The Stillness

Some of you are going to read this post and know exactly what I’m talking about. The rest of you are going to think, “Yep, this chick is nuts!” But don’t write me off just yet…

 Gravel crunches beneath my tires in the Hume Lake parking area. I turn off the engine and sit for a minute to squelch my frustration. Today’s adventure plan was to hike to the Boole tree (a giant sequoia free from paved walkways and fences), but compliments of the man who set over 1,600 acres of the Sequoia National Forest on fire last year while tending to the 2,000 plus marijuana plants that he was growing in the national forest, the Converse Basin Trail that would lead me there is closed.

Rocky hops off my lap and presses his paws against the passenger-side window then looks back at me, his brown eyes expectant and mouth wide with a doggy smile. I laugh and clip the ridiculously-too-big-for-him canicross leash to his halter, snap the other end around my waist, and together we make our way to the trail.A breeze, cool from its journey across the lake refreshes me. Sunlight breaks through the branches of towering evergreens creating a shifting patchwork of gold at my feet. My day is perfect. Ahead a swarm of flying insects blocks the path. I consider going back for the insect repellent that has been tucked away in my trunk since before I started this gypsy life. Instead I choose to brave the biting beasts.
Ten steps.
Hundreds of lady bugs surround me—drifting, floating, twirling, swirling. One lands lightly on my arm, resting for barely a second before returning to its aerial dance. Slowly the magical swarm moves away, forming a ribbon leading into the trees. I can’t help myself. I leave the path to follow the ladybug trail. Pine needles blanket the ground beneath my feet as I weave between the trees. I’ve only traveled a few feet from the trail when the stream of ladybugs breaks apart and disappears through the branches.
I follow.
The lake stretches before me like a sea of sparkling sapphires. A pair of grebes drift along its surface. 


Rocky’s nose finds the ground and leads him in an erratic pattern along the edge of the water as I settle onto a nearby rock to watch the grebes as they take turns diving beneath the water, each time rising farther away from me.The birds are nothing more than two dark spots on the blue water and Rocky is once again staring expectantly at me. I rise from my observation perch and make my way back to the path. We wind our way through a clearing. Bushes bursting with tiny pink bell flowers are scattered among the gold and green California grass.

Beyond the clearing, evergreens reclaim the landscape. Although dwarf-like in comparison to their sequoia cousins, these trees hold their own majesty. And I love that I am alone here. I have craved this solitude. I pause near a large red fir and press my hand against its cinnamon bark. I feel its energy flow through me as I gaze up into its branches and wonder…


How many birds have built their homes in those branches?
How many squirrels have called this tree their playground?

How many feet have pressed down the earth over its roots?
How many hands have pressed against its trunk as mine does?  
I close my eyes and breathe deeply of this pure air.
And a stillness settles over me. It soothes me, energizes me and fills me with joy.
It is a stillness that can only be found in the forest. A stillness born from great trees.
Which person are you? 
  

That Place

On each assignment, I search for That Place.

It only has a few requirements.

      It must be nearby.

      It must bring me closer to nature.

      It must allow dogs (I do make an exception to this rule when Rocky doesn’t travel with me.)

      It must center me.

Sometimes I’ll be almost through my assignment before I find That Place.

In North Carolina, it was Battleground Park in Greensboro. I so loved walking along the winding paved pathways sheltered beneath the branches of great trees, as I watched bluebirds, woodpeckers, cardinals and the occasional vulture. The best part….I shared this time with my closest friend, Jeanne Curtin.

In South Carolina, it was Lake Conestee.  I watched baby herons grow to adulthood, discovered red-shouldered hawk nests, glimpsed a beaver and discovered one of my first tree creatures in this preserve.

In Maine, it was a magical trail in downtown Corinna. It began as a boardwalk at a small dam and wove its way through a marshland rich with touch-me-nots, ducks, butterflies and the occasional hummingbird. It connects with the rail trail, bordered by wetlands on one side and farmland on the other.

In Florida, I never found That Place. There were very few trails nearby that allowed dogs. I considered risking bringing Rocky along in his pouch and throwing out the argument that you can barely consider him a dog.

Today I found That Place here in California. It took some searching, but I knew that it had to be here.

I had tried the Avocado Rim trail. It was disgustingly dirty and really more of a road than a trail.

I had parked at the dam and walked along the river. It was clean, but once again, more of a road than a trail.

I had tried the other side of the river. But the trail petered out into a field of burrs that clung to my socks then worked their way into my shoes. Rocky didn’t like this field any better than me. He insisted on being carried through the burry grass.

