Sunlight slicing through ten thousand leaf lenses
Splatters vivid colors across the browns and grays of earth, stone, and bark.
A tender maple leaf whispers, “Enter this cathedral we’ve prepared for you.
Sit in silence.
Touch and breathe.
Fall temperatures and long steady rain. The perfect recipe for hiking and waterfalls. With only one hour available Sunday afternoon, I threw the tripod over my shoulder and headed out to McWater Falls on the Lake Alma Trail. A quick four or five shots and it was back to the trail head.
Walking the trail, I felt a sense of thankfulness for the movement of my legs, the air in my lungs, and the pumping of my heart.
Let the season of Thanksgiving begin.
Hiker-dog was bouncing and hyper Saturday morning, celebrating cooler fall temperatures; Sunny and 41 degrees! She was beside herself as I loaded the Jeep. When I finally said, “up,” she jumped into position, ready for a road trip to whichever trail it might lead.
We’ll have to call this the “pawpaw hike.” Fanes Creek west to Spirits Creek treks through several pawpaw patches. I was unfamiliar with this little fruit, but Dana, one of our hikers, pointed them out as we passed. The first ones we saw were overripe and a little bitter.
Later we passed some that were just right. I eagerly cut the skin off of this pawpaw and tried a bite. The taste is described as a blend of banana, mango, pineapple and papaya. I thought this was an accurate description. I ended up eating several before I stopped to think maybe I should proceed with caution because of my lack of experience with pawpaws.
Pawpaws are an understory tree and do not self-pollinate so they need other trees in the vicinity. The upper canopy of oak and sweet gum shaded the tinder looking pawpaw trees. There seemed to be limited numbers of fruit on each tree and great variation in the maturity of the different trees.
If I find pawpaws growing close to the road, I would like to try mixing in some lemon juice and dehydrating a pawpaw “leather” as a backpacking treat. I saved the seeds from the fruit I ate to see if I can grow a few pawpaw trees underneath some oaks behind our house.
This section of trail contains a lot of history. A couple of miles follow an old railroad bed dating to the early 1900s when trees were harvested and transported on a narrow gauge railroad. During the winter, it is easier to see evidence of the work done here. Old bridge footings where the rail line crossed drainages can be seen. Making this railroad must have been a major ordeal, but evidently the line worked for several years.
Water in the creeks was just right for drinking but low enough for dry crossings. The lower water levels gave an opportunity for Hiker-dog and I to spend a little time after dinner walking down Spirits Creek.
Hiker is in her element when walking the trail. She is poised and confident as she struts along. One exception to this was on the first day. She got turned upside down in some brush and spent several seconds frantically trying to right herself. She looked like a big turtle with a red shell. Finally, she was able to gain a hand…paw hold and flip herself over. We told her we were laughing with her, not at her. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture.
Seeing Hiker with others in camp was interesting. She has a habit of being a little too friendly when people are trying to operate stoves and prepare meals. I’m thankful that she does not chew on tents or other pieces of equipment. However, I do wish that she would be a little less affectionate in camp.
I’ve noticed that Hiker does much better in camp after walking ten or more miles for the day. We only hiked seven so she ended the day with lots of energy. To divert her attention, we played fetch with sticks and black walnuts. Finally she bedded down for the night.
Water was easy to filter at Spirits Creek. It was clear and looked good enough to drink without filtering, though I wouldn’t recommend it.
I brought plenty of food for this overnighter. I had a couple of red potatoes in the bottom of my pack (hence, my trail name, Tater). I cut up the largest and began to boil it adding dehydrated vegetables from the Huntsville Pantry that were a gift from a friend. Then I added Bear Creek Creamy Potato Soup Mix and let it simmer. This was a healthy and delicious feast with all of those vegetables! After a cup of hot tea, I slept soundly.
The next morning I had two cups of coffee which tasted like a gourmet brew on a cool morning in the Ozarks. I boiled water with dehydrated apples and then added oatmeal. Outstanding! Next, I put several slices of pre-cooked bacon in boiling water with the smaller red potato remaining in my pack. I couldn’t stand the idea of hiking out with that “heavy” potato in my pack. I was well nourished and ready to hike.
Fane Creek was flowing slowly. We were unable to cross this creek on our winter thru-hike due to high water, so this was a different view of this beautiful creek. Knowing my trip was drawing to an end, I paused and spent a couple of minutes at the crossing. I’m thankful for the beauty of the Ozark Mountains and the privilege of hiking them.
