May 12, 2020 Glover Archbold Haikus

Glover Archbold. Photo by CGIOS



I found the place where
all the water goes when there’s
nowhere else to go


Footprint in mud. Photo by CGIOS



Our footprints couldn’t
be more different but we
both claim “I was here”




Woodpecker-ravaged tree. Photo by CGIOS


Even the birds have
dinner plates that come in man-
-y shapes and sizes





Haikus for May 2020

Now you see tree, now you don’t. – photo by CGIOS

While people are social distancing due to COVID-19, many are turning to games and art for entertainment. One recent competition that my workplace indulged in was recreating works of art with household objects and ourselves as subjects. This past week, we all wrote Haikus. Here are mine below. I hope you share some of yours in the comments.

Can you tell the air
is cleaner, they ask. But I
am wearing a mask.

It's as if all clocks
dumped their time in a river
and the river ran

The longer I stand
and stare off into the trees
Pewees, Towhees, Wrens

How to See the Trees for the Forest

I’ve been walking through the same small stretch of Glover Archbold Park for twenty years, since I first moved to DC. Twenty years! I have always appreciated the little winding path and its companion stream that run through the small wooded ravine between Massachusetts Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue. However, now that we are walking through this patch of land every day at a very slow speed, it is like I am seeing the park for the first time and in great detail. This is the start of my nature journal, to document the biodiversity of this special place. I will be adding illustrations and notes from my paper version in the near future.

(An aside: We get great joy out of randomly opening the bird book and the wildflower book and calling each other names of flowers and birds. “You’re a cutleaf toothwort.” “Oh yeah? Well you’re a yellow-bellied sapsucker.” It’s a great way to blow of steam and get some giggles in.)


  • Spring Beauty
  • May Apples
  • Garlic Mustard
  • Violets
  • Periwinkle
  • Star Chickweed
  • Cutleaf Toothwort
  • Lesser Celandine

Birds (Late February through April 3)

  • Purple Finches
  • Eastern Phoebes
  • Carolina Wrens (my new favorite bird, sing their hearts out)
  • Winter Wrens (first time sighting!)
  • Northern Flickers
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Pileated Woodpecker (look like cartoons)
  • Red Bellied Woodpecker
  • Cooper’s Hawks (adult and juvenile)
  • Eastern Towhee (first time sighting!)
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Golden Crowned Kinglet (first time sighting!)
  • Mallards
  • Nuthatches (sound like they are always laughing at their own jokes)
  • Goldfinch
  • Cardinals
  • Crows
  • Sparrows
  • Blue Jays
  • Robins
  • Starlings
  • Mockingbirds
  • Barred Owl (heard)

Other Critters Recently Seen

  • Deer
  • Chipmunks
  • Grey and black squirrels
  • (Coyote seen by neighbors. I keep hoping.)

Bring The Outside In: for those in quarantine

-watercolor by Stacie Lee

Birds sing happily
Oblivious to crisis
Can I be a bird? 

-a social distancing haiku by Joseph Kraus



When life feels stressful, I like to time-travel in my mind as a form of meditation. I pick a reasonable time, based on an educated guess, when I believe that the source of the stress will be behind me/us, and I imagine what that more normal day will feel like. It is usually one that ends with an exclamation right before bed: “Where did the freakin’ day go.” And then I park the discomfort in one corner of my head and focus on the path forward. I learned this trick from years of distance running outdoors: there is no hiding from the discomfort, there is interest and curiosity in being present with your surroundings, and there is strength gained from making it through.

Whether you are a little under the weather or have put yourself under a self-quarantine because you think you may have been exposed to the coronavirus, here is a guide to bring the outdoors inside and find a little peace.

Be Artsy Crafty

  • Make paper masks of animals, either from templates or from scratch.
  • Use old magazines, crayons and markers, construction paper, and paint to create nature scenes to hang around the apartment.
  • Use objects from the recycle bin, old games, toy chest, and medicine cabinet to create a nature-themed board game. If you need inspiration, think about the rules and structure of the games you like to play the most.


Observe Backyard Nature

  • Become a citizen naturalist by documenting the wildlife you see from your window. What birds do you see? What do they look like? What do they sound like? Are they alone or in a group? What are they doing? What time of day do you see them and what is the weather like? If you have a pair of binoculars, even better (but please don’t creep on the human neighbors). When the world gets back to its regular programming, explore more ways to become a citizen naturalist in order to assist local scientists, using guidance from
  • Become a nature journalist. Draw natural settings that you see outside of your window, or if you live in more urban areas, try illustrating while watching nature videos online or browsing bird and plant guides. Learn more about nature journaling and field sketching with this online course from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Academy.