Today I headed out intent on settling for a walk along the road across from the dam. As I drove along the Pine Flat road, I passed a sign that said ‘River Access No Camping’. As I rounded the corner, I spotted a Kiosk a few feet beyond the parking area.

Kiosks mean trails!

I made a U-turn, turned into the access point and my oh-too-low-to-the-ground car crept down the partially washed out, steep drive.

The moment I stepped out of my car, I knew I’d found it. This was That Place.

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The river drifted lazily around a tiny island crowded with sycamore trees. A few people fished along the river, but not so much to feel crowded. And there, beyond the Kiosk was a trail. Not a road, but an actual trail.

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And it was perfect.

Scattered craggy trees with their branches twisting over the trail.

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The river’s melody plays alongside me.

Swallows perform their acrobatic aerial dance as they gather their dinner.

Stalks filled with yellow flowers, wild roses, and some tiny flowers that remind me of miniature dragons border my path.

A scrub jays squawks as I pass beneath the branches of its tree.

I scramble up a hill of granite boulders that makes me wish I’d worn my hiking shoes.

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Tiny birds, not much bigger than hummingbirds flit about on giant thistles with variegated leaves.

A waterfall of yellow flowers spills down a rocky hill.

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A red shouldered hawk soars across the river

I climb to the top of a hill that is solid rock. From here I can see the dam, the rolling golden California hills and the mountains beyond. I realize that I’ve made my way almost to the trail that had petered out into a burry field.

Across the river, crows and vultures perch, waiting on bare branches.

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Beyond the rock hill, the trail becomes more difficult to follow. Two picnic tables, one overtaken by tall green grass spur me forward.IMG_8553.JPG

A rustle of grass and a glimpse of a ground squirrel scurrying out of site.

Two quails dash into the underbrush. I’ll remember this spot, because I’d love to get a picture of them.

Across the river, a cow ‘moos.’ I looked toward the sound and spot what I believe is a cormorant with a speckled white upper body and brown lower half.

I stand quietly, my eyes closed and listen to the sounds of the river, birds and the solitary cow. The peacefulness of nature centers me.

Yes.

This is That Place

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Ancient Majesty

I awake to the sound of a light rain. I feel rested–recovered from my trek across the US. And now my mind moves on to the reason I made that journey.  There are so many things here in California that I want to experience.

Is there a reason I can’t start now?

  • Grocery shopping-done
  • Car unpacked-done
  • Pre assignment checklist – done

I grab Rocky, my camera and a bag of snacks and I’m off to do something I’ve always wanted to do….stand beneath the branches of a giant Sequoia.

As I following the winding road to elevations of over 6000 feet, I stop to admire the beauty of this mountain terrain. And I’m glad that I left my winter coat in the trunk, because as the elevation increases, the temperature drops.IMG_7913

I watch for the ancient trees, expecting to see their branches reaching for the clouds around each corner. But all I see are low growing trees, green grasses and several dead evergreens, their green pine needles turned to rust.IMG_7918

The trees grow denser and I reach the gate to Kings Canyon National Park. (Here’s where I’m once again thankful for the investment in a National Park Pass)IMG_7909

Large patches of snow cover the ground beneath the trees. Warnings of ice on the road slow my pace. I glimpse red trunks ahead. And then I see it. I arrive at the Grant Village Visitor Center and I’m feeling a little disappointed. Yes, I’ve seen some large trees, but nothing none larger than the trees I’d seen at Congaree National Park in South Carolina.

 

After a visit with the park ranger, I’m encouraged that the great trees do indeed exist and I continue along the winding road. And there it is! My first giant Sequoia. It’s not the largest – The Grant Tree- but it is here, unfenced, just off the road waiting for me. This tree has stood for ages. It has seen not only the history of this country, but the hundreds of years before. Could a wooly mammoth have passed beneath its branches? I cant’ really find the words to describe how it felt to stand in the presence of this majestic tree.IMG_7941

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Beneath the surface a seed awakens.

Roots wind their way deep into the rich soil.

A tender sprout bursts through the surface.

Thin shoots of green unfold from atop a reddish stem stretching toward the warming rays of sunshine.

A soft nose brushes against the tips of the leaves. Teeth tear nearby grass from the earth.  A shadow moves across the ground and slender legs glide past, and then the warmth of the sun once again falls on the struggling sprout.

The sun rises.

The sun sets.

Days fade into weeks.

The red stem thickens.

Thin green leaves branch outward.

The sun grows hot and cracks form in the dry earth.

The green leaves droop.

A single drop of rain falls. And then another. And another….

The earth’s thirst is quenched and the roots draw in the needed moisture.

