one of the courses i’m taking is ‘southwest literature and film’. my reading list includes local and regional writers including the poet jimmy santiago baca. we received our reading list months ago and i am happy (and shocked!) to admit i actually did most of the reading ahead of time. perhaps i turned a new page in my scholastic patterns where i leave procrastination behind? we shall see.

i read baca’s poetry first, then his autobiography. both are gripping. his story is an amazing story of brokenness and redemption. i highly, highly recommend all of his poetry and his autobiography: A Place to Stand.  read them together. at our welcome dinner tonight they announced he will come for a reading of his work. i heard this might happen, but when it came official, i got tears in my eyes! i am so excited! ok, so i had tears in my eyes a lot as they explained all of the courses (i wish i could take them ALL…well, except the gothic and chaucer ones). plus all of the opportunities to learn outside of the classroom: lunchtime discussion groups on classroom strategies, To Kill a Mockingbird, film viewings, traditional fiesta dances, repairing old churches with adobe mud… on and on and on…

back to baca.

he writes a lot about nature, particularly the rio grande river. nature is healing to him. this resonates with me. personally, one aspect of nature i love is it’s healing beauty, but also it’s uncontrollable power. nature is soothing but also terrifying. sometimes putting me at ease means putting me in my place.

one of my most terrifying encounters with nature was a snowshoeing trek in colorado. i told no one where i was hiking. i went alone up to 12,000 feet in an avalanche warning area. at the start there were tracks of previous snowshoers and i ran into two women on their way down, spoke with them for a moment, and proceeded upward.  here is a picture of the trailhead:

the tracks stopped well before the summit.  i continued. i walked past an avalanche warning sign and realised i had absolutely no gear to use nor knowledge of how to survive in these conditions. i did not care. in my mind i had come too far to turn around.

some people do reckless things in their teens. i saved them for my twenties.

the wind became fierce. i’m guessing 30 mph sustained and up to 50-60 mph gusts. i kept walking even though there was no trail. eventually i could see the summit. there was a lake at the top. i wanted so badly to make it to the top to see the frozen lake. there was no path to get there, just a 50 foot hillside covered in snow.

i made it about 20 feet up the hillside. the wind blew so hard i literally could not take a step forward. the snow felt very deep but very unsteady under my feet. the top layer was crunchy with ice and i felt like a sheet could break off easily, sending a cascade of underlying powder (and me) down the mountain. i stood there for a moment encapsulated by fear. i knew i could not go any further. i took this picture:

i have yet to experience another moment of utter beauty and complete terror so taoistically bound.

“click,” said the camera….then i hauled my little ass down the mountain.

when i was a kid i used to feed the horses at night. in the early darkness of winter nights, i let into my mind the idea someone was hiding in the barn waiting to get me. i would run as fast as i could from the barn to the house. i hated when we left the horses out because it meant i had to stop to chain the gate. but if we left them up, i could sprint right through. i knew i looked ridiculous.

high tailing it down this colorado mountain, i think i looked about the same. looks aside, i’m certain fear feels the same whether you are eleven or twenty seven.

on our adventures around new mexico last week, julie and i took a great drive along the mighty rio grande. we wound along its banks for a few miles and came upon a very old wooden bridge. i slammed on the breaks and pulled the car off the shoulder. the bridge was condemned, sagging and plastered with warning and no trespassing signs.

naturally, it becokoned me.

i saw what i think was a fox scamper across the length of the bridge. i tiptoed out a little ways and could hear the creaking of the old wood, which was at least beautiful if not stable.  i went back to the edge. i thought about it for a moment. i judged the situation and gave julie my camera.  i’ve heard it said you should do something each day that terrifies you. i decided this would be the event of the day.

the wood creaked and the river roared underneath my feet.

beauty and terror.

peace and fear.

infinite and finite.

i don’t regret it for a second.

now back to baca.

this poem is one of my favorites of his and comes to mind as i think about my walk across the river:

This Day
I feel foolish,
     like those silly robins jumping on the ditch boughs
     when I run by them.
            Those robins do not have the grand style of the red tailed hawk,
            no design, no dream, just robins acting stupid.
They've never smoked cigarettes, drank whiskey, consumed drugs
as I have.
            In their mindless
            fluttering about
            filled with nonsense,
                 they tell me how they
                       love the Great Spirit,
            scold me not to be self-pitying,
            to open my life
            and make this day a bough on a tree
            leaning over infinity, where eternity flows forward
            and with day the river runs
                       carrying all that falls in it.
            Be happy Jimmy, they chirp,
            Jimmy, be silly, make this day a tree
            leaning over the river eternity
            and fuss about in its branches.

so, i’m hoping to make this summer a tree.

the truth is, the life i lead is eternal. there is time to open it up to my fears and my joys, to be happy and silly…

which is why i need to go to sleep pronto so i can wake up for the traditional first day of class 530 am sunrise hike led by our loco (local) alfredo!

go read baca. you won’t regret it.

i had the priviledge of returning to l’abri for my final three days in the UK…

i realized i’ll never find words to adequately describe…

these images tell parts of the story of the place that brought me to tears, joy, uncertainty, insecurity, laughter and peace.

images, rather than my feeble words, leave room for God to fill in the blanks, the spaces, with exactly what you need to know of Him and how He met me there…

Everything sad is coming untrue.

I repeat this to myself often.  This truth gives me great comfort today and many days.  The truth is rooted in scripture, and given layer upon layer of beauty by a pastor, a fictional writer,  a musician and a tree:

Literature:  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Sam believes that Gandalph died.   At the very end, Sam having slept for quite a while and then coming to consciousness, Gandalf stands before Sam, robed in white, his face glistening in the sunlight, and says:

“Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?”

But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

“A great shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from bed… “How do I feel?” he cried.” Well, I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel” –he waved his arms in the air– “I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!

All the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”

Pastor:  Tim Keller, The Reason for God

“Jesus spoke of his return to earth as the palingenesis. “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things (Greek palingenesis), the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne.” This was a radically new concept. Jesus insisted that his return will be purged of all decay and brokenness. All will be healed and all might-have-beens will be.

Just after the climax of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee discovers that his friend Gandalf was not dead (as he thought) but alive. He cries, “I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue?” The answer of Christianity to that question is – yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.

Embracing the Christian doctrines of the incarnation and Cross brings profound consolation in the face of suffering. The doctrine of the resurrection can instill us with a powerful hope. It promises that we will get the life we most longed for, but it will be an infinitely more glorious world than if there had never been the need for bravery, endurance, sacrifice, or salvation.”

Musician:  Jason Gray, song “Everything Sad is Coming Untrue, Part 2”

The winter can make us wonder
If spring was ever true
But every winter breaks upon
The Easter lily’s bloom
Could it be everything sad is coming untrue?
Could you believe everything sad is coming untrue?

Broken hearts are being unbroken
Bitter words are being unspoken
The curse undone, the veil is parted
The garden gate will be left unguarded

Could it be everything sad is coming untrue?
Oh I believe everything sad is coming untrue
In the hands of the One who is making all things new

When the storm leaves there’s a silence
That says you don’t have to fear anymore
The trees look greener, the sky’s an ocean
The world is washed and starting over

[Listen to and read more about the song here (i think the best of the song starts at 2 minutes):  The Rabbit Room]

The God of the universe, Revelation 21:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”

Tree:  The Beauty of the Former Things, Liss, EnglandIMG_7326

“There’s a dream I have
It comes back when all the days turn into one
I’m in a coat and hat
And I’m standing on the coast of England”

-Rosie Thomas-

While my dear friend Julie visited (a few weeks ago..I’m slow on the uptick), we ventured to the shore of eastern England, the North Sea to be exact.  Though short in miles, the journey on public transportation proved, per usual on public, to be an adventure in itself.  The destination proved to be everything I imagined.

