Into the Woods Part Deux (Guest Post)

canoe head me

Canoe Head Me

 

There have been a bunch of posts on this blog lately that have to do with canoe camping. We are mostly Canadian around here and it’s our precious summer so that’s not really a surprise. My post last month was about canoe camping and making it hard on purpose. I wouldn’t normally post yet again about paddling but the experience of this trip compels me so here it is.

Once again, I went into the lakes and rivers and woods with three dear friends, my 72 year old mother, my 15 year old daughter and my perfect canoe camping dog. I have had a long think about what perspective I want to bring to this experience. I need it to be more than a narrative of what happened because going into the back country in the way that we do is beyond mere narrative, beyond mere activity or fun times. It’s elemental and transformative. It doesn’t matter which trip or who I go with or what happens. I come out of the park different than when I went in and everyone else does too.

But this trip, what about this trip? What is the reason my chest clenches in joy when I think about it and everything we endured, experienced and created? I know I love the self containment. Bring everything in, eat some of it, bring everything out. I know I love the physical challenge of lifting heavy packs and canoes. I love the logistics. I love the care taking that I engage in by planning and executing whether that is setting up a tent, a hammock or a meal. I love helping other people to do the same. Even when they make me nuts, I love to make it work.

That’s not it though. Something else was going on. It was the waning days of summer and the evenings were cool, the angle of the sun generating that familiar melancholy, the leaves whispering their coming end in the night wind.There were conversations around the fire that were silly and irreverent. There were others that were deep and somewhat sad. There were moments when a therapist, a professor, a PhD consultant and and engineer discussed philosophy and queer theory while my mom and daughter listened in. That was a moment of intensity for me and I know in retrospect that was because it was both revealing to my mother what I had become and to my daughter what she could be. My mother got lost in memory on one portage and spoke so beautifully to all of us about the time my late father had me on his shoulders while my brother was on my mom’s, walking by a rapids in the BC interior. “It seems like yesterday” she said. I cried because it did and it was, just yesterday I was small and full of potential. Today I am grown and growing stronger, more solid in me with every step and paddle stroke.

Three generations

Three Generations

 

I see we are at this perfect juncture and I am the fulcrum between my mother and my daughter. My friends stand by me in this middle place, this middle age, where we can still learn from the elder how to be our better selves and show the younger the many many ways she can be herself in this complicated world. She didn’t know we were teaching her. My mother’s feminism evident in her refusal to stop moving or be cowed or become small in her waning years. She still pushes. Me and my friends manifesting our articulate and enacted feminism, the way we speak our minds, live our lives, love how and who we want, give back, keep pushing. It’s not utopia or some Algonquin version of Paradise Island, but hell it was close.

Next year we may do it again, different people, different constellations perhaps, but we will likely emerge from the liminal space in the forest changed, stronger, more expansive and powerful. That is why I go into the lakes and rivers and woods and why I will write about what they teach me over and over again.

Happy paddling.

Best camping dog ever

Best Camping Dog Ever

 

 

All nature great and small

A few weeks ago, I posted about my trip to the southwest with my sister and her kids.  We went to the Grand Canyon and other national and state parks of incredible dramatic beauty.  When I returned, still basking in the rosy glow of national park infatuation, I watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns‘ 6-part series called The National Parks, about the history and politics of the development of the US national park system.  It was 12 hours long, and while not constantly riveting or suspenseful, it did leave me entranced and enthusiastic about visiting more nature up close.

Then I saw Samantha’s Facebook post this week about Algonquin Provincial Park, where there are lots of cycling options for all ages, abilities, and preferences.  In addition, you can hike, swim, and paddle, too.  Here’s a blissful scene from their website:

 

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Lovely, isn’t it?

Then on Friday, I went out to Hopkinton State park, a bit west of Boston, to go swimming, have a picnic lunch, and hang out under the shade of trees along the lake shore with my friend Nina.

