Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Another overnight deluge, hammering the roof, the windows in the intensity of its watery sweep across our landscape. Morning rain as well, more desultory, less emphatic, but still very wet. Finally, a sky canvass that promised an end to the rain, enabling us to embark on our regular ravine walk. The ravine, needless to emphasize, was about as sodden as it could be. The clay that comprises the 'soil' of the ravine is not very good at absorbing inordinate amounts of rain. The creek is, however, and it rushed muddy sweeps and eddies down its length, cascading over logs and waterfalling loudly, spilling over accumulated creek detritus.

Unlike last week's extreme heat, this day was cool, and windy. We set out with our two little dogs, and wearing rainjackets, just in case. Just in case didn't eventuate, but splinters of sun did, illuminating discrete areas of the trail, through the rain-soaked trees. Wind did bring down droplets unceasingly upon us, but that was just fine.

Everything was etched in bright elemental colours, the atmosphere itself completely drenched, as much as the flora. Cowvetch that I so painstakingly pluck from our gardens, grows here with a true sense of entitlement. Rampant, over every other growing thing, its ladder-like leafy vine, an echo of its purple flowers tracing a like pattern.

The hawkweed, fleabane, daisies, bedding grasses have become brighter than ever, moistened by the unrelenting rain, encouraged to exhibit themselves with ever greater insouciance, trailing along the edges of the trail. And their sweet fragrance is enhanced, enveloping us as we slowly proceed.

The pine needles that festoon the trail and the forest floor have been transformed in brightness of colour to a startling orange. Suffocating vines with tiny green heart-shaped leaves roil and thrust themselves over all the undergrowth, reminiscent of the Japan-originated kudzu that strangles shrubs and trees on highways all over the South-Eastern United States. Every eradication program that has been initiated has been in vain; nothing appears capable of forestalling the advance of kudzu. Itself a beautiful plant with large dark green glossy leaves. Edible as well, in Japan.

Meadow rue growing in two separate clumps beside one of the creek's tributaries has begun to bloom, sending out its delicate white clusters of tiny flowerets. False Solomon's Seal has started its green berries on the way to becoming red. Before we know it, we'll be able to pick red, ripe thimbleberries from the clumps now flowering their bright pink shade of beauty. A large young, curious and friendly Rottweiler tumbles happily toward us. A teen-aged boy on a cellphone following soon afterward.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Thunderous Applause

So much for complaining about the heat and the lack of moisture. From my complaining maw to nature’s cherubic sense of humour; did we ever get rain! Without any warning whatever the skies collapsed and rioted sending oceanic waves over us, before we even realized what was happening, last night. And here we thought it was merely a locomotive coming through the area, sans track.

Our senses were so dulled with relaxing after a day's busyness, that rain swept through half of the breakfast room before we sprang to attention, belatedly shutting the sliding doors, racing upstairs to deal with the windows. Result: rain aplenty as it continued to pour for hours. I’d been speaking with my daughter who lives an hour west of us when the rain hit here; she was describing the drenching they’d had hours before.

And on Monday, same thing; our granddaughter told me at four that it was pouring there, while we were still drenched in sunshine, and two, three hours later there was one !boom! And instantly down came the deluge. Not complaining about lack of rain any more, understandably. Not that we were in drought conditions, but that given the high humidity and day after day of temperature highs in the 30s, rain would bring relief.

The creek in the ravine is responding to the deluge, running high and burbling over all the detritus that has collapsed into it, especially from the sides that have caved in, the last few years. By the time we got into the ravine, though, it was semi-cloudy, steamy, with sun peeking out now and again, and although everything was drenched, all the flowering plants looked dreadfully pleased with their bath.

Cinquefoil with its softly pale yellow is more in evidence now, and pink clover flowering, a powerhouse of size and colour beside the paler, smaller white clover. American bittersweet is winding its coils around tree trunks and any other tall-growing shrubbery. The fragrance of the bedding grasses is almost overwhelming, sweetly enveloping us by the side of the trail. Daisies, buttercups, hawkweed and fleabane flaunt their summertime splendour.

