Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Frosty Walk Up the Red Oak Ridge

Oof!  The consequences of too many weeks of overeating and undermoving were evident today as I huffed and puffed up the steep parts of the Red Oak Ridge Trail at Moreau Lake State Park.  I really gotta get back in shape!  It's too easy to make excuses not to go out for a walk when the weather's really cold, as it was this morning -- about 5 below zero when I came down for breakfast.  But the sun was up, too, and the morning soon warmed up to the teens, so no more excuses, Jackie, get out there and get moving.

When I got to Moreau, I was pleased to see the lake entirely frozen over at last.  It's still too thin to walk on, though, so I hiked around the shore to the trail that would take me about half way up the mountain seen here in this photo and then continue along the ridge.

There's enough up and down to this trail to give you a pretty good workout, but the best part about it is how beautiful it is in every season, as it passes through oak/hickory and mixed conifer forest and crosses several pretty tumbling streams.

The streams were rushing full from recent rains, and the frigid night had turned the watercourses into fairy castles of ice.

After leaving the trail to follow a stream up the mountain, I came to an area of hemlocks and huge boulders, perfect habitat for porcupines, who make their dens in a series of caves that run underneath the boulders and who dine each night up high in the surrounding trees.  I've yet to see one in the flesh up here, but when there's snow, I have seen their well-trodden trails leading from dens to the trees.

Here's one of the caves where they make their dens, detectable from some distance away by a strong odor like rancid sawdust emanating from the depths. As I crouched in this opening to peer in, I could feel warm humid air wafting upwards and out, which explains the festoons of hoarfrost decorating porky's doorway.

Leaning further into the mouth of the cave, I could see many porcupine quills littering the passageway.  I also heard odd sounds coming from deep within, a sort of grunting and muttering with an occasional squeal that let me know that someone was home.  I've never heard porcupines make any noises, but I was hoping it was indeed a porcupine (or two!), and not a bear whose sleep I had disturbed.   (I did record just a few of these sounds, which you can hear in the post below this one.)

Here are some close-up shots of those frosty festoons.

As I walked around the area among the boulders and caves, I saw several similar accumulations of frost, and when I knelt down to examine them, I felt that similar rush of warm humid air and discovered openings leading deep down into and under the rocks.  I wonder just how extensive this cave system is, and if they are all connected.  The porcupine caves are big enough that I could crawl into them if I stayed on my hands and knees (and could bear the odor!), but this opening was much smaller.

And this one smaller still.  When I lifted that maple leaf, I could feel a draft of that warm humid air and see a small passage leading down until it disappeared in darkness.

I sure had a wonderful time up there, poking about in the woods and the rocks and the water just as I used to do when I was a kid.  Pure contentment washes over me, a feeling that I possess everything I could ever need or want, and that all is well.  I was reminded of a poem by Mary Oliver that I looked up when I got home, and yes, she says it exactly right:

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust, 
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness, 
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and the discernment,
and never hurry through the world
  but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."

I took the slow road home, stopping by the farm where I used to see two huge and beautiful Belgian horses.  In their place today were these two huge and beautiful Paints, who came right up to the fence and let me pet them.  I think they could sense my feeling of sweet contentment.  They certainly added to it with the gentle gazes from their lovely eyes.


Anonymous said...

Oh the consequences of the glorious holiday feeds :-) I'm out there huffing and puffin with you - it's amazing how quickly we lose 'it' - although 5 below might have kept me at home yesterday.

Your photos, as always, are remarkable - how you capture the uniqueness of the moment - many 'dots' in a zen experience. I find the frosted furriness around the porcupine lair Especially fine - and what a stunning spider web!

Thank you for the Mary Oliver poem!

The Cranky Crone, she lives alone! said...

Ah the freshness and purity rushing through to me from your wonderful account.
A question, on one of the pictures of the cave there is a white orb sitting on a rock looks shiny like ice, is it ice?
Did you see the heart on the right hand horse, so spirited, I use to have a painted.

catharus said...

Yes, wonderful story and photos; the frost or ice on the orb is most impressive!
Lovely poem of Mary Oliver's!

threecollie said...

Fabulous photos, as always. I wonder what is down in those caves!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, dear readers, for your very kind comments. I like to imagine you walking beside me as I hike. Regarding the shiny white orb inside the cave, it is indeed ice, no doubt formed from water dripping from above. But why did it form such a smooth bulbous shape instead of a spiky spear? Good question.

The poem is in Mary Oliver's collection "Thirst," which my daughter gave to me a couple of years ago. My daughter recognized how I would resonate with Oliver's poems, many of which reflect the spirituality of nature.

Patricia Lichen said...

Here's what I love about this post: you have conveyed (shared) so well that expansive contentment and connection I've felt in nature. And as an added bonus, you've introduced me to a Mary Oliver poem that I've never seen before.

Thanks much. I'll be back!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Welcome, Patricia Lichen, and thanks for stopping by to leave a comment. That gives us all a chance to visit your own very interesting conservationist blog, just by clicking on your name.