IMG_7685

Now, neither of these places is dazzling, and they’re unlikely to be made the subject of any nature documentaries.  And even though the Algonquin Provincial Park site describes it as a “bucket-list” site, certainly neither of these parks is anywhere close to the top of such lists.

But who cares?

Reading Samantha’s “Bucket lists bug me” post, I heartily agreed with her analysis of the many ways in which these things are annoying.  But the reason I care most about here is this one:  a natural place doesn’t need to be “top ten” or “bucket list” or “undiscovered paradise” (which is impossible, when you think about it) in order to give us real pleasure and satisfaction when we venture there.  And venturing there again and again brings with it new discoveries and relationships with land, animals, other visitors, staff, communities, politicians, self– the possibilities are rich and varied.

One of my favorite parks anywhere is Williamson Park in Darlington, South Carolina (where I’m from).  In recent years it’s been transformed from an impassible cypress swamp to a very passable and enjoyable cypress swamp.  It’s small, but it’s beautiful, with so many wonders being revealed as the seasons turn.  Here are a few pictures:

swamp-williamson

bridge-williamson

People jog, walk with their friends or alone, take their kids, and volunteer to maintain and improve the park.  I go there whenever I visit my family and love both being there alone and with others.

This week reminded me that nature, whether national or local, grand or modest, is there for our walking, hiking, pedaling, paddling, strolling, and fishing pleasures (among others).

Readers, what are some of your favorite ordinary or out-of-the-way or around-the-corner or fantastic parks, woods, rivers, swimming holes?  Let us know.  Maybe we’ll run into each other there…

 

 

 

 

 

Nature Rx: My prescription needs refills!

“Are you feeling tired, irritable, or stressed out? Well you might consider… Nature. A non-harmful medication that’s shown to relieve the crippling symptoms of modern life.”

I love, love, love the outdoors, and not just any outdoors. Though I do appreciate urban wildness, it’s serious wilderness that I like best. My short holidays into Algonquin park with a canoe have been among the best vacations I’ve had in terms of quickly getting a sense of peace and restfulness that lasts long after I get back.

Maybe it’s the beauty of the place, maybe it’s the wild animals such as actual loons and possible bears, or maybe it’s that cellular signal cuts off on your way driving into the park and I don’t wear a watch or look in a mirror the entire time I’m there. Life quickly takes on an easy rhythm of swimming, napping, food preparation and clean up, eating, paddling, swimming, more napping, sleeping…

I also love the lack of people. Normally I love people but a break from crowds is lovely and I appreciate the focused time with the people I’m with. There’s very little small talk with strangers, okay there’s almost none, and that’s my most stressful kind of social interaction.

My plan for the fall and winter this year includes more wilderness time.

I want to:

Ride my cyclocross bike on trails and gravel roads!

Cross country ski!

Camp in a yurt!

Hike in the woods!

See more here.

And then there’s this, Feeling awe may be good for our health.

See:

image

Finding Big Country (Guest Post)

Saguaro cacti bloom in front of Catalina Mountains,Tucson

Saguaro cacti bloom in front of Catalina Mountains,Tucson

I ride my bike 28 miles (45 km) to the top of Mt. Lemmon, near Tucson, Arizona. It’s a big climb, starting at an elevation of 2605 feet, ending at 8,077 feet (794 to 2462 meters). But the road isn’t the biggest part of the Catalina Mountains.

On a recent visit to my hometown, I convinced my buddy Lee to join in the Greater Arizona Bicycle Association Mt. Lemmon hill climb with me. For me, the main benefit of being on a supported ride are snacks and drinks at the aid stations. The Mt. Lemmon Highway runs through the Coronado National Forest with no public water sources until about mile 20.

It’s a very popular cycling route. In the winter, professional cyclists and triathletes ride up and down the usually sunny Mt. Lemmon for winter base training miles.

Our ride day dawns cold, unusual for May, and it gets colder as we climb up the mountain. (The next day, snow falls on the upper ridges).

