Category Archives: Exploring

Icebergs on the bayside

It’s been painfully cold lately. Cold enough that I really don’t have much of an urge to leave the safety of my house when I’m not actually working. However, I did get out a bit this weekend, long enough at least to see that the bay side of the Cape has begun to freeze. Apparently the persistent wind from the North has been pushing all the frozen and slushy saltwater into the mouth’s of the bays and inlets that dot the bay side of the Cape. Choking them with layers of ice.

Its pretty amazing looking, although I’ve been told its also really unfortunate for the oyster farmers who hadn’t removed their stock from the bay yet. It’s been years (apparently) since there was this much ice around, and it might have taken some unlucky folks  by surprise.

This picture was taken right near the border between Eastham and Orleans on the bay side of the Cape. The ice extends as far as the eye can see.

This picture was taken right near the border between Eastham and Orleans on the bay side of the Cape. The ice extends as far as the eye can see.

Exploring Great Island

As much as I generally find complaining about the weather to be cathartic, I can’t really find a reason to groan about the unseasonably warm weather we’ve had on the Cape lately. Oh sure it’s intermittent at best, but every 50 degree day in January is a cause for mild celebration in my book. A reason to shed layers and play in what passes for the sunshine, if only for a few hours.

This past Sunday the mercury reached a scalding 54 degrees and I took the opportunity to explore Great Island in Wellfleet. Not actually an island, Great Island was apparently (among other things) the site of the Great Island Tavern way back when, and now is the home to a few great trails, some beautiful views of Wellfleet harbor, and acres of ‘wild’ oyster-beds. Due to the nice weather, there were a few other people out enjoying the sunshine, but the area is large enough, and the forest dense enough, that it felt as if we had the place all to ourselves.

I imagine this beach could be pretty crowded come Summer. Long live the pleasures of the offseason.

I imagine this beach could be pretty crowded come Summer. Long live the pleasures of the offseason.

We went at the lower end of the tide, although it certainly wasn't required, there was plenty of room to walk above the tide line.

We went at the lower end of the tide, although it certainly wasn’t required, there was plenty of room to walk above the tide line.

The forest on Great Island is almost completely mature Pitch Pine, not particularly novel around Cape Cod, but the lack of undergrowth (specifically the absence of obvious Poison Ivy or Cat Brier) meant that I came home from the hike without having to bath in technu.

Since exploring I’ve looked online to see what other people thought about the place (something I try not to do before visiting on my own) and it seems like my pleasant visit is far from unusual. I’m looking forward to going again during the summer and getting pictures of the Seals that apparently adore the area. As t happened, the only wildlife I saw in any abundance were Oysters, Wellfleet harbor is a premier place for aquaculture on the Cape, but I was still a little surprised to see so many growing wild and out in the open. I’ll admit they aren’t nearly as exciting as a family of Seals would be, but interesting Wildlife seems thin on the ground these days. I should really get my hands on a wildlife camera before Summer. Maybe I’ll have better luck that way.

The oyster-beds on/near Great Island

The oyster-beds on/near Great Island

A close up of the oysters in question, most were less than three inches long, too small to collect even if they were in season.

A close up of the oysters in question, most were less than three inches long, too small to collect even if they were in season.

I actually don’t have much else to say about the hike, even in the strangely warm weather I wasn’t actually there for very long. I’ll have to make another trip the next time the sun rears its head so aggressively. Until then, here are some more pictures from Sunday.

Looking back on the dunes at the beginning of the trail.

Looking back on the dunes at the beginning of the trail.

Great Island Dunes

Dawn Patrol: Another reason to wake up each morning.

I wake up monstrously early, especially compared to my housemates, but I’m still finding limits on what I’m actually capable of in life. Last Winter I worked briefly as a loader for UPS, a job that required me to be at the depot floor before 5, and I thought that after that I’d be able to handle anything morning-related. Certainly waking up early for work has never been an issue in other jobs. Unfortunately, It turns out I was wrong, or at least I overestimated my abilities, which gives me a new hurdle to overcome in life. I need to make a concerted effort to be awake and active when the sun rises more often. That shouldn’t be too hard a goal, especially this time of year.

