River Walk

Because Jamestown Audubon is working on a project that involves taking people to the River Walk, I took my camera for a walk down there last Wednesday.

Holts Run Road… Again!

It’s new every time, because we hike it differently every time. This time, we went “backwards.” And by going backwards it was much easier to find the old Holts Run Road.

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We followed it to the beaver pond that is close to Crick’s Run.

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As we arrived, it started to snow. So pretty!

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These tracks confused us. I think they must be fisher… but I don’t know for sure. What do you think?

The Gorge!

We had to park up near the first campsite and walk down the rest of Hannum Road.

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We saw evidence that people had been down there along the Westside Overland Trail on snow shoes and skis. But no one had been down the path to the creek in some time.

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I couldn’t help thinking about hemlock trees since I’ll be giving a workshop about them on Saturday.

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The gorge was very full and very frozen… so slippery, there would be no hiking along it today!

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And it was more frozen than I have ever seen it! So beautiful!

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Trees

I wrote this article for Jamestown Audubon’s weekly column:

Trees
by Jennifer Schlick

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Eastern Hemlock

The temperature has risen 30 degrees to a balmy 23F, perfect for outdoor recreation.  The snow in the woods behind a friend’s house is thigh deep, so I strap on snow shoes and head out with the dogs.  The little one makes me laugh sometimes disappearing up to her ears as she bounds through the sparkling white stuff.  The first fifteen to twenty minutes is fast-paced to get the blood pumping.  After that, I’m warm and toasty for the rest of the walk and even feel the need to stop and cool down – frequently.

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American Beech

To speed the cooling I remove my gloves and unzip my jacket.  While I catch my breath I marvel at the trees, reflecting on the time I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, where the only native trees seemed to be Saguaro cacti and the imported palms looked out of place.  How can people live without trees?  I only made it for a couple of years in the desert and had to return to the forested landscapes of my upbringing.  I never feel more at home than when I’m in the woods.  I just love trees.  The beech still clinging to dry shriveled leaves, the big old maples and oaks gnarly and majestic, and the hemlocks – by far my favorite tree.

Old Maple

Old Maple

Not a fan of sun, the deep shade provided by hemlocks draws me in no matter the season.  I trudge a little ways off the trail to sit beneath the boughs for a few minutes.  I can just barely hear a little trickle of water in the creek under the thick ice.  Chickadees, nuthatches, and kinglets jump from branch to branch above me chattering their social calls, foraging for winter insects.  I scan the landscape and notice that this woods is relatively new.  The trees are young and dense.  Down here by the creek, the species of trees are all native.  Up on the hill, there are stands of White Spruce, Scot’s Pine, European Larch and others that were planted by the landowners many years ago.  None of the trees are really old, though.

There are places nearby where I can commune with really old trees.  I’d love to know the age of the big Sugar Maple on the hill next to the Nature Center building at Audubon.  And do you know the massive oaks on the far side of Spatterdock Pond?  How about the really nice stand of old growth in Allegany State Park off the East Meadow trail, or the forest at Heart’s Content?  There is a feeling you get in the presence of these old trees that you don’t get anywhere else.  You begin to wonder how many people have walked by this spot and what stories the tree could tell if it could talk.  You begin to question the significance of your relatively short life.

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Oak

We’d like to give you a chance to meet a few old geezers in Chautauqua County in March.

Jamestown Audubon’s 2014 “Bucket List” calendar features twelve must-do, must-see nature phenomena to experience before you “kick the bucket.”  The March 15 event focuses on old trees.  Restaurant proprietor Chris Merchant is passionate about old growth forests.  He and Audubon program director Jennifer Schlick will lead a chat about trees over lunch at Mariner’s Pier Express in downtown Jamestown, New York, before heading out to see some of Chautauqua County’s oldest trees.  The regular price of $43, or Friends of the Nature Center price of $34, includes lunch and transportation.  Prepaid reservations are required by March 10 and can be made by calling the Audubon Center at (716) 569-2345 or by visiting http://jamestownaudubon.weebly.com. The trip begins at 11:00am and we expect to be back in Jamestown by 4:00pm.

