Monday, January 12, 2015

January 12, 2015 Rail Trail in Winter

I am walking on the completely deserted trail this morning in a heavy mist.  The ice which came with a polar blast and temperatures as low as 11 degrees is melting.

The leafless tall trees reveal squirrels' nest and great clumps of mistletoe in their branches.  The holly trees are full of beautiful fat blood red berries.

Beside the trail lies a small animal with large pointy ears.  A small tan dog with large solemn brown eyes, tiny long toes and claws, formed perfectly and now frozen perfectly in death.

The man who was lost overnight on the Pinnacle Trail of Table Rock State Park has walked out of the woods.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

January 1, 2015 Table Rock Mountain High

Beautiful weather on this first day of the year.  It has become a habit to fortify myself with a coffee roll from Dunkin Donuts on the way up to the mountains.  Boofa makes not a sound in the back of the Jeep.

I came to Table Rock last year in Winter and went on Carrick Creek Trail when the creek was rushing and overflowing from heavy winter rains.  Today it is gurgling along happily. A few people are taking their pictures where it runs down over a rocky spill.  Today I am going to take the challenge of the Table Rock Trail, 3.4 miles up up up a series of stone steps as tall as my knees.

At first, I meet almost no one. At the .5 mile marker, I hear a voice behind me saying: "Only a half mile? I thought it was at least 2."  I agree.  It is a very strenuous hike. I don't hear that voice again.  I think they turned back.

Soon, I have to take off my sweater and tie it around my waist. A man in a blue jacket comes along and tells me that this is his 15th hike up the mountain. "I began when I was forty and now I am sixty.".  He disappears above me, appearing now and then as he rounds a curve.

Again I have to stop to get a rock out of my shoe.  I find it is not a rock; it is a blister on my  heel.  A middle aged man comes hiking with two ski poles.  He tells me that he climbs the mountain every year on the first day of January to challenge himself.  He tells me the blister will be better when I am going down hill as my boot will slide forward.  His daughter has turned back already today with new boots and blisters.

I keep moving up until I am at the 2 mile point and regretfully turn back.  I meet two young boys scampering up the rocks. Their father tells me that there is a shelter just beyond where I turned back.  They move on up and up..

I step off the path to allow a large joyful man to pass me. He is actually jumping down the mountain from one rock to another. Later another hiker tells me that this man told me he had run up the entire mountain. I am amazed.

I have a snack of water and raisins and descend the trail.  Maybe next time.

Driving home on Highway 11, I pass Old Highway 11 and shortly thereafter Old Old Highway 11. One day perhaps the road I am on will be Old Old Old Hwy. 11.

Here is my recipe for Black Eyed Peas and Yellow Crooked Neck Squash, a dish for New Years' Day so that you will have coins in your pocket during the coming year:

Rinse dried peas and put in a pot with plenty of water and bring to a boil. If you do this in the morning and just let them soak, they will be ready by supper time.  Or you can let them simmer about an hour and they will be ready.

Saute an onion and three or four chopped squash, 4 cloves of garlic in oil in an iron frying pan. Add  2 tablespoons of masala seasoning and 5 teaspoons of sugar.  Add a 16 oz can of crushed tomatoes
and salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer a while.  Serve over plenty of rice.  Also good with nan.  It is especially good if you have just tried to climb Table Rock.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 29, 2014

December 28, 2014 The Cottonwood Trail: Shine Your Light

I am out early again today in a light rain.  A huge barred owl swoops low across the path so near that I can see his speckled brown and white undercoat.  The trail is cleared and muddy. I walk on the edges on dead leaves.  Three deer leap down the hill as I cross the ridge trail.  The wetlands are brim full, a cloudy moss green.  Dozens of Cardinals and Wrens twitter and call and scatter around me.

At the crest of the Highlands trail, just since two days ago when I passed here, someone has planted a White Oak, "In Memory of Medea Beauvais"  with a bench beside it.

