Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hermit Island Camping Weekend

This weekend we went on what I think was our tenth (I'm having trouble with the math--and also the passing of time) annual camping trip to Hermit Island on the coast of Maine.

After all this time, each beach and rock and tree and campsite and outhouse has become a storehouse of memories.

And let me tell you, it's a little bit bittersweet, remembering the chubby cheeks and legs running in the sand, the worn-out toddlers sleeping on the beach, the big little boys helping set up camp.

But I'm not gonna lie, it's also pretty awesome to have kids that can disappear to the beach or ride around the campground on their bikes for hours and to not even have to worry or think about where they are or what they're doing--let alone run around in a frenzy when one of them toddles off alone, like E did once when he was three.

We had amazing, warm, beautiful weather Saturday.

Not even a wave in the ocean.

We camped with two sets of good friends who made the good times even better.

I did a lot of sitting around talking, a little bit of reading, and a fair amount of sleeping late.

My camera spent most of the trip in the car, and my field guides and nature journal never once came out (the binoculars did make an appearance or two--the warblers were amazing just around our site, and we even had a resident cardinal pair)

E and Z and their friend built an enormous edifice on the beach the last day, while the grownups hiked the north end of the island. Sadly, we had to leave before they could see the water overtake their structure. Like every year, we ended the weekend wishing we could stay for a week.

Friday, May 27, 2016

DIY Gear ~ Gaiter Prototype

I've been working on creating dirt gaiters for out hiking trip, using fabric from my old swimming suits. I initially started with this pattern, with some modifications, like fold-over elastic and gaiter hooks. They came out waaaay too huge (maybe because the well-worn lycra is extra stretchy?), so I cut them down until they fit my shoes and ankles.

I took them for a test drive this weekend, but I didn't go far because I had an injured foot (don't worry--minor puncture wound from walking around the woods in sandals--it's getting better now), but the gaiters were already starting to ride up a bit. So I looked online, to see how Dirty Girl, the primary mini gaiter seller, handles the problem and saw that they use velcro to anchor the back of the gaiter to the shoe. I've added a couple strips to mine and will give them another test run this weekend.

Why, you may ask, don't I just buy Dirty Girl gaiters and be done with it--after all, sewing lycra without serger is a giant pain in the neck and DGs are only $20 a pair. Well, $20 x 5 people is $100, which seems like a lot for just keeping pebbles out of your shoes: I've shelled out maybe $15 altogether for the FOE, gaiter hooks, and some grosgrain ribbon. Also, I've been saving my old workout suits for years, and I was excited to find a good use to put them to. And, once I get something stuck in my craw--like the idea of whipping up my own gaiters--I just can't seem to let it go.

Hopefully they'll prove successful this weekend and I'll find time to whip out four more pairs before the end of June!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wild Wednesday ~ Mid-May

I am a summer girl, for sure, but I'm loving watching spring unfold this year. I feel as if every year, the more I know, the more I notice--like the way new balsam fir needles spring forth like little pom-poms.

For years, each fall, I saw the bright red berries of red baneberry (Actaea rubra), but only noticed the flowers last spring.

The incredible sunny (very un-May-like) weather we've been having has brought out the painted turtles. There were at least thirteen on a log in our pond Saturday. I love watching the way one will jockey for a better position, knocking another off, who will then swim around and scrabble onto another part of the log. A pretty good life.

What's wild in your neck of the woods this week?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

CT Gear Post #1 ~ My Clothes

My MO for getting together gear for our upcoming hiking trip is to get the weight of the stuff we're going to take down as low as possible without breaking the bank. You could easily outfit yourself with the highest-tech lightweight gear for a few thousand dollars. Multiply that by five people and we'd be saving up for this trip until we are old and gray and unable to hike anymore. That's not the way I want to go, so I've been looking for ways to lighten up and minimize on a budget. I've been thinking about gear for this trip for a long time, so I had a pretty good mental list of what I wanted to take. As I've started acquiring those items, I first look in my closet, then at discount stores (both real shops, like T.J. Max and our local staple Reny's, and online outlets like Sierra Trading Post and Campmor; I include Target and Goodwill in this category, too). From there I check outlet stores (living near Freeport makes this easy). Oh, yes, and for a few things I made them myself. Only then do I search out items at the gear retailers like REI. I've managed to put together a set of clothes I'm pleased with for not a lot of money this way.

