Antithesis of Consumerism and Cynicism

This life has been given to you for repentance.  Do not waste it on vain pursuits.

St. Isaac the Syrian

The Christmas shopping season is upon us.  It used to be that merchants would, at least, wait until our Thanksgiving meals have been well digested and football fans had plenty of time to cheer or curse the results of the big game.  Alas, the infamous “black Friday” begins Thursday night.  It was one thing when a local restaurant or tavern would offer a holiday meal to weary travelers who were delayed from reaching their intended destination.  I suppose mall food courts will offer turkey steak and cheese hoagies to shoppers awaiting “door buster specials.”

Yet, it is not enough to bemoan how Christmas has become an overly commercial farce.  Cynicism is also a toxic mentality which destroys the joy and hope that we should have during this (and any other) time of the year.  Unmet expectations of special gifts under the tree, losing beloved relatives and friends, employment and finances taking turns for the worse; such things can easily lead people into a slippery slope of depression as real life does not always mirror the seasonal Hallmark Channel specials.

View from Humpback Rock (© John Gresham)

The words of St. Isaac the Syrian have become my mantra for these days leading into Christmas.  While I have done nothing to justify arrest and imprisonment, I am mindful of my imperfect actions, words, and (the source of these things) thoughts.  The fact that the Lord has not destroyed me in my wickedness is proof of his love and desire that I should change my ways.  Thus, repentance should be a part of everything I do from eating breakfast, performing task at home and work, even enjoying a quick game of mahjong.  One need not live in sackcloth and ashes.  But, to be careful of the thoughts harbored has a positive effect on words spoken and things done.

It is more difficult to shop until you drop knowing that one’s highest aim is a change of self.  Nor can one wallow in self-pity if they focus on developing a greater spiritual self.  We seek out greater principles of life instead.  This is where things are created and discoveries are made.  New bonds of interaction are forged and hope continues in spite of disappointments and disasters.  It is this higher awareness that cannot be found in fat men sliding down chimneys or washing away one’s misery in spirits.  It is found only when one pursues a life of spirit.

Give thoughtful gifts to the people you love.  Refuse to be swept up in the excesses of commercial marketing.  Seeking the higher point of our existence keeps us safe from this seasons toxicity and allows us a fullness of life that goes beyond January first.

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Taskinas Creek Trail: In The Heart Of The Marsh

Yes, it is open again!  The Taskinas Creek Trail at York River State Park was renown as one of the best hikes east of I-95.  Due to storm damage, it was closed to the public for two years.  Park staff and volunteers worked hard to re-route and restore the trail.  Despite some significant changes, Taskinas Creek is a hike that is winning praise in the region for it’s physical challenge, views of wildlife, and unique beauty.

Taskinas Creek at Sunset (© John Gresham)

The long bridges across the freshwater streams at the beginning of the trail are gone.  Yet, hiking along the smaller crossings still provides guest with an idea of how estuarine creeks and rivers begin as mere trickles of water at the bottom of a hill.  As they flow, these streams get broader turning the surrounding lowland into bogs.  A variety of frogs, turtles, and other creatures can be found here.

The freshwater bogs give way to an open canopy marsh and cord grass as hikers reach the first Marsh Overlook.  The stream meets the larger Taskinas Creek at the Heron Overlook.  This is a great place to spot both the Great Blue Heron and the smaller Green Heron.  At low tide, Fiddler Crabs can be seen scurrying around for hiding places.  High tides bring Muskrat and Killifish swimming right underneath the overlook.

Flying Lesson (John Gresham/DCR)

After an elevation change, hikers are rewarded with the Osprey Overlook.  An Osprey nesting platform stands between  two bends in the creek.  These expert anglers reside here from March until September to raise their young.  This year, we have two chicks on the nest in the creek.  The platform was installed by a local Boy Scout working on his Eagle Badge.  An overlook named for our national bird can be found on a small spur trail before ascending on another hill.  Bald Eagles can be seen at the park year round, perhaps more frequently when the Osprey are back in Latin America for the winter.