Watch, Listen, Learn

  • Netflix has lots of options to visit the outdoors, while sitting on your couch. Some of my favorites: Mission Blue is about Sylvia Earl’s inspiring work to save the world’s oceans. Our Planet takes you through jungles, deserts, and icy landscapes. Learn about how diverse species survive in some of the harshest conditions in Wild Alaska.
  • Learn bird calls by listening to samples on the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website. Research birds for your region, listen to their calls, and then have a roommate test your skills. Keep the neighbors wondering.


Share more ways you are bringing the outdoors in in the comments! Please stay healthy and safe.

Lessons Learned from Our First Season in a Community Garden

My midsummer work-in-progress. Photo by CGIOS

And that’s a wrap, literally. On the last Saturday of November, a few of us gardeners worked to finish preparing our plots for the winter. Some were discussing if it was too late to plant garlic. Others finished pulling up plants, raking out the soil, and laying down dried leaves, newspaper, and mulch as ground cover. Joe and I went the lazier route and covered our plots with black tarp. A fellow neighbor scoffed at our amateur solution to killing weeds and let us know it would benefit us to spread dry leaves out between the ground and the tarp to ensure that the soil stays rich for next season. Okay, so maybe it’s not totally a wrap, but we have done enough to meet the garden police’s deadline for winter prep. We will fill in the gaps later. Or not.

This was our first summer working in the community garden. Just over two years ago, as soon as I realized we were moving into the neighborhood, both Joe and I signed up for the community garden wait list. Just as our first lease was expiring, we each received notices that we had finally secured plots on the community garden. Renewing our apartment lease was a no-brainer.

It was a rough summer, but fun if you’re down with sweating through your clothes and raking and digging through symptoms of heat exhaustion, cool with inexplicable amounts of rain turning your wood chip paths into canals and soil into shoe-sucking mud, and chill with mosquitoes chewing through your pants. That entire description is euphemistic at best. As the elements became increasingly swampy towards the end of summer, we admittedly found reasons we couldn’t make it out to our plots.

All said and some done, we plan to do this again in 2019. Here’s what we learned!

Lesson 1: Don’t dig a hole unless you are ready to fill it.

One corner of Joe’s plot was inhabited by an enormous hibiscus bush, its dry branches a disingenuous representation of its being. The fact that it came threateningly close to the six-foot height limit made it a bit of problem with the garden rules. The fact that it took up a ton of space, both above ground and below, was the main issue. That it appeared completely dead made it superfluous. He spent hours and buckets of sweat digging the bush out with a pickax, only to learn that it had been sucking up the extra water in the soil. It had been, in fact, very much alive. The first time it rained after he removed the offensive twig cluster, the space left by the excavation turned into a soppy mess. He had to build a raised bed to fully recover the now empty corner as a functioning garden.

Lesson 2: It’s fun until the mosquitoes arrive.

Wearing pants and drenching legs and pants in bug spray are futile actions when protecting oneself from DC’s type A mosquitoes. Full stop.

Lesson 3: Don’t trust the compost.

According to garden rules, we are not allowed to put food scraps in the community garden compost. Fair enough. No need to attract rats and other critters. However, many of the gardeners seem impervious to other rules, such as not throwing wiregrass and other nefarious weeds into the compost. I used the garden compost all summer and spent hours upon hours raking and sifting the tiny threads of these weeds out of my soil. I’m considering investing in raised beds and weed-free soil from the store next season.

Lesson 4: Wolf Spiders Jump and They Like to Stay Where You Found Them

When this season started, I was pretty proud of the fact that I was seeing small spiders around my plot and it wasn’t bothering me one bit. If you’ve ever met me, you know this is no small accomplishment. I can’t exaggerate my spider phobia. But then I found a pregnant wolf spider. Or she found me. We clearly had a common interest in occupying the garden. There was a lot of loud yelping and deep breathing on my part, especially when she jumped at me as I unexpectedly and repeatedly unearthed her. I can’t speak for the spider, but my guess is she was doing her own version of anxiety reduction.

