Thursday, November 22, 2012


I don't know what it is about water but it really is an amazing thing.  Let me turn on the shower, begin to hear the water run and my brain goes into creative overdrive.  When I actually step in and the water pours over me that is when the real ideas start swirling.  I swear if I could take a computer into the shower with me I'd have written a novel by now.  Its the craziest thing.  Of course, by the time I get out, the ideas are making their last turn around the drain as they whisk out into the septic field.  That feels about like what I've been creating lately...stuff ready for the ...well never mind. 

Not only does the running water in the bathtub bring on inspiration but other watery places provide similar stimulus.  Last January, while visiting Florida, I stayed in an old cypress cabin perched above the roiling, winter ocean.  Here the waves beat the rhythm of the tides against the small cliff.  The voice of the sea echoed amongst the stacked rocks of the cliff sometimes in angry vowels as it forced the salt spray into the air and at other times it whispered it's wisdom to those who would listen as it caressed the weathered mass of rocks and broken shells with soft, watery fingers.  It was here that I started a story that has yet to be finished, in the middle of it's writing, I flew home.

One summer while working as a Naturalist for a local park district, I spent a part of many working days sitting next to, walking by or doing programs close to some body of water.  I had my office next to a large lake where children and adults came to enjoy its peace and coolness.  I sat on a bench talking to park guests a footpath width away from a medium sized pond and learned from the pond inhabitants about the wisdom of the seasons.  I studied the frogs and toads and a beautiful Green Heron standing on the shore of another small pond.  From them, I learned that nature provides in abundance if you live in harmony with her.  This message I took to those who attended my programs.  I considered this time to be a peak in my creative life.

So, what does this have to do with Thanks-giving, you ask? Well, during this morning's shower I came up with a great idea which this time I remembered.  I am grateful for my creative gift but have not been doing much with it lately.  So, I decided that during this season of thanks and giving that I would try to write something, if not every day at least once a week as my giving of thanks to the creator for the gift of creativity that has been given to me.  I may or may not post everything here but I will try to write something regularly.  Maybe I'll even roll out some bio-fiction.    

 So, what would happen if we all took the time to consider our talents and then decided to gift them to our world of friends during the rest of November and December?  Who might you lift up, who might you inspire, maybe you'd make someone laugh out loud, maybe you'd heal some wounds or make a new friend.  Despite the animosity prevalent in our world today, I believe that together we stand or fall.  My passion for writing might not be yours but maybe you can bake the best pecan pie EVER (DEB!) or maybe you are a creative genius with a needle, maybe you love to garden or can paint or take photographs that inspire. 

As the end of the world as we know it approaches on December 21, 2012 some think terrible things will happen or maybe nothing at all will occur.  I think that as an old cycle ends we have the opportunity to kick off a new cycle, a cycle where we all live better, higher lives that are more focused on love, kindness and support of each other.  A cycle where we recognize the talents we have been gifted with and instead of working for years doing things we hate for money, learn to live in a world that appreciates these gifts even if they are not the traditional ones.  Like I said, I think when we all achieve, everyone wins.  So, what will you give to the world in the next weeks?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Kindness Can Mean Everything

(written about 6 weeks ago.....)
I recently read an article on the Daily Good blog about how "It is more important to be kind than being clever."  The blog's author related a story about how he made a clever comment to his grandmother when he was 10 years old.  He made her cry.  That was when his grandfather made this profound statement.  Read the whole article at .

This article made me stop for a moment to ponder what it actually was saying.  Was it saying that in our business ventures we have become more concerned with money and getting ahead then thinking about how our actions affect our fellow man?  Does it say that every action has a consequence in some one's life and the ability to be really good or really bad? Or does it simply make the point that kindness should be the basis of everything we do and that you never know how profoundly you can make a difference with a single act?

I think it says all of those things.  I find it particularly telling when in a country where we are told constantly that things are REALLY bad, that big businesses are not prospering, that people are unemployed and it is becoming harder to get ahead in this world, where our 20 plus year old children with college educations can't find jobs and where mature workers sit idly by in minimum wage service jobs not valued for their knowledge or wisdom..that the prevailing attitude among many people I know is,  "Oh well, too bad, glad I'm not you!"

I often wonder where all the kindness and love went in this country supposedly built upon those very "Christian" principles.  

We are facing in our current elections this fall a stark difference in philosophical beliefs.  One party, despite what they may say in the next 6 weeks of campaigning is solidly a party of Christian's who believes that if you are poor, unemployed, old, physically or mentally challenged, desirous of an education at any age or enjoy the arts that well, it sucks to be you.  I spoke recently with a friend about the upcoming elections, he is a kind person, he is a Christian .  He agreed with me that if the Republican party wins in November that EVERY social support from NPR to Pell Grants, Dept of Education to support of the less fortunate would disappear.  I was excited yet sad that he would agree with me.  

On the other hand, our friends the Democrats have instituted the beginning of a Health Care plan that's major tenet was Health Care for Everyone because its too costly now. I think we can all agree that the pharmaceutical companies and health insurance industries are out of control.  I have no insurance and if I get sick...I cannot go to the doctor without incurring a $100 charge....for an office visit.  THAT is outrageous. A Z pack prescription costs $150 for this popular antibiotic...ridiculous!  Obama has also tried to save the biggest industry in America by giving it a hand when it needed it (kind eh?) and stopped banks from charging our kids double the interest on their Pell Grants. 

