Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hiking in the hollers

I.  Am.  So.  Tired.

Yes, I went hiking today and stupidly thought it would be fun to do two trails.  Well, I started out intending to do only one, but it was described as "difficult", so I figured it would be enough.  And it was difficult and all, but by the time I was finished, the air was still so clean, cool, and clear that I thought I'd try another one.  That wasn't even my big mistake.  My mistake was in choosing a "moderate" trail instead of an "easy" one.  Therein lies our tale...

The last two days have been so very perfect, at least outside.  My own internal topography is much less lovely but I won't linger on that point.  The air was washed clean and bright by the gullywashers that we had on Thursday and it has been cool and crisp.  I love this sort of weather.  The air is just amazing, the sky is dark blue, the sunshine is benign...perfection.  So when I got up this morning, I determined to no longer put off hiking Fernwood Trail, the last difficult trail at Rowe Woods.  Unfortunately, I am a woman with little self-control.

I say this because last night I started reading Faye Kellerman's newest, Burnt House.  This morning I got up a bit late and David woke up with me.  I fixed us some eggs, and read my book.  I drank some coffee and read my book.  I was getting to some very involved and interesting parts of my book when I realized that the whole household was awake and Friend Husband was whispering, "Go on your hike..." and giving my not-so-subtle shoves out the door.  So it was about 10 o'clock when I got to the Nature Center.

When I got there, I was told by the gatekeeper that it was the Cincy Great Outdoor Weekend, free admission, and lots of things to do.  At that point, I figured it was a good thing I was hiking the difficult trail because there would be a whole lot of loud, wild little people on the easy trails, and I was correct in that assumption.

Fernwood Trail is reached by hiking through part of the Upland Trail, which I hiked last weekend.  I was pleased to discover that I even remembered a more direct way to get to the trail, near Matt's Pond, rather than taking the Upland Trail proper.  As I approached the trail, I noticed a sign that read, "Deer Management Area:  Keep Alert and Stay On Trail".  O-kay.  Not a problem or so I thought at the time.

I approached the trail from the west side, just north of Lotus Pond.  The trail was an easy one, covered in mulch and fallen leaves and meandering through the woods.  I looked forward to hiking past the Groesbeck Lodge and the Retreat Center, a part of the 2005 Groesbeck acquistion, if for no other reason than that I had never hiked that far back and seen them.  The Activities Building and Retreat Center were nothing fancy.  Groesbeck Lodge, however, was something else entirely.

The trail winds around and you don't quite see the Lodge until you're upon it.  It took my breath away, especially after seeing the Retreat House and Activities Building.  I stood there, staring at it, probably with my mouth agape.  How to describe it?  Well, the Internet research I've done says that it is a 3-story Tudor-style stone residence.  I'm no architect but I could certainly figure that out.  The stonework is so lovely and you just don't see houses like that anymore.  The deeply sloping roof is made of dark grey slate, another rare feature, even in nicer homes.  According to the Cincinnati Center for Field Studies, which has use of the building, it was designed by Gertrude Jekyll in 1917, one of 3 Jekyll commissions in the United States.  I wish I'd had my camera with me on this hike, on more than one occasion, but I did not.  If you want to see a picture of the Lodge, go here, but the photo doesn't do it justice, in my book (scroll down to the bottom).

Ok, the hike, the hike, the hike.  So far, it was a level tramp through the woods and, like I always do, I wondered why it was labeled as "difficult".  I was soon to find out, after clearing the Groesbeck area.  Just past a smaller house, the trail resumed as a series of log steps almost smothered in blooming snakeroot that seemed to lead down into a ravine.  The race was on.  The trail through the snakeroot was magical, almost like fairies had laid it through those sweet little white flowers on a whim.  But it makes me very nervous not to be able to see my feet in the woods.  I also began to wonder why they called it 'snakeroot'.  Was it in some way related to snakes?  Were snakes attracted to it?  I hoped not and tried to console myself with the thought that snakes are really shy and don't want any congress with humans if they can help it.  But then I remembered that copperheads are mean and aggressive and in woods out here...yikes!  I got out of the snakeroot trail a lot faster than I went in to it and soon found myself in awe of a beautiful trail that went down into a ravine and wound around on the other side.

There were a number of times on this trail when I just stopped and gawked and praised God for creating such majesty for us to enjoy here.  I won't even try to describe them.  I'm not sure I could.  I walked over ravines, crossing some awfully rickety bridges at times.  I hiked up and down "hollers" and marvelled at how fresh, beautiful, green, and mysterious the whole place looked.  I wished I'd brought my camera and I wish I could describe it to you but I can not.  I'll be happy to take you out there, though, if you ever come through here.  Believe me, it's worth the visit.

