A few weekends ago I hiked up Sheep Mountain, more commonly known as Sleeping Indian. I’ve never heard anyone call it Sheep Mountain, actually. According to Wikipedia, Sleeping Indian is 11, 239 feet above sea level, and is located in the state of Wyoming. It is in the Gros Ventre Range, which is in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, which is the 3rd largest national forest outside of Alaska, which I think is cool. Continue reading
The plains ignore us,
but these mountains listen,
an audience of thousands
holding its breath
in each rock. Climbing,
On Sunday last week I decided to go for a short hike.
First though, I slept in til 8 a.m. (that’s super late for a bird bander, we normally wake up around 4 a.m.), then spent a leisurely morning over my coffee and Annie Proulx’s book Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2.
“They made a trip out to scout around. Mitchell was stunned by the beauty of the place, not the overphotographed jagsof the Grand Tetons but the high prairie and the luminous yellow distance, which peased his sense of spatial arrangement. He felt as though he had stumbled into a landscape never before seen on the earth and at the same time that h had been transported to the ur-landscape before human beginnings. The mountains crouched at every horizon like dark sleeping animals, their backs whitened by snow. He trod on wildflowers, glistening quartz crystals, on agate and jade, brilliant lichens. The unfamiliar grasses vibrated with light, their incandescent stalks lighting the huge ground. Distance reduced a herd of cattle to a handful of tossed cloves. HIs heart squeezed in, and he wished for a celestial eraser to remove the fences, the crude houses, the one he bought included, from this place. Even the sinewy, braided currents of the wind, which made Eugenie irritable, pleased him.”
Man Crawling Out of Trees, in Bad Dirt by Annie Proulx
(I apologize for the massive paragraph, but that’s how it was written in the book.)
At first, the trail looked like this:
I wore my usual hiking shoes:
I saw some flowers:
Then, the trail looked like this:
And then I was there:
It was such a nice day, I decided to hike on the mile and a half to Bradley Lake.
On the way, I saw a pine cone and some moss:
And I saw another pretty flower:
However, after a short while the trail started to look like this:
Good thing I wore my postholing Crocs:
The view through the trees of Bradley Lake looked like this:
I wasn’t that impressed, and the trail was knee-deep in snow in some places, so I turned around.
And then I saw a marmot:
After the marmot excitement, I braved my way back through the snow to Taggart Lake, where I could kick back, snack on some carrots, and take in the view.
It was a pretty good day.
I like fence posts, especially the ones that haven’t been machine cut but are just lengths of wood, branches or twisted small trunks, gathered miles away then set in holes in a row along the highway, strung together with impossibly long stretches of barbed wire. They don’t do much to contain the mountains or the wide open fields or the expanse of sky. Man’s effort, for what? Fences mean nothing to the spirit of this place.
Currently, my life is like this:
I am now living in Boulder, Colorado, in the basement of my good friend’s family. In exchange for room and board, I help out around the house, drive the little sisters all over the greater Boulder area, and help take care of the dogs. My friend and his mom are currently in Antarctica, so my nanny/dog walker/chauffeur/entertainment buddy/dish washer services should be in less demand once they return.
Side note: To read about Max’s adventures, check out the blog on his photography website: Max Wilderness. He’s got some neat pictures up from his most recent adventures in Patagonia and Antarctica.
When not driving Mikayla and Ashley to and from school and/or swimming lessons and/or doctor appointments/massages/yoga, I spend my days working on an online travel writing class, which is offered through MatadorU. They have a website full of many wonderfully written articles and pictures on all sorts of topics, from more traditional travel fare to pieces on social issues to food to interviews. There’s something for everyone there, and I have spent many an hour exploring the site when I meant to be working. Counts as research, right?
Check it out here: Matador Network
I am also now an editorial intern with Outdoor Minded Mag, an online magazine based here in Boulder. Or, I should say, that’s where Lauren (the editor) lives and works, so that’s where it’s based at the moment. She’s a very awesome person, and yesterday we spent hours holed up together in a coffee shop working on laying out some articles. It was a lot of fun, and I’m really looking forward to working with her. She recently skateboarded from Boulder to Denver, and wrote about it on the site (check it out through the link below). The website launched 6 months ago, so we’re still getting things put together, but I see the magazine heading in a great direction and I’m excited to be a part of it.
Check it out here: Outdoor Minded Mag
I’ve been climbing whenever I can, which isn’t quite as often as I would like. Wednesday I met up with a friend and we climbed for around 4 hours straight. My arms were so tired I could barely make it up a 5.8 by the end of the session. Climbing routes are rated by difficulty, the most difficult being a 5.15, the easiest being a 5.0. I usually climb 5.10’s, and some easier 11’s. 5.8’s are easy, beginner routes, that I normally do as warm-ups.