Amazingly, we've already discovered some tiny flashes of red close to the ground. Raspberries, not strawberries, growing low in tiny plants, much like the mostly non-productive ground blackberries that cluster in the shade under pines that lazily produce one or two little berries of a season. The thimbleberries, with their large bright pink flowers will mature into thumb-size edible red caps in time, and the shrub blackberries now flowering in profusion will produce fruit as well.

Damselflies disported themselves over the roiling creek, seeking out insect prey. We applauded their efforts and spurred them on to greater ambitions, as we swatted those dratted tiny black mosquitoes that love to delve deep into our tender flesh. I'd put on some of Avon's after-bath oil to dissuade them and I'm convinced it works, but they're blood-thirstily determined and get to me through the thin layers of clothing worn in this summertime heat.

Song sparrows and robins and cardinals sing sweetly aloft, their songs following us from one point in our roundabout trek to another. The robins no doubt delighted that the soil everywhere is completely drenched, bringing up earthworms for their delectation. It never ceases to amaze us, the fire-engine red of the berries developed so early in the season, by the red baneberry plants, their bright insouciance belying their deadly potential.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Our Gazebo'd Deck

It was an interesting day, but then we find all days to be interesting to a good extent. Our morning ravine walk was slightly different, our tight little group increased by one. Ten minutes into our hour hike there, behind us, was a young man who lives down the street and who obviously meant to accompany us. He's a nice young man, and we've known him for more than half his life, and he's now in his early 20s. He suffers from arrested development, but he does very well for himself.

Developmentally delayed, he will never 'catch up' to most young people his age, in physical agility, let alone mental proficiency, but he does pass muster. He understands things very well, is able to articulate plainly and with a very wide vocabulary. One has the impression that he mimics what he has heard, making what he says sound more reasonable than one might anticipate. But that's not entirely true, since he responds intelligently to verbal prods.

His physical awkwardness, his lack of co-ordination does make things dicey for him. He has had gainful employment in the past, while he was attending school. He was given clean-up jobs at places like Wendy's and McDonald's and he was hired to work at summer camps operated by the "Y" on a number of occasions. When he is employed he tends to boast about how much his work is appreciated, and more, about his remuneration.

What he can possibly anticipate as a normal working function is questionable. He does like being around people, and no longer attending school, and not gainfully employed, he's at loose ends. He hangs around neighbourhood children all significantly younger than himself, and that often presents as a problem. During our walk he ambled along with us, talking all the while, obviously appreciating the opportunity to be doing something with someone.

When he was younger he used sometimes to accompany us on our walks. He does tend to go off the rails on occasion, when he attempts to impress younger children, and they, somewhat more clever than he, and teasingly mischievous, enjoying the novelty of manipulating someone older than them, and relatively innocent of underhanded design, will dare him, or put him up to doing things he should not. Then when he's found out he becomes enraged and isn't beyond using his superior physical strength to strike out at them.

Much as we like to be helpful, it was a relief to finally bid him adieu. And turn our attention to other things. Me, to do some gardening, and my husband to complete his installation of the gazebo on our backyard deck. The gazebo will help immeasurably to cut back on the day-time heat when the sun shines heavily there, heating things up uncomfortably, even to the extent of making the deck floorboards too hot to walk upon barefoot. The installation of the gazebo will mean we can sit out in comfort, despite full sun.

In the gardens I was pleased to note that my favourite yellow rosebush has finally begun flowering; the colour is brilliant and fresh, adding flare to the overall colour in that particular flowerbed. I had acquired a flat of small bright yellow marigolds, and busied myself planting them here and there. And carefully picked baby red-leafed heuchera out of the cracks between the brick pavers on the patio where the parent-plant seeds fell, and they began growing, re-locating them to bare spots in the garden.

When I ventured into the backyard to continue working in the gardens there, I was astonished to discover that my husband had managed to secure the canopy over the gazebo without assistance. We're more than a little pleased with the results of his having thought up this idea. It's practical, attractive and will enable us to take greater pleasure sitting out in leisure hours on the deck.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Night-time Gardens



Technology is quite wonderful. As it pertains, in this instance, to photography. And digital cameras. What an amazing advance in picture-taking the digital camera and all its amazing technical attributes represents. At one time to take really quality photographs one had to be inducted into the mystery of light and speed and now, picture-taking is no longer an arcane presentation, one shared by too few, in the production of excellent 'snap' shots, staged and also spontaneous mementos.

