Saturday, September 19, 2009

South Mountain Reservation (Millburn, NJ)

I was going to go apple-picking today, but then a moderate 5-mile hiking opportunity opened up at the last minute, and I couldn't resist.

The hike was to go by several lakes, waterfalls, and creeks or rivers - perfect for a warm, late summer day. Unfortunately, the water level was quite low. I missed the first waterfall entirely when we walked past it. The second waterfall was a bit of a trickle, not quite as impressive as it could be, but we had lunch at the base, and watched kids throwing oranges in the murky shallow pool at the base.

Still, it was a lovely walk through the forest, with a bit of a climb for a workout at the start, and an easy, wide path at the end.

We didn't see much wildlife (except a daddy longlegs which was dancing on the sunlit leaves above my head while we ate), but we enjoyed watching these two dogs playing in the water:

They were clearly having a blast (as were we, in a more low-key way).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Old Sofas in New Slipcovers

On my return from southeastern Scotland yesterday, I was wiped out. I could barely muster the energy to take a hot bath. Starting on laundry was entirely out of the question. It was all I could do to stay up a few hours until 8PM.

In my defense, I'd been hiking about 65 miles of the Kintyre Way under varying weather conditions and terrain over a 5-day period, with 75-80 percent of the Speyside Way crew (depending on whether you include me in the total).*

It was great to see everyone again, especially Sarah. I'll be posting photos later to show some highlights of the trip.

The experience was very different from our Speyside Way walk in 2007. There are a number of reasons for that - for instance, physically it was a much more demanding walk. But it was emotionally different as well - not necessarily in a bad way. In general, it's fair to say I'm in a different place emotionally two years on. In 2007 our walk offered an intense respite from the acute loneliness of my life in NYC (which I'd not even been fully aware of until then). These days, I feel much more connected in New York; much more aware of and grateful for the amazing friends who are looking out for me and even praying for me.

In any event, today I was still tired, but able to undertake many significant tasks: going to work, doing laundry, and replacing my old blue sofa slipcover with a new green one. The sofa doesn't really look all that different, but it is an important psychological change. Around 10:30 pm, I made a phone call. The result of this call was unexpected and jarring, and triggered some waves of sadness in me. But don't let anyone tell you that there is no silver lining; it seems that this same phone call triggered rejoicing in parts of Queens and Manhattan, and even as far away as Japan. Or perhaps rather than a silver lining, it is more like delicate rose gold burnished in the sun.

  1. FN* We got to see the other 20-25 percent and his fiancee; in fact, our missing trekker probably covered more miles by car than all of us put together by foot, since he graciously and generously moved our luggage around for us throughout the week from a somewhat remote location.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Day 6: Campbeltown to Machrihanish

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The final day of the hike is 20 miles from Campbeltown to Dunaverty at the southern tip of the Kintyre Way. We took a bus from Campbeltown to Machrihanish to cut out the first five miles of road-walking.

Machrihanish was lovely. We saw some seals sunning themselves on the rocks:

The path soon started climbing, again with lovely views:

However, about 3 km into the walk, I decided that what I really wanted to do was relax by the beach and watch the seals. So I turned around, and that's what I did.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon on a day that can be a bit solemn sometimes.

I took the bus back to Campbeltown, and met the rest of the gang around 7 pm when they returned to the hotel. It had been a long day for them, but they all lived to tell about it.

We went to an Indian restaurant in town to celebrate the end of the walk.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day 5: Carradale to Campbeltown

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This was by far the longest and hardest day so far: 20 miles, mostly on the road. It was tricky to pick up the trail again in the town of Carradale, as waymarkers were few and far between if not entirely absent. We saw that at least one waymarker had been removed from its original position and discarded behind a gift shop on the main road.

The rock scrambling on the beach early in the morning was fun, and definitely the best part of the entire day:

Here's the view at the top when we finally climbed up away from the rocky beach:

Things got a lot worse as we trudged (yes, trudged) up and down seemingly unending and steep paved roads. The problem with road-walking is two-fold. First, it's a lot harder on your body because the pavement doesn't give the way ordinary ground does. Second, it's a lot harder on your mind because you tend to have less of the spectacular scenery that makes all this effort worthwhile.

