Apex

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Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

This is how magic happens.

I had signed up for a night hike with the Sierra Club at Apex with a friend. At the last minute the friend couldn’t come, but I decided to still go. I checked my info and arrived at the Heritage Club parking lot at 6:15 and then waited. When no one appeared I realized something was wrong. I went back to the Sierra site which confirmed date and time, but when I called the organizer she said it had been arranged through meetup.com and they’d changed the time to Sunday night. I never got the notice. So there I was with my nifty head lamp, hiking boots with duct tape on my heels and nothing else to do on a Saturday night. I decided to be bold and go on the hike anyway.

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Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

All my previous night adventures had been in open space and parks near or in town. Wildlife would certainly be present, but lions and bears much less likely. Apex would most definitely afford the possibilities of such encounters and the prospects left me terrified and exhilarated at the same time. I stood at the entrance for a minute assuring myself I was ready for this and headed off.

I passed the last stragglers coming down from earlier hikes leaving the trails mostly empty, except for a single trio. Clearly they’d been smoking weed and laughing like that caterpillar was the coolest thing they’d ever seen. None had proper gear on and they all reminded me of my former self. They became confused as which side of the trail to stand on to allow me to pass, so they kept darting from one side to the other trying to get all three to one side, which lit their laughter up like a Christmas tree. I laughed with them. Who needs weed? You just need three young weed smokers, the memory of your former ridiculous self and it all becomes a wondrous joke.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

With so few hikers or bikers the thickets were alive with movement. Rabbits, moles, voles and mice scurried beneath the foliage as I approached. The sky above my head was thriving with dragonflies dashing about catching bugs, riding the warm gusts traveling up the valley from town. As sunset moved into night, wildflowers that I thought were gone this late in the summer were fully open all over the hillsides. The cooler night temps seduced them out of hiding and graced my view with lavenders, fresh whites and rich yellows.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

I have hiked Apex before so knew the trail. Up the valley, through the forest, over the high glens and back down the other side of the valley to connect with the lower trail to the lot. I came upon several bridges that crossed streams and waterfalls I’ve crossed before, but in the dark they got me thinking of the old children’s story, “Billy Goat’s Gruff”. I pondered the trolls gnashing their teeth hoping for dinner. Though the sky was light, the creek beds had now fallen more into dark and the prospects of a snotty-nosed creature underneath suddenly seemed very real.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

I passed out of the valley into the Enchanted Forest that was anything but Enchanted in the dark. Weird screeches from birds I’d not heard before assaulted me once beneath the canopy. Several wails of animals whose lives were cut short pierced the darkness, startling my step. A pale sky could only be seen in rare patches, but instead of offering comfort, they seemed apparitions of ghosts floating above me. Water trickling came as a sick seeping to my ears rather than the lovely babble of daylight hours. The cute scurries of furry beasts in the thickets now set my nerves on edge. Hansel and Gretel came to mind only to be replaced quickly by the Blair Witch Project and I wondered often about turning back. In the dark a bear could be in front of me and I would hardly see it. Turning on my headlamp felt like a beacon to the nefarious and so I trudged on in the dark. Often I looked back along the trail, fearful of something following me only to have my eyes trick me on what was there. Clearly, I was spooking myself in the worst way. My step picked up faster and faster as I climbed quickly to the open, high glens.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

At the far end as the wood gave way I found myself furtively casting about for large game. The forest had left me edgy and my luck didn’t feel quite so true. My bold steps of earlier were now constantly shifting to look about me.  All I saw were deer who were as surprised to see me, as if I’d just walked into my neighbor’s living room. The deer eating so casually encouraged me that no larger beasts were about and I stopped to drink, orient myself and draw my courage back out of my belly where it appeared to be hiding under my liver.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

It was then I came upon the most spectacular patch of yellow wild flowers. I stopped to gaze on them and take some photos. When I looked up the sky had grown much darker it seemed. It was as if the light of the flowers had sucked out the rest of the day into their bloom. Even my eyes could see little after gazing upon them. I wondered at their magic and though the night seemed darker by their brilliance, I felt lighter and safer as I turned for home.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

The trail headed now due east and with a more steadfast step I began my decent. Having survived my own fears in the forest I once again felt bold and outrageous to be out on the hillside in the dark. I turned on my new and nifty headlamp, but this obliterated any view outside the scope of the light. Though likely foolish I turned it off. A twisted ankle would’ve been fateful for sure, but I felt more a raccoon with eyes meant for the night and trusted my feet to find their way. There may be a fool’s power in that happy, downward step when one feels they’ve escaped greater mishap, but I was seized by it all the same. I’d made it through the forest and crossed the fields without trouble. The golden wildflowers assured me my way home would be clear.

The moon rose over Green Mountain as I came close to the end. I watched the city sparkle and felt the cool mountain air at my back. I find I feel the adventurer again, courageous and true. All weakness and fear now left in the dust. The golden flowers must have sucked it all up with the light.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Good Morning Moon

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Good morning, Moon. You wondrous lover who awaits my rising blinds to greet me each morning. Some days you are as full as my good fortunes. Other days you are little more than a whisper at the top of grass, but there you are, all the same. We are companions you and I, rising and falling with the tides of our day. You have taught me so much, my friend, let me tell you. You have lit my way on many a darkened path and when you are but a sliver of existence, you have shown me how, even then, it is possible to cast your light for all to see.