Most people took photographs to commemorate events in their lives, whether it was their children growing up, or family vacations, or anniversaries, or any of the number of other situations that people wanted to have a stable photographic reminder of to sustain memories grown faint with time. Not that much skill was required to produce these rather ordinary, albeit to the amateur photographer, extraordinary milestones in one's life. It was left to the deft capabilities and knowledge of professionals to produce extraordinary photos.

And now, anyone can compete with the once-outstanding work of professional photographers. People with few skills but with the advantage of having a digital camera, or a cellphone with a camera are capable of taking photographs and even short videos of events personally memorable, and alternately, newsworthy, if they happen to be in the right place at the right time. Posting one's photographs on the Internet means also that others coursing the Web can see the work of absolute strangers.

And for some people, the advantages of owning and using a tiny, discreet digital camera means they are able to document people and places and events never before imagined. And this includes of course, scenes and landscapes that others might not be particularly interested in, but which are of moment to the photographer. For some, like the writer of this blog, it has meant taking photographs of my garden.

Gardening provides one with a sensual pleasure, along with the pleasure of connecting, year after year, with the fundamental aspects of life; our very primitive and needful reminder of quite importance to us as human beings. We cannot be too removed from nature. We should not imagine ourselves to be. We should be able to reflect and to celebrate on our dependence on nature, and at the same time our self-reliance, using what nature has enabled us to take advantage of.

Although we have travelled far in time from our primal past when we were of necessity close to all things natural and used what we could to protect our immediate environment from the elements we could not control, and learned to recognize and make the most of edible and otherwise useful crops, we still have an innate need to find satisfaction in dabbling in the medium of vegetative growth, admiring the wonderful creations of nature.

We derive immediate and profound satisfaction from so doing. And my camera has enabled me to document the results of my paltry attempts at gardening on a small city lot, in all seasons, all weathers and all times of day and night.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer's Early Garden






Thought for certain we'd get rain today to wash away a week of 30-degree temperatures. We aren't interested in watering our lawn, which is looking pretty dim, yellow instead of bright green. Once you start watering, the lawn expects it. It has to make do with what summertime weather allots it; anything else is a waste. We can see watering the garden beds, the garden pots, but certainly not the lawn. We had a whole two minutes' worth of lackadaisical rain just as we were emerging from the ravine, this morning.

And this afternoon, while Irving was putting up the steel posts and overhead beams of a gazebo that he had bought for our deck, and I was down below in the back garden weeding, trimming, watering the pots, the sky got dark, thunder boomed overhead, and we got all anticipatory. And then. Nothing. The rain must have gone somewhere, but not here. There were a few more events of dark sky, threatening clouds and thunder, but it was all show and no-show.

On the positive side, all the bits and pieces of the gazebo have been put together, and it's standing nicely on the deck, not to be screwed into place until the top has been assembled and put on, and that'll wait for tomorrow some time. Since the new deck was tinted and weather-proofed, rain tends to pool on the floor boards, rather than be absorbed. The result of which, without a full sun day following a heavy rain, the pooled rain sits there. Unintended consequences.

Another one of which is that although the tinting is a light shade of brown, it might just as well be charcoal grey, since the effect of the sun full on the deckboards is to cook them to a degree most uncomfortable on bare feet. And if it's too hot for our bare feet, then it's most certainly too uncomfortably hot for the pads of our little dogs' feet. Just as, now that the driveway too has had its annual 'painting' the slick black surface gets extremely hot in the sun, no longer an inviting surface for little Riley to lay on soaking up the sun.

Lots going on in the gardens. Rose mallow is beginning to take the place of the blue and the white Canterbury bells. The poppies are finished, but mountain bluet is now in bloom. And while the irises have completed their bloom for this summer, the lilies are swiftly taking their place. Clematis vines are finally putting out their flower buds and a few have begun to open, large blue and also purple flowers, quite lovely. The tree peonies have finished, their huge luscious blooms spent, but the other peonies are in full bloom and fragrance; red, white, pink and hot pink.