Months fade into years.

The tender sapling has grown into a tree.

Birds nest in its branches.

Men seek shelter beneath its great canopy.

Decades fade to centuries.

Branches disappear into the clouds and what was once a tiny stem is now a majestic trunk that stretches twenty five feet across.

More men arrive. They carry saws and axes. Neighboring trees crash to the ground.

A century passes.

Fire burns through the forest, leaving a deep scar on the great tree. But it does not fall. It does not die.

Decades pass.

The ancient tree stands proud

A woman stands within the scar. Her hands press against the trunk. She closes her eyes and allows the majesty of this ageless tree to surround her.

She opens her eyes and gazes up into the branches breathing deeply of the mountain air.

She watches as a cone tumbles to the ground.

Unseen a seed slips from its shelter within the cone and nestles into the rich soil.

Beneath the earth, the seed sleeps.IMG_7928

 

 

Into the Clouds of Franconia Ridge

One of the things I love about photography is the way a single image has the power to spark a memory. That’s what happened to me today when I saw a picture of Franconia Notch. Its snow covered ridge rising above the vibrant fall foliage was different from the lush summer green that I remembered. Yet it held the same power, and the memory of my climb was as sharp as if it had occurred only yesterday.

At the sound of the alarm I hopped out of bed, being careful not to disturb my sleeping husband. As I slipped into my typical hiking clothes, Rocky, my three year old yorkie’s head popped up. I tapped my leg and he sprang to my side.

In the kitchen, I started breakfast and before long the aroma of bacon, eggs and toast drew my nineteen year-old son out of bed. Once our bellies were full and our gear packed, we climbed into the car and let the GPS lead us along scenic roadways to the Franconia Ridge trailhead.

The trailhead parking area is immediately off interstate 93, but the second my feet met the hard-packed dirt of the trail, the sounds of traffic faded away to a distant memory. I had entered the sanctuary of the forest.

IMG_8431Ferns, saplings and the occasional wildflower hid the ground alongside the trail. Stout maple, lean aspen and rough pine stretched their branches toward the sky, created a canopy of deep green leaves that provided welcome shade along the path. IMG_8472My son marched ahead of me, his long, lean legs carrying him one step for every two of mine. My little yorkie, tugged at his cani-cross leash, his feet scrabbling through the dirt as he tried to catch up with my son, which he does when we reach the intersection of Greenleaf and Falling Waters Trail.

The murmur of a not-so-far-away creek, draws me to the Falling Waters Trail and the tightly packed dirt beneath my feet is replaced with a path of large boulders, as if a giant had tossed them down the mountain to add to the challenge of our ascent. My son is like a six-foot-two Billy goat as he leaps from rock to rock, pausing frequently to wait for me as I chose my steps carefully grasping the trunks of nearby trees to steady my way.

Falling Waters Trail is clearly named for the water that tumbles down the mountain. Its music surrounds me as it bounces and splashes over rocks, twists around corners and cascades down miniature falls. I’m tempted to close my eyes and lose myself in its watery melody, but the threat of tumbling head over heels down the trail persuades me to keep my eyes open.

Before long the cadence of the creek changes from bubbling laughter to a dIMG_8445istant roar. I scramble up the bouldered path toward the sound and am not disappointed. Rushing water spills over the top of a semi-circle of step-like ledges, then swirls into a shallow pebbled-bottom pool before it continues its downward journey. It may not be the largest waterfall, but it is beautiful.

IMG_8459I could still hear the sound of the rushing water behind me when I discovered something I’d never seen before. It was a three-legged tree creature, caught mid stride. Only a tree could hold this pose so perfectly.

For the next three miles with my little yorkie still trotting along ahead of me with his endless energy, I
enjoyed more waterfalls, each one beautiful in its own way.IMG_8466IMG_8452IMG_8463

And I kept a close eye on the trees, hoping to catch one unawares. But trIMG_8489ee real estate is tight up here in Franconia Notch, where the trees, rocks and moss have learned to co-exist peacefully. I suppose, living in such a tight space doesn’t allow for much movement.

My fast-moving son waited for me by the sign for Shining Rock. It was a no-brainer that we would go check it out.

IMG_8483Shining Rock doesn’t shine when you’re right next to it, but I image that from other peaks, it is without a doubt a beauty! It’s a completely flat rock face that I’m guessing goes straight up to Franconia Ridge. There is a constant flow of water down its surface and when I stand at the right angle, I catch sight of brief reflections from the sun. Someday I’ll have to investigate which peak to climb so that I can enjoy it in its full splendor.