Lesson 5: The Art of Nurturing the Seeds

Seedlings by Joe. Photo by CGIOS

Joe spent months cultivating all kinds of plants from seeds in our apartment. He started peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, tomatillos, brussels sprouts, and more by making tiny seed pots out of old egg cartons. It was painstaking work, the kind of work I don’t have patience for, as I’m a controlled chaos kind of gal. Joe is slow and thoughtful and meticulous. I give him most of the credit for the successes in my garden because of his initial careful cultivation of most of my plants. I, on the other hand, threw a bunch of seeds in and saw little reward.

Lesson 6: The Tomatillos Though

Paper lanterns on a tomatillo plant. Photo by CGIOS.

Except for the TOMATILLOS: Little beautiful paper lanterns, artful round purple and green marble fruits, and one plant that put out more tomatillos than we could give away. It was a salsa-verde-on-everything kind of summer.

Lesson 7: Rules Rules Rules

Understandably, our participation in the community garden comes with many rules. Being an avid rule follower, I feel like I spent most of my garden experience focused on creating a weed-free plot and periphery, instead of truly being able to enjoy the experience of actually learning how to grow plants. Joe had a much healthier and balanced relationship with his weeds. I do look forward to having a yard someday, with a garden I can manage by my own rules in order to truly enjoy the experience.

Lesson 8: The Beauty in the Beast

The birds are plentiful: gold finches, mocking birds, robins, great blue herons overhead…

Goldfinch. Photo by CGIOS.

We get front row seats to stellar sunsets.

It was something for Joe and me to do together, yet apart as we each had our own plot. And of course, there were moments when we each stepped in for the other with our individual strengths.

Lesson 9: Say Hello to Your Neighbors

I live by this. While I’m an introvert by nature, I love learning from other people and enjoy small talk that leads to surprise conversations. When I’m feeling up for it, I talk to everyone – in elevators, in ride shares, on buses and metro, in stores. In the garden, I met wonderful plot neighbors who gave helpful tips along the way. And it was just nice to feel like we are all in it together out there, sharing similar pains and frustrations and successes. It’s fun to see what others grow and the different personalities play out in the plot designs and types of preferred plants.

Our new friend Steve told us about the miracle of growing peanuts. I will write about that experience next season.

Getting Dirty to Keep Our Parks Clean

Viburnum in Glover-Archbold Park – Photo by CGIOS

The older I get, the more I feel I need excuses to put on wellies and jump in mud puddles. Why is that? And what’s a better excuse than signing up for a park clean up that also just happens to be on a rainy spring day?

Last April, I joined site leader Jerry’s group for the Rock Creek Conservancy’s Rock Creek Extreme Cleanup. Our task was to remove the trash from Glover-Archbold Park, a sub-unit of Rock Creek Park. For a map of all of Rock Creek Park and its finger parks, check here.

I made sure I wore comfortable clothes that I didn’t mind getting muddy in. And I honestly did fight myself a little getting out of the door. After all, rainy days are great for curling up at home with a book and a cat. At the end of the day, getting out was not a decision I regretted.

I arrived and paired up with another woman whose partner was at home with a broken ankle. Since the rest of the group seemed to arrive together from a college, it was lucky for us that we were each alone. Jerry handed us a large bag for garbage and one for recycling, gloves, instructions, and pointed us in the opposite direction of the big group. We were on our way.

We entered Glover-Archbold Park near New Mexico Avenue and Garfield Street. It was raining a little harder than I realized, but that added to the visual magic. Thanks to the rain’s broad brush over the earth, we were surrounded by new spring growth made bright green in contrast to the darkened tree bark.

What’s nice about volunteering in early spring is the beauty of the early growth mixed with the lack of poison ivy and bugs (if bugs aren’t your thing). My mother passed on her love of wildflowers to me, and DC is full of them. The very first things I noticed with delight were the prehistoric-looking Jack-in-the-pulpits everywhere! And there was a tree with beautiful cascading white blooms on one side trail that was a challenge to identify. After outsourcing the plant’s identification on Facebook, a friend who works in parks says he is 100% sure it’s viburnum. I returned the very next weekend, sun in tow, to snap pictures of both species.

Jack-in-the-pulpits – Photo by CGIOS

I was grateful for my clean up partner who had a much better sense of direction than I do. I was mostly teaching myself to use visual cues in the physical geography as breadcrumbs, but not very successfully.

We chatted some and learned about each other, and walked quietly and enjoyed the light rain while we collected trash on the network of trails. The park was mostly empty of people, probably from the weather. Their loss.