These clothes I'll wear:

And here are the details about them. I don't have a digital scale yet, so weights are rounded to the nearest ounce:

Item Brand Ounces Source / Notes
Shirt Eddie Bauer
Closet. I bought this shirt last summer at Reny’s, so it doesn’t quite count as new. I like the long length and the soft finish of the fabric.
Socks Smart Wool
LL Bean Outlet. They have “irregular” SmartWool socks for about 1/3 the price of regular. I haven’t noticed anything wrong with them.
Skirt Purple Rain
Purple Rain Skirts. I bought this skirt last summer on a whim, and I LOVE it. So comfortable (yoga waistband!!). I tried it out on a couple of day hikes and am excited to wear it all summer.
Hat Kavu
Closet. I’ve had this hat for years. It doesn’t have vented mesh sides, but I wear it all the time and it hasn’t cooked my brains yet.
Bra Champion
Closet. Originally from Target. I’m excited to not wear a real bra all summer long!
Underwear Champion
Target. I know these look sized to fit a four-year-old, but they’re super comfy and stretchy.

And these are the clothes I'll pack:

Item Brand Ounces Source / Notes
Bug/ Sun Shirt Patagonia
Closet / Patagonia outlet. I was kind of undecided about whether this shirt would be worth the weight, and then I got sunburned on my forearms at baseball last weekend and decided that it is.
Rain Coat White Sierra
Closet / Sierra Trading Post. I got this rain coat a couple of years ago when I realized my old one no longer kept out the water. It’s pretty cheap and the sleeves aren’t quite long enough, but it’s light.
Extra Socks (2) ??
Closet / Target. I know a lot of people don’t believe in extra socks while hiking, but I like to have one pair on my feet, one drying after a wash, and one ready to go. At 1/2 ounce each, I think it’s worth it.
Extra Undies (2) Champion
Target. See above
Down Coat Patagonia
Closet / Patagonia outlet. This has been my down coat for several years. I finally upgraded to something warmer/ less stained last winter. It’s my heaviest clothing item, but when I compared it to a fleece, it only weighed one ounce more.
Beanie Hat DIY
Made a bunch of these earlier this year.
Neck Warmer Eddie Bauer
Eddie Bauer Outlet. A cheaper version of the Buff.
Gloves ??
Reny’s. These are those one-size-fits-all jobbies that cost about $1.99.
Wind Pants DIY
I used wind pants from Goodwill rather than rain pants on our first CT hike, and they worked out fine, even though it was a really rainy summer. I was planning to do the same, when I remembered that I had these home made wind pants that weighed a few ounces less than the ones I got at the thrift store. They’re a little snug through the hips (ahem), but I hope a couple of weeks on the trail will take care of that.
Silk Turtleneck LL Bean
Closet / Sierra Trading Post. I’ve had this thing since college. I at first planned to wear a polypro shirt (which might be the one I took on our first CT hike), but it weighed a whopping 6 ounces. I considered buying something new, but decided to check my drawers and found this turtleneck. 
Hankie Gap
Closet. Pretty sure I’ve owned this since high school and it came on our first CT hike. 
Microfleece Leggings Jockey
TJ Maxx. I got these for like 12 bucks this past winter and love them. I finally had to hide them in the closet so I wouldn’t wear them out before the trail. Just to compare, I also weighed a pair of regular long johns and they weighed more than the fleece!
Trekking Umbrella euroSCHRIM
Campmor. Used this last summer and loved it!

Sorry the table font is so small! Shoes are not yet on this list, because I haven't gotten them yet, and neither are dirt gaiters, which I'll talk about next week. I wrote more about the trekking umbrella, which I love, here. I haven't kept exact records, but if I include everything I've bought in the last two years, I think I've spent less than $200 on my entire clothing budget (the most expensive item being the Purple Rain Skirt, which I might not have bought if I'd waited till this summer, so I'm glad I didn't!!).

All of my carried clothing weighs just over three pounds and the worn items are less than a pound. My goal is a base weight of 10 pounds or less, so we'll see how everything else adds up!

After I got all my items sorted and weighed, I had a little fun cutting off tags and annoying and unnecessary velcro tabs. All together they didn't even vibrate the needle on the scale, but I felt pretty hard core doing it.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Birthday Week Success

We survived another Birthday Season (aka, Second Christmas).

We took E and Z out for Mexican food on Tuesday night (their actual birthday), where they got sombreros and a very gringo birthday song to go with their fried ice cream and sopapillas.

