If you are keeping track…

Well, God bless you.

I recently re-read a bunch of entries on my blog and realized what a marvelous tool a blog can be for the self-absorbed ! Like, who really cares about my digestion and dietary habits? Who is staying awake at night wondering if I’ve had my first Big Mac of 2023 in post-Vegan life? Honestly, it’s all a little insufferable. But, I feel like I owe at least a coda to my Vegan Experiment of 2022 and the teaser about new projects for 2023. And, maybe a promise for the future not to wax on about things of such little significance while war is raging in Ukraine, mudslides are threatening lives in California, and the political state of our country remains fraught.

But, here goes, for those of you on the edge of your seats. (all one or two of you, lol)

I’m easing out of a strict plant-based diet and into a more generous, less disciplined pattern that has me actually, more in-tune with what I’m craving, how I’m feeling and what I want to cook. I’ve really missed the variety that a broader diet allows (I would love to go an entire week without having to eat a chick pea love them through I do,) and the winter has some great opportunities for stews, one pot meals, etc. that are not necessarily vegan.

Interestingly enough, as I emerge from the strictness of a plant-based regime, I am re-focusing on the “why” of my past year of veganism and believe that some of that why will reengage me in a vegetarian style of eating. Climate change. Industrial farming. Water usage. These are some of the environmental reasons that I’d like to stick with plant-based eating. Better health markers (cholesterol, blood pressure, smooth flowing arteries) are another reason. I haven’t had any blood work to see how I’ve emerged from this year so I’m not sure if I am “healthier” or not, but I have learned that it’s just as easy to gain weight being a vegan as it is as an omnivore.

No, I didn’t dive into a vat of ice cream or belly on up to the counter at McDonald’s on January 1st. In fact, so far, I’ve only added a couple of meals featuring fish (baked salmon, fish tacos with cod) and some dairy (a little cheddar cheese, real milk on my oatmeal) into my diet in the past 10 days. Other than that, it’s been vegan business as usual. I did buy a wedge of parmesan reggiano to enjoy with some ripe pears, walnuts and arugula later in the week and I’ve had a craving for brisket… but so far, it’s been a gentle slide into the land of carnivorous activity.

My sister sent me an article from The NY Times about a trend called the “Social Omnivore.” The general idea was that there are many who are eating plant-based diets at home but relaxing when out with friends in order to be less of a pain to those who are cooking for them. I have found, in my odd professional calling, the opposite: last weekend (first weekend of non-vegan diet) the parish that I visited went out of their way to prepare three different dishes for me at a luncheon that I could eat (they had this secret stash of soba noodles with mushrooms, quinoa salad, and greek salad with vegan feta in the rectory kitchen) and I was so touched that they wanted to accommodate me! And, wow, was it good! So, I ate heartily and left the charcuterie board and sheet cake and breakfast casserole to the rest of them! I never formally told “the diocese” that I was a vegan and so I don’t feel like I need to offer a formal retraction, now. Truth is, I will eat pretty much anything that has been lovingly prepared for me.

Plans for 2023

Some people pick words for the new year. If I did, mine might be “minimalism,” or “decluttering” or dostandning (Swedish “death cleaning.” See the book by Margareta Magnusson, 2017). No, I’m not dying (not today, anyway, or tomorrow either, I hope), but it is time to give up the boxes and boxes of things that I don’t need anymore. I’ve written about this before. This year I am going to do it. One box, one room, one thing at a time.

I’ve been following some Minimalists on blogs and YouTube and their uncluttered lifestyles are interesting to me. I love my stuff. A bud vase my mom bought for me. A pottery dish my daughter made years ago. A cast iron Green Man that oversees life in our living room. But sorting through the stuff that I don’t need will allow me to more fully appreciate the things that I will choose to keep. That’s the idea, at least. One minimalist whom I follow made a list of everything that she got rid of and everything that she brought into her home during 2022. She ended up on the down-side of having given away more than she brought in. She’s into her eighth year of minimalism so her “on the way out of the house” list was shorter than my 2023 list will be. I do intend of keeping a list of my purchases, though, of non-consumables to see what will end up in the house and what I might resist. So far, in the first 10 days of this year I’ve added a new pair of trail runners (those might be considered consumables), a plastic mat for the bathtub, and a journal. Just knowing that I’m going to write it down has shifted my usual consumerist approach.

I’m building a tiny micro-cabin/hermitage in the back woods. (Actually, a friend is building it: http://www.stevessupersheds.com ) and I am looking forward to having this space to spend time to write, read, pray, do some stretching… This tiny place will be a refuge of sorts during my upcoming sabbatical and I am looking forward to the simplicity that a small space with no electricity (or wifi) will afford me. More on that, if you can stand it, as 2023 unfolds.

