Saturday, October 23, 2021

Bittersweet Abundance

 

Cattails (Typha latifolia) gone to seed 

Autumn is mixed bag. I always struggle with letting go of the green, growing season, when the meadows are lush with wildflowers, the woodland trails are a tunnel of leafy foliage, and although I may need to dab on insect repellant, I need never pull on long sleeves. Spring is full of hope and when we slide into summer, it seems omnipresent, as if snow had never fallen on this landscape. Come autumn, I'm smacked with the reality that in order for all this life to carry on it must, for a period of time, go dormant. It is a time of gratitude and mourning alike. It's no wonder that it is during this time that we celebrate Halloween or as the pagans call it, Samhain, a time of death yet a marker of new life to come. 

Trail in Bruce Lake Natural Area in Delaware State Forest

Mother Nature eases the transition with a show of colors so beautiful, that I wish I could encapsulate them in a diorama that I might step into when in the depths of winter do come. And I am reminded that all the green life I have been frolicking through the last so many months served a purpose - to produce.

Chinese chestnuts (Castenea mollisima) in spikey hull 

Nuts rain down from the treetops with a gust of wind - the spikey hulls of chestnut and the smooth-skinned hickory alike, and beneath my tires shatter the hard encasements of black walnuts. Mushrooms blossom from earth - hen of the woods in her bounty and black trumpets arising from beneath the gathering leaf litter. Fruits ripen - spicebush berries speckle the woods in red, autumn olive boughs droop with speckled juicy goodness, and apples swell. 

The abundance of autumn - cultivated apples (Malus) gone wild, hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa), Chinese chestnuts (Castenea mollisima), and paw paws (Asimina triloba)

I do my best to gather, to take in this sustenance for which I am so thankful. But the offerings are so abundant that it is impossible to gather up all the bounty and so I let it roll underfoot, wither back into the earth, and bury its seed and spores in the soil for next year's growth. Mother Nature persistently reminds me that each and every day is to be appreciated, her bounty a gift, and so I have been busy making good with her offerings.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, is a shrubby tree that relishes damp soil and the shade of a forest canopy. It seems I always meet spicebush while trail running. I'll be zipping through the forest, my coonhound Amos in the lead, and suddenly spicebush's smooth-edged leaves will call out to me. I'll no sooner taken note, when its red berries will come into focus, speckling the leaves of only a periodic shrub (only female shrubs produce fruit). Still I'll think to run on, but I know my tunnel of spicebush won't persist once I climb out of the damp low woods. I halt in my progress, as does Amos rather reluctantly, and double back to a plentiful shrub, crush a leaf, breathing deep its lemony-spicy fragrance and crack a fruit between my teeth. Plucking several palmfuls, I deposit them in my pocket and hope that they don't bounce out as I dash on down the trail. 

Spicebush berries - immature and mature - diced

Wild apples tossed with spicebush syrup (a decoction of twigs blended with sugar), crushed spicebush berries, and whole partridgeberries (Mitchella repens)

Wild apple spicebush muffins (spicebush berries finally diced and added to muffin batter)

Spicebush berries pair beautifully with apples, especially those cultivated apples gone wild that you might stumble upon. Of course, wild apples require a taste-test, as some will be astringent, fibrous, or sour, but it's not a bad task, and goodness, when you find a tasty tree! I guarantee those apples will taste better than any you purchase at the grocery. These apples were harvested from a tree on our property that we never noticed produced years past. However, strangely enough, just as our oldest apple tree stopped producing, this one has taken up the task, producing more apples than our resident horse can even eat. Lucky gal, that tree stands in her pasture.

Paw paws ripened (Asimina triloba

Paw paw torn open to reveal ripe inner flesh

Now these were a serious gift! Paw paws, Asimina triloba, North America's largest native edible fruit. Yes, these do grow in our region, but they are not easy to spot given their green foliage, green fruits, and the fact that they grow in the understory of our green woods. But they are out there. These were harvested by Uncle Jim from his wild acreage in Tewksbury, New Jersey. He is no stranger to his forests, managing and appreciating them for the last several decades, and never before had he found these fruits that now littered a patch of his woods and dangled from branches. He knew we would appreciate them. Paw paws taste tropical, reminiscent of bananas and mangos, and are in fact related to papaya. However, once ripe - tender like a ripe avocado - they don't last long and I sure wasn't going to let them go to waste. So into muffins they went. 

Paw paw chestnut muffins 

A simple google search yielded a stellar recipe: Appalachian Pawpaw Muffins – Palatable Pastime Palatable Pastime. However, from what I could gather, any banana muffin recipe would also suffice, simply substituting the paw paw for the banana. It is important to note that paw paw skins, seeds, and under ripe fruit are toxic and can cause some serious gastric upset. So, use caution to scoop the soft custard-like flesh from the skin and separate the large black seeds (roughly 4-6 seeds in each fruit). And by all means plant those lil' gems. Just today, I sunk them into the earth in a patch of pine-oak forest on our property. Scott and I are crossing our fingers for saplings next year and, in five to eight years, edible fruits!