Along the Creek (John Gresham/DCR)

A challenging ravine follows lined with Mountain Laurels.  In May, this is one of the most beautiful parts of the hike.  Ascending to the final hill is the spur leading to the Kingfisher Overlook.  Fans of the original trail will remember how the long bridge used to cross a section of the marsh.  A portion of the bridge was removed due to constant erosion damage.  But, a substantial section remains as an overlook that is perfect for wildlife viewing, photography, and waving to the canoeist and kayakers as they explore the creek.  Returning from the spur, the final leg of the hike is relatively broad with only slight elevation changes until completing the loop to the first two ravines.

New Trail Map (John Gresham/DCR)

As unbiased as I can be, this is the best hiking trail on the  peninsula.  I doubt if there is anything quite like it along the Chesapeake Bay.  The elevation changes will impress the most avid outdoors adventurers.  Birders and photographers can enjoy the diversity of nature’s beauty.  Environmental educators will find it a great learning lab for geology as well as ecology.  Make plans to visit the Taskinas Creek Trail at York River State Park.  Parking at the park is only $2 per vehicle on weekdays, $3 on weekends.  Visit the Virginia State Parks blog for stories about the trail and other items of interest at York River and around the state.

Benefits of Plan B

You would think that with “Gresham’s Law*” being a part of our lives that everyone would have some sort of back up plan for their outdoor adventures.  I used to be one of those poor souls.  I would come home in a foul mood if the fish weren’t biting, the weather turned bad, or if some other complication would arise just to ruin my day or weekend off.  Now, getting skunked or soaked no longer is something that I dread.  I look to my alternatives.

Water Meets Stone and Moss (© John Gresham)

My camera goes wherever I go.  I may not take it in the kayak while fishing.  But, if the day is especially bad, I can get some landscape and wildlife images in.  I have access to a couple of good point-and-shoot cameras when I backpack.  If I change my mind, “The Brick” (my Pentax K200D) is in the trunk for a shorter walk and better photos.  No matter what level photographer you are, a camera is a great thing to have.  Capturing a few good scenes can make a bad day better.

My appetite and taste buds are a part of me.  Having a few bucks while traveling can open one up to a culinary adventure when the waters and trails prove uncooperative.  Bypass the typical chain restaurants and fast food.  Local diners and dives have offerings that you just may not find at home.  You may even be inspired to buy the ingredients and try making the meal at home.

In this age of social media, we have forgotten what it is to have a good book on hand.  Yeah, Kindle and Nook may have their advantages.  But, there is something about the feel of hardbound or paperback that makes reading a holistic experience.  Some communities have neat local papers and magazines that beckon even the most discouraged adventurer to come back and try again next time.

A Friendly Local (© John Gresham)

This past Monday was to be my epic mountain adventure of the year.  I was going on a solo backpack of Crabtree Falls and The Priest.  I told everyone that I was going to make the climb on Monday, crash at the shelter, make my way down Tuesday, and use Wednesday to recuperate.  When I got to Massies Mill, I couldn’t even see the mountains due to the thick fog.  To make matters worse, the weatherman called for rain and thunderstorms all day and evening.  A 18 mile round trip solo hike in bad weather on some trail I wasn’t familiar with didn’t seem like a great idea to me.

So, I went to plan B.  I grabbed the “brick” and captured some waterfall images along Crabtree and the Tye River.  Unfortunately, the Country Store in Montebello didn’t take my ATM card.  The UVA Credit Union in Nellysford was available.  I found a great little Italian joint that had a used book exchange.  They didn’t have anything I was interested in.   But, I did pick up the “Appalachian Voice.”  Being discouraged about not being able to execute my original plan would have been self-defeating.  Enjoying the alternatives has given me an appreciation for Nelson County and a marinated beef and turkey sandwich with cheese.

*“Everything that can go wrong will go wrong.”  I wrote that on a post it note with no adhesive.  Some guy named Murphy picked it up, got the copyrights, and made millions.

I Got Trails. Who Needs Treadmills?

