Apex

{"focusMode":0,"deviceTilt":0.00155291089322418,"whiteBalanceProgram":0,"macroEnabled":false,"qualityMode":3}

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.

{"focusMode":0,"deviceTilt":-0.0154211084034781,"whiteBalanceProgram":0,"macroEnabled":false,"qualityMode":3}

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

Lakefront Easy

Lakefront at Chatfield State Park: Photo by Noelle

Lakefront at Chatfield State Park: Photo by Noelle

Exhausted from almost eleven straight days of work I headed off to Chatfield. The three-day weekend promised at the end of the work run was now upon me, but the vestiges of long days dragged at my heels. The lake seemed the perfect place to begin my unraveling and as hoped, on a Friday after school had started, it was comparatively empty. With the exception of a few people I had the entire lake walk to myself. My gratitude for this would be hard to express.

Lakefront path at Chatfield State Park: Photo by Noelle

Lakefront path at Chatfield State Park: Photo by Noelle

Lately, I have found being deeply present with others in my work, almost easier, but then my need for silence and less stimulation when I leave work has grown with it. I needed the trails to myself, which in an urban metropolis isn’t easy to find. I wonder at times if this is what all our country’s rage is about. All the easy frustration, road rage and disconnection. We all need more silence. More peace. Less bells and whistles. Less demands on our time and attention. We are overstimulated to the point of chronic irritation. I slowed my step to sync my mind with meditative awareness.

Flooding throughout the spring has left the trails still disrupted. Some areas remained washed out while others were littered with logs. The start of the hike was hot with little wind and I remained close to the shore. Millions of dead leaves, now mere carcasses of their former selves, covered the sand. Each a curious art form in their rotting down to skeletal state.

Sections of the wood were immersed in sand, clearly demonstrating how high the waters had come off the lake. In some places the beach and wood were now almost one. Huge trees had been ripped from their moorings and now laid humbled upon the beach. My feet sunk down as I walked among the trunks listening to the buzz of cicadas. This is their last hurrah. Fall will nip our heels sooner than the dead heat would ever give away.


As I walk I must weave in and out of the woods or traverse huge mud flats and shallow inlets trying to find the original path or one now made up. Walkways have washed out from all the lake flooding and I slug through in sandals, delighted to be wet. There was a time when I would dress in such tight gear to not be touched by the elements or get too dirty. I laugh just to write this, as the thought of not allowing my feet to get wet seems insane to me now. I walk in hiking sandals that have plenty of holes for water to rush in and I donned them just so. I stand in a stream and let it cleanse me of hours of busyness and demand.
image
I see how the small ways in which I blocked myself off have been eroded and washed away like these flooded inlets. I am permeable, I am porous, I am wearing away my former self as the wind bleaches the exposed roots of these lakeside trees.

Lake trail at Chatfield State Park: Photo by Noelle

Lake trail at Chatfield State Park: Photo by Noelle

Blue Heron

image

The day proved long, as Monday’s can often feel. A late afternoon rain had cooled everything down and I left to walk the marsh and smell the clean air. I traveled sans electronics choosing to hear cicadas, starlings, and gossipy red-wings rather than risk a phone call or hear a song I’d heard many times before on the iPod. It’s curious how silence has slipped into me. Over the last year a hunger for quiet has grown up in me more fertile and prosperous than dandelions. I love music and dance often in my home, but the days of ear buds and sounds other than nature along my trails seem more past than present these days.

Movement atop the tall stand of trees to the west caught my eye and reminds me why I came out this evening. I won’t say I regretted my lack of camera as he began his circling decent onto the pond, but my hand reflexively traveled to my pocket looking for something to capture his flight. Without any gear to speak of I was left with nothing but my awareness to capture the moment and that, in the end, was my good fortune. He circled twice before landing on the far side, adjusting his wings briefly before slowly strolling through the reeds to the water’s edge. They are, in every sense, magnificent birds. Large with bold markings and yet they move as Buddhist monks on a walking meditation – slow, deliberate, thoughtful. I slow to share in his mindfulness while watching his head turn slightly to catch the sight of fish below the surface. He sees far more in that water than I and so I bow as I pass, one sort of master to another.

The day’s chaos has already floated off and I am struck by what an extraordinary life I lead. I walk in beauty with funds to meet my needs, food in my belly, good use for my hands and time to ponder what has been given me. As often happens when I give my strain to the twilight air, I have been set right by a heron with the grace of flight and sunset water.

