The Dogs Have Their Day

One of my favorite things about Alabama so far is Tuskegee National Forest. I am sort of a lazy hiker, meaning I like to be outdoors and in the woods, and I enjoy admiring trees and rocks and animals and streams and the amazing feeling of relaxation this brings me. But I don’t like to work too hard for it. I am seriously appreciating the fact that I can go hike at Tuskegee and have a nice little workout but not feel like I’m going to die, because while the trails are not completely flat, they are also not that strenuous. And, as I have mentioned before, living in the river region of the state means there’s always some good water to visit at the end of the trail, and the prospect of water keeps me moving and motivated.

A couple days ago, I went with a friend and our dogs to the woods for a hike. Her dog, Delilah, and Birdy get along very well together, and we try to let them play a lot. They have similar personalities, although Lilah is still a puppy and more energetic. But Bird has her energetic moments still, even in her middle age. They seem to be a good influence on each other.

So we grabbed some subs and headed out to Macon County for a nice hike that ended at a little secret beach by a creek that she visits frequently. The beach is mainly pebbles, but there is a small sandy spot where we spread our blanket, cranked up the Bob Marley, and ate lunch. We spent a few hours out there letting the dogs run around to their hearts’ content, getting all sandy and nasty. The creek was pretty low because we haven’t had much rain lately, but it was still deep enough in places for the dogs to pretty much submerge themselves. They would alternate soaking, running, and wallowing in dirt. Then, rinse and repeat. We hung out in the creek for a while, where we could walk rock-clay flats in between clear ankle deep water, gently streaming and gurgling.

In the afternoon, it began to thunder, so we checked the weather on her phone (oh, technology!) to discover a severe thunderstorm warning for pretty much right where we were sitting. She was ambivalent about leaving just because of a little rain, but I figured based on where the storm was, we’d probably have just enough time to hike back to the car before the rain started if we left right then. So, we did that, and enjoyed a wonderful, dark, cool, thundery hike back. I love being in the woods just before it storms. We lost a little time when the girls wandered out of eye-shot and we had to wait for them to find their way back to us. But we made it back to the car with just enough time to change back into flip flops before the rain started. It stormed on us all the way back to Auburn and a good while after, but thankfully no tornadoes or even warnings.

We stopped on the way home at the dog wash place, which still didn’t remove all the sand from Birdy’s coat but helped a lot. She was very excited to receive a bag full of organic peanut butter kiss treats after her bath, which she hates. She stood as immobile in the tub as possible while I tried to manhandle her 75 pounds around in it and glared at me angrily when I sprayed her face with water. There was absolutely no way she was coming back into the house coated in creek sand. And it probably washed off some ticks and other gross things as well.

I remarked to my friend on the way home that being in the woods/hiking/relaxing by the water makes me feel the same as if I had just had a massage. Two days later, Birdy (a.k.a. OLD LADY) is just now recovering her energy and for the last 24 hours has not moved from one of two spots in the apartment like she has never been more exhausted in her life. It’s days like that which reinforce my belief that Birdy and I were just meant for each other. I spend a lot of time thinking about making my dog happy, and when we are in the woods, and she gets tired of running and exploring, she will lay down near me so that she is touching me with some part of her body just slightly, and we’ll just look at each other contentedly, silently understanding that this is a good life we have; that we are lucky to have each other. Lucky to be friends.

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Time to Move All Our Bad Habits Outside

I feel like I’ve really been neglecting my blog lately. I have a lot of updates, but I never remember to blog about stuff anymore. I know hardly anyone reads this anyway, and so it serves as more of a diary with pictures for my own purposes. But even diaries need updating now and then.

1. I got my hair cut! For normal people, this is not a big deal, but when you are like me, and you don’t pay attention to things like hair, this is huge. I got five inches chopped off and a new style. The new style is nothing major — just sort of an update with a side part and long layers — but I feel like a new person. My standard routine for the past many years has been getting three inches cut off the bottom when it got long enough to get stuck in my armpits. Which is annoying. But I now look like I am actually sort of trying to look hip and decent, which is cool. LOL! To be honest, I look more like I did in high school than I have since 1996. But getting carded regularly for cigarettes at my current unmentionable age has convinced me this is, in fact, awesome. Here is a pic:

2. Camping awesomeness. We went camping a few weeks ago right when it started to be warm and springy, with a group of friends in Tuskegee, which I always try to refer to as “Tuckasegee” until someonei reminds me that’s in North Carolina. Weird random fact: Lionel Richie was born in Tuskegee. I’m not sure what other claims to fame it has except that there is a pretty cool national forest there, and it’s only about 20 minutes from here. Every schoolkid growing up in North Carolina learns that the state has three distinct regions: mountains, piedmont, and coastal. Here in Alabama, there are four or five, and all I know so far is that we live in the river region, although learning more about Alabama geography has definitely been on my to-do list for some time now. Apparently it’s called that because there are a lot of rivers here. If you can imagine that logic. The place we went camping in Tuskegee National Forest was by a river, although I have no idea which one. We went with a group of friends to a secluded spot they love and refer to as “Rock Beach” although it doesn’t officially have a name, and the road you take off the main highway to get close to it has no name either, and you just have to know to look for it in the dip in the four-lane, off to the side. This is my kind of camping. The beach is by one of the lower parts of the river with a wide pebble shore, backed by pine forest for about a mile in between the river and the nearest road. But it’s an easy hike in, with just a few hills and valleys and nothing too strenuous. A good thing, since we were carrying gallons of mojitos in Sprite bottles along with us. It will definitely be a place I go back to repeatedly, especially when it gets so hot this summer. Which reminds me, I need to get the rattlesnake vaccine. And no, I didn’t know there was such a thing either until I moved here and started hanging out with outdoorsy people. Evidently, it is only minimally effective — maybe like 4 out of 10 people bitten still die — but better safe than sorry, right?

“Rock Beach.”

All our tents.

Friends by the camp fire.

3. Birdy discovered she can swim!  There is a pretty awesome city park just down the street from us where I take Birdy to hike around. This park has a small lake, which is home to two very pretty mallard ducks. I have named them Ethel and Frances, because they are always together, and they always appear to be chatting as they skim around the lake side by side. Birdy has always been a big fan of creeks, where she enjoys plopping her belly down and just sitting in the cool water while her tail floats. And she has been to the beach once, where she discovered the joys of running on the sand but was a little frightened and perplexed by the water trying to chase her. But I had never seen her try to swim before, until she spied Ethel and Frances one day in the lake at the park, and plunged in to chase them halfway across it. Alas, even slowpoke ducks are still too fast for Birdy to catch them while swimming. So she ends up trailing about two feet behind them and following them around in figure-eights. They don’t seem to pay much attention to her. On days when we don’t see Ethel and Frances, I throw big sticks in the lake from a little sandy beach. While Bird won’t dive in after the sticks, she will wade in carefully and then swim out to retrieve them for me, sometimes returning with bigger ones than what I tossed in. Evidently this is yet another way she has adopted some of my personality traits.

Birdy with Ethel and Frances.

4. My first Deep South music festival!  Last weekend, we drove about 20 minutes away, out to Waverly (population 184) for the 280 Boogie music festival, an annual event held to commemorate the celebration that occurred when the state decided NOT to send the big highway straight through the middle of a tiny little town. This year was the 11th annual Boogie, and it was well worth the ten bucks we paid to spend the day there. (This was also the first year they’ve ever charged admission, so I heard a lot of hemming and hawing about that from people who had been before.) For ten bucks, we spent a glorious spring day, warm and breezy, sitting on a blanket under enormous black walnut trees, drinking mojitos, eating crawfish and barbecue, and listening to several really good bands while chatting with our friends. I wouldn’t really call it a hippie festival, although there were some people wearing slightly hippie-ish clothing there. It was a pretty good cross-section of the population, I think. All ages, all walks of life. At one point, my friend wandered off in search of lunch, and came back with a new pottery coffee mug for me (I collect them) and Nag Champa soap, which I had been looking for recently without his knowledge. Afterward we headed over to Sean and Kalli’s house for more socializing and a cook-out.

The music stage at the Old 280 Boogie.

Birthdays, Phish, Traveling

I’ve been taking advantage of my recent forced unemployment by traveling a lot — something I love to do but never seem to have time for. It’s lovely not to have an excuse to stay home now. Traveling is one of the things I love most about life, even if it’s not very far away. Lately I’ve been reminded that I haven’t been doing nearly enough of it in a while.

So last week I had a birthday…the 3rd anniversary of my 29th birthday to be exact. Ha! My friend Jeff took me out for a kick-ass Japanese dinner and gave me a beautiful silver initial necklace that I love (it looks like a wax seal), and we watched the new Robin Hood movie with Russell Crowe — one of my favorite stories and kind of Jeff since he had already seen it.