Wednesday and Thursday were just normal days (i.e. baseball games).  And then Friday, M's birthday, we had grandparents over for pizza and ice cream (M requested Ben and Jerry's and no cake. Easy peasy). After the grands left and the brothers went to bed, M and I watched The Terminator, as a kind of rite of passage. I've been so excited to watch that movie with him. Now I can't wait to see #2 and 3.

Then Saturday more baseball and Sunday E and Z's party. I told them I would bake a cake and get ice cream, but that they were in charge of the activities. They had seven friends over and there was a lot of running around outside. They wanted to have a Nerf gun battle, which I tried to divert into a squirt gun battle (i.e., outside). The squirt guns didn't get much use, but the Nerf war started close enough to the end of the party that it was over before anything broke. E wanted to have blackberry vanilla cake, and I found a recipe online that uses blackberry jam (of course I can't find it now, but I see several dozen other blackberry jam bundt cakes, and now I want to try them all). The frosting is jam + powdered sugar...brilliant and easy and delicious and I'll never try to fold berries into buttercream again. There wasn't even an iota of objection to it being purple.

I found that I took Birthday Season much more in stride than I used to. In years past, it was cause of month's-long stress and anxiety. I guess I've calmed down over the years. Or lowered my expectations. Or maybe it comes of having kids old enough to write and distribute their own invitations and organize the party activities without me having to be cruise director. I think 11 is going to be a good year (and 15, too, of course).

Friday, May 20, 2016


So, nothing much going on today, you know, other than my baby turning fif-freakin-teen. Seriously, how does this happen?

To continue with this week's theme, I've included a photo from his first camping trip--we hiked him in to Chimney Pond in Baxter State Park when he was three months old. It was his first-ever backpacking trip, and also the last one any of us took until our return to Baxter 13 years later. All of the photos from the trip are terrible because, to save weight, we bought one of those crappy disposable cameras, which is proof in itself that this child is old, old, old.

His reaction to this summer's trip is "I'm going to miss the whole summer!" and "You better never make me do anything again." He's also dismayed by the number of grooming products he'll have to leave behind. I think he'll have fun, though. He really enjoyed that trip to Baxter when he was a baby--kicking on the Thermarest, listening to moose browse outside our lean-to all night, squishing into my sleeping bag with me. He's going to have to sleep in his own sleeping bag this time around, though.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

DIY Gear ~ Sleeping Quilts

Over the weekend, I finished sleeping quilts for E and Z for this summer's Colorado Trail hike.

The idea behind the sleeping quilt is that it's lighter than a sleeping bag, allows for ventilation, so you don't sweat and then get cold during the night, and you don't lie on top of any of the insulation, smashing it down. I made one for myself last summer and tested it out on our two-week Colorado camping trip. It worked really well, mostly. The two drawbacks were that there's nothing between you and your sleeping mat, so if it's too warm to wear sleeping clothes with long sleeves and legs, you stick to the mat, which is not that pleasant. Also, I was cold when we camped at Sand Dunes, where it got down to the 30s at night.

I'm a little nervous about being cold on our trip, and even more nervous about our kids being cold. Lightweight backpacking philosophy is to have a lighter bag and wear your warm layers while you sleep. I hope that works. Ray Jardine, the godfather of lightweight backpacking and the manufacturer of these sleep quilt kits, claims to have used this same bag on a trip across Antarctica, so...it should be warm enough. Just to be on the safe side, I added a layer of insulation that I had cut off the make the bag the right length to the torso area of E and Z's bags.

The quilts are not difficult to make, just fussy. And I don't do that well with fussy. Making them does give me a great appreciation for the workers in sweatshops who manufacture our clothes and gear. Now I just have two more to make and the countdown is on!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wild Wednesday ~ Woodland Flowers

We didn't go hiking this weekend--E and Z requested a break from hiking on their birthday weekend--and, truthfully, though Saturday's weather was gorgeous, it was kind of nice to hang at home (until Sunday afternoon, when those same birthday boys convinced their parents to take them to the movies). We did, however, get out in our own woods. Saturday morning I had a great bird walk, with sightings of a yellow warbler, black-and-white warbler, ovenbird, black-throated green warbler, yellow-bellied sapsucker, and an immature bald eagle. The birds Sunday morning were more reserved, but later in the day I got a great, naked-eye view of a rose-breasted grossbeak.

And the woodland flowers are starting to come in bloom. I've been seeing red trillium and trout lily along the trail I walk when E and Z have baseball practice, but we don't have any of either of those flowers growing in our woods (not that I've found so far), so this weekend was really the first of the woodland flowers for us.

Not too far down our trail, I spied this Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphullum), a flower I just love for its exotic shape. It's the first one I've seen this year.

