The Elk Rut

 

 

Every fall from mid September to mid October the elk rutting season begins and it’s quite the spectacle. People from all over the country and the world descend upon Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park to watch and photograph the rut (mating) of elk. The males put on quite the display with their haunting bugling song which in some cases, can be heard miles away. It is one of my favorite times to head up to the park and partake in the voyeuristic event as hundreds line up to take photos and record the bellowing sounds.

My favorite time (and when you can avoid the crowds) is getting up to the park right before sunrise. This means of course getting up at 4:30am and driving from Denver to get there right when the pinks from the sunrise are starting to hit the mountains and your coffee is still hopefully warm! The crisp morning air brings a special touch to what is about to be displayed in front of you as the darkness makes way for the morning light. You hear the males..bellowing, bugling and puffing their chests. Their harems of females are gathered in small groups and the sounds of cameras going off like paparazzi. It is a brilliant, powerful display of nature that leaves us humans watching amazed, breathless and in awe. This is my second such trip to catch the rut and I am still blown away at the performance.

I usually just like to stick around for a bit and head out when the throngs of people start pouring in. I’ll head over to my favorite fall hike, hit the trail and contemplate what I just witnessed. Lake Bierstadt is an easy/moderate hike in RMNP and it leads to a beautiful, small, peaceful lake where one can sit for hours staring at the mountains or watching the ducks dive. And every so often you can hear the lone bellow of an elk. It is beautiful.

 

 

Natural Medicine

I know on my Facebook, I’ve touched briefly on how nature is my medicine cabinet and therapist. Here, I would like to expand on that thought a bit.

For me a hike is more than just a hike. A photography session with some elk is more than just taking pictures. Hitting the local park to walk near my house is more than just a stroll. When my body aches it’s not necessarily something I pulled or bruised, but that my body is in desperate need of being outside. When I’ve gone too long without immersing myself in nature, my body tells me. It’s something that has always been a part of me since I was a little kid. Playing by the ocean and in tidal pools, bird watching at our little local lake and, as I got older, heading into the mountains of NH to either camp or hike. I always had the insatiable need of being outside among the water, the trees and the mountains no matter where I was living at the time. And it always had a way to heal me at times of stress, sadness or mourning.

I have lived in cities, suburbs and in rural settings. I have experienced what we all have in terms of daily life, pressures, stress and sadness. For me, the one coping mechanism I have always used was to let Mother Nature help me through it. No matter what setting I was living in including now (city) I have always been able to seek out time and space to heal among the pines or a mountain trail. There is something calm, relaxing and energizing when it is just you and the outdoors. I have burst out into tears before when I was alone on a trail or sitting by a lake. And instead of sadness, it is a cleanse, a reawakening, a release.

I have had breakups, people I have lost, work stress, medical scares, and everything in between. But I have always been able to find peace when I needed to recover from hardships by hitting the trail or strolling in the woods. I always come out on the other side with a full heart and clearer head.

Some of my hardest moments in life have been healed with a  climb to a summit, a walk around a lake or the intoxicating smells of the ocean. Not to say this was the cure all for every time I had an obstacle or challenge in my life but it certainly did something to my soul to help slow down, re evaluate and move on..and for that, I am eternally grateful for this living, breathing big blue ball we live on!

 

Sometimes I smell the ocean…

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Though I live in a land locked state (and have been for the past 10 years) between here and Vermont..I have always missed the ocean. Playing in the mountains and exploring the west has always been a thrill and will continue to be, however, every so often I get a whiff of ocean air. Maybe it’s just so ingrained in my senses having grown up by it that it has always stayed with me. Lakes usually bring it out the most. Grand Lake here in Colorado and Lake Champlain back in Vermont.

As a kid I loved roaming the beach looking for shells and crabs and could spend hours in tidal pools exploring with my little Kodak 110 camera. I’d come home with my salt encrusted skin eagerly awaiting the next day to go and play by the water again. As I got older I started to go on fishing trips with my dad and my papa. Almost every Sunday morning at 7am we would head out into Boston Harbor (and of course we always had to be home by 1p for Sunday dinner/lunch) to reel in flounder, blue fish and the occasional lobster pot. And as I went into my teenage years those fishing trips turned more into island adventures when I begged for my dad to drop me and my friend off on one of the harbor islands to play while they spent the morning fishing. Those were some of my most fondest childhood memories of adventure.

The ocean has always been a mysterious, magical place for me as well as sacred. My heart aches when I read about how we treat it and the organisms that call it home. For the longest time I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my cousin and be a marine biologist. I was going to save the whales! But life had a different path for me which broaden my passion for nature to include other ecosystems in which I completely fell in love with.

I have always been a curious kid and still am. Whether I am near the sea or in the mountains I want to explore every inch of where I am walking. Dissect the area around me, photograph and catalog in my mind what I’ve seen and put a bookmark on the plants/critters I wasn’t able to identify for later to research at home. I am always the lingerer on a trail with friends, always wanting to stop and touch tree bark or bend over to look at a funny mushroom. And at the beach, I always need to put my toes in the sand.