Bill, Bob, Sarah and Poppy were walking well ahead of me and found themselves playing dodge 'em with oncoming traffic. The roads were narrow and some of the cars were fast.

Fortunately, there was a sidewalk once we got to the highway entering Campbeltown. Unfortunately, our hotel was on the far side of Campbeltown.

Campbeltown has seen better days, but it has a nice harbor and a nice bit of recreation area overlooking the water. Here is a view just across the street from our hotel. I liked that the jungle gym was in the shape of a ship:

We decided to dine at a hotel down the street, which looked a lot nicer than ours. The service was inattentive to the point of being entirely scatterbrained, and the food was disappointing. For example, our Yorkshireman asked for a dish that was supposed to come with Yorkshire pudding. When he asked if they'd perhaps forgotten it, the waitress proudly pointed to a singed pancake on his plate. 'Nuff said.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Day 4: Gigha/Tayinloan to Carradale

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It was low tide as we boarded the ferry from Gigha back to the mainland peninsula:

Good thing we didn't take a car on the ferry:

Some daisies during the beachwalking portion of the day:
Sheep and the sea:
Cattle and power:
Ah, civilization! I was getting tired at the end of the day, so all the little ups and downs were beginning to wear on me. As we entered the home stretch, I decided to start sprinting up every short rise in the path. That helped a lot (my working theory is that trudging wears you out more than sprinting).

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Day 3: Clachan to Tayinloan/Gigha

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From Clachan, we went on to Tayinloan and then took a ferry to the isle of Gigha, where we stayed overnight. Dinner in Gigha was one of the best meals of the trip (despite a scathing newspaper review from earlier in the summer).

Faced with a choice between getting a massage at the local spa or renting bikes after the day's walk, Sarah and I made the mistake of renting bikes. We had a vague idea that this would be a fun and easy way to see the island. It was not quite as relaxing as we imagined. My thighs, already stressed from the day's walk, screamed in agony on the hills. There's only one road, and we started from our hotel heading south. We made it all the way to the south end of the island, where there's a wind farm, and then turned around. A local told us that the north end of the island is most worth seeing ("more wild" he said), so we went back past our hotel, and quite a ways toward the north end of the island. We passed many farms (with slurry on the road before them), went up and down, around curves left and right... Ultimately, as yet another large hill loomed before us, and we still could not see where the island would finally end, we decided to call it quits.

On the way back, I had to stop and take a picture of this place in Gigha, since the home of our senior pastor (a large 5th Avenue apartment) is also known as "The Manse":

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Day 2: Clonaig to Clachan

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On Day 2 of the walk, we drove back to the car park in Clonaig and then retraced our steps to Clachan ... on foot. This was a somewhat strange experience, as it interrupted the sense of forward momentum, but it was nice to have already checked in and unpacked in Clachan before we arrived there at day's end.

The car park serves a ferry, so two of us went down to explore a rocky beach:

Meanwhile, Poppy made a new acquaintance in the parking lot, each greeting the other with the usual courtesies (i.e., sniffing each other's rear end). It could have been the start of a beautiful friendship - but alas, it was not to be, as duty called Poppy to join her master and three other bipeds for the walk to Clachan.

We'd seen this sign on a fenced off power generation type area in Tarbert as we tried to find a shortcut to our B&B, and I thought it seemed a little more graphic explicit than signs I'd seen in the U.S. So when I saw it on a power pole in Clonaig, I captured it for posterity.

As it turned out, these signs were practically a dime a dozen on the way. But still, it made me think of a court opinion I read recently, involving two teenage trespassers who broke in or climbed into a fenced-off "no trespassing"storage area for out-of-service trains. They apparently climbed on top of one of the cars and were zapped by electricity arcing from the catenary overhead - and were very badly burned. As I recall, the theory of liability involved the train company's knowledge of the dangers of arcing, and the general public's ignorance thereof. The jury seems to have concluded, among other things, that "no trespassing" signs were not sufficient warning of the danger of death by arcing electricity. In any event, that case is likely to be appealed, so it remains to be seen what the final outcome is. Who knows what the liability laws are in Scotland, but I can't help thinking that if these yellow pictograms don't get the message across, I don't know what will.