Roasted Chinese chestnuts (Castenea mollisima)

Chinese chestnuts, roasted and ground, made a nice addition to the paw paw recipe. These, too, grow near to the horse pasture, having been planted there many years ago. However, Cracker has no interest in these morsels. The trick is to harvest them as soon as the hulls split open. If you've got low-hanging branches or a good step stool, give the branches a gentle shake to release the nuts and then get to gathering. However, I would still don tough gloves and close-toed shoes - those hulls are sharp! Once you've brought your bounty home, be sure to roast them up in about a week's time. Anymore than that and the weevil larvae (inherent in most chestnuts) will have matured and no boiling or roasting is going to kill those suckers - trust me, I've learned the hard way. Reportedly they too are edible, although I haven't the stomach to go there. To separate the good nuts from the bad, immerse them in a bowl of water and discard those that float. To roast, slice an "x" in each and toss in the oven at 425 for roughly 20 minutes or until fragrant and blossomed, then cool and crack off shells.

Hen of the woods aka maitake (Grifola frondosa)

This year, in particular, has provided an amazing mushroom yield and I've had many an ambitious hike stymied by the array of colorful fungi not only at my feet amidst the stumps and mosses, but blooming from tree trunks beside me and overhead. But, a hike spent discovering mushrooms is just as good as any sweat-inducing mile-counting hike in my book. I've stumbled upon more hen of the woods than I could even put to use. However, allegedly ethical as it is to harvest as many mushrooms as one pleases, I still like to follow the same rule of thumb that I do with plants - take a smaller portion than you leave behind. I found this particular beauty growing at the base of, wouldn't you know it, a rather delicious wild apple tree. I regularly visit this tree for lunch - it provides just the right amount of shade in a sweeping meadow I like to frequent - and on one special day I found this hen roosting beside me.

Hen of the woods undersides

You may know hen of the woods, scientifically named Grifola frondosa, as maitake - they are one in the same. It is a perennial mushroom, blooming annually in the fall at the base of old hardwoods, most typically oaks. However, don't look for a tall stipe (a mushroom stalk) and round cap, but rather a layering of fan-like, firm, structures (we still could call these caps) that taper towards the base. Hen of the woods is a polypore, meaning that it does not bear gills, but rather tiny pin-sized holes. These pores are where its spores are produced. 

Hen of the woods cleaned and separated

Roasted hen of the woods

To prepare hen of the woods, slice tender fans from the tough base and then peel apart in sections. Hens are easily portioned this way into smaller pieces for cooking. Then clean of debris by rinsing in water or patting clean with a damp cloth. I harvested this hen when I had little time for prep, therefore into the fridge it went, where it kept nicely in a loose plastic bag (paper is fine too, but too many days in paper and it will begin to dehydrate). Then I cleaned and cooked up the whole lady, sauteing half and roasting the rest. This was my first go-round at roasting and I have found, side-by-side, I much prefer the roasted. I tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh sliced garlic, roasting at 400 degrees until it was fragrant, shimmery, and charred on the edges. Deelish! Scott and I enjoyed hen of the woods in about every dish imaginable for nearly a week. Then it was time to portion the rest and freeze for use throughout the winter. Hen of the woods is not only yummy with a strong earthy taste but is rich in minerals and antioxidants, and medicinally speaking, is supportive to immunity, anti-cancer, and adaptogenic, meaning that it can tame the negative effects of stress on the body.

Egypt Lake in Delaware State Forest - I suspect all that red is highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)

There is no denying that autumn is here. I would be a fool to expend any energy on wishing otherwise, for thankfully, there are still many aspects of nature, we humans, cannot control. Winter will come and the landscape will be white and brown and slate gray, but I will bundle up and be grateful for the heat my body produces as I stomp down the trail in boots and burdensome clothing. And just as summer once did, winter will feel as if it might never end, the green growth of that opposing season but a fond memory. But then, without my willing a thing, the sap will run and a green shoot will appear, first one, then two, then three, then too many to count and the trees will flower, and the smell of spring will be in the air. So today and everyday forward, I'm just going to revel, revel in this heart-aching gratitude for the change of seasons and the beauty of autumn. 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Celebrating Love and the Long Path

 

The Long Path is blazed in aqua - we just love this trail

On August 5th, Love and the Long Path was OFFICIALLY released. The feedback from y'all has made my heart shine. Thank you to all who pre-ordered and those who have ordered since the official release. For those of you that are just tuning in, my book, Love and the Long Path is available in print and eBook from all major online retailers where books are sold. Find it on Amazon at: Love and the Long Path: Houskeeper, Heather A.: 9781098375751: Amazon.com: Books. Signed print copies are available here and at my website: www.TheBotanicalHiker.com

To celebrate the release of Love and the Long Path, I have been revisiting some of my favorite portions of the Long Path. There's something special that happens after one has hiked a long-distance trail end-to-end or spent a good deal of time on it...it becomes a sanctuary. Each time I return to the Long Path it is like coming home. The dwarf pitch pine and towering oaks, the stinging nettle and the fragrant milkweed like family I have longed to share space with, and each blaze a reminder of a journey that is permanently a part of me. 