After a short break, which I spent dissuading my adrenaline-junky climbing partner from attempting to scale Shining Rock, we resumed our upward trek. The path veered away from the water and the rocky trail grew steeper. I pushed on, trying to keep up with the giant billy goat leading the way.IMG_8491

And then he called down to me that he’d reached the ridge. His proclamation of breath-taking views energized my feet and Rocky and I scurried up the last portion of Falling Waters Trail.

When I climbed up over that last rock I stood in awe trying to take in the panoramic views of the White Mountains that surrounded me. It overwhelmed me. The space, the beauty, the realization of how big the earth is and how really, truly small I am in comparison. Franconia Ridge is everything I imagined it to be and more.IMG_8492IMG_8494

I read once that when you reach the summit of a mountain, you’re only half-way through your journey.

Well, in the case of the Franconia Ridge loop, you’re just over a third of the way.
We rested, ate lunch and enjoyed the view—well, I rested, my son provided entertainment!IMG_8523IMG_8512

The beginning of the ridge trail is hard packed dirt surrounded by low growing brush, moss and alpine flowers resilient enough to withstand the cool, windy climate.

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I had tied my sweatshirt arIMG_8496ound my waist at the beginning of the hike. Now I pulled it up over my head and stepped onto the trail. I looked to the next peak (at the time I thought it was my last peak…NOT) and headed on to traverse Little Haystack Mountain and Mount Lincoln. As I descended the summit of Mount LincolnIMG_8531 I looked ahead to Mount Lafayette and I felt a thrill. The peak was hidden in the clouds. I prayed that the skies wouldn’t clear and I walked faster. I’ve never hiked into the clouds before!

As the elevation increased, so did the size of the rocks beneath my feet and once again I found myself rock-hopping and occasionally scrambling up boulders, which of course delayed my journey to the clouds.IMG_8513

But I made it. I stood on the top surrounded by clouds. It was beautiful and amazing and…..

I turn and face the  wind. A cloud rushes toward me like a monstrous white beast. My heart pounds. The cloud looks so solid as it flies toward me that I am tIMG_8537empted to duck. But I stand firm and the monster dissipates into a wave of thick fog that surrounds me. I feel victorious. I have hiked into the clouds and faced them without flinching! It’s a memory I will hold onto forever!

I could have stayed up on that peak indefinitely. Except that I was getting hungry and the 3.8 miles of the Greenleaf Trail seperated me and dinner.

IMG_8550 (2)The Greenleaf Trail starts out very steep—like hold onto trees and slide on your butt steep. This steepness slowed me down quite a bit. Of course, it didn’t slow the billy goat down. Where I slid, he jumped. The trail finally eased up soIMG_8554me and opened out onto a ledge. The warmth of the sun felt good and I took my time, enjoying the views and letting the sun chase away the last of the mountaintop chill.
And then the trail veered back into the trees and resumed its steepness.

About a mile down, we reached the Greenleaf Hut. It’s a lot more than a hut. You can hang out with other hikers in a large open room (I didn’t get to do this, because there are no dogs allowed inside). There are indoor restrooms with cold, but running water, a few co-ed rooms with bunkbeds and I’ve since read that you can get a hot meal there at specified times. I could have purchased water or a few souvenir like items, if I hadn’t left my wallet in the car. The Greenleaf Hut has officially been added to my list of things I want to do. I think it would be fun to stay for a few days so that I could hike and really explore Franconia Notch.IMG_8510

Knowing I had a 2 ½ hour drive ahead of me after we returned to the trailhead, I didn’t linger here. I’ll admit it. My legs were getting tired. Not so tired that I didn’t enjoy the 2.7 mile remaining miles, but tired enough that when I once again heard the sound of traffic, joy filled my heart and sent a final surge of energy to my legs.

The parking lot was a beautiful sight! I tossed my pack into the back seat, my little yorkie hopped in beside it and immediately curled up into a ball, and I flopped into the driver’s seat, every muscle in my body cheering in relief. We did it!

P.S. I almost caught another tree creature in action!IMG_8556

Treasure of The Beehive – Acadia National Park

I’ve been practicing a new skill. I’m learning to reach out to the world around me and embrace it. Which is why, after working the overnight shift in the ER, I wasn’t napping as I waited for my friend to join me at Acadia National Park.

The sound of the crashing surf drew me down the stairs to Sand Beach. My face tingled in the moist salty air and I breathed deeply feeling the ocean energy flow through me, chasing away the last vestiges of sleep.