My point is that the Republicans seem to be a party of money grubbing, religious zealots without hearts who think that it is ok to prevaricate at every turn to get their way.  Democrats, on the other hand at least appear to want to try to solve some social issues in the only way it's been done in the past which it to make another plan and throw money at it.  At least they seem to be kind.  

So, I did not intend this to be a political treatise as I want this to be a kind blog, one that speaks about my journey and the things I've learned along the way. So...PLEASE forgive me this one digression. 

One thing I've learned is that it HURTS me when I find out that an action I've taken has hurt someone.  If I've been unkind or unloving, either from omission or commission, and it has trickled down, its ripples running out into people's lives ...then I feel badly and wonder how that ripple might have bumped people temporarily off their path or affected them, maybe even caused them to change their direction or intention.  A single word can totally change a person's life, 3 words,  I love you, are the best words to hear ever.

I've been the recipient of a lot of kindnesses.  This computer I am using now plus the 2 before were given to me without cost.  Some one's castoffs for sure but after some repair (thank you Jim,Jake,Roger & Robert!) they work/ed great.  What a wonderful gift! These friends didn't have to think about my needs or do a kind act but they did and those acts had a huge affect on my life!  There are many others who have acted kindly towards me providing a service, money or a summer job because they could.  They knew what a big deal it would be to me.  

What response have these acts elicited from me, have I, in return, demanded more kind acts?  Have I held tightly onto my good fortune and thought, "wow too bad for you that you are over there suffering, Ha ha, I've got stuff and you don't!" No, instead, kind acts breed kind acts and I have in turn tried to watch others carefully for signs of need so that I can extend support, looked at strangers with new eyes knowing how hard it is right now maybe there are things, actions, information that I have that I can give away which will help someone along their path.  I do not speak about this usually, as kindness multiplies, I think, when done in secret without demands.

There are a lot of good Republicans and Democrats out there, kind, generous, normal people who have worked hard to get where they are.  They've had lots of breaks along the way, things have probably pretty much gone swimmingly for them. But there are also out there a lot of good Democrats and Republicans who thought they had the American dream made then 2008 happened and they lost it all.  They did nothing wrong except in some cases be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It was kind of like a tornado when it hits, one house stands another is blown away.  These fine folks didn't ask or deserve this but yet here they were up to their hips in muck they never dreamed of being in.  So, what ya gonna do about this situation? All our fighting and yelling at each other is neither kind nor conducive to problem solving.  

So, I don't have the answers to our national/international problems.  I do know what Jesus would do....he'd give that homeless person his coat without question and then walk with him that next mile....Would you?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thoughts on My Emergency Essentials

So another weather emergency is about to hit the east coast of the United States.  Odd having a hurricane in October, especially one that is moving into the Northeast which has in the past been a safe haven against hurricanes.  With the mountains, rivers, lakes all over the northeast which are able to be moved around lots of damage comes from mud, water, trees falling etc.  Many are rushing to the stores to buy things that they don't keep on hand normally, like bottled water, matches, batteries etc.  Its cold up here too, so how with no electricity and lots of snow do people stay warm in their homes without electricity?  As an outdoors person, I have always when preparing for a trip considered "Being Prepared" and making sure I had the 10 Essentials with me.

First, for those not familiar with them, what are the 10 Essentials?  The 10 Essentials are items/gear you might need in the wilderness to survive if stuck out there unexpectedly.  Generally, its because you've lost your way, found yourself out past dark, been injured or someone with you has been injured or you get caught in dangerous weather conditions and need to stop.  This link will take you to an informative article concerning these: .

So, what can this list teach us about preparation at home?  My humble opinion is that many of us who are outdoor people have a good amount of these things at home already.  The national site for emergency preparation is very good and can be found at: .   These guys know what they are talking about and although I have been pretty cavalier about making an emergency kit, I have always had an idea in my head about what I would need to grab out of my backpacking supplies in order to be ready to leave quickly, if necessary.  

Here is what "I" have in my backpacking closet or car already that I could use if caught in an emergency situation.

A couple of sleeping bags rated 0 to 45 degrees.  However, if you have quilts, blankets, sheets you can make your own sleeping bag by layering together and tying with rope to contain it in a waterproof stuff sack or doubled garbage bags.  It is VERY important to always keep your sleeping gear dry.  It is your best friend against hypothermia if kept dry.  Down is light and small, synthetic fill bags are sometimes better when wet so pick one that is best suited for your personal skill level and situation.  I have both.

Garbage bags are useful as vapor barriers to keep you warm or even can be used as an emergency shelter or raincoat. They can be double bagged and filled with water or used to collect clean rain water.

Sleeping pads can be used as ground protection against the cold ground, laid on floor of friends houses provide some comfort or used as rafts if suddenly you find yourself in the water.

Water filtration "stuff" like chlorine dioxide pills (Aquamira, Katahdyn pills etc), water filters or purifiers from Katadyn, MSR, Steripen etc may be used with rain water to get  your gallon of water/person/day.  Water is always tricky especially if in an area that has been flooded and has been standing.  So do your research about how to handle water that is stagnant or has dead things in it.  Hopefully, you will get away to a safer place and be able to purify running water.  Make sure that you have water bladders, Nalgene bottles, milk jugs or other containers available that will hold your clean water.

