ten day walking challenge day one

Well, first of all I have to report a big reward I got for getting out there–I saw a mink! It’s not common to see them: although they are plentiful here, they are shy. This one was moving in unhurried short leaps along the ice on the edge of the Little River–here is a picture of the river I took–didn’t get the camera out fast enough to get the mink. dec 15 little river.jpg

Well that was thrilling. Then, as I was walking (50 minutes total) the sky went from mostly cloudy to mostly sunny. Beautiful! dec 15 sunny path

The walk goes along the athletic field, along the Little River through pine trees, then along the much bigger Grasse River. Here is the Grasse River:dec 15 grass river

For my BIG things, I noticed the sky, the tops of tall pine trees, as well as the broad Grasse River. dec 15 pine tree tops

dec 15 sky

For the teenytiny things, I noticed a pine tree seedling about 5 inches high, and a tiny “pond” in the woods (OK, maybe a puddle).dec 15 tiny tree

dec 15 tiny pond

A good start!

 

 

 

 

getting out of the “saddle” (SADAL)

We can agree on the big things, even if the details from nutrition and health experts keep changing: eat mostly real food (not processed food-like substances), plenty of fresh vegetables and whole fruits, and whole grains; keep sugar to an occasional treat; exercise regularly; get enough rest and sleep; avoid stress. But to do these apparently simple things, I at least and I suspect many of my peers, have to do battle with, or resist, the SADAL: Standard American Diet And Lifestyle. This means two huge challenges: 1. change lifelong habits, and 2. resist the “habits” of our whole culture. Still worth doing, but let’s not underestimate how hard it can be. The SAD and the SAL dovetails very well. We work long hours, often sitting down, in often stressful circumstances. We are encouraged by ubiquitous advertising and our own well-developed habits, to deal with busy-ness and stress by taking pills,  doing “retail therapy”, driving instead of walking or biking, eating sugar, watching TV, etc. Rarely do I say to myself, “Wow, I have a really full day tomorrow and I feel barely able to keep up, I guess I better sleep in, take a long walk, and eat a bag of raw carrots.” No, I set the alarm an hour earlier, feeling resentful at my job and frustrated at myself for poor time management, skip the walk, drink more coffee, grab the (usually less-than-carrot-rich) food that’s easily available, and put the old nose to the grindstone. *sigh*. Our culture pushes sugar at us virtually every single day, and stimulates the heck out of us so we get hyped up yet pressed down.

OK, so enough complaining!! What am I going to do? I have a plan.

I know now to keep it simple and easy when I have to get back on the healthy wagon. First thing to do is relax and forgive myself and look ahead, not behind (or under my feet at the scale). My sister and I have learned to accept that there will be fall-backs and fall-offs and even the occasional cliff-dive. So what? It doesn’t stop us. So, the plan: ten days, ten walks, no excuses, starting today. Also, to make a game out of it, each walk I will look for one thing BIG and one thing teenytiny to notice. And to make it very friendly, it has to be only 30 minutes to count. I’ll check in later with today’s report. I’m at my office, getting ready to grade some quizzes and essays. Classes just ended, the campus is very quiet. Final exams start today, even though it is Saturday. The liveliest place on campus is our bookstore, which will be crowded with Christmas shoppers and coffee-slurping students.

not virtually but actually side by side

“It’s cold out there, and breezy–where can we go that is woodsy but not windy?” I asked. We piled in the van and headed over to Letchworth State Park for an hour or so walk, accompanied joyfully by Bree, the puppy my sister is dog-sitting for a friend. at Letchworth

There was a bit of snow, not a lot. Oak trees were losing their leaves, they fell twirling around us. For some reason they really caught my eye–such a beautiful rich brown color. letchworth oak leaf

We stopped to admire the dramatic middle falls, with the frost-rimed vegetation and icicles all around. letchworth falls

The wooded ravines were steep, and quiet. Only the little streams made a bit of noise, and now and then a crow would call. letchworth streamWe didn’t see anyone else until we got to the road along the edge of the Letchworth canyon. letchworth canyon

