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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Leaves of Three Attacked Me

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While camping last weekend, I got some nasty poison ivy (or something). My friend Swamp’s reaction to that was, “I don’t even remember you touching anything!” I’m pretty sure I must have either picked up the oils from my pants or from Birdy’s fur, since she made every effort to go as deep into the woods as she could without getting lost. As usual, she had a blast soaking her belly in the cool creek water and making her legs go kerplunk in the deeper parts. That dog is never happier than when we go camping.

Anyway, I’ve only had poison ivy one other time, and I must not be terribly allergic, because while this batch has been pretty obnoxious and very itchy and has spread pretty bad, mine is nothing compared to some pictures I’ve seen online. A friend suggested a product called Tecnu, which removes the oils from your skin instead of just briefly addressing the itching issues. I highly recommend it. The one I’m using is like a thin lotion that you rub on and rinse off. After using it just once, my itching has all but disappeared.

Film Fest Friday: The Fox & The Child

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Yes, it’s a kids’ movie. But it is one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen in a long time — almost like a nature documentary with a wonderful story. I don’t often see movies that make me wonder, “How did they film that?” This one did. Plus, I’m a sucker for movies about animals that are done well. (Duma is another good one.)

This is a French film made by the same director as March of the Penguins. But do not fear the subtitles — it’s narrated by Kate Winslet in English, and what little dialogue it contains is imperceptibly dubbed. Wherever this was filmed in France, Italy, and Romania — I want to go there. I felt like I was in a fantasy land for a couple of hours, traipsing through the forest and making animal friends. The pace is slow, but with good reason. March of the Penguins actually put me to sleep, but this one was lovely.

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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Random Poetry

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October

A thick banner of wispy pinkish puff
smeared across the crisp blue-black swath
on a chilly autumn night
where my breath is make-believe smoke
and my footsteps crunch golden parchment
after days of gray haze and lukewarm mist
finally, pinpricks of light
calling: the world is within reach tonight
and the tipped-bowl silver moon
pours out wonder
                                      and hope.

1997

Random Poetry

At Reinbach Falls

Up the mountain we are pulled.
A stream appears through the muddle of trees.
A field glances out between trunks.
I reach outside the funicular
letting my fingers graze damp, cool rock.
We’re entirely surrounded here
by the greens of leaves, stems, trees.

At the top,
I can hear before I see –
the way hearts sometimes know
before heads –
the graceful thundering.
Peering over a stout wooden fence
and across a small ravine,
the falls of Sherlock and Moriarty.
Too high to see the spilling-over point.

Squatting on a rock,
I point for Jackie,
showing her how to watch
for falling water
between tall, waving grasses
and flowers on the hillside.

We hush ourselves and listen
to the thunder.
To the left is a field.
In the field is a house.
Behind the house is a mountain:
solitary
towering
rugged.

This water never freezes.

September 1998

Thoughtful Thursday: Into the Wild

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I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this story in the last week or so since finishing the book, even though I had seen the movie a long time ago. I strongly empathize with Chris McCandless’s need to escape from a society that by and large did not share his values. I wavered for a while, thinking he must have had some sort of psychological detachment issues on top of all that. And I don’t think it was as simple as a rebellious kid being unprepared and stupid.

But I don’t think at this point that he had mental issues. I think he was young and still had some emotional maturing to do — even though he was pretty certain he had it all figured out, as young people tend to do. Towards the end of his life, he finally realizes what the reader sees he was learning all along — true happiness is only real when shared with others. Solitude, in whatever form one prefers, is a temporary, though sometimes very necessary relief.

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A friend of mine used to say that life is all about balance. This thought always appeals to the Libra in me (illustrated by the scales of justice in my sign). It’s how I might describe the way I reason. And it affects my emotions — I am not a fan of “extreme” anything. Temperatures, opinions, volume levels. I think Chris McCandless was on his way to figuring out that idea about balance when he died. I mean, I love camping and hiking and traveling and being somewhat of a bum at times. But I would not give away my life savings or stop speaking to my family and friends in order to commit myself to experiencing those things. That would be…unbalanced.

And his last writings indicate that he did do some growing up in Alaska. The trip may well have been the “ultimate adventure” he needed and wanted in more ways than he thought it might be. It’s unfortunate that a simple mistake prevented him from enjoying that new wisdom in life. But perhaps he learned the lesson he was here to be taught, and he completed his purpose.

Have you read it? What were your thoughts?

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.