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

 

 

Day 6: A Short Day

I’m up, but tired. 

I start my day interviewing my neighboring camp mates. No they didn’t hear anything last night. No they didn’t come down to check on me.

But the creeper will not ruin my day or my trip. I set out to explore Collosal Cave Moubtain Park.  I am to see a roadrunner. 

I see some sort of orange ringtail critter.

A deer. 

Lots of birds. 

No roadrunner.

I took pictures of these with my regular camera. Once I get back to civilization I will update this post with the photos. (I’ve typed all these blogs from my phone!)

I’m off to Saguara National. This is an unplanned excursion, but it’s only 10 miles away.  And it is so worth it. I drive the 8 mile loop taking pictures of the desert.  

    
    
 There is a cactus forest. I never thought of cacti all together as being a forest.  But they are as big as a tree and birds do build nests in them. 

I look at the time and gauge how long it will take me to arrive at my planned camping destination. And I realize, I’m just to tired. 

I choose a site only 3 hours away, call for a reservation and I’m on my way. 

The roadside views are breathtaking

And the camp is beautiful.  

 I’m sitting by my fire. The stars are brilliant in the night sky. There are two families and bunches of kids on either side of me. And you know what?  I don’t mind their noisy kid sounds one bit!  

Day 3: The problem with boredom 

I would make the absolute worst long distance truck driver on the planet!  You see, I don’t seem to last more than 2 hours before I need to get out of the car, if only for a minute. And it was this propensity to boredom that led to the story that follows. 

  After San Antonio, Texas I-10 is an never ending stretch of high desert landscape scattered with prickly pear cactus,  colorful flowers, shrubs and low growing trees. Mesas rise up toward the endless blue sky, providing an array of tabletops for the gods. It really is beautiful country.  On occasion, herds of cows graze on the dry grasses. A wind farm stretches across a row of mesas. Oil pumps bob slowly up and down. And I love it! Its exciting and breathtakingly beautiful.   

 But after oh, 300 or so miles I begin to crave a change of scenery, even if only for a moment. So when I spot a sign for an historical fort, I flip my blinker on and off I go. 

My car winds along the deserted road as I search for another sign. Miles clicked by. Rocky gives up on the adventure and curls up in his seat, sound asleep. 

 Still, there is no sign of the fort.  I spot a section on the side of the road large enough for me to pull into. With the car in park, I take out my phone to google the fort. Rocky doesn’t even lift his head. 

My door flies open. Strong hands grasp my shoulder and rip me from my seat. 

I kick and twist. I can’t break free. 

Behind me I here a sound. A howling canine screech. I glimpse a flash of brown and black fur fly past me. 

The iron grip releases and I leap away.  

 My attacker screams. His arms flail trying to free himself from the Yorkshire terrier attached to his neck.  Rocky’s jaw is clamped shut, his body swings outward as the man spins. His hands close around Rocky. He rips the dog from his neck and flings him out into the road. The  little body sails through the air and lands with a sickening thump. 

Blood pumps from the gaping hole  man’s neck and my hands reach to apply pressure.  But the instinct to survive overtakes my training as a nurse and I step back. 

I watch him fall. I watch his blood seep into the dry thirsty earth. My eyes never leave him as I go and scoop up Rocky. He barks and a piece of flesh falls from his mouth. I let out the long breath that I hadn’t realized I was holding as I cradle my pup and climb into my car.

The light fades from the man’s eyes. I press a 9 and a 1 on my phone and then stop.

 The police will take hours. 

I have a campsite waiting for me. 

I turn the key and the engine comes alive.  As I drive back down the lonely winding road,  a shadow crosses my path. And then another. I look up. The vultures are circling. 

Just kidding. 

That was true right up until the man. 

But I’m on my third murder mystery by Nevada Barr set in National parks and maybe my inagination got away from me!  

Here’s a few photos from my real day which included, barbecue for breakfast, cactus love from Texas on a nature walk at a rest area, a giant roadrunner and a perfect end to my day watching the sun set from my campground. I sure do love Texas! 

     
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Memories of a Road Trip

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  • Take car to mechanic
  • Snacks
  • Clothes
  • Extra copies of Troubled Spirits
  • Kindle
  • Books
  • Papers for Work
  • Toiletries
  • Dog food
  • Disposable urine bag

Today’s the day. My car is in tip-top shape and everything on my list is tucked away. I’m ready to begin my trek to the Carolinas!

Are you wondering about that last item? Well, there’s a story behind that…

I like to drive at night. Thanks to years of working the night shift, staying awake isn’t a problem. But boredom is. And when I get bored, I drink lots of water.

On my last trip to the Carolinas I left at 11 PM determined to make it across the George Washington Bridge before 5 AM. The roads were clear and I was on track to meet my goal, and then….I missed an exit.

By the time I got back on course, my timeline was in jeopardy.

Which is why I sailed past the next rest area, ignoring the gentle nudge from my bladder.

By the time I was inching my way across the George Washington Bridge, my bladder was ranting.

photo credit: Justin Kearns
photo credit: Justin Kearns

And when I reached the other side of the Hudson River, my bladder was in tantrum mode.

Desperate to appease my ballistic bladder, I searched for a restaurant, gas station–anything.  I found nothing.

And then I spotted it!  A tiny store on a little road running parallel to 95. I was saved! I steered onto the exit and onto a ONE WAY ROAD going the opposite direction from the little store.

“Don’t panic,” I told myself.  Waves of heat rolled through my body. Beads of sweat covered my forehead. My bladder forced me to keep going.

I tried to ignore the fact that I hadn’t seen one business–not one.  I saw a sign that said ‘Central Park Avenue’ (or something to that effect). I couldn’t tell  for sure, because I was so distracted by the demands of my bladder that I could barely focus. A little voice inside my head whispered, “You shouldn’t be here.”

Dilapidated buildings filled the streets before me and common sense over-rode my bladder.

I turned the car around.

My bladder screamed.

I pulled over. No one was in sight.

My eyes fell on the object responsible for my distressed bladder–the insulated water cup…


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As I embark on this journey I endeavor to drink sparingly and listen closely to my bladder so that I will not be forced to use the last item on my list (even though it was gifted to me by the truest of friends).

photo credit: Garrick Ridlon