Joy for the Taking: reviews of the book, and a short trip away

Long Sands Beach, York, ME

First, on the ninth anniversary of this blog, a photo: classic mid-June sunrise in York, Maine, Nubble Lighthouse barely visible at the distant tip of land, with a solo surfer in the waves. In pre-dawn gray, the surfer had grinned uncontrollably as he pulled on a wetsuit next to his parked jeep. I grinned back and waved from the beach, both of us delighted to be pursuing our individual joys. 

The glowing golden-orange light made the sand look molten. Wide rolls of dark blue water reminded me the ocean temperature was in the 50s. Wind kicked up as the sky lightened and my sandaled feet numbed; after an hour of photography I scurried back to my room to savor hot tea and blankets on my toes, so happy to have ventured out.

Another angle: orb of dawn on golden sand.

***

Second, thanks to all who have purchased our book, who have perused or plunged into it, who shared joy about how it affected you and your relationship to walking or a friendship or nature—oh my goodness, thank you!

Here are two lovely reviews. The first is by Kaitlin Lembo of The Spot 518: https://spotlightnews.com/thespot/2021/05/27/a-walking-friendship-the-first-500-miles-chronicles-the-musings-of-two-wanderers/ and the second from Gillian Scott’s Outdoors column in the Sports section of the Albany Times-Union: https://www.timesunion.com/sports/article/Outdoors-Two-area-women-share-their-treasure-16256141.php?IPID=Times-Union-HP-CP-Spotlight. (I never imagined my name would show up in a Sports section! How fun.)

Another classic Maine image: fragrant beach roses against rugged rocks and splashing surf.
(Along the Marginal Way, Ogunquit ME)

***

A final photo below: the first walk on Long Sands Beach three days before, when storms were rolling in.

We could have been upset about wet weather “ruining” one of the few days we had on the ocean. However, mist ventured onto the beach and combined with roiling clouds to confuse the eye. Surf blended into sky; waves became almost irrelevant.

It was beautiful. We laughed when the rain beat down hard on us as we ran for our room after dinner. The fingers of mist continued over the days to reach for land in the morning and refract sunlight in unusual ways.

In its changing, the weather makes you adapt to what’s right here, right now. 

Changing weather also reminds me that opportunities for joy will present themselves regularly, even in the midst of the uncontrollable, the chaos and sadness, shifts and unpredictability and opportunities, of this summer just arrived.

Ever changing sky on Long Sands Beach, York ME

Yes, you can buy our book at the link below, as well as at independent bookstores and online retailers.

https://store.bookbaby.com/book/a-walking-friendship

The Book is Finished!

Our gorgeous cover, designed by Meradith at The Troy Book Makers, based on a photo by Carole Fults

Relief. Oh my gosh, the relief. Along with growing excitement.

An actual book. It’s here. Giggle, wiggle and woo hoo! 

For long time readers at this site, some of the essays and photos will be familiar. The growth of the nature essays into meditations on friendship will be new, along with the poems and photos by my co-author and delightful hiking partner Carole Fults. 

It has been months and months (I hate to say but yes, years) of striving to finish edits, hire a formatter and choose publication routes, stumble along, play avoid-don’t avoid, and return repeatedly to this very challenging work of creating and putting out a book. 

To unfurl, to birth a new thing into the world, happy Spring! (Ferns at Sage College, Troy NY)

I pet the silky cover of the locally printed copies from The Troy Book Makers. 

I touch the glossy cover of the print-on-demand version. 

I take in the saturated color of the photographs.

It is a sensual experience, this physical book, in a time when I have mostly been reading ebooks from the library on a tablet. Blue-lit screens during the day and brown-lit screens at night (so as not to disturb my sleep), thoughts of battery usage and news articles too easily accessed often distract me from the act of reading. 

Words on a page, I have heard, are more memorable than on a screen. I agree.

Squirrel corn (Dicentra canadensis), in the same family, very similar, but not quite the same as Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) below—
—somewhat like an e-book versus a printed book. (Both images from Robert H. Treman State Park in Ithaca NY)

Of course, A Walking Friendship: The First 500 Miles is available to view and preorder as an ebook as well as a softcover (love that descriptor!), at the national online stores here and here and independent bookstores (several here and here, or even for my dear friends in Chicago here but really at all of them!), and on our author page at Book Baby, where our print on demand and ebook versions originate. Every view, every pre-order, every Goodreads mention and Wish List addition, every request for a library to purchase, helps our book.

However our audience prefers to purchase, we want it to get out there. The release is June 11.

All these informational phrases are starting to flow trippingly off my tongue, as I earnestly learn “the elevator speech” to describe our book in a single sentence, and as I let go of Ego and self judgment based on what people might think of the project. 