Sand Beach - Acadia National ParkThe sea glowed a mystical green as she sent her waves rolling toward me. I stood for several minutes and watched them swell, rising to a crest that, for a moment, opened a window to the world beneath the surface before transforming into a bubbly white foam as the water crashed against the golden sand and rushed back to the sea. It would be easy to spend my day here, but instead I forced myself to turn away. Today is not about the sand and sea. It is about challenging my muscles as my hands grip the rockyBeehive Mountain - Acadia National Park surface and my legs carry me forward and up. I turn my back to the sea and join my friend, together we begin the first phase of today’s journey—The Beehive.

Beehive Mountain TrailheadI step along the strategically placed rocks that form the beginning of the trail.
The sun filters through the aspen and maple that stretch toward the sky on either side of me. I can’t help but reach out and runmy fingers along their trunks as I pass.Beehive Mountain TrailAfter a few minutes of easy climbing, we reach a marker. Despite the yellow sign warning of narrow ledges and steep climbs, I veer away from the easy route that skirts The Bowl to ascend the backside of The Beehive and set my feet on the path to ascend the face of the mountain.IMG_9317

Here the trail turned into a combination of scrabbling over boulders and making our way along the narrow ledges.Beehive Mountain Trail As I hugged the rock wall to work my way around a sharp bend in the ledge, my friend spoke behind me.

Beehive Mountain Trail

“I don’t think I can do this.”

And this is where I learned something new about my friend. I learned that she (along with about 5% of the general population) suffered from Acrophobia—the fear of heights.  While I was taking in the view and enjoying the climb, her terror had silenced her. That silence hadn’t been a signal to me, because when we’ve hiked in the past, we’d often walked side-by-side along the trail, breathing in the fresh air and listening to the sounds of the forest.Beehive Mountain Trail

Beehive Mountain Trail

I heard the tremble in her voice and I turned. Her face was flushed red and her hand shook as she clutched the rock wall. I looked down, we really weren’t very far
along and we could turn back. I looked up at the ledges, rungs and rock scrambles ahead of us and did what any good friend would do. I encouraged her on. I talked non-stop about how beautiful it will be when we get to the top. I coached her around tight ledges and coaxed her up ladder rungs, until finally we reached the top.

Below me, the mystical green sea had transformed into a sparkling ocean of blue diamonds. The beach that I’d stood on that morning was only a strip of golden sand. I paused and watched the waves crash against the shore.Beehive Mountain Summit

After soaking up the sun on the rocky summit of the Beehive, it was time to continue our trek. Stubby pines and bushes covered with dark blue berries bordered the trail. I held one of the berries in my hand. It looked like a blueberry, but I’d never seen one so dark.

There’s a comradery among hikers, even day hikers—an opportunity for brief encounters among strangers connected by their appreciation of the natural world. And it was through this connection that I learned that the dark berry in my hand was a huckleberry. Curious, I popped it into my mouth.Huckleberries

I don’t like huckleberries.

The Bowl is a serene body of water nestled at the base of the surrounding peaks. Pale purple aster grows along the banks and tiny fish dart about beneath the surface. It’s a peaceful place and I could have spent the rest of the afternoon there.The Bowl at Acadia National ParkIMG_9385But my goal was to reach the summit of Champlain Mountain, so I turned away from the water onto what I, at that time, believed was the trail.

A red squirrel chattered and scolded me as it raced up and down the trees along the trail. I realize now, that he was warning me that I was off track.IMG_9386 But I pressed on. Before long the ‘trail’ tapered off and disappeared. I backtracked, looking for a blue blaze, then gave up all together and tromped onward to what I at that time believed was Champlain Mountain, puzzled as to why I couldn’t find the trail.

It was a fun hike, scrambling up the occasional boulder, weaving around huckleberry bushes and enjoying the artwork of nature on uprooted tree stumps faded gray but the wind and sun. IMG_9391When I reached the top, I did what I should have done as soon as I lost the blue blazes. I took out my map.

As I looked across at The Beehive, then down to The Bowl and realized I’d gone right when I should have gone left. I led the way back down the mystery mountain, past the screeching squirrel to the water’s edge, then onto the clearly marked trail to Champlain Mountain.

I walked along the double-plank trail alongside the water, enjoying the shade from the maple, pine and aspen that towered over me.IMG_9395Before long, my friend and I left the flat ground and began our ascent up and over rocky boulders. To the delight of my good friend, there were no ledges here. Scattered stubby pines, huckleberry bushes along with the occasional low growing blueberry bush dotted the landscape.

IMG_9389A tiny maple, that somehow managed to root in the rocky terrain put on an early fall display of red-orange leaves. In the sky above, three vultures circled. IMG_9402We crossed a long flat stone clearing where cairns led us on toward the peak.

