Everything is Holy Now

Quote Mary Chapin Carpenter  copy

As I loaded my pack for a fall trip in the Ozarks, this favorite quote came to mind and made me think. What do I really need to carry with me when walking a trail? Then a larger question came to mind. What is it I need on this walk through life?

What I’ve thought was indispensable to a happy life often proved to be insignificant clutter, based mostly on what our culture proclaims we must have. Much of what we label as sacred has shown to be hollow, or at best, a shallow imitation for holy.

I’ll place a few essentials carefully into my pack – food, water, shelter, and coffee. In addition to the pack, I’ll carry my mind and a pounding heart. The trail will provide the remainder of what I need.

As I receive what the trails have to offer, I sometimes whisper this song. “Wine from water is not so small, but an even better magic trick is that anything is here at all.”

Imperfect Beauty

WordPress Photo Challenge: Structure – The arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex.  Beauty – a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.IMG_1982rrIn each of these objects from nature there is beautiful imperfection. A cone flower petal misplaced or the tip of a butterfly wing snipped off by a predator. Those slight irregularities in structure reveal the frailty and temporary nature of the beauty. Perhaps imperfections expand the qualities of beauty. IMG_2056rrIMG_2035rrThis ancient gnarly cedar clutches the edge of a mountain bluff, enduring random forces of winds, water, and ice as only its random structure could do. Beauty comes through deep wrinkles that speak of its tenacity and resilience from years lived so close to destruction.

The above photos were from a recent hike on Mount Magazine, Arkansas’ highest mountain.

Arkansas Master Naturalists: Pausing to Learn

Ark Master Nat logoSince January I’ve been involved in training with Arkansas Master Naturalists (AMN), putting a crimp in my hiking plans but with great rewards. It’s easy to plow ever forward almost mindlessly from one outdoor adventure to another without appreciating the gifts to be found along the trails.

Becoming a Master Naturalist required completing 40 hours of formal training on Saturdays, so I sacrificed some trail time, but I met a great group of diverse people with many talents and areas of expertise. This training served as a beginning point for future learning and helped me realize how little I know about our natural world. The AMN encourages participants to follow their interests in learning and volunteer efforts.

At the graduation program while listening to others discuss our path to this point, I decided to draw a visual aid to show how the training lays a foundation for future learning and service to our environment. My favorite part of this visual is the two arrows up and out indicating future work and continued learning. (Revised in Jan. 2018 for the incoming Naturalists in Training.)

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My formal pause for learning is coming to an end, but I’ll be sure to slow down and look more carefully as I hike along the trails. I also look forward to meeting my classmates as we volunteer in service to our natural areas.

Now, my mind is buzzing with ideas for future trips. So many trails and so little time!

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A few of the graduates of the Naturalists in Training

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Tom was my mentor and encourager

Sharing Trails at the Arkansas Literary Festival

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Excerpt from the festival website

If you’re in the Little Rock area, come enjoy two great books at this free event!

Ark Literary Festival exerpt

Excerpt from the printed program

Time: Saturday, April 29 at 11:30 a.m.

Place: Witt Stevens Building Central Arkansas Nature Center, 602 President Clinton Ave, Little Rock, AR

 

Matt Moran and I will be taking you on a tour of the Big Woods of the Delta Region and the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri. We’ll share the beauty and history of these regions and help you plan future adventures. Check out the full schedule of events and make a weekend of it!

Help spread the word by printing or sharing with your friends: Five Star Trails Poster 042917 Literary FestivalFive Star Trails Poster 042917 Literary Festival

Ambience: Comforting Light

WordPress Photo Challenge: Ambience 

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Smith Creek in the Buffalo National River region

I was immediately smitten on my first visit to Smith Creek Conservation Area. The ambience was soothing and inviting. Deep greens comforted my soul and I felt thankfulness while standing in the middle of this creek.

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Looking downstream on Smith Creek

Follow this link for more about Smith Creek.

Five Star Trails: The Ozarks includes map, trail description, and driving directions for Smith Creek Trail.

Why Visit the Ozarks?

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I’m proud to share posts written this month for Menasha Ridge Press. Below are links to each of these fall-focused posts. Come enjoy the beauty of fall in the Ozarks. I’d be honored to guide you on the trails with my new book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.