I went back to my hometown for a few days to visit with my family and friends. I got to see my goddaughter for the first time since she came home from the hospital, and she is already looking more like her dad and acting more like her mom. My mom makes me a birthday cake every year, and usually I choose coconut, because she makes the world’s best coconut cakes. This is also my dad’s birthday cake of choice. But this year things were a little rushed so I opted for something easier for my poor mama — a heath bar chocolate sheet cake. It was fabulous. My cousins, grandmother, and aunt came over for pizza and cake, and it was so nice to hang out with them since we only see each other two or three times a year.

This is the first year in history I’ve felt completely ambivalent about my birthday and didn’t even really care about celebrating it at all. I feel so old. I know that’s silly to say. In the grand scheme of things I’m not old, and age is just a number anyway. I suppose I feel a bit down because now that I am “in my thirties” my life is not at all where I imagined it would or should be by now. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But at times I do feel like quite a failure. I have been reminding myself for years that everyone has their own time line, but I still have trouble believing that to the fullest extent rather than feeling like it’s a cop out, or an excuse I’m making for why my life sucks.

But when it comes to maturity, I don’t feel old AT ALL. I have friends who are 10 years younger than me that I completely relate to, and I’m not sure that’s such a good thing, but it is what it is. I feel like there are two distinct sides to me — one that is very mature and wise beyond her years, who is fairly responsible and shit, and another side that is still a kid and just wants to have fun, party, break all the rules and be rebellious and live it up while I am still unencumbered by attachments and responsibilities. Maybe that’s why my mom says people don’t really become adults until they have children. Maybe that’s part of why I don’t want children. LOL. But seriously? When I’m not at least aware of current pop music, I feel like a geezer, and my younger friends keep me in the loop. Pop music is like my crack — I’m so ashamed that I like it but I can’t quit. (Luckily, I listen to lots of “good” music also.) And when I hang out with them, I still have to say, “Wait, who is this?” every five seconds. Anyway, enough about being old.

I’m really excited about this coming weekend because I get to do some more traveling to Charleston with my friend Swampman for Phish! We are only going to one of the two shows because he (fortunately) still has a job to go to on Friday, but Saturday will be amazing with communing with fellow Phans and camping and hiking in Congaree National Park. Swamp and I don’t go anywhere we can’t incorporate a camping/hiking excursion. Also promise a post on that after the fact. With pictures.

World Travel Wednesday: Hanging Lake, Colorado

One of the coolest hikes I’ve ever been on was Hanging Lake/ Spouting Rock in Glenwood Canyon, Colorado. The lake is hidden a thousand feet up in the canyon at about 7,000 ft elevation. Gaining over a thousand feet in such a short distance (2.4 miles round trip) is pretty fun but takes a lot longer than you expect for a short hike.

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The 1.5 acre lake was formed by a geologic fault which caused the lake bed to drop away from the valley floor above. Water flows into the lake over Bridal Veil Falls. The lake edge has built up from dissolved carbonates which are deposited on the shore as the water flows over. The water is super clear and you can see schools of trout swimming 20 feet down.

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World Travel Wednesday: Kanawha State Forest

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Our drive home from Indiana was really long, so as usual we decided to stop for a hike on the way to break it up and stretch. We chose Kanawha State Forest in Charleston, West Virginia, because it was about halfway and was supposed to be close to the interstate. It is only seven miles from I-64, but they are seven of the most twisty-turny, convoluted miles you’ve ever seen, and it probably took at least 20-30 minutes to get all the way there. The route involves several turns on very narrow roads through a residential area, but it is well marked with signage.

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Swamp was leery of the place from the start because he read somewhere that it was very crowded in the summer (people = bad). And as we drove into the park, we passed a lot of what looked like families gathered for picnics or family reunions or something, eating potluck under the long shelters, fishing in a seemingly stagnant pond. We just kept driving until we didn’t see people anymore.

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The trails were not very well marked, and of course it was a Sunday and we didn’t have a park map. As Swamp would say, “Eh, who needs a map?” AHEM. This, from the person who was airlifted out of the wilderness twice. So, we just picked one randomly not knowing if it was long or short, hard or easy. It was not terribly long, but it was also not very easy. It was basically a series of switchbacks straight up the mountain. I couldn’t make it the whole way up. I probably went about three quarters of the way, and then I told Swamp to run to the top and see if there was some awesome overlook or something that I shouldn’t miss. I stood and caught my breath while he ran to the top and ran back to me. “Nah,” he said, bouncing towards me, hopping from rock to rock. “Nothing spectacular. Just the top. No view or anything.”