We took a train from Cambridge to a small town called Kings Lynn.  We rode the bikes (the Oregon Trail and the Key West are their names) to the station hoping to take them with us on our entire journey.  We missed our first train by 45 seconds but underneath the exquisitely blue sky, the delay was almost welcome.  Maybe because Julie treated us to a chocolate croissant as we sat on the platform. She treated herself to a Financial Times, and I treated myself some daydreaming, cloud and people watching. As of that week, I’ve learned to always carry a book with me.  Waiting for public transport is actually a joy now, providing free moments of pause not afforded to me in the hustle of daily life commuted by car in the states.

Once we boarded the train, I was immediately insecure about my bike etiquette (or lack thereof).  We managed and landed at Kings Lynn.  However, we learned the bikes could not accompany us on the bus portion of our journey.  We found our bus stop then locked them around the corner.  Julie saw the bus coming and yelled out, so we took off sprinting around the station corner, determined not to let our transport slip through our fingers again.  We jumped aboard the bus and the friendly, surprised driver asked us, “Well, where did you ladies just come from?!”  We bought our “Coasthopper” ticket and I balanced the next twenty miles standing just behind the red line in the very front of the packed bus.  Choice position for someone prone to carsickness.

Twenty miles later we arrived at Hunstanton, the first coastal town on western portion of the northern shore of the east Anglia region of England (how about them cardinal directions?).  There are several Hunstanton stops, so I asked the man next to me (who was commentating the entire ride turn by turn to his friends with luggage- therefore I assumed he was a local):  “Which stop is closest to the cliffs?”  His response:  “(blank stare) Uh, cliffs?  (shakes head) You sure you’re in the right place now?  The only cliffs I know of are in Dover (clear across the country).  There are no cliffs here.”  I was thinking, thanks Friendly, but you’re WRONG and I’m glad I have my sunglasses on.  I had seen pictures.  There were cliffs.

We hopped off the bus and walked over to the ocean.  The natural aspects were uniquely beautiful to my east coast eye, but the “Joke Shops” and hotdog/hamburger joints were surprising.  Julie pegged it instantly:  “We have found the Myrtle Beach of England”.  Like many things in England though, even the most commercialized areas are still twice as charming.

Oh, and there were cliffs.  Beautiful, striped cliffs.

After the beach jaunt, we hopped the bus to Wells-next-the-Sea for a little fish-n-chips.  There was a little festival in town and the crabbing competition just started.  We settled on a chip shop and the line was long which gave us plenty of time to strategise.  Half or full?  After a woman walked by with a slab-o-fish, we settled on half.  No mushy peas.  Vinegar on the side.  I loved the fish- not so much the chips; too thicky steak fry-ish.  Now some chick-fil-a waffle fries would’a been mighty fine….

We hopped all the way back past Hunstanton to Norfolk, calculating there were two more busses to come.  This would give us time to see the lavender fields.  They were closed, but their little fence didn’t keep us out.  I never knew there were so many different varieties.  We decided we had plenty-o-time (famous last words) so we wandered up the road and off the road to the top of a hill that was FULL of beautiful garden plots.  FULL, FULL I tell you!  It was amazing.  We started to take it all in, there were dozens of tiny little sheds with pipes running off them into…bath tubs!  And compost piles structured by pallets and insulated by…carpet remnants!  Glory upon glory- I was in amazement.  And then the lush vegetables and flowers…wow.  The image most impressed in my mind are the perfect rows of onions.  They were enormous and tidy and green stemmed.

There was a lone little car and two women working on a plot, one of whom approached us and asked if we were looking for someone. We bared the tourist card and she very willingly entertained our questions for at least 20 minutes (remember that bus we need to catch at the bottom of the hill….).  I filed all the knoweldge away for sharing later.  Though, it did make me most interested in learning more about the “allotment” systems here.