The day was partly cloudy and rainy, but still with patches of sun from time to time:
The weather made for a silvery gray on gray when we looked to the islands. A ferry is on its way here:

A perhaps more light-hearted sign here.

We did not see any sheep in the road today, despite the sign. However, on Day 5, we walked along a road and saw some sheep ahead of us who had wandered out of their pasture and were enjoying the grass on our side of the fence (the grass is greener on this side of the fence, apparently). As we continued to walk forward, they saw us, ran onto the road and bolted further down the road in the same direction that we were going. So they got ahead of us, and then fearfully looked back to see what we were doing. We were still walking forward, so they bolted again!

Throughout the day, we saw these very cool orange fungi on the path. They looked almost like pieces of plastic at first:

We saw three large lovely lochs on this day:

And, of course, plenty of heather (I think that's really makes walking in Scotland so worthwhile):

We stopped by this loch for lunch:

After lunch, we came to our first forest. It felt like a fairyland, with lush (but not dense) greenery and bright (but not birch) bark:

This is what the Kintyre Way markers look like:

And here was the one artwork we saw on the Kintyre Way - I really like the suspended droplets:

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Kintyre Way: Tarbert to Clonaig

N.B. This is the first of 6 posts about my trip to Scotland in 2009.
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The Kintyre Way is on a peninsula in southwestern Scotland and is apparently one of the newer walks. The waymarked route runs north to south, but zigzags across the peninsula east and west. We stayed in Tarbert overnight, then strolled down to the edge of town, just a few doors past The Corner Bistro where we'd enjoyed dinner the night before, to begin the walk.

A pleasant initial ascent gave us a view of the harbor:

About 5 minutes into the walk, we took a small detour to see this ruined castle up close:

Once we got there, it turned out to be mostly facade -- much like those Hollywood sets, for instance a street in ye olde fashioned Western town for the big showdown sequence. (Yes, my Disney and Universal Studios visits made a big impression on me - also, I think they played with this concept in Blazing Saddles.) Still, it was cool to see this castle turned haven for the local flora:

As we continued on, the paths wound up and around hills flooded with heather. We were often rewarded by glimpses of the sea and the hilly islands behind them:

Day 1 was a relatively short day, about 10 miles. We made it to Clonaig on foot, then got ahead of ourselves by car and actually stayed in Clachan.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Edinburgh to Tarbert

Made it to Edinburgh - after some excitement with the transportation (car service showed up at 5 am instead of 5 pm, checked in to wrong terminal, gate change as I approached the gate --to the opposite side of terminal). But it's all good now with coffee.

Bill graciously picked me up at the airport and we drove out to Tarbert. We took a tour of this cool church:

En route, we'd discussed that in the U.S., "9/5" means September 5, whereas to much of the rest of the world it means either May 9 (which was obviously inapplicable) or 9:05. But luckily, he didn't have to wait for me - he just thought I'd arrived a bit early.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Summer Night in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

This was the last "Members' Night" at the BBG this summer (where they keep the garden open longer just for members). I took advantage of the opportunity for a rare mid-week visit after work.

For the first time, I saw some little chili pepper plants; the peppers looked like mini Christmas lights in yellow, red, and purple:

There was an Easter Egg Plant, whose bright yellow bulbs were a bit past their prime but still showed the reason for the popular name. Jimson weed has spherical green pods with spikes like a medieval weapon. A Mignon Single Dahlia was indeed mignonne.

The "Elle" rose was lovely: soft pink outer layers surrounding soft orange and yellow inner layers:

I took many pictures of perforated (bug-eaten) leaves in silhouette. Some were quite beautiful, but I thought this design was interesting as well:

It was lovely to stroll the grounds as darkness fell.

There were flat-petaled pale blue flowers that looked like the insides of egg shells in the twilight:

Sounds of insects (crickets and others) swelled, at times drowning out the traffic noises. Bats swooped raggedly in the dusk. And I wandered off following the will-o-the-wisp fireflies among the trees.... Thinking, of course, of the Owl City song ("I'd get a thousand hugs from ten thousand lightning bugs as they tried to teach me how to dance. A fox trot above my head, a sock hop beneath my bed; a disco ball is just hanging by a thread...").