Sunday, September 25, 2016

Thoughts on Aging and Hiking Sharp Top Trail

"Life is not about the destination, but the journey."
I have always been a mid-line outdoorsy girl. I grew up camping with my family and we used to go on hikes a lot in both Wisconsin and Kentucky. When we moved to Virginia, there were trails and roads that went through 'hollers' we would travel frequently on our bikes. I loved it all.

But time moves on and things happen and I'm usually more caught up in obligations than in taking pleasure for myself. Now that my son is 7, though, I am able to once again enjoy more on my own, since his Daddy can do more with him.

One such item is a hike to Sharp Top near the beautiful Peaks of Otter in southwest Virginia. On the last day with Mommy before school began, I took Sydney to Abbott Lake - it has a 1 mile, paved path around the lake that was perfect for a then-6 year old to explore. We examined plant life and butterflies - took pictures that focused on texture and color, and just enjoyed ourselves tremendously. I realized that Abbott Lake was at the base of three hikes that I'd heard of frequently but never climbed and decided that while my boys went to football games, I'd try my hand at these.
Abbott Lake sits nestled at the base of three mountains that offer beautiful views of the entire region. Sharp top isn't the highest mountain, but it is the steepest climb at a shorter distance. I knew it had been awhile since I'd been hiking, and even though I'm active, I'm not as consistent as I should be. It is because the hike is shorter that I chose to do this one first, even if it is steeper. Knowing that it has been years since I've actively hiked, and that I am a bit older than I used to be, I knew I needed to be careful.
I was... shocked. I expected to get winded. I expected to be a bit achy afterwards. But I did not expect to struggle as I did while actually hiking. I turned 40 this year. My knees aren't what they used to be. And I had thankfully thought to bring a hiking stick, but there were moments where my knees and my mind were definitely not in agreement. I don't feel 40. And I'm terribly stubborn. And I know there is a tremendous amount of 'mind over matter' in aging. But I cannot deny the fact that I had to go slower than I expected. It makes me wonder if I'll be able to accomplish some of the others that are longer hikes in a day.
I love this picture - it shows Abbott Lake at the base of the three mountains. I am at the top of Sharp Top. The mountain on the left is Harkening Hill. The one cut off on the right is Flat Top. I needed to take this picture because, from the lake, Sydney and I had made a point of looking up and identifying which mountain was which. It is the alteration in perspective that I wanted my 7 year old to see.
Ultimately, I had to recognize the difference in my abilities and my stubbornness. I had to make peace with certain aspects of my life. But I will never stop. Because I refuse to allow age and the human body to keep me from doing that which I enjoy and which brings me peace.
"It is not about the destination, but the journey." What realizations have you reached as you grow and mature? What have you had to make peace with in your life? Where will your journey lead you in life?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Tomatoes, Hornworms, Braconids, and Robert Burns

To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With a Plough - Robert Burns

Wee, sleekit, cowran, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave 'S a sma' request:
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' wast,
An' weary Winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee-bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald.
To thole the Winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

For the first time since my son was born, I planted a garden. We decided, together, to plant pumpkins, peppers, beans, and tomatoes. My pumpkins fared well enough. The peppers never produced. The beans did ... poorly. However, my tomatoes took off. I was able to eat my fill this summer, can for this winter, and am still getting viable tomatoes even though the vines appear dead. This has made me rather happy and I am anticipating doing more next summer. 

However, as I was examining the garden this evening, I found hornworms - the bane of tomato growers everywhere. Or, at least, gardeners who do not use pesticides. The hornworms will eat the leaves and stems and weaken the plants. 

My photo is horrible.

But when you see a hornworm that looks like this - leave it alone. The white "spikes" are cocoons of the braconid wasp - a natural enemy of the hornworm. By keeping this worm here, in my overgrown and tired garden, the wasp will ensure I have fewer hornworms next year. Yay!

It was through this image, though, that I thought of Robert Burns and his poem. You can see, I still have a tomato waiting to ripen, while two that were damaged by, probably our groundhog, hanging and rotting behind it. I had a prolific crop. Why worry about the few that were sampled by the groundhog, or damaged by the hornworm, when I have enough for myself? I love Burns' lines: 
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve; 
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live! 
A daimen-icker in a thrave 'S a sma' request: 
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave, 
An' never miss't!

"I doubt not that you may thieve;
What then? Poor beast, you must live!

Words to live by. It drives home the fact that, in teaching my son that he needs to distinguish between what he needs and what he wants, I am asked to consider that on a daily basis, as well. We should all consider it more. Share more. Love more. And don't sweat the small things like a solitary hornworm on your tomato plants.