The sun was setting, so we said goodbyes and sucurried down the hill to the bus stop.  The next bus should have come in 2 minutes, but they were running late all day so we didn’t worry after 30.  Then we started to become delirious.  We were not in a town but at a stop on the middle of a not-so-major road and it was getting dark.  Everything became quite funny, including my phone calls to the “help” lines on our ticket and the bus stop sign… all with pleasant messages explaining they closed at 5 PM and I could call back in the morning.  Hilarious!

We vetted the option of hitch hiking to the station.  We determined our odds of getting picked up were good (female, travel worn but wearing nice scarves) and our ideal hero would be a middle aged couple with kids – safest.  Then across the road, a nice mom and her son walked by on an evening stroll.  We asked her if there was another bus coming.  She seemed doubtful, then after she thought about it, hopeful.  She was friendly as can be though and reassured us she did believe another bus would come.  Just then, one came up over the hill- she pointed and we clapped!  As it drew nearer, we could see it was our bus, but the scroll across the top read: “Out of Service”.  We waved our arms and he flew by us poining his finger up to his “Out of Service” message.

I chased down the road after him.

He did not look back.

The woman with son, though a few hundred yards away now, was puzzled too.  I was cracking up- what in the world?  Did he really just strand two females on the side of the road when he was headed to the train station?!

Just then, only a few minutes later, a second bus, “In Service” popped over the hill.  Julie and I cheered, the mom and her son cheered.  We waved our arms.  He stopped.  Glorious.

Our bikes were the only ones parked at the station when we left and I more than half expected them to be gone.  They weren’t!  The train station was deserted and we had plenty of time to kill before our depart.  So, we goofed off in the station and on the quiet streets.

Getting there and back was more than half the fun.  The things that weren’t on the agenda:  breaking into the lavender fields, the allotment, the doggie on the bus that loved on me, chasing after multiple busses…those are my favorite memories.  In Juile, I’m thankful to have a friend who is happy to mis-step and wander and explore and eat really good food right alongside me.  The only question is…where will we be off to next???



Clouds

08/24/2009

Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

-Joni Mitchell-

My walk yesterday took me through the meadows to Grantchester Orchard then between the wheat/rye fields of Grantchester Road.  The sky was the most magnificent blue.  Here, more days than not, the sky is this color.  At home, we call it “Carolina Blue” sky, here I’m calling it “British Blue”.  It is different.  I don’t know how, but it is bluer and cleaner.  The clouds are fluffier and more cheerful.  These pictures are completely untouched (save for cropping).

Entering the meadows:

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Approaching, and amongst, the cows:

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I wondered why this one was away from his friends, insisting on eating in the prickly thistle instead of the lush grass.  Puzzling.  I hoped he was just unique, needing some space, something like that.  Apparently the heads of the thistle are tasty to some cows and you can train cows to eat weeds.

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And removing the color….the countryside takes on another side of simple, contrasting beauty.

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Leaving the meadow, towards the village of Grantchester, here is Manor Farm’s shaggy pony:

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There is a very old, very beautiful church I like to steal away into.  The cemetery is beautiful.  Ironically, I always feel very alive there- the quiet, the green, the old stones and stories of the old souls revive me.

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Sitting on a bench in the back of the cemetery- large brick wall behind, small hedge leading to an open field in front.  A safe, sheltered place to pause.  Something about being around the old graves that help keep thoughts meaningful and pleasant and true.  Great accountability.

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Walking home a different way, up the little two lane Grantchester Road.

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The clouds dressed up this field of dirt enough to take my breath away for a second.  Maybe it’s just the expanse of things here?  In the city there are no vast spaces.  I think I’m just coming to realise how much urbanity suffocates me…

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Harvested wheat/rye field.

