For many the pandemic inspired people to get out on the trails, into parks and exploring nature, maybe for the first time, maybe to places they have never been. For me, the pandemic had the opposite effect. All of the places I usually find solace in a quiet exploration I found teeming with people, uncomfortable, crowded and unpleasant. The trails that brought me peace and an opportunity to contemplate and observe were now obstacle courses of bikers, joggers and walkers. And so I avoided my favorite places.
6 months into the pandemic, my friend and I began venturing on early morning bike rides. The area was opening up. Group activities and businesses were finding their new way to engage people and less people were hitting the trails, especially early. Eventually, after quite a few bike rides, I felt I could walk, and contemplate and recharge and observe out in my favorite natural places again.
Ahhhhh… Breathe in…. Breathe Out…
Listen to the crunch of the gravel under your feet…
Listen to the rippling of the creek down below…
Stop every five seconds to take another photo of the beauty that surrounds you.
The Perkiomen Trail, my favorite stretch being the Crusher Road Access to Spring Mount, felt peaceful and accessible and enjoyable again.
It is not that I stopped exploring nature during my Pandemic Pause from the Perkiomen Trail. Interestingly early on in the pandemic car traffic became so light I felt comfortable walking the narrow, unlined, hilly, curving roads around my home and began taking suburban safaris finding two 3.5 mile routes that took me past all kinds of nature I hadn’t noticed before. Over the months I discovered native plants I thought I had to drive someplace else to see and watched the changing of the seasons right close to home.
On this day I managed to time my morning walk just right to capture the essence of autumn in the sunrise and the wildflowers. Back to my happy place, a little bit of feeling normal, in this crazy new world.
There was some evidence of the crazy I missed while avoiding the trail over the summer. Notice the trashcan stuck high up on the trees in the photo below. A remnant of the intense flooding storms we experienced over the summer.
My wanderlust is flaring up something serious right now. 45 work days working from home. Today is day 50 of the social-distancing, quarantine, stay-at-home order for the area I live. 50 days! I have watched the end of winter and the beginning of spring as buds swelled and flowers emerged.
I realized quite some time ago that inserting myself into nature is how I cope. When I am sad, depressed, anxious or angry I turn to trails through the woods and the delights of nature to restore my spirits, give me hope and grant me perspective.
My 50 days have not been without connection to nature. I am lucky enough to have a wooded back yard and gardens and live in a rural enough area to be able to see frogs and flowers along my daily walks. But there is no substitute for a good hike along a new trail.
Glimpses of wildflowers or waterfalls, and in the very best cases, both, are frequent goals of mine on these walks. Arriving to an elevated vista is also something I look to find.
While we are still closed down, though there are murmuring of a slow reopen, I continue to think back to the trails I have explored and making lists of places I want to go.
The Cascades Trail was a funny trail. I followed signs for it along the sidewalk and through a suburban neighborhood. I felt kind of funny traipsing through a quiet neighborhood with my hiking poles and backpack walking past people raking leaves and moving mulch around.
Hunkered down in quarantine during prime spring ephemeral season has me thinking back to places I have been lucky enough to visit. It is also giving me reason to stay close to home and time to look back and write about some of the places I have explored.
In the summer a little more than a year ago I ventured solo north to Vermont for a week. Meandering the unfamiliar roads on the way home from a state park I saw a sign for this Wildflower Trail. I never miss an opportunity to get up close to wildflowers and decided to check it out.
The Bethlehem Steel Stacks is a phenomenal place to visit and see just how well a place that has outlived its original purpose can become something completely different and equally important to the surrounding community.
According to their website: “Steel Stacks is a 1-acre campus dedicated to arts, culture, family events, community celebrations, education and fun. Once the home of Bethlehem Steel, the second largest steel manufacturer in the nation, the site has been reborn through music and art…”
While you can find comedy acts, art exhibits, concerts and all kinds of other events here, in the summer of 2018 you could also get an up close look at the industrial complex that was Bethlehem Steel as well as take in some horticulture.
The Hoover-Mason Trestle (HMT) began its life as a narrow-gauge railroad to carry materials needed to make iron from the yards to the blast furnaces.
The Hare Sculpture at Stoneleigh has been an icon of the Villanova neighborhood for decades before opening to the public. This sculpture is made from a white oak trunk and features two adult rabbits and 5 young rabbits representing the Haas family. The rabbits frequently dress up for holidays and special occasions. Haas means Hare in Dutch and German.
Mother’s Day weekend, the southeastern PA region, already teeming with more than 30 public gardens, welcomed the newest public horticulture space to the map.
Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden is also under threat of eminent domain. Perhaps one of the biggest blows to a public garden is a letter just prior to a grand opening regarding a school district’s intention to condemn a portion or the entirety of the gardens for ball fields and a new middle school.