Most of the trash in this area of the park was located closer to the street entrances. That is where the hard work was concentrated. However, one of the more disturbing things for me (and here is your embedded PSA, people) was the number of doggie bags people leave in the park. The point of the bags is to pick up your pup’s poo and remove it with you. So leaving it in the bag in the woods seems even more egregious than just leaving the waste there to decompose. We picked up quite a ridiculous number of bags. And also found a few plastic Easter eggs with toys in them, clothing, and the always ubiquitous plastic water bottles.

I know from my volunteering experiences over the years that people show up for a variety of reasons. I’m an introvert and love people but also love just plain hard solitary work. So I go for the joy of being outside and helping the environment, and the therapy that is ripping vines from trees and hiking into challenging crevices for a piece of trash. For me, there’s nothing like the feeling of taking a warm shower after getting really dirty and working hard. A lot of people volunteer for team building and for socializing and, yes, because this is DC, even networking. If you met your partner for life while volunteering, I’d love to hear about that! Tell us why you volunteer in the comments.

The Rock Creek Conservancy works to protect Rock Creek and its parks throughout Washington, DC and Maryland (including Rock Creek Park). Like in any system, the condition of one part can affect another part. The health of Rock Creek, for example, affects the health of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay (the bay closest to my heart). Join the efforts to protect these parks as a natural oasis for all to enjoy. For forthcoming information about the next Extreme Clean Up and other volunteer opportunities, keep an eye on this page.

The Rock Creek Conservancy volunteer experiences are well-planned, with site leaders who bring supplies and communicate about the event with participants. All you need to do is dress for the weather and the woods (and if you must, bring a business card or two). But most importantly, get out there and have fun!

5 Ways to Explore Nature in DC Without Owning a Car

Rock Creek Park. Photo by CGIOS

My beloved 1999 Honda Civic is going to be with me forever. It was my first car purchase and I hope my only car purchase in my lifetime. My mechanic, who says he loves the car as much as I do, takes great care of my elderly chariot. Yet I sometimes entertain the idea of not having a car.

While I don’t particularly enjoy driving, it is super convenient for getting my cat around, visiting family and hiking areas outside of the city, dragging my bike to the barrier islands, and tackling larger grocery runs. Walking the groceries home means deciding if the cat litter or the milk is the more urgent purchase. Plus there just really is no safe way to balance egg cartons in a bag. The car is also useful when I’m running late, and I’m usually always running 5 minutes late. Maybe I could do without and maybe not.

Since DC is full of transient residents, many of them don’t have cars. My friend Malaka asked me how to experience nature around the city without a car and no more than $25 in car share rides. Access to some of these destinations by a bike or bikeshare is allowed in her parameters.

I know I have my preferred places, some of them more worn in than others. So I decided to crowd source favorite nature locations from my Facebook friends and they delivered. Here are some of their answers and how to get there without a car. Don’t forget your binoculars and snacks!

Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

I can’t state enough how magical this park is. If you can’t afford a rocket ride to a new planet, this place is the very next best thing. June and July are great months to visit, though the aquatic gardens are relaxing any time of the year. Read my past post on their otherworldliness.

Their website offers multiple tips to get there. For those without a car, you can pick up a bike share and drop off at 4899 Minnesota Ave, NE, near the Deanwood Metro stop. If on foot, take the Orange line metro towards New Carrollton and exit at the Deanwood stop. Exit via Lower Polk Street, use the pedestrian bridge to cross Kenilworth Ave, turn left on Douglas Street and right on Anacostia Avenue. The entrance will be on your left.

Hours: Daily except some holidays, 8am-4pm
Address: 1550 Anacostia Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20019

Lake Artemesia

“It’s definitely a hidden gem in PG County” – Elisabeth. This park, highly recommended by a friend, is now on my to-walk list. To get to the lake, take the Green Line towards Greenbelt and exit at College Park station. It is about a half hour walk around the College Park airport to the lake, so wear comfy shoes!

Hours: Sunrise to sunset, daily
Address: Berwyn Rd & 55th Ave, Berwyn Heights, MD

Rock Creek Park

Every time I step into the woods here, I am amazed at how the city disappears. The loop that starts at the Nature Center off of Military Road and Oregon can be accessed by several different points of the city. The trails are beautiful and full of little surprises (rocky dry beds, sparkling clear streams, brief steep hillsides, an abundance of wildflowers from early spring to late fall). Often, it’s quieter on the paths that run off of the main drags. Glimpse deer, chipmunks, woodpeckers, barred owls, peregrine falcons, and fox. Grab your hiking poles and boots, though you may look over prepared compared to the joggers and coffee-carrying city couples who also use these trails.

