Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “outdoors”

Ste. Genevieve County Vol. 3: Hickory Canyons

This place.  This place was a total surprise.  I’ve traveled all over the world, seen some of the most moving and bold landscapes ever.  And while Missouri is beautiful, it’s not beautiful in the big, super raw, punch to the solar plexus way that, say, the Rockies are or southern Utah or coastal California.  It leans toward pastoral beauty in the farmlands and rugged old beauty in the Ozarks, river beauty along the Missouri or the Mississippi.  But Hickory Canyons was different.  Somehow.  This place was altering.

It is quiet—out of the way, off some gravel road.  The feeling here is the opposite of Pickle Springs.  There are no signs, no catchy names.  Just the ground, just the trees, the water and the rocks.   How good it felt here.  There is some ground that transports you when you cross its boundaries, takes to to another place, someplace otherworldly.  That was not this ground.  This place was very… real.  It caught me off guard and then guided me along the moss-lined path.  This is a place that loosens your skin of the tautness from city life, from jobs and money and stress, that stretches you.  This is a place that beckons your bones to sink into the soil and remember the sacredness of your humanity and your connection to what is under your feet.  You know what Hickory Canyons reminded me of?  A friend.  Not the kind that is only interested in you when they need your ear or your shoulder or your stuff but never remembers your birthday.  No, this place is the friend that makes you stew on a cold day, that calls bullshit when you need it called, that will laugh with you and get angry with you, and always sings to you on your birthday.  How’s that for some geological anthropomorphization?  It’s the best I can do, because the pictures don’t do it justice.  I would walk this trail every day if I could.

Lobelia cardinalis in the sun.

I’d love it if someone could ID this one. I’ve never seen a mushroom like it before.

And there you have it.  A wonderful weekend full of geological wonders, hiking goodness, land-bonding, friends, food, drink, celebration, knitting, campfires, banana boats, and laughter.  It’s good to get out and see the world.

Ste. Genevieve County Vol. 2: Pickle Springs Natural Area

On Saturday, we went hiking through the amazing Pickle Springs Natural Area.    The state conservation website calls it a natural wonderland, and they are right.  It is absolutely fantastic—full of box canyons, glacial relict species of flora and fauna, waterfalls, and fantastic eroded formations of LaMotte sandstone.  It’s a super short hike at only 2 miles, but it makes up for it in changes in elevation and general marvelousness.

Courtesy of Google’s “My Tracks”. Awesome app.

And because there are so many gorgeous things to check out, knowing that it’s a short hike allows one to meander and pause without fear of running out of daylight.  This is special place.  It has that kind of feeling like how things did in the 1970s when I was a kid and traveling held such a magical fascination for me—everything was interesting and the challenging bits, although sometimes difficult or unsettling, were always pretty much safe.  Maybe it’s all the signs posted naming each attraction that makes it feel sort of like a woodland Disney World ride.  It’s not a bad thing at all.  Actually, it’s rather lovely—kinda mellowed by the touristyness of it, but still a magical treasure.  The forest is friendly and open, and the rocks are steady and protective.  This is the kind of place where you can go to be quiet and observant, to slow your breathing and just be.  Here is Pickle Springs in pictures.  Enjoy.

Just past the welcome sign.

The LaMotte sandstone that is so characteristic of this area has worn away to create very sandy soil. All of the paths here are either sand, stone, or beds of pine needles.

The Double Arch

Something’s hidey-hole in the knot of a tree.

Husband.

A very happy Ronin of the Woods.

Funky plants growing on the wet rocks.

Up to the top.

Our path carved of stone.

In the pine-scented air.

And we’ll end with a gratuitous funky mushroom shot.

There were a some signs and a few places that I didn’t take pictures of—like the Headwater Falls which had no water, and Piney Glade right toward the end.   This is a place that I’d like to return to in each season to see how it changes.  I have the feeling it becomes more of itself in the winter time when it’s quiet and not being visited by people who just tromp through the good parts.  And leave their cigarette butts.   We’ve been here twice, and both times I’ve been surprised by the amount of trash people leave behind in this little gem.  I don’t get it.  Why would you throw trash in the very place that you just came to visit for its natural beauty?   Part of that Disney feel I was talking about.   Argh.  I feel obligated to give back to the land that I enjoy so much by being a good steward of it.  For me, this includes packing out all the trash that I find.   The spirit of a place must be respected, especially when you’re gonna walk on it’s ground.  These bones are far older than we, and will be here far longer, too.  Someday maybe we will all care for this good earth.  Until then, I’ll travel with a trash bag.