Note: This isn’t a typical Ozark Mountain hiking story but a personal story of how two works of art have traveled my way. It’s also the story of how some good connections are made using technology.
Reese Kennedy was my mother’s older brother. He was an artist. He was a complex, soft-spoken man, but there was a richness and generosity in that complexity. He was kind and gentle, and loved his family very much.
I’ve written the story of convincing Uncle Reese to draw a Texas Longhorn for me when I was five. What I didn’t tell was how that ink and chalk drawing later disappeared.
I assumed that it was lost or accidentally tossed when my parents moved several years after I graduated from college. I would think of it often, but eventually gave up on ever seeing it again. I was sad that this icon from childhood was lost and possibly destroyed.
While attending Reese’s funeral, I thought again about that drawing while hearing stories of those he influenced over the course of his life. Stories were shared of his work as an artist, teacher, father and friend. He had led a distinguished life personally and professionally. He was a founding member and first president of the Southwest Watercolor Society and taught art at Stephen F. Austin University prior to his retirement.
Several years later I was helping my parents clean Aunt Lucille’s home following her death in Nacogdoches, Texas. She and Reese were both highly respected watercolor artists.
While I was sorting through books, Reese’s son-in-law, Larry walked in and said, “Is this something that belongs to you?” He was holding the Texas Longhorn drawing. My parents theorized that they had given it to Reese years before, with the idea of having him make a frame for it in the frame shop of his Nacogdoches art gallery. It ended up in one of his collection folders and time passed by as it sat safely in his home.
I had the drawing framed, and it is now on display in a prominent place where I see it daily, thankful for this gift from the past. Knowing Reese, he would humbly say, “If I’d realized how special this drawing was going to be to you, I would have spent more time on it.” I would reply that in dealing with me at age five, he probably needed to make that longhorn appear quickly to hold my attention. It was beautiful to me then and still is today.
I posted the initial story of this drawing in January of 2014.
In July, I received the following email from the feedback page of my blog.
I think I have one of your uncle’s watercolors. The signature matches the one on your longhorn painting. The piece I have is a watercolor of a log cabin. Would you like me to email you a photo of it for you to see?
I would enjoy seeing a photo of the painting and forwarding it to Reese’s daughter. Reese was a founding member and first president of the Southwest Watercolor Society. He was a wonderful person.
Scott Dressel-Martin lives in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. After visiting his web site, I realized he was a gifted professional photographer. He once worked with one of my favorite nature photographers, Galen Rowell. I was delighted that my blog entry had led me to an artist who appreciated Reese’s art.
Then in August, the story continued.
At long last, here is a photo of the painting I think is by your uncle. Thank you for your patience. It’s about 20×24 framed, and it’s beautiful. I keep thinking it doesn’t match anything in my house, but it’s such a lovely painting I was never able to let it go.
Does this look like his work and signature to you?
I was given the painting by a friend in Vail about 20 years ago as he was moving out of town. I’ve enjoyed it ever since.
That’s my Uncle Reese for sure! That is a beautiful painting. He once drove up scenic Hwy 7 through Arkansas, stopping to paint and photograph old barns and structures. Could have been that this old barn was from one of those trips. Or, it might have been a scene from East Texas. Thanks for sharing the photo.
The next message from Scott was a complete surprise.
Now that we’ve determined that this is your Uncle’s work I’d like to make you an offer. If you’d be willing to pay for the shipping I’d be happy to give you the painting. I love the piece but it truly doesn’t fit in our home decor. It would make my wife and I very happy to know the work is being appreciated and cherished by someone that has a connection to it. It would feel like the piece is going home in a way.
Wow! Must say you’ve brought a tear to my eye with your kind offer. I would be delighted to have this painting and would treasure it for years to come.
Just let me know the cost after you ship and I’ll gladly reimburse you to your Garland St. address. I will also make a donation to the David Kennedy Music Scholarship fund in appreciation for your gift to me. David, a gifted classical guitarist, was Reese’s son pursuing a doctorate in music performance from North Texas State University in the 1980s when he died in his early 30s. Reese’s daughter, Carol, has applied any sales of his paintings to the scholarship fund over the years.
Excellent!! I will have the painting shipped in the next week and let you know when it’s on the way.
It is wonderful to know that we are playing a small part in helping the scholarship fund. Music and theater are important to us and helping students in need is always a worthy endeavor.