On the cusp of spring, Scott and I took a jaunt into the Palisades. We wondered the well-worn path along the cliffs, brushing shoulders with many a day-hiker...very aware that we, too, were now day-hikers. Last we had hiked here we were laden with heavy packs, filled with anticipation and anxiety for the hundreds of miles ahead of us. Today we strolled, Amos at the helm, he intoxicated with the many smells these hikers trailed behind them. Looking out over the Hudson we took selfies like romantics and tourists, and marveled at how far we had come as a couple since our walk on the Long Path. It was on this day that we were graced, too, with a sneak peak of spring with a humble cluster of snowdrops.

A snowdrop (Galanthus), although non-native, is a precious find when coming out of a long, cold winter.
 
Selfie taking on the Palisades cliffs

I returned to a portion of trail in Huckleberry Ridge State Forest, that is relatively new, just off of Mountain Road in Greenville. I remembered well our fatigue of a day-long road-walk and the reprieve of finally returning to trail here. Scott and I had practically frolicked down the trail beside the yellowing leaves of black birch, in the day's dying light, so grateful to be in the quietude of the forest. Chipmunks scurried and evening birds chirped. We nestled into a campsite beneath the canopy of witch hazel. It was oh-so-very different to return on this sunny afternoon, park at the trailhead, and unload my coonhound, Amos. I suffered no fatigue, but still, as soon as we stepped onto trail there was relief. A wholehearted sigh....ahhhh...in the woods again. And with the pace at which Amos moves, we definitely frolicked, at times trail running on this mostly smooth path.

Amos on the Long Path in Huckleberry Ridge State Forest

American chestnut (Castenea dentata) saplings stood out to me on this visit. The American chestnut, which was once a dominant tree in our Appalachian forests, has been devastated due to a blight. Trees rarely make it past twenty years of age before death. However, new shoots continually spring forth from stumps and rootstock.  

One of three ponds in this section. The edge of this pond is a preferred habitat for boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

Boneset  (Eupatorium perfoliatum) - a plant long used to fight colds and flus, reduce pain, and break fevers. However, it has in recent years been shown to contain toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids, therefore caution in dosing and usage is strongly encouraged. 

Scott and I enjoyed strolling the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area - a portion that we have returned to many a time and that we had walked long before we ever thru-hiked the trail. It seems that this piece of trail always offers up reflection. When we first walked here, we conjured up our first notions of thru-hiking the Long Path, later when thru-hiking we entertained the notion of thru-hiking the Florida Trail (which we did the following year), and now here we were celebrating the release of a book about our experience. We had come full circle. Never mind that the temperatures were sweltering on this day...we just let ourselves melt into the trail, our skin as marshy as that of that of the Basha Kill, and appreciated the host of precious native plants this land hosts.

Swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum) - a native beauty

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) - this plant's flowers had not yet opened. This is, as its name implies, a milkweed that prefers wetter habitats. All of our milkweeds are integral to the monarch butterfly population. It is on milkweed leaves (undersides) that the butterfly lays its eggs, the larvae then hatch and eat leaves for nutrition and protection (toxic constituents discourage predators), they may form their chrysalises on milkweed, and later mature butterflies will seek its flowers for nectar.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) scents the breeze when in bloom. Young shoots, flowers, and immature seed pods may be consumed as food (boiled/blanching required to reduce toxicity) But be sure to leave plenty for the monarchs!

Signing books at the Basha Kill! A number of these benches line the level path that guides the northbound hiker into Wurtsboro.

At least Amos got to cool off!

Dipping into the Catskills was by far the most thrilling even if we only had the opportunity to walk a few miles. We tread alongside the Batavia Kill that rushed over boulders and smooth stream stones. Heavy storms had just fed the creeks and the wet earth now blossomed mushrooms. We remarked on how very different these conditions were from those we had experienced when we last here. Hiking through this section in late September, we had found creeks and springs dry and had thrown ourselves up and over Blackhead Mountain in a last ditch effort to find water. The Batavia Kill did provide, however we had found it a mere trickle. We were also pleased on this return, to actually spend a little time in the Batavia Kill lean-to, which we had alluded us on our thru-hike.

Golden spindles (Claulinopsis) inhabits deciduous and coniferous forests. Although not poisonous, it is generally not considered edible due to strong bitter flavor.

Northern tooth fungus (Climacodon septentrionale) is parasitic on maple trees. Get its name from the fact that underside bears "teeth-like" spines that contain spores for reproduction. Not considered edible.
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Ghost plant (Monotropa uniflora) - not a fungus! This plant has such as odd appearance because it does not photosynthesize but rather gathers nutrients from fungi that are symbiont with tree roots. It is often, although not always) found growing near to beech.