As for the roses, oh the roses, they're rampantly blooming, so many blooms on each of the climbers they're uncountable. And gorgeous. The pink, the red, and particularly yellow roses give us great pleasure in the generosity of their abundance. Finally, I've cut back the bleeding hearts, those huge, overgrown bushes with their pendant pink-on-pink blooms. And cut back the spent-flowering stalks of the bergenia. Everything in the garden is lush and texturally pleasing, fragrant and beautiful.

Winter's fond dream of summer's form and colour become reality.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer Is Here


It has been hot, hot, hot the last few days. Temperatures in the 30s, with wide blue skies and a searing sun. We know that once we're in the ravine, dipped down in there from street level, the prevailing atmosphere will not be quite so heat-locked, there will be relief from the baking sun.

All the greenery down there helps, immeasurably. The green canopy, for one thing, shielding us from the cloudless sky, the transpiration of the trees, even the water in the creek, though it's at a low ebb right now.

We see the occasional dragonfly, with iridescent green body, flitting about looking for the kind of prey we applaud their appetite for. But there appear to be scant few mosquitoes about, today. Perhaps they too prefer to avoid the searing heat. Perhaps the last storm we had washed their larvae out of the standing water they make their early presence in.

Damsel flies too are in evidence, with their black winds and fabulously bright iridescent blue bodies, decorating the landscape.

It's so hot that the driveway, which we'd had newly finished several months ago, and is still glittering black, is hot enough to burn the pads off our little dogs' feet. So we heft them along to the entrance of the ravine, a short trek up the street.

It's hot enough that even the road surface is unbearable. Hot to the touch, and burning to bare little-dog paws. When we deposit them on the ground preparatory to delving into the ravine we're assured they won't suffer any heat trauma.

But they're panting anyway. We used to take water along for them, but found they would refuse it in any event, until we arrived back home. So for the hour that we're in the ravine, they manage without.

Once we're in there, it's measurably cooler. There's a slight breeze, and that helps, but even without that the cooler night temperature lowered the collected heat from the days previous, and it's in fact, quite pleasant.

The dogs begin their usual browse, sniffing about, and dawdling while we make our way swiftly downhill. Me, to begin the first deposits of peanuts, a daily ritual. One that I know quite a number of the wildlife prowl about, waiting for. I'm convinced that a few of the squirrels, both black and red, recognize our voices and connect them to the largess left behind.

Simply because, all too often, we find them there, lingering at the base of trees where I always leave a handful of peanuts. At the beginning of our daily jaunt, at the very base of the first hill, there's a huge old pine, and under it I begin leaving peanuts. And on our return, an hour later, I leave a few more, because the original deposit will have been taken. Invariably, a tiny red squirrel will be there, impatiently awaiting the initial deposit. And there, again, haunting the base of the tree, until we return.

This day there are no birds in evidence but robins, lots of them. And we see the fragility of a robin's egg, impossibly Kodachrome blue and shattered. The ravine is a cornucopia of wildflowers now. Joining the buttercups, daisies and hawk weed now are cinquefoil, cowslips, pink clover, cow vetch, flea bane and anemones. Aromatic bedding grasses are now in bloom sending their scent everywhere we walk along the trail. Blackberries and raspberries and thimble berries are now in bloom, as well.

There is a rain of browned pine needles, and small tan seeds scattering everywhere on the forest floor, carried by the wind from their heights. As we proceed I leave peanuts in holes in tree trunks, in crotches, on bridge rails, confident they will all be discovered and devoured. They are placed, in fact, in routine places along our route. Places - caches, which squirrels and chipmunks and birds have long since discovered, and return to, to claim their booty.

We revel in the additional relief of the occasional, stray breeze that has miraculously made its way through the trees to refresh us as we amble along. Down there, in the ravine, the temperature begins to seem reasonable, bearing scant resemblance to what we'll encounter once again as we ascend on our return trip.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

16 June 2009, Waterville Valley, N.H.


Heavily overcast again, when we left in the morning. Packing mostly accomplished the night before. No rush to leave, although there was plenty of last-minute activity, mostly Irving loading up the car, as I ensured we'd forgotten nothing and prepared our separate Thermos containers of tea and coffee, and put together our 'brunch'; egg salad sandwiches for him, peanut butter and pear jam for me. Bananas and nectarines completed the movable feast.