Next time, I’ll show you the fantastical Hickory Canyons.  I am excite!

Ste. Genevieve County Volume 1: Hawn State Park

This Way to Adventure!

Every September, we go camping in honor of our friend Hollie’s birthday.  You know Hollie as Kittyraja (from her awesome natural dyeing linked in my posts).  This year Hollie chose to go camping at Hawn State Park in Ste. Gen. County.  Many much fun was had.  What more can you ask for than beautiful nature, good food and drink, and fabulous friends and family to share it with?  Hollie chose well.

Some of the most beautiful and most unique places in the state of Missouri are in Ste. Genevieve County which borders the Mississippi River on one side and the beginnings of the Ozarks on the other.   It is an area full of fertile farmland, high wooded ridges, lush vineyards, and gorgeous rock formations—in particular, the Cambrian LaMotte Sandstone.   While we camped at Hawn, we did not hike any of the trails there this time.  Instead we went to nearby Pickle Springs Natural Area, which we’d been to only once before, and another area which was totally new to us called Hickory Canyons.  The links I’ve provided are short and give concise descriptions of the geological importance and the myriad of flora and fauna that are unique to each area.   They are worth a read so that you understand why these places are such amazing natural wonders.

Below is a pictorial account of the hiking we did at Hawn earlier this summer and some views of our lovely birthday celebratory weekend.   I also included a few shots of Ste. Genevieve, which is the oldest European settlement west of the Mississippi.  Enjoy.  :D

Pickle Creek (named after Mr. Pickle, not, you know, because it smells like pickles or anything).

Path through the pine-oak forest.

Many parts of this trail look down over steep ridges.

After a controlled burn.

Larger section—you can see the height to which the undergrowth and trees are burned.

Big rocks everywhere. Son is just under 5′ for scale.

Yes, he made it to the top.

View from the top of the trail.

Many gorgeous ferns along the creek, in the woods, and growing along and in the bluffs.

This hike was earlier in the summer, during the ridiculous heat and long drought. The wildflowers were few and far between and were a welcome bit of colour.

And the ones we did see were either purple or yellow. I always forget to take my Missouri wildflower guide book with me on these hikes. I’ve yet to identify these two.

We saw quite a few fallen trees. Not unusual in these areas, as it’s part of the conservation effort to leave them. What was strange was the number of them that came up with the rootball intact. We saw at least six like this, and this is not a small tree. That root mass is easily 8 or more feet across.

Many parts of Pickle Creek are lined with bluffs.

One more parting shot of the lovely Pickle Creek.

The weather was gorgeous for our camping weekend.

Beautiful sunset. We couldn’t see it for the forest, but the clouds overhead revealed it like a Maxfield Parrish painting.

And it just kept on going.

Until it was almost…

…gone.

And so we started a campfire, warmed ourselves against the autumn chill, ate good food, drank good metheglin, and talked into the night.

Old old Ste Gen.

See? For America, this is pretty old.

Quaint homes.

My favorite art shop in Ste. Genevieve: Only Child Originals. She sells handcrafted jewelry and garden art and lights and cool, cool things.

All the historic houses in Ste. Gen. are marked with the original owner and the date it was built.

Very few of the homes that I could see were used as residences. Most have been turned into shops, cafes, and restaurants.

A number of the old houses in Ste. Gen. are boarded up. I hope that someone can renovate this one before it falls down.  You can tell that back in the day, she was a beauty.

Some of the historic buildings, like this one, are better kept than others. You can tell that Ste. Genevieve has had a lot of ups and downs with the economy. The main attraction for the area right now is with all the wineries. I hope that the town is able to maintain its historic treasures. Much of what we saw was in need of a fair amount of repair and a good coat of paint. But the charm is all there. It’s a neat little town.

Next time I’ll show you the amazing (even if funnily named) Pickle Springs Natural Area.   I love camping and hiking adventures!

Beginner’s Mind: Lessons from Laird Hamilton

Books have a way of finding me.  Maybe it’s just my constant state of curiousity that causes me to notice them.  Maybe its the serendipity that follows me like my shadow.  In our lives, there are threads that get tugged and retugged, pulling us in a definite direction as we skip (or tumble or crawl) down life’s path.  I get a lot tugs at my local library, usually as I wander aimlessly down the aisles, my head tilted sideways like a bird, letting my eyes focus and unfocus on the spines and titles as I walk past.  Now and then, a particular book will appear sharply in my view.  It is always just what I need.