A perfect way to spend the middle of an afternoon on the day after Thanksgiving!letchworth walking

 

 

autumn walk at sunset

There is a week in the fall when most of the trees have lost their leaves except for the poplars, and their leaves have turned bright yellow. The woods become black and grey with lace of gold mixed in. So beautiful! I took a walk yesterday afternoon and enjoyed this gold filigree, along with the quiet shades of tan, green, grey and brown this time of year. The sun was low as I set off, shining on this old fence post and frozen asters.

nov 4 corner 2

It is a two-mile walk, one mile up some easy hills to the corner, another even easier downhill back home. Across from my house is a swampy brushy area beloved of birds. nov 4 cornerAt the top of the first and only strenuous hill I stopped to admire and photograph the poplars waving their gold leaves in the last of the sunshine. nov 4 gold leaves

nov 4 gold and blueBy the time I reached the turnaround point and looked back west, dusk was creeping up, the sky settling down into dark. nov 4 duskIt was a quiet, peaceful walk.

three days, three walks, YES!

On Thursday I had office hours until 3:30 and a meeting at 4:15. I grabbed my phone, turned it to “Two Steps from Hell” music, plugged in earbuds and left the office at 3:35. I had to be fast because the path usually takes me 45 minutes. No dawdling–the music pushed me, too, and I made it around the loop just in time to get to my meeting. No time for pictures!

Then on Friday I was done at 1:00, and I called home: “I’m going out to Indian Creek, can you come along?”  So, we got to the trailhead at 1:20 and were done at 3:20, a nice long walk.

icnc sign

The start of the walk is through an open woods with big trees and very little undergrowth. Something magical about that. And shushing through a carpet of golden leaves is pretty nice, too.

icnc golden woods

icnc leaves

We walked from one end of the trail to the other, where there is a tall platform you can climb up for views of the lake/wetlands.

icnc lake

We saw a great blue heron, lots of Canada Geese, and ducks. On the way back we noticed a lot of bittersweet vines, but we couldn’t tell whether it was the native kind or the invasive oriental bittersweet. They are not easy to tell apart. I hope it’s the native kind, because there was a lot of it!

On Saturday in spite of cool and drizzly weather we went for another walk. This one was in the Downerville State Forest and Grass River Wild Forest. The DEC maintains a short (less than a mile we think) trail to Harper’s Falls. So beautiful! To get to the trailhead you have to drive a long way on a winding dirt road, lined by a dozen or so hunting camps. Hunting season is clearly happening since the camps were all bustling with activity. Here I am at the trailhead:

harpers falls sign.jpg

We made a point of chatting a bit more than usual so hunters would know we are not deer. But we didn’t see or hear any hunters.

harpers falls trailhead

The trail is easy, with a few ups and downs, a few short bridges over small streams, and a wonderful reward at the end. Most of the fall color is gone. The trees are brown and grey, the sky was grey, the leaves beige and brown. The main color came from green ferns and moss.

harpers falls rock fern tree

The woods smelled wonderful. We heard and saw some ravens but otherwise the woods was quiet. When we stood still we could hear a few raindrops and the tap tap tap of leaves falling. As we got closer to the falls we could hear that, too.

harpers falls

harpers falls downstream

I’m in my office right now getting ready to dig into a pile of essays that need to be graded. Would rather be out in the woods, but there’s a time for everything, and it’s nice to think of these places waiting for us to visit them again.

hedgerows, fields, meadows and woods

We grew up in woods as very small kids. There was a soggy swampy woods right across the street from us, and a wooded hillside behind the house. The house was closely surrounded by a dozen or more old maple trees; we shushushushed in the blanket of leaves they threw down every fall. Then we moved when I was 7 and Jeanne 5 to a more cultivated area, with patches of woods, called “woodlots” by the local farmers and “magic playgrounds” by us kids. Even more magic were the hedgerows, where you had lots of light and sun but also trees to climb, rock piles to explore, shrubs to play in. In our new home woodlots were surrounded by corn, wheat, and hay fields, and some pastures. That kind of mixed quilt of landscape always feels like home to me. It is not that different here in the St Lawrence River valley. Like where I grew up in the northern Finger Lakes, the fields here are small and often rocky. There are plenty of hedgerows, magnets for wildlife of all kinds, and the woods have those old 18th and 19th century stone pasture “fences” that Jeanne saw in the Oatka Creek area.