Dawn patrol is a surfer thing I guess. I don’t really surf, not with any particular regularity or skill at any rate, so when I was invited along for the ride a few weeks back I didn’t exactly jump at the chance to get up before the sun. What changed my mind was the promise of coffee and a chance to explore some beaches I hadn’t visited yet while my friend braved the biggest ‘ride-able’ waves she’d seen in a few weeks. I took that bait. If only for the coffee.

It ended up actually being a really relaxing morning, driving from beach to beach and hearing how the surf at each was lacking in some small but crucial way. I’m beginning to suspect that the greater part of surfing (especially during the winter) is actually griping about how bad the surf is. Getting wet seems to be largely optional. I could probably handle that.

The waves here "weren't regular enough." Or something.

The waves here “weren’t regular enough.” Or something. The sunrise was still fantastic.

I did manage to eventually goad my native guide into the water by implying loudly that maybe she didn’t actually know how to surf at all, that it was all just some strange empty boast. Motivated, she paddled out to a distant sand bar and left me on the beach to my own devices.

About four potential surf spots later.

About four potential surf spots later.

I ended up spending the better part of an hour watching Gannet’s make their suicide plunges into the ocean, scanning the ocean for the plumes of mist made by passing whales, and cursing myself for not bringing along a tripod. Not a bad morning. I should do it again sometime.

Exploring Cape Cod: The Atlantic White Cedar Trail and beyond

This past week’s snowstorm is the first I’ve experienced in two years that left snow on the ground for more than a day afterwards. I completely missed the storm that decimated much of the East Coast in October of 2011 (I was on Catalina Island at the time, I believe) and because of where I was working, the snow from the Northeaster that hit New York City in the wake of Sandy didn’t stick around long enough for a second snowball fight.

From what I’ve been hearing Cape Cod hasn’t had much snow in the past few years, that changed on the 29th when the heavens opened up over much of New England, and left the Cape coated in a white glaze. Having spent the holidays visiting family in Philadelphia I decided to barrel back north early to avoid having to travel in the storm itself, and so I was back in the Wells House on the Cape Cod National Seashore before the first flakes started to stick.

On the 30th, already suffering from Cabin fever despite only having been back for 12 hours or so, I went for a hike with a couple friends and happily remembered to bring my camera along.

We started by cutting through the woods (which I don’t really recommend to people not already familiar with the park) to reach the Atlantic White Cedar Trail, a beautiful hike on an ugly day, we were pretty sure it would be fantastic looking in the early morning snow. We weren’t disappointed.

No previous footprints marring the glazed surface of the walkway.

No previous footprints marring the glazed surface of the walkway.

We were the first to explore the path, and honestly might have been the only people to visit that day, Cape Cod not being particularly crowded at the moment. The trail always feels close, winding as it does through the thickest parts of the Cedar grove it takes its name from, but the addition of a blanket of snow and ice seemed to seal everything together.

Some routes were more accessible than others

Some routes were more accessible than others

In some cases, quite literally. The effect wasn’t as suffocating as it might look, and the closeness of the trees sheltered us nicely from the wind.

We eventually emerged from the grove — unfortunately, while it is a beautiful trail it isn’t very long — and decided to continue onward to the beach. The wind picked up noticeably as we left the trees, and by the time we reached the dunes (read: cliffs, I’m still not really used to the extreme topography of Cape Cod’s beaches) was howling past us and blasting the bits of skin we’d foolishly left exposed with ice-crystals and salt.

If I could bottle that wind I'd make a mint selling it to the chronically congested.

If I could bottle that wind I’d make a mint selling it to the chronically congested.

We stayed as long as we could bear, each crashing wave sent up a spray of frozen rainbows (an effect I spent way too long try to capture for one measly picture) but the frigid wind eventually sent us packing.

It seemed like every other wave was like this, well worth the frozen fingers.

It seemed like every other wave was like this, well worth the frozen fingers.

Its somehow easy to forget I have such a beautiful park quite literally in my backyard. For someone who spends almost every waking moment outdoors I’ve sure missed a lot. I look forward to watching for the arrival of Spring.

Trip Report: Dark Hollow Park

Its a bit depressing that after living in this town for nearly 20 years I’m only just discovering this place. Dark Hollow park is a hidden gem that lies only a few miles from my house, and I find out about it just in time to leave.

Damn.