We also have two different violets growing in the woods, which I will someday key out.

Right beside the river, I spied this little white flower growing, which I thought on first glance was a wild strawberry. But on closer inspection, I saw it was something else, which I'm pretty sure is wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia). It's always a surprise and delight to discover new (to me) flowers growing on our little patch of earth.

Trees are starting to flower now, too. The plum in our yard is snowy with blossoms and buzzing with early bees. And along the edges of the woods, common shadbush, or serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), one of the earliest flowering trees, are in bloom (though fading fast).

The cherries are getting close to ready to flower (I think these are black cherry, Prunus serotina, but I'll have to double-check that).

And not nearly flowering, but pretty with its deeply parallel-veined leaves is the alternate-leaved dogwood.

Finally, not a flower at all, but a different sort of natural beauty, I found the picked-clean skull and jaw of a rodent carcass I had seen here sometime during the winter (I thought I'd shared a picture of it, but I don't see it when I scroll back through my archives). Good to know that the nutrients are getting cycled back into the woods. One of these days, if I remember to, I'll take my skull identification materials with me on a hike and see if I can figure out what the unfortunate animal was (I suspect maybe chipmunk; it seemed too big for a mouse or vole).

What's wild in your neck of the woods this week?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


E and Z turn eleven today, which means it's official: we are careening toward a house full of teenage boys.

In honor of our upcoming epic camping trip, I thought I'd share this a picture from their first camping trip, when they were about 16 months old. Have you ever taken two one-year-olds camping? It was like they were circuit training and their fitness stations went like this:
  • try to pull the flaming Coleman stove off of the picnic table onto your head
  • eat dirt
  • run headlong toward the flaming fire pit, on legs that only learned to walk two months earlier
  • try to pull the other Coleman stove onto your head
  • barrel into the camp road every time a truck rounds the corner
  • eat gravel
  • stand on the picnic table bench and slip down between the table and the bench, whacking your chin on the way down
  • eat leaves
  • climb the six-foot high rock behind the campsite, even though you just learned to walk two months earlier
  • repeat
I remember saying after we got home that running after the twins in an effort to keep them out of harm's way had been more exhausting than if we'd hiked 12 miles each day. Looking back on it now, I think that weekend must have been more exhausting than our whole upcoming six-week trip will be. I think I've got a bad case of PTSD (post-toddler stress disorder), but gosh, aren't they cute? Those jeans are killing me.

Back then, I could never have imagined that one day they would be eleven years old, and no longer walking tornadoes (well, most of the time). And now I can hardly believe that they were ever that small. Or chubby. Or blond! Parenting is such a strange trip.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Love Bugs

I have an essay about dead bugs and affection up at Mothers Always Write today. Please check it out!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mother's Day Hike ~ West Branch Preserve

Little bluets (Housonia caerulea)
Thank you all for the positive response to my last post. It rocketed right up almost to the top most-viewed post. Now I know all I have to do to get people to read my blog is make big, dramatic announcements. And now you know why we've been going on all those hikes lately. They're not quite as long or rigorous as they should be for training purposes, but they're the best we can fit into our schedule.

Sessile-leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia)

On Sunday we headed out for a short hike after a breakfast of eggs benedict and horchata made for me by Z and C. I had in mind a fire tower we'd been to some years ago, but I couldn't remember exactly where it was. I found a fire tower on the map in the town I thought it might be in, so we headed there and hiked up the road only to find the fire tower had been replaced by a cell phone tower. While technology can bring us lots of really amazing virtual experiences (you might be reading this post on a cell phone right now), it's kind of sad when it displaces an actual, visceral experience like climbing up the stairs of a fire tower and looking out over trees and hills to see mountains in another state.

Anyway, after the fire tower letdown, we headed down the road to a nearby preserve. It's an area we hadn't been to before and didn't know what to expect. It turned out to be really beautiful, with a remote feeling to it--very quiet and mossy and wild. Maybe the low, nearly-raining clouds added to that feeling.

We didn't bring any food with us, and hadn't planned for an extended trek, so we just did a quick out-and-back on part of the trail, but from the map it looks like you could get a several-mile hike in if you followed all of the loops. We might go back soon, better prepared, to do just that.

Rosy twisted stalk (Streptopus roseus)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Big News

I have made the decision to quit my job at the end of June, spend the summer with my husband and kids hiking the 480-mile Colorado Trail, and write a book.