So- minimalism.

lessons in a tent

what I learned by spending at least one night per month outside in 2022

24 December 2022

As I write this, we are experienced a weird winter storm in which the wind is whipping, power is out in many communities, and the temperatures have plummeted to single digits from their almost 50 degree high two days ago. We are working with the Emergency and Disaster Coordinator for the diocese to open churches as warming centers. I am so grateful to several of our churches who have responded with generosity and kindness. This is the night in which we will gather to hear the story of Mary and Joseph who found no lodging in the inn and spent their night in the stable as the Light of the World was born.

And so, it feels a little bit uncomfortable to wax on about my adventures of sleeping outside without acknowledging my privilege and the fact that many people have no agency in making choices about the place where they will sleep each night.

Years ago- almost 20 years ago- I started an Overflow Shelter in Torrington Connecticut. The church where I was working at the time had lots and lots of room (we had both an “Upper” and a “Lower” parish hall) and I worked with ecumenical partners and the shelter in town to develop a program where people could have a safe and warm place to sleep on the coldest nights when the shelter was full. I learned so much about collaboration and the structure of other faith communities, about recruiting and empowering volunteers, about boundaries and fund raising and compassion and kindness. The various churches involved in the project took turns hosting the shelter in the winter months and we cared for many people, winter in and winter out. When I was back in Connecticut for Thanksgiving last month, I read a story in the paper that this project, “Operation Overflow,” was still going on and that it had recently found a permanent home in an empty/closed hospital. What a blessing.

My idea about sleeping outside at least one night per month was not about learning about the plight of those who are housing insecure. It had more to do with my love of camping, my desire to be close to nature, the challenge of a discipline that would take me through the whole year, the self confidence gained in sleeping alone in the out of doors, and just the stunt of it. I guess I like stunts.

Some of the nights I spent while on backpacking trips. Those trips included several nights in a row of solo camping on the AT. Of course, there are few occasions, these days, that you can actually sleep by yourself in a shelter or campsite on the AT- it has become a popular venue and so, in this year there was just one night on the AT that I was fully alone. It was a night of pouring rain and I was by myself at a campsite just off of the trail having heard that afternoon about some crazy guy who was wandering up and down the trail with a machete trying to intimidate hikers by circling their tents at night brandishing his knife. Yikes. Fortunately, I didn’t meet this guy.

Most of my nights outside in 2022 were in our own back woods and a few of them were honestly, just yards from the back door of our house. We live on a lot that is fully wooded in the back and there are lots of great spots to pop up a tent. In fact, stay tuned in 2023 for stories of the hermitage/retreat/micro-cabin/”she-shed” that I am building (or having built) for some space for writing/reading/yoga/prayer.

There is a feeling when one crawls into one’s tent and zips the zipper up and around, of peace, snugness, tranquility, compact-ness. It’s a great feeling to slide down into the sleeping bag and listen to the sounds of nature. I’ve heard owls, the patter of chipmunks, squirrels, groundhogs and the Boiling Springs train, far off. The wind knocks tree branches together in the canopy above me. The crows announce dawn. One morning (May? June?) the spotted lantern flies let loose their sticky spray (my childhood friend David who is a tree expert tells me that it was “lanternfly excrement”) and I spent the morning washing my tent in a bathtub of soapy water. Gross.

It has been a cushy, “glamping” experience, to be honest. Most nights I’ve had an inflatable mattress between me and the tent floor, big bed pillows, and internet access on my phone so I could read. I’ve been able to gain easy access in the morning to my coffee machine to press “brew,” and, although I’ve taken advantage of the cover of darkness to pee in the yard at 3 AM, a hot shower and big fluffy towels were just steps away. Pretty sweet.

And so, what did I learn? I learned the lesson of discipline. I became more aware of my natural surroundings. I learned that I can be afraid and that I will survive. (back yard camping is not scary, but camping with the threat of a machete-bearing menace is scary). I learned that I can put my tent up in less than 5 minutes. I learned a hard lesson about lantern flies and their bodily functions. I learned that a hot shower and a soft bed on the night after outside camping is always relished. I was reminded of my privilege.

While I do not think that I will work to sleep outside on any kind of schedule in 2023, I will continue to enjoy the occasional night out of doors under the stars and counting fireflies as they light up the night.

I’m onto other challenges for next year and will be sharing news of them in posts to come.

Merry Christmas.

Well, you can go home again-

but there will be trees missing and new traffic lights.