This morning I went on a modest walk–only two miles or so. It took me an hour and I dawdled some. The trail is maintained by our town’s SUNY college, and must be used by their track team. The paths are flat and wide, neatly mowed and cleared. SUNY Canton trail mowedThe trail starts behind the school gym and wanders through tall trees, beside corn fields, hay fields, and wild meadows before finally meeting up with and following along the Grass River. I don’t think it is easy to see from the photo below, but the hedgerows were lovely, with trees growing up tall among rock piles. I was standing on the path and took this picture into the hedgerow–doesn’t it just invite exploration? But I am not 10 years old anymore and didn’t quite feel like crawling in there! I took the easier path.SUNY Canton trail hedgerow

Above me a red-tailed hawk floated in small circles over the river and fields, looking for breakfast. The path was cut through brushy areas and wild meadows full of birds going after flower seeds and berries. I stopped for a drink of water and snack and watched the breeze blowing milkweed fluff around. SUNY Canton trail leafy underfoot

Toward the end of the loop the trail followed the Grass River. I could hear traffic now and then, and I met up with a few other walkers, but mostly it was quiet and peaceful, a beautiful cool sunny autumn walk!SUNY Canton trail grass river

 

 

sneaking a walk on a wednesday afternoon

Although it was a strangely hot 82 degrees, we managed to schedule a short walk–maybe two miles–from campus downtown to a sweet little place called “Heritage Park”. It is small but carefully maintained with wide trails, lots of benches, landscaped areas with lawn, shrubs, flowers, a covered picnic area, a paved parking lot, and informational plaques. The group of volunteers that maintains the park does valiant battle with poison ivy. This time we noticed the paths had been widened and areas beside them cleared, which I suspect is part of the attempt to eradicate that menace. heritage park oct 10 path

The path itself is a short loop that runs around a tiny island in the middle of the Grass River. It has lively rapids and waterfalls on both sides and the island is completely wooded. The picture below is me standing on the bridge that goes out to the island. Although it was very hot, it was a nice way to fit in a walk without getting in the car to drive somewhere. This coming Saturday morning I am working on trails with the volunteers at Indian Creek, and if the weather is decent we plan a hike up a low peak for foliage viewing in the afternoon. heritage park oct 10.jpg

weekend walking report, and a confession

Two great walks this past weekend! On Friday, to celebrate the end of the week, we went for a three-mile walk at my current favorite spot, Indian Creek Nature Center. The weather was cloudy and damp, but we didn’t get actually rained on. We walked through a wide variety of landscapes: huge old maples, dark cedar groves, shrubby grassy areas, and overgrown apple orchards. We saw a lot of fungus of every shape, size and color. We saw winterberry shrubs and wild cherry, branches drooping with bright red and blue-black berries. We scared up a grouse, and were accompanied by chickadees and northern flickers and blue jays. ICNC into the woodsWe went at the end of the day, starting at 4:50, and enjoyed the dusky, quiet atmosphere. We had the place to ourselves. At the end of the walk we wandered over to an apple tree still covered with big golden fruit, and ate about three apples each. We saw a lot of vines with yellow berries, and tentatively identified them as American bittersweet. So that was an old familiar place, and on Saturday we explored the Whalen Park Trail in Massena. To find this one we used the brand new website put together by the St Lawrence County chamber of commerce and some other organizations. It is called STLC Trails: St Lawrence County Trails  and so far I am finding it very helpful. We had to drive for 45 minutes to get to the first trailhead at the Massena country club golf course. This trail is a bike path, 100% paved and smooth as can be. massena bike trail

The wide grassy verge was recently mowed, and was nicely landscaped with side paths to the river, several benches, and some decorative boulders here and there. bench at massena trail

