It seems like fall is often the time when I blink and find that a month has gone by without blogging. I am going to blame (for the second year in a row) new jobs and new routines and my ability to get swept up in it all when we move to a new place. But, it is November, and the leaves are crackling under my feet and the air is finally crisp, and we even had a dusting of snow last week (I may be the only person in the Pittsburgh area excited about this besides Lucas), and I am happy to be back at my computer writing.
So here are a few of my favorite things from the last few months.
Warren Dunes State Park
This place is awesome! I have to say, I still love Lake Superior above everything else, but Lake Michigan is pretty great and the dunes in this part of the lakeshore are impressive and humbling and so much fun to run down (going up you really earn it). From the top of the dunes you can see out to the endless blue of Lake Michigan and back towards more rolling, sandy, tree-covered dunes.
The Mattress Factory
This is my favorite museum in Pittsburgh. It is a contemporary art museum tucked in the history district of Pittsburgh’s north side. It has permanent installation as well as new pieces. Always eye-opening and interesting.
Fall Hiking and Colors
Fall is my absolute favorite time to hike and camp. So we have been frequenting Racoon Creek State Park. I am always, always happy to be in the woods, especially as green gives way to bright pops of red and yellow and orange.
Last week we brewed our fifth batch of beer, a black IPA. We are loving the process and, of course, the results! It has been a fun new hobby for us that has easily transitioned from our backyard in central PA to our backyard in western PA. Now we just have to be patient as we wait for this new batch to ferment!
Today my story, “Missing,” was published at Necessary Fiction! To read it click here.
I am already enjoying the fact that we are within 45 minutes of three state parks and have even more options within a 2 hour radius. So on Sunday, I decided to explore a new place: Moraine State Park.
I hiked part of the Glacier Ridge Trail, the longest trail in the park (14.8 miles) and part of the North Country Tail, which holds a special place in my heart as it also crosses through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This trail sticks to a thick, wooded ridge line that runs above Moraine Lake. The trail was shaded, deep green, and almost-empty. I loved settling into the quiet, with sunlight filtering through the trees in blinding winks. It was good to breath deeply and think about nothing for four hours.
I also took a side trail down to the marina. It was loaded with people, and the sun was sticky-hot. But I loved watching the sail boats glide across the horizon and I saw butterflies flitting from flower to flower. A happy way to spend a water break.
A very nice Sunday afternoon!
The last few weeks have flown by as we made, what seems like our annual tradition, another move! We enjoyed our year in central PA, and we certainly had some cool experiences while exploring this part of the country: Tractor Square Dancing, Troegs Brewery, Ricketts Glenn State Park, the Grand Canyon of PA, the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, learning to brew our own beer, and a slew of new recipes and yummy treats. It was a great year.
Now we are starting to settle into our new home: Western PA! Another side of the Keystone State.
To be honest, we are getting a little too comfortable packing up boxes and driving large trucks and then unpacking everything again, but I always like the excitement and nervous feeling of starting out in a new place. It means find new gems, like a great bakery or new park, while at the same time getting lost and trying to figure out a new doctor and mechanic and all those everyday kind of things. But, the boxes are all unpacked (thank goodness!) and to celebrate we did what always makes us happy: We hit the trail.
It seems like the best way for us to settle in and start enjoying a new place. So, two weekends ago we set out for McConnells Mill State park and spent the day hiking. We last hiked at this state park in college so it has been a few years, but my favorite parts of it remained unchanged. The trails still run right along the rushing river and the water’s constant lullaby still makes me feel relaxed and refreshed.
We hiked and ate lunch on a patch of sunny rocks and skipped rocks. My kind of afternoon. I love the huge boulders that dot the landscape here, bunched along the river’s edge and scattered on the hillside. The woods were green and cool, and we spotted a bright orange salamander, a snake, and a tad pole.
A good way to kick off the beginning of a new chapter in our journey.
Last weekend, for three days, we attended events commemorating the Battle of Gettysburg including lectures, a trip to the actual battle fields, and the reenactment of key battles. Because it was the 150th anniversary, the scope and size of this event was staggering: over 10,000 re-enactors and over 100,000 spectators flooded a farm south of Gettysburg to immerse themselves in this important historical moment.
It was a hot weekend, marked by a cloudless sky and, on the last day, a torrential downpour. The weather, in many ways, mirrored what the soldiers, medial staff, and towns people endured during the three-day battle that scarred the land and served as a particularly important moment in the Civil War.
From the grandstand, we watched the re-enactors stretch across the fields out in front of us, firing in long volleys that echoed across the smoky landscape. Cannons blazed and cracked along the ridge lines and men crumpled to the ground as their battalions reformed and marched on. It was impressive and sad. Seeing history come to life was at once marvelous, almost magical, and incredibly hard to watch at the same time. It made the struggle and the suffering and the death that much more real.
It left us quiet in a way we ought to be more often.
It seems, like always, that life has been busy here, but I am convinced this is a good thing. It means trying new things and seeing friends and family and cooking yummy food and exploring. I am happy that life is busy.