This site explains the rating system much better than I can: Rock Climbing Ratings
I’m hoping to break out my poor downhill skis, which have been languishing in the basement for the past two years, and ski on some real mountains, and in some real snow! Last time I skied was in Ohio, and I’m not sure that counts (and yes, there are places to ski in Ohio, I’ve been to three of the five “resorts”. Didn’t realize there were that many, I just looked it up). Although that one snowboarder who was in the Winter Olympics, Louie Vito, is from Ohio. Columbus, Ohio, which is about as flat as it gets.
I have a few leads for paying jobs, since climbing gym memberships, lift tickets, and gas are a bit pricey. I’ll keep you updated.
That’s all for now, folks!
written in North Carolina, 2010.
It is listening that puts the world right again. When I listen to the wind, gently rustling the grasses, a feeling of peace pervades my being, as if I am absorbing the motes of tranquility that float in the air. Occasional large flies and bees drone past, overlaying the background murmuring of grasses with percussive buzzes. An eastern towhee calls, moving further and further away, a penny-whistle of startling clarity. Crows caw dryly from among the mountains behind me, harsh sounds against the omnipresent breeze. They ride this wind, watching over places I’ll never see. But here, up on the top of the world, everything that I can see is enough.
I’m sitting on a rocky outcrop at the top of Black Balsam, a mountain just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. The rock under my hand is dark, shot through in some places with quartz, in others sprinkled with bits of mica that shine in the almost-setting sun. The rock is rough but worn, and I wonder how many years have passed since it first felt the warmth of daylight. More than I can fathom. Thousands of feet have passed this way, but this evening the perch and view are mine alone. My rock is an island surrounded by waves of bristling golden grasses, a bald above the tree line. Exposed to the world and the elements, I sit and breathe. The crickets have begun, their sounds the string section hidden among the dried grasses. The towhee still calls, now beyond the far ridge. It has found a partner and the two duet quietly, eventually fading into silence.
I open my eyes and look up into the pure blue that is the sky. There are clouds, small puffs of cotton over distant mountains, too far away and wispy to be of concern. The moon is a translucent orb, suspended in the lightest blue above the darker mountain-defined horizon. All around me, as far as I can see, are mountains. Their smoothly rounded profiles deceptively hide distance and rock, making the world look soft. I imagine tracing their shapes with my hands, but it takes more than touch to know a mountain.
I glance up and a kestrel flies toward me, the only moving creature I can see. It disappears below the crest behind me, only to climb high again before eventually disappearing, a black speck absorbed into the sunlight and the blue of the sky. I wish to follow, but my mind is drawn back by the large, startling green katydid that lands on my bare leg. It takes a few hesitant steps on feet so small I can’t feel them before wiping its antenna and hopping clumsily away. It lands on the rock nearby, and as I watch it scrapes a wing against its back leg, beginning a solo not intended for my ears. I move closer but it leaps madly away, just out of reach. I don’t try to follow. I look back up at the moon and at my shadow on the grass, which remains still no matter how the grasses dance in the wind.
I sit and listen to the moon and the mountains, and, sometimes, I think I understand what they say.
I like watching the cloud shadows move across the mountains. I like seeing only mountains for hundreds of miles in all directions. I like the baking sun and the cooling wind, making me cold and hot alternating. I like this rock that I sit on, an exposed bit of mountain skeleton, rough beneath my arms and legs.
I like listening to the birds; towhees, warblers, thrushes, claiming their own small section of the world. I like that I can hear waterfalls, hidden in the valley crevice somewhere before me. I like the ravens riding the air, circling and diving. I like imagining what it would be like to leap from this rock to join them, soaring from one mountain to the next, a scrap of dark dancing in the sky.
I like the blooming rhododendron, their fuchsia flowers beacons of color in the verdant undulations of mountain. I like the flies that look like bees, gently probing the sweat on my arm. I like sitting here, silent, knowing that all is right with the world.
I like how as soon as I step out of my car I feel again that joyful peace of the mountains. I like knowing that whenever I come back all this will be here. The rock and the birds and the flies and the sun and the water and the wind will never leave this place. I like that even when I leave I take the essence of this place with me in my soul.