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Remember that Charlotte blackberry bush that brought me so much joy?  There are thousands here.  Almost 3/4 of a mile of my walk home was solid, 6ft high blackberry bushes.  Amazing.  There is a sermon (and a cobbler) here somewhere.  I had a snack or twenty.

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I met a sweet grandmotherly woman at church Sunday.  I asked how long she had been in Cambridge.  She glanced at her husband and said, “He brought us here 24 years ago (from Italy) for a short time of study, and we just never left.  There is something magical about this place.  We love it.”

I smiled and nodded.  She replied, “You’ve noticed it then, haven’t you?”

Yes, I have.

No matter where I am, traveling or at home, one thing is the same: my favourite time of day.  I absolutely love pre-dusk and dusk.  Riding the train home yesterday, the sunset was striking against the English countryside.  No pictures yet, hoping for sun tomorrow so I can head out to my favourite wheat field and capture it.  Hopefully they haven’t harvested yet!

The time of day just after the sun bears hardest, the whole region exhales….

Kids, free from school, take to the yard or street with their baseballs (or cricket equipment!),

Adults, free from work, take to the porch or for a walk,

Pets reunite with their families,

Cows and sheep come out of the shelter of trees to graze one last time before nightfall,

Long shadows allow trees opposite each other in the furthest fields to unite in shadow,

All relent and give up the fervor of the day becoming more beautiful, glowing in the golden sun as they prepare to rest.

the closest grocery store within walking distance is in downtown cambridge.  the walk takes about 20 minutes (a few more with children).  the walk home provides a better sequence of pictures, so here it is:

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leaving Sainsbury’s in downtown Cambridge (notice all the bikes…), you head down a few “lanes” or narrow passageways behind and between buildings where only one car can fit:

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past the game shop, where hidden among the traditional toys is a more 21st century-esque item  i don’t believe is for sale in the states:

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the lane becomes completely deserted from storefronts and only a few very stalwart plants punctuate life into the old brick and stone:

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today will have been one week since i first noticed this apple core on my first walk into town on my first day here.   i look for it every time now.  there is truly nothing else alive (or once-living) on this whole stretch- just beautiful stone and mortar.  i wonder how long it will last on the old stained-glass windowsill.  i also wonder who put it there and if they are also smiling at it each time they walk past as they wonder if a little mouse nibbles on it each night.

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next, a few quick turns towards the river.  my first day, these convenient chalk signs were my directional clues back home.  in charlotte, when in doubt, i head towards the big buildings.  when in cambridge, i head towards the river…

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the beautiful river:

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kings college is in the background.  in case you were wondering what “punting” is, there are the boats and one person riding down the river.  i’ll delve into full detail once i take a trip of my own.

then it’s past the duck family in the creek off the river:

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about a half-mile on a foot/bike path through the woods, many a bicycle with basket and bell zipping beside you, and alongside some colleges until our main road.  then the cambridge university rugby stadium (i’m excited for these matches to begin!):

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another few hundred yards, past two more colleges, and a turn onto our gravel lane to our home… which i’ll post pictures of soon.

for me, the mundane task is always enjoyable in a new place and even more so in a town like this, where my mind can stop to wander and sigh…

“Two things cannot be in one place.  Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”

The Secret Garden

Sometime in my late elementary school days we read The Secret Garden.  I was enamored with the story.  I remember I poured over garden magazines and made a very detailed plan of my own secret garden on grid paper.  I even picked out a place in the yard for it.

Looking out at the garden of my home these next few months I am instantly transported to childlike wonder.  It really is magical.  It’s quite warm here right now (or, it was when I first wrote this.  Now it’s 68 and windy and raining.  See, only here a few days and already talking about the weather); at least a half dozen different types of bees hum and hover over the entirety.  They are so numerous their flight patterns and buzz give the garden, already alive, a visible and tangible pulse.