For a longer hike, bike share to Connecticut and Albemarle and hike in through the trail head to Soap Stone Valley Park. For shorter versions, cab or ride share or bike (no bikeshare available) to The Nature Center off of Military and Oregon.

Hours: Sunrise to sunset, daily
Address: Visitor’s Center Starting Point- 5200 Glover Rd NW, Washington, DC 20015

Dumbarton Oaks Parks Conservancy

While I have only had a picnic on the grounds, this place is highly recommended by several people. In fact, it’s such a special place that my pilates instructor and friend Clare is leading monthly forest therapy walks there. A portion of the suggested proceeds go to Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy. Learn more about the benefits of Forest Bathing in this NPR article.

Hours: Sunrise to sunset, daily
Address: Most used entrance is via a short stroll down Lovers’ Lane, located approximately 200 feet east of R Street and 31st Street NW. (View website for additional ways to enter the park.)

Theodore Roosevelt Island

This park was the clear winner for most recommended. I like this little island, and mostly go there when I want to go for a hike that feels outside of the city, but don’t have much time to travel. This is a great little place to contemplate big decisions.

You can access the island by walking 10-15 minutes from the Rosalyn metro station or by bike (you will have to lock your bike at the racks near the footbridge).

Hours: Open year-round, 6am-10pm
Address: Potomac River near the Key Bridge

There are so many other areas of DC to cover in future posts, but please don’t let that stop you from adding your favorite outdoor spots in DC, ones that you can get to from inside the city without a car, in the comments!

What DC Coyotes Eat for Dinner

Coyote. Photo by jamescumming / 123RF Stock Photo

On my way home from a long work day, with the hours getting darker, the humid air still hung itself like a damp coat over the end of September.

As I walked towards the woods at the end of my street, I took in the darkness and wondered why no one on our ever-dissatisfied listserve has complained about the lack of street lights.

Ahead of me, I could barely make out the silhouette of a woman walking her two small dogs and hoped she could see my own outline so I didn’t surprise her. But something else was about. Just as we met up, we both heard the howl at the same time and her two dogs started barking. “Did you hear that?” “Uh, yes.” “Coyote. My husband told me he’s been seeing them around.”

For newcomers to DC who may think that the most exotic creatures we have here are interns, coyotes have lived in this city since 2004, according to the National Park Service FAQ page about the elusive creatures. Read Jacob Fenston’s article for WAMU, “Why Does A City As Dense As D.C. Have So Much Wildlife?,” to learn how our regional park corridors provide habitats and access to our backyards for our furrier neighbors.

I like telling people that there are coyotes in Washington. Maybe talking about coyotes could help remove the myth that DC is all stuffed suits and type A women wearing Ann T. You already know I’m here for the parks.

Not counting the occasional tropical bird that gets blown off course and ends up in New England or pet pythons released in Florida plumbing, there must be animals living in other cities and places that only appear to be interlopers.

Some friends of mine who moved from Capitol Hill to a cabin in rural Kentucky told me my favorite story of surprising residents. The Southern Devil Scorpions live in rural Kentucky. In the woods. And your shoes. These scorpions do sting but aren’t interested in people and not dangerous.

Please let me know in the comments what animals and insects you are most surprised to see where you live or have visited. Now back to the coyotes in DC.

How likely are you to see one?

The answer to this is you might see one while in and around Rock Creek Park and some of the adjacent neighborhoods, but it isn’t likely. The population appears to be small, and coyotes are most active in the evenings and at night.

And I know the burning question that is on our minds is: What do coyotes eat for dinner?

Coyotes eat dead things, vegetation, and small critters in the park. You’re safe, but keep an eye on your pets. It’s best if taking your animals on hikes through the park or near the park, that you keep them leashed. It’s the law anyways, though I witness it often ignored especially in the parks. (And normally I wouldn’t care because I love your animals as much as you do, except that someone’s very lovely, playful Goldie once yanked me off my fast-moving bike by my ankle. I’ve since forgiven the pup but not his people.)

Fake news alert: Coyote wolf hybrids do not exist in Rock Creek Park. It takes two to tangle and without a wolf population, well, you just get more coyotes.

