Nature Snob

Hi, my name is Jill, and I discriminate against boring views. I’m addicted to changing scenery and epic locations. Do you also belong to this group for recovering Nature-snobs?

I long for the beauty of walking in the mountains. I’m homesick for the brilliant blue skies and the mysterious fog-bound trees found along the Appalachian Trail. At least give me a beach with crashing waves! I hate the flat farm fields and always overcast skies that have surrounded me in Central Ohio. Such a Nature-snob!

It helps that we recently moved to a small town in a hilly county northeast of Columbus. As I explore local parks and wander trails in nearby forests, I am challenged to change my snooty attitude. There truly IS beauty all around me when I look for it! 

“Finding beauty here or there; Finding beauty anywhere!”

The beginning of a new year means it is time to organize the thousands of photos on my computer. This year I found interesting similarities in the views I have captured as I explore Nature-places both “here” in Ohio and “there” on the AT. Take a look… (In the following sets of photographs, the first one is along the AT; the second photo is close to our new home.)

Enjoying early morning light streaming thru the trees:

Noticing farmland shrouded in fog; waiting for the rising sun to bring crisp, clear views of the hills:

Walking along a stream, listening to it burbling and gurgling along its merry way:

Stopping to wonder at the roar of rushing, cascading water falling over boulders:

Looking for small pleasures and tiny bits of beauty:

Reflecting on the beauty of seasonal changes:

Taking time to notice the colors of sunset over nightly shelter:

I’m working hard to stop being a Nature-Snob by “finding beauty anywhere.” What have YOU discovered near you? I would love to see your favorite nature places. Please leave a photo in the comments!

Advertisements

New You, New Name…What’s in a Name? (Part 2)

It’s a new year. Sometimes that brings a longing to become a new-you. It can be a long process to radically change who you are. But if you head to the woods, you could quickly gain a radically different name! Perhaps this post will give you some ideas…

In a previous post (which you can read HERE), I explained the significance of “Trail Names.” I told the story of how we got our names as “Story Seeker” and “Andowen.” Now I want to share some of the names we remember from other hikers we met on the Appalachian Trail.

Trail names often have entertaining history behind them. Usually, they give insight into a hiker’s personal journey. Tales are often told when sitting around a campfire in the woods or at a table in town. “How did you get your name?” is a good way to get the stories flowing…

Campfires…heart of conversations and gatherings

Trail names are given (or chosen) for many reasons. Perhaps the hiker is similar to a character from movies: Elle (from Legally Blonde), Long John Silver (complete with swirling cape and sword!), Gandalf or Frodo (from Lord of the Rings). Sometimes the trail name is a related to the hiker’s real name: Comet (Hailey) and Sunrise (Dawn). Physical characteristics are often commemorated: Big Foot, Long Legs, Tiny, Bean Pole. Trail clothing can also affect names: Blue Bandana, Green Knight. Favorite foods might also become a trail name: Honey Sticks and Java. Most common is probably hiking style or mishaps which occur in the early days of the hiker’s adventure: Jack Rabbit, Strider, Stumbles, Wrong Way, Muddy.

Here are a few of our favorite Trail Names and the stories behind them:

BEETLE started hiking with her daughter who was named Spider for how quickly she climbed steep sections of trail. Mom struggled in those same sections, legs and arms and hiking poles flying every which way. Daughter said she looked like a beetle…and the name stuck!

(from iNaturalist.com)

BLAZE headed to the trail without map or guidebooks. He found his way by following the white blazes that mark the Appalachian Trail. In addition, he carried no stove and made fires each evening and morning to heat water and cook his food.

IRON HEART has a striking story of transformation. His life was in chaos and he was in terrible shape when he had a massive heart attack. He died and was revived multiple times on the way to the hospital and in the operating room. As he recovered, he made radical changes in his lifestyle. Eventually, he decided that he wanted to take on an epic adventure, and he headed to the Appalachian Trail. He didn’t finish the first year, but went back again this year and hopes to finish the entire trail by next season. He has an Iron Heart—in the physical implants that saved his life and in the determination that has changed his life.