Okay, if you have a serious medical issue or need supervision from a physical therapist or fitness trainer, use whatever exercise equipment that is recommended for your condition.  Indeed, you certainly should see a doctor before starting any exercise program.  I am no health care professional.  This is my blog and my opinion, not your prescription.

Mild Winter Hiking

With that said, I don’t do treadmills nor their related gym equipment (ellipticals, stairmasters, ect, …).  Hiking is a much better means of fitness than any machine.  Gyms are indoor boxes.  The air in them is conditioned.  Except for the televisions and people working out, the scenery in the boxes never changes.  All treadmills have buttons to push and settings to adjust making the user’s body a slave to the machine.  It is true that such equipment in such boxes are useful when outdoor conditions are unfavorable.  However, many people use bad weather as an excuse not to go to the gym as if it weren’t an enclosed, air-conditioned (or heated) box.

I am a bit spoiled because I work at a park and live near a couple of good trails.  I think fresh air is more healthy than enclosed spaces with those high-tech air refresher things.  The trails are surrounded by trees and have features such as streams, marshes, bridges, and other sights that keep the workout interesting.  The presence of birds, squirrels, and other critters tend to liven things up as well.  Sometimes it is best to go at a slower pace.  Other times, it is good to pick things up a bit.  My brain, body, and self-discipline dictate what, when, and how much I do per work out.  When the weather is colder, I wear a couple of layers of clothes.  A rain or snow day need not throw me off track.  I can make up for it when conditions improve.

Better Than TV

If you are able to hike for cardio fitness, I recommend the following steps:

  • start with a trail that doesn’t have many quick changes in elevation.  gradual slopes or one or two hills are sufficient even for veteran hikers who just want to burn a few calories.
  • Walk the trail at a slow pace first to familiarize yourself with it.  Know where it may get a bit muddy, icy, and other issues.  It is good to have more than one trail to hike so that you have an alternative place to go.
  • Make sure your footwear has good traction.
  • Use hiking poles to add some upper body motion to your hiking.
  • Dress appropriately.  Use sunscreen, bug repellant and other things needed for any outdoor activity.

Greater Challenges Await

Trails To Hike In 2012

Yes, it is “THE BEST OF …” season.  Everyone in every hobby and occupation is talking about the great stuff about 2011 and what to do in 2012.  I’m sorry that I couldn’t resist jumping on the bandwagon.  But, there are a few places I recommend to people who want to put their new outdoor gear to use.  The trails range from an easy walk on the beach to hind parts kicking adventures and offer some of the most interesting scenery in Virginia.  No, I haven’t hiked everywhere in the state.  I’m only suggesting based on my experience in 2011 (and feel free to suggest some other locations you like).  Print this post and keep it.  It may be useful when you plan your next road trip.

1) Maritime/Vir-Mar Trail (False Cape State Park)Getting into False Cape is an adventure on its own (no private vehicles).  But, for a truly wild beach trek, this trail is hard to beat with its untouched sand dunes to the Atlantic and sunsets on Back Bay.  Call the park office to plan your trip around a ranger guided program and you may be able to crash at the Wash Woods Overnight Education Center.

2) Crabtree Falls (George Washington National Forrest)Yeah, it can get crowded on warm weekends, and for good reason.  It is the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi and has gorgeous views.  The trail has a challenging combination of stairs and switchbacks.  I prefer starting from the bottom (plenty of parking off of Rt 58) and hiking to the top and back.  Resist the temptation to play in the rushing water.  Too many hikers had fallen to death here.

Sanderlings blitz at the Bayshore Trail

3) Bay Shore/Winter Water Trail (Hughlett’s Point Natural Area Preserve)This Northern Neck jewel has one of the largest panoramic views of the Chesapeake Bay.  When permitted (some very rare bird and insect species are protected here), you can make a complete loop from the beach to the lower end of bayshore.  Nearby Dameron Marsh Natural Area Preserve has no trails.  But, has some interesting observation points and a kayak launch.