Pirate Booty

State Beach, Block Island, Rhode Island: Photos by Noelle

State Beach, Block Island, Rhode Island: Photos by Noelle

A seagull attempted to land on it as a perch, but the top was too thin so the tough scavenger flew off. It appeared to be a marker, maybe to someone’s pirate booty, or a child’s war ship against the tide the day before. Now it stood lone and bare in the morning light. Treasure Island and Billy Bones floated through my mind, as I came upon it. As a child I loved the N.C. Wyeth paintings from the story and would look at them for hours making up my own pirate adventures.

N.C. Wyeth illustrations from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

N.C. Wyeth illustrations from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

image

 

Like my fantasies of childhood I found the beach full of little mysteries as dawn came upon it. Crabs battling in tide pools, shell paintings and this monstrous sand castle still erect and undisturbed by the night’s tide. A stalwart stronghold made with little more than hands and buckets. Having recently started dabbling with sculpting SopI marvel at this structure. Created in an afternoon, with little more impetus than a laugh and no more concern for it’s perfection or durability than the time it takes to be distracted onto a boogie board. Yet in my own creative process I can ponder and obsess over the next steps in plaster as if I were working with TNT or finding the cure for cancer. I dig my feet into the sand and commit myself to remember the care-free force of a child.

 

Sand castle. state Beach; Photo by Noelle

Sand castle, State Beach; Photo by Noelle

 

Small pathways discovered through the shrub-covered embankments, now dotted in pink flowers, enticed me into small sand dells and new routes home. I picked one of the morning blooms and placed it in my hair embracing all the beach bum I could pull into my lungs.

State Beach, Block Island, Rhode Island: Photos by Noelle

State Beach, Block Island, Rhode Island: Photos by Noelle

I sit daily in meditation, but few things calm and bring me into full alignment with my best self so completely, as a walk on a deserted beach. So to you my dear friends I offer this call to adventure and discovery that it not die upon my own lips.

“Avast, me hearties! There be treasure here.”

State Beach, Block Island: Photo by Noelle

State Beach, Block Island: Photo by Noelle

 

Seaside

block Island High Speed Ferry to New London: Photo by Noelle

block Island High Speed Ferry to New London: Photo by Noelle

Someone’s Coke had exploded on the window; no telling how long ago, but it looked old and crusted. The waves fill in the scene between the running, brown spots telling a tale of holidays and luggage, children eating crushed sandwiches with chips and foamy soda. My nieces are giggling in the booth behind me and I pretend to read my book. In truth, the ocean moving beneath my window is far more intriguing. The girls launch off to the outer deck leaving the Coke and me and the dark green sea. Such a vast ocean full of life and dancing seagulls that laugh at soda and women longing for their vacation not to end.

I breathe deep and feel the sand still embedded in my sandals rubbing against my heal. The vacation may be over but my morning walks are alive within me as I sail for home.

State Beach Block Island, Rhode Island: Photo by Noelle

State Beach Block Island, Rhode Island: Photo by Noelle

Some mornings the temptation to lie in bed would be great, but the island is a haven for bird migrations. The dawn is full of winged song and chattering old maids. Plus, I knew few walked the beaches in the morning leaving it mostly to myself. By nine o’clock people would be staking out their spots for the day, especially close to the water, but at the crack of dawn it’s a random dog walker and one or two folks likely fallen asleep on the beach from too much drink the night before.

State Beach Block Island, Rhode Island: Photo by Noelle

State Beach Block Island, Rhode Island: Photo by Noelle

State Beach Block Island, Rhode Island: Photo by Noelle

State Beach Block Island, Rhode Island: Photo by Noelle

As I walk the surf rolls over my feet, a tempting lover, but hard to get. It’s in the way she pulls at my ankles then drifts back into the sea as if she could careless at my response. I chase her, as any sun-drenched lover would and she covers my legs with love. She could beguile the hardest soul winking delicately in the new dawn and makes positive beggars out of crabs whose claws outstretch demanding she return them home.

I collect stones and fill my pockets, smooth and black or mica-covered quartz the favorites. I walk, rubbing them, committing to a seaside rosary of sorts as I speak to spirits that pull my hair into the wind. Salt graces my lips and I lick it off for breakfast, smiling at the seagull who hovers wondering what I dine on. “The same as you, my friend. The same as you.”

