Moosehead in all its moods

School’s begun, but the long weekend gave us the chance to head north to the NFCT once more before summer ends. It was the usual cast of characters for a stay at The Birches in Rockwood: my parents, aunt, uncle, and me, plus one canoe, two kayaks, and Dad’s motorized skiff. Name the weather and we had it. From bathing suits to the woodstove, it all felt good at some point.

Dad’s hand, which he broke back in July on Little Spencer Stream, is almost healed. At the tiller, he motored us up Tomhegan Creek a couple of mornings in search of wildlife. Moose, really, but they must have missed the memo. In place of moose, we got herons, kingfishers, and a bald eagle.

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Dad, Aunt Sue, and Uncle George on the lookout for wildlife
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Sue braved the chilly waters for a long swim

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Sunday was the day of wildest weather, winds, and whitecaps, but at dawn the lake still slept. Some confusion of dream woke me, ready for adventure even as my eyes opened. Two cups of quick-brewed coffee, some of Sue’s banana bread, a whisper of my plans to Mom, and I was gone. Mist still clung to the rocky shores as my canoe began the 8-mile journey around Farm Island.

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Rounding the north end of the island, I turned toward home and breakfast, warmth and bacon. The risen sun threw a path of wave-tossed sunlight straight to me. As I paddled south, it followed, for miles. I paused a moment and the canoe turned to face the sun. In the distance, a loon cruised through the shimmering light, and then moved on.

The morning solitude allowed my thoughts to flow freer than they had in many days.

Nature, I thought, embraces us. It’s unpredictable at times, perhaps, but never judging. Nature listens more than talks. Nature simply is, a continuity fading backward into the mists of time, and carrying the promise of a future long after we are gone.

What meaning there is in nature is for us to find, and maybe, each one of us finds what it is we need just then. That morning, I needed rest and found it. 

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No need to be perfect…a lesson from blueberry pie


There’s plenty of time for reflection when you’re making a wild Maine blueberry pie from scratch. Up on the hill behind our house, at least this summer, there’s a good patch of berries, at the peak of ripeness. Dad’s been wishing for a pie, so I pulled out the cookbook to see how many berries it would take – five cups – then started picking.

Big berries, tiny berries, blue ones and black, they slowly began to fill my bucket. My hands fell into a rhythm, getting less fussy about stripping off a cluster at a time, including a few that were less than perfect. After all, they were soon going to be bubbling in a piecrust. My mind drifted. Long ago, people had harvested the summer’s bounty just as I was. Not concerned about perfection, but about feeding their families.

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Later, I washed the berries, then picked them over, a handful at a time, pulling out the leaves, finding stubborn stems still clinging here and there. I felt proud to be baking my first blueberry pie from my own berries. The sun and heat had gotten me tired, so I sat for a few minutes rereading the recipe. Sugar, flour, lemon juice, and cinnamon would all go in with the berries, then I’d make the same homemade crust as for my apple pie.

As I measured out the sugar, I happened to glance into the bowl.

“Oh, I missed a couple of stems!’ was my first thought. Then those stems, thin and reddish-green, began to wiggle and crawl across the glistening blue berries. Two tiny worms, hunching their way across my pretty bowl of blueberries! After close examination, I think I found seven, enough to make me hesitate before blithely dumping in the sugar. Mom and Dad didn’t seem concerned, though, so I plunged ahead.

I cut the shortening into the flour, still thinking about long-ago pies. My great-grandmother, Grandma Searls, had lived in the Jersey Pine Barrens, with blueberries in her yard. I remember picking them there. For her pie crusts, way back when, she’d collected fat from cooking, her favorite being chicken fat. It wouldn’t have looked anything like the pure white uniformity of my can of Crisco, but her pies were delicious.

Then it was time to roll out the piecrust, and I knew from experience not to even hope for perfection there. The bottom crust cooperated and was soon filled with berries dotted with pats of butter. The top crust bore a much closer resemblance to a patchwork quilt. Tomorrow, though, when we have it for breakfast, that pie will be perfect!

The warmth of family, and the hot Virginia summer

The days when we did everything together don’t seem that long ago. And yet, they are, and somehow it has been six months since I’ve seen my children. They’ve nested and started careers and then they haven’t changed at all. It’s been so good to be here, staying in Megan and Jacob’s log cabin, sampling a bit of their everyday lives.