But this year for the 4th, we took the day off. We brewed (Blueberry Stout…can’t wait!). We sat outside. We grilled and ate ice cream. The fireworks in Carlisle were on the 6th so instead we went old-school and I got six (yes, this is a large number) packets of sparklers. It reminded me of standing in my own backyard as a kid trying to write my name as the stick in my hand glowed and sizzled.
We twirled and made electric orange circles in the dark. It felt silly and fun. Then, Lucas wanted to try to capture the fleeting light, northern lights-style. I wielded the sparklers and he snapped some pretty cool picture.
So, a little late, but Happy 4th of July!
The Adventure Continues…
Day five on the trail included a whole lot of wind! Wind, wind, and more wind. We started the day hiking along steep cliffs that dropped into the churning ocean. The trail hugged the coastline and wandered through wide open fields of heather, coastal grasses, and haphazardly placed boulders. It made me feel like a tiny speck compared to the landscape.
The wind pressed in around us, pushing us off the trail, and then back on, tossing us like toy boats. We saw no other hikers on the trail all morning and it made the power of the elements seem that much more intense. Here wind and water rule. They carve and shape the land.
The boulders, speckled across the horizon, also added to the magic of this sunny, windy day. The rocks looked like lost marbles dotting the land. Just before lunch we reached Motion Head, a small rocky point jutting out into the sea. I loved watching the waves pound this low-lying point. They crashed into the geometrically broken rocks and sprayed, several feet into the air, a wall of water fanning out towards the sky. Very cool.
In the afternoon, we ascended “The Big Hill,” aptly named. It offered us impressive views back down the coast, out into Motion Bay and took us through some of the prettiest wildflowers we saw on the trip. Waves of dancing, wind-swept pink.
At the bottom of the Big Hill, sits Petty Harbor, our favorite community link. It was spotted with bright-colored houses and friendly inhabitants and a little shop that sold us giant ice cream cones. We sat in the harbor, looking at all the fishing boats, sun on our faces, enjoying our treat.
The hike out of Petty Harbor takes you up onto another series of high cliffs overlooking Motion Bay. We enjoyed the views and particularly liked a little side trail that let us drop down into a tiny, rocky cove complete with a waterfall and clear, cold, blue-green water.
With all the wind, we settled on a narrow pocket under a clump of pine trees for our camp that night. And we heard the heavy gusts of wind plowing into the coast all night. We were glad to have found a sheltered campsite.
In the morning, amid overcast skies and a cool breeze, we set off for Cape Spear, the eastern most point in North America. We once again followed the coastline, seeing nothing but wide open space and endless views. We loved all the craggy beaches and little freshwater creeks that drop out of the coastal woods through the rocks to the ocean.
As we neared Cape Spear on our way to St. John’s we saw more day hikers, and got updates from the outside world, like the status of the Stanley Cup hockey series, and the weather. It is so interesting how you can just dip out of the world for five days, and I felt a twinge of regret as we realized we were headed back to “civilization.”
We took a lunch break at North Head, a spur trail on a large piece of land that bows out into the ocean. From here we could see Cape Spear, and the two lighthouses in the distance. I love that on this trail you can continuously see both where you have been and where you are going.
Cape Spear is an interesting mix of history, rugged coast, and tourism. We loved the old battery there and seeing the historic lighthouse, but it was strange to see fences and warning signs along the coast, keeping people back, putting the wild just out of reach.
Due to weather concerns we decided to make a final push on this day and hike the rest of the ECT. It would make for a long day, but I loved this last section of trail, especially once you reached the plateau that would lead us into St. John’s.
But first we wander along the coast, then headed up to the dummy fort on Blackhead, and passed through the tiny town of Blackhead proper. In this section I also spotted a humpback whale! A fellow hiker suggested looking for tour boats slowed or stopped in the water to help up your chances of seeing a whale, and that is just what happened. We saw a boat sitting ideal in the ocean, then scanning the area, I saw a blow. A few minutes later the whales back then tail. It is the first time I have ever seen a whale from land. Very cool.
We continued to curl down through a coastal woods and had small glimpses of the coves that pocket this section of the trail. In Freshwater Bay, we passed across “the gut,” a long stretch of rocks separating the fresh water from the salt water. It was tough on the feet and we were glad to head back along the coast.
This is where we went up and up and up. It was out steepest and most continuous climb of the trip, but it was also the first spot that we saw pitcher plants, the provincial flower, and something I had been really hoping to see. They are a strange and impressive flower with a deep pink and yellow belly and fuzzy “ears.” They seem a little alien. For the rest of the hike, we saw them in small clumps and standing alone on the edge of the trail like bright-colored jelly beans.
When we reached the top of the plateau you could see back to Cape Spear, out towards the harbor, and the distant ocean horizon. The sun poked through creating spot lights that dotted the landscape and as we crossed rolling rocks we passed through another section of beautiful, pink wildflowers. The landscape up here was very different from the rest of the trail and uniquely captivating.
Finally, we had to go back down towards the harbor, Fort Amherst, and St. John’s. It was sad to know that when we reached the bottom our time on the ECT would be over, but we were looking forward to a shower
What an amazing trip!