OLD SCHOOL is a dentist who headed to the trail during a time of transition. He hadn’t hiked for years but still had his old gear. It worked fine decades before and he saw no reason to waste money upgrading everything. Younger hikers were bemused at the metal frame visible around his pack and at his old-school stove. Thus a name was given…

(photo from an ebay listing)

PROMETHEUS… We thought this might have been because he liked to light a campfire most evenings. Wrong! Early in his thru-hike the alcohol stove he was using blew up and lit the picnic table at the shelter on fire. He was the hiker who brought fire to the people… HA!

So, if you are longing for a change this year, what “trail name” would fit you on your journey? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments!

Christmas Gifts–All Year Long!

The presents are opened; the food is eaten; the relatives have gone home. The Christmas holidays are over. But the very best gifts of Christmas don’t have to be packed away until next year. We can enjoy them all year long—especially by spending time outdoors!

May HOPE, LOVE, JOY and PEACE be yours, all the year through!

Some families and churches celebrate Advent in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Each week an additional candle is lit on the wreath, reminding us to focus on the true gifts offered to us: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Even for folks who follow other religions (or no religion at all), each one of us longs to experience these qualities in our personal lives. Daughter and I have discovered that being in Nature gets us away from the hectic schedules and to-do lists of daily living. Time in the woods brings us  these simple gifts:

HOPE: Anything feels possible when we head outdoors for adventure. Even when the trail is difficult and we have a bad day, we comfort ourselves that tomorrow will bring new beauty and fresh challenges. Out here there are always reminders that nothing is so dark that light cannot shine into the shadows…

LOVE: Being outdoors helps us experience different facets of this gift. We better love the earth itself when we spend time in Nature. For us personally, our love for the Creator God grows when we experience the beauty around us. We deepen our connections with others as we overcome challenges together. (Yes, even when we want to kill each other…we are still building relationship! Haha!)

JOY:  We are often reminded of this verse while we are hiking on the Appalachian Trail: “Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice; (Let the sea roar and all that fills it); Let the field exult and everything in it; Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy!” (Psalm 96:11-12) One particular morning, we were in awe to find this tree, singing for joy with arms raised toward the sunlight!

PEACE: Even science affirms that we need time in the woods to lower stress and counter the noisy, hectic world in which we live. It is never completely silent in the woods, but the sounds of birds singing, insects buzzing, wind blowing, and water flowing are calming, soothing noises. Sometimes we talk or sing while we hike together, other times we savor the peace that surrounds us when we walk in Nature.

As we put away the decorations of the Christmas season and look toward the beginning of a New Year, let’s make more time to get outdoors. Let’s celebrate the real gifts of Christmas all year long.

(I would love to hear which gift you want more of in the coming year. Please share your plans for spending time in Nature in the coming year by commenting on this post!)

What’s in a Name? (Part 1)

When backpackers meet another hiker on the trail, they commonly stop for a few moments to chat. Rather than ask “Where are you from?” or “Where do you work?” conversation tends to be hiking specific. “How long are you out here?” Or, “How far are you heading?” If coming from different directions on the trail, the hikers often exchange info about upcoming obstacles, how well the water source is flowing, or what wonderful restaurant is in the next town. They also exchange names. But these are not names you would overhear in your local coffee shop!

Long distance hikers use “Trail Names.” This allows a level of privacy or even protection when meeting strangers. Eventually, if hikers run into each other again and again at evening stopping places, they may share contact information to catch up with each other in an upcoming town or to keep in touch post hike. Sometimes they reach a point of sharing “real names.” It’s funny, though, that there are a few hikers I text with occasionally off-trail, but still have no clue what they are called in real life!

There is some controversy about whether a trail name must be given by others or whether it can be personally chosen. In the long run, however, the origin really doesn’t matter. Once the hiker starts using the name, it becomes their identity on-trail.