A moderate wind in evidence, to shift around the clouds. Not enough force there in the wind to nudge the car as we'd experienced a week earlier. We passed the gas station, convenience store where we would stop each morning to pick up the Boston Globe. Traffic light, as it would be, until we'd gain the outskirts of Montreal.

The highways we take, inter-state, between New Hampshire and Vermont, are wide, smooth and bereft of significant use. The wide panoramic views we enjoy are breathtakingly spectacular. The encircling mountain heights, the deep forested green marching up hillsides, mist rising sporadically from valleys below. Clouds shifting, changing shape as they billow and spread, a dark layer above lighter wafting below present their own striking heavenly panorama.

Hawks, and turkey vultures crest effortlessly, gliding on the upper-air currents. Crows relentlessly beset by angry blackbirds, desperately attempt to evade their significantly smaller tormentors, fuelled by the pique of territoriality.

On the medians luxuriant patches of bright purple, pink, and mauve lupines thrive. Along with the white of daisies, sun-bright buttercups. Startling-pink clover, orange and also yellow hawkweed complete nature's late-spring conceit.

We pass small towns, with their community fairgrounds, their churches and gas stations popping up here and there along the way, asserting humanity's need to bisect nature's landscape with grey ribbons of concrete. Farms march up gently sloped hillsides, their orderly planted fields and silos beside old barns setting the stage for cattle grazing contentedly in fields as we slip by.

When we reached the border we were met by a Canada Border agent whose demeanor was professional without indulging in the kind of obnoxious officiousness we're assaulted by through the affected mannerisms of U.S. agents. The list that Irving always remembers to painstakingly compile, with receipts appended detailing our purchases never fails to expedite our passage. He was, after all, a customs agent himself, back in the misty time of his early employment with the federal government.

And, in a peculiar reversal of weather, the sky was increasingly devoid of clouds, blue appearing with astonishing rapidity, reflecting our experience precisely one week earlier when massive rainfall dissolved into calm overcast as we crossed into the States. Oddly, on our return home neighbours informed us that the entire week of our absence was marked by inordinately cool weather, but dry, with ample sun. While we had experienced day after day in the White Mountains, of incessant rain.

The rest stop we used just over the Stanstead border crossing was every bit as welcome, as well tended and accoutered for the comfort of travellers as its Vermont counterpart. The sole exception being Quebec does not see the necessity of extending the courtesy of English translations, in contrast to Vermont's efforts on behalf of travellers.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

15 June 2009, Waterville Valley, N.H.


Serendipitous sighting; a young doe, complacently foraging beside the road, close to the thrusting waters of the Mad River. Must have been a yearling. Small, muscular, graceful, tawny and busily lunching. The surrounding mountains well draped in a low cloud cover, white shades of mist relentlessly rising as the forest aspirates its excess of rain. Rain fell in a delicately light drizzle.

Earlier, on the highway in the Franconia Notch, the panorama of the surrounding mountains, the puffed clouds, ragged and darker now and again presented an ethereality of mountain heights nudging the atmosphere we call sky. At the elevation of the Notch, and the provocation of peaks needling moisture-laden cloud formations, the inevitable resulted. No mere cloudbursts here, but a relentlessly steady rain. Grey skies, grey atmosphere. Swirling fog patches obscuring the mountainsides. There would be no clearing opportunity, that much was clear.

Last night's heavy rain that had lifted to grey overcast by mid-day elsewhere in the Waterville Valley translated to aquarium conditions at the Notch. Forget a hike there, alas. We proposed, nature unheedingly disposed. Nothing, however, lost in the transaction. The spectacular landscapes and breathtaking views simply enhanced in another way, seen through a different lens, one that, oddly, magnified rather than detracted.

We drove, of necessity, back to where we had left a lighter sky of hovering, not yet provoked, rain. Purple lupines, pink and mauve phlox, and white daisies poked their bold colours through the dull light. A dun-hued hawk flew across the face of the forest. Yellow, and bright orange hawkweed interspersed with yarrow insisted on notice.