The park is 770 acres and straddles the Neshaminy Creek in Bucks County. It sits on a chunk of land that had apparently been bought by the state prior to breaking ground on a damn that would have flooded the area. Luckily for everyone not in the dam building business the project was abandoned after it was found to be environmentally detrimental.

Since the state couldn’t build their dam, the land was instead designated as a park, and promptly forgotten about. Or at least that’s how it seems from the few times I’ve been there. There’s a minimum of regulatory signage, very little parking, and in two visits I haven’t seen more than a dozen people there total.

Its wonderful.

The only ‘probably’ man-made path I’ve found follows the river, otherwise its deer-paths or nothing.

Parts of the park do seem to suffer from Bucks Counties nigh-hysterical overabundance of deer. There’s not much in the way of an understory. While this isn’t great ecologically, it does make for a ‘pretty’ park.

The Neshaminy is stocked with Trout, and everyone I’ve seen in the park was fishing, I tried for a few hours, but came up short Trout-wise. I caught a handful of other fish, but nothing over six inches long. With all the competition I’m not surprised, or disappointed, it was nice to go wading.

Actually, although I didn’t catch a Trout (I don’t count the one that tore the fly off my line) the fishing was superb. As someone who is only ‘decent’ at fly-fishing I appreciate shallow, slow flowing water and banks without too much shrubbery as much or more than I like actually catching fish. I only got hung up on overhanging branches twice, and left after five hours of fishing without a single horrible knot in my leader. Even Trout-less that counts as a win.

A Weasel. (Middle Left)

Even better, perhaps because this park isn’t terribly popular, there is a fair amount of obvious wildlife. Aside from the omnipresent deer, I saw a groundhog (ok, not particularly exotic), and this adorable weasel. I’d have loved to get a better picture, but its hard to sneak wearing waders.

The tragedy (for me at least) here is that I’ve only just begun to become acquainted with this place as I’m readying myself to ship out. I spent all day today (procrastinating) packing. I won’t have time to go back for another hike before I leave for my next job.

A certain aura of foodiness

Organizing my old pictures onto a new portable drive I came across a pair of gems that I’d been meaning to share. Not because they are truly fantastic pictures. Hardly. But rather because I think that they’re hilarious.

As a preface to the images themselves, understand that while I think fly fishing is a fantastic way to spend a day, I am not particularly grand at it. I can cast well enough (as long as my back isn’t right up against the shoreline) but the ability to tie neat flies eludes me.

The theory, (that I’ve been taught) is that a fly needs to have an aura of foodiness around it. It doesn’t need to look exactly like something a fish might want to sup upon, but it needs to look like something that the fish believes might — in fact — be sup-able. This single rule leads the vast majority of flies to fall into (in my eyes at least) three broad categories.

  1. Big stuff: Designed to look like wallowing / distraught mice or other mammals.
  2. “Wooly-buggers: Designed to look like some sort of insect floating serenely upon the surface of the water
  3. Streamers: Designed to sink a few inches beneath the surface and entice the more cautious fish that feel like rising to the surface is a poor choice.

Within those three categories things tend to look pretty much the same. Most wooly bugger types have the same shape and are made with the same basic color scheme, as are most streamers, as are most of the big-things. Its pretty simple really. There are a few colors and shapes fishers can use that are “sure” to attract interest among their aquatic prey and unless those combinations aren’t working out, why change the formula?

So why, given that knowledge, was I handed this beauty and told to try my luc?.

Of course I can catch a fish with that. It totally looks like it could be food.

Wait…

The only place where that could pass at food is a candy store. No fish in the world is going to think “Oh! Sweet. Pink! My favorite foods are all neon pink!” If anything it should frighten fish away. Bright colors are supposed to indicate toxicity in the natural world. (Even though humans have decided that bright colors in our food simply mean “sour”).

Still, I tried it, and after a dozen fruitless casts it actually worked. Never before had I actually laughed at a fish, but there’s a first time for everything.

You sir, have made a terrible mistake.

I have no idea what that proves about fish. Except that apparently “foodiness” is a much broader term than I had imagined it to be.

Trip Report: Sequoia National Park

I visited Sequoia National Park this past August and it was everything I’d been told it would be. Or rather, it would have been had I ever been told anything tangible about it beyond the fact that Sequoias are gargantuan. Beyond that, the park had been described to me in ways that were anything but objective or easily defined.