We did the 700 mile round trip to Connecticut this week for Thanksgiving at my brother’s house. He’s a great cook and graciously agreed to host 15 of us who found his Northwest Connecticut home to be the middle place between our starting points in Pennsylvania, Maine, Boston, and southern Connecticut. My brother lives just 10 minutes away from the town in which my husband and I lived and raised our family for 30 years in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s… and my other brother lives right down the street from our old house. Just a stone’s throw away from our old village of Collinsville (a sweet old mill town on the river) is the larger town of Farmington where we all lived together in our growing-up years.

Our Thanksgiving group was made the better with the addition of my brothers’ partners, a niece and three nephews, my brother’s partners’ daughter and her boyfriend, my sister, my son, my sister’s husband, and sweet “Hamlet” (otherwise known as “Brownie,”) a French bulldog.

The table was full: two turkeys, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes- everything that you’d expect, with some nice seasonal additions like broccoli casserole and roasted whole carrots, and one “interloper item:” a saffron rice dish with orange peel, almonds and cranberries. (I made that.)

We had pie and listened to a playlist that my nephew had lovingly curated and titled “Old People Music” with plenty of Little Feat, Crosby Stills and Nash, Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor. We laughed at clips that we called up on the giant tv screen from some of our favorite movies – “My mama would say, ‘Harlan Pepper, if you don’t stop namin’ nuts’…” (Best in Show). We drank Old Fashioneds and wine and laughed.

We went for a walk in a nature preserve. The rain stopped and delivered a beautiful rainbow.

It was just right.

On the morning of the second day, my hubby and I took a drive to our old town. It’s a strange sensation- I can’t quite put my finger on it. Driving down the street where we lived for so long I felt disconsolate. Wistful. The house- a 1920s red bungalow- looked ok. The hedge between “our” yard and the neighbors had grown huge and unruly. The copper rain chain that I had reluctantly left in place on the front right corner of the house was gone. The brick patio still needed to be leveled and repaired, and the hemlock in the back yard that was one half of our hammock support had been cut down. I gathered all of these observations silently as my husband drove us slowly down the narrow neighborhood road. Good news: the maple tree that we planted just before we moved in the front yard was doing well.

We wandered around the small town, first skirting its perimeter- we drove past the town dump, that Saturday morning gathering place where all important community news is shared; we drove over the newly restored town bridge (the historic 1895 truss bridge had been removed for a couple of years for repair and had recently been reinstalled), and we were sad to see a new 8-foot tall fence blocking access to the river underneath the bridge. That spot had long been a favorite swimming hole on hot summer nights. It was a rite of passage to jump off the bridge into the water below, though not particularly safe.

We drove through town observing the new traffic light at the crossroad and went up the steep and winding hill to the town cemetery, my favorite place to view the sleepy village that squats at the river’s edge. Some day I will be buried in that cemetery.

It’s a strange thing in an hour’s drive to entertain memories, observe changes, and reflect on the narrowing window of time left in one’s life. There is, in this retrospective, the remembering of misteps, the recognition of rewards, the living with decisions that we made in good faith, and a few “what ifs?” There is the bond of our life together that was crafted somewhat haphazardly- though some might want to call it “Spirit led.” There is an appreciation, now, for the friendships, strength, and vitality of our younger years that we did not fully understand as precious, then. And there is regret at some shortness of vision, and an occasional yielding to convention when a different way might have been better.

I think, in all of it, that we did the best we could. And life, in return, was gracious and generous.

We did “go home.” And, we will be back. But there are still many miles to go before we sleep. Grandchildren on a different coast. Hikes to take, gardens to plant, beaches to walk. So much, yet, to unfold.

on day 76

I did the thing.

The 75 Hard thing.

Mine was modified, so, for those of you who have done the REAL 75 Hard, forgive me. I did the “Soft 75.”

For 75 days in a row (no cheating, no skipping) I did these 5 things:

  1. Drank a gallon of water each day

2. Followed a vegan diet and had no alcoholic drinks

3. Exercised once per day (that’s the “soft” part- in a REAL 75 Hard, you exercise TWICE per day.)

4. Engaged in a session of study and prayer (“REAL” 75 has you read 15 pages of a non-fiction book each day; I did bible study and Morning Prayer each day instead)

5. Took a progress photo.

Here’s the bad news: other than the 18 pounds that I shed, I feel the same.

The water was the hardest part. Running to the bathroom every fifteen minutes is a hassle. My skin isn’t plumper, my wrinkles haven’t disappeared, I don’t feel more energetic.