In a normal backpacking kit, I would always have a map and compass.  So, transferring this thought to your car and a home emergency always carry a local map and a national map and a non-electric compass.  In bad weather, electronic gadgets can fail/not work/run out of juice, etc so have on hand and learn how to read a map and use a compass.  I always have a state road map, an atlas and will probably add local topo maps.  You can buy state maps that have some elevation details on them from a company called Benchmark or the maps I am familiar with are the Delorme Gazetters.  Make sure your compass has an option for adjusting declination and if you have NO idea what I'm talking about then find someone who does and have them teach you how to use.  In a survival situation, I will always have an advantage because of this knowledge. 

Like any good backpacker, I have a plethora of flashlights/headlamps. I'd probably take a combination of several of my favorites.  I have a small lamp (not a bping model) and a small handheld flashlight in my car which is BRIGHT.  Both would go into any kit.  I have my old reliable Petzel headlamp and my new small Petzel which blinks.  All use AA batteries except the small Petzel making battery buying really easy. Combined together they are all bright and have many uses.  If possible, I also have a Coleman lamp....keep supplies for these with your emergency kit...and grab it if you can.  Coleman fuel does age and get junky so if you have a can in your garage that has been there for awhile...make sure you replace it every year.  (this fuel gets crudy and stuff settles causing blockages in fuel line)

In my gear closet are many backpacking stoves.  Alcohol stoves, propane/butane bping stoves and in the basement a white gas Coleman backpacking stove. (garage holds a large 2 burner Coleman stove).  In an emergency I'd probably take a canister stove with canisters, my favorite TinMan alcohol stove set with HEET and the small white gas stove.  All are portable, small and able to be carried on my back.  White gas is easily obtainable, as is HEET making the canister stove the first one I'd dump if fuel became unavailable.  However, in any emergency the knowledge of how to build an efficient cooking fire using wood is a valuable skillAlso, needed would be at least 1 small backpacking pot or a decent stainless steel one that would fit on a small stove or fire.  Plastic handles are no-nos, they will melt over a fire.  Make sure you have at least 1 bandana living in your pots to be used as a washrag or potholder.  If you have a pot gripper, good for you, throw it in...I don't take it backpacking but in an emergency could be useful.

Sharp, sheath knife, my tiny Swiss Army knife with scissors and probably a Multi-tool (which I NEVER carry bping) would be in any kit.  Along with a sharpening stone which I NEED to learn to use.  If I need to take to the bush...I'd grab the Sheath knife and Multi-tool.  

Let me just say a little word about bugout clothing.  I'd not wear my bluejeans or cotton t-shirts exclusively.  Like in any adventure, I always wear nylon backpacking or exercise wear because it dries quickly, is easily washed, durable, can be layered over or under things to keep warm because its thin not bulky.  Staying warm in an emergency is a key component to survival and cotton simply takes forever to dry and does not insulate.  In the backpacking community we often laugh about how, "Cotton Kills!" and really it can.  You need to have clothes that will dry quickly.  Pick materials like wool, fleece, microfiber, synthetic down or down for outerwear.  Have a combo of thick and thin gloves, hats, balaclavas, mittens and maybe some silnylon mitts to cover hands.  A sun hat from Sunday Afternoon hats is my favorite hat but Outdoor Research makes a waterproof hat that many like too.  Don't forget lightweight raincoat (silnylon, Dry Ducks or Marmot/MSR make decent lite rainwear)  A pair of rain pants are very useful.  Don't buy that heavy stuff...get some good rainwear that will NOT let you down and that have some breathablility. 

So why would I take my backpacking gear with me instead of the stuff that FEMA says I should take.  Well, its a lot smaller and lighter.  If I have to leave my car, its portable.  A Coleman 2 burner stove is not.  The bping gear gives me more options and can go with me if I have to get a boat, helicopter, plane or airboat ride so I don't have to leave all my stuff in my car.  So, have a bugout, emergency plan that has the best emergency survival stuff which goes into your car but then a backpack full of your pared down, live in a shelter stuff that you can grab out of your car and go, if necessary. Don't forget to have your most basic stuff contained in plastic waterproof plastic bags, dry bags, ziplocks or stuff sacks.  Dry is better. Your gear in your pack can be double bagged with garbage bags. OH and do NOT forget to carry a massive supply of Duct Tape.

I have not talked about first aid kits because you need to follow the rules with this one.  Throw in an emergency blanket or bivy in your first aid kit.  Shelter is another biggie and I'd have my tent, hiking poles and role of plastic or blue plastic tarp with rope in the car. Again, you need to personalize this for your family and remember bottom line portable.  Don't depend upon others to keep you safe and warm.  Even a small child can help by carrying a 2 lb, 8 x 10 ft piece of plastic which can be used by a family of 4 to shelter under.  Don't forget to have CASH and credit cards and your ID information and Passport.  I carry my personal stuff on my person in a neck wallet thing, in a pocket in my pants or in a safe place in my backpack if the bp is on my back. 

Make sure you have clothes for the season which you know will work for you...don't use/take gear with you that is not tested by you so you know how to use it.  (ie dont' go to REI and buy bping stuff and put it into a closet for an emergency..if you are not a bper get with one and have them teach you how to use your equipment) Get out and use your gear, have fun, don't wait for an emergency.   