Finding the perfect name for characters she imagines is very important to my daughter. She gets very upset if a name doesn’t match her ideas of what is proper or right. Because of this, we decided to choose our own names before starting our first long-distance hiking adventure. She chose “Andowen,” an elven name from a Lord of the Rings role playing game she enjoys. She felt the name perfectly fit what we were doing because, of course, “Elves belong in the woods, Mom!” 


It took me longer to choose my name. For years, I used “Mama Duck” on-line because when my kids were little I was like a mama duck with a line of ducklings following behind. I thought about using “colorfulheart,” my current online name. Neither of those quite fit my imagined role while hiking. Finally, I decided on “Story Seeker.” Wherever I go, I look for stories—ones I make up about what I see and do, and ones I hear from others. Time in the woods gives great scope for discovering new stories to share with friends like YOU! (This Native American story-teller figurine was given to me years ago by a friend who recognized my role as story-collector and story-teller…) 

 
This explains how we got our names. In a future post I will tell stories of the trail names of other hikers we have met on our adventures.

Child in the Woods

“God has given me this child…and she is in God’s hands!”

I have had many folks question how we could consider taking our young teen on a long distance, multi-week backpacking trip. Although I usually just smile and make some inane comment about how much she enjoyed the trip, my thoughts scream out “I had no other choice! This is exactly what she NEEDED!”

We have tended to be “outside-the-box” parents, homeschooling our kids, letting them explore interests, and helping them pursue passions. This one, our youngest, has extra challenges. She is very smart and learns some things quickly. At the same time, most “book-learning” takes extraordinary amounts of work. She craves social contact, but lacks many of the skills needed to be successful in building relationships with peers. She is often at the center of a hurricane of emotions, made more unbearable and unmanageable with extreme anxiety. Life sometimes feels like a never-ending series of appointments with therapists and doctors to find the help she needs to manage daily living. That’s no way to feel strong and successful in life…

child in the woods

Then we decided that she and I would spend a few months backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. As journaled here on this blog, I researched, planned, bought gear, and off we went. Along the way, we discovered that this is exactly what she needs! Being in nature brought anxiety and emotions to manageable levels. We could walk peacefully through most days. She enjoyed the social contacts along the way, with little of the stress that debilitates her in town.

Folks questioned how we could make her take this trip, focused on the physical dangers. We now realize that she and I will take many more adventures along the AT, focused on the personal healing that comes when this child is in the woods…

Lost and Found

Life changes when one takes on a “big epic.” A significant part of adventure is moving out of one’s comfort zone. Obviously, during that time frame, life is different than the usual routines of home. However, with most good epics, some changes are longer lasting. They continue even after returning back to “normal” life. Here are some of the things we lost…and found…on our backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail earlier this fall.

LOST:

  • Fears (of snakes, of spiders, of walking in rain, of the dark, of getting lost!!)
  • Long to-do lists
  • “Need” for lots of “stuff” (except books…we still need books…)
  • Weight (if you find it somewhere, please don’t send it back…)
  • Tastebuds (everything tastes great when you are starving and tired at the end of a long day of hiking…fortunately we have regained these now that we are home!)
  • Need to be in control of even small details (okay, so this is an ongoing battle…) LOST

FOUND:

  • Outdoor Skills (reading a topo map, making a campfire, pitching a tent, and more)
  • Confidence
  • Courage
  • Perseverance (gotta keep walking until there’s a flat place to camp!)
  • Muscles (and hip bones…who knew I actually have hip bones?! HA!)
  • New Friends
  • Attitude of partnership and companionship between daughter and me
  • Enjoyment in simple pleasures
  • Ability to reframe frustrations by choosing a different attitude
  • Need for regular exercise (We are working hard to not lose this one again. Hubby asked this morning what I had planned for the day. I was shocked to hear myself say that I *needed* to get out and walk, that I was feeling jittery without exercise. What a stunning change from the couch-potato I was before this hike!) FOUND

We look forward to returning to the Appalachian Trail for another long-distance adventure. (Is it spring yet?!) We want to reinforce the attitudes and life skills we found this fall.