The inscription on a stone says:

"Shine Your Light".

Sunday, December 28, 2014

December 26, 2014 The Cottonwood Trail: Love Is Enough

It is so very, very early on this morning of first frost.  I know where the deer sleep and I rustle them up.  Like dancers, they bound up and away through the woods.   I am wearing the gift of a new knit hat, a new scarf, even carrying a new hiking stick with a carved "howling wolf" made of bianbai wood.

On Christmas Eve, I hung metal ornaments on a tree on the Rail Trail in memory of the 133 children and 10 adults gunned down by the order of the same Taliban leader who ordered the shooting of Malala Yosephzai
who survived and has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.  "You should not have to be brave to go to school", a Pakistani said.  "They are all our children," said John Kerry.

I attended the Holiday concert at Zack's and Shane's school where Zack played the violin and Christmas, Hannakah and Kwanza were celebrated. A little girl with a big smile and a bald head from chemotherapy, danced beautifully with the other children.  The next day I attended the Hannakah play at James' school and watched a small girl in a wheelchair sing and dance.

And no one came to kill the children.

I walked through the woods, over the boardwalk covered with frost, over the frosty wetlands, up the highlands trail, through the piney woods and up and around the ridge trail.  There is no one out except me and the deer.

At home, there is a black and white photo on my mantel of my entire family gathered on Thanksgiving on the front steps of the home of John and Colleen, dogs included.  There is also the photo of "the secret place" the boys found on the marsh at Edisto.  It was my secret place as well. Beside it, is the dark red mug, a gift from John from the National Museum of Art in Washington.

On it, the words of William Morris, English painter:

"Love is Enough".

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October 28, 2014 Congaree National Park, A Sounder of Wild Boars

We used to call it the Congaree Swamp, then it was the Congaree National Monument. Now it is Congaree National Park. It is actually a flood plain with some of the tallest trees in the world, tupelo, loblolly pines, American beech and bald cypress with their minions of cypress  knees sprouting up from the Dorovan muck. The clay and dead leaf muck is eight feet deep and nourishes the forest.

You can get there from I-77 and I-26 about 10 miles south of Columbia, but I take Assembly to Bluff Rd from downtown and drive 12 miles through the Cowasee Basin down back roads to the park. It is one of our last days of summer like weather, early and perfect, blue and gold, but anticipating 87 degrees in the afternoon.

I take the Weston Lake Loop trail which is about 4.5 miles.  Much of it is a boardwalk over the Dorovan muck, and then a footpath through the high sheltering trees along brown, leaf strewn Cedar Creek. Ducks fly up from the water as I approach.  In a sunny spot, Great Blue spreads his wings and settles in the branches of a tree over the water.  I pass an old still left by Moonshiners long ago.  Here along the creek are two measuring poles indicating that now the water is only two feet deep, but the levels can go up to 12 feet during flooding.

An antlered stag moves quickly across my path.  He is thick and grey and furried, not especially afraid of me. This is his home, not mine.  I hear the deep hoot of an owl and call back, but he is silent. Woodpeckers tap and birds chirp high in the trees as I approach the boardwalk and pier over Weston Lake, an oxbow of the Congaree.  I have been here before and saw countless turtles, yellow bellied and snapping just floating up and down below.  No turtles today, but coming down from the pier, a black piglet, the size of my cocker spaniel, jumps up and runs to the safety of his family.  Later the ranger tells me that a piglet is called a shoat and the group of boars is called a sounder.  There are six or eight shoats and as many large boars. Most of them are black, or dark gray and brown, but there is one middle sized boar that is bright red like a fox. Long ago, the ancestors of these pigs were brought here, some from Germany, for hunting. The ranger tells me that now they are infested with pseudo rabies and  brusolosis.  There is a management plan for them.  They look at me and walk a few steps away, rooting up the ground.