It’s not hard for me to not drink, though I will admit to timing this experiment to allow some imbibing at Thanksgiving. (I started on Sept 6). We’ve been eating vegan in our household for 11 months now, so that was a breeze. The weight loss came from not drinking and a more intentional pattern of more-veggies-fewer-starchy-carbs. The 75 Hard protocol has you choose your own diet. Just no cheating, or you go back to Day 1.

I am good for a morning walk each day, and on the weekends, a hike or afternoon stroll with hubby. I’ve been back at the gym for about a month, now, in the mornings; it is too dark and cold out there now for a walk, and I’ve got a new fitness focus on trying to rebuild some muscle. I’m training for a long hike with my daughter in April. So regular exercise was not too hard for me. 75 days without a rest day, though, was a little bit of a challenge. There was one day when I left the house at 6:30 in the morning to get to an appointment (skipping the gym that morning) and did not get home until 8:30 PM that night after all of my engagements… and, in my suit and stockings, put on my sneakers as soon as I got home and headed out for a dark walk. That was the only rough day.

The progress photos were humiliating and I’ve deleted them all.

75 Hard is supposed to yield physical benefits but, even more, it is supposed to build endurance, self confidence, discipline and make you feel like a million bucks.

I feel like half a million, I guess, and, honestly, I don’t think that if I added another workout per day, that it would have made a giant difference.

Learning? Take aways? I’m always up for a challenge. I thrive on them. I already lead a pretty disciplined life. I love Morning Prayer and this was a great tool to get me to commit regularly to the discipline of daily scripture study. (You might think that daily scripture study is a given for someone in my position, but the truth is that unless you get up at 4:15- which I do now- the day gets away from you and your calendar fills up.)

This has given me a chance to take back some control of my life from the exciting demands of my position which, if I let it, would keep me busy 24/7. It is important to name some of the priorities for yourself and what makes you thrive… and then build the rest around that. A healthy diet, exercise and prayer is important to me.

A gallon of water each day, drunk to the point that (as my grandmother would say) “makes my back teeth float?” Not so much.

Day 76 today. Welcome Happy Morning.

2023 test run

If you know me, you know that I love a challenge. There is something about setting some goals, and trying new behavior patterns for a time that I find invigorating and a doorway to spiritual growth.

In the past I have taken on the challenge of training for and running five different marathons and two duathlons. The training alone was challenging and, as one running friend told me, she likes to think of the actual races as the “victory laps.” My running days are over, I think, but I still love the feeling of coming home from a run (the actual running? Not so much.)

I’ve taken on lots of different dietary challenges through the years, too- multiple 21-day cleanses, juice protocols, a year of vegetarianism (2002), a year of No Alcohol (2020) and, most recently, a year of Veganism (2022).

Right now I am finishing up a version of “75 Hard,” a protocol that demands a strict adherence to a workout-dietary-study-wellness protocol for 75 days in a row. I’m on Day 69, today. (To be honest, I’ll be glad when, on Day 71 I can drop the “gallon of water a day” part of this challenge and resume a more natural 8 glasses per day regime! My bladder is fully flushed, I can assure you!)

In concert with my love of hiking and the out-of-doors, I’ve taken to having a 5-day solo hiking retreat on the Appalachian trail each year, and in 2022 I resolved to sleep outside at least one night per month (a few of those have been in my tent in the back woods but.. they still count! I loved my Jan 2022 camp out in the snow!)

All of this is to say that in the eleventh month of the year, I am already looking ahead to 2023 and setting my sights on the next challenge.

One of the ideas that I have is to respond to both a spiritual and practical nudge that I have been feeling for some time: I want to simplify. I’ve long been fascinated with tiny-house living. I don’t think that is exactly what I (we) need -we’ve joked that if we had TWO tiny houses, we might be able to make it work- but I am interested in cleaning out closets, shedding extra stuff that I’ve been toting around for decades and paring down to the essentials. You’ve probably heard of something called “Swedish Death Cleaning” https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Gentle-Art-of-Swedish-Death-Cleaning/Margareta-Magnusson/9781501173240 and everyone has heard of Marie Kondo’s de-cluttering method that got us talking to our clothes, thanking them for their service, rolling t-shirts up into tidy origami shapes, and evaluating items in our various collections depending on whether or not they “spark joy.”https://konmari.com

I’ve been carrying around a lot of stuff for years. Our girls’ prom dresses (our girls are in their 30s, now). Our son’s bottle collection from grade school. My father’s broken wooden paint box. More than 100 white dinner plates. A crystal cake plate with giant glass dome. Kitchen gadgets that lie, unused, in drawers and cabinets. A teapot collection. Salt dishes. Liqueur glasses. You get it.