We snake our way up the mountains, first on south slopes overlooking the city, then we follow the road inside the mountains and switch-back along an interior canyon. Beyond the guardrail, the gaping canyon is so deep that we can’t see the stream that created it. Looking west across the canyon, more ridges, more slopes, more canyons ripple the topography. Ridges end at peaks un-named and named: Thimble Peak, The Castle, Finger Rock.

Some folds of this earth are inaccessible by road or trail, even rock climbers cannot reach the cliffs. The Catalina Mountains mark the northern horizon of Tucson, but its many dimensions must be seen from within the range itself—deep and wide. From our bike saddles, we also see the Rincon Mountain range on the eastern horizon of Tucson. In the Rincons, hills roll into multiple ridges topping out at two peaks.

Lee looks and calls it “Big Country.”

We climb higher through several biomes with their unique signature plants. We start in the Sonoran Desert with rocky slopes of Saguaro cacti and agave, then reach the oak woodland at about mile 6, and 5,000 feet. Next we ride through conifer forests and towering Ponderosa pine trees.

Reports of “rain at the next aid station” doesn’t deter us because we have great wind/rain jackets. I rarely put on a jacket after miles of uphill climbing, but this time I do.

I wish I had jackets for my frozen toes.

Clouds block our view of the uppermost peaks, and fog descends onto the road. Fortunately, the rain holds off. Unfortunately, it’s so cold, some cyclists battle hypothermia and crowd into vans to be driven down the mountain.

We ride past giant “hoo-doos,” rock formations sculpted by wind and water. For our sweet and salty fix, we eat pie and peanuts at the final aid station, seeking shelter from the wind behind skinny trees.

Lee keeps talking about chili at the Iron Door Restaurant, located at the Mt. Lemmon’s Ski Valley. We pass aspen groves, descending and climbing again. We stand in our pedals to conquer the final section with its 11 percent grade.

Riding in the mountains makes me dream big. At our fireside lunch (yes it’s cold enough to have a blazing fire in the hearth), I propose a four-peak expedition to Lee. We will bike into the four mountain ranges that surround Tucson, then hike to the highest peak. We discuss various options, the best bikes to use, and different approaches to the peaks.

As we demolish his bowl of chili and and my bowl of  split pea soup, the sun breaks through the clouds. Our descent starts cold, then we warm enough to remove hats and jackets. We scream 28 miles down the beautiful curves of the highway, battling wind gusts, and coast into the Tucson valley and home.

What is your “big country” beyond the lines you run or bike on roads and trails? May you dream big during your next bike ride.

Except when it snows, Mt. Lemmon Highway (also called Catalina Highway or General Hitchcock Highway) is open to cycling all year. Info here: http://goo.gl/iIrDBp .

Mary Reynolds is a writer who lives in Tucson and Barcelona. She blogs with her partner about adventures in Barcelona and Europe at: https://barcelonaadventuring.wordpress.com/

We say goodbye, we say hello: out with winter activities, in with spring

Let’s take a walk

Into the world

Where if our shoes get white

With snow, is it snow, Marina,

Is it snow or light?

Let’s take a walk

excerpt from the poem To Marina, by Kenneth Koch.

Finally, after an unbelievably fierce winter here in the northeast, change is in the air—daylight savings time has returned, giving us more time after work to be outside. And temperatures are edging up, most welcome in Boston where we got pounded with 105 inches of snow this year.  A month ago, streets in Boston looked like this:

parkton-snow

But now they look like this:

parkton-nosnow

Not exactly pretty, but at least the driving is a bit easier.

One notable benefit of all this snow has been the instant access to great winter sports, even in urban areas. I’ve blogged about urban cross country skiing and also trying out new variations on skiing. In Ottawa, the Rideau Canal Skateway had a record-breaking 59-day season, which lots of people took advantage of.

rideau canal

rideau-night

My friend Teri, on a work trip to Ottawa, took the night picture, and even partook of some after-work curling—another northern winter activity (although here you can find out about the curling season, which in fact extends to May).

curling-work

But all good things come to an end. The snow is melting, the late-day sun is beckoning, and it’s time to think about putting away skis, skates, snowshoes, fat bikes and cold-weather running wear. Time to bring out the road and mountain bikes, running shoes, and other springtime equipment. Samantha has gotten the jump on many of us already, restarting bike commuting.