Have you taken on the challenge of a “Big Epic” recently? What things were lost and found for YOU along the way??

Art from the Trail

Both of us look for beauty in our surroundings. Even though every ounce adds up on a long-distance backpacking trip, we chose to carry a small camera, sketch paper, and a variety of pencils. Here is some of the art we brought back from our time on the trail. Enjoy!

Daughter spends hours creating imaginary characters. While on this trip, she worked hard at adding action to her drawings.

tree climber

Influenced by spending so much time in the woods, she drew both whimsical and realistic images of things she discovered along the trail. One afternoon she dissected a number of acorns and drew what she found inside the shell.bug in bed

oak and acorns

acorn dissection

Scenes like this one near the Blackburn Trail Center led to both a drawing and a poem:

gap from blackburn trail center

the gap

Up! Down! Up again!

Steeper up!

When will we be there?

11:00. 11:45. 12:00. 1:00.

Finally!! (Oh,nice view…)

I prefer to use color in my drawings, like this reminder of a rainy day:

dripping leaf

Daughter remembered the day this way:

Storm

Wet, Cold

Pouring, Sloshing, Sliding

Walking in the rain

Drizzle

My heart sings when I see beautiful colors in nature, especially when the color “pops” out from a darker background. When trying to capture those scenes on paper, I love the saturated colors I get from Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils:

bright leaves

fall leaf

butterfly on boot

butterfly

sunset

sunsetFinding beauty and making art on the trail added to our enjoyment of our grand adventure!

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Most of the long-distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail are in a time of transition. One phase of life is finished and there is still uncertainty about the “what next?” This definitely described me last summer as I prepared for our big adventure. Hubby and I were trying to choose a direction to follow among many possibilities for the future. Hiking the Appalachian Trail seemed to make so much sense—take a long break from the demands of “real life” and sort out big questions along the way. hiking

Obviously, on challenging, overwhelming days (like the one I described HERE) the only questions being pondered are things like “can I manage to keep moving?” or “when can I crash for the night?” Even on good days, however, life questions rarely crossed our minds. In talking with other hikers, this was a common experience. The immediate overshadowed the ambiguous or unanswered.

“I’d set out to hike the trail so that I could reflect upon my life, to think about everything that had broken me and make myself whole again. But the truth was…I was consumed only with my most immediate and physical suffering. Since I’d begun hiking, the struggles of my life had only fluttered occasionally through my mind…I’d imagined endless meditations upon sunsets or while staring out across pristine mountain lakes. I’d thought I’d weep tears of cathartic sorrow and restorative joy each day of my journey. Instead, I only moaned, and not because my heart ached. It was because my feet did and my back did…” – Cheryl Strayed, “Wild”

We often used our thoughts to distract ourselves from frustrations of hiking including aches and pains. I tended to focus on finding safe footing or on how much further we had to go before stopping for the afternoon. I looked forward to enjoying a chocolate bar at our next break. I debated whether or not daughter had been doing enough “school” things or I plotted out my next blog post. Daughter preferred to remember lyrics or make up new ones to favorite melodies. She quoted extended passages from books, movies, and plays. She made up profiles for new imaginary characters and planned how she would later draw them. All of this kept our brains busy while hiking, but did nothing toward finding answers to big questions.

When we took a break on the trail or on zero days, we tended to live in the moment. We enjoyed the view or listened to birds sing or wondered about little critters we saw. We traded stories and information with fellow hikers. Questions that felt so important to sort through when at home, lost their urgency while enjoying the pleasures found in nature. overlook

We have been home for a month now. I’m still baffled as to the “what’s next?” I’m not sure what daughter and I “should” be doing. Some days I’m not even sure what we want to do. Hubby and I are trying (so far unsuccessfully) to figure out what work he will do as he finishes his career. We need to envision what retirement might look like and how to best prepare for it in the next decade. All things we were pondering before the AT adventure. All big questions. All still unanswered.