The Batavia Kill lean-to that was built roughly four years ago to replace older lean-to (that lean-to has since been torn down and removed)

I invite you now to cultivate your own love story with the Long Path. You need not venture out for weeks at a time, but rather enter its forests and meadows, mountains and marshes, walking its winding path for minutes or miles, whatever distance you feel called. No matter the portion you choose, the Long Path will provide sweet reprieve. 

To learn more about the plants of the Long Path, join me on a guided edible and medicinal plant walk at the Mohonk Preserve. Saturday, September 18th and Monday, October 18th. The Long Path travels very near to the Mohonk Preserve in the Shawangunk Mountains. I will also be sharing stories from our Long Path journey! Follow the link to register: Edible and Medicinal Plant Walk - Mohonk Preserve

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Love and the Long Path- Print Copies are in!

 

Love and the Long Path - Betula Press 2021

I am beyond excited to announce that the first round of print books have arrived at my door! This book has been in the works for nearly the last four years, so it feels pretty amazing to finally hold a hard copy in my hands. These print books are presently available here at the blog and at a couple select websites. However, come August 5th, Love and the Long Path will be available worldwide in both print and eBook through most online retailers where books are sold (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc.). These big sellers are presently taking pre-orders, so I invite you to place your order now if you prefer to purchase through these avenues. 

In honor of the book, I plan to revisit various portions of the Long Path over the summer. I wish to highlight some of those less frequented sections of this lesser-traveled trail through a variety of media, which I will share on social media. The Long Path hosts some majestic vistas such as Sam's Point and Verkeerderkill Falls in Minnewaska State Park Preserve and notorious climbs like Slide Mountain and the Cornell Crack, and although such landmarks are surely noteworthy, I found the strongest magic at the fog-veiled pond thrumming with croaks pierced by the call of coyotes at dawn in Huckleberry Ridge State Forest in Orange County and amidst the scratchy pitch pine and craggy chestnut oak atop Schunemunk Mountain where the glistening rock was as hypnotizing the views. And I would love to share these magical spots with you!

I hope in sharing my experience on the Long Path, through both the book and through social media, will encourage others to discover this trail if they have not already. I hope that those who have maybe already happened onto the Long Path at a popular segment, will yearn to explore another segment, perhaps one that's off the beaten path. This trail has been so special to me for so many years. Before I ever hiked it, it took up residence in the back of my mind and would periodically float to the surface as passing dream. Then I spent 32 days straight immersed in its forests, drinking from its creeks and gazing from its ridges, my sweetheart's hand in mine. Following the hike, both of us have revisited the Long Path time and time again and when not standing foot on trail, I was hiking it in my mind and on paper. I know it can provide the same inspiration and wonder for others that it has for me, One need only seek it. 

A great big thank you to all who have supported this project! This book, like many a thru-hike, has been far from a solo venture. I am deeply grateful. This book would not be without your enthusiasm.

Some helpful links:

To learn more about New York State's Long Path: Long Path Trail | Hiking the LP in NY | NY-NJ Trail Conference (nynjtc.org)

To order advance autographed print books: www.TheBotanicalHiker.com or from this blog! 

To order advance non-autographed print or eBooks: Love and the Long Path by Heather A. Houskeeper | BookShop (bookbaby.com) 

To pre-order print or eBooks from Amazon: Love and the Long Path: Houskeeper, Heather A.: 9781098375751: Amazon.com: Books

 


Saturday, May 29, 2021

My Walk to the New York Border

 

Starting the climb up to the east rim of PA's Grand Canyon - notice signage that reads N.Y. State Line 118 kilometers

This last week on the Mid State Trail was one of great highs and lows. I walked filled with anticipation to reach my goal, yet my excitement felt bittersweet knowing that one day soon I would awake and have no more miles to count. The first couple of days I missed my pack - it was strange to make coffee only for myself in the morning and to pound out the miles without anyone about me to share the scenery. But Amos and I dove deep and summoned our strength despite the sometimes unbearably high temps and reveled in one last week surrounded by only dainty wildflowers underfoot and the leafy canopy overhead. For we knew, all too soon, this experience would be only a memory to hold dear.

Ramsey Run

While Scott and my father hoofed it a pleasant easy mile to a parking area on the Pine Creek Rail Trail, Amos and I took off for an eight mile slackpack, headed for a pull-off where I would meet with the men again and my mother who was both picking them up and bringing a mighty heavy six days worth of resupply for Amos and me. Considering the men carried my gear as well as their own for their last mile, perhaps it wasn't so easy after all! Amos and I trekked on, feeling light as could be, better able to appreciate the trail's splendid plant inhabitants. Ramsey Run was particularly impressive. Its rocky cove was blanketed in Canada violet, wood nettle, and Virginia waterleaf - some of my most favorite plants. These plants are edible and medicinal and also just a treasure to stumble upon, to me representative (amongst others) of Appalachian cove plants. 

