Birthday Surprise

I think of you from time to time

Imagine that you’re doin’ fine

Spinnin’ tails and sippin’ wine

Breakin’ hearts and castin’ lines

Playin’ chords to bend an ear

Welcome you, another year…

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Naturific Reflectioning

It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve had a good hike. The last one was 7 miles of fun in the sun. Then I got sick, which really slowed me down. Today I got back into the swing of things with 6 miles on the AT. I’m trying to connect two sections I’ve done recently, and I got pretty close. It felt great to back out there huffing and puffing up a mountain.

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As usual, I spent most of my time watching my step. A little after a mile of walking the outer perimeter of the National Zoological Park Breading Center (eerily like Jurassic Park) I turned a switchback and came upon the above down tree. I had an instant connection and had to stop. Something about the smooth ripple of its trunk struck me. I placed my hand on it as I noticed the thin lines that made up a pattern. I admired the skewed rings of its life and wondered what had caused it to grow so far off from center. I imagined what it may have seen in its lifetime. I felt my breath pumping through my chest. I felt connected to the earth and to myself.

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In that moment of reflection I realized how lucky I am. I am free to grow in which ever direction I please. My happiness is tied only to me and the trees.

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What’s your weapon?

Today we returned to our post Jonas spot on the Appalachian Trail, and, once on top of the mountain, I let the dogs off the leash. That’s right, I gave it a whirl, AND ambitiously attempted to do some yoga. Turner was not having the handstand (see image above). Wow, I have not seen so much joy cross their faces in quite some time. They raced up and back along the trail, rooted around in the brush, and, to my delight, returned to me every time I called them.

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As we turned toward the car I realized that I wasn’t ready to head home yet. It seems the more I hike, the less I want to do anything else. So, we passed the car, and kept traveling. This section of trail was still coated in several inches of snow. With every step I thought of my connection to the earth, to my animals, to others, and to myself. My love for hiking seems to lie in the silence of the wilderness. In the calm, I can pick out an odd sound and recognize something that flashes by my periphery. I can identify things that feel off through my intuition, and know when to head in the opposite direction. And, when I doubt my own intuition I can always observe the behavior of my dogs who always know what’s up, and instinctively have my back.

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I saw a post on Facebook the other day asking women who thru hike if they carry a weapon. So many of them said yes, and referenced a favorite gun. I can’t help but wonder what there is to fear in the woods? Do these women also carry in their everyday lives?  I have only felt scared in the woods once, that being the first time I came across a bear. It has happened since then, and with each occurrence I feel a little less afraid and a little more knowledgable on how to keep a cool head and do the right thing. Which is to say, keep my dogs from dragging me toward a bear and her cubs, while maintaining a safe distance and shrieking in a high pitch like a little girl. Okay, that sounds ridiculous, but really, bears hate little girl screams. I mean, who doesn’t? The only instances I’ve encountered people that cause my hairs to stand on end have been in a concrete environment. Urban, suburban, and sometimes even rural, it matters not. People are some of the most deceptive and untrustworthy animals with which I’ve come in contact. I might argue that this little bit of information is a large part of why I retreat to the woods so often. It’s probably also a big reason as to why many other hikers are out there. I get that there will sometimes be random people out there who will cause me to go the long way around in order to steer clear of them. That happens anywhere. And if I’m not going to carry a gun in my civilized life, I’m certainly not going to start carrying one during my time of meditation. A gun would cause me to feel paranoid, fearful that I will accidentally shoot myself or one of my pups. Fearful that I may harm someone or something else and live to regret it. When I’m afraid my body temperature changes, my attention turns toward the thing causing me tension, my senses become preoccupied. For me the safety in fear comes when those characteristics are brought about by a real threat. If the fear comes from something I am doing, then it is simply a distraction. It could even cause me to appear off to other hikers. So, I will continue to walk this earth in a manner that will cause me to be mindful of peace, to project a sense of calm, and not to disturb my connection with my best defense, my intuition.

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Straight Off of Compton Peak

I am an avid hiker, finding myself on a trail three or more times a week. Until this year, I never thought to track my mileage. To keep myself focused on that goal, I joined in the #52hikechallnge. I’m counting my bigger weekend hikes toward this goal.

This weekend I hiked with a friend to Compton Peak on the AT in the Shenandoah National Park. We went a little beyond the overlook, and, because we have both lost our minds, we set up camp. Somehow we decided we both wanted to try winter camping. Daytime temps in town were forecast for the 40s. Nighttime was to be in the low 30s. We thought those were good temps to get us started. What happens in town is not always what is happening on the Drive. It got very cold and windy that night. It was likely in the teens. I did a lot of hiking back and forth to keep warm, which turned my 3rd hike of 52 from a short 1.5 mile hike into a 5 mile hike. I also did a lot of reflecting. It’s so easy to get lost in thought when social media, television and the distractions of the day to day, aren’t available.

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So I thought and thought, and admired the sunset, and experienced the ground freeze beneath my feet, and we conversed about life, and I thought some more. I felt my body change as the temperature dropped. I went numb, readjusted clothing and position, felt the blood flow return, and got lost in thought again. We poured water into a pot to boil so we could make dinner, and ice crystals instantly formed. It was cold, and it was exciting, and I felt a little bad ass.

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Sleeping was a challenge. There was a tarp below the tent as one barrier, a sleeping pad, and down mummy bag. I climbed into my bag with all of my clothes, socks, coat, gloves and hat. I stayed pretty warm, except for my feet. Oh my god my feet! The tent was vented at the head and foot, and a major draft was coming in at the foot. I didn’t develop frostbite, but the chill made it difficult to get a decent amount of sleep. I awoke off and on throughout the night. The dog offered us some extra warmth, but the poor thing was shivering too. We emerged an hour after sunrise to discover that it hadn’t warmed up all that much. But within an hour the sleeping bags were packed up, we were drinking coffee, and I was feeling toasty.

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We got word from my folks that snow was heading our way, finished packing and headed back down the trail. The snow began as we reached the overlook where this photo was taken. After the featured photo above, I laid down on that rock and, feeling downright warm in my skin, watched the snowfall with an overwhelming feeling of happiness. This park has become my playground, my escape, and my studio for meditation.