Ok I could go on forever and there is a lot of info in this post.  I have forgotten important stuff for sure.  I can only include a few ideas that maybe some of you haven't thought about concerning what to have available in an emergency.  My disclaimer is that I am not an emergency planner, I do not play one on TV.  I am not responsible or to be blamed for injuries or death that might occur because you read or didn't read this blog.  Planning is something we all are responsible for and need to personalize.  So, do your own research, take classes, learn new skills.  There is a lot of info on the internet.  I AM an outdoor educator so I have the skills needed to teach anyone about the backpacking gear or outdoor skills that I've talked about above.  Stay safe my friends and if you want me to clarify any of this just email me.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Appalachian Trail Thru Hiker Dreamin'

Me, AT Dreamin'
So, for a long time I've had a number of dreams...I would love to experience world peace, have a lot of money, free time to do good and love. But I have to say that the thing that makes me stare out the window, read magazines and sigh is the dream of travel, either by foot, car, camel, elephant or boat.  I'd like to see far off lands, ancient lands, pyramids and alligators.  I'd like to jump out of my car and follow that creek bed into the woods to see where it goes.  I'd like to hike the AT, JMT, PCT and parts of the FT.  I'd like to sleep in Wal Mart parking lots in my car on the way to cool places...the spirit of a gypsy lives inside this mild-mannered almost 60 year old.

Carla R & Judy: Solo Hikers
A friend has kindly engaged me in a project that she is starting.  She had developed a course to teach women how to thru hike the AT by themselves.  Some of the biggest roadblocks for women who desire to hike are all centered around security and safety.  My friend, Carla Robertson, hiked the AT in 2009 all by her lonesome.  Solo, one, not relying on a man and survived.  In fact, based on what a strong, sensitive and intuitive woman she is, she flourished on her solo thru hike.  Instead of allowing fear to minimize her and make her shrink into herself; she found, from what I can surmise, peace, purpose and a strong sense of self.  What a great outcome, right?!!!

So, she has kindly asked me to help out with gear knowledge and old fart women hiker stuff.  Little does she know that I am going to be a sponge.  I'm going to soak up everything that I can because...I STILL want to hike by myself.  What youngsters who are staring the world in the face don't realize is that as you acquire knowledge, understanding and grace while aging, you also discover that the world is scary!  Things happen! What if I fall and I can't get up.  I need some courage.  So, I'm going to listen, take notes and take no prisoners.  Someday soon, maybe next year who'll be my time. 

Photo Credit: Barb Drabic

So, Ms Robertson...thank you very much.  And for those of you considering, dreaming nay its just a tickle in the back of your brain crazy idea to do things on  your own, to hike, to fly, to travel...well here is the ground breaking course for you to consider taking.  

Wild and White Blazing

ADDENDUM:  Carla points out in the comments below and I concur that this course is for ANY woman who desires to hike.  Although, the course is designed to help you plan an AT hike, things you learn I THINK will be transferable to other trails.  However you want to hike, whether it be solo, with a partner or a group, Carla's class will be an invaluable resource as you prepare. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Legacy Wishes

During the last several years while looking for a job, I've been challenged over and over again to think about what I want to do with my life.  I am asked, what work would inspire me to jump out of bed everyday excited to be alive.  A myriad of employment gurus encourage me to think about what my goals are for the next 2, 5, 10, 20 years...Heck, I'll be happy if I'm not in a rocker by then.  My goals right now are to get up everyday and do something positive.  I've categorically been unable to speak to what my driving passion is, what my life goals are, what do I want to do.  Refusing to box myself in with only one thing to do or be passionate about, I've kept my options open.  Life is exciting, there are many things which spark my curiosity, engage my mind and creativity which I would love to have the time to pursue. 

However, when a person recently asked me what legacy I would want to leave behind when I left this physical world...I paused.   This question caught my attention for whenever I think of my legacy my mind flies away into the upper stratosphere.  That is the place where perfection, pure thought and purpose hang outOf course, I want to leave a legacy, don't we all?  So, I started thinking.

I want to leave a legacy of love, good will, kindness, giving and gratitude.  As I float down from the cloud of hyperbole to more solid ground, my mind and gut say that when I "shake off this earthly mantle", I would like my friends and family at least to think kindly of me and smile, then laugh while reminiscing about things we've done together. My kids don't ask for much and they don't have much but the personalities they were born with and maybe my curiosity.  So, any legacy I leave, I'd like to have include money.  Hopefully, enough to give some to my kids, friends and to organizations I like which are doing good.  Enough to send the grand kids on journeys to find themselves and their passion in life and give them experiences that will help them become people of honor and empathy.  Maybe these journeys would be to college, maybe to Bangladesh...who knows.  Some too for fighting poverty, hunger and hatred.

 Mostly, I think I want to leave my grand kids, kids and friends the sure knowledge that their dreams are what drive them and if those dreams get subverted or ignored by the humdrum of everyday living, then they will never really be happy nor will they reach their true potential.  

  And with this in mind my brain floats up again to the stratosphere and thinks of all the millions of people experiencing want right now...I think of all that potential going to waste... I think how easy it would be to encourage and inspire them to greatness with a little kindness and hope and I wish heartily upon that first star on the right straight out past midnight that the universe will shower upon me a boatload of cash.  Why? Because I would leave a legacy of good in my I slide into the darkness with a Margarita in one hand, Handel's ice cream cone in the other yelling...WHOOOO HOOOO look out eternity!!!.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Quack! I'm a Duck!