***

I am better with perfectionism these days and recognize it more quickly. The weight of almost a year of mandated day-job overtime and completely different work duties added an extra layer to the challenge. I am just glad I can fall finally back in love with this manuscript—now book—all over again.

For right now I am doing the Happy Dance as I print promotional postcards and plan Zoom readings and interviews.

Go! Fly! Be Free! (More giggles.)

***

This book is imperfectly perfect. It is a creation that is done being created. It has taken flight, out into the world. What it will grow into, we will see.

Mostly my coauthor and I wish for the richness we found walking in the woods to be experienced by as many people as possible, since it was such a gift to us.

A tiny elm seed that made its way into my kitchen: metaphor for sending creative work out into the world.

Thanks to everyone who has helped and encouraged us, chided and applauded and assisted us–and most of all, took our work as seriously as we do.

We are so small in the hugeness of nature. What a wondrous feeling. (Hiker at the bottom of the 115 drop of Lucifer Falls, Robert H. Treman State Park, Ithaca NY)

A Miracle Hike

Sometimes, in the midst of chaos, uncertainty, sadness, frustration, stupefaction and anger (much of what this country has been experiencing for quite some time and especially recently) or sometimes in the middle of life stretching out so dull and repetitive and without reprieve (which we have also endured)—something that feels miraculous shows up. What have I learned to do with it?

Take it in fully, knowing there’s plenty more chaos out there and we’ve got to see everything that we have, not just what is difficult. 

Examine it carefully and lovingly, appreciate it from all angles, marvel over it with others. 

Appreciate all the ways it could have been missed and also—wow, there it was.

******

“It” was a hike up Coney Mountain in the Horseshoe Lake Wild Forest north of Long Lake, New York. The rest of my week off from the day job had been catch-up from the holidays (finally making gifts), work on the book (still not available online yet but we’re close), and learning once again to take joy in household projects. 

This hike made “time off” a vacation.

According to local folks we chatted with briefly on the trail, it had snowed a week prior and then a more delicate snow dusted the trees on two other days. Unusually, they’d had no wind the whole week, while the sky stayed full of gray clouds. These specific meteorological conditions (once in a decade? once in a lifetime for an intermittent mountain hiker like me?) combined to create what we found.

Because that day, the sun came out.

Feathery ferns festooned with snow.

Therefore, the snow that clung thickly to every millimeter of the branches, stems and twigs was lit from above. The dry frostiness at fifteen degrees Fahrenheit created jewels of every flake, with flashes and glints of rainbow: literal scintillation. On the hike up, shades of blue-white light filled the deeper woods while frosted glacial erratics (boulders dropped from the movement of ancient ice sheets) slumbered between hemlocks and birches. A red squirrel dashed across our path.

Quiet winter woods.

The sky above curved a flat cornflower blue. We mistook the white in the sky as clouds beyond the canopy when in fact there were no clouds on that side of the mountain. The puffs were full heads of glistening tree hair, crowns of snow in filigree as well as stubby clubs of silver. 

Not clouds up there, nope, not at all. Take a closer look.

What we found at the end of the trail, up at 2,265 feet, was not only the expected 360 degree view of the Adirondack High Peaks we’d experienced in the autumn, but a frosted world that left us wordless and laughing.

I have been trying for days to describe what made it so moving and joyful. Does it help to say it was one of the top ten hikes of my life?

The bright at the top couldn’t be viewed without sunglasses. As we turned in astonished circles, we discerned flowing blankets of white becoming darker in the distance. The most pure white appeared in the close-in trees and bushes, then below us the tops of full grown evergreens arose white-beige; further away the mountain tops full of trees flashed a shade darker of brown-white. Finally between two evergreens, the restful dark blue of Tupper Lake came into view, with its own islands of brown dotted with miniature Christmas trees.

Trees after trees after trees, and distant peaks.

A forest of saguaro cactus snow shapes surrounded us. The heavy buildup of frozen crystals looked like hoarfrost—layer after layer of hoarfrost, fat like a corndog. It wasn’t icy either, just weightless and fluffy and when I touched it with my finger it crumbled away. 

If there had been any wind of note during the previous week, this spectacle would have disintegrated into blobs of snow on the ground, and we would never have known what we missed.

Fingers of glowing frost.

As I snapped image after image, I was afraid of distorting what I was seeing—I had on polarized lenses, could I see through the camera what I was seeing in my eyes, what was really there in front of me? Were the photos all going to be shaky because of the huff-and-puff of the climb and/or because I was so excited about what we saw? 

We stayed up top for a half hour, devouring chicken sandwiches with leaf lettuce that startled in its glowing greenness. As we happily headed down, the woods dimmed and shadowed around us; we had taken in all the light we could. 

I keep returning to what we saw, how we felt. I can’t get it out of my mind.

A last look back.

The world was so bright up there, so fiercely, sweetly bright. Snow sparkled silently, blindingly, rainbows and diamonds in every direction. 