The river was full of Canada geese, various ducks, and cormorants. It sprinkled a bit but not enough to deter us. It is an out-and-back path that ended at a park/playground with covered picnic tables and a handicapped-accessible canoe/kayak launch. So we walked a respectable 3.2  miles but it took us a while because we were walking slowly, for reasons I explain below. At many places we could take a few steps and get right to the shore. I even tried my hand at stone-skipping.st law river massena trail

The path stayed close to the river, winding through tall grasses/wildflowers, mowed hay fields, and beautiful towering oak, hickory, willow, basswood and other trees. After this walk we drove a few miles down the highway to the trailhead of Richard’s Landing Bike Trail, and walked just a little way out of curiosity. richards landing dike trail massena

This trail is gravel rather than paved, but still could be biked, which is what we plan to do next time. We sat on some big rocks along this trail to sip coffee from thermoses we brought with us. We took a short side trail through dense woods to the river and surprised a large flock of geese.  After that it was time for lunch so we went to the co-op in Potsdam and grabbed some healthy “fast food”.

So, the confession: the reason we didn’t go on the second trail very far and the reason I walk with hiking poles is that for the last six months I’ve had plantar fasciitis (hashtag!). It is sometimes not that bad and sometimes that bad. Yesterday was a really painful day, possibly made worse by walking on the paved path. It doesn’t stop me walking but I have to be careful. Woodsy trails with softer ground and frequent stops to admire this or that seem better than paved or concrete. #walkingwithplantarfasciitis

when all else fails…

I have pretty much given up on getting out of the office for walks during the day or finding time to go somewhere during the week, and I’m concentrating on taking long hikes on Saturdays and Sundays. Tomorrow we are planning to go to a hiking/biking path in Massena. But it occurred to me that I could also do a bit of walking in my office building, which has three floors and plenty of stairs! This is my hallway: not a bad walking surface…hallway

and here are the stairs, stairway downwhich are not as pretty as a woods path but have their own aesthetic charm, of a geometric, structural sort. stairway spiral

I’ll give that a go and report back on how it works!

a two-hike weekend, woohoo!

It was another week with no walking during the work weekdays, but I got out this weekend both yesterday and today. On Saturday, yesterday, morning early I went for an early breakfast at a local diner, which was crowded at 7:00 am when I rolled into the parking lot. After eggs, home fries, bacon, toast and coffee I drove a mile down the road to the Stone Valley trailhead. entrance to stone valleyThis is a 3.5 miles out and back loop and I’ve been on parts of it several times, but never walked the whole loop. Friday night I called a friend who knows the trail very well. She cautioned me that it is “a hard seven miles” so I played it safe and just walked out for an hour and a half and then retraced my steps. I start out at 7:45 and got back to the car at 10:20. I had to go fairly slowly because it’s a kind of winding, twisting path, with lots of roots and rocks, a few steep parts, and slippery rocks. stone valley river sceneIt was so peaceful and beautiful–I knew that no pictures could capture its magic. It’s fungus season for sure–literally any step you decided to pause, if you looked along the trail you would see a mushroom or fungus of some shape and size, and usually more than one. stone valley mushroomThe trail follows the river, at times booming down waterfalls, and at other times silently flowing in flat, wide spots. The sun shone on the tops of the trees but not on the trail in the dark ravine. Lots of places opened to the river for views or rock-sitting.

Then this afternoon I headed back to Indian Creek Nature Center. indian creek mapThere were several other families there. It’s an especially child-friendly place. We walked the 1.4 mile “lowland trail” loop. Cloudy and cool, no bugs. Perfect walking weather. I had my trusty walking poles, and we brought a brownie (for me) and a piece of cake (for my husband) to enjoy at a really nice sitting area halfway along the trail. indian creek lower woodland trailThe trail wound through forest and along a big wetland area full of geese and ducks. indian creek view into wetlandsWe saw chickadees, too, and marveled at the big fat red winterberries lining the trail. That short walk took us about 45 minutes. Now I’m back at my desk getting ready for my classes tomorrow!indian creek woods trail