Mohegan's Bluff, Block Island: Photo by Noelle

Mohegan’s Bluff, Block Island: Photo by Noelle

I came upon a stingray, likely dead, but his eyes were still open and partially covered by a pool of water. I pulled him back into the seaweed thick surf and he quickly disappeared under the rolling garden. I could not tell if he lived or merely vanished in a tangle of kelp, but for some reason I felt very satisfied. After a time walking the beach I wondered at my need to deliver him from his death. We all must leave this plane at some point. The sight of death rarely disturbs me and I am at peace with the beautiful eco-system that has a purpose for even the decaying body. I sat on the sun-warmed sand and watched the surf for a long while. Clearly that day, I did not want either him or myself to be anywhere else but with the sea.

State Beach Block Island, Rhode Island: Photo by Noelle

State Beach Block Island, Rhode Island: Photo by Noelle

Muir, Thoreau and Spirit Wood

White Ranch Park, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

White Ranch Park, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” John Muir

National Center for Atmospheric Research, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

National Center for Atmospheric Research, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” John Muir

Apex Park, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” Henry David Thoreau

Apex Park, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

“I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do.” John Muir

National Center for Atmospheric Research, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

National Center for Atmospheric Research, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” John Muir

Apex Park, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” Henry David Thoreau

Apex Park, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” Henry David Thoreau

Apex Park, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park, Colorado: Photo by Noelle

“In every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks.” John Muir

The Station: Part Three

Breakfast: Photo by Noelle

Breakfast: Photo by Noelle

The clanking of pots caught my attention and I turned to look inside. A gray head bobbed behind the grill; I suspected he was doing prep work. The tables were half set up and the smell of bacon drifted out the cafe window. Listening recently to a lecture with Carol Tuttle, she guided a meditation where you experience the divine through your senses of touch, taste, smell, and so forth. Without hesitation my first thought was that God likely smells of bacon. I smiled sheepishly. I sometimes have deep vegetarian guilt.

Even at 6:30 on a Sunday morning the station is active with movement, though my own eye is more interested in the long angles. Nothing effects our inner clocks so completely than the long angle of sunlight at dawn and dusk. One elicits a feeling of promise, while the other – mystery.

Union Station: Photo by Noelle

Union Station: Photo by Noelle

Union Station and the Moon: Photo by Noelle

Union Station and the Moon: Photo by Noelle

Amtrak: Photo by Noelle

Amtrak: Photo by Noelle

People milled in coffee shops or sat on the benches by the Amtrak ticket window. Newspapers laid in laps or noses were buried deep in phones, while dreams of future destinations stuck out conspicuously from suit coat pockets and overstuffed purses.

The Flower Stand: Photo by Noelle

The Flower Stand: Photo by Noelle

The flower stand was still closed, but full of spring blooms and a rainbow of tissue paper and inexpensive vases. I looked back at my reflection in the glass doors to the refrigerator case. A rose bloom appeared where my mouth should be committing me to only speaking love for the rest of the day.

The Station hotel: Photo by Noelle

The Station hotel: Photo by Noelle

I moved along the perimeter and stopped at the entrance to the hotel. I have never stayed at the Crawford, but the romance of it fills me with a timelessness and magic I haven’t felt in years. The concierge and I share gentle bows of good morning and I move on. I roam about the terminal for the better part of an hour, letting my ghosts wonder the gates and tracks, fingering imaginary maps to infinite destinations. There’s a beauty in not needing to go anywhere. I can simply indulge in the energy of the space without the frantic longing to be on my way. The mindfulness metaphor there is not lost on me. The Power of Now, as Tolle would say. If I stop and breathe deeply I can smell the scent of every train station on this earth, for they all hold decades and even centuries of diesel oil, engine smoke, luggage fibers, coffee grounds, newspaper print, and thousands of hungry soul’s anticipation in their rafters.

The Windows: Photo by Noelle

The Windows: Photo by Noelle

The Terminal: Photo by Noelle

The Terminal: Photo by Noelle

Glitz and Glamour: Photos by Noelle

Glitz and Glamour: Photos by Noelle

I stare at this last photograph on my phone and marvel how I can be a dozen different versions of myself, by allowing my mind to fall into a single image. I hear the call to track 3, followed quickly by eggs over easy with whole wheat toast. A door to the street opens and the smell of engine exhaust wafts into my nostrils. The flower girl steps behind the flower counter, the sound of jangling keys to open. The man seated to my left rises, still wearing both reading and sunglasses on his head, and begins to move. I breathe deeply.

I am a Time Traveler and this moment is my current home. While we are together, allow me to introduce myself.