Through it all, her way

Without a doubt, there is a mystique about the Appalachian Trail, a romance that calls disciples from all walks of life. It whispers a song of misty valleys, delicate wildflowers, rushing streams, and coal-black bear – and a narrow, winding footpath across 14 states.

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My son, Taylor, on a short AT hike near Bethel, Maine years ago

 

About the thru-hiker, too, there is a mystique. Why would a person pare life down to the essentials of bare bed, utilitarian calories, unchanging garments, and set out to walk-like-a-job for many months? Thru-journeys, be they on land or water, thrill the soul – during the planning months. Later, they test the depths of commitment, tenacity, self-content, and resourcefulness. Not everyone is cut out to finish.

McAfee Knob, the most photographed spot on the AT, is still special when your friend stands there, so close to the finish

Most of you know Katina Daanen well from the integral role that she played in my Northern Forest Canoe Trail thru-paddle. Caring friend, author of The Northern Forest Canoe Trail Through-Paddler’s Companion, and insightful reader of Upwards from the start, Katina has always been there for me.

Last summer, Katina gave me a taste of thru-hiker life for a few days near the Vermont-New Hanpshire border.

 

Today my good friend will become one of a handful of people who have completed both the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Hers has been a flip-flop hike, completed over two years. Avoiding the crowds, tempering the weather extremes, more and more thru-hikers are choosing to start in the middle of the trail, as she did in Shenandoah National Park.

Very special to me is the fact that I happened to be visiting Virginia when “Arachne” (her trail name) started in April 2016 and I’m here now, too! Tomorrow, Megan and I will breakfast with Katina and her husband Sam at their inn, and celebrate her accomplishment. We’ll also get to talk book details, as Katina is designing the book’s trail map. Tomorrow is sure to be a highlight of my week here in Virginia!

A letter from camp: The 2017 Maine Canoe Symposium

Mom and Dad’s home was four tents down, where we sat one evening sharing smoked salmon that Dad had brought back from his workshop on smoking fish with Shawn Burke.

Wouldn’t you like to be a boy, away at summer camp in Maine?

Enjoying late-night loon calls, ice cream heaped with strawberries, summer breezes, and the pull of the paddle?

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Gathering for the morning Parade of Canoes

This letter from camp has taken a few days to arrive, but this past weekend, I christened another summer of possibility in the company of friends, old and new, famous or not-so-much, at the annual Maine Canoe Symposium. Somehow this event manages to be old-fashioned and far-reaching, restful and yet challenging everyone to try new skills.

“Dear friends,” I might have written from Camp Winona, on the shores of Moose Pond in Bridgton, Maine…

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Today I tried poling under the tutelage of Harry Rock, well-known at MCS for leading us all in a chorus of huzzahs from time to time. “Your boat might be a little tender,” he told me, by which he meant I might end up tipping into the chilly water. It felt very strange leaving shore without a paddle! “Huzzah!” I stayed upright. It was all about leverage and angle, as we stood up and propelled ourselves around with just a 12-foot aluminum pole.

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Learning to identify edible woodland plants with Ray Reitze, who also shared the effectiveness of Japanese knotweed in fighting Lyme disease, a surprise to me!

The two evening speakers lived up to MCS tradition. This year, we heard from Winchell Delano about the Rediscovering North America expedition, 5,200 miles by canoe with five friends, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. They redefined perseverance and conquered unforeseen challenges like raging forest fires in their 8-month odyssey.

Did you know that the 2020 Toyko Olympics will be the first to include women’s canoe sprint, as well as kayak events? This victory owes much to the fight of our other evening speaker, Pam Boteler, the first woman to participate in canoe sprint (against men) in the 2000 U.S. National Championships. She brought home two medals, a gold and a bronze, and the dream of breaking down the barriers at the Olympic level.

Sunday morning, I had a chance to try the high-kneel stroke, first on the dock and then on a paddle board. With Pam teaching me! I can testify to the power and physical demands of this racing stroke, which I experienced once or twice, before taking a swim.