If we are ever going to “get small” and “simplify” in our (eventual) retirement, then a year of sorting through, donating, and shedding might be in order. I think of the refugee families that might benefit from a few dozen dinner plates! The young folks who might be able to alter an early 2000s prom dress and get some use out of it. People who are in the process of setting up a household who would benefit from those “occasional” items that we drag out for entertaining: platters, dishes, table linen.

There are some things that I will not part with: my mother’s Tiffany pins from her engagement and wedding, my grandmother’s teapot entrusted to me by my mother, a family heirloom oil painting of Blackhead on Monhegan, my cast iron skillet, my tattered Book of Common Prayer and the bible that got me through seminary. A few things like that.

I’m starting with an easy project. A test-run for what is ahead in 2023’s year of simplifying: the great pocketbook giveaway.

On Saturday I cleaned out the guest room closet and shed 12 pocketbooks, all headed to their glory at Goodwill. I loved each of these bags, but I just don’t need them. I have a lovely new bag that will serve me well for many occasions, and I saved two evening bags (one black patent leather and another pink quilted one) for those nights at the opera or fancy weddings- all of which are too far and few between. I also saved my large brown leather “doctor’s bag” that I bought in Florence more than 20 years ago while traveling with my mom and sister. It’s a keeper. The rest can serve happily in someone else’s good hands.

So, for now, I’m a dozen pocketbooks lighter. Stay tuned for 2023!

three things

Three things my mother taught me:

About Diane Arbus

How to iron a shirt

The rhyming scheme of a sonnet.

This is not an exhaustive list of imparted wisdom, but in these recent days I’ve been thinking about my mom as I wander through my own life; these are moments of recollection that make me feel like I am stepping on her shadow.

What have I taught my own children?

How to ice a cake

Where the silverware belongs in a table setting

That Moses did not write the Pentateuch and David did not write (all) the psalms.

I pray that this is not an exhaustive list.  I am glad that I’m not yet reduced to a shadow, and that I have time to teach other things, like:

How to make a flaky pie crust

How to love yourself

How to trust that God loves us, no matter what.

I’m still working on those three things.  

I’m coming closer on the pie crust.

Fourth quarter thoughts on veganism

sweet potatoes, black lentils and scallions with a miso glaze. So good!

Lately, I’ve been looking to the end of the year and anticipating the completion of my year of following a vegan diet. People have asked me if I will continue to eat this way or if I will celebrate 2023 with a cheeseburger and fries. Some days, that cheese burger sounds pretty great… and other days it makes me squeamish. See, I think that some of my thoughts and feelings about feeding off of animals have changed… but all of my taste buds haven’t, necessarily. I love the taste of long-smoked, tender BBQ brisket. The thought of eating eggs (chicken fetuses in the making) grosses me out. There’s nothing like a warm beef or lamb stew with a cloud of whipped potatoes on a cold winter night. And, drinking cow’s milk, knowing that calves are separated from their mothers at birth so the lactating moms can benefit the dairy industry and feed us instead of their babies- makes me sad.

I am not sure what the health benefits are that I have enjoyed in these 10 months of eating a vegan diet. I already had low blood pressure and a low, steady heart rate. My weight has increased in the last 10 months, but that has more to do with the summer’s gin&tonics and “vacation abandon” than the vegan lifestyle. I have been eating more carbs than are good for me, but that’s always been my Achilles heel. (who doesn’t love bread, rice, pasta, couscous and bread? Oh, bread, too…Did I mention bread? Homemade bread with butter, French bread, whole grain bread, oatmeal bread, pita bread, naan, brioche, sourdough…etc ). My energy is really good, but.. it always has been. My sleeping is great… but, I’ve always been a good sleeper. My skin is the same, not better or worse. I don’t have a super-vegan “glow” about me, but I don’t think I look pallid, either.

What have I missed?



And some of the long-simmered, homey, comfort foods that I love to prepare and eat: chicken pot pie (the “real” kind, with a crust), pot roast, apple pie (crust made with butter).

I have missed all sorts of shellfish that we usually eat in the summer like clams and mussels and oysters, fresh haddock with buttery breadcrumbs on top.

And, I’ve missed some “fun foods” that just aren’t as good in their vegan equivalents- like pizza and ice cream.

There is NO good vegan cheese. None.

I have enjoyed some great meals in these past 10 months and the creativity in vegan cooking- even with its limited options- is exciting. I’ve done a lot of “ethnic cooking”: Indian, Middle Eastern, Thai, Japanese, some African stews… there’s so much wonderful vegan food that comes from outside the American diet. We’ve always enjoyed cooking and eating from around the globe, but in this year, I’ve been leaning more towards Indian and Asian cuisines.