Words that objectively describe this: Awesome, Really Awesome, Really Really Awesome, and "Like finding a winning lottery ticket while eating breakfast in bed, in Paris."

I understand the reasoning behind describing places of almost unimaginable beauty as breathtaking, majestic, surreal, or mystical (I’m often guilty of it myself and its not necessarily a “bad” thing). The problem is that descriptions that rely heavily on subjective language like that end up being so much window dressing compared to the real thing.

This is Majesty. I suppose?

Lets put it this way. It is a rare author or orator who can adequately describe natural beauty to his or her audience. Most of the time a description simply isn’t the same as being there. You know majesty when you experience it, but you can’t experience it second hand.

Because of that, I’ll endeavor to be a bit more specific with my own descriptions of my experience with the park, I’ll even try to leave out the flowery language that manages to say so little with so many syllables.

                         I will probably fail. I apologize.

Canopy

Sequioa, like so many other places of almost absurd natural beauty, needs to be experienced to be believed. You need to be there, dwarfed by the towering trees around you, to truly get a feeling for the place. By all means look at my pretty pictures, I took them for a reason after all, but when you’re done here go add an entry to your bucket list.

It should read: Visit this place.

Certainly THIS is Majesty?

The history of the park is about as storied as any of its contemporaries. It was discovered and lauded as a great place of natural beauty. Eventually it was tarnished and despoiled by idiot tourists (the worst sort of tourist) and finally “saved” by the modern vision of the Parks Service. Who’s most notable achievement (in my view) is making the place look as if it isn’t tromped on by thousands of people a day.

Because it is, and as much as I’m not a huge fan of crowds, this is a good thing. Many, possibly most, people have only as much respect for the natural world as is convenient. In theory, exposing people to areas of supreme natural beauty will make them more likely to be more nature friendly in the future.

Sort of. Maybe.

Wasn't kidding about the crowds.

Imagine you’re in my shoes. You’re visiting Sequoia for the first time and you want to see “General Sherman” the largest of the Sequoias in the park (volume wise at least) and to that end you park your car at the closest lot and hike in. Immediately, things seem different than you’ve grown to expect from national parks. For starters, the path is paved and has wooden railings. Although you are surrounded by giant tree’s, dozens of people stand side by side in order to get their pictures taken in front of the main attraction’s massive trunk. Disabled individuals in motorized scooters zip haphazardly through the thick crowds, trailed by laughing children and concerned looking parents. The path is lined with waste bins and in a ten minute walk you see signs for two separate bathrooms. For me at least, it is unnerving. Its simply too much, true the trees are beautiful, but there are just too many people. I’m thrilled they’re enjoying the place, that’s at least part of why it was set aside in the first place.

More Crowds.

                                                                               However…

If you’re like me you take the first turn off the paved path that you can (possibly at a dead sprint), and at every fork in the path there after you choose the smaller option. The crowds are thick in the area immediately surrounding General Sherman, but within half a mile they’ve vanished. Gone is the paved path. Gone are the motor-scooters and the dashing children, gone are the tourists… all of them.

I spy with my little eye... something that begins with "no" and ends with "one in sight"

In twenty minutes, maybe less, I walked from General Sherman, where the press of the crowd made breathing difficult and decent photography nearly impossible, to The Senate, where I was wholly alone.

The trees in The Senate are close together, and like all Sequoias they are absolute behemoths. Their size borders on the absurd. Their roots must be massive, clutching balls of ground and rock the size of suburban homes in a centuries old iron-grip. Nothing grows on their ancient bark, its fire-charred and wispy, and (at least in places like The Senate) they shade-out most ground-level vegetation.

See the fire line?

Sitting at the base of a Sequoia it is hard not to put them in the context of their history. The genus which they now solely represent first evolved during the Jurassic. These are trees that evolved in response to mega-herbivores and now stand as towering giants above anything the biosphere is capable of throwing at them.

In retrospect I’m happy that there were so many people surrounding General Sherman, had I known how busy it could get there I probably would have just skipped that part of the park. No big deal. However, I’m sad that it was as easy as it was to escape the pressing crowds. Almost no one strolling along the paved paths left them in search of different trees or more lonely stretches of forest.

I don’t know why.

I'll part with this.