It surprised us but was natural and beautiful even if unexpected, was somehow delicate and yet enduring.

I think it looked like hope.

Winter sun over us, up on Coney Mountain.

Bittersweet

Oriental Bittersweet in early November sun, Glenville NY

A couple words: pandemic, mandatory overtime, 2020 political strife. Any of it enough to knock us off our timetables/schedules/other notions of control. Bittersweet, indeed.

But I’m back, thanks to gentle nudging from several gentle folk. (And less mandatory overtime.) Thank you.

P.S. Add: prepping a book for publication. Details to follow.

Sunset over the Troy-Green Island Bridge, Hudson River, Troy NY, November 2020

Some invitations for difficult times

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Trees overlooking the Mohawk River along the Erie Canal, Amsterdam NY, April 2020

In this time of hunker down and keep to ourselves, I was wondering what I could possibly do to use my skillset for the community. Pretty immediately, I was surprised by a phone call. 

Last September, I led a forest therapy walk for the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy at Strawberry Fields Preserve in Amsterdam, NY. (I will write about this experience—and soon—I promise!)

Carrie, my contact at MHLC, asked:  Could you lead a virtual hike, and what might that look like?

In response I created two short meditations modeled on the invitations we offer in forest therapy. One is for folks who cannot go outside and one is for when you go out for your daily healthy walk for fresh spring air and long leg movements—or whatever suits you and your body.  Kids can use them, too.

You can play the recordings on your device inside or outside.

https://mohawkhudson.org/virtual-hikes-and-lessons

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My first wildflower of the year–oxalis (shamrock) peeking out from under the leaves on Hang Glider Road trail at John Boyd Thacher (North) State Park, April 2020

Resting on the Ice

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Staghorn sumac drupe on the ice

Staghorn sumac is a shrub or low tree that has flowers that are replaced with drupes, hard coated seeds with bright red hairs. Don’t they look brilliant against the ice?

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Moss from a tree, or maybe a rock

I’m wanting to learn more about mosses, lichens, and algae. Right now I enjoy the bright green against clear.

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Winter tree litter

Look closer at the “litter” and you’ll see needles and bits of cones from the hemlocks that surround this patch of snow. Someone has been busy: either nibbling animals and pecking birds, or the wind–or both.

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A bee, caught by freezing temperatures

I thought this was another bit of plant or rock, until I took a second look.

Snow and ice are not just white, or clear; items fall to rest on them, things we wouldn’t see if they fell on dark dirt or leaves.

What do you see, when you stop to really look? When you lean in close?

 

Bunnies and Hope

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The hedgerow at sunset

I see them at night, after work, when I pull into a parking spot.

By the hedgerow: round, stone-shaped shadows, but then a fluff tail pops up, a hop gives them away. Sometimes one bunny, often a pair.

They give me hope. 

These creatures are huge, from nibbling the grass and the plants by the farmer’s field.  They pause when caught in my headlights, then scamper back to the safety of the brush. Sometimes they stay until long after I leave, if I don’t make too much noise or movement.

Even in the snow, they are out there. It’s late enough in the day they must not fear the eagles and other hunters in the area.

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Another predator: the Cooper’s hawk that sometimes stalks the bird feeder.

It’s usually at late dusk or already dark, so photos are difficult. In my excitement I end up with pixellated brown and white blobs against gray grass, so I choose instead to observe, breathe, take them into my memory.

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Cardinals and sparrows in the hedgerow by day.

One dusk walk last summer it was a “twelve-bunny night,” with various bucks and does nibbling grapevines and greenery near the apartments. A bevy of bunnies under bushes and bopping in the open field; a score skittering between buildings where small children run themselves, wobbly with bikes and balls. 

Another night we mourned a small rabbit smashed on the road, and wondered if it was the result of deliberate cruelty, or a mistaken dash across the asphalt. 

Could you be more careful? we asked—of drivers and of bunnies. We will be, now.

A dear friend used to say that bunnies were a sign of good luck, or good things to come. She gave us all little charms of smiling bunnies that made me smile in turn. When I see rabbits, I remember to think positively, for all the good in the midst of what can feel like overwhelming bad in our world.

Every chance I get, I look for bunnies on the lawn. Every chance.

 

The Hedgerow

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Sunset, facing east, in winter

 

A hedgerow is a marvelous thing–the edges of a field. Remnants of this year’s rows of corn are visible through the gaps. At this moment, the hedgerow is still. Sunset dapples yellow on blue snow, like the summer glow fading on ocean sand.

The hedgerow’s few trees are weighted down by grapevine and other plants so that the far view has not been impinged by thick or tall trunks. Bushes create hiding places for year-round birds as well as travelers.

There is space inside this edge, the hedge-edge, as well as on both sides.

