Sunday, November 21, 2010

This Turkey Butt’s for You

Probably every child in America has colored in a turkey at some point in their grade school careers. There is something satisfying in smashing a red crayon to that iggly wiggly wattle. The real artistic bravado, though, comes in choosing colors for the tail feathers, taking those oversimplified lines and turning them into the daring display of plumage. But never once did I wonder what was underneath, what was hidden behind the

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Soft Squishy Abdomen Sighted!

I don't know what is cooler, seeing a hermit crab switch shells or knowing that you can see all kinds of amazing private animal moments thanks to sites like YouTube and the fine folks who post incredible footage like this!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Midday Madness

I never saw so many trees growing in pairs. Of course I never looked for them before either.

The clue said “See two trees of similar size with several large rocks behind them. A dead tree lies across one rock…”

Sunday, September 12, 2010

This Is Not A Post

I've maxed out my library card borrowing picture books. That’s how I’m getting my kicks these days. No, I’m not pregnant. I’m thrill-seeking. Parenting is a series of adrenaline rushes, one after another, but it isn’t perfect.

The problem with kids is that they don't last.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Foiled, I Never Get To Suffer: AT Section 5.3

“Would you like a hot cup of tea? It’s no trouble.” Dennis the ridge runner had welcomed me to the Mt Wilcox South Lean-to the evening before. I was about to say no, but before I did he added, “I think I have some Earl Grey.”

That did it. There went my stouthearted plans to drink my tea cold. The ridge runner had found my Achilles heel, Earl Grey. I’d left my stove and tent at home to lighten my load. Here I was, braced for a rugged adventure and I was being spoiled yet again.

This always happens to me. I go out in the woods to suffer, and

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I Love My Toothbrush: AT Section 5 Part 2

Some people will do anything to shave a few ounces of weight from their packs. Myself, I am a light weight, except when it comes to packing. Previously I’ve struggled and failed to leave my packrat tendencies at home. Rickety knees, however, inspired a great leap of faith. A few weeks ago I went hiking without a tent or stove.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Breakin' The Rules - AT Section 5 Part 1

It was August again and I was knocking off another eleven miles on the AT in Massachusetts. I had just enough time to get to the shelter before dark, I hoped.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Rodent King

Strictly speaking, rodent is a neutral term for any member of the order Rodentia. Let's not kid ourselves though, there is a distinct negative connotation. Rodents may simply be mammals whose teeth grow for life but the term brings to mind rats, mice and other vermin. Historically rodents are unpopular for two reasons, peskiness and pestilence.

Until recently I thought of rats as the big rodents and mice as the small ones. Wrong. Apparently beavers are the King of Rodents.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Super Power Time

“If you could have any super power, what would it be?”
It's a good question if you have to do one of those group let's-get-to-know-everyone-real-fast things, though I don’t generally care to sit in a circle of strangers trying to sum myself up with abstract witticisms. Alright, I enjoy it a little bit, if the question is good and something witty comes to mind. In general the super power question is an entertaining one.

For years my answer has been a time machine. I wouldn’t go see Marie Antoinette or Aristotle. I don’t want to change the date or prance through the calendar. I want to stretch the calendar. I want a machine that manufactures time. More time, right here, right now

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Late Breaking News

First you get an idea. The second step is research. (Warning: step two can, and often does, lead to more ideas, putting you right back at step one. It’s a vicious cycle.)

In this case the idea was hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’d been infected with the idea by a thru-hiker who hated brussel sprouts. When, after a day or two, the idea hadn’t evaporated, I sauntered over to the bookshelf and began rummaging about.

A few years back I’d picked up an audio book for a dollar thinking it might come in handy for a boring road trip someday. No such road trip had materialized. I found it, popped it in the stereo, turned up the volume and started washing dishes.

A smooth voice announced, “Bantam, Doubleday Dell Publishing presents, A Walk In The Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson.”

Osmosis being my preferred method for acquiring knowledge, I expected to be a happy camper. I was more than happy.

The first descriptive phrase the author inflicted upon himself, in reference to his life, was “waddlesome sloth.” The second was "cupcake."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Left Behind

"Are you kidding?" I asked frozen in disbelief. No, she wasn't kidding. "Leave No Trace," I’d heard that somewhere before. Through a fog of incredulity I tried to imagine how the phrase might be applied to me.

“Some people even carry out their solid waste."

Shit. Solid waste? “As in, they shit in a bag and carry it out with them?" I asked.

