Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Am I?

I saw this little creature on Friday's hike up Robertson Mountain.  In fact, I saw a lot of them.  Can you guess what it is?

You have at least a million picks
Because my legs add up to six

There are some insects you might fear
But fear not when I flutter near

Because I neither sting nor bite
So there's no reason for your fright

In fact I often cause delight
For my colors are very bright

Despite my name I don't like butter
It's after nectar that I flutter

I'm mostly black but with some blue
With orange and red I am marked, too

OK - I think you know the general type of animal I saw.  Getting the exact species will be tough because there are a lot of variations with this color.  In found a number of different ones when I Googled it.  So take your best guess

Red spotted purple butterfly
Is what I am - a handsome guy!

I saw many butterflies on the hike of several different species, but I saw more of these than anywhere else.  I especially saw them after crossing a stream as they gathered on moist earth, I assume to get a drink.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Up Robertson Mountain

Well, here's to you, Mountain Robertson
I climbed you on this warm September day (hey, hey, hey)
Your trails are steep, Mountain Robertson
My lower body hurts because of you (boo-hoo-hoo; Oh, boo-hoo!)

I know that there are people - special forces soldiers, ultra-marathon trail runners, and do forth - who can run up a steep mountain with a heavy pack, but I am not among them.  That being said, I had yesterday off, and decided that a hike in the mountains would be a good thing.  I've not been up in the mountains for a while, but have some tough fall hikes planned.  So I needed to gauge my level of fitness, see how the sore knee behaves, and do a hike with some elevation.  So I did.

Robertson Mountain is near Old Rag, and in fact the parking lot is the same for both hikes.  I was sorely tempted to hike Old Rag again after four years instead, but two factors tilted the scales to go up Robertson.  First was that I had never done this hike, and so it could add to my list of 10 new hikes in 2012.  Secondly, as I was getting ready to head up the trail, a very large group of school kids on an outing showed up.  I really didn't want to hike along with such a large group.  So Robertson Mountain it was, and a grand hike it was.  Plus, it was my sixth hike in 2012 to a new place - just four to go to reach my goal!

The total loop was just over 10 miles - 3.8 miles to the summit, and just over six miles down.  One the way up, there is a 1.5 mile stretch that climbs 1,700 feet, which is the steepest hiking I have done in a while.  That section was even steeper than the hike up to Bonanza Mines in Alaska two years ago.  The total gain was about 2,400 feet from the low elevation to high.  Very little of this hike was level, but most of it is pretty scenery - Appalachian hardwoods, some streams, and some views on the way up and from the summit.  Of the 10 miles, only about two miles or so is narrow trail (with innumerable switchbacks).  The rest is pleasant fire road, and 0.8 miles each way is actually along paved road from the trail head parking lot.

This was my first hike in the fall this year, but the weather was more summer-like than fall.  Still, the woods looked like early fall - some splashes of color, ferns turning bronze, fallen leaves on the trail at points, and so forth.  As far as wildlife, I saw a huge raven and heard its wings beat as it flew overhead at tree top level.  I saw a tiny brown bird flit into the underbrush.  And I saw lots of six legged friends (a few of whom were hopeful of a refreshing meal of my blood), a daddy longlegs, and a big millipede.  That's it.  There are bear in this area and I saw some very old sign, but not the bruins themselves.  Other than the part of the trail that joined the return from Old Rag, I didn't see a single other human during the hike.  I did capture some photos, some of which I show here.  First, let's start with images from my DeLorme Topo North America software, with input from my PN-60w GPS by DeLorme.  Here is a topo map of my route, expressed as a 3D image.  I started and ended at the arrow on the right, and went counter-clockwise up the steep slope on the circuit part of the the hike:

There was not a lot of level trail on this hike.  I gained and lost a total of 2,800 feet during the route, topping out at 3,274 feet.
Near the start (and end) of the actual route once I left the road from the parking lot is this little "pebble."  It is as big as a small house, and there is nothing else like it nearby.  I'd love to know how it got here.
On the hike up Robertson Mountain's slopes, there was this pretty area - fairly level, with the start of fall color.
At the summit of Robertson Mountain.
 This is a panorama looking southwest and west from the summit.  The main part of Shenandoah National Park, and the Skyline Drive, runs along these ridges.
The distinctive shape of Hawksbill Mountain marks the highest point in Shenandoah National Park at 4,050 feet, nearly 800 feet above where I stand.
This panorama looks northwest and north from the summit.  I had to climb on some big rocks to get a clear view.
How can one not like fall?
The hike down spent most of the time on the scenic and easy to walk Old Rag Fire Road.  It went steadily downhill but was not steep.  What took less than four miles to ascend took more than six miles to descend.
Leaves aren't the only thing that are colorful in the fall.  These flowers marked the Team in Training colors of purple, green, and white.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Touring Around My Home Town

Even though I was born 60 miles west of Philadelphia, I consider the City of Brotherly Love my home town.  After all, I lived in its suburbs, maybe 8 miles from Center City, from ages 5 to 22.  I still root for all the Philly teams over anyone else.  But I don't get there often anymore.

So it was a treat when we visited Philadelphia this past weekend for three days.  I got to do a lot, and will share some photos of some of the many things I did.  I did some walking but was so busy with activities and some visiting that walking took a back seat.  Philly has way too many things going on to even scratch the surface, so I think another visit to my home town is in order soon.  So what did I do?  Check it out.

Here is the view from our room in the Sheraton, with the Cathedral of Peter and Paul in the foreground, the fountain at Logan Circle in the middle, and the Franklin Institute just beyond that.
From our hotel room, we had a nice view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, something which I must visit on another trip.
We had a treat when my step-sister Joy, who lives about 35 miles away, came in Friday afternoon and treated us to a great lunch on The Moshulu, a four-masted ship on the waterfront which is now a restaurant.  It was great to visit with Joy - a joy, actually!
Just 100 meters or less from the Moshulu is the USS Olympia, a battlecruiser that is the only surviving warship from the Spanish - American War in 1898.  It was from this ship that Commodore Dewey gave his famous command in the Battle of Manila Bay: "You may fire when you are ready, Mr. Gridley."  The Olympia is now a great museum, as is the USS Becuna, a World War II submarine docked along side.
Across the Delaware River, just 45 years in era from the Olympia but light-years apart in technology is the USS New Jersey, one of the Iowa Class battleships that fought in the Pacific in World War II.  The New Jersey is now a museum also, I believe.
On the other side of the Moshulu is the Spirit of Philadelphia, a dinner and tourism craft.  I took a photo because I once did a consulting database job for its parent company, Spirit Cruises in Norfolk, Virginia.
Friday night, it was time to "root, root, root for the home team" with a Phillies game in Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies bested the Atlanta Braves 6-2, much to our delight, despite the efforts of Atlanta's #10, Chipper Jones, who is retiring this year.  Jones is a sure bet for the Hall of Fame in five years, and played on Richmond's minor league team 20 years ago.  I can still remember how good he was in his short minor league career.
On Saturday morning, we went to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Franklin Institute, which had more than just the scrolls.  The exhibit moves on in a few weeks, I think, and is outstanding.
While in the Franklin Institute, we walked through the giant human heart.  Long, long ago, my sister Ann played a great trick on me in the heart, which I wrote about here.  I miss her so.
Also in the Franklin Institute is this locomotive, which weighs in at 350 tons!
The Peter and Paul Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was just behind our hotel.
Some sort of a colorful Hindu or Hari Krishna parade was going on just in front of the Cathedral.  A block away was a Albanian Orthodox Church.  Freedom of religion (and its complementary bulwark, tolerance of the faith of others) is a cornerstone of this country, and the juxtaposition of beliefs in this place was a good reminder.  City Hall, the public face of government which is separate from religion - thank God - in this country, is in the background.
When we were kids, my brothers and sisters and I used to love to play near (and in) this fountain.  It seemed so ornate to us, and it brought back some great memories seeing this fountain.
I don't have photos from the rest of Saturday, but other than lunch along a city street at a nice Thai place, we went to historic Franklin Field, home of the University of Pennsylvania oxymoronic Fighting Quakers.  There we watched the Quakers battle the Villanova Wildcats on the gridiron.  Being there brought back some great memories.  For one thing, I played one year in the Philadelphia Eagles marching band, The Sound of Brass, and at that time, all of the Eagle's home games were at Franklin Field.  For another, my step-father Stuart was a proud alumnus of the Red and the Blue of Penn, and we got together a number of times over the years to catch a game there.  Me being a Villanova grad, I had to pull for my team, but I did the cheer for the Red and the Blue at the close of halftime since Stuart could not be there.