On the trail our boots squelched through the sodden leaf mass. Lichen glowed silvery on beech trunks and branches. Beds of extravagant mosses luxuriate in this incessant damp they thrive in. Grey-green mosses like miniature ferns pack the trunk of a venerable maple, its heavily ridged bark a foil for the brilliantly-positioned moss-ferns.

A thunderstorm of raging waters descends the mountainside in the rioting creek, stridently draining the mountain of fresh-fallen rain, night after night. The creek drains the heights, sending an unending volley of cascading water down slopes, slapping and hurtling on boulders, sending spray up, frothing the surface, assertively tumbling, roaring its celebration of life's unending cycle.

We hike uphill, boots slipping on drenched tree roots, pale yellow shale bits scattering as we slip upward. A white-throat sings a paean to the day, its long trill of exuberant joy infusing our sensibilities with a deeper insight of all we survey, with a quiet sense of privilege to be there in this place, at this time. Every green living thing glistens and gleams, colours intensified, from the glare-white of birch trunks, to the emerald of ferns.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

14 June 2009, Waterville Valley, N.H.


In a clearing of an otherwise heavily-forested area, three wild turkeys. They are large, dark, cumbersomely awkward fowl, no grace about these birds, but it is pleasing to see them, complacent in their environment, heedless of passing traffic, nearby. This is the third time in several days we've seen small flocks of turkeys, in various parts of the Waterville Valley. Nice to know they're around in respectable numbers. All such sightings are pleasing; in all our years travelling and hiking in the area we've rarely seen much in the way of wildlife. Last year's sighting of a young black bear was a first in over thirty years of sporadic weeks' hiking in the area.

It's also nice to see the small grey donkeys in their enclosure; domesticated animals have their place in our bestiary of appreciative appearances. They are stationed on a small plot of cleared land beside their owners' rustic home. Not quite the same as encountering the presence of animals in the wild, existing on their own inherited capabilities in their natural environment, but appreciated, nonetheless.

Viewing them satisfies a primitive need, an assurance we're scarcely aware of. It's exciting to see airborne vultures, hawks, great blue herons, coasting the prevailing winds. The vultures are not so attractive up close, on a highway, pecking at road-kill carcasses, to be sure. But they have their place in nature's scheme, the ultimate recycling scheme. Even chipmunks, scurrying about their business gathering nuts and seeds, and red squirrels, in these woods, scolding our presence on their territory, gives us great pleasure.

This has been a week destined to deliver us one day after another of extraordinary weather events. In sheer rain volume alone, extraordinary. But the weather can turn on a dime - or in any event, on nature's whim and consent - and a day heavy with rain following hard on a night of wildly pounding rain and brutal winds, can often eventuate into an afternoon confused with the sudden appearance of blue gaps in the banks of clouds. Then, the damp, cool atmosphere speedily morphs into a warm, muggy one, heated by the resolutely emerging sun.

And so it was that we were enabled to pull over, haul hiking boots and raingear out of the car trunk and set off for a too-brief foray into a forested mountain trail. The ground steaming where errant sun rays penetrated the canopy to focus on drenched detritus. Black flies eager to dine out on our tender flesh. We are drawn off the trail to approach closer to the mountain stream, its distant chatter transformed to a thunderous roar as the creek hurtled itself foaming and thrashing over boulders stream throughout its downward path.

Lush mosses luxuriate in this perfect atmosphere coddling their needs. the mosses often resembling infinitesimally tiny forests, sending up minuscule blooms. Lilies of the valley are profligate in their belled splendour in their miniature world on the forest floor. Ferns plume the understory. Dogwoods reach beyond the floor to ineffectually emulate the hemlock and spruce. The curling exfoliation of giant yellow birches host silver lichen. The night's wind and rain have brought down stubborn, long-dead tree limbs, now littering the underbrush, the trail; shelf-fungi dislodged, bereft of their host, deprived of purpose.