What we DO know is that the time spent backpacking was invaluable. It brought calm in the midst of the questioning. It brought enjoyment and practice living in the moment. Daughter and I look forward to spring. We still might not have answers to our life questions, but we are heading back to the trail for whatever gifts we will find along the way. hiking partners

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Just like the main character in Judith Viorst’s classic children’s book, we had a day where everything was frustrating and we just wanted to quit. On this particular day, we were attempting a longer than usual distance for us which made it even more challenging to continue putting one foot in front of the other. In talking with other hikers, these are common feelings during the first few weeks of a long distance hike until one’s mind and body both strengthen…

I went to sleep in the Ed Garvey Shelter but the owls were so noisy I didn’t sleep all night. When I got out of my sleeping bag this morning it was really cold and by mistake I slipped on the fancy stairs and hurt my broken toe and I could tell it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. steep steps

At breakfast my daughter had her favorite breakfast drink and another hiker fixed an omelet rehydrated meal that smelled yummy but my breakfast bars had been crushed to crumbs so small they couldn’t hold the peanut butter. I think I’m gonna quit hiking and go on vacation in Tahiti.

When it was time to leave, one hiker was already packed up and saying good byes and my daughter was still slowly sipping her hot chocolate. I said, “I could use some help.” I said, “this stuff won’t possibly all fit back in my pack.” I said, “we are always the last to leave.” No one even answered. I could tell it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

When we finally got on the trail, my daughter hurried ahead and took the lead. When I wanted a break, she said I walked too slow. When I looked at the map, she said I was ignoring the side trail to an interesting overlook. Who needs overlooks? I could tell it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. trail

I could tell because when we finally took a break and got our snacks out of our packs, I dropped my bag and the M&Ms fell on the ground and my daughter said I was obviously not a long-distance hiker because I didn’t choose to eat dirt-covered M&Ms. I said, “I hope the next time you open your pack your Snickers bar falls out and lands on the beach in Tahiti.”

She still had dried mandarins in her fruit mix and pop tarts in her snack bag and a day hiker gave her a bottle of flavored water. I had only peanuts and crumbly granola bars left for snacks and plain spring water that wasn’t even cold anymore. It was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. break

That’s what it was because I was already exhausted and we weren’t even halfway through the downhill climb. My daughter was still full of energy and we met a trail-maintainer going the other way who climbed up the rocks like a mountain goat. “The ‘Roller-Coaster’ is a few days from here and it’s even harder than this,” he said. “Next week,” I said, “I’m going to Tahiti.”

On the way down the steep mountainside, I was afraid I was going to slide off the edge of the trail and there were so many rocks that even the tree roots had to wrap around them and the path kept going down and down forever. My knees started aching and my broken toe hurt so bad even ibuprofen didn’t help. I started crying and then that squirrel up in the tree laughed at me so hard he dropped the nut he was carrying and it almost hit me on the head. rocks

I am having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day I announced. No one even answered.

When we finally got to where the Appalachian Trail follows the flat C&O Canal towpath, it was boring. The trees all looked the same and my pack was so heavy I couldn’t skip and I was tired of walking. My daughter thought the turtles sunning themselves on logs were cute but all I noticed was how disgusting the scummy water smelled. turtle She said the whitewater rapids of the Potomac River were beautiful but the glinting sun hurt my eyes. Potomac River I tried calling my husband when we took a break but the reception was bad. I think I called Tahiti by mistake. When I finally got through, it was so static-y that my husband suggested I try again later when there was better coverage in town.

