Photo taken a few days ago in Castlewood State Park in Ballwin, Missouri. Get out and enjoy Autumn before the wind and cold sweep away all the color!
The truck rumbled and rattled and crackled along the gravel road back to the park office; I was sitting in the bed, relaxing in the open air. The cool air and the speed of the truck felt brisk, though it was fortunately offset by the pleasant warmth and radiance of the sunny day. The truck and its passengers were all given shadowy, temporary stripes as we drove through acres and acres of beautiful Missouri forest. The forest seemed to march with pride alongside us. The still-green pines and cedars were attempting to outshow the leafless deciduans. Only a few brown and brittle leaves still bravely clung to their oak and hickory homes. But the eye cannot miss the occasional grand oak, burly and rugged. Those grand trees seemed to command their offspring and their companions: oaks, hickories, hackberries, honey locusts, persimmons, walnuts… From our truck bed, all of the trees seemed to be marching. The trees closest to the road marched swiftly, while the trees several yards from the road trudged at a moderate pace. The tree ranks closer to the horizon seemed only to saunter across the countryside. All, however, were marching under the sky flag of blue, white, and light.
This grand and relaxing procession ended one of my first service outings with the Sierra Club EMG at Hawn State Park. I had joined friends and strangers to help remove some old fencing. Like many parks in the area, most of the land at Hawn State Park has been purchased from or donated by private landowners. For one reason or another, old cattle-fields were left to the advances of the forest and many forgotten fences were overtaken. The wildlife that returns with the forest, however, has to deal with the hazards of barbed wire and the possibility of injury when crossing half-buried, brittle fence. Thus, our group set out to tear down some of these old fences and open up the back country.
I must admit, I feared the cold would make me slow and useless. However, I quickly warmed up through activity and sunny exposure. March. We slowly followed the rusty, dilapidated fence line. Snip. We snipped a section of fence. Pull. We pulled the fence and flattened any messes. Fold. We folded the metal wire fence into neat stacks. Flag. Finally, we flagged the fence for finding later; pulling all of the fence bales from the forest would be another day’s work. Indeed, I found myself helpful during this outing.
This is what I need. This is what anyone stuck in the city, stuck in the office, stuck in suburbia, needs; some sun and some nature to offset the constant exposure to man-made constructs and rat races. Go outside!! “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” ~John Muir
For certain, I find inspiration in the illustrative, passion-filled words of John Muir, the master naturalist, the whispering-to-the-wee plants botanist,
the glaciologist, the avid and skilled hiker, the potent political activist, the great appreciater of His Creation. His words moved Presidents and led to the creation of National Parks, ‘America’s Best Idea.’ But even Mr. Muir gained inspiration from more than books.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
Indeed, his walks across the Eastern United States, his hikes through the Sierras and Yosemite, his summits of grand mountain peaks, his adventures in Alaska…all these nature experiences fueled his fire, and perpetuated him even when his time confined him to cities and public offices in the pursuit of writing persuasive arguments and garnering support for conservation. Surely, I have some empowering experiences that are keeping my pilot light aglow.
One place that stays with me is the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was the location of my first real vacation as a child. I hiked the trail to Mt. Harney, learned about bison (and bison burgers), discovered the gem of Custer State Park, fished from granite outcroppings along Sylvan Lake, tent-camped below the wispy canopy of pines, and enjoyed the views along Needles Highway. The Trail to Harney is perhaps one of my favorite places of all. I hiked it with my family when my legs were little and the 6-mile round-trip trek seemed to take ages. I hiked it with my brothers when we returned years later (with longer legs, it was a slightly easier hike). I even took up the hike once more with my soon-to-be fiance; I proposed to her at the top of Mount Harney!
The trail sticks with me. The twists and turns in the trail. The muscovite mica specks glistening in the sunlight. The vista of the fire tower (our peak) from the opposite side of the valley. The difficulty of detouring around, under, or over fallen logs. At the top, I remember sitting next to my new fiancé and keeping our trail mix away from the extremely curious chipmunks. I remember standing at the top with my brothers, proud of our accomplishment, though yet unaware of our mistake to forget the sunblock. The view from the fire tower…the badlands to the east and the great plains, the rolling Black Hills surrounding us, the towering needles and spires of granite protruding from the forest, the endless sky sits almost within arm’s reach. There it is.
The Black Hills gives me peace. It makes me very, very thankful. And it helps give me the power needed to keep promoting sustainability despite difficulties.
At any rate, enjoy a few photos I’ve taken of my favorite part of the country.
Do you have a rejuvenating space? I’d love to hear of it.
After visiting the Earthship community in New Mexico, we drove to Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa, Colorado. It was a beautiful day to climb the dunes! Two out of three of us climbed “high dune” the 650 ft dune visible from the parking lot that only appears to be the tallest in the park. Hiking sand dunes is extremely strenuous, particularly at 8,000 ft above sea level (versus 400-900 ft around Missouri), boy, I tell you what (*Hank Hill voice*). The great part about reaching the top is being able to come back down any way you want. I moon-hopped down the soft-sand embankments while my bro-in-law spent most of his time rolling and sliding down the steeper dunes. Exhilerating!
Anywho, the day was beautiful for photography.
If you ever have the chance to visit Great Sand Dunes NP, you’ll have the chance to climb sand dunes, enjoy the beach-like creek, hike in the nearby forest and mountains, visit nearby wetlands, and enjoy one of the cheapest national parks that I’m aware of (only $3 a person!). Just remember to hike the dunes early in the day, carry LOTS of water, and expect to get sand in your shoes.