A thrush sings sweetly within the near depths of the dripping forest. Generations of forest compost miraculously absorbed these moisture-laden days of unrelenting rain, making the trails soft and moist, not mushy, underfoot. Our olfactory senses are overtaken by the sublime fragrance of some forest emanation. Smells like luscious ripe berries, like some goddess of nature's kitchen rendering strawberries, raspberries, blackberries into a splendid, jammy spread.

Our little dogs, happy and excited to finally be released from the confines of the car, rush about sniffing, snuffling, pawing, nibbling fresh strands of grass. Has it begun raining again, we wonder, or is that just the wind shaking the rain-excess from the trees overhead?

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

13 June 2009, Waterville Valley, N.H.


Sun, and more sun, heating up the atmosphere, promising a rain-free day. Some high, white billowing clouds innocent of intent beyond enhancing the beauty of the blue sky. In the mountains, however, one can never tell. Best to pack some minimal rain gear.

It's a Saturday and Welch-Dickey a popular destination. Sunday is forecasted for heavy rain, beginning Saturday night. All-day Sunday rain, no mere occasional cloudbursts. And Monday? Rain. Make trail while the sun shines. So we did. The parking lot held more vehicles than we normally see, but was nowhere near as full as we have seen it in the past on a week-end.

The circuit, up Welch, over the coll to Dickey, then down Dickey and out through the forest can be done in an average time of 3-1/2 hours for the young and the fit. Which we used to do handily, with the children, coming in well under time. That was then. In the last few years it has taken us between 4-1/2 to 5 hours to do the circuit. Mostly my pace, having to stop often, needing to take the ascent slowly.

Riley too is slow. Like me. Unlike my husband, whose stamina, energy level and lung capacity does not yet reflect our chronological age of 72. Or Button, still nimble and active, at 16. As a team, we do very well, however.

At the trailhead, which rises rapidly, we turn to the right, to ascend toward Welch. The fork to the left rises through the extravagantly-treed forest, up to Dickey. Dickey is taller by several hundred fee than Welch. We have, in the past, climbed from left to right, but prefer the right-to-left circuit. At the inception, several hundred yards on, one must cross the mountain stream where the interrupted trail carries on. This year the stream is rampant, full from the week's rain, rushing with a roar of triumph over normally-dry rocks that sit in the stream over which one fords to the opposite side.

We picked little Riley up, knowing he would be fearful of the wildly onrushing water, but figured that normally-intrepid, water-loving Button would manage on her own. Wrong. Not that she did not make the attempt. When Irving first, carrying Riley, made it across, then me, we looked back to witness Button in distress. She had slipped sideways off the largest of the rocks, and the swollen stream was washing her rear legs relentlessly into the stream while she kept attempting to haul herself back onto the rock where her two front paws still held firm. It was a losing battle.

We both turned back, but I was in the lead, reached her and scooped her up in my arms, her body drenched. Good thing she likes water. Good thing the ambient temperature was nudging 65 degrees. She was fine, recovered her aplomb, her independent spirit undaunted. Shook herself, then pitched forward into the continued ascent. We strode uphill alongside the stream, its sound filling the air, flushing down the mountain side. Lots of photographic material there; the occasional small waterfall, when the sound became magnified and frantically beat the air.

The understory of ferns, dogwood and moose maple. And seedlings of hemlock, spruce, pine and fir. blue beech, pock-marked and filled in with moss. Beech trunks, favoured by black bear cubs, leaving the patterns of their clawed ascents on the indelible-marked smooth, grey bark. There are old gnarled, lichen-clad oak, and again, bafflingly, we observe the presence of acorns on the ground. Hear red squirrels bitterly scolding from their posts. And woodland thrushes, singing throughout the forest.

The trail is tortured by old tree roots, increasingly exposed. Some with deadly, foot-grabbing loops for the unwary. In some areas, yellow sand is exposed, sharp tiny bits of gravel, crushed underfoot. Rocks and cut old tree trunks wrestled into place along the trail to form notional 'stairs'. The area is so sodden, rich black muck stands on the trail, so we sink into its gooey presence. Riley, an apricot toy, suddenly acquires fashionable black boots. Button, a black miniature poodle, does not mind the cooling effect of the wet, dark muck in her paws.