If you see a coyote: According to the National Park Service, notify Resource Management Specialist Ken Ferebee at 202-895-6221. Let Ken know the date, time and location you saw the animal.

Barred Owl in My Backyard


Barred owl. Copyright : Lynn Bystrom,

I’m always on the alert for animals, even in the city. I spend a large part of my day proofreading and apply that same Where’s Waldo scan to every tree I walk past.


Black and white warbler. Copyright : Marie-Ann Daloia,

Just two weeks ago, I noticed a small black and white bird on the tree that separates my office window from a view of Freedom Plaza and discovered it was a black and white warbler. I have never seen one before, so this was exciting. It moved quickly and the window washers hadn’t been around in a little while, resulting in blurry attempts to capture an image of the little guy. Thankfully, real photographers exist so you can see a picture.

In all my enthusiasm, unfortunately, sometimes I’m the woman who cried bird. While scanning highways and forests, I’ve been known to get excited over nothing. I mistook many white plastic bags high up in trees for snowy owls during the great snowy owl visit a couple of years ago.

But what happened last night was unmistakable. Around 1:30 am (Happy Autumn, everyone!), I was woken up by the clear “who cooks, who cooks for you all” call. At first I just laid there wondering if I had dreamed it. Or maybe some taxi driver who really loves birds got carried away choosing a horn sound for his car. Sure enough, after several seconds I heard the call again, loud and close, from somewhere out back by the trees that line the alley. I couldn’t see anything in the dark from my window, and the neighbor’s house light made any chance of spotting silhouettes impossible.

Then, as I was fumbling for my phone to try to get a recording, I heard squawking and considered there might be two of them. And then they were gone. While I wasn’t able to get a good recording, you can hear the same sounds I heard in the first two recordings on The Cornell Lab of Ornithology site.

My backyard wilderness. Photo by CGIOS

Owls are around. Apparently, they’re known for victimizing joggers in Rock Creek Park. A few years ago, a woman posted on our community listserv that she heard a bunch of commotion at her door and opened it to find a saw-whet owl staring at her. I’m not as jealous as I used to be, now with the barred owl experience, but I’d still really love to see a saw-whet owl sometime. It’s more unusual to hear or see any owl in your backyard, the further away from Rock Creek Park you are.

This morning, while I took a quick stroll through the alley to look for any visual signs of the visitor (owl pellets or tree tracks), I was happy to greet our backyard resident rabbit who is still alive and hopping. Keep on, little buddy. It’s wild out there.

Black Bears Don’t Growl

High Laurel Inn, photo by CGIOS

High Laurel Inn, photo by CGIOS

Did you know that black bears don’t growl? Me neither!

Last fall, Joe and I went for a hike in Shenandoah. We chose a spot that was pretty far off the beaten path, because we had been lamenting how crowded trails are close to DC. Weekends on the trail are starting to feel like spring break. Don’t misunderstand. I’m grateful more and more people are appreciating the outdoors, but truly escaping into the wilderness is becoming harder to do. If you have tried to visit the madness that is Sugarloaf Mountain on the weekends in the last year or so, you have an idea of what I mean.

Timing our trip with colorful fall foliage, we headed out to High Laurel Inn in Grottoes, Virginia. The room was nice and quiet, set onto a hill facing the woods. The owners are story tellers in the best way and cook up a delicious breakfast. We got our first taste of what to expect in the wilderness from the owners, who told us all about the numerous rattlesnakes, copperheads, and bears in the area. We were excited and also beginning to feel a bit nervous.

Joe spent a lot of time on the internet looking up what to do for snake bites. First, nothing works. Not tourniquets, not sucking out the venom, not carving a hole in someone’s leg. Oh, and your cell phone will also probably not work. So the victim’s only option is to not move and wait for her partner to hike back to civilization while she gets eaten by bears. Life is a moot point if you get bitten by a poisonous snake in the middle of nowhere. Evidently. (If you’re an expert on poisonous snake bites or have survived one, please give us the “how to” in the comments.)

photo by CGIOS

photo by CGIOS

In the morning, after a gigantic breakfast from our hosts, we packed our lunches, filled water bottles, and headed out. The nice thing about High Laurel Inn is that it sits just steps from the start of the trails. We began at the park boundary near the foot of the mountain, hiked up Paine Run to the Trayfoot Mountain Overlook, across the AT to the Blackrock Summit, and then back down to where we started via the Trayfoot Mountain trail. This is the longest I’ve hiked, which some might laugh at, but it’s a pretty big deal to someone with chronic compartment syndrome (another story for another time).

