Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Setting Forth on a Journey

You never know who you are going to meet or what you might find when you set out on a journey. That is the thing about journeys. They are defined by the unknown, by mysteries and surprises. If you knew what was going to happen it wouldn’t be much of a journey at all. Perhaps that is why the notion of a journey appeals to me so much. Some journeys are epic in scale and others are much smaller. In the midst of the greater journey of life I enjoyed some unique smaller ones here in the park in the last couple of days.

Alison got a job nannying this week which meant that she could not come out to visit me and it made no sense for me to go into DC to visit her since she would be busy for more than 10 hours a day.  So that meant I had the much needed opportunity to both rest and catch up on things here after nearly a month of largely being absent. It also meant that I could do some longer and more demanding hikes here in the park. I decided to do the former today and the latter both Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday I hiked a six mile loop that included the most demanding ascent that I have undertaken in the park. It was ridiculous. One ranger has dubbed it the “Stairway to Heaven” because it seems as though the steps carved out of the steep face of the mountain ascend indefinitely all the way out of the earth’s atmosphere. It feels like that climbing up them too!

So there I was climbing and climbing up these steps when I saw someone coming down toward me at a much greater rate of speed. As he passed he stopped to say hello and in the conversation that followed I learned that I was talking to him in the midst of his third trip up and back down the mountain that day and that he intended to do a fourth. I was struggling to make it up once and he was going both directions  four times consecutively?!?!?

I went on to learn that he was conditioning himself  because at the end of the month he was going to hike to the summit of the highest peaks in Wyoming, Idaho, and Nevada.  He had also recently returned from climbing Everest.

Quite an interesting person to run into out on the trails! Oh, and did I mention he was in his 60s?!?!
Yesterday I decided to tackle a demanding loop in the Northern section of the park that travels up to a summit and down to a beautiful stream, which the trail follows for more than 5 miles as it works its way back up the canyon. It is a hike I have wanted to do for a while, but the loop is 14 miles so it is not exactly possible after getting off of work!

I decided to add a bit extra to the hike and actually did a 17 mile circuit, all of which on trails I had never been on before. I saw two bears and four people in that 17 miles. I also saw two rattlesnakes. I have not seen a rattlesnake in this park before, but within ¼ mile I came across two, or rather the two guys in front of me did about two minutes before I arrived. They were still trying to figure out what to do about the first snake when I arrived and came across the second with me trailing about 200 yards behind. In both cases the snakes were right next to the trail, coiled and ready to strike. With a little encouragement both the snakes elected to move further away, thus allowing us to pass safely. But in either case it would have been very easy to step right on the snake if one was not paying attention! I sure was glad they were in front of me!

But it wasn’t the snakes or the bears or even the distance that was most unique about the hike, it was the berries. I started that hike about 1200 feet lower than the elevation of Big Meadows where I live. That meant that the berries were much riper there than they are here. And since it is perfectly acceptable to consume berries one finds in the park I proceeded to do exactly that.

It began with blueberries, which I picked and ate as I traveled down the mountain to the stream. I was happy with that and figured that would be it for the day, but as I came back up the other side I discovered that the blackberries there were beginning to ripen. So I enjoyed several handfuls of tasty blackberries. I came out to the drive about ½ a mile from where I was parked and could have just walked down the road to my truck, but I knew there was a trail about 1/10 of a mile on the other side of the road and decided to take that instead. It was well I did for on that trail I discovered Raspberry bushes, also with many berries ripe for the picking.

In fact when I first paused and moved toward them I suddenly heard grunting and a great deal of rustling in the bushes about ten feet away and realized that I had unwittingly disturbed a bear who was in the midst of enjoying the berries himself!

So in the space of a single hike I found and enjoyed blue, black, and raspberries, all straight of the bushes as fresh and tasty as one could desire.

You never know who you are going to meet or what you might find when you set out on a journey.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Blessings of Blueberries

I am blessed indeed to have this job. I have been keenly reminded of that fact over the past few days. I am living in an amazingly beautiful place and getting paid to help people appreciate the wonder around them. That is a pretty good gig!

In addition to the general value of working here at Shenandoah these last few days have contained some extra special reminders.

Normally when I arrive at work in the morning there are several other rangers engaged in various activities necessary to begin the day. Yesterday when I walked into the Visitor Center I was the only one in the building which meant I quickly became responsible for doing everything required to open at 8:30 (a task nearly impossible to accomplish in 15 minutes). While that could have been a bit stressful, any such feelings were mitigated by the sight of two adorable fawns curled up in the grass right outside the main viewing windows of the visitor center.

