“I channel Emma Gatewood…”

emma gatewood“I channel Emma Gatewood when I find a challenging section of trail.” That’s what a fellow hiker said to me during an Appalachian Mountain Club sponsored hike. “Have you heard of her?” continued this 70+ hiker walking beside me. “She hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in sneakers and a skirt at 65 years old. So when I’m hiking a tricky section of the trail I think, ‘If Emma Gatewood could hike this in sneakers and a skirt, I can hike it too.’ ”

He then told me about a recently published book by Ben Montgomery called Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail. I just finished reading it. It turns out she didn’t hike in a skirt, but it makes for a good story. She did thru-hike (hike a long-distance trail end-to-end) the Appalachian Trail (AT) twice, the first time in 1955 at 67-years-old. This achievement made her the first woman to hike the entire trail, from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, 2050 miles. She hiked the AT again in 1960, and again at age 75 in 1963. The completion of these hikes made her the first person to hike the trail three times. Her final hike was completed in sections, and all her hikes were done in sneakers.

appalachian-trail-north-carolina-020-mediumThe reward of Nature

If you’ll go with me to the mountains
And sleep on the leaf carpeted floors
And enjoy the bigness of nature
And the beauty of all out-of-doors,
You’ll find your troubles all fading
And feel the Creator was not man
That made lovely mountains and forests
Which only a Supreme Power can.

When we trust in the Power above
And with the realm of nature hold fast,
We will have a jewel of great price
To brighten our lives till the last.
For the love of nature is healing,
If we will only give it a try
And our reward will be forthcoming,
If we go deeper than what meets the eye.

by Emma “Grandma” Gatewood

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Do you see what I see?

IMG_4747

This is a beautiful spring picture, don’t you think? The bright billowy clouds and their reflection on the water, the lily pads just starting to appear, the red buds on the branches, and the muted tones of the trees at the water’s edge that just hint of the green leaves that will come—it all says SPRING. Yet when I took the picture I didn’t see any of it, I was focused on another sign of spring.

While driving by this scene, my eye was drawn to a small mud flat in the middle of the pond. There was a lot happening on this little island. Eleven turtles were enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun on one of the first warm days of the year.

11 turtles

When I showed my friend Caryn these two images, it reminded her of a film by Ray and Charles Eames. Take a look.

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Take It Outside: Some Sounds of Spring

wood frog
Put on your mud boots and take a walk to a pond, swamp, or vernal pool. Go outside and listen. It’s noisy. The frogs have spent the winter hibernating in the mud and leaves of ponds, swamps, and vernal pools everywhere. They are now awake and calling to each other. In Connecticut we have bull frogs, leopards frogs, wood frogs, tree frogs, pickerel frogs, and everyones favorite spring peepers. Each type of frog has its own call. These calls are used to attract a mate during breeding season and to mark their territory.
These sounds of spring don’t last long. Once the frogs find each other, mate, and lay their eggs they will stop singing. So listen, listen now, listen carefully. Tune into the sounds of spring.

Click and Listen

joyce sidman poem

 

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Friday Photo

It's coming. Spring is near.

It’s coming. Spring is near, very near.

 

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Embrace the Moment

IMG_4235“Mom, you’re not embracing the moment.” Aurora said to me.

This statement was in response to me saying, “You guys are so not fun.”

On a recent snow day, I asked Stephen and Aurora if they would go snowshoeing with me. Mother Nature had kindly given us over a foot of snow and we were able to snowshoe right outside our kitchen door.

I did not make this offer lightly. I knew I was signing up to help find and put on hats, gloves, boots, coats, and snow pants for two children. I would then fasten three pairs of snowshoes on three pairs of feet. My final task would be to choose an attainable destination and cheerlead and referee us to that destination.

“Why would anyone sign up for this?” “Why bother?” “Wouldn’t watching a movie together be easier?” These are questions I ask myself sometimes, and was starting to ask myself, when I said, “You guys are so not fun.”

Stephen, Aurora, and I were heading for either the old foundation or the vernal pool. Both sites are in the woods a short distance up a hill from our backyard. We were at the edge of our yard and starting to make progress in our trip up the hill when Stephen “fell” (sat down) in the snow. Aurora stopped to “help” him up, just as he was getting on his feet, she pushed him back down into the snow. He laughed, she laughed, and I said, “You guys are so not fun.”