I can’t wait for you to have this painting!
And so, this is how another painting by Reese Kennedy came into my possession. It is perfect for my office and even ties in with our school colors of green and gold. I look at this painting and think of Reese’s brushes shaping every inch as he sat behind his easel along Highway 7 or somewhere in an East Texas field.
Reese was an artist. He couldn’t help but paint, but I wonder if he had any inkling of the paths some of his art would travel? That one of his drawings would be “lost” then found and cherished years later. I think he would be pleased to know that his work would be treasured and shared for years into the future.
“Put your money where your feet are.” I’m not sure where I first heard this, but it has been good advice. I hear of many hiking trips coming to a painful end due to foot injuries or blisters. I have found that good fitting shoes and wool blend socks make it possible to hike many pain-free miles.
Besides comfort, a good reason to purchase good equipment is that manufacturers will tend to back their product if there is a problem. The well-used pair pictured above have covered many miles including a trip through the Grand Canyon. I liked these shoes so much that I purchased a second pair to use on my thru-hike of the Ozark Highlands Trail last winter. That second pair of shoes made the trip beautifully.
I was set with two identical pairs of Oboz Firebrand shoes which allowed me to alternate and keep a dry pair ready to go on my daily morning hikes.
Many miles later, sections of the sole began to come loose on one of the newer shoes. The shoes pictured here are my first pair still in use every day. After submitting a warranty claim and picture to Oboz online, I was contacted by phone. I’d entered my email incorrectly so they were calling to ensure they could send a package slip for me to ship my shoes with the loose soles to them. I was impressed!
Today my new Oboz shoes arrived. I’m glad to have two pairs of these shoes again and look forward to many more mostly-comfort-filled miles.
Looking closely at the well-worn soles of my original pair of Oboz, I was reminded of Emerson’s statement, “He is the richest man who pays the largest debt to his shoemaker.” Investing in your feet is money well spent!
When you have worn out your shoes, the strength of the sole leather has passed into the fibre of your body. I measure your health by the number of shoes and hats and clothes you have worn out. He is the richest man who pays the largest debt to his shoemaker. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1851
Hiker paid a visit to the Alma Animal Clinic recently for a checkup and to look at some gunk in her ears. As we turned into the parking lot, she began to jump and shake, positioning herself next to the passenger door. When I opened her door, she ran excitedly to the front of the clinic, tail wagging non-stop. I decided she must like the undivided attention she receives from Dr. Green, his daughter, and other staff. Or, maybe she associates this location with good things that have happened to her in the past. When someone comments on how pretty she looks on the trail I sometimes say, “She’s a tribute to veterinary medicine.”
Turns out the ear infection is a minor issue that should clear up with ten days using an ear wash for a few days. With her daily dips into Lake Alma during her four-mile morning hike, I’m sure moisture in the ears is a contributing factor.
Toward the end of January, Hiker weighed about 46 pounds which was up several from when we first met at mile 138 on the Ozark Highlands Trail. Now she weighs right at 66 lbs. The following links tell more about Hiker’s story as well as the pictures below.
Looks like we’re determined to damage the Grand Canyon. The above picture was from a backpacking trip two winters ago. Our views across the canyon were unimpeded by the development of hotels or other tourist structures. We’ve seen enough development around the Grand Canyon. Present levels of development allow people to enjoy the views safely. I hope the proposed additional development will not go forward.
Certain we’d be attacked by multitudes of ticks, I sprayed down my pants cuffs. By the time Hiker (dog) and I stepped onto the Ouachita Trail at mile 165, the sun was high. I was feeling a little early trip anxiety because I was violating a long-held practice of avoiding backpacking in July. The first section is pretty exposed, allowing a lot of undergrowth, but only a few ticks managed to climb up my pants to be easily picked off.
As we approached Green Thumb Spring, I wondered if there would be water. I’d packed enough to last to Crystal Prong but was concerned with having to share with Hiker if other sources were dry. Hiker saw the water first and lowered herself slowly into the dark murky fluid with an expression of bliss. I realized the water of Green Thumb Spring was much different that what I saw there twenty years ago, probably due to the difference in seasons. There was a slow seep below the black pipe where I had filled my water pouch with crystal cold water in a few seconds years before.
To be safe, I decided it would be necessary to filter some of this nasty stuff. I used my bandana to filter the big stuff before using the Sawyer filter. This worked well and the water was usable.