The sun was highChamplain Mountain Summit - acadia national park in the sky when we reached the summit.

I looked out at the five Porcupine Islands and realized once again, I wanted more time in this beautiful place. I could spend a year here and still not experience the full splendor of Acadia National Park.

The comradery of hiker’s failed me when I tried to convince my friend to take the Precipice Trail down and follow the road back to the parking area. Without fail, every one of them advised against using this as a downhill route! So we followed the guidance of those who’d experienced the trail and made our way back along the now familiar trail to the trailhead.

Although my friend had to return home, she followed me to the Blackwoods Campground. I said my goodbye, then set up my tent. I always feel a little giddy when I manage to get my campfire going, so I settled onto the ground to watch the fire, mesmerized by the flames as my burger sizzled on the tinfoil covering the grate.Blackwoods Campground - Acadia National Park

With my belly full, I dug my laptop out of my car and leaned back against the trunk of a tree and worked on Whispering Spirits, the sequel to Troubled Spirits. After all, what better place to work on a ghost story set in the Maine woods!

As always, I slept soundly in my little tent.

The next day, a steady rain foiled my plan to capture the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain, but still I enjoyed my day. I didn’t attempt to start a fire in the rain. Jeannie's Great Maine BreakfastIMG_9563
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A Bold Adventure

A Bold Adventure

I silenced the alarm and worked one eye open enough to read the display on my phone—4:15 AM. Was it really worth it to crawl out of this warm, toasty cocoon of blankets for a sunrise? Across the room, I heard my friend stir, providing me the motivation I needed to throw off the covers and step onto the carpeted floor.

It only took ten minutes to drive from the Bluebird Motel to Roque Bluffs State Park. I kicked off my shoes and dug my toes into the sand as I gazed in confusion at the last vestiges of color on the horizon. It was ten minutes before sunrise and yet somehow, I’d missed the show. I’ve learned since that the grandeur of sunrise actually occurs predawn.

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The two of us roused our still sleeping companion and together made our way to the famed Helen’s Restaurant in Machias to fuel up for the hike ahead. Filled to the top with great food and service and a ghost story, we loaded back into the car. IMG_6325And after a brief stop to admire the lobstering boats in the harbor, we arrived at the trailhead for the Bold Coast in Cutler, Maine.

inlandtrailWhen I stepped onto the trail, I felt as if I had been transported to another world. The ground was covered with moss in different shades of green. Feathery ferns grew beneath the deep green pines. Smooth rocks scattered the terrain. The sun shone through the canopy of leaves overhead, creating a speckled pattern on the ground at my feet. There was a magical feel to these woods and I wouldn’t have been surprised to spot a fairy flitting about the branches of the trees.

After a little over a mile of walking along two-plank bridges, packed root covered earth and smooth rocks, I smelled the ocean. And then, there I was, standing on a rugged cliff of the Maine coast.another overloock I shed my sweatshirt in the warm sunshine and enjoyed the salty air that swept across the ocean to surround me. I peered over the edge of the cliff and watched the water splash against the rocks.IMG_6407

For the next 3.8 miles the trail wove back and forth from the woods to the rocky coast. Purple irises thrust their way up from the soil between the rocks.iris2 Blueberries, not yet ripe filled the bushes along the edges of the trail. baby blueberriesA tiny green snake, slithered off the trail and into the grass as I approached.IMG_6434 I ventured out onto every overlook, breathing in the ocean air.

It was at one of these overlooks that I spotted a sea cave. I love caves almost as much as I love hiking and I really wanted to go down and explore this cave. But without a rope or some sort of climbing gear, that wasn’t happening. At least not this trip.IMG_6413

I took advantage of every opportunity to wander to down to beaches filled with colorful rocks, worn smooth by the ocean waves. There were no sandy beaches on this trail, only the rugged beauty of the rocky Maine coast.rocky beach2

As I climbed back up to the cliff from one of these pebbly beaches, I noticed a boat moving through the water, stopping frequently. Even from a distance I could see the swarm of birds that followed it. Using the zoom on my camera, I confirmed my suspicion. It was a lobsterman checking his traps. I knew that lobstering was hard work, but I never realized that it involved constant seagull harassment! I thought back to the many times I’d gone to the beach only to have a bold seagull swoop down and snatch away my bag of chips. Here was this lobsterman, confined to his boat with twenty plus seagulls, circling and diving around him. Yet he continued his work, unmindful of their presence.lobstering with seagulls

I knew we were reaching the end of the coastal portion of the trek when I heard the horn of the lighthouse. Every 8 seconds it called to me, drawing me onward with the promise of more beautiful view points, yet warning me off, because I knew that when I reached the lighthouse, I would be forced to turn away from the breathtaking ocean views.