I watched those fawns for a while, but that was not to be my last experience with fawns. I saw another pair of twins driving back from work yesterday and then saw yet another pair and a group of triplets while hiking today. Fawns everywhere!

I also continue to be amazed at what I get paid to do here. This morning I once again got paid to hike several miles along a beautiful trail, something I get to do with some regularity.  But perhaps the best circumstance in my time here thus far happened Thursday morning when I got paid to go out in the meadow and gather wild mountain blueberries with another ranger while enjoying a spectacular spring-like day.

Our lives are filled with blessings if we take the time to see them!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Life is the Sum Total of Moments Such as These

The theme of the value and significance of moments in our lives is one that has often made an appearance in these emails. This latest edition is proving to be no exception. It has been quite a while since I was last able to write and the intervening days from then to now have been filled to overflowing with memorable moments.

Between June 20 and July 20 I will have spent a total of five nights in my house in Shenandoah. Every other night I have found myself sleeping somewhere else in locations ranging from Washington, DC to Broomfield, CO. These last few weeks have been rather full to say the least!

Nearly a month ago theaters around the country began a three week special engagement in which they showed the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings on three consecutive Tuesday nights. Sadly Alison and I were unable to make it to either the second or the third films, but we did attend the first, watching all 3.5 hours of the extended edition of Lord of the Rings:The Fellowship of the Ring the only time it has every been shown on the big screen. It was pretty exciting, especially since I thought I would never get to watch Lord of the Rings in such a fashion again!

The night after the film we attended a Washington Nationals baseball game, bearing witness to them creaming the Cardinals 10-0. Although this is this is the only game I have been able to attend this season Alison has made it to four more since then!

The following Monday my Mom and Callie arrived in Shenandoah with Alison, joined by Kristen and Corey the following day, allowing us a couple of days of fun and exploration together in the park. The visit culminated with the official 75th Anniversary celebration of Shenandoah National Park on Saturday, June 25. Definitely a week filled with special moments, lots of hiking, and a plethora of blackberry deserts (Shakes, Ice Cream, Sunday, Cobbler, Ice Cream Pie, and Jam that was so good it was like desert)!

I flew out to Colorado the morning following the anniversary so that I could attend the wedding of one of Alison's childhood friends. The next morning Alison and I began driving her car east toward Washington, DC, beginning a three day adventure that resulted in her car finally being with her out on the East Coast (her parents had driven it from California to Colorado).

We couldn't simply drive across the country on the most direct path, but rather had to make a few diversions along the way. These diversions took us to quite a few exciting gems and resulted in us traveling through eleven states including two new ones for each of us. That brings our count for states visited together since Dec. 13 of 2010 to 28 (not bad for seven months!) and my personal count to 42 states in the last two years and 44 states total. We are getting fairly close to all 50!

Highlights along our journey included a brief stop for lunch and pictures in Ogalalla, Nebraska, a visit to a genuine Pony Express Station, a stop off at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa, participation in the Taste of Chicago street festival, sticking our feet in the waters of Lake Michigan in Benton Harbor, MI, and a jaunt through Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. I would certainly have enjoyed more time in each location, but we did have to make it back to Shenandoah by Wednesday night so I could go to work the next morning!

The story continued a few days later when Alison and I successfully found a spot on the grass in front of the Washington Monument for a lovely view of the Independence Day Celebration on the National Mall.

We headed back out toward Shenandoah the following day because I had to be back to take care of cats and water plants. I have been house sitting for the acting Chief of Interpretation of Shenandoah since July 1 which means I have actually had to commute into work each day and also that I have had the opportunity to appreciate and experience the Shenandoah Valley a great deal more than I have before.

When I was picking up one of the items of furniture I attained for free when I first came to DC I also ended up with a raft, which I had never taken out of the box. We figured me living in the Shenandoah Valley was a great opportunity to give it a test, so Alison and I took it out on the Shenandoah River last Wednesday. It performed quite well and we enjoyed a splendid afternoon on the water.

It has been an adventurous and exciting last several weeks and it looks like the next few will continue in the same vein, at work as well as outside of it. I hiked a little over 10 miles in the park today, completing a circuit I had not succeeded in hiking thus far and moving further toward my goal of eventually hiking all 516 miles of trails in the park. I have written several times about my program on the Appalachian Trail which I have been able to actually give a few times in these last weeks, but this past Friday I decided to try something different just for fun and successfully gave my first bear talk at Shenandoah. It was great fun. Everybody loves to learn about bears!

Life is ever an adventure!