Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Winter Walk in the Woods – The Perfect Rx for SAD (or SLUG)

4 February 2012

This blog is dedicated to all the people who keep asking us when are we going to post a new Salmon Falls blog. They tell us they want more new stuff to read more often. Well, we hear you and we have decided to blog not just about our photo road trips, or photo techniques and tips we've learned along the way, but to also post occasional blogs about the everyday, ordinary, the sometimes hum-drum times we spend together, Bevie and me, little sister & big sis, Lilytopia & Tupelo.

This blog is about “the perfect Rx for SAD”. Translated that is “the perfect prescription for Seasonal Affective Disorder”. One of our readers, a pharmacist by education, likely didn’t need a translation. Likewise our nurse practitioner reader. But for anyone who wondered what the heck we are writing about in this blog, now you have a heads up as to what’s coming.

Each winter as the days grow shorter and the nights longer and we have fewer and fewer hours of sun to shine on our bodies and in on our retinas in the back of our eyes, Bevie and I develop SAD. Medically it’s correctly referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Or what I like to call the SLUG Syndrome. Slug . . . the perfect word to describe how I feel from January to April . . . really and truly, just like a slug. But it’s also an acronym I made up that stands for SAD, LAZY, UNKEMPT, GROUCHY. On a scale of 1 – 10, 10 being the worst, I am a 7.5 on a good day; on a bad day I might be a 9.5. (I know. Kind of scary, eh? Especially if you’re my husband.) I won’t presume to rate Lilytopia, but I would guess estimate she might be around a 6. Not good for either one of us. And something we want right now is a Rx to relieve the symptoms.

Every week, Lilytopia switches her Friday and Saturday off from the library, and it just so happened yesterday (Friday) was her day off. I called her Thursday night and suggested we GET OUT(side), walk in the sun not wearing our sunglasses, and let as many rays as possible hit the back of our retinas. She was all for that. On three conditions: 1. I take a shower; 2. I wash my hair; and 3. I brush my teeth (all things that come with great difficulty when you have SLUG). I promised I could do all three. She promised me a surprise destination in return.

I just needed to clean up, show up at her house by 10 am, and bring my birding binoculars and bird scope. I hadn’t been out of the house since the previous Friday (honestly, I really hadn’t), so I desperately needed something exciting like a mystery adventure to get me going. I got prepared (must admit it felt good to shower and wash my hair), loaded up my birding equipment, and was off for Lilytopia’s by 9 am.

I had guessed we might we driving to the Cape to see if we could spot the Snowy Owls that had been sighted in the marshes down there – they usually don’t migrate that far south so these have been rather unusual sightings. I’ve seen them up on the North Shore in the marshes off of Plum Island, but never down in this neck of the state. But no, Lily (I’m giving her a nickname so I don’t have to keep writing such a long name) had other ideas. We were headed to the Halfway Pond Conservation Area in Plymouth to see if we could spot the two pairs of bald eagles who are building nests on the island in the middle of the pond. Eagles, like owls, start getting ready this early in the year to stake out their territories and start their new families.

The Halfway Pond Conservation Area (HPCA) is a protected open space preserve that is owned and maintained by the Wildlands Trust ( of Duxbury, MA. HPCA is comprised of 409.6 acres and is located on Mast Road and West Long Pond Road, two miles south of Long Pond Road and “contains important natural areas and is a place of rare tranquility and beauty”. And we were going to explore it and look for those eagles.

We decided to go in from West Long Pond Road which runs between Gallows Pond and Long Pond and leave the car in the small parking area at the beginning of Gallows Pond Road. We parked – not hard to find a space when you’re the only car there. Then we hopped out (no, truthfully, we did not hop out – we were still suffering symptoms of SLUG), popped open the trunk, and got all our gear ready to go – Lily with her backpack loaded with camera equipment (which she had to carry herself because her trusted sherpa was at work) and her binoculars. I switched lenses on my bird scope from a 22X to a 25X, and attached the lens to my tripod, and hung my binoculars around my neck.

Lilytopia wears these cute little earmuffs that have no band connecting them together and just stretch over each ear. I wear a very fashionable (not) hand-knitted hat that fits my VERY LARGE head perfectly (thank you mom-in-law who at the age of 95 is still a superb weaver of yarn). We put our gloves on (mine I think were Bob’s, but they were the only pair in my backpack and wool mittens for Lily), buttoned up our coats (the outer layer of at least three layers we were each wearing), I slung my bird scope over my shoulder, and we headed out.