Tara nodded.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Well Marked Trail: AT 4.1

We tumbled out of the car, clicked a picture of ourselves and headed for the wide beaten path. It had been a while, and by golly, we were just happy to be out on the trail again.

“Huh," I told Tara, "they've switched to plastic trail markers." A hundred yards later the trail butted up to a chain link fence running north to south. We pulled our hats over our ears against the mid-October chill and headed north.

“This doesn’t feel right,” said Tara, “there aren't enough trail markers.”

We back-tracked nearly all the way to the parking lot.

“Well there aren’t as many blazes as we’re used to, but the AT marker is plain as day,” I said.

*Note to self, never listen to me.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pink Piss & Mosquito Mystique

I thought I knew it all. Mosquitoes bite. They annoy. They carry disease. In their larval state, they wriggle about in puddles. And the vicious little beasties are found worldwide. Sound about right?

Wrong. As it turns out I knew very little about mosquitoes.

Have you ever seen a mosquito sipping nectar? I thought not. It is, however, the meal of choice for most mosquitoes. Their diet is quite similar to that of the butterfly.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Wild Wandering Efts

There is nothing more American than a little rebellion. In honor of Independence Day, I’m protesting the misuse of the word red.

There seem to be two definitions of red, the standard, “red, white and blue” and the more troubling red as in “red head.” This second use of the word is wrong.

In a wave of patriotic fervor, let’s clean up our language starting with a name change for the Red Eft. Let’s call it like we see it. I hereby declare the salamander formerly known as the Red Eft is now the Explosively Orange Eft.

Whatever you call it, this eft makes an arresting sight on drab rainy moist days in the woods. Neon orange is more than striking against the backdrop of browns, grays and greens of the forest. Even their slow side-winding walk is deliciously alluring. It draws you in, but don’t do it. Don’t kiss the “Red” Eft.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Stay Puff & Other Trail Names

Names are important... even when hiking. On the Appalachian Trail (AT) it’s customary to choose a trail name. Perhaps this is true on other trails as well, but it seems to be especially true on the AT.

Signing into the logbook our first trip, my hiking partner Tara, pen in hand, asked what my trail name was.

"Trail Name?" I asked right back. I had no idea. “I don’t have one. I don’t think I need one,” I said.

Tara gave me a look and convinced me that I did indeed need a trail name. Everyone does you know. In situations like these it is best to cave in to peer pressure. I looked myself up and down. I was dressed head to toe in white (anti-tick regalia) and the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man popped into my head.

"That's awful," Tara said, catching the implied out-of-shape clumsiness and does-not-belong-on-the-trail vibe.

I searched my soul, fished around for other ideas and after very little further deliberation decided to go with it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Mosquito Ghost

I’ve been waiting for this all year and finally it is here – mosquito season! [Insert maniacal laughter here.] I’m not kidding. All winter there has been virtually nothing to struggle against, no adversaries worthy of a good fight. A little cold and snow? Bah! The mosquito, however, lends just the sort of challenge to keep a girl on her toes, to make her feel alive…

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Porcupine Prickly and Red Eft Angry - AT 3:3

I left early, out of spite. Grumpy thoughts clinging hard even in the midst of the beauty and bounty of nature. Six thirty in the morning and I trudged along, stepping over one Red Eft after another, listing my justifications.

Three days running, I’d brought up the rear. In all likelihood I’d be last again today. Getting a head start made sense. They’d all pass me and my lame leg before long anyway; it was only a matter of time.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Vacation, Excuses and Inspiration

Confession: I went on vacation and did not hike. It’s my mother-in-law’s fault. She’s quite a temptress. She dangled free beach front lodgings in front of us. We salivated, nodded and said something nearly as articulate as, “yeah, uh huh, that sounds good.”

So last weekend I found myself on the Cape (that’s Cape Cod for you non-New Englanders). The weather was fantastic and I spent most of my time under a beach umbrella smelling the roses. Their sublime scent was strong enough to carry across the patio on the ocean breeze.

But my vacation was not all sun and roses.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sending Messages - AT Sec 3 Part 2

We were a hiking party of seven. No surprise I soon fell to the back of the line and then a little further back. Lest anyone worry, I sent a message ahead with other hikers. In general fine and friendly folk hike the AT, happy to deliver messages and such.

“If you see a bearded man with a slew of red heads please let them know I’m thoroughly enjoying my dawdling. Tell them I’m fine and will be along eventually.”