You would think this would be deliriously wonderful news; it’s been a frigid and difficult winter, and I’ve not been on a bike in months. And I love to ride. But change can be hard—even positive change. It requires consciously shifting from one set of habits, one set of gear, one set of exercise partners and locations and muscle groups, to a whole different set. This happens for me on at least 3 levels:

Level one: logistical

Finding places to put the winter stuff while remembering where I stored the warmer weather stuff and deciding when to retrieve it is always a production. The cross-country skis, which lived in the back of the car all winter, are now in their transitional space (the hallway) awaiting being put away in the basement; repeat for lots of other gear and clothing. I also need to take my road bike for a tune-up before the season really gets going, etc. For those of us who are active and profligate about gear, keeping everything in its appropriate place in the seasonal rotation is a job.

Level two: physical

Changing sports or activities means also reminding oneself about the existence of muscle groups that may have been ignored for a while. This winter I skied and played squash, both of which use my legs, but in ways very different than cycling uses them. Lots of websites offer practical advice for ways to transition into spring cycling or spring running.  The message seems to be this: start slow and focus on the basics. This is no news, but sometimes tough to stick with, especially on that first spring day when you are bursting with enthusiasm.

Level three: metaphysical

Change is unsettling.  We’re used to our habits and the pleasures, associations, and even burdens that come with them.  This winter offered up a host of burdens– endless shoveling, treacherous driving, super-long commutes to work, and high heat bills.  But it also provided some opportunities and experiences that I’ll miss.

I now know the neighbors on my street much better through shared shoveling  and snow-driving woes.  To get one car unstuck on my street took representatives from Turkey, Japan, France, South Carolina, and New England; since then we’ve all waved and smiled when we see each other.

I also know some of my colleagues much better through carpooling to work.  The MBTA commuter rail in Boston experienced massive failure, and we had to scramble to find rides for people to be able to teach their classes.  I drove folks to and from school (usually a 50-minute one-way ride, turned into more than 1.5 hours) 3 days a week for several weeks.  It was time-consuming, but we spent time talking and joking and complaining and enjoying each others’ company.

When public transportation was running, I used it (there was no parking anywhere– trust me).  It was sometimes uncertain and often lengthy, but walking around town and taking two buses to get home felt like an accomplishment– moving through the city under my own power (there was lots of walking in sturdy boots this winter) and catching the bus reminded me of younger student days.

As for sports, with several of my women’s league squash matches were canceled due to storms and no biking possible, I had to improvise, often on skis, with friends.  So we skied all over the place– in my neighborhood, at nearby parks, urban woods, conservation lands, groomed ski places– wherever there was snow cover.  I renewed acquaintances with people I ran into who skate ski and bike race.  All of this felt novel, improvised, exhilarating, a little scary sometimes (it tested and stretched my skills) and really fun.

But for now that phase of active life is done.  I hope to hang onto some of the new habits– doing more regular carpooling and tooling around town on public transportation are good plans.  For sports, it’s time to turn to spring activities, which I love.  But it seemed fitting to note the passing of this extraordinary winter, in all its inconvenient and thrilling splendor.  I’ll miss you.  Except for the shoveling.

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Happy National Forest Week!

National Forest Week

September 21st to 27th is national forest week, http://canadianforestry.com/wp/national-forest-week/

In honour of forests, I’m sharing some past posts on reasons to spend more time outside. I’m hoping to get at least one hike in the woods in this week. It’s so beautiful this time of year.

Here’s our past posts:

I love that my hiking gear needs are few: a sturdy pair of rubber boots (I like to go where there’s water, and I hate wet feet), and a sturdy pair of pants are all I need (I’ve been known to go off trail – shh! – and sweats or yoga pants can’t take the assault of grabby undergrowth or thorns). Layers on top, that peel on and off quickly, keep me warm or cool enough. I’m also usually never without a camera or few (including a waterproof point-and-shoot for rainy days or river wading), because I love photographing what I see.

