Monday, March 7, 2022

Hiking a Familiar Trail Is Spending Time with a Friend

Swimming area
We have to be careful walking a trail when a late-winter thaw is upon us. Soil transforms to a sticky gumbo, and what is packed sandstone gravel in the dry season becomes a semi-gelatinous jambalaya of chert and dirt. With my hiking stick, though, and a more careful consideration of where to put my feet, hiking the two-mile path that circles Indian Lake in southeast Iowa was my most recent outdoor adventure. Paying close attention to the weather forecast, I was delighted to see that mid-week during the first week of March was predicted to have warm, clear weather with temperature highs from the forties to the sixties. Off to Indian Lake Park, near Farmington, Iowa!

Marshy section prior to meadows
Spending three nights at the lake's city-owned campground, I was looking forward to my first full day there to include a walk around the lake. It's a great walk and also an easy walk, much of it a wide sedimentary stone path that maintains a beautiful perspective of the placid lake. The trail includes three main presentations: the front area of campground, lodge, and swimming hole; the backside of the lake which includes lake view and woods; and then the lower end of the lake with marsh and meadow, where the graveled trail becomes a mowed grass pathway. The trail also includes enough change in elevation to provide variety with some steep but short hills and some low areas with running water at the right time of season.

Crossing the dam
My wife and I bought our first pair of collapsible trekking poles this last December, and this was my first chance to hike with them--or actually just one, since I didn't feel that I needed two. Having one pole would provide some extra support and steadiness if I slipped on the thawing trail, yet I wouldn't have to manage both poles and have both hands full. Since the trail was so malleable, the stick did come in handy, providing an anchor for ascents or descents when what appeared to be solid ground just slipped sideways. There were times, though when I just carried the pole, not using it for walking, and I was happy to discover that the next day while bike riding, I was able to collapse the pole about a third and then have the pole function as a dog stick if I needed to keep off some territorial canine.

Forward campground--gravel and drier
For whatever reason, I usually walk the lake in a clockwise direction, which allows me to move through the developed area first, then to enjoy the woods and lake, and finally to walk the easier path along the lower end of the lake, ending with the upper-meadow experience of several ancient white oaks that are over two hundred years old. Depending on where I'm camping, then I reach the campground area and walk to my trailer. This trip, I parked in the campground closest to the entrance because it was the driest and least muddy. Even though there is no view of the lake from the front campground, I really enjoyed keeping myself and the camper out of the mud. 

White Oak in the upper meadow
The trail around the lake is a stroll with an long-time friend. There's a lot that is familiar and comfortable--a bench and vista, the hike up a steep hill from a creek crossing, a pocket of meadow on the saddle of a hill, the drop back down to another ravine bottom with its rivulet of snow-melt. I also always sit on a bench at the end of the hike and commune for a time with the ancient, gnarled white oaks, stark and gray at this time of year, sentinels of the passing years that have witnessed so much silence and birdsong. The trail also provides something new each trek, whether it's a bluejay flashing color among the bare limbs of maple, oak, and sycamore, or whether it's the silent gaze of a doe, wary yet curious, on the hillside. During the right time of year, such as this hike, the background melody of running water splashing over stone downhill to the lake also adds to the uniqueness of the hike, always changing its pitch and timbre, and sometimes not even there, the moisture sleeping in the soil.

What a wonderful late-morning hike! I could feel the sun on my face giving me a bit of color, a welcome warmth after the drear cold of winter. I could feel I was out of shape but still fully capable of this easy hike. I was inspired to get out more, hopeful of better weather to come, and nourished by the natural world that always invites one to be a part of the unity, the web of life and existence. It's like seeing someone you know well, someone you've known your entire life, and then realizing it's your reflection on the still waters of the lake. Hello, old friend, walk with me a while. I've forgotten what good company you are, but now I remember; and that sigh I hear from you is the wind crossing the lake, stirring the juniper trees, wind as much my breath as yours, for we are one, now and forever.

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