Might look green but its DRY!
Northeast Ohio is dry. The ground in my garden and flower beds are riddled with chipmunk tunnels that now have skylights.  I watered a hole under my raised bed in the garden for 10 minutes without it flowing out under the rest of the bed...where did that water go?!!!!  The birds are all stressed looking for water, the grass is brown, WE have a fire ban, shrubbery is skeletal and all the retention ponds are dry.  So what, you say, well here is the issue.

Mallard ducks have this particular habit of nesting most anywhere and are so common here that they make their nests wherever and in whatever is available....flower pots, under bushes next to your house, on get the idea.  Strangely enough, the female will lay her eggs a distance away from any water.  With the expansion of man into wildlife habits, humans and ducks tend to collide.  

I was at the grocery which is part of a large mall area.  So big that it has two retention pond type areas. The smaller of the two closest to the giant parking lot was now dry. To get to the other one wildlife must transverse a REALLLY big parking lot.  Not just in a straight shot across either but across the bias so to speak from one corner to the furthest corner.  

On this particular day, a police car was blocking the out exit; lights blinking red then blue.  It was literally, the hottest day of the year here at least 104 degrees.  The beleaguered policeman was standing, sweat dripping from his brow, directing traffic.  In the grass next to him was a very unhappy female mallard, pacing, quacking, lifting into the air periodically to move herself quickly from one spot to another.  I thought, that is one annoyed duck. The police officer was valiantly trying to keep the duck from getting run over.

Having been a naturalist in the past, I thought I knew what was going on, so I pulled over and parked.  Approaching the police officer, I could see his frustration and asked him what was going on.  His reply was, "Third time this week I've had to wrangle ducks, the guys are going to start calling me the duck whisperer.  I can just hear them now."  I chuckled and replied, "Ducklings down the drain, eh?" which was a duh statement as you could clearly hear a duckling peeping.

Down the storm drain, were momma duck's 8 babies having dropped one by one as she took them on their first hike across the parking lot to the other retention pond.  I am sure she'd planned on water still being in the smaller pond but the drought had done its damage.  With all the peeping and us peering into the drain, others gathered; more police came with chains and big trucks.  Off went the drain cover and the problem became how to get the ducks out.  I went to one end of the drain which emptied into the pond and did my best duck quacking.  Yes, I have been practicing.  I quacked and quacked and out came the one brave peeper...all the other lazy ducklings remained in place seemingly not caring that freedom was but a short swim away. 

A neighborly person arrived with a butterfly net, I scooped up the errant baby in the puddle/pond down below.  The policemen duct taped a plastic, Chinese soup container to the end of a long metal rod and I got my bushel basket from the trunk of my car.  Together, we nabbed the rest, placing them carefully into the basket. 

By now the police had completely blocked the driveway and cars were cutting across the parking lot willy-nilly, momma bird flying around, landing here landing was quite the spectacle. One of the boys was watching mom.  Finally, she took off to the north.  I crossed my fingers that all the craziness hadn't scared her so much that she would abandon her newly, hatched babies. 

Everything was put back and people dispersed.  We shook hands, took pictures of each other with the ducklings, we wiped the sweat from our brows, congratulating each other and waving good-bye as the summer sun dipped behind the grocery store leaving just myself and Kevin, the duckling whispering policeman.  I placed the ducklings in my trunk and we drove to the other pond behind the stores.  Momma was still not in sight.  We turned the basket over and out wiggled the 8 little ducklings jumping over each other to be the first down the short slope to the water. 
As the soft light of darkness glinted on the water, other ducks emerged from the edges softly quacking a hello.  But none came forward to claim the little waifs as their own.  They were happy as ducks in a pond should be and immediately started swimming and dipping under the water to nibble at algae on the rocks.  I stood and watched until thirst drove me to leave.   I crossed my fingers that momma would find them and keep them safe overnight.  Ducklings are easy prey.  Probably is why they have so many .  It is not unusual for them to lose all but 2 or 3 to predation.  

The next day I had to work early so on the way home I stopped by to see how they had fared overnight.  As I pulled up, I saw a mother duck and 5 tiny little ducklings cruising quickly towards the middle of the pond. Evidently, they felt that they had had enough of stardom and did not stay around to thank me properly.

Monday, July 16, 2012

An Ounce Is An Ounce

Photo Credit: Restless Jim Davis
 Every year during thru hiker season, I enjoy participating in the pack Tuckerizing .ceremony.  It is a time to see new gear, to talk trail, to look at wanna be thru hikers gear selections and sometimes it is a time when I press the palm of my hand into my forehead and shake my head.  I've seen some pretty crazy stuff in packs like 2 rectangular bags full of various cosmetics, face cleaning items, anti-itch, anti-sweat, anti-bug and anti-wrinkle creams, plus band aids LOTS of different sized band aids.  Now, for the most part just let me say that band aids don't really work for hikers, usually its because they are sweaty and hot.  Band aids don't stick well to sweaty, wet skin...generally it takes duct tape. 