Climbing to the ridge just past Green Thumb Spring, I remembered looking to the northwest and seeing Forked Mountain many years before. I kept glancing to the left as I topped out, but the summer foliage blocked most mountain views. Still, I enjoyed the memory of my first sight of that odd shaped mountain twenty years before.
Arriving at Crystal Prong was a relief. The water was clear and cool, even on July 3rd. Temperatures were in the mid to upper 80s with lows during the night around 60-degrees. It was still summer with mosquitoes and ticks. The promise of cooler temps was enough for me to make this trip if for no other reason than the novelty of backpacking Arkansas in July. I didn’t see one other backpacker during my four days on the trail.
Camping at Crystal Prong was a treat. I’d camped there with my nephew and father twenty years before. On that earlier outing, I don’t remember learning any significant outdoor skills other than to avoid getting too close to the water in winter. My nephew slipped while exploring the shore and soaked one shoe which made for some discomfort that cold evening.
I learned a couple of lessons on this, my second visit to Crystal Prong in twenty years.
Lesson one: The “no-see-ums” that seemed so benign were actually biting me during my evening meal. The little dots they left turned into itchy pinpoints the next day and continued to provide itchy entertainment the following week. A little repellant would have avoided this. I’ll know better next time.
Lesson two: Always do a final check of your packing list. My spoon was nowhere to be found. I stirred my pasta with a stick and used a small piece of metal from my stove as a short spoon. Less than ideal but it worked. As I ate my pasta, I pictured myself drinking potato soup the next night.
Lesson three: Hiker is a good camp guard dog. You wouldn’t think it because she’s everybody’s best friend, never growling or barking in anger. During this night, she heard a suspicious sound and gave several barks that were very different than I’d heard before. She seemed to say, “Noooo! This is our campsite. Stay away!” She also growled like I’d never heard. Whatever troubled her left the area.
During the night I heard what I will call a “preachy screech owl.” The initial long high-to-low screech was followed by a series of random and rhythmic scolding hoots unlike what I’ve heard before. This occurred two times within a couple of minutes and then all was silent. Hiker didn’t react to this sound.
My memory of Crystal Prong from twenty years earlier was much different than the way I found it on this trip. Still beautiful, yet different. Hiker and I took a couple of dips in the creek to cool down. The sun slowly set and stars began to peek through the darkening sky. Lightening bugs soared overhead and across the creek like our own private little campsite meteors.
The next day (July 4) was a marathon hike. Crystal Prong to Lake Sylva for a little break before beginning the return trip to Brown Creek; a fifteen-mile day. We were beat so Brown Creek was a pretty sight. The water was cool and clear. The fireworks were a nice distant sound that evening and potato soup (supplemented with my dehydrated golden baby potatoes) was delicious. My newly found spoon worked well.
Earlier that day we took a break at Brown Creek Shelter. I enjoy reading entries from shelter journals and sat on the steps for a while. As I was returning the notebook, I noticed a plastic Wendy’s spoon in the storage box. Backpackers and trail maintainers occasionally leave small items that might be of use to future hikers. I slipped the spoon into my shirt pocket and thought about creamy broccoli potato soup.
Several hiking buddies call me “Tater” because of my habit of packing dehydrated potatoes. As I walked away from that shelter, I thought they might change my trail name to “Spoon.” During a winter thru-hike of the Ozark Highlands Trail, I let my plastic spoon sit on the bottom of a hot pan. By the time I smelled it the spoon was firmly melted to the pan. After prying it free and sanding it against a rock, the spoon was functional. It would have worked better if I hadn’t had any front teeth. The next day we camped at Lynn Hollow and a metal spoon was at the fire ring. I still have that metal spoon. The trails seem to provide what I need when I need it, especially where eating utensils are concerned.
Evening temperatures were cool. Originally I’d planned to use only my 2/3-length sleeping pad and silk-weight bag liner. I thought my 40-degree bag would be too warm, even if used as a quilt. Turns out that bag would have felt just right. I’d packed a light emergency bag and used it each night. I was comfortable.
July 5 was to be a shorter recovery day after the previous day’s 15-mile trek. To give Hiker a break, I carried her pack but made sure she watched me stuff it into my pack as if this would increase her appreciation of the favor I was doing for her. We took our time at breakfast then started out at a leisurely pace up and out of the Brown Creek drainage. We stopped at Flatside Pinnacle and hiked up for the view. The sun was already high, but the views were a treat.
