Think / Able - and Check out My Parkinson's Facebook Page

Think / Able - and Check out My Parkinson's Facebook Page
Thanks for coming by! I appreciate it! Click the picture to follow on to my Facebook Parkinson's Page

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Nothing but Flowers - Rocky Ridge Natural Area on the Standing Stone Trail and Longwood Gardens

            I met my wife Heather in December 2007, and I always used to joke that it was important that she would enjoy the woods with me. After all, who would want to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t really connect to his or her most important interests? I didn’t need someone to like all of the same things as me, but getting out and enjoying the natural world would impact fun time together on a weekend basis and vacations, too (this is especially true now that I have Parkinson's disease). Music, movies, books, and things like that can influence one another or be enjoyed in solitary manners or with friends. However, life together is about relaxing and endeavoring in similar locations. Of course, even these can influence one another (I never truly had much interest in beach visits / flower gardens / tropical destinations / Caribbean vibes / South Pacific dreams until Heather, though there were places likes this I did enjoy in my previous life), but at the beginning, there has to be a willingness to be on the same page about things. For this, Heather was down with enjoying the natural world and learning about history / life as a whole, so things had a place to sprout out from.

As a result, early in 2008, we began to go on a lot of hikes together. Whether it was to see baby geese at Tulpohocken Creek or to go to St. Peter’s Village (a place I’ll never go back to due to the abundance of graffiti - no point picturing that), we went a lot of outdoor places to enjoy our time together as soon as the weather broke. It sure as hell beat going to the malls or renting movies constantly. Through all of the places we went, I realized she was a keeper when we did the 7+mile loop at Rickett’s Glen’s 22 waterfalls of 10 or more feet together in May of 2008. At the time, it was my favorite place in Pennsylvania (though now, I feel that it is way too crowded for its own good, and I will add that with some of the litter and graffiti, not all of the people who go there love it enough).

            Over time, we’ve gone to many different places of varying challenges and beauties.  Most of these places, for all the sweat, dirt, and exhaustion that they require, are keepers, but there are places that Heather hates and would rather never go back to. The Thousand Steps come to mind for their nearly infinite vertical challenge. It’s not that it’s not a fun place; it definitely is, but it’s sweltering there every time we go. This becomes more effort than reward for her. I still do it solo when I get the chance because I like the feeling of being on top (even if it's just halfway up the mountain at the top of the steps) fist punching the sky after I push it to stair 1036, but I will say my rusty Parkinson’s knees feel it more lately than they did before. Nevertheless, I keep pushing because going on beats giving in any day of the week.

 There are other challenges that we go to and will go back to it, which are definitely worth it, and they lead to waterfalls or other beautiful places. I think of Spruce Knob below or the Throne Room, lower Raymondskill Falls, and the Pinnacle to name but a few. You can see our photo album to visualize more of our journeys together. There are many, and if I were in a different life, I'd be a professional outdoor writer, but since I'm not, I'll dream on and do it as a hobby until someone pays cash for it. If you have questions about them, just comment below or e-mail.

For all of the getting between trees beauty we take in, life isn’t about always being between trees to find meaning in life (but it sure helps) – no matter what Edward Abbey says when he proclaims, “For myself I hold no preferences among flowers, so long as they are wild, free, spontaneous. Bricks to all greenhouses! Black thumb and cutworm to the potted plant,” sometimes, being in a floral garden is the answer to life’s stresses. Then again, I might feel different if we moved to Canyon Country, Utah or Arizona.

As a result of who and where we are, one of our favorite places is Longwood Gardens, which is a beautiful floral garden in Kennett Square (outside Philadelphia) filled with many well-manicured plants, though very few are potted (except the gorgeous hanging baskets in mansion-style greenhouses). Longwood is beautiful in every season, without exception. Just this April, we went there to experience the tulips, and as per usual, it was wonderful. We hadn’t been to see the tulips in ages, so we breathed them all in deeply. Until we get to Holland, this will have to do - not that it's settling, but have you seen Holland's tulips? Whether they had fringes or looked like the paint pot exploded, the ones at Longwood were still exquisite.

It’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re all great. If you need to, you can observe them all and contemplate your favorite and dream about a trip there because the only way to enjoy them is with your own eyes. No vicarious experience will suffice. This is a day out that wasn’t meant to be spectatorial. Take it in with empirical joy that comes from being participatorial when you personally go there. This may not qualify as a hike, but the gardens are huge enough to get several good miles and a picnic in.