So, it’s never too early to put dates on the calendar. Next year’s MCS will be June 8-10, 2018, and I’d love to have you join me. This year, I tent camped with friends, ate all six meals in the dining hall, and experienced all the above and more for just $153. Hope to see you at Camp Winona on the shores of Moose Pond under the towering pines.

Spring morning, a poem

Spring morning

 If you would know the pond today, come early.

Hasten with deliberate slowness,

hurry, linger, before the now becomes the when.

Clouds shift, light evolves, each moment more, each moment less.

Faint and ancient epoch now is winter,

that held the world in its unyielding grasp.

Breathe and all is new, unfurled, colored, textured, gone.

Nature writes her poem anew each morning,

and erases it at night.

Canoe glides a path and with it pens a verse,

Plucking twang of bullfrog chords,

Grackle’s iridescence hidden in silhouette against the sky,

Old men turtles in a line plop away, and I must go.

Headed home, flowers dust the shore with white.

Each tiny cluster speaks the pace of spring.

Round pink buds of promise

turn to stars of white perfection,

then fade to fuzzy frazzle.

If you would know the pond tomorrow, come early.

 

Upwards: The life of an author 3 months out

Three months out from what, you ask? Actually, many of you are deliberately NOT going to ask, as you’ve heard about little else from me for many months!

Just in case, though – three months out from holding Upwards in my hands. That shiny new cover, those color photos, my words in print. Actually, the cover won’t be shiny. One decision firmly made is to have a “Matte/Satin” cover. And color photos? That’s my hope and dream, but I’m waiting anxiously for cost estimates for a center section of photos.

No matter how thrilled I am about publishing, the whirlwind of life goes on. The end of the school year is upon us, bringing field trips and frenzy. This week, we visited the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine. Run by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, the park cares for and exhibits only animals that are unable to live in the wild.

The more natural habitat areas were fascinating, while I struggled to watch two black bears panhandling for treats beneath a machine being fed by an endless stream of quarters, the huge glass window above obscured by a wall of captivated children.

After taking the above photo, I decided that I would learn about the Canada lynx. (That’s Canada lynx, not Canadian lynx, just like the goose). The bobcat, also found in Maine, is a different critter. Similar in size and appearance, there are differences between the two species: Bobcat = shorter legs, smaller ear tufts, smaller paws, more likely to look spotted or striped and Lynx = the opposite. The tip of a lynx’s tail is solid black, the bobcat’s black on top and white below. Plus, in the deep snows of the north woods, a sighting will probably be a lynx, well-adapted for life there.

Somewhat of a picky eater, the lynx dines on snowshoe hares at least 75% of the time, eating 1 to 2 per day. Historically, lynx populations have cycled up and down in rhythm with hare populations. In Maine, however, both have been booming for years, as young spruce-fir forests grow back following devastating waves of spruce budworm mortality. The young-growth timber provides ideal cover for the lynx’s favored prey.

I can’t recall having seen a water snake in Maine, until my visit to the wildlife park. Research seems to indicate they live only in the southern half of the state, so my best chance will be during my excursions close to home.

Out on the pond this week, it was cool and my sightings were all avian. It’s too early in the season to take the leaves for granted and the maples were particularly striking. Vivid red clumps of maple keys jumped out among the shoreline greens and pinks, and I tried to draw in calm as I paddled and let go of some of the excitement that is keeping ME keyed up!

One afternoon, swallows had overtaken the water and swooped in acrobatic dance, surely happy to find many squadrons of mosquitoes on patrol. They can also drink mid-flight, quickly scooping up water from the surface. On shore, a solitary spotted sandpiper winged from stone to log ahead of me, the first time I’d observed this species on McCurdy Pond. Now, today, a quiet Saturday, I rose with the dawn again and hope to squeeze in another paddle among the expense-filing, permission-requesting, photo-choosing tasks of a busy soon-to-be-published author.

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