I hike in nature because it’s the one place where I feel most like myself. I hike because it’s never boring. I hike because it gets me away from city life and my daily worries. I hike because I’m addicted to the smells and the sounds and the exquisite beauty I see everywhere. I hike because when I leave the woods, I feel better than when I entered. I feel, dare I say, like I’ve been home… and leave regenerated enough to bear the “real world” once again.

Me, I love the outdoors and for almost all activities prefer the outside version. I much prefer biking outside to either spin classes or the velodrome, though I loved the outdoor track in New Zealand. I love cross country skiing. I love trail walking and running with my dog. But I struggle with Canadian winters. These days I’m doing most of my exercise indoors: Aikido in the dojo, CrossFit in the gym, rowing indoors at the rowing club, and indoor soccer even. By this point in the winter I’m suffering from cabin fever and can’t wait to get back outside.

Ideally I’d live somewhere with a climate a bit better suited to spending more time outside–Arizona, New Zealand, Australia–but for now I’m anxiously awaiting Canadian spring. Soon, I hope.

And from Huffington Post,

Autumn is the best season for exploring the outdoors — hands down. With oppressive summer heat and humidity behind us, we’re delighting in only semi-drenching our workout gear on these cooler mornings and crisp evenings.

But apparently some people remain unconvinced. Whether you’re devoted to your Spinning class, yoga studio or favorite treadmill, humor us and let us try to change your mind with these tk reasons to start working out outside.

Play outdoors in May! Take the Suzuki 30 Day Outdoor Challenge

Image description: Close up shot of a tree trunk with light green ferns growing around it

Tomorrow is May 1st!  Surely we can spend lots of time outdoors in May. David Suzuki is challenging you to get out there.

“Want to get healthier, happier and smarter? Try adding a daily dose of nature to your routine. Starting May 1st, we’re challenging people across the country to spend 30 minutes a day in nature for 30 days.

Over the last decade, researchers have realized what most of us know intuitively: nature is good for us! It is well documented that being regularly immersed in a natural setting, like a park, field or forest, can lower blood pressure, anxiety and stress levels, and boost immunity. ‘Green time’ has also been shown to reduce feelings of anger and depression, while increasing energy, creativity and even generosity.

Living in the digital age, most of us spend too much time in front of screens and little time outdoors. It’s time for us all to get outside. During the month of May, we’re asking Canadians to pledge to spend 30 minutes in nature every day for 30 days.

Last year, we inspired over 10,000 Canadians and 300 workplaces to join us in cultivating the ‘nature habit’. They took to the great outdoors, doubling their time outside. Our research showed that participants were sleeping better, felt calmer and less stressed. Impressive results for a half hour a day!”

Sign up for the 30 X 30 Challenge here: 30 X 30 Nature Challenge

For our past posts on the great outdoors and exercise see Green exercise and the health benefits of the great outdoors and Forest Bathing (Guest Post)

How you spend your 30 minutes is up to you.

I won’t be taking Jonathan Coulton’s advice on what we should start doing outside starting May 1st. This is Canada, Jonathan Coulton. This week it snowed in both Calgary and in Newfoundland.

If you’re wondering what I’m referring to, here’s Jonathan Coulton’s First of May, not safe for work or for tender sensibilities but it always makes me smile.

If you want to read about the raunchy song before deciding to click play on the  you tube video, read about it on the Jonathan Coulton wiki. Cory Doctorow has this to say about it, “CaptainValor gives Jonathan Coulton’s delightfully filthy “First of May” song an enthusiastic American sign language interpretation with two backup signers. This is the gesture-set that JoCo’s material truly demands.”

My own quibble is that it’s definitely a guy song. It cries out for a women’s version…

Oh, and as commentator notes you have got to love a song that rhymes “big toe” with “in flagrante delicto.”