Friday, December 30, 2016

Striding to Solitude at Sky Meadows

Wednesday was a chilly but bright day so I went for a hike in Sky Meadows Park to work off some of the copious amounts of holiday food and libations that I'd consumed over the past few days. Not that a short walk was going to pay off the debt entirely but it was an effort, non the less. I was a little surprised to see the parking lot full with many families walking about sporting vibrant new outdoor wear that had probably been received as Christmas presents
I took a trail that didn't have any hikers in sight and started off, with long fast strides that soon turned to short stumpy steps with many breaks as the hill climbed upwards. The open slopes dragged brisk breezes across the spiky dry grass, making my eyes water. But I saw a couple ahead that had left the parking lot just ahead of me so I was rather chuffed that I wasn't dragging my feet to much.
The view at the top was beautiful. The Crooked Run Valley lay below, brown fields edged with bare trees that looked like the bristles of paint brushes. Blue ponds glittered in the sunlight and in the distance the Blue Ridge Mountains hugged the horizon. The trail was sheltered now, with no winds beating against me, and I looked up at the remaining climb.
Even though it was chilly up on the ridge, the cold winter sun cast a fairy tale effect on the woodland. On an overcast day, the trails look sombre, grey and brown the only colors, but today it was like a scene straight from 'Twelve Dancing Princesses' by the Brothers Grimm, one of my favorite stories read over and over again as a child. The princesses pass through three magical woodlands, "the woods with the diamond-spangled leaves, the wood with the gold-sprinkled leaves and the wood whose leaves glittered with drops of silver." Today as I walked alone along the path, it was just like the story, the sun so bright that everything around was dazzling and shining. But of course, all good things must come to an end, and my little fairy land was shattered as two burly hiker dudes came crashing round the corner, one of them exclaiming loudly how "up here would be an awesome place to hide a still" as he pointed into the woods.
I had to stop and photograph this deposit. I've come across this a few times on hikes now and have marveled at these declarations of dominance in the woods. I'm pretty sure this is the feculence of a fox, which surprises me as they are usually stealthy shy creatures. Yet obviously when it comes to the matter of number twos they like to be observed as number one. I walked around this poop on a pedestal, leaving it for the next visitor to appreciate, whether it be human or animal.
It was nice to be walking on a flatter surface and then it was downhill, so obviously the inclines had been completed for the day. I thought that I'd been on most of the trails in this park, but while chatting to a couple they showed me one I'd not hiked before so I headed in that direction. If I'm out on my own, I usually like to have the trails to myself, but today that wasn't the case. At various spots along the paths are benches, specially made for the park because they are tall, so you can sit on them and swing your legs. I hadn't been able to enjoy any of these when I came across them as other folks were firmly seated, enjoying the views or stopping for snacks. But I had some great chats with them, one group shared their map with me and told me of the terrain on each of the trails, I took a group photo of one family whose dad would have been excluded from the shot if I hadn't arrived, and another couple with a huge creamy labrador wanted to share their chocolate dusted almonds with me. And they all were enjoying the benches, so I kept going, assuming I'd be taking my break at the end of the hike.
And then I saw one, empty and alone, the sunlight shining down on it like a bright beacon, declaring, "This one's for you Debby!" I bounced over to it and sat smugly in the middle, my legs swinging furiously. What joy! I had no snacks but I thoroughly enjoying sipping my water and listening to the sound of silence as I savored the solitude. No planes or cars, not a cheep or a peep, no voices at all, or even the drumming of a woodpecker. It was lovely to be the only human, but I am always a little disappointed to rarely hear the birdsong. In England, there's a constant chattering and tweeting of bird voices, whether you're in a wood, an open field, your back garden or in town, it's always there. But in these huge American woodlands and forest, it can never be taken for granted that you'll see a bird, and it always saddens me. The sun was warm on my face but after a few minutes the cold air was working its way through my clothing so I continued downhill. Another mile later I was back on the track that led to the parking lot and started plodding up the last hill. And then came the farewell I had been hoping for, a warbling and chirruping, like musical notes, and sitting on branches high above me were two bluebirds.

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