4) Wahrani Nature Trail (New Kent Co. Parks & Recreation)Forget your stairmaster.  This frequently overlooked spot on the side of the road to the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula playgrounds (Rt 33) packs plenty of elevation changes.  Use caution here because you may have to share some real estate with mountain bikers.  It is a great place to warm up for mountain hikes.

5) Cold Mountain (Appalachian Trail)/Hotel Trail (George Washington National Forest)Take the AT in and out from the parking lot for the marvelous panoramic views.  Take the Hotel Trail for views of Mt. Pleasant and cool running creeks.  Make a day of an almost 6 mile loop.  Camp overnight.  Do whatever you can.  But, this place is fantastic!

6)  Mattaponi/Woodstock Pond Trail (York River State Park)Taskinas Creek Trail will reopen in 2012.  But, don’t let that be an excuse to ignore fossil beach, the observation deck, and the spillway view between the pond and river.  You can make it a double loop hike, or connect to Backbone to reach the trails deeper in the park.

Humpback Rock rewards the hiker

7)  Humpback Rock (Blue Ridge Parkway)If you have never hiked a mountain, this is a good one to start with.  If you have done it before, this is a good one to visit.  The unique rock formation is almost like a window on the Shenandoah Valley below.  There is a connection to the AT for more advanced hikers.

8)  Herring Creek/Mattaponi Bluffs Loop (Zoar State Forest)Aylett, Virginia may be the best kept secret for adventure east of I-95.  This hike allows you to explore and play in cool, refreshing waters.  There are trails at the main section of the state forest and you can launch a canoe or kayak down to the Aylett boat launch (or further) for a great float trip.

Thanks to all of you for visiting Baystride Images in 2011.  I pray that you and your families will have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sincerely,

John R. Gresham, Jr.

Camera Therapy

Surfing Sanderling

We all need some means or another to relieve stress in our lives.  Employment or lack of it can be a heavy burden on our minds.  Spouses and children sometimes get on our nerves more than bosses or coworkers.  Throw in the bills, needed home repairs, car problems, appliances breaking down, and poor performances by a favorite sports team (Liverpool, why can’t you win the premiership?) and one can easily slip into a depressed state.  My stress is as bad as some and worse than others.  An ill wife, and working two jobs that I love, but don’t pay very much can really kick a guy.  When life kicks me, I need only to click the “on” switch on my Pentax K200D on an outdoor adventure.

Some may boast in “Retail Therapy.”  In this economy, I don’t see how that is possible anymore.  Consumerism is one of the great failures of our society.  Those who think they can purchase their way out of the blues are only kidding themselves and will wind up broke and blue.

Professional therapist and clergy are helpful in many cases.  There are situations where mental illnesses are diagnosed and someone should work in conjunction with a psychiatrist.  People of faith can be pointed into scriptures and prayer that give comfort and healing to worried souls.  My wife is bipolar (and has multiple sclerosis) and relies on someone who is well-educated and trained.  I hit up a fellow minister whom I trust and will let me vent my frustrations.

But, there is something so satisfying about capturing an interesting image of the natural world.  It is a pleasure enough to admire the rush of a  waterfall, an eagle’s expert fishing skills, or a gorgeous sunset along a beach.  There is no way to collect such grandeur in a mere 10 megapixles.  And yet, those 10 megs possess the ability to stir up the memory of what was seen, heard, and felt at that moment.  I can take them back to show others how beautiful the world is outside of our satellite TV and off of our Blackberries.

I don’t claim to be great at the craft.  I enjoy the pursuit of collecting beautiful images.  Over the years, my persistence has paid off in employment and meeting other photographers.  But, I cannot forget the healing power of preserving a portion of a magic moment.

Rooted Sunrise

Cold Mountain: My First Backpacking Adventure

Leaving on the Old Hotel Trail

I had always done day trips.  I had imagined an overnight excursion somewhere like False Cape or kayaking to camp one of the barrier islands on the Eastern Shore.  But, a mountain hike and camping trip?  What the heck.  It would earn me a little “street cred” among my co-workers around the state.  The Chesapeake Bay Sierra Club had a trip to go along with a class I attended a month or two ago.  The group seemed friendly and the leaders knowledgeable.  So, everything would go like clockwork.  Right?