Another opportunity to learn about trees will be offered on Saturday, March 8, from 1:00pm until 3:00pm.  After a classroom program to learn about the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an insect that threatens Eastern and Carolina Hemlock trees, we will take a walk to Audubon’s hemlock grove to search for signs – and hopefully find none!  The fee for this program is $16, or $12 for Friends of the Nature Center and can be paid at the door.  Registration is requested by Friday, March 7, and can be done by phone, or at our website.

The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road, one quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York and Warren, Pennsylvania.  Learn more about the activities at the Center by visiting http://jamestownaudubon.org or calling (716) 569-2345.

Jennifer Schlick is program director at Jamestown Audubon.

Hey Ladies! Save the Dates!

October 3-5, 2014 on Grand Island, New York – Wild Women Unite!

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That’s me – being a wild winter woman.

I’ll be teaching a photography workshop at this event. I’ve never been to it, but when Yvonne approached me about teaching, it sounded like so much fun, I think I’d go even if I weren’t teaching! Here’s what Yvonne asked me to share:

This is an event for all women: whether we are looking for a weekend relaxing with friends or looking to sharpen our outdoor skills. You can find it all at our Wild Women Unite weekend October 3 – 5 on Grand Island. The weekend is packed with learning, laughter and fun.

It begins Friday, with a meet and mingle happy hour, presenting our very own “Wild Woman Song” written and performed by Gina Holsopple. The adventure starts here, so come and sing along!

Later Friday evening there will be a presentation by Jennifer Haddow, owner and director of Wild Women Expeditions. Jennifer has been providing outdoor adventure travel for women since 1991. Listen and learn how to be brave enough to release your inner Wild Woman. She will talk about her world aventures from Iceland to Thailand and beyond. Our own Canadian Wild Woman!

On Saturday, everyone is given a chance to participate in four (out of thirty) beginner level workshops providing hands on opportunity to learn to play outdoors. This year for the first time, we are offering a “seniors” track of four workshops providing very “first step” lessons to start moving and get healthy (Grandmas allowed). Our workshops are designed to support all sorts of interests, from easy living to heart racing adventure, allowing every sort of woman to participate. Take a look at the workshops choices on our website.

Saturday evening is a barbecue and relaxing around the campfire with an Alaskan Wild Woman. CarolAnn lives in the Alaskan wilderness where her only neighbor is nature. Come listen to her stories.

This is a unique opportunity for women, 16 and older, with any level of outdoor experience to become more familiar with and comfortable in the environment while learning new or enhancing existing outdoor skills.

Warning: Be prepared to meet new friends, let your hair down, kick back and kick some butt!

Just go to the website!! https://www.wildwomenunite.com/

First Hike of 2014

My first hike of 2014:  Allegany State Park, of course.  We started on Coon Run Road, heading out the Fire Tower Trail.  Somewhere before we reached Willis Creek, we needed coffee and donuts.  Here was the view from our log:

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Once we crossed Willis Creek, we headed upstream, bushwhacking at first… but then finding the trail marked “indistinct or abandoned” on our topo map. Someone has been working on it! It was easy to follow – most of the way. Then either we took a wrong turn, or the maintenance stopped.

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After a bit more bushwhacking, we found the lean to:

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The doggies quickly gobbled down a cup of dog food each. We ate our chili a bit more slowly.

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After conversation about the “State of Emergency” the NYS governor has issued, I wrote the following in the trail register:

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NYS Gov declared a state of emergency. What else to do but hike! Started at Coon Run Rd Fire Tower Trail. Followed Willis Creek up to lean to. Stopped for coffee and donuts along the way. Had chili, apples, oranges and chocolate for lunch. Do we know how to handle an emergency or what? ~ J, T, L, and G

IMG_7853The hike was to continue along the North Country / Finger Lakes Trail back to Coon Run Road. We got a bit of a false start, but eventually found the blazes.  When many trees have tufts of fluffy snow stuck to the bark, a white blaze can be hard to find.

There is a feeling of peace and comfort that I get every time I hike the trails at Allegany – but especially when I’m on a ridge that gives me a view over a valley to another hill beyond.  It’s like I’m in a big cradle or being hugged by huge unseen arms.

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And what is it about shadows on sparkling snow that I feel obliged to photograph?

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I hope this first hike of 2014 is just the beginning of many hikes this year!

Happy New Year!