Teaching Ducks English

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I’m not sure how I got lost. The moon was out and I’d chosen a wooded trail, but with unseasonably warm weather the snow had all melted and it proved darker than I’d expected. I’d been following the creek which meandered off to my left. I’d hear it occasionally babbling away in the dark; happily, contentedly, peacefully. Such a lovely sound, but then at some point I realized I was running into more trees. As I looked back over my shoulder to see if I could discern the trail I stepped full on into the creek. A pair of mallards had been sleeping in the same spot and my sudden arrival sent them into the air dashing right by my head as they aimed for the creek. (Okay, maybe an exaggeration, but if FELT like they flew by my head) Such a ruckus they made, and now completely startled, I screamed stumbling backwards, slipping on some river stones and bum-planted into the muddy embankment. For a second, I was a bit stunned, until that comedian’s voice that lives in my head suddenly piped up, “It’s always a good time until someone ends up in the river”. If I hadn’t been so cold I might’ve laughed. The birds continued to squawk and quack announcing to the entire woodland that the sky was falling, as they splashed down into the creek maybe fifty yards out.

“What are you all quacking about?” I hollered at them, completely flummoxed, “I’m the one in this bloody snow melt with no duck fat!”

Ducks will gad on, long after they’ve headed downstream, as if they are endlessly calling back rude comments at you.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah…” I mutter as I pulled my now cold, wet and muddy arse out of the creek. “Everyone’s gotta an opinion. Move on,” I call out as strong as a Boston beat cop. “There’s nothing more to see here….” The birds ignore me, but their quacking is now idle bitching and I stumble back toward the trail.

Profanities are a greater gift than most people realize. In such moments they give real vigor to an otherwise completely impotent moment. The “F” word in particular is not only The Great Profanity, but one of my favorite words in the English language. No word holds its influence or power. We use it to express anger, fear, love, passion, confusion and brimming joy. It’s a noun, a verb, an adverb and an adjective depending on our predicament. On this occasion I used it liberally on the long and numbing walk home. I make no apologies. My feet were colder than Icelandic cod three days dead. If the ducks were offended I can hardly be held to blame. I certainly didn’t teach them English, but if I did, I would’ve definitely started with the “F” word.

Night Walk: Part V

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Free Bing Photos

A twenty minute walk would normally take you to the lake, but on this night it was closer to thirty five. The the road I cross from the marsh to lake is poorly cleared and there is a field of six to eight inches of snow to cross to reach the lake. I followed the cross country ski lines I saw so clearly in the light of the moon, from someone who had passed this way earlier in the day. I knew in all this crunch of snow and steaming breath no wildlife would be caught unaware. An owl can here a mouse crawling under snow a half mile off. To any Great Horned nearby I am sure I sounded a fire brigade to its ears. By the time I reached the lake I was sweating and hot and pealing off mittens, coat and hat as fast as I could. Temperatures enough to freeze the lake solid and I was as close to naked as I could stand amidst huge billows of steaming air.

As my breath slowed I became keenly aware of the sounds around me. Someone scraping a shovel on a sidewalk not quite a kilometer off. The highway to the west that runs below the hills that nestle the lake. A dog barking and someone calling out to a passerby. Sound carried across the snow as if we were all swimming in water. The ice on the lake cracked near where I was standing, but was muffled by all the snow. I was alone out here. With the light of the moon I could see for miles. Nothing along the lakeside moved. I stood very still and looked all around me. I am not even sure how to describe how the moon turned the lake into an iridescent opal of blues and purples. How tiny bits of light winked up off the snow in the moonlight, made all the clearer because of the darkness. How tree limb shadows snaked out across the snow in the deepest shades of purple and violet. The snow-capped hogbacks rose beyond the lake peppered in evergreen and patches of tall grasses positively glowing. The stars sat deep in their velvety darkness humbled by the moonlight and I too bowed to her power.

I redressed quickly as the sweat began to cool me off more than I wanted and picked the lower trail. I knew I needed to keep moving. I passed near a neighborhood that borders the lake. All the shades had been pulled that faced the mountains of these houses and I wondered at all they were missing. If I lived at the corner house I would never close my shades. On a night like this I would sit in my darkened home with the curtains wide, sipping hot cocoa enjoying an immense view.

On the far side, farthest from the neighborhoods and the roads and nearest the hogbacks, I stopped and listened for a long while. If you listen carefully you realize there is a deep silence even in the noise of neighboring life. It is steady and persistent. You may stand to listen for a moment, but it enchants you the longer you stand there. In all that silence, in all that open space covered in moonlit snow you forget yourself. You forget the cold and the distance for home. You forget you are a mere human in all this grandeur, and yet, that is when you realize you are the grandeur, too. The moment you stopped to appreciate all that beauty and silence you became a part of it. Instead of moving through, you moved in. In that moonlit field by the lake you have become, like the wild buckwheat and tall prairie grass, another motionless figure adding to the rich texture of a majestic landscape.

