Tuesday, September 8, 2009


This being -- or, by now I suppose, having been -- a holiday weekend, I decided not to go to the office (Saturday morning doesn't really count, right? Surely not on a three-day weekend.); instead, b&c and I headed to the mountains for a quiet weekend. We made pretty good time on the way up because I drove. Typically, b&c drives, but he recently injured his shoulder, and I've discovered that, when there's not heavy traffic around, I really don't mind driving as much as I mind worrying about his driving. He is a charming man, for the most part, but his driving skills are surpassed only by his skill at regenerating limbs.

Anyway, we would have made the trip in about 2.5 hours, but I wanted to stop at Ollie's, a store that specializes in remaindered items. They had, for example, about eight large bins filled with wallpaper borders at ninety-nine cents each. And since each border is fifteen yards long, I could have completely wallpapered several rooms in mismatched borders less than ten dollars. But I forbore. Forbearance is a virtue. Except when it isn't, of course. I did buy several steeply discounted spiral notebooks.

We got to the house in Springs a little before 7. We took a short walk to enjoy the view and the quiet, and then b&c made dinner while I watched HGTV. We ate, and I cleaned up, and then we read for a while. A little later I went outside and tried to take pictures of the moon.

But they didn't really come out. Alas.

I slept late the next morning. It was very cool in the mountains, and the bedroom was relatively dark. B&c, who had retired earlier and who has superior light but inferior noise tolerance, was awoken earlier by several of the neighborhood's many barking dogs. One of these dogs had barked at us the previous evening when we were on our walk. She appeared to be about fifteen years old, and her owner greeted us and then said, "She's a killer" as the dog pursued us at nearly the speed of tree sap.

By the time I showered and descended, b&c had finished breakfast, so I made some toast and fried a couple of eggs and followed it with some instant coffee that I cannot in good conscience recommend. Then we set off for Deep Creek Lake State Park. We visited the so-called Discovery Center where b&c procured a trail map. He suggested that we take one of the moderate trails. It was, apparently, called the Indian Turnip Trail, but I somehow got it in mind that it was the Indian Head Trail, and I spent some time daydreaming about happenings that the trail was not prepared to deliver. Still, it was pretty.
The wild or Indian turnip (Arisaema triphyllum (L.) Schott), like other members of the Araceae (aroid family), contains needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals, raphides, which ingested cause burning pain, swelling of the tongue and membranes of the mouth, and can be fatal. In the mid-1800s the raphides had yet to be discovered by chemists.

Just in case you wanted to know.

The first entrance to the trail was taped off, so we climbed a bit farther along the fire break to another entrance, where we had a choice of the high or low trails. I assumed that the trail looped back to this point, so I suggested we take the high path so that we could climb in the early part of the walk and descend later. I wasn't at all concerned about the hike until we got to a place where the path was blocked by a tree.

I wasn't troubled by the tree so much as by b&c's apparent inability to see the walk-around immediately to the right of the path. I have trouble remembering the minor shortcomings of others; for example, it was not until the fourth or fifth time that she told me, with some exasperation, that I remembered that EFU doesn't like hummus. But, really, who doesn't like hummus? And who can't read a trail map or see clearly painted blazes? The inability to comprehend that question is why I fail to remember that b&c's map reading and trail following abilities are exceeded only by his skill at giving birth. Anyway, the trail was very pleasant, and there was ample evidence of wild berry activity.

It was mostly too late in the season for wild berries, but we were not far into the hike when I happened across some ripe blueberries.

I'm sure you can understand my dilemma here. On the one hand, there is probably a big official frowny face associated with eating the wild berries. On the other hand, it's a pretty safe bet that they're organic. More to the point, though, the concept of sensitivity of initial conditions (more commonly, if annoyingly, known as the butterfly effect) tells us that, over time, the smallest action can lead to vast effects in later events. So, for example, my eating the blueberry could mean that a bird goes without vital nutrition and dies. Because of that, the bird does not contract a case of avian flu and does not go on to start a pandemic which wipes out half of the mid-Atlantic states and leads to Republican control of all branches of government for most of the 21st and early 22nd centuries. On the other hand, not eating the blueberry could mean that I miss a vital anti-oxidant, leading to a very minor cardiac event, because of which I end up dating a very cute cardiologist who, when I inevitably break his heart (figuratively: duh), channels his pain into new research which eliminates heart disease and saves millions. You can see the sort of responsibility that I live with on a day-to-day basis.

