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.

Ask Questions–Wait and See

copyright Of-The-Essence Blog 2020

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. 

IMG_2508 copyright Of-the-Essence Blog 2020

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’. 

IMG_2509 copyright of-the-essence blog 2020

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.)

 

A New Beginning: Diane’s Photo of the Week

 

New England asters ready to unfurl in the fall (Vischer Ferry Preserve, Rexford, NY, Oct 2019).

A little explanation–

Yes, it has been quite a while. Yes, with a few posts here and there. No, not what I had envisioned or desired when I began this writing endeavor.

But life changes.

The transition to day job has not been instant or even short, and certainly not easy. Balance, balance, balance, I say to myself each morning, sometimes with gritted teeth but more and more with an ease that surprises me. Each day I discover something lovely.

Last week I took a promotion to a new position and a new department. At my former job, in lieu of writing essays and posting online here, I determined to do the small things that I was capable of. I brought in one of my photos each week and posted it on the outside of my cube.

It’s what I could handle.

My workmates came by to witness, comment, enjoy, question, compare, express memories about their own nature places and photos, and even give preferences about which photos they needed to see that week—bright colors or flowers in winter, cooling water or ice images in August, signs of seasonal change, details and broader vistas. The previous week’s photo stayed up, and acted as a comparison, a talking-point.  At one point I had three photos up at once–the needs had grown! The photos became a Monday or Tuesday morning joy for many, a way of connecting that grew and expanded over the days until the next Diane’s Photo Of The Week was pinned up.

As I took in the departing hugs and best wishes, I was invited (ok, ordered, thank you Kelly!) to continue this tradition online. Here I begin Diane’s Photo of the Week, five work days after the move out of my old cube and yes, I know, on a Wednesday (chalk it up to technical difficulties).

You can subscribe by email or RSS feed to get a bit of what I shared for almost two and a half years with my dear Guidance & Counseling office family. You could also just drop by this virtual outside-of-my-cube, whenever you get up from your desk and need a break. Feel free to leave a comment and join the conversation.

Thanks for wandering by.

Things to notice about the photo

Take a look at the velvety and furry texture of the the outside layer of greenish bracts on the foreground flowers. Bracts (also called phyllaries in some sources) protect the petals of the aster until they open and then form part of the underneath support. (The tightly curled purple petals trying to burst out make me smile. I understand that desire to grow.)

Actually, there are two kinds of petals on an aster.  The interior orange ones you can only see in the blurred background flowers here are called disk florets since once the flower opens they form a flat disk in the center. The purple ones that are uncurling are the ray florets–yes, those ones doing a modern dance wave and gesture as they “wake up” in the fall.

What does this photo make you think of or remember?  Is there something you are feeling ready to wake up to this autumn?