The delivered message did not deter my sweet husband from worry.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Doodles Of Loons

Look, there is something wrong with this picture. No it's not just that the loon has no feet. It's that the loon lacks looniness.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Sound of Silence - AT Sect. 3 Part 1

Everyone knows the woods are where you get away from it all but this time my hiking buddy Tara and I were trying something new. We were bringing it all, kids, husbands, the whole shebang.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

To Buy Or Not To Buy

When someone says “hiking” the next word that pops to mind is invariably “shopping.”

For my first hiking trip, I bought long underwear tops and bottoms – bright white. White long underwear was the foundation of my anti-tick defense system. I wasn’t stepping foot into the wilds of New England without them.

Ouch, I could have bought a candle-lit dinner for two for the same price. At least the word Patagonia was embroidered on the waistband. It makes all the difference in the world to ticks.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Red Trillium, Poison Ivy

After leeches and ticks, the scariest thing in the woods is poison ivy. That I’ve never had a case of poison ivy makes no difference. I strip down as soon as I get home from a hike, put everything I’m wearing in the washing machine and get in the shower.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tarrying With Tadpoles

“I love everything about you,” said the caterpillar. “Promise you’ll never change.” ~ from Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis

“It’s Thursday,” I said, “We have to go to the lake."

"Why?" my daughter asked.

"We have to visit the tadpoles I’ve adopted,” I said.

“You’ve adopted them?” She smiled. “That means I have brothers and sisters.”

Even with the promise of amphibian siblings, she was reluctant to hike.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dimension Hopping: AT Section 2 Part 4

We sat on our packs on the sidewalk in a residential neighborhood, squinting at the map, thankful the car had broken down or we'd be trying to hike another 7.5 miles. The fix-it-fairies had given the car a once-over and deposited it in Dalton. We were in Dalton. The car couldn’t be that far away. We just had to find it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

To The Dead Tree Protectorate

Nothing is more fascinating, beautiful or sacred than a dead tree. Think about it. In the forest the death of the tree and its fungi facilitated decay is foundational to the forest and it’s entire ecosystem.

But it’s not just out in the woods that dead trees are important.

This is a special post dedicated to librarians. The gift they give society is immeasurable. Librarians are as foundational to the ecosystem of society as fungi are to the ecosystem of the forest.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wet Feet And Strangers In The Wood

It started with a stranger in the woods. Enraptured by the calls of the red-winged blackbird, the stark wintered-over cattails and the sun shining on the last shards of ice on the pond, I struck up a conversation with a passerby. It must have been my goofy, content-with-the world-and-all-of-nature smile but it was not long before this fellow was saying, “I know where there are some great vernal pools.”

I know, like you haven’t heard that a thousand times.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Easter Skunk Cabbage

At first glance Easter may not seem to have much basis in the natural world. You might think the ritualistic hiding of eggs a completely human construct. You’d be wrong. One only has to see skunk cabbage in early spring to know where this quaint tradition comes from. Mother Nature has been hiding little orbs in the herbaceous basket of the skunk cabbage flower for eons.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Cara Leckenby of One Thousand Days

It’s Freaky Sunday! Today Cara is being Annie and guest-blogging on The Sunday Hiker while Annie is posting on Cara's blog One Thousand Days. We’ll have hiky goodness all around!

Did you know that it takes 10 seconds for a 12 year old to walk all the way around a ridiculously huge Cedar tree? Did you know that in the Pacific Northwest Rainforests, ferns grow on trees and make 200-foot tall oak trees look like they’re crawling with spiders? Did you know that negative ions cause a sense of euphoria, and are used as “therapy” to treat depression, and that negative ions are present at waterfalls (and in cold showers, but who wants to take a cold shower)?

I knew, but had forgotten these things (after years of neglecting…er…denying…my Northwest roots), and was delighted to rediscover them on a meandering dawdle through the woods at the behest of a favorite fellow blogger.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

New Spring Equinox Resolutions

Today is the first day of 2010 in which the hours of day outweigh the hours of dark. You may feel like celebrating.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Blueberry Lust: AT Section 2 Part 3

Like goblins on a full moon feast. Like greedy kids in a candy shop, like starved bears in spring, like a caterpillar puttin’ it on for the cocoon; we would merrily fill our bellies to bursting with blueberries, if we came back. As it was, we were taunted by greenberries and the last of the year’s dainty blooms. In mid-June, the AT in Massachusetts would be heaven. On that last day of May, it was unrequited temptation.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Eat Shit and Live - Beaver

As my high school English teacher, Mr. Simpson used to say, the F-Word is for those who are too lazy to say what they really mean. It's inarticulate. Perhaps that is why "Eat shit and die!" is one of my favorite* epithets. To be used sparingly, uttered only when truly meant. In which case, of course, it should be spat.

