#51 2022 52-Hike Challenge: Enola Low Grade Rail Trail Night Hike: 5 miles
Every river is a character, a living, breathing being. Some say they have spirits or souls. Some say rivers should have rights and be treated as people, as a nation of living things. All I know is that the Susquehanna will let you know who she is and how she wants to be treated. She is a Grandmother, an elder among rivers, one of the oldest rivers on the continent. A survivor of glacial floods, rising mountain ranges, and the insults of industrial man. The best time to meet with her is at night and listen for her advice.
|Susquehanna River at Safe Harbor Dam, 12-30-2022, sunset.|
Ever since the completion of the enormous trestle bridge at Safe Harbor Dam over the mouth of the Conestoga River this year, this section of the 30-mile long Enola Low Grade Rail Trail has become a favorite for night bikes rides and evening strolls. The sunsets can attract crowds and many linger well after last light fades. Looking down at the confluence of these two historic rivers is mesmerizing in the dark. The creature sounds from the islands, eagles, gulls, herons can be heard above the rapids and deep swirling eddy pools below the dam. Clouds of gulls circle the outflow. Eagles sit on boulders in pairs. Courtships have begun.
|Last light of the last sunset of 2022|
I walk with Amos a five mile out and back north from the trestle bridge, past the Peregrine cliff. In a few months she and her mate will be back and the "Warning!" signs will go up again not to stop or stand too long below the eyrie. A few unlucky walkers and bike riders this past year can tell you why. The river above the dam is a solid mass of ice and it pops, groans, and cracks like a rifle. It's here below the scrape of a nest that I send a little prayer of thanks to one of my heroes, Rachel Carson. In her time and to her alarm, many of the great birds of prey found on this river were nearly gone from exposure to toxic chemicals dumped, leached, or leaked into the Susquehanna. Now they are all back, breeding, recovering - Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Osprey.
Dams are still an issue, even as I admire Safe Harbor Dam, an antique yet elegant hydro-plant that stands iconic, even beautiful in the night. I will never forget the hospitality and wonderful evening I spent here with plant staff who held a pizza party in honor of our headwaters-to-mouth paddle to the Chesapeake. We were cold and soaking wet from a downpour that lasted hours. Our two canoes had gallons of water sloshing around in them from the rain. Everything froze on contact. It was late winter, early spring. The river was running hard, wide, fast, ice-filled. The dam minders came and got us at the take-out and drove us in their big truck to the park to pitch our tents under the pavilion. They came back to get us an hour later. "Come get hot showers. We've got pizza, too!" It was the most wonderful night of our month on the river. I say a little prayer of thanks to them, even thirty years on wherever they might be now. I pray, too, that someday the fish will pass by here again. Restore the Shad, Eel, Sturgeon, and all the Fish Nation that for millennia came home to this river from the Atlantic to spawn, I say out loud.
|Safe Harbor Dam|
A line of night riders approaches, blinking white lights from handle bars and steady beams of helmet headlamps twinkling down trail. My headlamp is lit as well and they slow down as they get close. "The best time to be out here!" one calls to me, and I agree! Amos gives them his famous "whisper howl" and wags his tail. We make it to the two-mile marker and turn around to head back to the trestle bridge. Another lone biker comes up from behind and rings her bell. "Enjoy your evening walk! Can you believe how beautiful it is tonight?" she calls as she rolls by. I say a little prayer of thanks to the people who made this trail possible. It has been a blessing to the communities who have benefited from all the new visitors (some who come from far away) who stop for a coffee, lunch, or a B&B, who call for a shuttle (I did four transports this year!), and visit the villages and towns.
|Our distance tonight|
As we come back across the trestle bridge it is almost completely dark except for the light the half moon provides and the last light of the day that tints the western sky. I think about the family and friends we've lost this year and how I wanted so badly to get Poppy up here on the trestle because he loved big views, trains, rivers, but both its immediate inaccessibility (steep stairs from the parking area below) and his rapid decline from Parkinson's this summer made it impossible. He was an avid reader of this blog and loved to look at all the pictures I took after every adventure, every hike, paddle, bike ride. His leaving this year has put a heavy hurt into this family. I say a prayer for him and his family who miss him so much. I say a prayer to all the caregivers of people with Parkinson's. It is truly God's work and there are angels among them.
I stood awhile at the rail of the bridge and asked the river "Where to now?" and waited for an answer. A fox screamed from the hillside. The river is hungry and is making its fast way around boulders and snags caught on gravel banks. The big smooth rocks that hold the petroglyphs shimmer under the moon. The river makes a game of dragging slabs of ice across the gravel edges of the rookery island. The ice screeches and a Bald Eagle cackles. Water domes up from deep currents and the eddyline marks the Conestoga meeting the Susquehanna burbles and sings. "Onward," says the river. "Don't stop moving. Keep going. Make a good song as you go." And strange as it seems, I hear distant voices and people singing and music. I first I think it is coming from a car way down there in the park, but the sound is coming from the islands and there is no light to see by. No fires. No beams of light. Then it fades and is gone.
Goodnight, 2022. I say a prayer for you, dear reader, that 2023 is full of discoveries, laughter, music, and light. May all your endings be new beginnings on new journeys. God bless dogs!
Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again
on an open sky.
has to be
so you can find
the one line
Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out
someone has written
in the ashes of your life.
You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.
- David Whyte, The Journey