After the game, as a huge thunderstorm rolled in, we walked a bit across town to meet my old college friend Barb for dinner and a beer.  She lives next to the Art Museum.  It had been years since we saw each other, so that was another nice treat from the visit.

This morning, I had time for a short walk.  I said "good morning" to William Penn (or "Billy Penn" as Philadelphians call him) from his perch high up on City Hall.  I wonder what Penn would think of "the City of Brotherly Love" and of "Penn's Woods" if he could see them now?
Here is one thing, as shown by the famous "Love Statue," that the world could surely use a lot more of.

After my walk, we ended our trip back to Philly in spectacular fashion - with a visit to the Barnes Foundation Museum near the Franklin Institute.  It is incredible - one of the largest private art collections in the world turned into a fabulous museum.  It has the largest collections of Renoir's in the world - 181 works of art from this master alone.  The total number of works of art here is staggering.  My very favorite piece was in the very first room: "Girl with a Basket of Oranges" by Renoir.  A close second, for me, was "the Mussel Fishers," also by Renoir.  But the entire thing was just amazing, and I cannot recommend it enough.  Allow at least two hours, and rent the audio / vidio iPad.  I'd go again - but first, I need to do about two dozen other things I didn't have time for in my visit back in my home town.  Hopefully, that will happen soon.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Spider

The other night was not fit for man or beast, with torrential rains and high winds. And when I got up to open the screen door to our outdoor porch, a beast agreed with this assessment that it was not fit to be outside and rushed into our living room. It was a terrible, fearsome beast – a huge spider. How big was it? Well, not big enough to play in the NFL – no, not quite that big. But it was surely large enough to start at linebacker on a Division II college team! I mean, this thing was scary! It stood there in our living room, snapping its jaws and staring at us with like eight pairs of eyes.

“Kill it!” screamed my wife. “Kill it?” I replied. “With what? An elephant gun?” Meanwhile, the spider snarled with rage, grabbed a lamp with two of its legs, and threw it at my head. It barely missed.

“Just crush it,” cried my fearful spouse. “Crush it? Are you kidding me?” I said. The spider laughed, a deep and terrifying malevolent belly laugh, kind of like Jabba the Hutt when he trapped Luke in that “Star Wars” movie and planned on slowly and painfully ending his days. “Crush me?” it said. “Don’t even think about it.” The spider grabbed a leg of the table I was standing on it in its jaws and snapped it as easily as I would a matchstick.

I had to do something. A friend of mine once told me that as far as she was concerned, there were only two things that men were good for: crushing bugs and lifting heavy things. I pointed out that at least now and then, we are pretty useful to women for one more thing: taking the lids off tight jars. She scoffed at this. In any event, here I was, on the razor’s edge of abdicating at least 33% and maybe as much as 50% of my manhood.

“Look,” I said to the spider. “Let’s settle this amiably. I am a live and let live kind of guy. If I encounter you outside, I will leave you alone. But you come into my house, I will have to kill you, and neither of us wants that, do we? So why don’t you leave while you still have all eight of your legs and most of your eyes?”

“No way! It’s wet outside. I like it in here. This is my place now. You can leave in the next five seconds and maybe I won’t suck the juices out of your body and toss the dried-out husk under that sofa,” snarled the spider. For emphasis, it flipped over the sofa.

My wife screamed again. “Why is she screaming so loudly?” I wondered. Then I realized that I was the one doing the screaming, not her! “That’s embarrassing,” said the spider. “Do something!” my spouse yelled.

