Last weekend, Lucas and I spent the day wandering through the battlefields of Gettysburg. This year is the 150th anniversary of the battle, and yet, I still found myself holding my breath and whispering as we walked across the fields of a place where so many people died. It is somehow amazing and horrifying and real.
It was nice to be there during off-season. Often we found ourselves alone or mostly alone on the various stops, and we were free to read every sign as quietly and slowly as we wished. And from the observation towers we could stand and look, unobstructed, for miles in every direction until the constant gusts of chilly wind forced us down.
My favorite places in Gettysburg are Little Round Top and Devils Den. A section of the battlefield that stretches from the rocky hill-top to a catacomb of boulders that served as an outpost for snipers during the battle. Some of the stone walls the soldiers built for cover on Little Round top are still there, making the ghost of the past that much more real. And Devils Den still feels as damp and narrow and cryptic as I imagine it did so many years ago, even with children (and adults) slithering through the cracks and crevices once inhabited by soldiers.
But the place that makes me the quietest, and the saddest, is the field were Pickett’s Charge took place. As I look out at the exposed, dry-grass of a naked field slowly rising to the high-water mark of the battle on Cemetary Ridge, all I can imagine is fear. How impossible it must have felt to walk out onto that field as the Union artillery rained down. Over 6,000 confederate soldiers died trying to cross this field, and it became the turning point of the battle, and most agree, the war. What a strange combination to face in this little Pennsylvania town.
I have been doing a lot of reflect over the last few days and it seems fitting: It’s a new year. I added another notch in my birthday belt two weeks ago, and it is my 100th blog post on becominganomad. I am still having a hard time believing that it has been over a year and a half since I started blogging our first days in Alaska, and it seems even harder to believe that since then we have camped, hiked, backpacked, and eaten our way across the country to our new home in PA. I still get misty-eyed when I think of Alaska, so it seems fitting that today as I reflect on the last year, and this blog, that I have snow on the brain.
I smile to think that in elementary school I was one of the only kids who always voted winter my favorite season, and it carries over to today (although fall is creeping up there at a very close second). Something about being able to see your breath and boots and snow days and forts created out of piles of snow and the way the world transforms in white has always left me breathless. I still press my nose to the cold window glass near the end of fall wishing for snow. Lots of snow.
As you get older snow has more practical consequences, like shoveling and tough driving, but I still can’t seem to help myself. I will always wish for snow. I love the way the world looks when it snows. Suddenly everything is different: brighter, quieter, cleaner. It is almost like a fresh start.
This winter (in stark contrast to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Alaska) I feel as if I am playing hide-and-go-seek with snow. It is teasing me. It appears, bright-white, wet, and heavy, blanketing the street and the trees, only to melt into clumps of gray, crusty-chunks bunched in piles near my car. Everything melts too fast for me to sink into the quiet of snow.
It seems strange to still be heading out to walk in just a fleece. Like spring. Snow transitioning to ice and disappearing all around. The walking path a sheet of crumpled glass. The creek near our house running deep, cold, and clear. The broken edges of a snow pile giving way to green. Although I am missing the depth and scope and beauty of a pure winter, lately, I have also been enjoying the battle. Here and gone and in-between.
But, I still have my fingers crossed for piles and piles of snow. Don’t be mad folks that are ready for winter to be over
Cheers to snow and the new year and a 100 more adventures to come!
It seems like the end of November and the begining of December slipped right through my fingers: a blur of Thanksgiving and grading (so many freshman composition essays!) and rain and mini-weekend trips and suddenly it is Winter Break. The holiday season is upon us.
Yesterday, I finally ushered in the first day of winter break, and the end to my first semester teaching four classes of freshman English at a local university. I am SO ready for a break from grading, but I am glad I will have more freshman to keep me on my toes next semester. But for now, I am looking forward to spending time with family, baking (my list includes recreating Julia Child’s crossant, yes please), reading (for fun), dreaming up summer vaction plans (backpacking here we come), and finally tackling my non-school-related to-do list items.
But late fall (we are still snowless here), wasn’t all grading and gray. We packed in a few local adventures to satisfy our traveling taste buds!
Making our way to the monuments on a cool Novemeber day
Phipps Conservatory Winter Garden
Plus, Chihuly Glass!!!
Troegs Brewery…nothing like a pint of local beer
More from the kitchen soon…
Today in Carlisle it is bright, the sun is polkadotted across the brick wall in our backyard, and for whatever reason, it has sent me into a pleasant daydream about Lake Superior. It is hard to imagine it has been over a year since I last lived along the cold, clear water of this lake. It seems that everyone who has lived there is captavated. It is an ocean-of-a-lake and is equally spectatular in its beauty and storm-raging power.