Canada violet (Viola canadensis) - a somewhat unusual violet by the fact that it bears stem leaves. Most violets have only basal leaves (those that arise from the ground). Leaves and flowers are edible. Flowers sometimes have a minty flavor. Leaves are anti-inflammatory.

Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) in flower. Leaves make a tasty green in pasta and rice dishes, and is an easy one to add to camp meals.

Two mountains and numerous creek crossings later, Amos and I arrived at Dam Run Road, where we were greeted warmly by the pack and then much packing ensued. The crew would also drive a package to Hills Creek State Park, which I hoped to pick up on Saturday. While organizing gear and catching up with my mother, I charged my phone in her car...and ran the car battery dead. AAA would do us no good out here considering we had no service. Thank goodness a DCNR ranger happened to cruise by within minutes, provided a jump equally quick, and all was well again. Thank you DCNR ranger! And thank you Trail Gods. The trail does have a way of providing, in fact so much that, I was aware when this happened how completely certain I was that we would be helped. It is not always easy to have so much faith off the trail. And thank you to my Love and my parents. I should mention too, and it is MUCH deserved, that during this thru-hike, I had two forest bathing sessions I had to return home to lead and this could not have been accomplished without multiple shuttles to and from the trail. They also put up with much rushing about while I resupplied in this time I was home. This hike has been far from solo and I am so grateful for the help with which I have been graced. 

The Pack - Wise Man, House the Cat, Bot, Mama, and Amos

Their very full car pulled away, leaving Amos and I in the dust and gnats. Part of me, and I believe Amos too, wanted to go running after them. But instead we hoisted our packs, crossed Dam Run and headed onward to our camp. We comforted ourselves with homemade cookies and were soon to bed. The next day our spirits Happy Acres Campground lifted our spirits, where I was pleased to find a hot shower and outlets for charging up, as well as clean running water from a tap. Folks were friendly here and as I passed the camp store, which was closed at the early morning hour, a nice gentleman, Ken, who was visiting the area with his wife to do some biking on the rail trail, gifted me with a Pepsi. That little can of caffeine and sugar was much appreciated after I summited Huntley Mountain. This was a nine hundred foot climb and a steep one at that and Amos and I were feeling the oncoming heat of the day. Near the top we wove through otherworldly stone sculptures and admired their gardens that hosted wild columbine, polypody fern, and rock tripe.

Stone sculptures on Huntley Mountain

Wild columbine garden atop sandstone

Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum ) and rock tripe lichen (Umbilicaria)

The days were hot - did I mention that - all week long the temperatures hovered just below ninety degrees. It was hard to believe that just a week earlier, I had worn gloves and a hat and thermals and we had struggled to get our hands warm in the morning while drinking our coffee. Now, Amos panted and I poured sweat. So we were grateful for the many creek crossings over the next couple of days, and really throughout the week, and also for a couple of sweet hunt camps that allowed a hiker to rest in the shade and gather water from a spigot or nearby stream. 

Amos appreciating a rest beside a hunting cabin along the trail. 

Amos spent a lot of time doing this over the last week

But sometimes going just a few miles between water sources was too far. Just after leaving the hunting cabin you see above, we started up an incline and then hit grassy management roads. These were brutal. They seemed lovely at the start - picturesque, well-graded, and oh-so-green - but in the heat of the day and high humidity, they were a slog. Amos made the decision to plunk down in the shade of a tree along the roadside and there we sat for a good while, both of us wilting and half dozing. He drank the entire liter of water that I had packed for him down at the cabin. I wondered if we'd even resume hiking before dusk when the temps were cooler. But when I saw he'd finally stopped panting, I relieved him of his pack, strapping it onto mine, and we hustled to the next creek for a dunk. And what a glorious creek it was! 

Trout Run

Amos rushed for the water, pulling me along with him and while he took a wade, I drenched my bandana and splashed water on my face. He then retired to the streambank amidst tall fern fronds still coiled and I took my leisurely time admiring the wood nettle and foamflower at my feet and the tall sycamore overhead. Then I stumbled upon a most special find nestled amidst dry leaves and round stream stones - a single morel mushroom. Morels are among the easier mushrooms to identify - look for a conical cap with a honeycomb appearance. Slice a suspected morel lengthwise to ascertain that it is completely hollow inside. There are still look-alikes, and a mistake could be deadly, so please do not use my simple description alone when harvesting morels. These mushrooms are among my favorites of the flavorful fungi and are delicious when sauteed and added to pasta or a stir fry. However, I saw none others, so I let this one be to set its spores free.