On Belle Isle, in the James River, at the site of a factory that recycled scrap iron into nails, wire, and horseshoes in the 1800’s

Megan and I visited Belle Isle, site of a former Civil War POW camp, where she told me the story of “Crazy Bet,” the Union spy who hid beneath the cloak of mental illness to pass along crucial information. After freeing her family’s own slaves, she used her inheritance to buy and free their relatives.
  

The falls on the James River that now draw swimmers and rafters, once attracted native tribes, who agreed to short-term peace when the fish were running in the spring. A sign on Belle Isle described the bravado of the teenage boys, who rode the backs of pregnant 8-foot sturgeon here, to impress the girls.

Mom wanted all the details of Taylor’s firefighter’s life at his new station in Goochland County.

   
 

Taylor treated me to an hour-long walk at Charlottesville’s Riverview Park along the Rivanna River. Another day, we all went swimmimg and had a picnic along the same river.
    

  
Jacob’s family included me in their July 4th celebrations, including plenty of great southern home cooking and lots of little girls and bubbles. We also went with Jacob’s mom, Janet, to see fireflies with an entomologist in one of Richmond’s wetland parks. Who knew there were many species, each with its distinctive color, flight, and blinking pattern? Seeing the pitch-black meadow alight with a myriad of twinkling insects was well worth staying up late.  And saying farewell was not too hard, as Megan, Jacob, and Taylor will all be coming to Maine in August.

  

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!

One last weekend

One last weekend

Pulled from summer’s grasp into the chilly hands of fall

Our gear, gathered from the jumble of adventures past, rejoices to venture forth just one more time

The lake, discovered by friends who camped there first and generously shared the story of its wild, empty shores

The surge on windy crests of white to find our home, where some good soul has left us firewood beneath a tiny roof of birchbark

Dreams of swimming lie buried under wooly hats and added layers and we scramble over jumbled rocks to a woodland trail instead

A garter snake, like us, seems unwilling to surrender the feisty warmth of summer and defends his trail with fierce tenacity until we slip away

Hotdogs drip, above the glowing coals, beneath the toasting buns, and we eat with gusto

Later, the wind has calmed and water gently laps the shore. Does it dream of summer’s radiance or long for peaceful snowbound sleep?

In quiet unity, we write, we draw, we scoot ever closer to the living glow that wrestles with the icy night, as stars emerge

Dawn pulls us from the best of sleep, as crazy, restless calls surround our narrow point. Then, paddling out, the echoes become a bouncing dot of black and white, a loon to say farewell until summer comes again.

(by Laurie Chandler, Tunk Lake, Maine, September 2016)






Thank goodness it wasn’t the Whites

en-dur-ance (noun) the power to withstand pain or hardships; the ability or strength to continue despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions

I have survived. Had I ended up on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, our story might have ended differently. Yes, there were many ups and downs in my 29 miles, but the EKG line (as Katina calls it) of elevation changes looked like nothing compared to what she and my new thru-hiking friends will be facing very soon.

In such a short time, I sampled a lot of trail life – a hostel, shelter camping, lovely trail towns, fields and forests. Elm St. in Norwich, VT is well-known for its generous trail angels, who put coolers out along the road. This kind family offered cold sliced watermelon and homemade banana bread with a special flair.

Katina and I traveled well together, sometimes chatting away and sometimes (on the uphills?) lost in our own thoughts and the beauty of the trail. She kindly slowed down a bit and was always patiently cheerful about another water or photo break. A surprising amount of our second day’s hiking was on roads in the baking mid-afternoon sun.

I never knew sitting under a shady tree in the breeze, with the weight off my feet, could be so incredibly blissful. Dark oak leaves dancing against the blue and white above and the promise of a free cruller and icy cold iced tea ahead at Lou’s Restaurant in Hanover, NH.

Shortly after I hauled myself up from under that tree, we crossed the Connecticut River and Arachne entered her tenth AT state, New Hampshire. Sharing this milestone with her was especially fun because the Connecticut River farther north is part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT), which we have both thru-paddled.