I was not thinking of cussing as I crossed the ice to examine a beaver lodge recently, but I was ready to shriek if the ice gave way. I couldn't help but imagine the watery grave awaiting me below the ice, despite the fact that it was more than a foot thick and could probably hold a 2 ton truck. The lodge was a magnificent heap of mud and sticks jutting out of the snow covered ice. Up close it towered several feet overhead.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Mountain of Grace

It was a sunny February day. The guidebook said the 1.5-mile climb from trailhead to summit, “should take about an hour, depending on how many times you pause for a rest.” (This blog post should take 2.5 minutes to read, depending on how many times you start daydreaming). Our three mile hike took four and a half hours, they don’t call me dawdler for nothing!

I can’t take all the credit though. Two external forces helped cool my heels: the snow and the child. Though we didn’t have any of the appropriate accouterments strapped to our feet, I have to give the lion's share of the credit to the kid. Nobody can dawdle like a child.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Elves & Etiquette: AT Section 2 Part 2

We made it! Behind schedule and one car abandoned, but nothing could dampen our good cheer except perhaps two heavy backpacks and one steep incline. We crossed the road and found the sacred white trail blazes. Good-bye parking lot near Lee, MA. We were northward bound. Unlike the moderate beginning of our first expedition, this section was straight up.

I could only regard myself with disbelief. Had I only hours ago been bopping down the highway with a cup of tea and a gleeful smile on my face? What had I been looking forward to? I knew damn well my pack weighed a zillion pounds. What was I thinking? Volunteering for such torture is the definition of stupidity. I adjusted my pack. “It’s too soon to be adjusting the pack,” I told myself, “we haven’t even been hiking for ten minutes.”

I closed my eyes for a second then forced myself to watch only the back of Tara’s heels as she ascended in front of me. I felt the tug of Tara’s car and magnetism to, of all things, a parking lot. I ignored these but only because I am prideful. If Tara wasn’t going to crack in the first quarter mile, neither was I.

I have since come to recognize this as basic Newtonian physics.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Food, Sex & Extreme Single-Tasking

I’ve been thinking about moths nonstop since I fell head over heels for Henrietta. She was, after all, my first American Dagger Moth. Since our short but highly anthropomorphized tryst I’ve been plagued with emotion. I’ve pined, wondered, what-ifed and yes, I’ve even dabbled in jealousy.

Henrietta is pupating right now. Snug in some stump, wrapped in a cocoon of larval hair, silk and leaf bits, she lies in wait for spring. Soon my beloved sunny caterpillar will be a creature of the night.

Somewhere in my childhood I learned that butterflies and moths couldn’t eat. They didn’t even have mouths. They just flew around trying to mate before dying. The search for love before death appealed to my streak of romantic fatalism. Yet I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the poor creatures. What if they got really thirsty before they found their mate? Was their flight through the damp night one of a wanderer in the desert?

I was all for dying in the pursuit of love but the idea of no mouth was unsettling. Not anymore

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Gremlins: Nibbling The AT Section 2 Part 1

Nothing beats setting out on an adventure. It was 8am on a mid-May Saturday and I was headed to the AT for a second dose, Lee to Cheshire MA. It was all part of my master plan to hike the 2,134 mile trail, nibble by nibble. I was unreasonably happy considering the ungodly hour. My cup of tea steamed merrily. Illuminating things were discussed on NPR and I hummed down the road in my old Mercedes, enraptured and smiling, completely unaware of the gremlins.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Blog Spotted

On Thursday January 21st 2010, the Hampshire Gazette ran it's second ever "blog spotter" and highlighted The Sunday Hiker. Thank you Phoebe Mitchell for the excellent synopsis and enthusiastic review! The spotter is so new they don't have it online yet. I've scanned the paper version to post here. Click the image above to enlarge. Enjoy!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Halucinating Hidden Messages

Between hikes I walk. Should I cross paths with anyone, I like to shout out a friendly greeting, “Lovely Weather!” If one is going to have a disposition, it might as well be sunny. Admittedly, I am in general quite generous with the weather. My definition of “lovely” excludes only freezing rain, hail and wind gusts above 45 mph.

