thru hike #WritePhoto

I open my eyes. Still tired. Notice the dew on the tent, the sun just beginning to work. Muscles aching, I wriggle out of my sleeping bag. 

I rub my sore feet before lacing up my dirty Altras. What, after all, am I wearing that isn’t dirty? I laugh to myself.

Down some chow, a protein bar will suffice for now. A swig of water. Break camp. Get everything in the pack, hoist it on my tired back. 

Time to hit the trail. I grab my poles.

Yesterday morning, I remember how excited I was to see that verdant green as I came over the ridge. The sunlit hills lay before me looking lush and inviting after my time in the forest. There was an incline, but the trail was easy pickings. 

The miles passed under my feet as the sun rose, arced over me, and then made its ponderous descent. I pulled my hat low.

As the day waned, I realized the trail was cresting. One foot in front of the other. Left. Right. I looked up as I reached the top.

I laughed out loud. Ruefully. Nature seems to enjoy cooking up all these surprises for me. There before me I saw what looked like the surface of the moon or maybe Mars: a harsh, monochromic terrain, strewn with boulders. It looked like a long, hard trek. I set up camp in the grassy field.

This morning, I look ahead as I approach the forbidding land. It is shrouded with heavy, damp air. The towering rock formations loom like surly titans patrolling the perimeter.

Go, though, I will. I have trudged these many miles alone, discovering my rightful place in this cryptic world both savage and beautiful. This is, after all, the point. 

Left. Right. Damn, this pack’s heavy.

One day, soon enough, I’ll crest another hill, and find myself back in the phantasmagoria that I used to call normal. The city lurks unseen, out there, like a distant planet for now — far more ominous and strange in many ways than these brooding rock behemoths.

Left. Right.

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Thank you, Sue Vincent, for the inspiration of this week’s #WritePhoto prompt.

on the Pere Marquette trail

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veru10_14_18aPere Marquette Rail Trail made for a lonely sojourn in the cooler temperatures this weekend. Lonely was just fine with me, allowing me to soak in the solace of nature and all the autumn beauty. It was a peaceful and soul-warming place to be, far from the endless stream of stress in which we all seem to be caught up lately.

The trail is a long one (30 miles), and I only did a short portion of it, but it was just the fix I needed.

Leaves and pine needles scattered themselves along the trail. Water burbled along underneath an old railroad span. I tucked my hands down in my jacket pockets with the chill.

Geese flew overhead, calling out enroute. They are like old friends to me.

Another sound captured my attention on the part of the trail close to town – the brisk clop-clop of a horse pulling an Amish buggy mixing it up with traffic along the side of a nearby roadway. I noticed with interest that seeing something like that through vegan eyes evokes a feeling that is a far cry from the quaint charm it might have evoked at one time.

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So, too, the calves in their little individual sheds that I saw on my way to the trail.

There was a time when I would feel a simple delight in such scenes. No more. I am too conscious now of the suffering inherent in our use of animals. The animals themselves, though, do inspire with their individual beauty and selves.

My trail excursion came after a thoughtful visit to a small church. A mere handful of people came together there, along with two small dogs that had the run of the place. It was the closest picture of community I’ve come across in quite a while. 

For all our memberships and ‘involvement’ in things, we’re increasingly isolated by divisive rhetoric, fear, and the stamp of our personal value in terms of purchase or production – in this world where our very selves are commodified. Churches are not exempt from the phenomena, all too often both generating and exacerbating them.

Happily, this little glimpse into a functional community revealed none of that.

This was just a few people wanting to do good in this world, in the simplest of ways – together.

It was a nice picture to carry with me onto the trail. The peace and beauty of the place, coupled with that picture, translated into a hopeful feeling.

People – wanting to do good in this world, in the simplest of ways. Together.

Kinda sounds like a plan, you know?

autumn kicks in

veru10_12_18a-e1539349051631.jpgWhile Hurricane Michael was devastating the Panhandle, up here in Michigan, Mother Nature was quietly taking the autumn season up a notch.

Temperatures dropped, skies got grey, and winds blustered. Time for jackets and hats and gloves.

I love it. This is my favorite season, and one I have missed for several years. I am so happy to be soaking it in.

Also soaking it in, a delightful dog. As I walked her, she clearly reveled in all the windy activity.  I couldn’t help but laugh as she excitedly attempted to chase down the falling and skittering leaves. The cool air just made her smile.

Those bi-colored eyes of hers searched the world around her with curiosity and joy.  I just love the way she looked high up into the trees and the sky.

Yep, a perfect fall day as far as I’m concerned. Blustery, fresh, beautiful, and a playful Husky with whom to share it.

lions and tigers and bears, oh my

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The mission was to try out a new trail. I headed out to a large wooded area with trails, just on the edge of town.

It looked beautiful. The trail cut through a hilly area covered in trees. I trotted along, anxious to explore this new spot. The foliage grew dense overhead making everything look a little dark.

It wasn’t long before I came to a barricade notifying me that the trail there was closed. I looked beyond the sign, down towards where a creek ran through. 

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Fortunately, there was another branch of the trail that remained open. So, I veered left and headed along that one. For a little while, it paralleled the creek way down below me. Then, the trail took another turn and I was back into the silent, dark woods.

It was right about here that I could feel my hackles going up.

Every now and then, this happens to me. I am out on a trail alone, and fear just takes over.

Not so long ago, I was out on the Pacific Crest Trail day-hiking alone. When I started out, I was pretty scared, but I forced myself to push through the fear. After all, there are quite a few souls out there who do much more than day-hike sections of the PCT by themselves. It was worth it – I ended up truly enjoying the solitary hiking out there. I met several thru-hikers, too, out there doing their thing, and there was nothing scary about it.

I know I’m not the only one who feels fear out on a trail, though.

Heck, I remember a hike I took with a friend in Florida. Both of us were unfamiliar with Florida’s flora and fauna. We were also keenly aware of the existence of alligators and snakes.

We both bravely made our way along the trail, neither of us admitting our discomfort. We got pretty far into the place, all the while with a heightening sense of fear and remoteness. The idle chitchat disappeared, as we gravely traversed the terrain.

Then came the alligator warning sign topped off with one of those massive orb-weaver spiders hanging in a web that stretched across the path in front of us. We came to a halt, looking at each other. We both confessed the immense fear and discomfort we were feeling. We decided to head back, much relieved.

The return trip, however, only seemed to grow our terror. The buzzing beehives up in the trees spurred us to hurry along the trail. We dashed along the trail, panting toward the safety of the parking lot.

When we reached the trailhead, sweaty and out of breath, we became acutely aware of just how normal everything around us actually was. We looked at each other and simply burst out laughing.

I hiked Florida trails after that both with company and without, and never felt that level of fear again – although alligators do make me very careful.

Usually, the fear I feel on a trail is not, however, from the environment. It is people that cause wariness out there when I’m alone. This is despite the fact that people I meet on trails are generally pleasant, friendly lovers of the outdoors just like me.

The fear got the better of me on this week’s little outing, though. I couldn’t shake it. I pressed on, anxiously looking both ahead and behind me in the quiet woods. The trail, thankfully, turned out to be a relatively short one.

There was a car sitting there in the parking lot when I emerged, with an individual sitting in it. I practically bolted to my car, hopped in, and fled.

I know. It’s ridiculous. I felt safer out in the wild mountains of California than I did here on this trail in close proximity to a bustling town. And that, right there, I think is precisely why I felt the anxiety. I felt alone, maybe just not quite alone enough.