Morel (Morchella)

Given the high temperatures and the long miles I had planned, the next day, we arose before sunrise and hit the trail in the cool morning temps. We trekked up to Gillepsie Point for one of the most amazing views yet on the trail. Here we could see down into the the valley of Blackwell with views of Pine Creek and Babb Creek. We passed swaths of mayapple as we neared the top, now with flowers nodding beneath their large umbrella-like leaves. Mayapple produces - in June - an edible fruit when ripe. However, if you sample these tasty woodland bites, be mindful, only the ripe fruit (skin will be yellow and wrinkled) is edible and the seed and skins must be discarded as these are toxic.
 
View from Gillepsie Point

Mayapple flower (Podophyllum peltatum

Then it was down, down, down, to Blackwell, where we crossed Babb Creek on a rusty bridge and I inspected the water levels, that looked deep enough to go swimming. I had communicated with Peter Fleszar a couple of days previous about a notorious ford at Stoney Creek. I had been concerned given our heavy rain roughly a week previous and our rushing creeks, that this might be too high to cross. However, when he informed me of the lengthy detour of 20 kilometers by country road, I'd decided it was worth taking our chances. He assured me that likely it would be fine and that water levels had only been dropping. Babb Creek, the guidebook instructed, would be an indicator. Peter had also tuned me into Twin Streams Campground as a nice place to stay with wifi, which I needed for a panel presentation with the Finger Lakes Trail Conference via zoom later that evening - hence our projected long miles. However, given Babb's depths, I wasn't feeling too confident. We stopped in at the one business in Blackwell, Miller's Store and met Ruth Ann, who owns the sweet store with her husband. 

Miller's Store

Ruth Ann was a pleasure and I wished we could only stay longer. She rents an apartment below the store, the back porch of which I could see from upper deck, that overlooks an expansive landscaped yard that stretches to the creek. A stay would be lovely...but with the end so near, there would be no near zero days if we could help it. Still, we were running a bit behind schedule, therefore our supplies, specifically dog food, would run out before we reached our package at the end of the week. Ruth Ann packaged up some dog food from her own supply for her German shepherd and I procured some instant dinners and snacks from her shop. That and a frosty lemon San Pelligrino. Thank you, Ruth Ann!

Johnson Cliff on the east rim of PA's Grand Canyon

 We hoofed it down the Pine Creek Rail Trail just a short distance and up the steep stairway you spied at the beginning of this post, then just continued up and up and up, the trail intensely steep. However, at the top, now higher than Gillepsie Point, we were rewarded with a view from Johnson Cliff. We collapsed, sweated it out, and then took off for a pleasant mostly level walk through the woods atop the rim. Eventually, we did descend into eastern hemlock woods that bordered the mighty Stony Fork. Here the creek flowed like a river through steep smooth stone walls, cascaded in falls, and the water changed from a light to deep blue-green at its greatest depths. Amos led the way, full of spunk and vigor, while I wondered if we might just be doubling back. Starflower graced our path as did mayflower and yet another pale lady's slipper.

Amos digging the eastern hemlock woods and a view of Stoney Fork, and wondering why Mama looks so concerned.

Starflower (Lysimachia borealis)


Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) with flower buds just about to bloom

Much to my relief, after we had traveled downstream for quite sometime, when we reached our ford it was no longer crashing cascades, but rather a calm expanse. However, we took it slow and Amos still considering turning back halfway across when the water reached up to his chest and past his pits, but I ushered us on and in no time we were on the other side. He gave a good shake - those that hound dogs are especially good at - and I changed out of my crocs and back into my sneakers. We were now cooled down and ready to climb Tannery Hill, our last mountain of the day, before descending into Twin Streams Campgrounds at Slide Hollow.

Ford over Stoney Creek 

Climbing Tannery Hill

Tannery Hill was a dream, an easy ascent compared to the other climbs of the day and blanketed in Canada violet, wild ginger, wood nettle, Virginia waterleaf, and maidenhair fern. We would complete fifteen miles on this day, hiking for nearly twelve hours, arriving at the campground at 6:00, and Amos rocked it. I immensely enjoyed speaking on a panel with two other Finger Lakes Trail End-to-Enders, Marnie Phillips and Scott Geiger, about our individual experiences hiking the Finger Lakes Trail. The audience asked great questions and what fun it was to hear Marnie's and Scott's stories. Marnie thru-hiked with her dog and hearing about her many challenges validated my struggles. And never before had I zoomed from a tent! Thank you to the Finger Lakes Trail Conference for your flexibility with my hiking, to Christy Post for hosting, to the FLT community for your enthusiasm, and to Peter Fleszar for making my tuning in possible! Without your guidance, Peter, I may not have attempted that ford and I certainly wouldn't have known of or made it to Twin Streams Campground. The campground, too, was lovely, complete with hot showers and a camp store. Thank you Twin Streams.

