A mid-winter walk

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

When it’s bitterly cold for long weeks, it’s easy to stop going out for a walk. But then cabin fever sets in…

These are woods near our home, in a town 25 miles north of New York City, with a paved trail a mile long that runs beside a reservoir, whose landmarks — officially, watermarks, I guess — can include several white swans, enormous flocks of geese who rest on the ice mid-migration, and, in the summer, multiple small black turtles and a cormorant who stands on a rock to dry out his wings.

In the winter, though, the woods are silent. I can only hear planes overhead and traffic circling the reservoir and the gurgling of a stream. No scurrying squirrels or chipmunks or birdsong.

It’s a more austere world, the remaining leaves bleached, bare branches etched against the sky, thick fungi crowding a log.

And, of course, the Rockefellers (yes, those ones, who live just up the road) affected our landscape, as did millionaire Jay Gould.

Here are some images, full of subtle beauty:

 

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No idea why that little structure is there!

 

 

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Love the reflections

 

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That little bit of down, memory of a bird…

 

 

IMG_3711The patterns of the ice were amazing — shifting with the water’s movements

 

 

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We’re just another species

By Caitlin Kelly

 

This is an amazing backlit mural at our local Tarrytown commuter train station, by Holly Sears. I love it!
This amazing backlit mural is at our local Tarrytown commuter train station, by artist Holly Sears. It is filled with all sorts of creatures in unlikely juxtapositions

I assume many of you have already seen this amazing video of a seal climbing onto a surfboard in England?

If not, spare 2:04 minutes of your life for a lovely, charming reminder of something we often forget — we’re just another species.

I’m writing this on our top-floor balcony, listening to the wind in the trees and the buzzing of passing bumblebees. Birds twitter. One recent evening, at 2:40 a.m. we bolted awake to the howling of a pack of coyotes.

 

Tired of feeling trapped by sexist, misogynist assholes!

 

But we live 25 miles north of New York City, able to see the city’s skyscrapers from our street, not some Montana ranch!

Our planters are bursting with flowers and our woods are filled with deer, raccoon, squirrels, chipmunks.

I fear for our planet when so many children and teens are suffering from nature deficit disorder, because you can’t fight for legislation and other protective behaviors if “nature” remains something you’ve only seen or heard mediated through a glass screen.

You have to feel it, taste it, touch it, know it. We all need intimate, consistent, ongoing connections to the natural world, not just simulacra or a packaged bit of it in plastic at the grocery store.

I’m grateful for having spent my childhood and teen summers in the wild of northern Ontario at summer camp and on multi-day canoe trips. I love a loon call, the peel of a birch tree, the striations of granite.

We are still, as homo sapiens, only one of millions of other species in our world, some furry, some feathered, some scaled, some noisy and some mostly (to our ears anyway) silent.

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A few years ago, a red-tailed hawk landed on our 6th floor balcony railing, which is only 12 feet wide. He stared at me silently, and I felt like prey. Having written about raptors, I know they can see for many miles. I wondered what he saw when he gazed into my eyes.

We don’t have any pets, so any encounter with a (non-threatening!) animal or bird is a real joy for me — especially horses and dogs; I’m the person who always stops to say hello and pat other people’s dogs (with permission.)

My young friend Molly recently fell off an elephant into the Mekong River.

I don’t envy the fall, or her ruined camera and lens, but elephants are my favorite animals of all. I rode on one myself in Thailand, sitting on his neck, and dreamed of a second career as a mahout.

Here’s a review of a spectacular new book, of photographs of the earth.

Do you (and your kids and/or grandkids) spend much time in natural surroundings?

 

My Grand Canyon photos — and some stories to go with them

By Caitlin Kelly

The Grand Canyon is 277 river miles long, a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. It was declared a national park in 1919 — and today receives five million visitors a year. You can visit the South Rim, (the most popular), which is dotted with hotels and two campgrounds, restaurants and shops, or the North Rim, which is 1,000 feet higher — and therefore even cooler. Altitude is about 7,000 feet, which can leave you breathless from even simple activities.

At the bottom lies the Colorado River, along which veteran boatmen take brave souls.

Many visitors, though, never venture below the rim, preferring only to snap a few photos or walk around the rim, which is easily done through a system of free buses allowing you to walk as little, or as much, as you like.

In 1994, I hiked down Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point — stupidly, doing the last, unshaded section, alone at noon — by then 100+ degrees. It was the first time I truly understood hyperthermia, how the body literally cooks. In desperation, I began pouring my bottles of water over my head. I sat in the creek at Indian Garden for 30 minutes, soaking my clothes completely and trying to cool my core temperature.

Then I looked up at the rim and thought, “Not possible.” Eight hours later, I emerged, the straps of my backpack crusted white with the dried salt of my sweat. I would urge every visitor to hike into the Canyon, intelligently. Nothing compares to the experience of being inside it, not just looking at it from a safe, noisy, crowded distance.

Note: all images here are mine, and copyright!

If you are afraid of heights, don’t stand close to the rim! The edges are rocky, slippery and unprotected.  People have fallen to their deaths.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

The canyon is the result of billions of years of erosion, with multiple layers of rock. The white layer is Kaibab limestone.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

This is Bright Angel Trail, on a nice, flat bit! It is the most-used trail and is also used by people riding on mules, so look out for fresh dung! Hikers must step aside when they meet a mule and give them right of way. I shot this image late afternoon, in late May, so there is some shade. Hiking in direct sun, and 100-degree temperatures — the temperature rises as you descend into the canyon — is doubly tiring. Drink a lot of water!