So, there’s no plan yet- for 2023. And maybe we’ll just see what evolves without any strict rules about what we will or will not eat.

The environmental and ethical reasons for following a vegan diet echo in my mind and are persuasive. The supposed health benefits of following a vegan diet (better blood work, lower weight, etc) are probably a good idea for someone in their mid- 60s. And I need to remind myself of these things when that idea of a plate of brisket looms in front of me.

So, we’ll see. I don’t think that it’ll be meat, veg and starch X3 meals/day beginning on Jan 1. I don’t see many sausage egg and cheese biscuits in my future. But a bowl of real ice cream? A wedge of sharp cheddar? Linguine with clam sauce and some grated parmegiano reggiano? yum.

More later on this, no doubt.


Morning Walk. On Turning 64.

I know, I look a little peculiar:

Leggings, sweatshirt, baseball cap-

            (That’s the acceptable part)

Headlamp, fanny pack, walking stick

            (that’s the peculiar part)

I’m not in the woods, after all,

I am finishing my morning walk in suburbia.

But I started out before the sun was up and so:

Headlamp to see.

Fanny pack to carry my water and phone

Walking stick to beat off goblins in the dark should they assail me.

Today I turn 64.

The 60s are a strange time for women.

It feels like the invisible decade- 

            between active professional 


            kindly soft grandma.

I round the bend,

now in full daylight,

and see the girl.

She’s about 13 or 14,

standing at the end of her driveway waiting for the bus.

She has colt-like legs and big knees, all visible because on this chilly fall day she is wearing shorts. Short shorts.

Her long chestnut hair, brushed all shiny, falls in front of her face.

She looks down, her eyes trained on her phone.

Her thumbs are madly texting.

I don’t know if she sees me.

She’s very busy.

But she may be texting,

“The crazy lady from the neighborhood is walking by.”

I want to say,

“Young woman, lift your head.

Be strong.

There is a whole wonderful life ahead of you.”

There is great promise.

a triptych in Rs.

I.  Redeemed

Yesterday we returned to the Rocky Knob Trail

to try, try again.

Just 35 feet from where we turned left, last week-

      the left that led us down the hill and into the

       Mountain Laurel Wilderness… 

        a wilderness of self -doubt, dark forests and skinned knees…

Just 35 feet further from that early mistake, was the real trail…

…the trail with its own clear marker, orange blaze and numbered sign post just like the guide book had mentioned.

We enjoyed the Rocky Knob Trail yesterday,  

another lovely summer day with a cloudless blue sky.

We saw a long, black rat snake making his lazy way across the trail.

We recognized the steep descent and the pretty vista that we’d read about.

The boulder field was less impressive, covered with sixteen years of moss and understory    since its magnificence was first heralded in the guidebook’s pages.

We had a 4.3 mile “moderate” hike, just as we’d imagined, the week before.

When we got home, the “new” edition of the guidebook had been delivered by Amazon.

(This “new” one is only 6 years old.)

I tore into its pages, eager to read the updated copy for Trail #54,

ready for vindication with the mention of a first trail to the left that might deceive and lead one to the wilderness-  

  the wilderness of self-doubt, dark forests, and skinned knees.

But the “new” guidebook’s copy on Hike #54 was verbatim to its ancient forebear.

The font was only slightly smaller and the cover of the book, changed to blue.

II. Reluctance

Jesus in the garden with mums

I raked out the garden yesterday, my semi-annual encounter with the ghosts of our former homeowners-



  lovers of hosta, bishop’s weed, Solomon’s seal and columbine.

Apparently, they were also immune to poison ivy as it features prominently in the garden- by design or default, I’m not sure.

Twice a year I step among the big rocks- 

once in the spring to remove the detritus of winter,

and again, in the late summer to clear away the fading flowers as the yellow leaves begin to weave their fall carpet on the garden floor.

Curating a woodland garden takes restraint:

      not too much fussing,

      Nature gets her way in this design.

And so, it is with reluctance that I step inside,

place the few mums that I’ve purchased for jewel-tone pop of color,

and pat St. Francis on the head, wiping a spider’s web crown off his cement dome and the lichen from Jesus’ chin.

The next day I wonder at the turn of the seasons

as I gaze at my work

and scratch the poison ivy rash blooming on my arm.

III. Rant

green Thai curry with tofu and coconut rice

When you are a vegan and you are stuck in an airport for 24 hours 

(delays, cancellations, rebookings) 

you had better bring your own food.