IMG_4231At that moment, I had forgotten something important. My grown-up self wanted to go snowshoeing—travel from point A to point B, get some exercise, enjoy the snow, take some pictures, and listen to the quiet of the woods. But that was not what I had signed up for when I asked Stephen, 8 years old and Aurora, 11 years old to go snowshoeing with me. And Aurora reminded me of that when she said “Mom, you are not embracing the moment.” This excursion into the woods was about us spending time in nature, getting Stephen and Aurora more comfortable on snowshoes, and having fun together.

It was clear something needed to change, and it was my expectations. So, I looked up at the snow covered trees, took a deep breath, smiled to myself, and turned around. I met the Stephen and Aurora where they were, back down the trail, sitting in the snow. When I reached them, I sat down in the snow with them. We talked and listened to the birds and the wind. It was fun and peaceful.

IMG_4236After a while, I suggested we go the the vernal pool, which was closer than the old foundation. Then I mentioned that we could travel to the pool by way of the creek bed. Stephen and Aurora liked that idea, so we set off. Traveling up the creek bed added an interesting and challenging twist to our journey. The rocks and water were mostly covered with new-fallen snow. This created a soft, pillowy trough. Stephen climbed up onto a rock that had a foot of snow on it. From the top of the rock he looked for his next step. It was going to be a big one. He was a little apprehensive, but with a little encouragement he took the leap and landed in the soft, fluffy snow. Success!

A few minutes later we made it to the vernal pool. Stephen and Aurora immediately sat down in the snow at the edge and started throwing snowballs into the water and onto a layer of ice on part of the pool. We all enjoyed watching the snow spread across the ice and dissolve into the water.

Our excursion was going well. Stephen and Aurora were having fun and were engaged with the natural setting and its possibilities—walk on a log, lie in the snow, throw ice chunks in the pond, break ice with sticks, hit trees with snowballs, hit sibling or mother with snowballs.

IMG_4247Here’s what I have learned so far, about taking children out into nature:

1. Set the intention to be in nature with your children, and let the rest evolve. Keep them safe and meet them where they are: if they like to throw snow chunks in the water, throw snow chunks in the water; if they want to walk along a log, help them walk along a log; if they want to sit in the snow, sit in the snow.

2. Set your sights on an attainable destination, and don’t be afraid to shorten the end point if the children look tired, cold, or just plain done.

3. Dress for the weather. Warm, dry children are happy to be outside in most conditions.

4. The following are great tools (use them wisely and often): Sing songs (ex. The Ants Go Marching, etc.): Pose small challenges (“Do you think you can reach that big tree in 15 second?”); Issue words of encouragement (“You are strong, I know you can make it to the top of this hill!”); and Promise hot chocolate at the end!

Happy Trails.

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Friday Photo

I like the way new fallen snow looks so smooth and bright. It sparkles in the sun. Madeline Morrissey, almost 9-years-old

I like the way new fallen snow looks so smooth and bright. It sparkles in the sun.
–Madeline Morrissey, almost 9-years-old

 

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The Rice Rainbow

rice rainbowColoring rice was the project of the day. White rice, water color paints, plastic bags, two teachers, and eight Explorers were the ingredients needed for this plan. Each child was asked, “What color rice would you like to make?”

“Blue, yellow, pink, light green, turquoise, dark green, orange, and purple,” were the answers that rang through the classroom.

In teams of two the students came to the craft table to make their colored rice. Each Explorer helped put the rice into a plastic bag, watercolor paint was added, and the bag was sealed.

Once the paint and rice were sealed in the bag, the work and fun began. The rice and paint must be shaken, squeezed, and shaken some more for them to mix. Everyone enjoyed watching the rice transform from white to colored as they shook their bags. “Oh look, it’s changing color,” said one making ricestudent. “This is hard work,” agreed two boys working together at the table.

When the last grain of rice was colored, the bags were collected in the sensory table. The colors looked beautiful together. “Together, the colors look like a rainbow,” many Explorers observed.