So in honor of this sunny, crisp, fall day, here are some of my favorite images from a place that is close to my heart…
I love the fall because it is, without a doubt, the best time to camp. The bugs are gone, the nights are dark and cool, campgrounds are mostly empty, and you can hike for hours without getting too hot. The perfect storm of camping.
So I was more than excited to head off into the woods for the weekend, especially since it was also an opportunity to recreate and re-imagine a father/daughter camping tradition from my early days out in the woods. Our little group of four has since expanded, and isn’t strictly father/daughter any more, hurray for Lucas joining our gang. But it still held the essence of what made all those early camping trips so wonderful: way to much food, laughter, walks in the woods, building campfires, long morning breakfast (fire included), and lazy evenings.
There is something so special about turning your cell phone off, forgetting about time or meetings or deadlines, and drifting into the pleasant cloud of the moment. Sitting around the campfire at night we sometimes just watched the fire crackle and hiss and lick at the logs in long, blue flashes.
Beyond the joy of camaraderie, we also experienced a spectacular display of fall colors, rushing rivers, and waterfalls. Ohiopyle State Park is one of my favorite places in Pennsylvania. I have been there several times, and I never get tired of seeing the Youghiogheny [yaw-ki-gay-nee] River rush in sweeping twists around corners and over boulders slowly carving a tree-lined gorge.
Along the banks of the river, and above our heads on the trail, the leaves rustled in bright shades of fall. My favorite are the yellow leaves. Crisp and striking against the blue sky, like blots of paint flung haphazardly on a blank canvas.
A wonderful fall weekend!
Fall is starting to crackle in our neck of the woods… finally. Last week I wore long sleeves, stared out my front window through thick drips of condensation, and crunched over leaves on my walk across town. I am still waiting for the leaves to melt into the deepest oranges and reds and sunset yellows, but they are coming. A few bright trees pop out from the green like balloons of color dotting the hills and the streets. I’m ready. Bring on fall.
I have been waiting for cool weather and pumpkin everything and the magic of a season shifting into something new. Part of it is because last year at this time we were in Alaska and fall had already faded into the onset of winter by October. It was thick frost, bursts of snow, and cold temperatures. Last week in Fairbanks, AK it was 15 degrees. In Carlisle it was in the 50s.
But I have to say I am happy that fall stretches out so long here. I am looking forward to enjoying every minute of crisp air and colorful tree. So when we realized that Lucas’ parents visit would coincide with The National Apple Harvest Festival in Arendtsville, PA, it seemed like an appropriate fall activity to attend.
The festival is in fact more like a fair, long rows of vendors pedaling fried food and crafts, a 4H barn, a classic car show, and a variety of musical performances and family friendly activities. It was a beautiful day, sunny and cool, and the place was packed.
But the thing I most loved: the Tractor Square Dance.
Yep. Put on by the Middle Creek Tractor Swingers this amazing show is just want the title portrays. Tractors square dancing. There are “male” tractors, a little bit larger, and “female” tractors, a little bit smaller. To start they lined up on the outside edges of the fenced off “dance floor” with their partner and the caller proceeded to progress them through a series of square dances.
My favorite tractor was Rosie, a little pink two-seater, driven by the only woman in the show. The other “female” tractors were driven by men dressed up as women. Rosie, made tight, clean turns, and anchored many of the difficult dance “steps.” One of the most impressive moves was when Rosie and another female tractor moved to the center and pivoted on one wheel in a circle as other tractors joined in a long line swinging around the floor like the hands of a clock pointed at 12 and 6. Seeing tractors glide across the dirt is what I imagine it would be like to watch football players dance ballet, strange yet surprisingly entertaining. A wonderful fall weekend!
After nearly a year of “becoming Alaskan,” we are back in the Eastern Time Zone and, honestly, not exactly sure how to settle back into life in the lower 48. Things seem fast, and hot, and crowded. Where there always this many people on the east coast? But maybe we are just missing Alaska, and having a hard time saying good-bye, and, maybe, that is okay. For now.
But in the spirit of remembering, yet moving forward, this weekend we did what always makes us happy…we set off for the woods.
Luckily, our new town, Carlisle, PA, is surrounded by a handful of state parks that make the outdoors a short 30-40 minutes away. The Appalachian Trail stretches through our new “backyard,” and it is finally getting cool enough to enjoy being outside without loosing half your weight in sweat.