One day last year, I found my way to one such book.  I would say that it was an unlikely match—the type of book, that is—but given that I was born in California, land of sun and surf, and have spent every day since my family moved from there yearning to go back to my home, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Perhaps it was just the power of my pining that led me to that shelf, the one where I saw this book:

I stood staring at it, knowing that I had to pick it up, but not having a clue why.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always thought that surfing was cool.  How can you not?  It’s brilliant.  But why would I read a book about it?  I’m a landlocked 30-something mother of two.  I knit.  I don’t surf.  Hell, I didn’t even know who Laird Hamilton was.   But for all that, I was compelled.  I checked out the book, took it home, started reading, and couldn’t put it down.

This post isn’t meant to be a review, although the book is awesome, and I highly recommend it.   The point is that something in this book really resonated with me.   In the book, Laird talks about the importance of being a beginner and being ok with being bad at something.  He talks about how learning new skills and activities keeps the body and mind in shape.  How it fuels the spirit.  In a sense, Laird, with his infectiously blissed outlook on life, uses surfing (and standup paddling and mountain climbing and everything else) as a model for explaining the beginner’s mind in a way that I not only understood, but immediately felt joyous about implementing in my life.  This is something that years of studying Buddhism never accomplished.   Chalk that up as another point for ecstatic earthiness.  Trying to tame the monkey mind by beating it over the head with hours of stillness and meditation has never worked for me.  A friend once told me, “Move the ass, and the mind will follow.”  Truer words, my friends, truer words.  The way I figure, if Laird Hamilton, a world-class big wave surfer, is ok with being an awkward newbie in his pursuit of learning new things, I can be, too.   Liberation.

So, I read the book in one big gulp, and I tucked away the lessons inside, where they burned like a little fire in my heart of hearts.  I, too, want to be a force of nature!  I, too, want to spend my days under the sun, playing, working, keeping my mind and body nimble by challenging myself to do new things.   It’s easy to get fired up, isn’t it?  But contrary to popular belief, the greatest challenges in life are not the big ones—where the lessons are huge and obvious.  No, it’s the day after the lesson is learned that is the hardest.  And the week after.  And the month after.  Why?  Because it’s really easy to slip into old habits, to get lazy.  It’s like when you have a Really Important Dream… and then you fall back asleep, you lose the details.  We sleepwalk in the tedium of daily life—work, bills, drama, stress—and when we sleepwalk, it’s easy to forget that we have a fire burning in our heart of hearts.  Sleepwalkers cannot tend their inner fires.  It is epically sad to live this way, with nothing to fuel us, nothing to feed our souls.   Which is why we need the Laird Hamiltons of the world to remind us to throw a log on.

Well, I think I’ve found another passion that I’m willing to be a beginner for:  kayaking.

My dad’s had an old Klepper folding sea kayak for years, packed away.  A few years ago he started working on it, making it seaworthy again.  I’ve been fascinated by this process—watching him recraft parts for the boat by hand, resewing seams, sanding and varnishing wood, doing mysterious things with vinyl glue.  I think I was secretly as excited about it as he was.  Then last year he found another used Klepper for sale, which he bought… and gave to me.  Whoa, I was surprised.   This was a gift that carried weight, you know what I mean?  The kind of gift that must be taken seriously.  Because on the outside, a boat is just a boat.  But if you look again, you see that it is archetypal in its symbolism.  It is a vessel, a craft, a means of transportation.   The lines of a boat are something that we, as humans, know innately.  It is almost as familiar to us as the ocean itself.  Suddenly, I possessed something that not only could move me literally, physically, but spiritually, as well.  It felt powerful, meaningful.  And it needed a lot of work.

My dad did some of the repairs before he gave it to me—sewed some seams, replaced some hardware.   We worked on it together the weekend he gave it to me.  We repaired the Hypalon skin where it had been worn through.  We waterproofed areas that had been damaged from use and age (this boat dates to the early 70’s).  He showed me how it all gets put together and what still needed to be done to the boat to make it last.  Then I packed it up in the car and took it home.