I ate the blueberries. I would like to say that I was trying to save millions from influenza and Republican oppression, but mostly I just wanted to avoid having to date anyone. Besides, they were tasty.

After we narrowly avoided losing a clearly marked trail another couple of times, I thought that I had better stop taking b&c's word for it and take charge of the map. Looking at the contour lines, I anticipated some future difficulties.

But I didn't say anything. After all, the hike was said to be moderate. Besides, I kept thinking, "Well, surely it won't be as bad as Cornwall." This thought refers to the vacation, perhaps five years ago, that we took to England, where we spent several days hiking the Cornwall Coast Path. It was the most beautiful trail I ever hiked, but there were several instances along the incredibly steep and rocky trail heading southwest from St. Ives where I thought that surrendering my body to the elements might be the best choice.

And, really, the path was fine, there was an extended portion in the middle that was steep for a prolonged period, but whenever I got tired, I thought, "Really, this is nothing like Cornwall," and before long the path had evened out to a flat and pleasant walk over railroad ties.

We reached the end of the trail, which was not the same as the beginning of the trail, but I was reminded by the views of how much I love nature.

I saw an old, large wire spool that must have been used to transport some of the electrical wire running up to the summit.

Predictably, I thought about how easy it would be to convert it to a combination bar and picnic table for my backyard, but it did not appear to be for sale. Oh well.

I was not in a hurry to head back down the mountain, so I absorbed some more of the natural beauty.

I was a bit concerned about the steepness of the descent. I was unable to get a picture that did it justice, but you can sort of see here how the earth appears to drop away.

Or you can look at this detail for the map. The Indian Turnip Trail having ended abruptly, we had to take the Fire Tower Trail back down. Later, I calculated that over the steepest parts of the trail, the descent was approximately twenty feet every ten meters. When I got to the edge of where the descent began, I was nonplussed. But there was nothing for it but to descend.

I was only a few yards down when I encountered a hiker coming the other way. He was in his forties and moderately cute with a pierced ear. He was walking a somewhat frou-frou canine. I would probably have noticed him more if I weren't worried about falling down the mountain. He said hello, and then, "Be careful. It's very steep, and there are a lot of loose rocks." Men are so shameless when they flirt.

I was perhaps another ten yards into the descent when I thought, "Wow, this is very steep. And there are a lot of loose rocks." And then, "This is way worse than Cornwall." I was scared, especially when I saw b&c, who was twenty or so yards ahead of me, slip and fall. He seemed to be okay, though it is probable that he sprained his wrist. I went very slowly, walking sideways as much as possible, and seriously regretting that I hadn't worn some manner of hiking shoe or boot. Occasionally there was a tree to hold onto, but mostly there was just open, treacherous path. I might have despaired had I not been distracted by brambles.

I ate the ripe ones, without even pausing to consider the potentially catastrophic long-term effects. They were delicious.

When I finally reached flatter ground, it was only a short walk to the parking lot. I thought at that point that I would probably sell b&c's soul for a liter of Orangina, but there is no Orangina in Western Maryland, so I had to settle for something from the vending machine.

Do not.

It was mid-afternoon then, and we were both exhausted (and sore) from the last part of the hike, so we found a restaurant and had a late lunch. The food was unremarkable, but I was very hungry. Then we drove the half-hour or so back to the house. I took some ibuprofen for the soreness, but I was so beat that I felt like I really needed to do a few lines:

I was going to say that I just don't do lines as easily as I did in my youth, but I never really did them in my youth. I was excessively well-behaved as a youth. I should probably regret the lost opportunities, but I'm too lazy.

We read and watched TV for a while and had a late and light dinner. I watched Design Star on HGTV before going to bed.

The next morning was cool and cloudy.

We had breakfast, cleaned the house, and packed up. On the drive home, b&c napped, and, since it was Labor Day, I worried about work. It seemed a fitting end to the summer.


  1. I had a similar thing happen over the summer. My line was "I will not hike without water, ever."

    Do not made me laugh.

  2. What I saw on the pictures arn't paths, they're almost highways! Certainly the first time ever I thought of you as a sissy (sorry!). I'll show you the trails we hiked! But you're definetely right about footwear.
    Good that you didn't buy any of those wallpaper borders.