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Staghorn sumac against the sky

Dark shadowed limbs create a picture frame for the world on the other side of the hedgerow. Deer travel the dawn field; wild turkeys jut heads and flash feathers at each other.  On this side, cars slide in and out; owners and dogs walk each other. Snowplows beep and scrape in the night and later, when day comes, the hedgerow’s birds flap to the feeders.

Which edges do you cherish? Which do you chafe against? What life can be found inside the edges?

 

Ask Questions–Wait and See

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Bubbles that look like coins and holes. Off Tubbs Pond dock, Partridge Run WMA, East Berne NY

Some of my nature mantras:

Stop and notice.

Be aware of distractions in your head and in the outside world.

Don’t divide your attention. 

Ask questions when something seems unusual. 

Wait and see.

Take it in.

***

In a funk, I walk over to the pond on a quick outing, to see if there are unusual ice formations or quirky fallen over plants or any of my other usual photographic thrills. For several days, the temperatures have hovered just above freezing; a thin sheet of whitened ice rests over mostly liquid water.

Often ice is marked by little shapes or lines where objects have struck or steps been made by pads, claws or boots. Much of it melts, refreezes, and reshapes until it is unidentifiable except as blobs and stretch marks. My heart races to find perfect captured bubbles in a column, breathed upward: exhaled perhaps from winter-slow fish or turtles, or gassy plants at the bottom.

On the ice this time, an odd dark shape on the white—how funny! how curious! Random melting and re-freezing? I move to walk on, but hear quiet gurgling sounds. Could it just be my imagination, or a sound carried from elsewhere? I hear it again.

If I wait, I bet I’ll see something! I hope I’ll see something!

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Pond ice near the Mohawk River

***

The cattail stalks are dry and pale yellow this time of year, the seed heads exploded white out of grainy brown-toasted hot dog buns. I squint to see between them.  Carefully skirting crumbling piles of dog doo, the urban menace to mindless wandering, I move down a bit closer. 

Was that rock there before, in the open water? Time to zoom in with the camera. 

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Curious, what appears among the plants….

A motionless anvil-shaped brown fur head, whiskers spangled with drops of pond water, an eye that looks straight, avoiding my glance. Nothing to see here folks, nope, keep on a-goin’. 

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No, not a rock.

A blink. Then a double blink.

***

We saw a passel of muskrat babies last year, in the tiny stream that feeds the pond. They were well hidden in the green reeds and overgrown plants there, a parent teaching them to forage. Much like I taught my children to travel the train in Chicago: at first with me and in a group, then the group without me, and finally alone, self-reliant. I wonder if this animal is one of the babies or the parents.

***

I could stay there longer at the pond to see what else might happen but chores call, along with a waiting lunch. When I turn my head, SPLURG! SPLUSH! away it goes, a trail of trembling water behind it. Closer, in the cattails, there it is: a fresh muskrat home of knocked over stalks hidden in the standing ones.

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Beavers use sticks, grasses and mud to make lodges; muskrats prefer cattails with their mud.

Off the wet grass, my boots grate and crunch thick salt crystals on concrete. Cold February air nuzzles my exposed cheeks. Wind brings the smell of mud and muck and someone’s wood stove. I smile to glimpse another creature inhabiting its life, like a secret I got to share. I am grateful for the patience with myself–to stand motionless and allow the natural world to reveal itself, doing what it does when I am not here to see.

***

Stop and notice.

Be aware of distractions in your head and in the outside world.

Don’t divide your attention. 

Ask questions when something seems unusual. 

Wait and see.

Take it in.

***

(In re: animal identification–If the ears protruded more I might say it was a beaver–since I can’t see the body’s size. If the nostrils were more rounded and flared I might think river otter. I know that a muskrat is pretty fluffy under the chin, but this animal is soaked. I might be “all wet” myself, in my identification, but I enjoy asking the questions, and absolutely aware I could be incorrect.)

 

Feeling Your Senses in Photos, Part 2: Curls and Wisps

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These dried leaves held together against the wind and temperature changes of fall-into-winter.

Without distracting myself with research to identify this plant, I want to sense it through the photograph.

The leaves are not summer green but brown with aged cell walls. Before the days shortened, fingertips could have felt the transformation of rain absorbed through roots and pulled upward into firm outstretched greenery.

Can you feel the chilly breeze dry your hand as it reaches out to touch the curls? Can you smell the damp moulder of meadow plants soggy in the snow? Can you hear the raspy crackle of the ringlets of leaves, one against another, barely able to be heard over the wind?

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From another angle, the dancing leaves.

Look closer at the soft furry surface in the sun. Feel warmth on old bones.

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Closer still.

Look even closer and see the seed fluff from another plant hooked on those furry edges. Caught temporarily, it will either blow away again in a stronger wind, be washed down by melting snow, or wait further and sprout when this plant falls to the ground.

What would it be like to rest, like this tiny seed, nestled in softness?