And it sat in the garage.  And sat.  And sat .  For months.  I told myself that it was because I didn’t have time to work on it or that the weather wasn’t right—first too cold, then too hot for being outside sanding crossframes and varnishing wood.   But the truth is, this whole time I’ve been thinking, I don’t know shit about kayaks, what am I doing?  I’ve been afraid of jacking up an awesome gift.  Of doing it ALL WRONG.  Of not belonging in the kayaking circle of the universe.   I was so unable to believe in my own abilities to learn something new, something that would be physically challenging, that I let the inertia of doubt take hold.  Then I remembered what Laird said about the importance of being a beginner.  I thought about the fact that it would be far, far worse to let a gift like a freaking sea kayak sit in my garage unused due to fear than to give it a go and make mistakes and be an awkward dork.  And I calmed the hell down.

So we planned a camping trip with my parents at Clearwater Lake last weekend—the perfect motivation to get my ass in gear.  Husband is totally psyched about the kayak, too.  He really wants to work on her and to paddle, and I am happy for both his help and his general awesomeness about everything.  I am excited that this is something that we can do together, as we both feel that we never have enough time together.  This kayaking thing has very quickly become pretty important to us both.

Which means that work must be done.  We completed the first step:  adding keel strips to the Hypalon.  There were lots of places that were worn down to bare canvas on the hull, and my dad and I repaired those.  He suggested a simple fix of using Gorilla tape to put extra protection on the keel.  This would be my first solo task, my first foray into being an amateur boat fixer.  Ok.  It’s just tape.  I could do this.  But first we had to put the boat together.  Have you ever seen all the parts to a folding kayak?  That’s some serious German engineering.

A Klepper folding kayak (mine is an Aerius II) consists of a collapsible wooden frame which gets put together in two sections (bow and stern) and inserted into both the bow and stern ends of the skin before being snapped together to join the two halves.  Then sponsons that run along each side of the boat are inflated to make the skin taut.  And Bob’s your uncle.  You have a seaworthy vessel.  Well, Bob is my uncle.

Bow and stern being put together: keel boards, gunwales, crossframes (ribs) and rods.

Hypalon hull folded next to partially assembled frame.

Boat almost completely assembled—the seats and seat backs are laying next to it in the grass.  Yeah, those things that look like clipboards are the seats.  Very efficient, those Klepper designers.  No comfy seats for you!  Lol.

She’s beautiful.

The frames could use a little sanding and revarnishing, and I’ve already thought of some modifications I’d like to make for both comfort and touring practicality.  But she is ready for the water.  No excuses.  Time to paddle.

Setting up my Klepper, my dad’s Klepper and the Folbot at Clearwater Lake.

Out on the very green water. My son likes to paddle, too.

As it turned out, we cancelled the camping trip in favour of doing a day trip paddling on the lake.  It was way too hot—104 degrees!  Really ridiculously hot.  But we all wanted to paddle.  And once we were on the lake, it was actually quite pleasant.  The Klepper handled well.  She won’t turn on a dime, but she’s very stable as a sea kayak should be.  I don’t have a sailing kit for her, but I’m hoping to add that some time in the future.  My dad sails his Klepper, and it’s pretty awesome.  Later I paddled with my dad in his boat, and we saw dozens of blue herons out on the water.  And I realized that I intensely dislike the noise of loud motorboats.  When you’re in your groove, paddling silently through the water, listening to the birds and the insects and the rippling waves, and a speed boat cruises by, it really jacks up the atmosphere.   On the upside, I like the wakes.  ;)

Husband was a rockstar, and totally hossed out both putting together and packing away the boats in the heat.  I had a case of the vapors at one point, but managed to bully through.  I’ve never drank so much water in such a short period of time.  I am really looking forward to the weather becoming more humane.

Husband and I are already working out a plan for kayaking regularly.  We’ve also set a goal for ourselves—next year we want to paddle the MR340.  Daunting?  Yes.  Doable?  I think so.  We’ll have to bust our asses getting ready, but that is the point.  We’re both pushing 40, and neither one of us wants to age by way of complacency.  I believe firmly that we can remain fit and healthy and energetic as long as we keep moving and keep challenging ourselves.   So, thank you, Laird Hamilton.   You’ve taught me an important lesson.  I will revel in my beginnerness.  I will play and have fun and live passionately according to my true nature, as a force of nature.  Awkward or not, I will learn mad skillz and do awesome things.

Edit:  Just found this gem.  Laird and Gabby on TEDMED.

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