So, I know a lot of hikers, I even can play one on TV if I wanted to.  I used to sell a lot of gear at a major gear store.  Most of you know this about me.  What you do not know, maybe, is that I am a secret pack evaluator.  Meaning that I cannot pass by someone wearing a backpack without doing one of those superhuman scans where everything is revealed.  If you have too much stuff in your pack and you want to keep it...I am your worst enemy.  If you want to lighten up, I can be your best friend.  

Potential Ruck Tucker-izers
If you've ever been to an ALDHA event (goggle it) then you may have heard about a secret ceremony that occurs once, maybe twice a year at the PA Ruck and Trail Days.  It is called Pack Tuckerizing.  You will have to wait for another time to hear the whole story of how this event started and I have to admit I was not there at the very first Tuckerizing.  I think Friar Tuck and Jim Owen might be the only ones who know when the practice first started.  But it was a historic event which has helped many hikers in the ensuing years lower their pack weight 
and hike more comfortably.

When a friend, who is hiking this year, said recently to me, "My knee is killing me, I have no idea why and I'm not going to hike much just a couple of days."  I was duly upset for him. Then he said the magic words, " I REALLLLY need to lower my pack weight."  BINGO, Nelly...that's what I've been trying to tell you, I thought.  Instead, I said, "really?!"

When he invited me to look at his pack earlier this year before hitting the trail and I'd suggested that he leave some things home, he said things like, "oh, that doesn't weigh very much" and "Oh I have to have my giant knife and also my multi-tool."  Statements like these always make me say my stock answer which is "Well, an ounce is an ounce and you put 16 together you have a pound." and his reply was to put everything BACK into his pack. 

Photo Credit: DeLee Smith
This seems obvious but I know that when I started backpacking, I said the same thing.  So, I put in extra socks because I worried about wet feet, I put in extra food because I worried about starving, I put in extra clothes because I worried about being cold, I carried soap because of dirt, I carried...well you get the idea.  I carried things because of fear.  Not knowing what to expect I thought if I was prepared that I could use those things as a shield to keep me from all the unexpected things "out" there in the great unknown. I hoped that if I put all the things I carried on like a coat it would protect me from having to feel the fear and deal with it, to be cold, wet, out of food, dirty...but what I found was that it wasn't the things that kept my fear at bay it was the walking.   

 Was it easy to par down my pack size? No, each time I left something at home, decided to go with a higher degree bag and leave the extra pillows home, it was uncomfortable but I didn't die..yet.  Lately, due to knee issues, lack of time and aging I have had to face that fear even more because there can be no more backpacking unless there is less weight in my pack.  The real fear, I think, each of us face everyday is that there might not be time to do the things that are really important to us.  Guess its time to take stock and maybe I'll have to leave that teddy bear at home.....  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Summer in the City

hot sunThe warm sun beat down upon my back as I looked up from planting.  I wiped the salty sweat with a quick swipe as more gathered upon my brow.  Deciding, somewhat spontaneously, to put in my garden after all was why I was standing in the hot June sun planting.  My decision to not plant this year due to the constant fight with the deer and instead put my energy into walking long miles in the heat had not stood.  I found the call of the dirt to be too strong.  The need to feel the dark earth, warm and moist, nay to fondle it, caress it like a lover, was too strong.  Plus, I just love going to the nursery and buying really past prime plants and making them grow. 

So, into the ground went a bunch of Kohlrabi.  Why because last year the deer ate them ALL and there is nothing better than a cold, raw kohlrabi...who knew?  I didn't until a couple of years ago...after the first bite I was a goner...they are really that good.  For some reason, I always buy way too many tomatoes.  I am not a good tomato grower.  They seem to look at me and laugh.  "You know that I will grow and sprout a bunch of little tomatoes and then the blight will come, don't you?", they say to me.  Still, hope springs eternal in a gardener's heart, I put in 10 this year.  

CantaloupeFor some reason, I wanted to try cantaloupe.  Gosh, Vera, its JULY!  Ever the optimist, I figure I have as good a chance as any having them give me 'lopes before the snow flies!! Plus, I'll be really proud if they grow, I've never grown cantaloupe, successfully, before.  Also, into the dark, dry earth went 2 Cucumbers, 4 Flowering Kale (can you eat them?) and some Basil.  I'd planted some up on the porch earlier from seed and the danged Chipmunks ate all but 1.  These do not look like basil though so guess I'll see what they end up becoming!  Oh, I also put in Chocolate Peppers! What the heck?!

I'm friends with the owner of this family run nursery/vegetable market and when I bought my plants we stood in the outrageously hot greenhouse talking about the lack of rain, the farm bills running through Congress, the health of the sustainable Portage County farming community, how to keep the Blight off tomatoes and just generally catching up after the long winter.  I told her the story of our garden "tractor" we just purchased and how I was now calling myself a farmer since I "officially" own a tractor now.  She laughed companionably and totally got it.  We talked about our deer herd since she lives just south of me and the same deer that plague me eat her for profit vegetables.  A much bigger problem for her than for me just losing my summer veggies.  Yet again, she understood and commiserated and agreed that if I could get a bigger operation going that I had a good place to sell organic veggies. 

That easy, summer camaraderie of the garden is why I love working the earth.  We all live  by what nature brings our way.  We have the same enemies...deer, rodents, bugs and hail.  Advice is as freely shared as is an extra package of plants because we all know that being able to raise your own food is something to be proud of and not everyone has the guts or the determination to stick it out.  Its fun being a member of the Order of the Perpetually Dirty Fingernails.  