We see woodland violets here and there, bright purple. And a richness of wood sorrel, with fiery red tiny berries. Chickadees call from the woods beyond. And we catch sight of a pair of flycatchers, lovely little birds, as beautiful as the chickadees and their symbiotic nuthatches. The dogwoods are past their bloom oddly, the fruit beginning to form. Time has felled huge old yellow birches, resting on the forest floor. Which time also will transform to rotted humus, to further enrich the growing medium.

We are shielded from the sun by the generous canopy of the forest. Mosquitoes and black flies evidence themselves; still they are a minimal nuisance, more for their irritating presence than stinging/biting intent. There presents a series of small switchbacks over rain- and creek-fed tributaries. National Forest volunteers have obviously been working tirelessly to increase the numbers of trail ditches whereby the rain excess can be runnelled off, to spare the trails from further erosion.

We attempt, as much as possible, to avoid the worst depths of muck, not always with success; there is so much of it. A passing group of young hikers is dismayed at the morass. One young woman remarks tartly that the trail is anything but neat and tidy as she and her companions tread nimbly onward. We, sturdily and slowly, wend our way upward, by-passing protuberant roots, slippery logs. As we gained height we moved closer to the stream, and then away from its vicinity again, the sounds of its furious gurgling absorbed by the forest, receding, fading. Then we could hear chickadees again calling from the forest interior.

Soon there were no longer still scenes of dappled sunlight on the monochromatic green screen, as clouds overtook the blue. White, light and all-encompassing, high winds shoving them along, glimpsed now and again as we stopped to rest, to muster our energies to continue. This push to achieve merely the height of the overlook after all, represented only the first one-quarter of the entire circuit. One we had used to complete expeditiously, invigorated by the process, not fatigued by it, as we felt now.

On the other hand, it is invigorating for us to be there, in that environment, to share the pleasure of the venture, to point out to one another our delight in discovering and rediscovering all those elements of nature and endless guises and surprises that so enrapture us and keep us captive to the pursuit. So we plod on, as gracefully as we are able, then rest, then proceed again. This time, however, having agreed that we will aspire no further than to mount to the overlook. We will leave the balance of that adventure now to younger generations.

By the time we had gained three-quarters of the way our physical equilibrium was well restored. We felt good, confident, glad to be there. The remaining 25% of the uphill advance seemed - and now I recalled from memory - an extraordinary physical challenge. But we and the dogs soon reached the flat granite shelf with its branched-off areas of protected alpine growth, signage urging climbers and trekkers to avoid stepping on the fragile botanical specimens.

A superb photo-taking opportunity. Although I had indeed been taking photos intermittently throughout our ascent. Hunkering down to capture the tiny perfect white flowers of an alpine plant, only to be confronted with a warning on my camera's screen. I had overtaken the storage capacity of my camera. My enthusiasm for indiscriminate photo-taking, entranced and enraptured by all of nature's manifestations and ample presentations too extravagant for the capacity of my indefatigable camera. In steps my Sir Galahad to rescue the day, as is his wont.

With his camera in hand, and mine securely in backpack storage, I snapped away. Sky, cloud formations, mountain backdrop, forest, Ladies slippers, Turkey vultures, boulders. Everything was grist for the mill of the camera. Memory is fine, but it cannot and will not faithfully store still replications of what the brain receives through the eyes of our souls. Cameras, and photographs, are great assists. And useful display totems. Security deposit systems for treasured scenes prompting memory.

We approach the cliff edge, acknowledge the presence of hikers resting before embarking on the real treat of their day's jaunt. There are many, stippling the granite ledge, on the cusp of the edge. Two vultures rise between the vastness of the valley below, in its verdant lushness, the mountains above and beyond. The birds drift apart on their hunting foray; rise and effortlessly ride the wind above the chasm, their wide-winged pinions distinct, their coasting pleasure obvious, recognized, almost felt, by those absorbed in watching them.

Button and Riley are eager to ingratiate themselves with those engrossed in having their packed lunch. Those who encourage them to draw near, those who delight in their presence, who enthuse at the small dogs' rugged resolve to close the distance between the trailhead and the stone ledge, between earth and sky. As we do.

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