You see, we want comfort food, too, when we are told that 

our plane is late,

or cancelled,

  and that we will not see our home,

 or cat,

 or loved one

  until a time much later than we had imagined.

Travel weary, we want to slide into a booth, order a spirit, 

and then select from a menu that just might have among its items something like a veggie wrap, 

or barbequed lentils with mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy,

or a hummus plate with pita bread and veggies. 

But America loves its meat, covered in cheese:


Sausage and Egg Biscuit with Cheddar

Ribs and Cheesy Grits.

We don’t want the stale, flat tortilla chips and watery salsa that you offer, 

or to be told, “Sure, we can do the Brussels sprouts without bacon, but they’ll be fried in the same fat that the bacon’s been cooked in,” 

and we don’t want to eat flaccid French fries for dinner.

If I eat another vegan “bar” as a “meal replacement” I might die.

OK, I won’t die, but I’ll be sad.

Upon arriving home, 

I was never so happy to see my stove.

Not the Rocky Knob Trail

Last month when I was doing a few days on the AT, I reflected that while one always hopes for an “incident free” and “safe” hike, the best stories come from mishaps and mistakes encountered along the way.  In fact, “trail names” are often derived from when something goes wrong.  Earlier this spring I met a thru-hiker whose trail name was “Wrong Way.”  It doesn’t use up too much grey matter figuring out what happened to him along the way.  He was good humoured about it, recounting to me not one but several times that he had stepped back onto the trail after a lunch break, or a visit in town. or just a pee in the woods, only to head back down the path in the direction that he had just traveled.  Wrong Way.

Several years ago, now, when we arrived in Pennsylvania, we were given a number of gifts to welcome us to the Commonwealth.  One of them was a book titled 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Harrisburg (PA).  If you look it up, you will see that this is one in a series of books that details hikes and walks around major metropolitan areas.  It’s a brilliant concept and a great way for new residents to discover trails and parks in their area.  Spoiler alert:  the phrase “several years ago” should serve as a tip for where this blog entry is headed.  It is now 2022.  The book that we received was published in 2006.

It is a bad idea to hike from a guidebook that is 16 years old.

And to be fully transparent, we have had problems with other hikes in this book for reasons of its age:  a hike that we took on the 4th of July had us looking for “a piece of orange surveyor’s tape tied to a tree” as a trail marker.  Guess what? 16 years later that tape wasn’t there, and we ended up scrambling down a super steep rock field for about a half mile, crabbing our way down and across the mountain like two old goats with shaky knees.

Yesterday’s hike brought some unplanned fun that included a rock scramble, a water crossing, a descent into a sunless forest and, best of all, a long passage of bushwhacking uphill through a tight thicket of mountain laurel.  “Just keep climbing towards the sun,” I told myself, as I moved on all fours up and over and under and through wiry shrubs so dense that all but a tiny speck of blue sky was occluded by leaves and stalks and trunks.


In my years of hiking, I have been trained in the “Leave No Trace (LNT)” and the “Ten Essentials” principles.  The first, LNT, is about good stewardship of nature, respecting the environment, and leaving the natural world as pristine as possible for the next traveler. (learn more about LNT at  https://lnt.org/why/7-principles/ )  The Ten Essentials are geared towards hiker safety and making sure that one’s trip into the wilderness is as safe as can be.  It is focused on traveling with what you need to assist with what you may encounter.  The Ten Essentials include: Navigation device, Headlamp, Sun Protection, First Aid, Knife, Fire starter, Shelter, Extra Food, Extra Water, and Extra Clothes. https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/ten-essentials.html   On our various outings, I usually carry the 10 Essentials. (I’ve learned a lot from “Jester” who has a podcast for Section Hikers titled, appropriately, “Jester, Section Hiker” and an Instagram page on “Hiker Safety.” I commend them both to you!) Sure, a five-mile hike in Central Pennsylvania in the middle of the day that never takes us more than 3 miles away from a road should not require a shelter or headlamp, but to be honest, on yesterday afternoon- and other times that I’ve been lost-  I was glad to know that if I had to spend the night in the woods, I was set.  Yesterday- full transparency- I was only carrying 6 of the 10 Essentials.  I did not have my headlamp, sun protection, fire starter or extra clothes.  I did have my smart phone and my GPS tracking device, first aid, a knife, an emergency blanket (shelter), snacks and plenty of water.  (Note to self:  put the missing items in my pack.)  What ended up saving us yesterday were our electronic devices and three apps: Google Maps, Strava, and Far Out. “Find my Car” also helped.

(End Entr’acte.)

So what happened?

After all this build up, it had better be good!  Bears!  Cliff hanging! A groundnest of bees! Wild boars!  