Night Walk: Part IV


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There is a low howl in the eaves and an increasingly smaller voice in my mind says, “Stay in”. My coat hangs by the door, ready. My boots neatly coupled together below. It is surprising how quickly a habit can take hold. In just a few weeks it is difficult, even in this bitter cold, to skip the evening stroll. I bundle up tight and step out into the low wind. The snow falling feels wet, but in these temperatures I know it is just the quickness with which it melts upon my warmer face. Though snow falls the moon is apparent behind a thin veil of clouds. The walk begins with the wind at my face and I consider just a short-circuit around the block. I come to the northeast trail and there is a man ahead of me. He does not turn, so I am not sure he sees me. He doesn’t have a dog and, at first, I am very impressed that he is out for a stroll, too. This lasts less than a minute before I find myself mildly disturbed by his presence. Yes, I, who only a few posts ago noted how stuffy we have become hole up in our houses at night. Inwardly I charge, “Who is this rogue to enter MY domain?” I laugh at my own contrariness, as I trail along behind him. There is a tree at this point that appears lit by a fire beneath it. The fence is too high and the slats too tight to see how the effect is achieved, but this snow-capped tree with a light flickering up its trunk is beautiful to behold. When I look back down the lane the man is gone, likely through a side gate, unless of course, he is a changeling. In which case, he turned into a wolf and slipped stealthily into the wooded creek bed to the south. I laugh, but keep my eye on the wood.

I am left alone for the rest of the journey and I breathe deep of the solitude. It is done. The night has spun its magic and I will not turn back now for home.

I am aware I am staving off aging on these nightly walks in a way I had not expected. A curious feeling has settled in. The length of the journeys grows and the time in the wood or field lengthens, too. I have yet to cross over to the lake beyond the marsh, but I feel it coming on. No lights are present on that larger patch of land. A hunger for greater levels of darkness, quiet and solitude has settled into my soul in a way that is difficult to describe. The moon has become a balm that settles a restlessness that so often roams the bony rooms of my head. I see the easy path is to remain inside where it is warm and enjoy cocoa while watching the Christmas lights out the dining room window. Yet there is suddenly a somnolence in that image for me; a story of a coming death.

The night is cold and foggy, while at the same time sharp and vivid. It is stark while blinding. Sound has a curious way of moving across a field or between the trees. Nothing moves, while everything moves, as shadows have a life in them. Like the owl and fox, the darkness stirs a wildness in me. A hardiness is seeping into my veins and enlivening my spirit in the most magical way. I find my heart picking up and even when my toes begin to complain of the cold another drift is upon me and I am calf deep in it. At no other time do I feel quite so connected to the life force of the Earth. Something primitive and deep stirs the moment I leave the threshold of my warm cozy den. Something so fresh and clean, I can taste it landing in the flakes upon my tongue.

Night Walk

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We think splitting an atom is the most powerful thing we humans can figure out or do. I’d argue breaking a habit is. Without focus and discipline changing habitual patterns isn’t just difficult it’s nearly impossible, because the very nature of a habit is you don’t have to think about it, you just do it. This is great for driving to work in the morning, but if you have a habit of eating too much or never giving yourself nice things, it’s a problem not a help. Of interest, however, is inside our well-worn habits is the power of celestial black holes. When we break out of them it’s a bit like releasing the energy of a quasar. This, of late, has become my focus. I’ve challenged myself to break a few of my own.

Tonight I went for winter’s walk. I often step out onto the deck and think I should walk the neighborhood before bed. The air is crisp and clean and it always feels like there’s magic in all that darkness. Invariably though, I talk myself out of it with such pressing matters as there’s lunch to pack for the next day. I’m in cozy socks. It’s late and I have to be up early. I decided tonight I would make a different choice. On death beds all over the world are millions of people lamenting the night walks they never took and the sunsets they forgot to appreciate. That shall not be me, I decided. I left on my cozy socks and slipped on my sneakers.

The air was, as I expected, crisp and almost electric. Christmas lights dot almost every house and as I walked along the lake the colored lights lit the water. I heard the geese commenting on my passing, more than I could actually see them. At this hour, there is so much quiet that the subtlest rustle of leaves could be heard. I held my keys, as even their jingle in my pocket seemed a marching band. What I think may have been an owl flew over my head as I stood on the bridge that crossed the creek. The coyotes in the field beyond the houses announced the start of their night hunt and I listened to them yelp for several minutes before moving down the path into the wood.

To experience the night, it’s movement and its odd manner of light; stars, a crescent moon, street light reflections, is to awaken something truly mystical in your soul. I am certain it was this mystery that so often whispered to me as I stood on the deck. A mystery in me I can only feel when I walk in darkness and allow the sounds of the night to move around me. There’s power in allowing yourself to be partially blind. To accept the way isn’t all that clear past the next few steps. That you can be happy in all the black uncertainty. It’s curious that when we meditate it can feel hard to silence oneself, yet take a walk along a deserted lane at night and it is as if your skull has become the most beautiful chapel, your thoughts saffron wrapped monks bowing to the moon.