This I Believe

I delivered this talk at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Jamestown today.

This I Believe

I have long been a fan of the NPR series “This I Believe.”  I admire the people who can so eloquently and so succinctly put their beliefs into words.  And I have long wanted to write my own “This I Believe” essay.  The problem is, I have always struggled with knowing exactly what it is I believe!

Last spring, I rented a cabin at Allegany and went with my dog to hike, to take pictures, to write, to be alone with my thoughts.  One of my goals was to write my essay.  I figured the solitude would afford me the time and space to focus and get this essay written once and for all.

It was a nice idea.  I struggled and struggled and gave up, choosing instead to enjoy my hikes with the dog.

A couple of months later, Dick and Joyce Rose approached me about doing a talk for the UUC.  I said sure and told them I’d get back to them with a title and description. After a little thought, I picked “This I Believe” as my title, because there’s nothing like a deadline to get a project done!  Am I right?

And so I continued to struggle…  I struggled with semantics.  I looked up the definitions of belief, believe, faith, and so on.  I had philosophical discussions with family, friends, my dog and myself about the difference between belief and faith and my fascination with sentences that began with “I believe in…” and “I believe that…”

Belief:  acceptance of something as true.

Faith:  unquestioning belief.

I believe in God.  What does that mean?  What is god?  What does it mean to believe IN something?  Just accept it as true?  If I’m going to accept that God is “true” then I would need to know what God is and that seems pretty unknowable so…

How about beginning the sentence with “I believe that…”  I’d be forced to be clearer about what I believe:  I believe that the concept of God is a comforting idea to many people…  Oh dear… now isn’t that just too intellectually and spiritually unsatisfying?

When all the conversations and reflection led nowhere, and all the thinking and writing led nowhere, I’d hike.  And take pictures.  And I’d hear myself uttering a simple phrase over and over.

Oh my god, this is so beautiful.

I realized that of all possible combinations of words – that is the phrase I voice more than any other.

Oh my god, this is so beautiful.

Now, when I am trying to get to know someone, I listen to what they say and I watch what they do.  I pay attention to the choices they make.  Why not use this same strategy to get to know myself better.  In other words, might I discover my own beliefs by reflecting on each word in this phrase that I use so often?  Couldn’t hurt to try.

Let’s start with “Oh.”

Oh

I am awakened from a temporary slumber and reminded to pay attention.  Oh.  I am surprised and delighted by something I’m just now noticing.  Oh.  Stop thinking and just be present, why don’t you?  Oh.  Wow.

Oh my…

My

Not your.  Not his.  Not her.  Not their.  Not our.  My.  This is my experience and no other’s.  This is mine.  I can attempt to share it with you, my hiking partner, by pointing it out.  Or I can try to capture it in a picture and share it with you later.  But whatever you get from my telling or my showing is (a) second hand, and (b) your experience, not mine.  This is mine.  The thing that made me say “Oh” – it’s mine.  All mine.

Oh my god…

God

“God” is an unlikely word for a self-proclaimed atheist to utter.  For me, there is no god, at least not the kind that can be thought of as a person with whom one has prayerful conversations.  But when I am awe-struck, I invoke the name of god.  Perhaps it is because there is a sensation that is as difficult to describe as is god.  Sometimes it is a feeling of connectedness.  Sometimes it is an appreciation of creation and the wonder of it all.  It is a losing of my sense of self – which seems like a contradiction to what I just said about the word “my”.  Still, it is MY loss of self – my blending with the universe.

Oh my god, this…

This

This stuff that is all around me.  When I’m hiking, “this” is the scene that surrounds me – the canopy overhead, the trail beneath my feet, the air I am breathing, the colors and contours I am seeing, the sounds that come from around me and in me.  “This” might be a rolling landscape or a tiny patch of moss on a log, a gushing creek full of snow melt and run-off or a tiny spring flower.

Admittedly, I tend to whisper this phrase most often when I am hiking – surrounded by the natural world.  But I have used it in other situations as well, or at least I have had the same sensation in other situations that causes me to say the phrase.  I still remember a live performance of Les Liaisons Dangereuses that Bob and I saw in London in January of 1989 that had this effect on me.  When the show was over, we sat for several minutes, unable to move because the experience had been so intense.