Part I: Top Reasons to Visit the Ozarks This Fall

Part II: Why Visit the Ozark Mountains? All the Fall Colors! 

Part III: Why Visit the Ozarks? The Rich History of the People of the Ozark Mountains 

 

Why the Ozarks?

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Yellow Rock Bluff, Arkansas

While selecting photos for a presentation to the Trailblazers of Fort Smith, I realized the Ozarks could hold their own following the High Sierras of California. The day of the program, photos transitioned smoothly from the John Muir Trail to the Ozarks and the audience appreciated the beauty and uniqueness of both regions without any “let down” as we moved into the Ozarks.

Why the Ozarks?

How about an extended hiking season and a variety of beauty? When mountainous regions around the United States are becoming impassable due to snow, the Ozark Mountains are beginning their long hiking season with a fall transformation to red and golden foliage.

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Alley Spring, Missouri

Lake Alma Sunset

A fall sunset over Lake Alma in Arkansas

Fall leaves on rock

Fall color on sandstone

As winter approaches and leaves drop, majestic vistas and towering rock formations are revealed.

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Pedestal Rocks Scenic Area, Arkansas

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wild iris

Seasonal rains bring beautiful waterfalls year round but especially in the spring when wildflowers sparkle throughout the region, especially in open glades and along steep hillsides.

 

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Long Creek Falls, Missouri

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Shepherd Spring Waterfall at Lake Fort Smith State Park, Arkansas

Natural springs flow year-round, often showing some of their most lovely character during the “off season” of winter. You’ll also find smaller crowds in the Ozarks during the winter months.

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Cascade below Maramec Spring, Missouri

I’m often asked my favorite trail. My answer is, “The last trail I hiked.” While I do enjoy the larger than life bucket-list trails offered by California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Montana, I always look forward to returning to the Ozarks. They hold their own in comparison with landscapes anywhere in the United States. If you’re looking for scenic beauty, an extended hiking season and smaller crowds, explore the Ozarks!

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Clifty Creek Natural Arch, Missouri

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Kessler Mountain Rock City, Arkansas

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Big Spring, Missouri

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Young hiker taking in the views near Whitaker Point, Arkansas

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Early morning coffee in the Ozarks

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If you want to explore some of the trails pictured in this post, check out Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.

Dinnertime on the Trail

Response to WordPress Photo Challenge: Dinnertime

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I enjoy the mental and physical winding down that occurs at the end of a day in the Ozarks. Dinnertime can take on the character of a sacramental act.

Preparing simple food surrounded by stone walls and towering trees, a natural cathedral. Quiet conversations next to a cascading stream as we replenish body and soul, an outward sign of inward grace.

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One Good Trail is Enough

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It had been several months since I checked my little adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail. My last two visits were in July and then again in September. Mike LeMaster cut a number of trees off of the trail in July and then Steven Parker did some more chainsaw work recently. I’ve had some expert help in maintaining this trail!

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Mile marker close to Dockery’s Gap

This little piece of the OHT has become special to me. It runs from Old Locke Road (FR 1007) at the Dockery’s Gap Trailhead, west to a campsite next to Jack Creek at mile-5 of the OHT.

When the new Lake Fort Smith State Park was being built, this piece of trail was abandoned, and the beginning of the OHT was at Dockery’s Gap. I liked hiking the closed trail and marked sections with survey tape to make the route easier to follow. Sometimes I’d saw small trees off the trail to keep it passable. When this section of trail reopened around 2008 after the completion of the new state park, I adopted the 4-mile section.

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Jack Creek

About three years ago, I realized just how strong my sense of ownership was when I discovered that some campers had trashed a special spot on the trail. I cleaned it up while cursing under my breath. I describe this incident in Jack Creek Criminals. It felt like a personal attack that someone would have so little respect for “my” section of the OHT!

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Hiker enjoyed the trail and cool air.

Today, Hiker-dog and I walked from Dockery’s Gap to Lake Fort Smith State Park where my wife, Becca, would meet us. Wildflowers were popping, creeks were flowing, and the sun was shining through cool, crisp air. It was a magical day and every step held beauty. I felt like I barely knew this trail as if hiking it for the first time.