Nearing the Park Center again, I talk to a German family about the boars and then I meet a Japanese family with two small children dressed in Halloween skeleton costumes under their jackets.  The little girl holds my walking stick to inspect it.  The little boy talks to Momie-San in English and Japanese.  I have had my solitary walk, but now I can hear the loud noise of thousands of quacking geese nearby.  It is actually one hundred and twenty school children from Rice Elementary in Hardscrabble having a picnic lunch before they take the trails and see the movie.

High on the wall over the water fountains is a Mosquito Meter, something like the old arrow pointing to the numbered floors an elevator reached. 1 = All Clear  2 = mild  3 = moderate 4 = severe 5 = ruthless 6 = war zone.  I take my hiking stick and move the arrow from just over All Clear to between mild and moderate.

The Congaree floodplain was once a wild place where fierce, wild and unbroken slaves escaped from plantations, slave owners and others who tried to capture them. At the nearby place where the Congaree and the Wateree meet, they set up a Maroon village, preserving some of their African culture and adapting to their circumstances.To this day, some of their descendants abide in this beautiful wild place.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 21, 2014 Love Locks at Dreher Shoals Dam

Exit I-26 just above Columbia onto Lake Murray Blvd (exit 1) West. Drive just a few miles into Lexington County.  Dreher Shoals Dam holds back Lake Murray from drowning the City of Columbia.. Only in the past decade, the Army Corps of Engineers found the old dam to be so faulty that if there had been an earthquake or a severe hurricane, it could have burst and flooded Columbia, so it has been rebuilt and with the rebuilding came a 1.5 mile walk, named after Johnny W. Jeffcoat, along the dark deep waters of Lake Murray.  South Carolina Electricity and Gas asks for a fee from April 1 to September 30, but now it is free to park, or even to bring your boat to launch. (After the dam on the right is also Lexington County Public Park).

In the distance there are islands (one is named Lunch Island) where in World War II pilots learned to bomb and drop incendiary devices.  Five B25's went into the deep. Four were later brought up and salvaged, leaving one rare B25C left to find and restore in 2005.  Now that war is long off.  The remaining soldiers and pilots are growing very old.

From the top of the dam on this cool early morning, I see the blue silhouette of downtown Columbia. Across the road, the concrete bunker of the dam rises with two dozen vultures resting on its parapet.  Others circle in the morning haze.

Approaching the far side of the walkway, there is a 15 foot chain link fence with countless tiny glittering sparklers covering it.  They look like the tiny schools of silver fish flashing up from creeks.  When I arrive at the fence, I see that the silver sparklers are locks and chains. The locks  have the names of people on them, sometimes even a photograph, a date.  The occasional chains are attached in the shape of hearts.

At the end of the walk is another parking area where I meet a woman in an SUV who tells me about the locks.

They are called Love Locks and no one actually knows how the tradition began.  They are sometimes memorials to a deceased loved one or friend but more often they commemorate the love between two people, family members, a marriage.  The lock is attached and the key is thrown into the deep waters, signifying undying love, perhaps even eternity.

October 19, 2014 Great Blue, My Altar

Each morning I have gone down to the dock on the marsh at sunrise and he is there. First, he is perched far out over the creek at the end of a long palm tree leaning over against the yellow and orange sun coming up, then on the left bank already fishing and then on the bridge to the dock itself.  He is there, completely visible to me, gray and blue, haunting in his faithfulness on nearly every hike.  Sometimes I hear his wings and sometimes I know he is there and but I do not see him. I see him in my mind's eye.

On this last day, I walk the Spanish Mount Trail with Michael and his family.  The children are transformed here as are we all.  They tell us that they are no longer speaking human.  They have found a secret place down a hidden path onto a dried pluff mud shore along the marsh.  Now they scamper down the trail, wearing their coon skin caps, dragging palm fronds behind them and chortling in secret wild tongues.

We have all heard the wild language of the birds, the animals, the marsh and the sea.  One day, we too, may learn to speak it.

We are restored.