As a class, we decided to make a “rainbow” as we poured the rice out of the individual bags and into the sensory table. The children took turns carefully pouring arcs of rice into the table until the bags were empty and the design complete. As we sat looking at our creation, it became clear that we were all attached to the rainbow. “How were we going to mix up the rice without upsetting the Explorers?” was the question on my mind.

IMG_3834 We decided to each, one at a time, run a finger through the arcs of the rainbow to see what would happen. Some children made small straight lines, others longer curved lines. All were a bit apprehensive to make their lines, not wanting to mess up the rainbow. But as their fingers moved through the rice, the Explorers liked the feeling, and even the results. The grains of rice began to mix and merge. This offered new sensation and another kind of beauty that most of the class appreciated. One Explorer, Karl, was not buying it. He loved the rainbow and its order. He stood looking at it, wanting to hold on to the colored arcs. We offered to take a picture of it, and that helped him let go a bit. As Karl stood admiring the rainbow he said, “I’m going to miss it.” Then he took a deep breath, stuck both hands into the rice, and mixed it all up with vigor and purpose.

The experience stayed with me. I loved Karl’s openness about his feelings and his ability to do what he must do—let go. He recognized that the rainbow was temporary and that its time was up. As he mixed the rice, he relaxed and enjoyed the feeling and flow of the rice in the table. I wanted talk about living moments, being present, witnessing cycles. It felt like a teachable moment I needed to express with words. Instead, I took a deep breath, stuck both hands into the rice, and enjoyed the feeling and visual flow of the rice with Karl.

Andrew GoldsworthyWhen I recounted Karl’s experience to Jeanie, the director at Schoolmates, she suggested I show the Explorers the Andy Goldsworthy book. We often give the students natural materials to build and create with, and when we do, we usually, pull out a much-loved Goldsworthy book for inspiration and provocation. He says about his art, “Each work grows, stays, decays—integral parts of a cycle…” The materials used in Goldsworthy’s art often include brightly coloured flowers, icicles, leaves, mud, pinecones, snow, stone, twigs, and thorns. Rivers and Tides is a documentary about Goldsworthy and his work.

Morning Earth – Goldsworthy

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Hiking into the New Year

Limmer BootsMy husband, Dave, has a pair of Limmer boots. They are handmade boots that are made in New Hampshire. He has had the boots for at least 15 years. Even though they have always been just a little too tight he continues to wear them because he likes the tightness when hiking, loves the boots and the company that makes them.

Our 11-year-old daughter has outgrown her hiking boots, women’s size 9.5. She now needs an 11.5 women’s boot. This is not a common shoe size, so Dave has been having trouble finding new boots for her. It occurred to him that maybe his Limmers would fit her. He pulled them out of the closet and showed them to Aurora. He started to talk with affection about the boots. “They are handmade in New Hampshire,” he said. “I had them resoled a few years ago. The soles only have a couple of hundred miles on them. The boots themselves have more than 1,500 miles on them,” he informed Aurora. “Wow, that’s a lot of miles to hike,” Aurora said.

Camping 12My heart aches as Dave talks about his boots and past hikes they have done together. You see, I have a secret. I want to become a hiker. I dream of hiking for days up mountains, through valleys, beside rivers—in the wilderness with everything I need on my back.  I want to collect mountains like some people collect coins, cars, or ceramic figurines. I will pick one, learn about it, hike it, and then add it to my list. There is a hike called the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains of New Hampshire that I like to think about hiking. Hikers can climb all of the mountains in the Presidential Range in one continuous 23-mile-long hike. It is usually hiked north to south, climbing the 10 peaks in the order listed below. This plan gets the greatest elevation gains over with early in the hike. Some hikers do the traverse in one day, starting before dawn and often hiking until after dark.