Nope. None of that.  

It was really just a case of missing landmarks, going off trail and needing to forge a path back to the car that had not been trod by other humans- ever.

The day was sunny and bright.  There was not a cloud in the sky. We had just arrived home after a week in California loving up our grandchildren, drinking wine, playing at the beach and wedding dress shopping with our youngest.  We sat in our house on this beautiful day, each of us with our eyes fixed on our computer screens, tallying up the number of emails that we’d received in our week away.   I don’t know whose idea it was, but we both came to the realization that we were still on vacation, and it was too nice outside to stay inside. And so, we ate a quick lunch, picked a hike from the aforementioned book (we’ve been working our way through the 60 hikes and have about 15 of them crossed off), and set off, later than we should have.  The trailhead was about 50 minutes from our home. The hike was a modest 4.5 miles and the book said that it was “moderate.” It was a loop trail that went down along the shoulder of a ridge into a holler to a reservoir, and then back up another way on a gentle ascent through a mature forest.  The guidebook entry started out by saying, “If you have any doubts about what mountain laurel looks like, this hike should alleviate those doubts forever.”  Check. I got to see plenty of mountain laurel up close and personal on this hike. (For those who are keeping track, this was hike # 54, “Rocky Knob,” somewhere near Caledonia Park in Michaux State Forest.)

looks pretty innocuous, doesn’t it?

The fact that it took us an additional 30 minutes to find the trail head should have been our first warning. The directions in the book named a road that we could not locate.  We drove up and down that very road twice looking for the alleged trail head giving up too soon both times, and only when Google Maps finally kicked in (no bars for most of the trip) were we able to see that we were, indeed, on the right road… it had just lost its sign.   We started off on this short hike at 3 PM, about an hour later than we probably should have.

As we studied the map later that night, at home, it appears that we zigged early, when we should have zagged.  None of the landmarks that the guidebook mentioned were evident, but the trail was so clear, and it was even marked with the same orange blazes that we had been told about.  And so we traveled downhill to the west when, apparently, we should have been traveling to the east- something that sounds so obvious and easy to figure out but… it wasn’t.

What we thought we were going to hike
What we actually hiked (a completely separate loop off to the west of the Rocky Knob trail)

Glenn’s expression sums it up.

This was one of those trips when we realized that we were lost when we were really lost. Really, really, lost.  Like down in a dark forest gully crossing a stream with just a hint of sun peeking through the ridge waaaaay up yonder and a thicket of mountain laurel and a near-vertical rock climb away from what might have even been close to getting us on the right path again towards civilization.  Did I say that there was mountain laurel?  Growing up in CT where mountain laurel is the state flower, our father scolded us any time that we would sit on the back steps and pick at the leaves of the flowering shrub that grew at our elbow, as we were disrespecting nature- and the state. (My father was a state senator and took his vocation seriously.). He would not have been pleased to see me stomping over, wriggling under, and roughly pushing back large boughs of the stuff yesterday as I scrambled towards the sun.

setting off up a power line trail trying to re-connect with the original trail

Devotees of the Appalachian Trail, we knew that we were not far from the simple one-lane, well-blazed, hard-to-get-lost-on-friend-of-a-trail, and so, as we emerged from the thicket of mountain laurel and found ourselves standing under a power line tower on top of a ridge, I called up my Far Out app which showed with its GPS beacon exactly where we were:  about a half mile from an AT shelter,  two miles from our car, and within a few yards of intersecting the AT which would bring us back to the intersection- where we started- on the Rocky Knob Trail.

See how there’s that nice power line trail in the distance? That was fine. See how there’s no trail in the foreground? That was not fine.

Yeah- no broken bones, no wild animal encounters, no new scrapes or scars to remind us of the 1st of September when we nearly hiked the Rocky Knob Trail, Hike #52.  This could be, in fact, with a tip of the hat to the Bard, “Much Ado About Nothing,” but, thank God for that.

If anything, this is a cautionary tale to go prepared for anything- even when you think it’s going to be a “moderate” hike up a “gentle ascent” on a gorgeous late summer afternoon.  And, it is also an urging that with the appropriate preparation, there is no reason not to go outside and explore God’s great creation.  There are some marvelous trees, insects, wildflowers and forest creatures to study. Even the mountain laurel is worth a close-up view.

Until next time, be safe!

The Old Goats.

PS I ordered a new revised edition of 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Harrisburg this morning. It is from 2016. Here’s hoping.

PPS There are no pictures of the sunless forest because… that was a little panicky moment and I wasn’t into taking pictures, I was into getting out of there.