As we walked, a popular topic of conversation was comparing the two trails. There is far less company along the NFCT and only a handful of thru-paddlers on it at any given time. In fact, less than 100 people have been recognized by the NFCT as having completed the 740 miles of rivers, lakes, and portages in its 16 years of existence. That will change, we both agree, when we see the excitement in the eyes of all the people with whom we have been sharing the story of the NFCT. Katina, in fact, just wrote an article comparing the two trails for the online publication Appalachian Trials that is generating a lot of interest. And while I am having fun inserting links, here is the first entry from our trip on Arachne’s online trail journal.

So as I say farewell to Soft G and Just Janelle, Snail and Walking Mink, Oompah and Tuna Roll, they will linger in my thoughts as I wake to a warm shower every morning. I think being dirty was the hardest part for me. That and the fact that every morning seemed to start with an uphill struggle that left me literally dripping with sweat and pulling out my inhaler. To Katina, grateful thanks for including me in your journey, sharing your Desitin, and helping me lose a pound that I can gain back on the cruise!

 

Walk well, Katina…and next time, let’s PADDLE together!

 

 

 

Surprising myself…13 miles on the Appalachian Trail

 

Arachne (Katina Daanen) and I ready for the adventures of the trail

The warm afternoon had occasionally been enlivened by cooling breezes and the AT had already taken us up and over several ridges by 2 pm. I stood beneath a newly crafted wooden sign, which spelled out our options. We could stop here at a shelter for the night, after a fairly respectable 7.9 miles for my first day with a full backpack. Or we could go on, 4.7 miles further, in search of a blue barn with a large, welcoming AT symbol to mark it.

 

We saw two red efts on the trail today

As we hiked, the barn’s purported amenities had drawn us on. A cooler of sodas on the porch, beside a river with a bridge for jumping in. And, of course, the barn would mean no damp dewy tent to pack up in the morning. I could go on. And on.

My slow trudge got a little slower as we crossed an interesting mix of terrain – meadows, fields, and mostly soft leafy paths under open forest. The beautiful surroundings and occasional mountain vistas inspired my weary body. For a time we had hiked by a long and ancient mossy stone wall. It was the Old King’s Highway, once the main route from Boston to Canada. I thought it surprising that there hadn’t been a flatter way to go.

 

We found it! The Hart family’s thoughtful hospitality even included omelets and toast this morning with lots of coffee and a warm kitchen visit. Thanks for the trail magic!

 

All powered up for another day, after Linda’s delicious breakfast.

 

Family time…touring around with Megan and Jacob

Exploring the rocks at Pemaquid Point Lighthouse…look for this view on a Maine quarter!
A well-deserved rest for two hard-working graphic designers

We went paddling of course and the “kids” tried the new canoes on the Pemaquid River and Biscay Pond.
  
Starting with a visit to the old stone bridge
   

Common Arrowroot grows here, too.
  
Paddling partners for a future expedition?
The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on a warm afternoon…lots of new flowers to learn
  

The artists learning about the visiting exhibition of wind sculptures
Eating at the wharf for the second night in a row…there was no lobster on the NFCT!

Adventures in Boston…braving the big city with our eighth graders

The sweet scent of roses in the Boston Public Garden

Not much time for writing profusely, but here are some photo highlights from our June 10 and 11 trip, including my first ever photo cropped on my phone, which should come in handy on the trail.

The Dexter School was our home away from home, sharing their pool, gym, and bountiful breakfast. The school is home to one of the best observatories in the East, not to mention a planetarium and ice rink!
Don’t forget to look up!
The Asian art and ever-popular mummies were our group’s favorites

interlude

031615 capitol in Richmond 031615 megan 031615 tiffany lamps              Found my green grass on Richmond’s capitol lawn, found Megan in her new cubicle, found beauty at the VMFA

Loving RVA (Richmond, Virginia) more with each visit.  Megan was tickled with my excitement over the public buses, particularly the app on my phone that would send me walking two blocks ahead, then 500 feet left until I met the proper bus at exactly 2:14 p.m.  Thanks to Jacob for treating us to an IMAX film on prehistoric monsters of the sea and to Megan for some awesome Thai food.  Also enjoyed the First Freedom Center, a tribute to our nation’s history of religious freedom, a historical treasure right across from the Randall Branding office.  I promise more news later when the box arrives from our shopping excursion at REI!