The current rallying cry for Stoneleigh as it’s future is threatened by eminent domain.
The late afternoon autumn sun setting over a meadow. At this time autumn is beginning to look wintery.
“Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathy!!!!” my sister would yell across the 2 1/2 pine barrens acres we called a playground growing up. This bellow could easily take the tone of joy or anger. We often yelled across the yard to each other and, in the silence of the rural pinelands, I am sure the neighbors heard our calls too. When we would do this within ear shot of my dad he would find us and remind us that we had “two legs and one mouth which means you can walk twice as far as you can yell.” I am not ashamed to say I have used this exact same phrase with students and interns in the past. Seems logical to me.
Just the other day I took a gentle walk along my favorite rail trail and instead of having a goal of miles or a time to beat or number of steps to worry about, I ventured on this day with the specific intention of using my two legs and just looking.
The sun highlights a swath of goldenrod seedheads. Insects and mammals alike will find refuge here, protection from winter winds and snow. Birds find nourishment here in the fluffy seeds.
There have been a lot of words lately, an overwhelming amount of opinions and facts, love words and hate words and one word that keeps popping up: transition. Of course this realization of transition of political leadership coincides with the transition of seasons from fall to winter. It occurred to me, in addition to having two legs, I have two eyes. This means, by my father’s logic, I can see twice as much as I can say. So I decided to quietly witness this transition of fall to winter, during this time of transition for the country and, if I am going to be honest here, during personal transition of my own. Remembering with every dormancy theres comes a rebirth, after every winter follows a joyous spring, that autumn leaves provide the nourishment for next year’s wonderment, and that winter snow sustains us all.
So what follows are some snapshots of my small wander through transition, acknowledging we all are transitioning all the time; sometimes in small ways, sometimes in ways we have never imagined. Remembering none of this is permanent and if we stop talking and start looking, seeing, we will find the beauty and potential in the change.
Tightly curled in protection, the leaves of Rhodendron exhibit the ‘droop and curl’ of thermonasty. This allows the shrub to survive winter winds and light. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, PA
Whether you watch TV, listen to radio or just venture into any retail establishment you are well aware of the many elixirs, potions and formulas available to cure all sorts of ills both real and perceived. The same is true in the plant world. Any garden center you visit will have shelf upon shelf of chemicals, organics, salves, sprays, drenches, repellents, amendments and the like.
One that I have never understood is the use of Wilt-Pruf and other anti-dessicants on plants in the landscape. Sure, I sold it to folks as a young garden center employee without any knowledge of the way plants work, but were I in the same position today I would tell the friendly garden center shopper to save their money. Mother Nature’s got this…
“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” ~ Coco Chanel
Accessories. I like the whole idea of them. Bracelets, earrings, hats, snazzy shoes, purses. I have a sister who has a scarf for every occasion, and another sister with equally significant sunglass options from which to choose for any given moment. But my fascination with accessories stops at admiration. I do collect tiny stud earrings (usually horticultural in nature) made in whatever place I travel, but I rarely change from the tiny leaves that adorn my earlobes daily. Though I lean to the austere, I admire those who manage to put together combinations of clothes and accessories that tell the world who they are. I admire people who wear their personalities, regardless of what the world thinks. Folks who own whatever runway the world throws at them that day.
On a recent visit to the southeast, the Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) caught my attention. Though they were immense and old, stately and sinuous, it was not those features that captured my attention. It was their accessories.
Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana) is NOT a Pine Tree
According to my dad all cats are girls and all dogs are boys. That’s just the way it is. Every cat is a ‘she’ and every dog is a ‘he’. Of course for many years we had a male cat and a female dog, but that didn’t matter. My dad doesn’t seem to be alone in this sentiment. My father-in-law ex-father-in-law also always refers to dogs in the masculine and cats in the feminine.
Something similar happens at this time of the year. As people start searching for their Christmas trees, often they refer to every Christmas-tree shaped object in the lot and in the woods as a pine tree. Just like all cats are not girls and all dogs are not boys, all evergreens are not pine trees.
I’ve heard and read that when you thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, trail magic happens. This is the “kindness of strangers” that happens on the trail. Someone gives a hiker a lift to a dry shelter on a rainy day or leaves some delicious snack in a shelter for a weary hiker to find, that’s magic. I have only heard and read about this and that is likely all I’ll ever do. Though the idea of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is appealing to me, I would never be able to do it. Well, I could do it, but it would take me 432,567 days because I would be stopping to look at every flower and bud, taking pictures of each leaf and nifty pattern and talking to anyone who will listen about the wonder of the plants around. (Think I’m exaggerating? Just talk with ANYONE who’s ever hiked with me!)