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So we went back down. As the world’s least athletic person, I was pretty happy with making it even that far on that trail. I love hiking and being out in nature, but I normally prefer hikes of easy-to-moderate difficulty, where I can enjoy the scenery and take some pictures, instead of fighting for breath, unable to focus on the beauty around me. I was able to take some pictures on the lower part of the trail both ways, but not on that ridiculous switchback part, so what you see below doesn’t reflect that. I promise — it was hard!

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If there is a creek/stream/drop of water anywhere around, I will take a picture of it.

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Swamp is checking out some massive hemlocks and commenting on how they are bigger than any he has on his property.

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This is right about where it started to get bad. Although you can’t tell from this picture.

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What is it about trees that is so comforting?

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This is a good example of what Swamp does in the woods. Zoom! Swish! Blur! Incidentally, this is his favorite picture of himself from the entire trip.

Travel Wednesday: Sesqui Park

The trip to Isle of Palms last weekend was a great success. I love the beach, and I could write about it all day every day on my blog. And I will probably have many more opportunities to do so, because it’s the one place I visit most often on vacation. We had a wonderful time seeing the Acoustic Syndicate show, hanging out on the beach, playing music, and having board game tourneys. In an effort to make our trip last as long as possible, I decided to get up at dawn and watch the sunrise on the beach. We started the five-hour drive immediately afterwards, so we could stop at Sesqui Park in Columbia to hike for a couple hours.

The official name is Sesquicentennial State Park. Like most of the terrain in South Carolina, it is pretty flat, and there are a ton of pine trees. But there’s a really nice 2 mile loop that circles through the woods and marsh around a 3o-acre manmade lake. A very relaxing way to break up a five-hour drive, stretch your legs, and work up an appetite. There are a few other trails too, including a mountain bike trail. There is a camping area, a 2-acre fenced dog park, picnic shelters, paddle boats, canoes…this would be a nice place to spend a weekend.

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World Travel Wednesday: The Elderly Coati

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A few years ago, I was hiking in the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil with my friend, Swamp. We were a few miles in, enjoying the sounds of howler monkeys, macaws, and countless insects chirping. We’d been on the lookout for interesting wildlife. Swamp was dying to see a sloth or a jaguar. I was hoping if we did, it would be at a good distance and would not notice us. We were chatting happily, and Swamp was blissfully machete-ing a path ahead of us, when suddenly he stopped swinging his blade and said, “Shh! Listen!” I held my breath and listened hard. An animal sound — a slow, repetitive cry of some sort — was steadily moving towards us from some distance away. I whispered, “Jaguar?” Swamp shook his head without turning his eyes away from the sea of green and whispered back, “I don’t think so. Be still.”

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The sound continued for a few minutes, off and on. We could tell it was moving. Sometimes it sounded closer to us than other times. Finally, we heard leaves being tramped across, about twenty feet away. A medium-sized brown animal (about the size of a large dog) with a pointy snout crossed in front of us, holding its long, striped tail vertically. It was still making the repeated cry but not looking in our direction. Once it had passed and disappeared into the trees, I said, “What was that?” Swamp said, “I’m not really sure.” Foolishly, I thought to myself, “We discovered a new species!” Because if it was a species known to man, I figured Swamp would be able to identify it, being something of an expert on tropical ecology.

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We continued on our hike. Swamp went back to machete-ing. When we got back to our lodgings that night, we sat down with an animal encyclopedia and a few candles, trying to indentify the mysterious creature we had seen. As it turns out, we had not discovered a new species at all. We had seen a coati, which is in the racoon family, only much larger. They normally travel in groups, except for the older ones. Since we had seen only one, we figured it must have been elderly, probably male (because they are larger) and possibly on its way back to the troop and crying out to signal the others that there were unidentified creatures in the vicinity.

I’ll never forget encountering a species I didn’t even know existed, in its wild, native habitat. We actually interacted with a wild animal, rather than staring passively at a sad, captive being across a walled moat. It was aware of us, and it let us know that, and it let the group know that, all without being threatening. Three cheers for coexistence.

Crafty Update

I’m excited to report that my first scarf is almost as long as my coffee table now, so it should be done soon! Also, I have a new line of recycled vintage map stationery, made from Appalachian Trail maps, and it has been featured in Etsy’s Travel Gift Guide. First item below.

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