  1. Mt Madison – 5367 feetCamping 09
  2. Mt Adams – 5774 feet
  3. Mt Jefferson – 5712 feet
  4. Mt Clay – 5533 feet
  5. Mt Washington – 6288 feet
  6. Mt Monroe – 5384 feet
  7. Mt Franklin – 5001 feet
  8. Mt Eisenhower – 4780 feet
  9. Mt Pierce – 4310 feet
  10. Mt Jackson – 4052 feet

In one hike I could collect ten mountains and really get started. At 53 years old, I’m feeling time is of the essence. I talked about Camping 02hiking the Presidential Traverse for my 50th birthday. Three and a half years have passed since then. At this moment, I find myself surrounded by 20-somethings: my son, his friends, my nieces and nephews. I am watching them become their adult selves—creating their lives. They are all making such interesting plans. I find it inspiring. It feels like everything, anything, is possible for them. Life is up for grabs. As I cheer them on, I want to believe it’s not too late for me, for anyone. That we can all make plans, grab for dreams, become who we want to become.

When my sister was a senior in high school, she wanted me to take her camping and hiking as a graduation present. We packed the car with minimal gear—a tent, 2 sleeping 50 highest peaksbags, maybe a flashlight, and a cooler for food. We drove to the northwest corner of Connecticut. Somehow we knew there was a mountain and camping in that area. With the help of kind people and helpful rangers, we managed to find and hike Bear Mountain. We also found a place to camp. I think (hope) we made and enjoyed a campfire. Throughout the two-day trip, we found interesting places to explore, including Kent Falls, a 150-to-200 ft waterfall at Kent Falls State Park and did fun things: visited antique stores, swam in a stream, bought new flowered long johns, and ate delicious treats. It was a wonderful trip. But then I went back to college and didn’t camp or hike again for a long time.

During my first phone conversation with my husband, Dave, we talked about hiking. It was the second common ground we found, right after sailing. I mentioned that I had a list of the highest peaks in each of the 50 states. Dave started guessing the peak name for each state and I told him the elevation. He knew a lot of the mountains and had hiked many of them. We talked about the idea of hiking each one—the lowest, at 345 feet, Britton Hill, in Lakewood, Florida; and the highest at 20,320 feet, Mount McKinley, in Alaska. It felt possible, even probable that we would do it—hike the 50 highest points in 50 states. But then we had our daughter and our son and it’s 12 years later.

Let them be Eaten by BearsWhile Christmas shopping at Anchor and Compass, a store for guys in Deep River, Connecticut, I found an inspiring book: Let Them Be Eaten By Bears: A Fearless Guide to Taking our Kids into the Great Outdoors. The author, Peter Brown Hoffmeister, gives clear, practical advice about helping kids enjoy and own the great outdoors. Chapter 2 of the book is entitled, Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone. The chapter opens with an explanation about how our brains work: “According to a widely quoted National Science Foundation study, the average human has 12,000-60,000 thoughts per day.…but scientist estimate that 95 to 99 percent of our thoughts are the exact same thoughts we had the day before.” Hoffmeister goes on to say that scientist believe that we can follow these same thoughts for days and days, weeks and weeks, and sometimes years and years. I found this profound, and a call to action.

IMG_4003
I am going to stop spinning the same thoughts day to day, week to week, and year to year. I have decided to be the hiker of my dreams. Every day I put on my own beloved Limmers and hike. Not long hikes, not hikes up grand mountains, but every day I put miles on my boots and am my hiker self. I have faith the mountains will come and when they do, I will climb.

PrintHappy New Year!

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Friday Photo

 

dog in leaves


playing in the leaves
photo by Stephen Courcy

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Blazing Trails




IMG_3661220px-Trail_blaze-symbols“Blazing Trails.” Do you know what the phrase means?

In some cases, it means:

  • to go where no man has gone before
  • break new ground
  • seek a new path
  • navigate uncharted waters

Or  it can mean to mark a trail so others can follow.

image1In our Explorer classroom this year we blazed a trail through the land around Schoolmates Preschool as an autumn celebration. We marked trees and rocks along the path with orange paint. The children enjoyed painting with the bright orange paint. Then we invited the parents to join us for a hike and a performance of seasonal songs.

On the day of the celebration, the class walked the trail to make sure it was clear of sticks. (Wouldn’t want the parents to trip.) While we walked, I listened to the Explorers.

“I painted that blaze.”

“Woody painted the one on the rock.”

Pride and ownership could be heard in all their voices.

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