lacked in miles hiked we earned back as lessons learned.

Our intended hike, 10 miles...

...our actual hike, 4 mi.

Our intended route was to follow the raised causeway that encircles the fresh water ponds in the main management area but a gated area and an incoming tide pushed higher by strong winds made our trek somewhat uncertain. Since we had young Aiden (8) with us for the day, my sister Laura and I made the safer decision to walk an out-and-back then spend time wandering the towns of Chance and Deal Island afterwards. 

Welcome to Deal Island WMA

Our hike along the raised causeway out into the freshwater impoundment area was shortened when we came upon a gate, locked and chained. The fencing and gate looked rather new and even though I'd researched that the loop was a favorite with hikers, it did end that option. But as I looked ahead I saw that the closed area looked unstable as heavy erosion cut into the causeway with storm damage to a beaten-up plank bridge over a spillway. We backtracked and reconsidered our loop plans. 

Aiden was a little put off by having to turn around at the gated section. 

We checked the tide tables at the boat launch area where we'd parked and saw that high tide was in a few hours - right in the middle of our hike time.  We looked at the elevation of the causeway and decided an out-and-back to an earlier parking area at the woods edge would make for a safer walk and calculated a 4 mile saunter might be the better choice for hiking with young Aiden anyway. 

"Nuisance flooding." 

The marshes were filled with birds which made all three of us very happy. Laura and I are birders and were calling species left and right to add to our day list while Aiden, who carried the field guide, was learning to help identify species. Herons, terns, wading birds, ducks, sandpipers and cormorants kept Aiden busy and excited. I can't think of a better thing to do with an outdoors kid than teach them how to use a field guide and take them into the field to practice. He saw many Forster's Terns knowing to look for the forked tail, black tipped bill, and leg color that he was rightfully proud of the fact that ' I don't need the book for Forster's anymore!" 

Dunlins nap in the marsh as a Great Egret, in full breeding plumage and bright green cere, looks on. 

Forster's Tern.

I was reminded of my own first experiences with birding when my grandmother, an ardent birder with a passion for songbirds, gave me my first field guide, A Golden Guide to the Birds. She helped me match what I saw on our feeders and later, while gardening in our big veg patch at the bottom of the hill, we would lie on our backs and watch the vultures and hawks. I was about six. All through the years I would write her (she moved to live with my aunt in St. Louis) with notes on what I'd seen and included small illustrations. By college I had acquired a Peterson's Guide and a heavy pair of binoculars - nothing like the compact pair of Pentax binos I carry now.  Birding enriched our relationship and it was the bedrock of my interests in natural history. She was a wonderful mentor is so many ways.

Learning the finer points of Tern ID

Our hike ended at peak high tide and we drove off the refuge and into town on roads several inches deep with water.  It was a sobering look at the effects of rising sea levels and sinking land on this small waterfront community. Many high tides now reach well into the town of Deal Island and regularly flood roads and yards, graveyards and farm fields. Called nuisance flooding, this is becoming the norm for lower shore towns and agricultural areas. Regular episodes of salt water intrusion can destroy cropland and kill forests. We saw vast expanses of ghost forest, dead or dying in the midst of marsh or open water.

Aiden's first positive ID - Boat-Tailed Grackle.

Greater Yellow Legs.

The juxtaposition of fresh water habitats to salt water habitats was startling. Though a few species may be able to relocate on their own - birds, larger mammals, and some aquatic turtles - fresh water habitats are built upon the foundation of plant communities that cannot tolerate salt-intruded groundwater and soils. We had our lunch near a beautiful freshwater pond complete with painted turtles and singing frogs protected from salt marsh only by a thin spit of land and shrubby trees. I wondered how much longer this pond will be here. Here we added Northern Water Snake and Painted Turtle to our list and Amos the Coonhound swallowed half-a-turtle, the remains of a fresh kill by owl or osprey before I could say "No!"  Yum.

Northern Water Snake

The Lower Eastern Shore is on the front lines of climate change in Maryland but add two more factors -  subsiding land and thermal expansion of warm water - and you have a complicated multi-factor problem that has no solution except to abandon the land. There's nothing we can do about the geological process of subsidence but warmer waters and rising seas are on us. Everything is transforming and the final phase is open water.

Death of a marsh - conversion to open water. 

Ghost forests, killed by salt water flooding.

Though we didn't reach our ten mile goal for this hike, we measured our distance by how far we came to see firsthand the reality of climate change on this land. Our hike and our drive were both affected by nuisance flooding and sure, maybe we should have checked the tide charts before heading out, but we would have missed the real lesson for our trail challenge this year  which is to to learn about each of the counties through the lens of travel on foot. Our simple goal of walking ten miles was impossible thus we witnessed first hand the drowning forests, abandoned homes, marshes converting to open water. Low mileage for today equaled high awareness of what tomorrow will bring.

Fresh water pond surrounded by salt water marshes 


Here's an online multi-media article on Deal Island in Somerset County, MD, and the challenges it faces with rising seas, followed by a film on Dorchester County, MD, further up the bay coast where my sister lives. Both are excellent but depressing.

How To Save a Sinking Island -    https://www.nbcnews.com/specials/deal-island

High Tide in Dorchester  - https://vimeo.com/262556485