That's the elevator pitch. Here's a little more about what I'm thinking to make such a crazy, life-altering, possibly poverty-inducing leap:

Why the Colorado Trail? Why now? What's this book going to be about?
Twenty years ago, two young kids who had been dating for about a year, ten months of which was long-distance, embarked on a two-month hiking trip which tested them in ways unimaginable and cemented their love and relationship forever. Those kids were C and me, and we expected our lives to continue on the adventurous path on which they had begun, but instead we worked a series of crappy jobs, moved back-and-forth between Colorado and Maine, got real jobs, got married, had kids, built a house, settled down.

Meanwhile, exactly five years ago, my career, such as it was, completely tanked (or, more accurately, was torpedoed). I won't go into details, because it's an ugly chapter I'm looking forward to putting behind me (though if you google me you will get an inkling of what took place). In the years since then, I got my MFA in creative writing, completed the Maine Master Naturalist training course, and started teaching nature writing and nature journaling workshops, while plugging away at writing and publishing short stories and essays with nature/environment/motherhood themes.

I'd like to say I was taking adversity and turning it into opportunity, but in reality I was staying in perpetual motion just to stay sane. I was depressed and miserable a lot of the time, but I was a highly functional depressed person, maintaining a facade of normalcy, even high-productivity (except the times when I cracked, which C will tell you is not a pretty sight).

Somewhere along the way, I got the idea of going back and revisiting the Colorado Trail 20 years later and writing a book about the changes that had taken place in Colorado over the intervening two decades--wild fires, bark beetle infestations, drought, mine waste spills, population influx, pot legalization--as well as those that had taken place in my life during that time. It took literally years (and one of those crack-up episodes) to convince C that this was something I had to do and that I was doing it whether he was on board or not, so he got on board quick and now we're doing it!!

I've been very distracted with planning and prepping and daydreaming over the last few months. I've been neglecting not only my own blog but also my usual blog haunts, instead binge-reading trail diaries of thru-hikers on various trails. But now that the secret's out, I think I'll be back here more regularly, and my blog fare will become even more eclectic, with gear lists and food prep and training and other trip-planning details, along with some of my usual material. I long ago threw out the advice that a blog should focus on a single topic, so why start now?

As for blogging from the trail, I've maintained from the start that I want to completely unplug for the trip, because I want to engage fully with the natural world and with my children (this is hard to do with screen in hand) and also I don't want to dissipate my creative energy that should go toward journaling with the book in mind. But, I've had a lot of people ask me if I'll post from the trail, so my determination to unplug may wane. In either case, C plans to vlog the trip (i.e. video blog at his youtube channel), so be sure to follow our adventures there.

There's so much more to say but this is already a ridiculously long post and if you've read this far, stay tuned for more news as the day grows nearer.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wild Wednesday ~ Leaves Unfurling and Fungus

For a long time, I felt like spring snuck up on me. Like I'd wait for it and wait for it all winter, and suddenly one day the grass would be green and the trees all had leaves and the flowers were in bloom and I somehow missed the steps that got us there. While it was lovely to finally exist in a green and vibrant world, it was also a little like walking into a movie at the climax, having missed the rising action. Over the last few years, I've become more aware of the gradual buildup of the season, the subtle signs that show the world awakening in new life, and this year, especially, I've been keeping an eye on the trees as their buds split and release the year's new growth.

Each tree has a unique pattern of buds and those buds each open in their own time and fashion. I love the pink-bordered symmetry of these striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) buds.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia) buds are long and narrow, pointed on both ends ("cigar-shaped" is the usual description), and right now they seem to be telescoping open. The remind me of those things we used to make as kids by rolling up several sheets of newspaper, cutting a fringe at one end and sliding the sheets apart into a kind of scepter (I tried to find a picture of this online and it does not appear to be a thing. I guess I'll have to try to recreate them with my kids, so you know what I'm talking about).

I'm embarrassed to say I don't remember what kind of tree these leaves came from. American hophornbeam, maybe? Anyway, they look so cheerful and ready for spring I had to include them anyway.

Of course, along with spring things, I continue to see many sights that have been around all winter, like these polypore fungi. I think this is violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biforme). I've seen it all over the place all winter, though I haven't seen any actual violet specimens (and I keep forgetting to look for the teeth).

Another fungus I learned this winter, which is easy to spot because birch trees are easy to spot, is the birch polypore (Piptoporus botulinus). Learning natural history can be a slow process (although I'm beginning to think I'm just slow at everything), and learning fungus seems to be extra slow, so I'll be happy to get two species per year.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...