Lately I’ve noticed a peculiar phenomenon. If the weather is unexpectedly fair, my exclamation of “lovely weather” is always met with a shake of the head and a statement of regret, “global warming, it’s a shame.”

Unseasonably good weather is bad. Time for self-flatulation, the sun is out. Oops, I meant to spell self-flagellation although perhaps the former would also be an appropriate way to punish ourselves (a good corollary of what the planet is experiencing).

It’s a real dilemma for hikers. The best part of hiking is getting out of doors. But the best part of hiking isn’t always getting into the weather. It's hard not to hope for fair weather. Don't do it. Don’t pray to the weather gods for sun and warmth. NO, absolutely not, not between Sept. 15th and April 15th anyway. (I said, no, you greedy little self-interested heathens!)

Global warming has turned unseasonably good weather into a depressing omen of the further ills to come.

Depressing thoughts about the ruinous state of our planet always remind me of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (RHPS). On the front of it, the film is about personal freedoms and excesses, but buried within is an environmental message.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Porcupine For Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Until last week I’d always assumed that porcupines were impervious to attack, I’d seen a dog with a mouthful of quills. But last week, in the wilds of Quebec (Parc national du Mont-Orford to be exact), posted on a tree was a little blurb about fisher cats. Having studied French for one year, over a decade ago, I was able to decipher almost nothing. Yet the sign seemed to strongly suggest that the fisher cat, the terror of the weasel family, could eat one porcupine every 20 days, a rabbit every week or 12 mice a day. I found this absolutely shocking. No, not the part where 240 mice equals one porcupine, the part where a porcupine gets eaten!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Strap Something To Your Feet - Part 1

Hiking in the winter is just like hiking in the spring, summer or fall - except for the ice and snow. To avoid the hazards of winter conditions, people have invented a variety of devices to strap to one’s feet: bits of metal, old tennis rackets and waxed sticks (aka crampons, snowshoes and cross country skis). The application of these devices depends largely on the conditions. If the leftovers of yesterday’s precipitation is terribly deep, snowshoes are the gadget of choice. If it’s an icy mess, crampons are likely in order. On the other hand if you’ve got a foot of perfect powder, pull out the skis.

Today I strapped snowshoes to my feet. This was completely unnecessary. The trail was so well packed we could have hiked in sneakers. This bothered me a great deal at first.

What’s the point of going down a marked snowshoe trail that a thousand other people have already gone down? If you aren’t breaking your own trail you don’t really need them do you? Arg. These fandangled pieces of shat are flipping snow up my back. Why aren’t I skiing? These nasty contraptions are noisy. Each step sounds like a giant crunching the bones of little children. Slog, slog, slog. I can’t believe we came all this way to a snowshoeing trail that renders the snowshoes unnecessary.

One can’t think such lovely thoughts for too long before sharing them with the world.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Finding the Right Partner In Crime (Part 1)

I have no illusions of myself as a rugged loner, a rock or an island. My stoic self-reliance stops at ticks and leeches. Therefore, to hike I (and by extension you) must have a partner in crime. But not just anyone will do.

When evaluating potential partners, consider the following:

Will this person tolerate me, under said conditions and circumstances?
Will they appreciate or at least have patience with my idiosyncrasies?
Which of my foibles is most likely to be problematic while executing this particular crime?

If you know your own idiosyncrasies you can combat or counter weight their negative effects. Mine happen to involve fickle knees, food intolerances and a penchant for stopping, stalling and dawdling at every opportunity. I know this and am prepared to bat my eyelashes, give flowery apologies and/or make other overtures of goodwill.

That is, unless I am livid.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Winter Hiking, New Year's Resolutions & Glitter

As a rule I don’t advocate making New Year’s resolutions. So easily broken; they’re like lies. But too strict an adherence to rules makes one old and stodgy, so this year I'll not discourage you. Go ahead, make a glittery little resolution or two in honor of the coolest new year in a decade. Yippee 2010!

Let’s say for example, your New Year’s resolution is to be more active and get out of doors more often. This would be an excellent variation on a common theme. Getting fit and/or losing weight has to be the most popular New Year’s resolution. It is certainly the poster-boy for resolutions abandoned. New Year’s resolutions make the word resolve feel insecure and ill-used.

But why be pessimistic needlessly?