There are so many plants I am unable to identify and I’m taking it on as a learning project to figure out what they are and what I can do with them.  Thanks to our neighbor Stephanie, I do know there is a plum tree, a bay tree, a daisy patch… and lavender.  In Stephanie’s yard they have apple and pear trees, lettuce, basil, pole beans, rosemary, poppies, and ten times more lavender.  She is very clever in the garden and has already made jams and plans to harvest the poppy seeds!  I am excited to learn.

English gardens are quite different than American gardens.  They plants are stacked closely together and overall are a bit unruly and definitely asymmetrical.  A twenty foot tall tree/shrub on one side and a squared off 8ft hedge on the other.  Scattered throughout are small grassy spots, short walls, half-barrels filled with herbs and even a child’s “throne” seat out of cement.  These things bring life to children.  They stoke imagination and creativity.  I’ve never seen kids so excited and enthralled by a garden.  It’s beautiful, but it is meant to be lived in and run through.  It’s perfect for hide and seek, chase, stealing away to read, drinking tea, and listening for the church bells to chime the hour.

For all its wily goodness, the garden is a bit unkempt.   This garden did not just appear one day.  It was thoughtfully created.  At some time, someone loved this garden very much.  Right now, it needs a bit of care and weeding and cleaning up to tidy it up a bit.  No motorized weedeater needed, these are gentle plants in small places, gentle hands and small pruning shears will do fine.  The tiniest of changes someone would not specifically detect except in an overall assessment the garden looks healthier, more vibrant.  Clearing out the weeds so the flowers can show more glory.

It reminds me of our hearts a bit.  Like these plants, we were created to thrive in a perfectly wild garden.  However we spend much of our time, money and energy grooming and working and conforming to some sort of ideal or standard which simply is not attainable nor necessary for joy on Earth or in eternity.  In the name of growing up we prune ourselves harshly, not allowing God-given traits or joys to come and remain alive.  We even prune others harshly.

What does it look like for us to tend ours and others hearts in a way that lets the lavender grow lopsided to one side of the barrel, if that’s the way it wants to grow, and let the moss and mildew creep on the bricks in the back as a sign of character and age, rather than whitewashing it with harsh chemicals…  but still reach gently down and pull the choking thistle from the rose bush when it needs it?

I am hoping this garden will teach me much of this over these next few months.

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IMG_5740IMG_5714IMG_5738photo by kate

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misc. spring

06/19/2009

various circumstances captured on digital chipage.

femme fest in charlotte:

mieka pauley

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femme fest

lots of evenings at the u.s. national white water center:

white water center at night

wwc at night 2

wwc sunset

the tillman chronicles:

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bela fleck and toumani diabate concert:

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band of horses concert:

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AT with dad

06/12/2009

Memorial Day weekend, my dad and I set out on the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain.

This is kind of a misnomer… as the trail starts at the “Approach Trail” at Amicalola Falls State Park, 7 miles (and about 4k feet vertically) from Springer.

For the record, things I suggested Dad bring and his response:

  1. Trekking poles:  “They are for old people.  If I need one I will cut a walking stick.”
  2. Crocs:  “They are the ugliest shoes on the planet.  I will never wear those things.  I’ll keep my boots on in camp.”
  3. Camel back:  “Nah, I’ve got my canteen.”

I, not one to cut corners, wanted to do it right. so we started at the famous arch on the “Approach” trail.

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Here’s a little trail know-how:  anytime you’re at a “Falls”, your mind should think:

First, “Yes!  I am going to get to see a waterfall.  yippee!”

and, secondly, “Then I am going to have to walk up a big $&% mountain.”

The first portion of the approach trail is 670-odd stair steps straight up a waterfall.  We were the only ones with backpacks on and about halfway up were scared we went the wrong way.  People in fanny packs and jean shorts are pulled over puffing on their inhalers… and here we are walking up with 30ish pound packs.  This isn’t your mama’s YMCA stair master.  We decided to keep going, because I surely didn’t want to have to walk up again if we were going the right way…

We get to the top of the stairs and are amazed to see:  a parking lot.  Where lots of hikers are unloading their gear.  Later, we found out most people do the stairs once then hike from there.  An initiation of sorts, which I’m glad to say we did.