What I can only assume was waste rock from the old mining operation in these hills 

But a move I made at that camp store was my first mistake the next day. We headed out of the town of Morris and back up the mountainside to the Mid State Trail, me with an ice cream sandwich I'd purchased from the store in hand. As soon as we started up the mountain, Amos wanted to turn back. The day was already growing warm, but not terrible, not yet. It took us two hours to get back on trail that morning. Amos simply laid down and refused to move and when I did get him moving he wanted to go back to the campground. I decided he'd wanted an ice cream too and me, the selfish hiker, hadn't even given it a thought. We almost did turn 'round and end up back at Twin Streams, but I bargained with him and told him the next time ice cream was available, he'd get some. We carried on that day through mine operation ruins and past contaminated water due to the old mines. Some creeks ran yellow and chalky, and others, had I not known better thanks to the guidebook and Guthook, I would have deemed safe.

Contaminated water that has passed through a mine drainage treatment system, reportedly this is aluminum hydroxide precipitate.

The temps climbed to ninety-one degrees. It was hard day on both of us and so we took it slow, managing a meager six miles by the time we reached the town of Antrim. But here, we found fresh water at Duncan Tavern and perhaps better than ice cream, a hamburger patty for Amos. He devoured it eagerly and we enjoyed a camp courtesy of a kind landowner, whom we never did meet. We were so very grateful for this campsite in town.

The Duncan Tavern - friendly staff and patrons - and a great place to fill up on water and order some grub

Campsite at the end of a grassy lane courtesy of a private landowner in Antrim, NY.

Heading out of Antrim, Amos was hard to get moving again. It was clear this guy was in need of a zero and so was I, but we had just a handful more days on the trail. Once in the woods, his spirits were bolstered and mine too, as we crossed numerous picturesque creeks, complete with waterfalls, walked pleasant railroad grade through the woods and passed the fragrant lemony-thyme shoots of bee balm, flowering bluebead lily, and the leafy clusters of blue cohosh. 

Rattlesnake Run - a somewhat sketchy ford with a pooch given the slippery rocks - but a beautiful creek through a hemlock glen.

Bluebead lily (Clintonia borealis) - the leaves are edible when young and cooked, but I choose to leave this precious plant be rather than consume.

Not long before reaching camp on this day, we stumbled upon the very first ramps I have seen on the whole hike. What a treat! On the Finger Lakes Trail, ramps sometimes carpeted the trail, but here on the Mid State Trail, if they were present they were hidden deep in the coves well away from the footpath. I pinched just a few leaves for dinner later than evening, leaving the bulbs in tact underground. Ramps - aka wild leeks - are certainly a food that has been overharvested due to their unique and enticing flavor. However, when harvested properly, in legal areas, from abundant communities, they are fine for the picking. Please harvest just a leaf from each plant you choose, leaving the bulb and other leaves intact, so that the plant may continue to thrive. And so on our last night in the woods, for Scott would be coming soon with the camper, we enjoyed a streamside camp, complete with wood nettles - another perfect hiker green- and a luxurious dinner.

Camp at Dyke Creek - our last night in the tent

Wood nettle and ramps (Laportea canadensis and Allium tricoccum), it's what's for dinner! Perfect paired with a Knorr Pasta Side and some dehydrated milk.

And so began our last few days on the trail - a patchwork of private woods and retired farmland, interspersed here and there with state park and Army Corps lands, and country roads. The farmland near Miller Hill Road afforded beautiful views but was absolutely maddening with waist-high grass for much its traverse, thorns, prickers, and ankle-twisting ruts and lumps. Amos must have thought himself in a jungle from his perspective. 

Amos walking trail near Wimbrough Campsite

However, the property surrounding Wimbrough Campsite was a walk in the park and we enjoyed winding beside a slim creek under the arching boughs of willow and honeysuckle. Here and there country roads here offered a welcome reprieve, a break from navigating some of the less than favorable farmland. By 5:00, and a full day later than planned, Amos and I arrived at Hills Creek State Park, just in time to pick up our package that had been delivered there a week previous. State Park employee, Dina, greeted me warmly - thank you Dina for holding this package! And two hours later, much to our anticipation, my love, Wise Man, had arrived! Towing our little pop-up A-frame trailer. Amos lost his *@#! when he caught sight of his beloved truck.

Amos and me slackpacking - look at those smiles!

And so for two sweet days, thanks to my sweetheart, Scott, we slackpacked and enjoyed a luxurious campsite at Hills Creek State Park. The campground was quiet and well equipped with hot showers, plug-ins and running water. Amos finally got his zero, too, taking a day with Scott lounging about and visiting Wellsboro, resting up for his summit day. The walk around the lake at Hills Creek was beautiful, beneath the boughs of eastern hemlock and Norway Spruce, and as I passed into a maple forest, blue cohosh blanketed the understory. Blue cohosh made a remarkable appearance over the last few days in general on the trail, but it was here that it really shone. The root of this plant has traditionally been used in a wide spectrum of applications, but primarily it has been considered a woman's herb.

Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)

And it was on this same day, just some miles from Hills Creek State Park that I made my first friend on the Mid State Trail. I crossed paths with a woman out for a section hike with her dog. I learned her name was Dana, roughly the same age as myself, and her dog was Casper (Cassie for short) who has joined her on many a hike. We just happened to be going the same direction and so we hiked for five miles together before parting ways at Ives Run Campground where she'd left her car. We talked for hours and the ease I felt with her made me feel as if we'd been friends for years. She was such a joy to share trail with and she made the miles roll by effortlessly. It turned out, too, that she was camped at Hills Creek and so later that evening she joined Scott and I for some pleasant conversation at our campsite. We exchanged contact information and we plan to do some hiking in our neck of the woods in the future as she lives in nearby Warren County, New Jersey. You just never know who you might cross paths with while hiking, even on the lesser traveled Mid State Trail. Thank you, Dana and Cassie for your company.

View near Ives Run Campground - crossing Crooked Creek on a road bridge at head of Hammond Lake 

 Scott and I feasted on veggie burgers and tots procured from town on the eve of our finish of the trail and enjoyed gin cocktails, followed by tiramisu Ben and Jerry's ice cream. It was hard to believe that the trail's end was so very near and I was so thankful to be spending such a special time with the man I'd missed so much. Amos blissfully sprawled out on the queen-sized bed and looked at me with eyes that said, "You've been holding out on me, Ma."

Walking the Mid State Trail around Conwanesque Lake

This brings me to my last fifteen miles on the trail. The morning started out a little rough, getting turned around in woods on private property, feeling thankful for the GPS on my Guthook app to lead the way and also thankful that I had no pack as I pushed through brush and ducked under fencing. But as Amos and I made our way to Cowanesque Lake, we enjoyed mowed paths between fragrant honeysuckle shrubs and then lunched at the (closed) concession stand, which the trail oh-so-wisely passes right through. But it was venturing around the lake on the Moccasin Trail that was by far the sweetest part of the day and a blissful way to reach trail's end. The trail takes its time here, leading the hiker around the western half of Lake Cowanesque and down along the Cowanesque River for a short ways, on crumbling roadway now being reclaimed by plant life, old railbed, and grassy forest path. 

Teasel stalks (Dipsacus fullonum) - the root of teasel has been used medicinally in reducing the symptoms of lyme disease

Dame's rocket (Hesperis matronalis) - leaves taste of arugula and flowers made an edible decorative accent to any dish

The dried stalks of teasel shown stark and wiry, dark brown against the white hot sun reflecting off the nearby lake and samaras hung heavy from the wide-spreading branches of the box elder maple trees that made an archway for us to walk beneath. Dame's rocket - an edible mustard with a flavor similar to arugula - held its fuchsia and white blooms high above the tall grass and the dainty blossoms of cow parsley speckled our corridor like confetti. These wildflowers are invasive and non-native, known to inhabit those places on the edges of civilization, but they sure are beautiful in their profusion. I felt as if we walked a forested runway, our path aided by numerous wooden bridges made just for the walker and benches placed kindly beneath the shade of large leafy trees. This stretch was truly a gift. Just as we reached its end at Tompkins Campground and we made our way towards our last stretch of roadwalk that would guide us to trail's end, three kits (young fox) tumbled in the grass playfully and ran across our path. What a sight! Amos lunged this way and that, but I stayed on my feet and the kits found cover.

At the northern terminus of the Mid State Trail

Amos and I walked our last two miles doing our best to soak up every stirring breeze, whiff of honeysuckle, and chirp of birdsong, imprinting the trail upon our hearts and in our minds. As least I did. He went for a dunk in Mapes Creek, just as Scott went barreling by with the truck and trailer, never even catching sight of us. Amos also thought he'd take a rest in a dusty roadside ditch about a half mile before the end. Good thing, Scott, who'd parked at the northern terminus, had decided to walk down to join us for the last stretch. As soon as Amos, caught sight of him, their was again pep in his step. And so, the three of us walked the last easy meters, uphill on a country road, the green hills in the distance, to the humble State Line road sign marking the end of the Mid State Trail. A handmade trail sign here also reads: Mid State Trail 526 km. I remembered well reaching this sign roughly six years previous on the Finger Lakes Trail while hiking the Crystal Hills Branch and wondering if I might hike the Mid State Trail one day. Now, here I was, but no longer solo, my dog and my man by my side. 

Amos and Bot - Mid State Trail complete!

Two happy hikers

No trail is complete without a proper summit outfit!

And most importantly, as promised... Amos did get his ice cream! 

Amos and his much deserved ice cream - Frosty Paws made just for dogs!

Thank you to all of my readers for following along on our journey. Knowing that I am sharing my hikes with others that appreciate them as much as I do, truly makes the experience greater. I appreciate all the support y'all offer up! Please stay tuned for another post offering my big picture reflections on the Mid State Trail. As I settle back into life off the trail, this may take a bit, but it will appear. Now, is the time to let all the magic of this trail seep in, simmer, and see what comes next. Much love and gratitude - Bot.