Yesterday, we drove through the country, up into the hills, to Colonel Denning State Park. The 273-acre park is small, cute, and, for the most part, quiet. We hiked the short Flat Rock Trail (2.5 miles one-way) to Flat Rock, a scenic ledge overlooking the Cumberland Valley.
The view was clear and crisp. I loved the patchwork of farm land linked by thin lines of trees like a living quilt, and the soft arch of the hills mirrored on the other side of the valley. Three hawks played in the breeze, dipping and crossing like paper air planes caught on a current of air.
It reminded me that there is always a new place to explore.
The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania
The last big, outdoor stop on our road trip was Badlands National Park. We spent the morning admiring the Mars-like qualities of this ever-changing, harsh landscape. It was too hot to hike, so we drove to each point of interest, and ate lunch under one of the few trees in the park offering at least a little bit of shade.
What I loved about this park was how drastically different it was. Our trip started out in mountains and woods and snow, and ended in wide-open, sand-blown, spires of gritty, colored rock. Beautiful.
I feel so lucky that we got to spend almost a month immersed in nature.
For the last few days of our road trip, we visited with family and friends, packed up a truck, and made the final push to our new home, Carlisle, PA. The end to a wonderful trip!
The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania
By the time we entered the Black Hills of South Dakota we had been on the road for 15 days, only one of which we spent in a hotel. We could put up and take down our tent with our eyes closed. We were road trip experts. But there were two things we weren’t prepared for: people and heat.
After spending so much time in the north, where we were still sleeping in a snow hat and gloves at night (in July), the heat of 90 degree days felt like being smothered. And it had been a long time since we had seen such thick swarms of people. It felt a little like wandering out of the woods into an amusement park. But, the scenery of Custard State Park made up for it!
Our destination was the home of Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and the scenic Needles Highway. While in the park we also spent time at Sylvan Lake and hiked to Harney Peak. For us, Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse felt too busy, so we looked at them from the road and moved along. Neat, but I’m glad we had more time for the Needles Highway and our hike.
The Needles Highway is awesome. The road, particularly the middle portion, switchbacks up and through granite tors that burst from the hills like candle sticks. The rock seems to have an artistic mind of its own. Each outcropping, stretches and bends and buckles in Play-doh-turned-rock kind of ways.
My favorite spot on the highway was the Cathedral Spires. A row of granite towers linked in a chain across the sky. It seemed like I should hear the trumpeted bellow of an organ at any minute. Another neat spots was a rock tunnel, that turned so sharply around a corner it looked like it was going to swallow the car trying to navigate its narrow channel.
We also loved our hike to Harney Peak. At 7,242 feet, it is the highest peak east of the Rockies and offers a wonderful 360 degree view from a historic stone fire tower perched amid larger boulders. The wind was blustery, whipping across the exposed peak, as we looked out across the Black Hills. Lovely.
The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania
If you haven’t guessed, I love to hike. And Glacier is one of those parks you can really go crazy hiking. So I hope you don’t mind hearing me gush about two more trails.
First, Gunsight Lake Trail. Although this trail comes with a caution, the first four miles are, well, not great. We even thought about turning around. Lots of over grown vegetation on the trail, but totally worth it in the end. The trail is about 13 miles round trip, and after you finally get past the first four miles, you cross along a ridge with outstanding views and continue up to the lake, which is beautiful.
The ridge offers views deep into the valley, with a huge waterfall on the other side, and red-toned mountains that are banded in scars from ancient glacial movement. The lake is clear, turtle-green, and cold. It is ringed by a bowl of mountains and 20 plus waterfalls funneling into the lake. We spent an hour snacking, skipping rocks, cooling our feet, and soaking in the views that have come to define this park for me.
On the trail back, we also took a short side trail to a huge waterfall. We guessed the falls were at least 100 yards long and spread out in a watery-fan near the bottom. The spray was so heavy my camera lens was covered in spots, and we were totally wet after looking at the view for ten minutes. I think that might be the sign of a good waterfall
Our last hike in the park was Scenic Point Trail, in the southern Two Medicine area. The landscape here was really different. On the hike we rose up onto a mountainside covered in sun-bleached tree trunks, low alpine flowers, and a snaking, rocky trail. We had great views of Two Medicine Lake and enjoyed a constant breeze on this exposed trail. I particularly liked the ghost-white trees. Other worldly.
An amazing national park.