We’d planned to spend the final night back at Crystal Prong but decided to hike farther to the beautiful little creek we’d enjoyed on our first day hiking in. I had entertained the idea of taking a nap there and hiking on out that same day, but Hiker convinced me to make other plans. She folded and was down for a long nap while I enjoyed the water and then slept in my tent. Since we both had some good rest, I decided we’d get an early start the next morning. Sometimes dogs know best and I was wise to follow Hiker’s lead.
July 6 we rose at 4:30 a.m. and began hiking by 5:30, the first 15-minutes with headlamp. This was some pleasant hiking. The only challenge was “accepting” the occasional spiderweb. These Ouachita spiders weave a nasty web. They are spring loaded and almost push you back when you hit them. I found that it was much easier to just walk through and let them wrap around you. Then while continuing to walk, I’d pull from above and below my eyes which would remove most of the web except for my hair. This strong “spiderweb mousse” pasted my hair firmly into place.
Forty-five miles of walking on just over twenty-two miles of trail filled four wonderful days. By the time I began to backtrack our route, I was thankful that shuttle plans hadn’t worked out. Seeing the same trail in both directions gave me a better grip on this section and allowed for a more reflective walk. The memories from past treks on this same ground added a richness to the trip. You never really walk the same trail twice.
Now I’m ready for some new trail! Next up when the weather cools is Lake Sylva to Pinnacle Mountain State Park.
A few random pics:
I heard a yell from down in the valley and immediately realize my error. The voice was my father’s, and it wasn’t a happy sound. I had paused to pick up rocks and throw them into woods down a steep embankment. It was fun to watch them bounce their way down through the trees. I didn’t realize my father had hiked down below, and evidently one of the rocks hit him on the shoulder. When he got up to the piece of trail I was on, he emphasized that I shouldn’t do that again. It was a good lesson to learn at twelve years old. Now while hiking I occasionally stop younger hikers from throwing rocks down hillsides and this always reminds me of my father.
While visiting my Uncle Reese in Arteaga, Mexico, years later in the 1990s, I did a little desert hiking with my dad. I stared at Arteaga Mountain through my uncle’s second floor window and thought it looked like an easy climb with little in the way of vegetation or challenge. My dad, sister, and her son were up for it. We consulted with one of Reese’s neighbors who had a topographic map of the area, determined a route, and drove to the foot of this “smooth little mountain.”
We were surprised at the steepness of the climbs and the thickness of prickly vegetation. Cactus plants were everywhere and had a way of reaching out and touching you.
Another surprise was the deceptiveness of the climb. After reaching one rise, there would be a dip before rising even higher. We hiked up, then down and then up even more. This pattern repeated over and over. We finally reached the peak and enjoyed the view back down on Arteaga. Rather than return by the up and down route, we chose a drainage to scramble down and walked back to the car. A souvenir from that hike was a century plant stalk that my father found and used as a hiking stick. It was light and strong and still works today.
A few years ago my father and I visited Petit Jean State Park where we’d spent many family vacations when I was a child. We got in late and set up camp in the dark. Early the next morning we hiked down the Cedar Falls Trail. Robins were everywhere, and water flowed in small drainages along the trail. A flood of memories came over me as I thought of the many times I’d walked that trail as a child. The house-sized boulders in front of me sat exactly as they did when I was a child. Although there had been gradual changes over centuries from water, ice, and wind, the changes were imperceptible to me.
We were both growing older in a world that seemed to change a breakneck speed. The world we worked in had seen tremendous changes in technology and professional practices, yet here along these rocky trails, time seemed frozen. There was something comforting about the stability of these scenes remembered from childhood. The little drainages still flowed across familiar rock piles. Cedar Falls still roared with power. Deep green moss still clung to the tops of vine-covered rocks. Bright orange and yellow lichen still caught my eye as we descended the trail.
As I watched my father hike down the trail, I thought about his years of commitment to my mother and our family. He’d worked hard to provide for us and make it possible for us to explore the beauty of the world and learn new things. He always had an eye for the beauty of nature, and I was pleased to think I received that tendency as a gift from him. He took pride in his children and grandchildren, but I knew that he had made sacrifices to provide for us and make our needs more important than his own.
The few hikes I had with my father became special memories. He is the true long-distance hiking partner, having traveled with me for more than fifty years. I’m thankful for his many lessons, some verbal but most taught in silence through example. He showed me how to walk a path with integrity. Out of respect for my father and his example, I hope to walk as he walked.