We’ll be heading back in the next couple of weeks to see the unveiling of their fountains, which kick off next weekend. For that past 2 years, they’ve been getting redone, and while they were intricately detailed in a grand way before, they promise to be even better now. I just hope that Jodie Foster’s statue is still there! 

Oh, and let’snot forget the spectacular water lilies that pop out in abundance as the summer sun grows them to perfection. They're definitely something to see if you prefer your hikes to be casual walks in manicured gardens on solid paving and not dirt floor.

As for Heather and me, we still do a lot of stuff like this, but times have changed from what we used to do due to several incidents that have occurred in the past 3 years.

The first was the death of our great niece Ava in August of 2014. We had both gotten in such great shape for a vacation to Oregon, California, and Washington, and then a rare mitochondrial condition called Alper’s disease claimed our 2-year old niece, and we cancelled the trip to attend the funeral. As can be expected, we were both devastated. The whole family was. It’s hard to say goodbye to anyone, let alone someone that young, especially when she suffered so painfully in front of us. The last goodbyes and the funeral were tragic, and when we drove home through gray skies and rains, neither of us did much of anything except gain back all of the weight we lost.

After this setback, my spondylosis issues set in on a backpack wearing hike to Hawk Rock the following winter. I lost arm strength and had difficulty sleeping due to the pain I felt. This was also what my tremors originally got diagnosed as. I got better. though my tremors didn't, and I pretty much stopped wearing a backpack except on rare occasion, which made it hard to do a 10 mile hike, let alone the 23 mile one I had done the previous summer. 

Of course, we did hike a bit in that time. Heather got to rappel down from a 30-foot waterfall at Sand Run Falls (my fear of heights didn’t allow for that) but I did get to cheer her on when she did.

Additionally, we went to Rickett’s Glen in the winter, Heather's first time, which she did well. On a really ice cold weekend, we went to Ithaca in the winter (here and here and here and here), and we did Glen Onoko in the winter. All of these were good times, and despite being less energetic, we saw many great things (you can read all about these at the links above).

However, in April 2015, Heather got injured in Icebox Canyon outside Las Vegas. In short (you can read the whole at this link and this link and see photos here), she took out her ACL, and I lost confidence in leading people other than myself since I felt I could have done more to prevent that 2-mile painful walk and the operation and recovery afterward. Her injury led to her not trusting her zombie ligament for long distances, and my foot tremors, which were get worse, led to dystonia (at the time unidentified because I didn’t know I had Parkinson’s), which I don’t feel in boots and in my sandals, but I feel in sneakers (hence, I rarely wear them). As a result, we did things, including outdoor things, but we ended up doing more casual fun things than exercise things with our lives.

Now, it’s about getting back there and enjoying life, both in nature and together. We're happier when we do this. School’s out for the spring (for at least 3 more weeks), and I want to walk off my way too enlarged middle and reclaim the rusty knees I feel trying to stop me from walking. I want to feel more energy than the state that I feel in when Parkinson’s leads me to a Friday 2+ hour post-cheese steak nap instead of a walk in the woods to a vista or a waterfall or some place like Virginia Beach, which is where we were last weekend for a long get away. We had more fun than we did in ages (more to come later).

            Because of this newfound energy and love of spring, yesterday, Heather and I went for a walk in the wildflowers of Rocky Ridge Natural Area on the Standing Stone Trail outside of Greenwood Furnace. Despite being overcast, it was a beautiful day. The sun wasn’t shining, but we dodged the raindrops to see the Mayflowers getting ready to pop (return trip to Susquehannock State Park to follow in the next week or so) as the lady slippers (both yellow and maroon) bloomed on the mountain side between the boulders thrown across the mountain top like God’s dice (see below - no sightings of the rare putty root orchid though).

            It had been a long time since we did a proper between the trees hike (sure, we did places like the Ephrata rails to trails, but that’s not the same, even if it’s nice). And yes, it took a long time to get there (nearly 3 hours going the long way), but it was well worth it. The walk up the mountain was slight, and we probably did a mile plus each way to see lots of blooming little wildflowers welcoming in spring as the grew out between the electric and chartreuse greens of spring’s hello. When we got to the top, it was too wet to play on boulders and the view of the valley was obscured by leaves, but we did get to leave no trace despite touching flowers, rocks, lichens, moss, and leaves that said, “You’re back! We missed you!”

            And we missed you, too. We can’t wait to get back!

No comments:

Post a Comment