Sometimes I’ll say, “I’ve done the OHT,” meaning I’ve hiked the 180 miles from Lake Fort Smith to Tyler Bend. I’ve “done” the section from Dockery’s Gap to Lake Fort Smith many times. What I can’t say is “I know this trail.” Today taught me that I never “know” a trail. Each mile has something new to offer every time I walk it. My life would be plenty full with just this little stretch of Ozarks landscape. One good trail is enough! 

…..

As I approached Lake Fort Smith, I met a hiker from Joplin. It was his first time on the OHT, and he was pleased with his new map. I enjoyed telling him that he was standing on the section adopted by Kristian Underwood, the cartographer responsible for the OHT maps.

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Map by Underwood Geographics

Below are a few photos from today’s hike.

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Hiker unsuccessfully seeking a mole.

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Hiker-dog inspecting a very clean campsite at Jack Creek. The group was from Kansas City, MO.

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I enjoyed giving out a couple of bookmarks with Hiker-dog’s “signature.”

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Wild iris on the trail

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Looking into Jack Creek drainage and the mountain ridge on the other side with new leaves on the hardwoods

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Boulders broken by time and the elements

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Crossing Frog Bayou that feeds Lake Fort Smith

I’ll end with a few photos of history along the trail approaching Lake Fort Smith and next to the lake.

Ushering in Spring on the Ozark Highlands Trail

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trout lily

This trout lily peeped up through the leaves and whispered, “Spring is near.” Mike, a fellow hiker, noticed these small wildflowers as we passed. I stopped and spent a few minutes looking and listening to what the subtle blends of color might be saying about the approaching spring.

The open woods revealed a contrast between the trout lily’s tiny voice and the soft roar of wind through the overhanging leafless hardwood canopy.

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On the OHT southeast of Arbaugh trailhead

Our route began at Arbaugh Trailhead, north of the little town of Oark, and headed east and south on the Ozark Highlands Trail. Kerry, a strong hiker and mountaineer, led our group of twelve. We enjoyed a short level walk before beginning a long steady downhill toward Lewis Prong, a beautiful stream flowing just enough to require a wet crossing.

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After crossing, I sat to enjoy the flow for a moment before moving on. Maybe recent practice at slowing down was paying off. In the past, I might have hurried on down the trail, but pausing gave me a chance to enjoy Lewis Prong and this rushing cascade downstream from our crossing.

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Turner Hollow made a nice lunch stop. Doug found the perfect sitting-rock with a view.

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We crossed several creeks that day under Kerry’s watchful eye.

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Waterfall Hollow was littered with downed trees from ice storms of the past. We saw evidence of trail maintenance all along this section. Randy, the adopter of this section, and other volunteers had spent many hours here, and we were thankful.

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The climb up and over Moonhule Mountain was tough followed by smooth sailing down to Hignite Hollow where we camped.

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As the sun went down, we began to enjoy the warmth of a fire as well as conversation and marshmallows. I used the fire to cook my broccoli cheese soup with dehydrated potatoes. The temperature probably dipped down into the upper 30s on this clear, star-filled night.

The next morning I was up at first light and headed out for a short hike with camera in hand. I hiked along the trail and then down an old roadbed to a drainage that led back to Hignite Hollow Creek. It was a pleasurable hike, especially where the creek formed small cascades that shimmered in the morning light.

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Morning coffee before continuing toward Ozone Campground

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Boomer Branch was a dry crossing though the water was clear and inviting. Once on the other side, the route continued up and away from the creek. Mike stopped for a photo as the group headed out.

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After a short climb, we followed a beautiful ridge walk before descending to, and crossing, the Mulberry River. At my feet’s request, I remained standing in the creek a few extra seconds. The cold water felt good on tired feet and legs.

Some tough climbs awaited us as we moved away from the Mulberry and eventually to Ozone. A familiar looking trout lily stood silently as I passed. It seemed to be saying, “Hope you enjoyed your springtime hike. Think of this cool morning next July!”

I thought about how much this little stretch of trail had given me during my two-day trek. Gifts from the trail are often more than expected, and this hike was no exception.

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