Not my backyard but this is summer sunset in the city!
 So, I'll cross my fingers and stand out in the yard looking skyward for signs of rain, battle the bugs and pick weeds in the waning light of the rosy, summer sun with birdsong my sunset serenade.  I'll breathe in the grassy air and the peace that comes from being a part of the earthly cycle of birth and death. The result of all the work?  Yummy fresh veggies!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Eulogy for Two Memorable Chicken Friends

Best Buddies - Miss Chickapea & Sheldon
They, of course, started out as two brown and the other blue.  When they hatched, I assume they were cute, little and fuzzy like all chickens.  One was older and a female, the other a male came after the chickens had arrived at the farm.  I don't know exactly how they ended up as student farm chickens but fate brought them to Mary, a budding chicken whisperer.

Araucana Peep
 The female, of the Araucana breed, was not like the rest of the group of chickens that had been dropped off at the student farm...she was, well, interesting, alert, she liked people, she loved to be photographed and hugged.  Mary loved her knowing that as a farmer it is not a good idea to love your farm animals.  She couldn't help it.  Miss Chickapea, as the chicken was named, wouldn't let her think of her as just a 'normal, run 'o the mill chicken".  No sir, she was somethin' special.  Mary couldn't get away from her, she followed her everywhere begging to be loved.  So, Mary did.  Whenever Mary was at the farm Miss Chickapea had special allowances like being outside the pen, riding in her arms or being kissed.  She particularly liked that.  The other chickens clucked and fussed about being left inside the fence but like normal flock chickens they just ran around complaining, doing nothing to distinguish themselves.  They had to stay in the pen.

The student farmers made a nice pen for them, covering it with bird netting to protect against predators and then put a solar electric fence up. Covering the pen with a tarp meant it was cooler in the run during the summer.  The students and Mary were good chicken farmers. They built a roosting box and got a proud, handsome, bold rooster...a Rhode Island Red, they named Jerry.  He was a good protector of his small flock of 10 or so chickens and strutted up and down watching his "girls". 

Soon, another chicken joined the group.  It was another male, who Mary named Sheldon.  He was a tiny, little thing, a Bantam Rhode Island Red.  He was a chicken with an attitude.  Like Miss Chickapea, he was unique.  He was small, he was feisty, he was proud of his black, green glossy tail feathers.  He was a cuddle bug. 

Proud Sheldon
He learned to sit on Mary's shoulder...well pretty much on anyone's shoulder or head until you made him get down. He liked to sit on my grand daughter, Kiah's head.  He was funny! He was an escape artist and once got out of the pen somehow.  He, finally, appeared again by flying from a tree which grew along the barn road.  Mary, was not amused.  But, like the big-hearted, tiny giant he was, he just went back to being happy-go-lucky Sheldon, like it was no big deal.

Miss Chickapea looking at the
camera instead of at who was talking.
Over the next year, Miss Chickapea and Sheldon became the stars of the Purdue Student farm showing up in PR videos and on media spots highlighting the great stuff that was going on at the farm.  Mary and a handful of like-minded students had taken on the Dean of Agriculture and worked with him to create this small farming program.  Sheldon and Miss Chickapea were outstanding examples of animals that could be used as PR reps and teaching props throughout the community...ambassadors for the farm.  Watch until the end, you'll see Mary and Miss Chickapea, Purdue Newsroom - Students experience agriculture, business, research at their farm and here is another example, Purdue Today - Student-run farm to offer learning, teaching, research opportunities .
Here is student farmer, Ashley, posing with Sheldon,

Family visiting the Chickens before Graduation
They were more than just chickens...they were rock stars amongst Mary's family too as we ALL had to go visit them whenever we were there in Lafayette, IN.  We asked about them whenever we called.  Working their way into every one's heart, those two helped us to understand that life, intelligence and personality in ALL species are qualities unique and special to each individual and that when presented with a chance to really CONNECT personally with some animal (human or otherwise) it is always meaningful and special. 

Sheldon & Mary
It has taken me a while to write the ending to the story of Miss Chickapea and Sheldon because it has taken ME a while to process the fact that indeed their story ended both suddenly, terribly and too soon.  Also, I kept thinking that maybe, with time, Sheldon might reappear, flying out of his tree like before, shaking off the attack with his giant attitude that he housed in his little body.  Mary, of course would have scolded him for staying away so long while hugging and kissing him all over in relief.  But, alas, I believe that Sheldon too probably succumbed to the attack and is with us no more.

Chicken Love
Ok, by now you realize that something bad happened to our lovely, unique chicken friends and you are right.  Due to a cascading bunch of decisions brought on by an injury inflicted upon Miss Chickapea, they were attacked and killed by SOMETHING.  I believe it was the SOMETHING that took Bella, the duck away last year.  I think its a fox, feral cat or a loose dog that has decided to roam the farm looking for easy food.  After much thought, I believe it's the dog.

Woods beyond the chicken coop
For a few days, due to Jerry's behavior and some odd noises from the woods beyond the chicken pen, there was a tiny ray of hope that Sheldon might have survived.  His body was not found inside the cage like Miss Chickapea, just some feathers outside near the chicken coop.  I think, like Mary does, that Sheldon, with his fierce attitude and protective nature towards Miss Chickapea, was fatally injured protecting Miss Chickapea.  But, those of us that loved them will never know for sure what happened that night.  All we know is that they are no longer around to amuse us, to show us what life is like through a chicken's eyes, or reflect the eternal 'intelligence' that nature shows us everyday. 