We started out on Gallows Pond Road (if you want to follow our adventure, there’s a trail map at the Wildlands Trust’s website or . . . maybe Lily will scan it and add it to this blog) with the intention of ending up on the point of Big Point Trail where we’d have the best view of the island in the middle of Halfway Pond. But, we were out there for exercise and to get as many rays to hit our retinas, so we weren’t looking for the shortest, quickest route to get there. Lily decided we’d take the Connant Storrow Trail that connects with the Joe Brown Trail, hang a right on the Blackmeer Trail until we got to the Big Point Trail, and then we’d stop at an opening on the water and look for eagles. Now doesn’t that sound logistically well planned and thought out – like something very experienced navigators, trail map in hand, should easily be able to traverse? Not.

As we started out walking, the first surprise gift of the day was the snow that fallen the night before. The snow looked like mini-mini Styrofoam balls. I made Lily take several photo of some leaves with the little snow balls on top. It was a very, very light dusting and didn’t come close to completely covering the ground and seemed to be most noticeable on the north side in the shaded areas in the woods. But it was so delicate and fragile looking that you wanted to just sit and continue contemplating it. It was cold enough the entire day that when we left HPCA, all the snow that had fallen the night before was still on the ground.

We walked a short distance on Gallows Pond Road, took a left onto the Connant Storrow Trail (not) and thought we were doing great. You’d think the terrain in Plymouth, being so close to the ocean, would be mostly level. Again not. We climbed some very steep hills and, me, carrying on my shoulder a bird scope and tripod that weigh well over 25-lbs., was beginning to wonder what we’d gotten ourselves into. When suddenly, VOILA!, they we were – RIGHT BACK AT THE PARKING LOT WHERE WE’D LEFT OUR CAR. Oh, go ahead and laugh. You can. You won’t embarrass us. After all, can you name even one famous Polish navigator? Even if you can, Lily’s and my name won’t be on the list anytime soon (or ever).

Time to reassess. We obviously needed a new route plan. But first, leave that way too heavy bird scope in the trunk of the car. I needed aerobic exercise, but not so much I need to carry all that extra weight around. We decided it was probably safer to follow Gallows Pond Road all the way down to where it ends and take Whippoorwill Trail where it crosses Gallows Pond. A very straightforward route that should lead us almost to Big Point Trail which is the trail that goes around right down by the water’s edge.

Well, we almost did that plan. But (again) Lily decided that instead of take Whippoorwill, we’d just follow Gallows Pond Road which ends almost at the water and is short hike through the woods to the beginning of Big Point Trail. We did make a couple stops along the way, as we were facing directly into the sun, to open our eyes wide, gaze not at the sun directly but something on the horizon approximately at the sun’s height, and let those SAD defeating rays beat in on our retinas. If you’re an ophthalmologist, we don’t want to hear from you. We know. We should have sunglasses on. But have you ever lived with SAD??? When it comes to the trade-offs of becoming less of a SLUG versus causing damage to your eyes, the SAD Rx always wins!

Well low and behold! Here we are now at the water’s edge on Halfway Pond. A nice little trail (we believe it might be private but we were the only humans in the woods for miles around) leads right down to a very nice little sandy beach and the water. Someone had conveniently pulled a very nice raft out of the water for the winter and placed it up on the beach. Do I see the perfect spot to sunbath? Yes indeedie.

Lily first contemplated the water trying to decide whether to take a dip. Not. She did take a photo of some interesting animal tracks in the wet sand. If anyone knows what critter made them, we’d love to hear from you. Lily guessed maybe a dog. I think not. I think may a raccoon – although it would have to be a BIG raccoon. Lily decides taking a photo of the tracks is good enough. Nix the dip in the water. And she comes over and lies beside me on the raft.

Now that was the most spiritual moment of our hike. The sun was so warm, we were sheltered from the wind by the trees around us, you could hear birds in the forest – chickadees, a couple of woodpeckers – even the wind whistling through the tops of the pines. And the sky. THE SKY! It was the most amazing color of blue – clean, clear, crisp – a color of blue that Crayola will never be able to accurately duplicate. And Crayola would never be able to come up a name to give that color blue the artistic justice it deserves.

It was a Zen moment, it was like having a spa treatment, it was like meditating, it was a spiritual meeting of the minds with Mother Nature. And then I noticed how beautiful the trees overhead looked while I was looking at them from down below. We took what I think are some awesome photos and I hope Lily will include each and everyone of them – even the ones she added special filter effects to. Because the photos with special effects only lend to how special that brief but beautiful span in time was for us. Always remember what I told you Lily dear.