IMG_6519I’d read about the campsites on the Bold Coast—three of them, available on a first come bases—and when I reached the first site, I regretted my stay in the motel, wishing I’d spent last night on the trail. I imagined falling asleep listening to the cry of seagulls, the water lapping against the rocks, and the now, not-so-distant, call of the lighthouse as it lulled me to sleep. I envied those campers that had rolled out of their sleeping bags and watched the sun rise over the ocean horizon. Next time, I promised myself.

As I settled onto the rocks to enjoy lunch, a group of seagulls lanIMG_6498ded on a nearby rock. I watched them preen their feathers and rest in the warm sun, and wondered if they were the same birds that had spent the morning swarming the lobstering boat, and were now resting up with bellies full from their scavenged spoils.

Not long after, I rounded the last corner of my coastal journey and the lighthouse came into view. IMG_6507I believe it to be the Little River Lighthouse. It’s not a particularly large lighthouse—only slightly taller than the two story building beside it—but I have no doubt that it helps provide safe passage to ocean travelers, just the same.

From here, the trail brought us back into the fairy forest. And although the lighthouse called me back to the ocean, the necessities of life—family, work, and my little Yorkie—steadied my feet as they carried me away from the sea.IMG_6360

Compared to the scrabble across the rocks and the steep trails along the coastal portion of our route, this part of the trail was a leisurely walk. Once again I traveled through moss covered forest and along two plank boardwalks until I reached a large bog. I clambered up onto a giant boulder that overlooked this inland water body, hoping to spot a moose grazing in the trees at its edges. Instead, I enjoyed a quiet, peaceful view without a moose.IMG_6549

When the gravel of the parking area replaced the pine-needle covered packed earth of the trail beneath my feet, I felt energized. The experience of hiking the New England coast had regenerated me. I smiled as I tossed my now empty pack into the trunk and piled into the car with my friends.

We ended our day with one more stop at Helen’s for some blueberry ice cream and piece of their famous blueberry pie, each of us vowing to return to the Bold Coast of Maine.IMG_6559

Teri Lee is the author of Troubled Spirits, a YA paranormal novel set in Maine. Troubled Spirits is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Applie iBooks, Google Play, Smashwords, Black Rose Writing and many other sites.

*Photos are taken by Teri Lee and may be used with permission only

Journey to Katahdin’s Summit

The sun was still tucked away beneath the horizon when my eyes opened. I lay still, listening to the bubbling gurgle of Katahdin Stream as it wandered past the campsite. I rolled out of my sleeping bag, pausing to gaze up into the still-dark sky at the waniIMG_8599ng gibbous moon that shone down on me. It took only a moment for the cool morning air and my excitement for the journey ahead to clear away the last bit of sleepiness from my mind.

Bacon sizzled over the fire as the sound of rustling sleeping bags and murmured voices coming from the lean-to signaled the rising of my friends. We spoke in whispered voices so as not to disrupt the sleep of the other campers as we filled our bellies with bacon, eggs and fried oatmeal, then prepared our packs for the hike ahead.

IMG_8614 (2)Although the sun was still hidden beyond the mountains, the sky above us was filled with her soft morning light when I stepped onto Hunt Trail. A potpourri of trees—pine, birch, maple and mountain ash—bordered the path. As I walked past the trees, I slid my hand along their trunks, feeling the energy of the wilderness around me. To my right, water splashed and swirled as it rushed over rocks and down miniature waterfalls. Beneath my feet the trail varied from root-strewn packed dirt to large stones—some scattered haphazardly along the path, others arranged neatly into stairs.

IMG_8618 We breezed past the trail to The Owl, and continued the easy trek to the wooden bridge that carried us across the water.

I paused to snap a picture of  the heavy iron eye-hooks that had been drilled into large boulders on both sides of the stream. I pictured a rope bridge stretched across the stream and imagined what it must have been like to feel it sway beneath my feet as I made my way across the water.IMG_8630

The rush of water turned to a roar and I hurried ahead to take in the beauty of the falls. After breaking for a few pictures, we continued up the trail,
which was now a long, smooth surface of rock. Here, along the falls, the trees
had been replaced by bushes. It took only a second to recognize the tiny crowns on the round blue berries. I plucked a few as I walked and enjoyed the sweet—with a hint of tartness—taste of the late season blueberries. And then, the bushes faded back into the towering trees of Maine’s largest wilderness.