Anyone who knows me or read my last entry knows that nothing goes like clockwork for me.  I was lollygagging in Charlottesville waiting to buy a map from Blue Ridge Mountain Sports.  Then, I wasted more time looking for a Route 51 off of Route 60 (directions given to me by an online map and seemed to be the best way according to the map I had).  I had brain enough to print off another set of directions before I left West Point and followed them until I got to the parking lot at Hog Camp Gap where the Appalachian Trail intersected Route 48.  I called myself waiting on the group when, little did I know, they had waited and then left me.  Figuring I had already come so far, I refused to call it quits.  I packed up my gear and took the AT up Cold Mountain.

Summit View

Up is an understatement!  In another previous post, I described how I got my butt kicked underestimating the difference between flat and mountain hiking when I went up Humpback Rock.  I should have died on the AT trying to reach the summit with that heavy backpack!  Some of the pain went away as I gazed all around at a fantastic panoramic view and enjoyed meeting a nice family out for a quick day hike.  If I were allowed, I would have stayed right there and captured amazing sunset and sunrise images.  But, I really wanted to get to the Cow Camp Shelter before sundown.  It was a steep decent down the mountain.  the trail seemed a lot more narrow and had these hair pin switch backs.  There is no way in the world I would have made that trip in the dark.

Chesapeake Bay Sierra Club Hikers

I got to the shelter and sadly didn’t find the group.  But, I did run across some dudes who offered me advice and conversation.  I did see a piece of racist graffiti on the other side of the Blue Ridge.   Among hikers, I have yet to meet anyone who has been unfriendly.  There are all sorts of jerks in everywhere you go in life.   But, I follow the example of my father who became a communications technician with AT&T long before there were racial hiring quotas:  Be respectful of yourself and others.  Be sincere about what you want to do and people will work with you no matter what they might think of you.  I thank God for everyone I met and greeted along the way.

A Stream Of Living Water

I set up camp near the shelter and spent the night under the stars with my Bible.  The ghost of my grandfather-in-law, Rev. Carter Wicks, was already on my mind as I was in Charlottesville to say goodbye to my grandmother-in-law.  With the waters of Little Cove Creek, I couldn’t ignore the spiritual presence of the place.  Romans 8:12-17 reminded me to live according to the spirit and not the flesh.  If I could strive this hard on a hike in the natural world, how much more must I strive for the Kingdom.  While I would have enjoyed the company of the Sierra Club hikers, I believe God intended for me to be alone on this trip.

Wild Strawberry

I had the brilliant idea that if I took the Old Hotel Trail back to the parking lot, I wouldn’t have to go uphill again.  That was not my best thought!  Another hard climb awaited me.  Little did I know I would run into some friendly and familiar faces.  “Hey John.  We didn’t think you were coming.”  We chatted a bit about my failed sense of timing.  But, I was congratulated for going through with the hike alone.  I didn’t learn to hike by a compass yet.  But, I do know how to follow a well-marked trail and map.
Aside from packing way too heavy (Chris warned me not to bring my Pentax K200D.  Did I listen?  Of course not!), I thought this whole experience was absolutely wonderful.  almost everywhere I looked there was something worth seeing and enjoying!  Clouds were drifting effortlessly past the mountains.  Wild strawberries and other flowers were in bloom.  Along the Old Hotel Trail, there seemed to be running water around every other bend.  I am glad I had sense enough to take the little Kodak Easyshare C143 so I could get a few good shots in without taking out my “Brick” (I love my camera, but it is as solid and heavy as a brick).  The trip is everything that it was advertised to be.  But, I don’t recommend that rookies go solo.  Yeah, I did it.  But, the Lord protects babies and fools.  Since I haven’t worn a diaper since Lyndon Johnson was President, I know where I stand.

Cloud on the Mountain