Her call galvanized me to action. In a flash, I climbed down off her shoulders and approached the spider. “Hey, I’m a mammal, not an arachnid,” I thought to myself. “Let’s use my superior mammalian brain to solve this problem.”

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s settle this outside, mano to mano.” I opened the door back up, and motioned. “I’m going to kick your butt,” the spider glowered. “Let’s go.” It scuttled across the floor and out onto the porch, and turned to face me. Using all of my guile and quickness, I slammed the heavy sliding door shut, locking the spider outside. I could hear it howling in rage. It tossed the patio furniture around and tore off some of the siding, but eventually, it gave up and left.

Me? I went out the next day and bought an elephant gun!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Butterflies and Botanicals

We humans tend to hate insects, the large class of animals that includes flies, mosquitoes, fleas, cockroaches, Japanese Beetles, and wasps.  Of course, of the million plus species of insects, there are a few that we appreciate and like: lady bird beetles, maybe bees and dragonflies, "fireflies," and butterflies - especially butterflies.  Yesterday, we spent a couple of hours at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens walking through the butterfly exhibit and some of the beautiful plant exhibitions.  I am going to let the photos speak for themselves on a gorgeous early fall day.

This one looks like it has a huge, beautiful eye.  It probably scares potential predators in the wild.
 Butterflies are beautiful, aren't they?

 And sometimes friendly, too!

 This one has such vivid colors.
 This "cottage" looks like a place I could be happy in!
 What a pretty orchid.

 The gardens have lovely landscapes.
 And a beautiful conservatory (where the butterflies and orchids are on display):
 There are boggy areas with cool pitcher plants.
 Aren't we humans fortunate to be blessed with color vision?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Forest Gnome is Semi-Retiring

Maybe a dozen or so years ago, my good friend Tom from Weld, Maine gave me a gift that he had made for me.  Out of a piece of beaver wood, he had made me a hiking staff, and in a recessed knot in the wood, he had carved the face of a gnome.  Over many, many hikes, that staff with the little forest gnome has accompanied me to many places.  And now, I am letting the gnome take a little rest, letting it semi-retire.  Time and many miles have battered my hiking staff.  So while I will still take it on a hike now and then, for the most part, I will keep it as a memento and a keepsake of these good times hiking.

Over recent years, as I have hiked in national parks, I've tried to buy a medallion to remember the park by.  For the most part, my Maine-made hiking staff has not accompanied me to these parks, because I have only driven to relatively close places.  I don't think I could take my rugged and heavy hiking staff on an airplane, at least not without getting in trouble with the TSA.  But I still nail the little medallions to the hiking staff.  Someday, I hope to give my hiking staff to my granddaughter.

Now, while my little forest gnome is partially retiring, nothing is permanent.  Just as I came back from "retiring" from Team in Training, and just as Brett Favre unretired multiple times from football, I suspect that the gnome will roam again with me along a few delightful trails each year.  In the meantime, here are some photos of the medallions on my hiking staff.

Here are the gnome and I, on top of Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in the Northeast, in July 2007.  It was 5 years after surviving cancer.
 More than any place else, the gnome on my hiking stick has been with me to Shenandoah National Park.
 Glacier National Park was one of the coolest places I've even been.  And yes, I did see mountain goats there!
I visited Saguaro National Park in January 2008, the day after the Arizona Marathon - which could be my last full marathon ever (or not).  And in 2010, I hiked in our largest national park, Wrangell - St. Elias: the size of Vermont and New Hampshire put together.  The tough hike up to Bonanza Mine climbed 3,800 feet in the fog in about 4.5 miles.
 Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park is special enough to earn its own medallion.
 In 2010, I ran my last Team in Training event to date, the Seattle Half-Marathon.  After that, I spent three days hiking on tired legs in Mount Rainier National Park.
 Yellowstone National Park in 2005 was a don't miss spot, and I will never forget it.
 And the hikes and wildlife in Grand Teton National Park were spectacular.
 I've been on Mount Washington twice: once as a kid in 1967, and then 40 years later as a cancer survivor.  Where did those 40 years go?
 Denali National Park is one wild place.  I barely scratched the surface of hiking there.  Here is an account of one such hike.