I didn’t take as many photos as I thought, but Jose and I like this one the best of all. Several challenges make photographing the Canyon difficult — there is often dust; the scale is enormous; it’s hard to pick a spot that includes some sense of scale (which is why I framed this with weathered, gnarled branches.) The small silvery curve on the left-hand side is the Colorado River, far below.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

This sunset image was taken from Hopi Point, one of the overlooks on the South Rim. It is one of the two most popular spots for people to congregate, and the views are excellent. But too many people are rude, noisy and distracting — if you really want to savor a sunset in solitude and silence, do not pick that spot! The sun sets around 7:30 (late May) and rises by 5:00 a.m.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

One of the most amazing and lovely aspects of the Canyon is the terrific abundance of wildlife. This shot was taken with a small Canon G7, not a telephoto lens — i.e. I was barely a few feet away from this squirrel. But — very serious warning! — the single most common injury here is squirrel attacks. If you are bitten, you will need five injections from the lovely folks staffing the GC Clinic: plague, tetanus, rabies and two others. Do not feed the damn squirrels!

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Re-Set Your Odometer — Hike The Grand Canyon

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Image by http2007 via Flickr

I loved this recent paean to the Grand Canyon in The Guardian:

Only 5% of visitors, according to park rangers, venture anywhere down the canyon trails; iconic paths like Bright Angel and Kaibab. A far smaller percentage go down to Plateau Point, or, beyond that, to the river itself, its frigid waters fed by snow melt.

At the top of the canyon, it’s all noise and chaos; bus-loads of tourists pulling up to the rim just long enough to snap a few photos and move on. It’s easy to get contemptuous of the tourism culture up at the Village. It’s overly commercial, everything’s handed to visitors on a plate, it’s superficial and so on and so forth. There are an awful lot of people at the top who seem to view the majesty of nature as something to be absorbed at speed, in between visits to snack stands and trinket stalls, for subsequent conversion into a screen saver…But in the canyon itself, it’s quiet; you can still hear birds chirping, you can put your backpack down and luxuriate in the silence, the emptiness, the vastness.

I go to the Grand Canyon every few years to hike; do it too often, and you lose the sense of awe that’s such an essential part of the experience. Do it too infrequently and one loses sight of the grandeur, one short-changes oneself on a truly awesome spectacle. It replenishes me, gives me a sense of perspective. When things seem to be going to hell in a hand basket politically or economically, there’s nothing like an all-day trek into the canyon to help get the soul back into a sort of equilibrium.

I hiked the Canyon in June 1995 and, as I wrote in The Wall Street Journal, fell in love with it with the same intensity as Sasha Abramsky, writing above. If you’ve been, and descended below its rim, you know. If you haven’t yet — and five million people visit each year — add it to your life list and put it in your top 10. It is almost impossible to convey its beauty, what it’s like to hike down through two billion years of geological history, fossils embedded in the walls around you, foxes leaping the narrow, rocky paths.

Of all the places I’ve visited, this sits firmly in the top five, probably top three. But you must go into it to really experience it. There is an intimacy here with the earth, and millennia, only possible by leaving the rims’ chaos behind.

It’s not easy! You must take a lot of (heavy) water to stay hydrated. The paths are narrow and rocky and have no guardrails or handrails. Parts of it are desert.

It takes twice as long to hike back up as it does to descend. I went to the Plateau, after four hours steady hiking and arrived at noon — in June, broiling and dangerously overheated. It took me eight grueling hours to climb back up again, my backpack straps white with the dried salt of my sweat. The silence is profound, the light — like that of the Arctic — ever-changing, the colors shifting as it does.

Go!

Does Nature Still Matter?

Photograph of a {{MultiLink|Red-tailed Hawk}} ...
Image via Wikipedia

How many trees can you recognize? Birds? On any given day, if you’re lucky enough to live near a forest or any large piece of land not covered with concrete and glass, and made the time to be there for a while, how many wild animals did you see, hear and know?

Does it matter if that number is zero?

New York Times writer Nick Kristof wrote recently about hiking with his 11-year-old daughter on the Pacific Crest Trail, complete with aching feet, mosquito bitten, soaked at 4:00 a.m. after failing to put up a tarp. It was in some measure an elegy for a generation of kids addicted to DVDs and video games, tethered by parental fear and loss of green space to a world where nature’s becoming one more app. As “the environment” heats up as an  issue, nature seem to get lost in the dust.

If, to many of us,  the natural world has become just one more amusing image on a screen we can flick on and off at will, nature is screwed. Really. We fight hard to protect, selfishly, what we know and love, what we believe to be of value, to us, our families, our friends and neighbors. Why protect — through arguing for smart legislation, attending town meetings, writing a check to an environmental organization — land to which you feel no profound connection? Abstractions, as any NGO fundraiser can wearily attest, aren’t compelling.

I live close enough to New York City that, glittering in the distance like Oz, I can see its towers from my street. Yet my winding residential road also has herds of deer and flocks of geese. Red-tailed hawks circle overhead daily, chased by crows — one hawk even landed on my balcony and stared into my eyes for a few long minutes; I felt like, and potentially was, prey. Several nearby streets are lined with raspberry bushes and I’ve seen rabbits, coyote, raccoons and turkey vultures, all within a mile of my home. In spring, traffic jams occur as the geese guide their goslings across the road.

I walk several times a week beside a reservoir and, over the years, have gotten to know and love this mile-long stretch, shaded about 90 percent of the way by tall trees that create a cool, welcoming cathedral on the hottest and most humid days. I’ve skated on the water’s frozen surface in winter and, most of the year, I look forward to seeing its turtles, swans and ducks. I dream, one day, of spotting the otters my neighbors have seen there.

Continue reading “Does Nature Still Matter?”