Once I hit the ravine, I realized why the trail was labeled "difficult".  There were a number of grades, a number of areas with steep steps leading up the other side of a rise, and just an awful lot of walking.  I got to see Raptor, Inc's property, as the trail leads to a clearing where it is located.  They brought raptors to the Nature Center today to show as a part of the Great Outdoor Weekend.  They do good work.

I also saw a number of old, abandoned buildings a short distance from, and sometimes right on the trail.  I even hiked off the trail to examine a couple of them.  They were dilapidated old structures out in the middle of the woods.  One looked as if it may have been a small barn at one time, and one was just a shelter with a cement floor.  On the trail map, it looked as though they were described as "Wilderness Cabins" and I thought that was pretty rich to describe such tumbledown shacks as such.  I wondered at the Nature Center's desire to even have them on the map, since they just looked like accidents waiting to happen.  Further up the trail was an abandoned and mostly caved-in blind of some sort, just across from a well that had been capped.  More mysteries.  I'd sure like to know what all that stuff was, especially since I'd also seen stone foundations and signs of other buildings out there. 

As I continued down the trail (or up the trail, I should say, as the slope was ever, ever up), I realized that my assumptions about the "Wilderness Cabins" was incorrect.  The true Wilderness Cabins were newly built and situated in a lovely clearing, complete with seats and picnic tables.  Still, I wonder what they're used for.  I peeked in the one nearest to the trail and saw a couple of rows of twin-sized bedstead like you'd see in some sort of an institution.  Weird and interesting.  Many stories to be told there.

Back up and up and up the trail.  My chest was hurting from all the deep breathing and I was more than ready for a rest on one of those memorial benches.  Remember what I said about there being no benches on the difficult trails?  I've now hiked all the difficult trails and I can verify that, without a doubt.  Of the three difficult trails at Rowe Woods, there are a total of 2 benches and one shelter.  Once I got off Fernwood and sank down onto a bench, it was a great relief.

Ah, but first the the east end of the trail is a slope with scores of ferns.  They weren't too luscious due to our lack of rain this year, but they were a sight to behold nonetheless.  The end of the trail was not quite as arduous, but my circulatory system had already had its workout for the day.  I sat down on a bench gratefully and contemplated my trail map.  As I did so, a doe walked quietly through the woods right in front of me.  I watched her nibbling and moving, sniffing the air and repeating until she disappeared as quietly as she'd come.  Maybe that's why I decided to go ahead and hike Wildflower.

Wildflower Trail was given some award in 2004, something like the best day hike or some other thing like that.  I liked Wildflower but in my mind it wasn't nearly as stunning as Fernwood.  Could be that I was already too tired to be able to appreciate it fully.  Could be it's quite spectacular in the spring, when all the flowers are blooming.  But today it was sort of sere, woods interspersed with meadows where even the ironweed had long burned up and gone brown.  It also had many many more people on it.  It's not that I don't like people but I surely do see enough people on any given day to keep me occupied.  I like me some quiet in the woods.  Most folks are quiet, but as I said, there were a lot of little people on the adjacent trails today, so it was not terribly quiet.

I did run into a family group that I met a few weeks ago and talked to them for a bit.  Sadly, I recognized their dog Sophie before I recognized them.  Sophie is a liver-colored Border Collie mix and was whining and barking for her "mom" the last time I saw her.  Today she was blazing the trail with "Grandpa" in the lead while "Grandma" and "Mom" brought up the rear.  I think they thought it was amusing that I recognized them through Sophie, but then, I was pretty taken up with the beauty that was Sophie.

By the end of Wildflower, I was more than ready to get off the trails, have my trail book stamped by Noel in the Visitor Center and sample the paw paws they said would be waiting at the Paw Paw Growers display inside.  Unfortunately, I had to hide up some amazing hillsides before I could get close.  I was grateful again for the bench at the top of the ridge, this one a memorial to Elizabeth Worthington Pugh, who had lived 89 years.  Somehow I staggered back to the Visitor Center and got another drink but no paw paw sample, as the late spring freeze that killed my lilacs also killed the paw paws this year.  Too bad.  Noel was enthusiastic about my trail book though, noting that I only had two trails to complete to finish.  Yay, me!  I believe the next two are a moderate one that I've done many a day and an easy one.  Maybe I'll even get them both done the same day and wouldn't that be something?

Happy weekend, y'all!  I'm back to work.

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