For the long weekend (last weekend, it took me a while to go through all my pictures) I went up to North Carolina, to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. Two years ago I had an internship at The Cradle of Forestry, which is just off the Parkway. It was about a three and a half hour drive from South Carolina, but worth every minute.
|I spent most of the time during my internship wishing I could climb Looking Glass Rock. One of these days I will. Hopefully.|
I spent many hours hiking around and exploring the area during my internship, and I wanted to go back and see if it was as beautiful as I remembered. I also needed to get my altitude fix, as I’ve spent the past 6 months in flat flat Florida and semi-flat South Carolina. It’s good for running and biking (because I don’t do hills on my bike) but I miss being able to see into the distance.
I drove up on Saturday and spent two nights camping up near Black Balsam, which is just off the parkway. Sunday morning I got up and reveled in the misty mountain view. The rest of the morning I spent hiking along the mountain ridge and getting sun burnt. After a leisurely lunch with a spectacular view I drove south along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After I called home and talked to not only my mother, sister, father and brother but also my two grandmothers (and all at the same time, too. Ah, the wonders of speaker phone). Then I made my way back to Black Balsam for a second night of camping in my new favorite camping place in Pisgah Forest.
|The trail along the mountain ridge. One of my favorite places to hike in the area.|
|Art Loeb Spur, one of my favorite trails.|
Sunset in the mountains is beautiful, and I was very tempted to just stay up there forever (or at least another few days, until my food ran out) and become a mountain woman. I had half a loaf of bread, half a chunk of cheese, and a hard-boiled egg. Definitely could have lasted at least another few days.
|Campsite the first night, on the mountain side. I took this picture in the morning, when everything was misty and covered in dew.|
|View from my tent (taken later in the morning, after the fog burned off).|
Sunday night I drove back to my new favorite camping spot up on Black Balsam, this time setting up camp on the edge of some pines, which was a little more protected from the wind (and turned out to be much less dewy). Monday morning I drove down into Brevard to buy postcards and check out the White Squirrel Festival. I missed any white squirrel-related activities, but I did have some excellent gelato and a nice conversation with the New Zealander who owns the gelato shop. On my way back up to the parkway I stopped at Slick Rock Falls.
|Slick Rock Falls|
After Brevard, I headed north along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville, where I stopped for lunch. After that it was a straight shot south to South Carolina and Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge.
|My campsite the second night.|
I was very tempted to stay in the mountains, but the red-cockaded woodpeckers were calling and so I had to head south again. Hopefully it won’t be so long before I can visit the mountains again.
Part of my soul lives in the mountains. The steepness, the rough and smooth edges, peaks sharp or rounded, a barren summit or a wooded grove on the hillsides, the view, and the breath of fresh air that carries a special taste of true nature. I feel free of the weights I wrap around myself, the ones I didn’t realize were there.
Part of my soul lives in the desert, in the barren rock. When I look out into the wide-open space and gaze at a rock tower rising up into the sky, I just am. Everything is quiet, and I’m just there. The starkness absorbs all the internal moaning and rattling, and all that’s left is the rock, the dirt, the sun, the endless sky.
|Gopher Tortoise, Merritt Island NWR 2012|
These places speak to me, resonate with me deep inside, and I feel a special sense of completeness when I am there. They feel right, like walking around your childhood home in the middle of the night. You know the exact number of steps without counting, the placement of each table and chair, so that even in the dark you can find your way without tripping. My soul can live in the mountains without tripping all over itself in confusion. Sometimes I feel that I am laying on the floor in the dark, waiting for someone to turn the light on and notice me, quietly moaning. I tend to feel that way most often when I’m stuck in boring, flat places, probably because I find it easier to have adventures when I’m in the desert or the mountains.
When I was heading down to Florida and Merritt Island, I was not particularly looking forward to my time there. Florida is flat, hot, buggy, boring. Coming from a cross-county road trip, camping in Utah and Wyoming and rock climbing in Colorado, Florida was not where I wanted to be heading. And, well, I found that Florida is flat, hot, buggy, and boring. But, to my surprise, I loved it anyway.
|Roseate Spoonbill and Snowy Egret|
|Heading into the sunrise to look for Scrub Jays|
I leave bits of my heart everywhere, tucked in with the people and places I go. Quite a bit of my heart is in Ohio, but there are pieces in other states and countries too, in places I have and have not been, in places only seen by those I love.
|Playalinda Beach, Canaveral National Seashore|
And part of my heart is at Merritt Island. There are some places you stay and you know you are home, even if it’s just for a short while. This is one of them. No matter where I travel, I will always remember that place, that time, those people. Especially those people 🙂
|Me, Betty, and Connie (refuge volunteers) after kayaking with dolphins and manatees at Merritt Island NWR|
|Meghan and Angie kayaking at Blue Springs State Park|
|Patrick. Blue Springs State Park|
|Patrick and I are expert kayakers, can’t you tell? Blue Springs State Park|