When we finally got to Harper’s Ferry, the outfitter didn’t have the small fuel canister I wanted and the meal my daughter ordered at the café tasted better than mine. I thought I knew the way to the hostel but we missed the trail and had to turn around. (Who puts the white blazes used to mark the way on lampposts and walls?!) I was so tired I thought I was dead. But someone said I couldn’t be dead because I was still walking. food

It was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Nobody told me the hiker hostel was a zillion miles up the hill from the historic town. When we got there I was excited that there was frozen food available to purchase for supper (no further walking needed). But there were no pepperoni pizzas left and I hate plain cheese pizza. There was a choice between vanilla or cookies-n-cream ice cream and I hate both of them. The shower at the hostel was too hot, I got soap in my eyes, I slipped on the wet bathroom floor and all the other hikers had used the thick towels. I hate thin, scritchy towels.

When I went to bed, the mattress was too soft for me to get comfortable and my headlamp batteries had run down so I couldn’t read and somebody was already snoring so loud I couldn’t get to sleep. It has been a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. My daughter says some days are like that. Even in Tahiti. soft bed

If you want to read the original book by Judith Viorst, you can find it at your local library or you can buy it HERE. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

(Note: We finished this year’s epic hike–filled with good days and a few terrible ones–on October 21. We will continue to post photos and stories for a few more weeks.)

Climb Every Mountain…

Lessons for the trail…Lessons for life!climbingThe Appalachian Trail seems to be constantly climbing up one side of a mountain and clambering down the other. This gets exhausting when it is repeated hour after hour after hour. Sometimes we just wanted to drop our packs and quit…but even that is difficult to do when there is little flat ground to be found. A common grumble when hikers get together is wondering just what the trail-makers were thinking and why the trail has to go up and over every mountain along the way rather than staying on ridge lines or meandering along the sides of mountains. Complaints were louder when the trail headed straight up and down. Sections with switchbacks or at least with log or stone steps were much easier to hike. (To be fair, those types of changes would be much harder to build when making trail…)

Climb every mountain, Ford every stream, Follow every rainbow, Till you find your dream. –from Sound of Music

Eventually we figured out how to conquer the steep climbs. It took trial and error to figure out what tips and hints from other hikers worked well for us.

  • Never look too far ahead. It can be discouraging to see how far you still have to climb!
  • Focus on the next step and the next one. Counting steps can help. (I used 25 steps, not 100 like some hikers suggested.) Take a short break for deep breaths and a gulp of water each time you hit that number.
  • Don’t hesitate to take a longer break and take off your pack if you find a good seat (boulder or fallen tree). Just don’t sit too long or your muscles will stiffen up and make the final climb more miserable!climbing break
  • Readjust the weight you are carrying. Tighter straps on the uphill and looser straps on the downhill use gravity to keep weight better aligned over hips.
  • Don’t fight the mountain. Work with the terrain and with your own body to find a rhythm that can be sustained.
  • Celebrate when you reach the top! Take time to look back on what you accomplished before moving on to the next challenge. Downhill climbs are also exhausting, but at least there is relief in switching modes and stressing different muscles…

After a few weeks on the trail, we realized our muscles were stronger and our energy had increased. With each mountain we put behind us, our confidence grew. We really CAN do this. In fact, now that we are back home, we quickly get bored with flatland walking. It’s not just the lack of beautiful views. It simply feels too easy. We walk up and down the little hills around here without getting out of breath or tiring muscles.

It was hard to believe we had really hiked the ridgeline above this town!

It was hard to believe we had really hiked the ridgeline above this town!

Looking back, we realize we did not just learn how to thrive while climbing up and down physical mountains. Those same techniques can be applied when facing difficult challenges in life:

  • Never look too far ahead
  • Focus on the next step
  • Take self-care breaks
  • Readjust expectations/manage heavy burdens
  • Don’t fight against the challenges but find a workable rhythm to move forward
  • Celebrate milestones reached and look back on what you accomplished

Wishing all of us JOY in the journey, even in the midst of difficult ups and downs! reaching the top

(Note: we finished this year’s big adventure on October 21. We will continue posting photos and thoughts from our AT hike for the next few weeks.)