Me - Out & About
photo credit: Jim Davis
And maybe I am exaggerating a little...I am a Naturalist, Environmental Educator and an organic gardener myself.  I know that humanizing animals is not a good thing...animals are not humans and have specific behaviors and intelligence within species.  Mary would be better able to tell you exactly how they affected her...but from the couple of times I met them and the happiness they brought my girl, I believe that there was something special going on there and only time will tell what lessons we learned from their short lives.  I bet if you'd had the opportunity to look into their wise eyes and seen the eternal wisdom contained there, you would understand.

Rest in peace, memorable chicken will be missed by many.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Graduation Day

If you haven't heard me brag about my daughter's graduation from college, well, here I go.  She is the youngest of my 3 children, all who are well endowed with brains.  All have launched themselves into the world and are swimming along just like we all do when we reach a certain age.  Matt, my oldest, is in the Air Force Reserves and flipping houses while raising a family.  He and his lovely wife are whacked....caught in that middle age between..whoo hooo and yikes.  Katie, the woman in the middle, holds 1 of my 4 grand babies hostage in Indiana, goes to school and works ...a full plate which she balances in the air like the true professional she is.  Mary has spent the last 3-ish years at Purdue studying botany and getting Purdue to start a small, organic farming program. 

Purdue just happens to be my Alma Mater also. I bleed black and dad went there, Mary's father and her Aunt went there, my brother and Matt went there.  Mary stepped into a family tradition of Boiler pride.  Hoosiers have 2're either a Boiler or an IU fan...we chose the only Indiana University...:) Its a joke, ok..

I am a proud mama and was thrilled when she passed all her finals and then was accepted to graduate school there too.  We all headed to Purdue over Mother's day weekend to watch her walk.  I expected the trip to be full of memories of my own graduation but did not expect it to be as emotional as it was.

 Seeing her in her gown, walking around campus taking pictures, hearing the bells play the Purdue fight song...all that rushed through me catapulting me back to when I was she, she was me, we were...and my heart burst with the knowledge that she has no idea what her future holds.  Sky's the limit and already she has packed so much into her life.  

And as I watched the big screen TV, finally, I saw her.  She took her graduation certificate and stepped up to her Dean with the biggest smile upon her beautiful face that I had ever seen. Eyes alight, smile broad and ear to ear, she grasped his hand quickly, shook it looking into his eyes and at that moment I knew that she will make a difference. 

She turned and walked to the edge of the stage, paused for a moment looking out into the large auditorium not knowing where we were and pumped both her arms up into the air and said something...I think it was, "WHOOOO HOOOO!"

Monday, May 21, 2012

Welcome to Trail Days!!!

Here I am at either my 10th or 12th Trail Days...I cannot remember which.  I've been coming to this festival for many years.  Trail Days is an Appalachian Trail hiker Fest held every year on the 3rd weekend in May.  It's a lot of fun.  Usually I have very little documentation of the actual event because its too much fun and I forget to take photos....I'll upload a few from years past.

Five or six of us remain as participants and gather every year of what was once a group of about 15.  We miss those that do not come anymore and we talk about them behind their back's saying things like, "I can't believe they didn't come" or "Do you even know if they are still alive" or "Are they still in TX?".  Long time friends don't ever really leave you but are ghosts living in a closet whose door you open every once in a while to peek in at.  You just want to see if they are still there hoping that they come out of the darkness fully fleshed to visit. 

The streets of Damascus, Virginia, a lovely mountain town where the AT runs down main street, are filled with the hellos, sounds of hands slapping backs in hugs and wahoos of congratulations for finished AT thru hikes and questions of "So what are you doing now after the hike and where are you living?"

People who are not involved in the Trail community or ever stood on top of a mountain looking back with nostalgia at where you've walked from, purple-blue mountains stretching on in front of you to the horizon line, have a hard time understanding why my friends and I find this particular weekend inviolate.  Its a you do not miss weekend.  The miles, the smiles, the trials and the tears and laughter echo over, around, within, out from the mountains that surround this lovely little town.  Their welcoming warmth is an image of how we, the hiking community feel about our time on trail and the friendships made there. 

Through rain, wind, lightening strikes and hurricanes, snow, drought and injury, there are our trail peeps walking beside us, with us, kicking our butts, holding our heads/hands/ make friends out here with names like Buzz, Sherry, Creaky Sticks, Keystone (just met!), Marta & Liteshoe, Judy and Amy, DeLee, Bronco and Wingheart, Krewzer, Sue and Rabbit, Hutch and Sparrow, Suzanne, Lone Wolf and Gypsy, Razor and Red Hat, Bahlpack, Sherlock & Circuit Rider, Journey, Hopeful,  ....friends who even though you see only a few times a year hold similar memories of what it means to walk miles with your home on your back and reflect in their eyes the same understanding of the strength it takes to to walk the AT.  They understand that it is not the things in your life that make you who you are but what you chose to do and who you chose to do it with.

Cheers to you all, my lovely hiking friends....may the miles be kind and limitless...