IMG_8662The trail grew steeper as we traveled over the next mile. Added to the terrain of dirt, roots and rocks (mostly rocks) was the intermittent flow of water emerging from underground springs. It ran around and sometimes over the rocks on the trail, and I was thankful for the water-resistant hiking shoes on my feet. In the midst of one of these tiny brooks the trees spaced out around a large boulder.11960155_10153582697219568_6171188044636868333_n

I climbed to the top and admired The Owl. It was then that I noticed the moon, still
visible in the clear blue sky.IMG_8708

Not far up the trail, we discovered a large boulder with ‘3M’ written in white letters. Almost half-way there, I thought. Little did I know that ahead of me were some of the toughest miles of the trail.

Before long, I noticed that the trunks of the trees were thinner and they no longer towered above us. As the trees grew smaller, the rocks grew larger, until the towering trees were replaced by mountainous boulders. I craned my neck as I tilted my face upward, searching for the white blazes that had marked the trail. And then I spotted them, marking a path straight up.IMG_8685

I gripped the edge of a boulder, found a foothold and hoisted myself up to its top. My journey to the summit of Katahdin had truly begun.11999018_10153582745429568_5019333435101806547_n

I scrambled, hitched and hoisted myself higher and higher along the side of the mountain. Over and over I crested sections of boulders, thinking I’d reached the top only to discover a new section rising above me. I watched for the iron ladder rungs I’d read about in the trail description and laughed to myself when I finally reached “them”.  I’m not sure if that ‘S’ was a typo or if I’d misread it, but what I discovered was a single rung and a curved iron peg just below it.IMG_8682

“Here goes,” I said to myself and gripped the rung, pushed off with one foot, stretching with the other, just catching it on top of the curved iron peg so I could scrabble to the top. I paused, catching my breath as I waited for my hiking companions, ready to offer a hand if needed.IMG_8712

My bouldered journey continued, inching my way up through narrow crevices and finding a few more iron pegs to help me along my way until finally, I found myself standing on the Tablelands of Mt. Katahdin.IMG_8722 IMG_8763

The trail wound its way through the fragile vegetation of thick stemmed grass and low growing bushes. Half-way across the Tableland, I reached Thoreau Spring, named for Henry David Thoreau, author of ‘The Maine Woods’ which he wrote after ascending Katahdin in 1846. What had it been like to ascend this mountain without the benefit of a beautifully maintained trail, blazes and cairns?IMG_8729

At this point I was used to the fact that the spring and the trail were one. I hopped from rock to rock, continuing this habit beyond the spring, because it was more rock than earth. At the end of the Tableland, I knew I’d reached the last phase of my journey. At the top of the steep trail before me I could see people—small splashes of color—moving about on the summit.

IMG_8737Twenty minutes later I reached Baxter Peak. I felt a thrill of accomplishment as I stood at an elevation of 5,267 feet and gazed at the Katahdin sign. I turned and looked behind me at the path I’d travelled and felt a surge of pride.IMG_8693

As I waited for the last two members of our group to join us, I took in the breathtaking views. Below me, the deep green of the forest trees was broken only by the numerous lakes that shone in the late afternoon sun. Mountain ranges stretched as far as I could see. White clouds billowed and streaked across the blue sky. A raven landed beside me, hopping about and flying short distances. My hiking partner pointed out a large cairn. He told me it was thirteen feet tall, built to give Katahdin the extra feet necessary to be a full mile. My eyes shifted past the cairn to Knife Edge, a trail for another day.IMG_8748 IMG_8741

I settled onto a rock and enjoyed watching Appalachian Trail through-hikers summit, often running the last few steps to the Katahdin sign, some stopping to plant a kiss on the worn wood. What will it be like for them to return to their lives after months of being surrounded by nature? Will the walls of their home be warm and welcoming, or claustrophobic? Maybe a little of both.

My friends summited and we spent the next hour on Baxter Peak. In hindsight, it was a bit too long, because reaching the summit of any mountain is only half the journey. Although our descent of Katahdin was, without a doubt, faster than our ascent, by the time we reached Katahdin Stream Falls, the sun had slipped below the horizon, forcing us to complete the last 1.2 miles of our journey by the light of our flashlights.

As I sat by our campfire, I gazed up at the millions of stars that shone down on me. I was filled with awe and appreciation of the beauty of this Maine wilderness, and although my legs were tired, I dreamed of my next hike.

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Teri Lee is the author of Troubled Spirits, a YA paranormal novel set in Maine. Troubled Spirits is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Books, Ibooks, Smashwords and other online sites.

*All photos are taken by Teri Lee and may be used with permission only