But now Lily is up and starting to pace around. This is her “I’m getting restless again” mode. My goodness. The girl needs to retire. Us retirees could have lain in that warm sun until the sun dipped low enough in the sky that it started to get too cold. And so, being the always very accommodating big sister, we decided to move on. Oh, almost forgot. Not a single sighting of any eagles, nor did we spot the beginnings of any new nests. The island is huge (owned by The Nature Conservancy with no public access allowed because there are a number of very rare and endangered plants growing there). It’s possible, had we hiked around the pond, we might have spotted the eagles from the other side of the island along Mast Road. Perhaps a future hike for us.

On our way to the car, we started off on Gallops Pond Road, which is a hard-packed dirt and sand road (it’s been cold enough that even the muddy sections were frozen hard as a rock!). We decided we’d take the easy terrain home. But stupid me, as we walked along the road, I noticed that the Whippoorwill Trail was only about 20-ft. in from the edge of the road. Lilly says “Let’s hop over onto Whippoorwill and hike up around the big wetland area.” I am a sucker for exploring any wetlands. And so through the woods we trekked over onto Whippoorwill.

And we quickly came upon the wetland indicated on the trail guide. The wetland area was much larger than I had thought it would be and sections of it had one-foot or more of standing water. And once a conservation agent always a conservation agent. And I had a very willing, interested, and curious student. So I explained to Lily some of the aspects of wetlands and how wetland lines are delineated (no Steve, no soil borings or Munsell Soil Color Chart readings – I wasn’t about to add a soil auger and field guide to all the gear I was carrying – besides the ground is frozen fairly deep).

I showed Lily how to identify sweet pepperbush in the winter and how a good botanist tries not to even see it when evaluating the shrub layer when doing a delineation. There was healthy sweet pepper growing in the standing water and more growing way up the slope well into the uplands. I identified some beautiful specimens of wild high-bush blueberries growing in the water. And we checked out the mats of very thick sphagnum moss growing everywhere.

The trail led us almost around the entire wetland area. And I actually spotted several areas of mayflowers growing on the upland sides of the trail. In the 20 some years I worked as a conservation agent, I never once spotted mayflowers amongst the acres and acres of woodland I hiked checking out wetlands. So spotting them on a fun hike was a wonderful gift! We also came upon a resting bench on the side of the trail with a thermometer attached to one of the legs. It was 0 degrees Centigrade in the shaded woods where the sun had already slipped below the top of the hill. How many degrees Fahrenheit was it? Check out our photo to see. (Just call me Ms. Wizard.)

When Lily and I were little, our mom would take us for walks on the cart path beside our house that led down along the swamp and the brook and ended up in an overgrown field. On the edge of the east side of the field, under a grove of pine trees facing south southwest, there were mayflowers growing everywhere. Now the leaves of mayflowers are nothing special to look at, but the little blossoms are beautiful. And the fragrance. HEAVEN ON EARTH! We would pick just enough stems to bring home to put in some little vases to place around the house. And then when we walked from room to room, we could stop and inhale that fragrance that you never wanted to stop sniffing it is so delicious. I don’t why someone hasn’t figured out how to make mayflower perfume. I would certainly buy a bottle.

A little further on, we decided to take a few photos of some checkerberry plants that still had berries on them. When we used to go hiking in the woods with Dad, he’d let us eat checkerberries (once he knew we could positively identify them). The berries have this mint-like taste that reminds me of peppermint. And Lily and I had been joking, should we get lost in the woods and not be able to find our way out (a real possibility considering how our hike started out), we needed to remember where we’d seen checkerberries because that might be the only food we'd have to subside on until our husbands found us. The checkerberries would count in the food pyramid as fruits and vegetables, but we weren’t sure where we were going to find our protein. Maybe whatever left those tracks in the wet sand down by the edge of the pond?

And soon, almost before we knew it, we were back where we started. For the second time. Only this time we had covered a lot of territory, taken a lot of steps, climbed quite a few steep hills, climbed down quite a few steep hills (ever notice how going down a steep hill is often more difficult on the legs and feet than climbing up?). Lots of rays had shone in on our retinas. We had done some heavy breathing, so we knew we’d gotten a good aerobic workout. And we were at peace . . . with ourselves, with each other (not that we aren’t most of the time anyway), with Mother Nature, and with our SAD. How can you ask for anything more from a day outdoors? It had all been perfect.

P.S. It’s now Saturday and just a short time ago, I chatted for a few minutes with my Lily. Like me she was exhausted last night. Our legs were tired, my left heel was sore again (a still-healing injury from all the walking we did in NYC), but we both slept great last night and feel wonderful today. Our Rx for SAD (SLUG), a winter walk through the woods, seemed to do the trick and make us feel much better. When we go out hiking again to explore new trails, we hope to share some of those adventures with you. No more reserving blogs for just photo road trips.