On the way over to the starting line, we saw a skinned something or other (maybe coyote) hanging from a tree by the road. If anyone has any idea why someone would do that, please comment below. It makes for an eerie start. Maybe a half mile in, I realized I had left my water bottle at the room, but we decided to keep going with just one bottle. In hindsight, not a good idea at all.

Paine Run at the AT, photo by CGIOS

Paine Run at the AT, photo by CGIOS

The hike up Paine Run was uneventful. Yet there were reminders everywhere, in the form of fresh bear scat, that we were out of our element. We only passed two people before reaching the top. We sat at the Trayfoot Mountain Overlook and enjoyed lunch and the break after our climb. I was starting to relax and enjoy being outside.

I LOVE hiking. This time I was nervous about being so far from anyone who could help us if we got in trouble, and I missed my water bottle and cell phone service. The most populated parts of our hike occurred near the top of the mountain by Skyline Drive, which is not unusual. Bill Bryson talks about how most of us like the idea of woods, but don’t stray too far into them in A Walk in the Woods. (Side note: It took me way too long to read this humorous book about hiking the Appalachian Trail.)

Blackrook Summit, photo by CGIOS

Blackrock Summit, photo by CGIOS

At the top, a clear sign announced the presence of copperheads on Blackrock Summit. Yet what were the chances we would actually see one? We chatted with a family who had just happily crawled on the rocks, and I have been hiking on rocks on the AT my whole life without ever seeing a copperhead.

The view at the overlook was breathtaking. I was slightly ahead of Joe and walking through the rocks when I turned around to see him bent over face to snout with a small copperhead. Those things are hard to see! The understated creature wasn’t interested in moving away from Joe. I told him what he was looking at and asked him to back away. We both suddenly realized that in order to keep going forward on our journey, we still had to hike by an indeterminable amount of rocks. I was paralyzed with fear. We could go back past the copperhead and back the way we had come, which was pretty but not the most interesting hike. Or we could keep going forward and hope that we would pass through the rocks quickly. We moved forward with sticks, poking ahead of us as we tested for slithering beings. Just as we entered the woods again, we came upon a group of hikers that included a guy who was way too enthusiastic about us seeing a snake. But. it. was. poisonous. His buddy behind him got the message.

Monarchs on their way south, photo by CGIOS

Monarchs on their way south, photo by CGIOS

And then that was it, almost. We didn’t see another human for the rest of the trail. Miles and miles of wilderness trekked by two nervous nellies. About two miles from the end of the hike, we heard a growl. A low, mean, get the nuts out of my territory growl. Joe’s instinct was to stop and push me back the way we had come. But at this point our choices were to move forward towards the growl and finish the two miles left or go back eight miles past the rocks and snakes and all the hidden bears that ignored us the first time. Not to mention we lacked water.

One way or another, we had both had it with our fear and either a bear or the end of the trail was going to put us out of our misery. Whichever came first.

photo by CGIOS

Hickory Tussock caterpillar, don’t touch, photo by CGIOS

So you know we survived because I’m writing this post. We have no idea what made the growling sound. I did learn after the hike that black bears don’t actually growl. They make all kinds of other sounds, but they don’t growl like in the movies. My aunt who spends a lot of the year in the Alaskan rainforest confirmed that a growl is in the ear of the beholder and that we may have certainly heard a bear. After recently reading A Walk in the Woods, I’m wondering if we heard the elusive mountain lion. Or maybe it was just two big old trees rubbing together in the wind.

I felt a shift in my hiking mood during this outting. While absolutely nothing happened to us, I am suddenly aware of the could haves. I now ask everyone who goes hiking if they’ve seen a bear or a snake. I’m collecting survival stories. We weren’t exactly prepared for our hike, given its remoteness. Our future hikes in more populated areas will help me relax back into my love for nature and escaping to the wilderness. Sugarloaf anyone?

View from High Laurel Inn, photo by CGIOS

View from High Laurel Inn, photo by CGIOS

All this said, for those that like adventure and prefer remoteness, the Trayfoot Mountain hike is beautiful. And I highly recommend High Laurel Inn for a nice weekend getaway. In the end, the best view we saw all day was from their front porch.