Friday, April 8, 2016

Springtime Blues

Trail head in Alabama.
 Last week, we had what will hopefully be the last snow of the season. The weather set in on a Thursday with gales that swept the sand from the steppe. During the day, the snow/sand mixture was painful to exposed skin and almost impossible to see in. That evening, I found myself walking home from my school’s dorm after watching Jurassic World with the students. The light snow moved across the ground in waves with the wind like something in a Discovery Channel special on Antarctica. The week before in pure frustration I packed up my winter parka, with the hopes that this act alone would bring warm weather. Now walking in the wind and the snow with my light jacket all I could think was, “This isn’t so bad. I don’t have ice forming in my beard; therefore it is not too cold.”
Tyler in Oak Mountain, we had just reached 500 miles in one year. Summer of 2014
It is amazing how perspective changes. To quote Crist Sperling, “Life is a constant period of adjustment.” A year ago, if someone had dropped me in this weather, I would have panicked. While many of the changes in Mongolia have been good, there are some things that are still hard to get used too. Sure Sally and I miss family, friends, and convenience (The things I would do for Taco Bell…), but for both of us, it’s the sweet experience of the Alabama forest that haunts our dreams.
Many of you know that before Mongolia, I worked for four years at a mental health facility. The amazing individual that I spent most of my time with, Tyler, loved to go hiking. He and I would explore the parks and backwoods of Birmingham with a shared passion for the solitude and peace that the woods offered. In all seasons and weather we could be found hiking the trails of Oak Mountain, Red Mountain, Ruffner Mountain, and the uncharted, un-hiked access roads in the mountains surrounding Lake Purty. We were a dynamic hiking duo.
Lake at Oak Mountain, Summer of 2012
As a child, my sister and I became intimately familiar with our back yard and surrounding forest. Children who play outside know the land better than any adult could possibly imagine. A child knows every tree, every bush, hollow, rock, and animal. Each becomes a unique part of an incredible world that only a child can truly comprehend.
In the woods of Birmingham, with Tyler, I found myself becoming intimately familiar with an enormous area of land. We covered thousands of miles in our time together. With Tyler, I watched the seasons change and the forest grow. We knew how each season affected each park and trail. We knew which trails would be washed out in spring, which peaks would be bitter in winter winds, which trees had fallen in summer storms. To become connected with the land in such a manner as an adult was a magical experience.
Often as I walk to school, I will think of the many hikes Tyler and I took together. I will find myself wondering what changes have occurred in the forest of Birmingham, which parks have opened new trails. With Mongolian spring, I find myself thinking of how the Mountain Laurel keeps it’s leafs through the winter, how the Quarry Trail in Ruffner becomes a literal paradise of wildflowers. How in a matter of weeks the trees in Alabama burst forth in beautiful canopies of greens and browns. In spring and summer the Red Jeep Trail in Oak Mountain is particularly beautiful with rushing streams over moss covered rocks and towering cathedral-like oaks.
Sally and I at Cheaha Mountian in Jan of 2015.
 Mongolia is beautiful too. I will forever cherish the image of a herder in a deel riding a horse down the main street of town, but the beauty of Mongolia is different. This is a harsh wild world with wide open swaths of land. Seeing the curvature of the earth over the steppe is awe-inspiring, but it lacks the charm and hospitality of the southern Appalachians and the subtle nuances of a forest in spring.
The Appalachains have always felt welcoming to me. Like ancient sleeping gods that dot the landscape in rolling peaceful mountains. They are gentler than the Rockies or the harsh hills of Mongolia. In the Appalachiansrich ecosystems flourish and life is, relatively speaking, easy.
I will often comment on a single sound that I miss more than any other sound. This sound is that of the wind caressing the trees. The rustle of leafs in winter and summer gales, and spring and autumn breezes. To look up and watch the branches swaying as the sunlight shifts and falls like streams of gold, and to know that this must be heaven.  
Cheaha Mountain sunset Jan 2015
Many of you live near our beautiful homeland and perhaps you haven’t enjoyed it as I have.  I invite you to go for a hike. Please, let me live viciously through you. It is so easy in America to let spring pass us by. It is easy for the years to pass without enjoying natural beauty, and to get trapped in monotonous patterns. Enjoy our world. If you feel inclined to post pictures in the comment section of this post, I promise you we will enjoy them. I challenge you now to get outside. Go. Stop reading this post!
Seriously, Go Outside!

Suggested Possible Hikes in North Alabama:
McDill Point—Cheaha Wilderness
Shackleford Peak—Oak Mountain
Green Trail—Red Mountain Park (Follows Ridgeline)
Quarry Trail to Quarry Overlook—Ruffner Moutain
Desoto State Park

Sypsy Wilderness

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