I’ve been in touch with “this” at certain movies, standing before certain paintings or sculptures in art galleries, at parties given to honor someone, while listening to music, watching dancers, or reading a book.  Heck, I’ve even felt this way while watching TV – and sometimes it’s during the commercials!  “This” thing that makes me say “oh” can creep up on me at any time, in any moment.  And when it does – bam – I am fully present.

Which leads me to IS.  Oh my god, this is…

Is

Not was.  Not will be.  Is.  Now.  This moment.  Thoughts of the past are gone.  There is no anticipation of the future.  In these awe-struck moments, I am fully present.  Right here.  Right now.  As I stand or sit and revel in the moment, past and future disappear, as does any feeling of separateness. I’m connected. If it’s a hiking moment, I’m not just viewing the scene, I’m not just in the scene; I am the scene, and the scene is me.  If it’s a theatrical moment, I feel fully a part of the experience – audience and actors creating a kind of unity – a oneness.

Oh my god, this is SO…

So

Beyond “very.”  More intense than “most.”  To the extreme.  I am overwhelmed by the degree.

Oh my god, this is so beautiful.

Beautiful

It’s more than visual.  When I am hiking and I stop to appreciate beauty and say “Oh my god, this is so beautiful,” I am awash with sensation.  Sight.  Sound.  Smell.  Touch.  I can close my eyes and the scene is no less beautiful.  The way the wind slides through branches and leaves, the songs of birds and frogs and chipmunks and squirrels, the way my boots make rustling noises in the dried leaves or squishing noises in the mud, or the sound of my skis gliding through the snow.  Aromas like fresh air, or decaying leaves, the musty smell where foxes and coyotes have marked their territories.  The roughness or smoothness of the bark on the tree I lean on, the feel of the air – dry or moist, warm or cool – on my skin.  It’s a full sensory experience.

The word “beautiful” can be applied to an object that can be seen and touched – paintings, photographs, sculptures, animals, people, landscapes, flowers.  The word can be applied also to intangible things like speeches, movies or live performances, music, bird songs.  Acts of kindness or compassion can be beautiful, as can the conversation that accompanies a delicious meal.  Beauty can be found even in death and decomposition, rust and decay, aging and oxidation.

There is a whole philosophical area of study called aesthetics that concerns itself with matters of beauty.  I looked up the definition of aesthetic and found the 4th definition under adjective to be my favorite:

“pertaining to, involving, or concerned with pure emotion and sensation as opposed to pure intellectuality”

Beauty, in this sense, is not in the eye of the beholder, but in her heart.  Recognition of the beautiful is full-sensory and emotional, not intellectual.

Oh my god, this is so beautiful.

This I believe…

OK, so now I have reflected on this phrase, this mantra of mine.  I’ve gone through it word by word considering each most carefully.  Where does it leave me?  Am I any closer to being ready to write my essay?  Maybe…  Let’s see.

Must be I believe in beauty?  No.  Too vague.  Sounds like I believe that beauty surrounds us, but we often neglect to notice because we are distracted by memories of the past and anticipation of the future.  Sounds like I believe that recognition of beauty is an emotional exercise, not an intellectual one.

I think I’m getting closer.

There are, of course, guidelines at the This I Believe website.  Here’s what you’re supposed to do:

  1. Tell a story: Be specific. Take your belief out of the ether and ground it in the events of your life. Consider moments when belief was formed or tested or changed. Think of your own experience, work, and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut-wrenching—it can even be funny—but it should be real. Make sure your story ties to the essence of your daily life philosophy and the shaping of your beliefs.
  2. Be brief: Your statement should be between 350 and 500 words. That’s about three minutes when read aloud at your natural pace.
  3. Name your belief: If you can’t name it in a sentence or two, your essay might not be about belief. Also, rather than writing a list, consider focusing on one core belief, because three minutes is a very short time.
  4. Be positive: Please avoid preaching or editorializing. Tell us what you do believe, not what you don’t believe. Avoid speaking in the editorial “we.” Make your essay about you; speak in the first person.
  5. Be personal: Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. We recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak.  (Click here for source.)

I’m getting there.  But, I think I still have some work to do.

Oh my god, this – even this – this trying to articulate what I believe – even this is so beautiful.