In a month I will be back to the Atlantic for a short visit. But this time I will really be smelling the ocean air, salt in my lungs and a smile on my face.

 

 

Fall Rhythms

 

The decadence and deliciousness of fall is upon us. Though I’m not talking about pumpkin spice, crock pot meals and football Sunday buffalo wings (though all are rightfully warm and toasty and yummy in their own right). But the decadence I am referring to is the rhythm of nature, the smell of the woods on an autumn hike, the crispness in the air and the scurrying of critters gearing up for a long winter nap. I adore this season for so many reasons but primarily being outside amongst the pines, the mountains and the light of the sun that flutters about providing a little burst of energy for all the creatures who are ready to hunker down.

Since moving to Colorado I notice fall tends to come a little slower here. The heat of the summer can make it’s presence known well into late September and sometimes even a good chunk of October. But when it finally cools down, the spell it casts is amazing. The aspens turn a brilliant yellow and trailheads all over beckon the hiker for one more good stroll before the heavy snows hit. But before that even happens, even in the beginning of September, you can feel it. And it is felt everywhere whether you live in New England (where fall definitely arrives earlier) or out West and everywhere in between. The temperatures may not be what is typical but the light and the rhythm of change is underway.

I was out yesterday on a high elevation hike with a friend and we had all sorts of weather thrown at us. Wind, rain, cool breezes, sun, and blue skies. We were at a temperature that rose no more than about 60 degrees and it was delicious! Though the trees had not started to turn,  you can smell, feel and taste the delicacies of fall in the air. It was a cleanse like no other…as if saying goodbye to summer and starting a new life rhythm for the remainder of the year. It let us bring up in conversation past struggles and future plans of what we wanted to accomplish in the upcoming year. The smell of pine joyfully overwhelmed our senses as we descended down. Yes, fall does this for me like no other season.

I encourage you even if you are prone to being more of an indoor person..get out a little bit in the coming months to take a drink of the natural pleasures fall brings. A hike, a stroll around your neighborhood, a scenic ride. Keep your mind open to all those decadent fall rhythms.

Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?

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“Don’t call this world adorable, or useful, that’s not it.
It’s frisky, and a theater for more than fair winds.
The eyelash of lightning is neither good nor evil.
The struck tree burns like a pillar of gold.
 
But the blue rain sinks, straight to the white
feet of the trees
whose mouths open.
Doesn’t the wind, turning in circles, invent the dance?
Haven’t the flowers moved, slowly, across Asia, then Europe,
until at last, now, they shine
in your own yard?
 
Don’t call this world an explanation, or even an education.
 
When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking
outward, to the mountains so solidly there
in a white-capped ring, or was he looking
 
to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea
that was also there,
beautiful as a thumb
curved and touching the finger, tenderly,
little love-ring,
 
as he whirled,
oh jug of breath,
in the garden of dust?”
-Mary Oliver

Why Krummholz and Cairns?

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Krummholz and Cairns? Perhaps an odd combination of words but if you hike or know your German pretty well you know how perfectly these oddballs fit together. Krummholz is the German word for twisted tree in it’s most simplistic form and cairns are groups of rocks piled along trails to guide lost hikers or as a symbolic meaning of hiker unity. They stand strong and balanced..almost as if glued together. And I absolutely adore photographing both!  My friend Josh and I had a running commentary of all the “ent” (Lord of the Rings character) pictures I would take that we actually contemplated a coffee table book of “ent” wives. Well Josh, no book yet but I’ll do my best to continue chronicling!

I tend to be drawn to these old, twisted, wind blown trees to the point where I almost feel I have some special, sacred connection with them. When I am hiking and I come across one…I tend to tread lightly around it. Almost quiet, and reserved..respectful and I greet them with a touch. They are wise beyond their years, weathered and strong by decades (in some cases centuries) of hard winds and rains. They truly stand the test of time.

One of my favorite encounters with these gentle yet hardened group of trees was when I visited Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah. I hiked the rim of this amazing canyon that was dotted with krummholz and cairns to guide me on the not so straightforward trail. It was dead quiet, not another soul around and not a drop of wind (which I am sure there was a bit of relief going around amongst them for the wind break)  😉 I stopped and photographed for awhile..piles of cairns and groups of krummholz…all the while two ravens hovering about watching and following me. At that moment I felt something magical..I first felt odd about this feeling but there was something going on and my heart burst with joy and gigantic awe of the ancient, spiritual pull of nature that seemed so incredibly strong at that moment, in that place. When I contemplated this blog, that story jumped up and the title I needed to find was right in front of me.

I never would forget that moment and it has stayed with me ever since. In little less than a month I will return to Moab with my girlfriend and friends in tow. I would love to bring them to that spot, to see their reaction..to ask what they are feeling. Or..I may have to sneak out alone by myself and pop in to say hello to the Krumms.   🙂