We made it to the top of Springer Mountain, where just a few hours before a 72 year old woman completed her thru-hike of the trail.  She chipped away at the AT over 20 years.  (At this point, I started working the math on the portions I have done and begin devising a plan to do the same…)

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On the trail there are lots of decisions.  It isn’t as simple as just walking 10 miles a day.  You have to walk to a place to camp, namely with water.  That means you often have to chose between a wimpy 7 mile walk and a butt kicking 14 mile walk.  There is no in-between.

The first night we stayed at Springer Mountain Shelter.  There were a few campers, but we had the shelter to ourselves.  Most people continued on about 1.5 miles to the next shelter, mostly to reduce the next day’s trek over 7 mountains to a 13 mile butt-kick….they were smart.

Here’s us at the Springer Mtn shelter:

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Oh one other funny thing happened there.  When I was getting water, two college guys came from West Georgia came through camp.  Just graduated, so they were about 22.  Here’s our conversation:

me: “Hey guys, how are ya?”

them:  “Good, glad to see water.”

me:  “Yes, after that walk up it is!  Y’all start at the falls?”

them:  “Yes ma’am….”

Stop that train!!  I got ma’am’ed.  Over and over again.  By people born in the same decade as me.  I keep telling myself they were just polite country boys…

At dinner I checked in with dad on the gear suggestions from earlier and asked if he’d use them now:

  1. Trekking poles?  Yep.
  2. Crocs?  Yep.
  3. Camel back?  Yep.

Point for the daughter.

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The next day we set out and I knew we were going to have to do a quick 7 or a grueling 14.

The first 7 was quick, and we made it to Hawk Mountain Shelter.  The shelter was occupied by a family from Ellijay (pronounced ELLL-hi-jaaay).  For this story’s sake, we’ll call them the Hell-i-jay-ians.  These folks were there for the holiday weekend and spared no luxury:  tailgating chairs, cigs, spam, cheetos, crank radios, electronic gaming devices, their two dogs whom they fed on the ground right outside the shelter.  Mind you, this time of year the bears are waking up with empty stomachs to empty berry bushes.  Geniuses, these Hellijayians.  And extreme offenders to every known trail etiquette rule.

It was only 1 PM and the next water was 6.5 miles away, shelter 7.5.  Dad was up for staying or going.  I decided we should push through to at least the water, maybe the shelter.  I wasn’t up for witnessing a dog be attacked by a bear trying to get to spam.

The next 6.5 miles were grueling, over 6 or more peaks.  We came to loathe the term “gap” because it really means  “there is a big @$$ hill on the other side you have to walk up now”.  We met some characters along a logging road and took a bit of an “elevation cut”.  Not a short-cut.  An elevation cut.  We walked around a peak and picked up the trail again.

We got to water and couldn’t walk another step.  Set up camp.  Ate dinner and it started to rain.  It rained and rained and rained and rained all night.  Props to the REI tent that kept us completely dry!

The next day was dreary and wet, but we packed it up and hit the trail for Woody Gap.   The walk was wet, but nice.  The landscape changed to much taller trees with meadows.  Any vistas were shrouded in fog, but I always like a gray day and the mist provided lots of subdued, peaceful beauty:

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and a newt:

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We made it to Woody Gap and tried to reach mom, but she wasn’t answering her phone.  There were a group of dads and teenage sons there who offered to give us a ride back to my car…. under one condition:  that my mom was the same person as Dad’s wife, because they “weren’t trying to get shot”.  Hopefully you tracked with me on that one.  Ha!

Made it back to the house, where I was greeted by my Tillman, who is here chilling with his real mom, Jade.  It was a good time.  Walking in quiet woods all day is not a bad gig.  We’re going to tackle a few more days next year.

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