A walk in the woods of Quebec

From the Journal: 8/29/2010

I took a walk this evening, an hour before sunset, south along the east short of the lake until the beach disappeared under the cool water and I found moosetracks submerged and untouched.

I climbed a tree, and then a second, to ascend a cliff by the waters edge. Once I made it to the top I rested in the calf-deep Carribou moss and watched the sun start to drop down below the hills. It rained this morning and the moss held pounds of water per foot. I was soaked through seconds after kneeling.

The paths I walked back to camp are old and were not made by man. There’s bear and wolf scat near them, fresh moose tracks nearby, and blueberries all around. They — the paths — are cut deep in the moss, and seem eternal. I feel they’ve been here as long as the lake itself.

…and its quiet. When walking alone in the woods I often can’t help but whistle, click my tongue, or snap my fingers every so often. Far removed from the small, persistent, sounds that haunt modern-life, the woods are almost unnervingly silent.

Canadian First Citizens

From the Journal: 9/3/2010

I met a group of first citizens the other day — nearly scaring the life out of one in the process — on the North Portage. There were five of them in total, working their way south along the same 2000 kilometer long trail that their ancestors had traversed. Nice people I guess, I can’t fault anyone for wanting to take a trip like that. More importantly (for me at least) they were able to confirm that I the faint howls I’d been hearing at night were in fact wolves, and not merely my brain playing tricks on me.

The exact words of the woman who I scared on the trail so badly have been scarred into my brain. After we exchanged our awkward ‘hellos’ she said, “I thought you were a bear, I’m sad you’re not.”

Well shit, sorry to disappoint, maybe next time? More important to me was that they were able to confirm that I’d been hearing wolves the past few nights. I had the youngest ears on the trip by about thirty years, and was the only person who heard anything significant. Our attempts to call them in closer with howls of our own merely shocked the hell out of my ears, and if the wolves in question replied I couldn’t hear them.

Measuring Time in Fluid Ounces

From the Journal: 9/2/2010

We do our “serious” fishing in the early mornings and even then we take frequent beer breaks to rest the fish… this actually seems to work, which I find amazing. Hell, if I’d known years ago how much a part of fishing drinking is (and inversely, how much a part of drinking fishing can be) I’d own half a dozen rods, one of those dinky mesh vests, and a boat by now.

As I may have mentioned before, fly-fishing and drinking go together hand in hand. At any given point you may be in water up to your crotch, in the rain, in the middle of a lake (if you’re comfortable wading far from land / can’t cast with the shore at your back worth a damn). Of course you should have a beer or three handy.  Its cold and lonesome out there. I hear there are bears.

Which brings me nicely to the title of this entry. At least in my family, we measure the length of our individual fishing jaunts by how many beers we plan to take along.

  • A One beer fishing trip doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. What are you, a teetotaler? That beer might get you to the outhouse and back, are you casting from the front porch? Are you already finished? Recycle that can when you’re done and try again.

    Its ungodly early. I could use a drink.

    Seriously considering getting back in bed in this picture.

  • A Two beer fishing trip might take an hour or two. To be fair, its probably only four or five in the morning. You’ll be home for the next meal (possibly breakfast) without any trouble. You’ll expect a beer ready for you when you get back.

    Two Beers

    Letting the fish rest, its "Strategy" (and refreshing)

  • A Three beer fishing trip is likely a solid afternoon, you’ll be far from camp for most of it and might miss a meal. Hopefully, someone will be kind enough to save a beer for you.

    Having a beer while you're eating barely counts.

    More letting the fish rest.

  • A Four beer fishing trip is an indication that you’re in this business for the long haul. There will probably be a significant hike involved (hence that fourth beer, you’ll get thirsty with all that walking), you might get lost, have to take a nap (doesn’t the sun feel wonderful on your face), or bring a meal with you. The folks back at camp should leave a candle in the window and a beer by the door for you.

    You can't see the beer because you can't see anything.

    Returning from a four beer trip, we critically misjudged how much daylight we had left, how much moonlight we'd have, and (perhaps most crucially) how much more river we had before the rocks.

  • I have never returned from a Five beer trip. It is the Everest of fly-fishing.

    Many Sherpas died in the attempt

    Pouring one out for those who tried to fly too high. (Actually christening a patched canoe, but its basically the same thing).

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