Saturday, May 28, 2011

Slow Down

Written by Adam

It is funny how one's perception is skewed when driving in a car. Fifty-five doesn't seem fast when you are enclosed in the quiet safety of a vehicle hurtling over smooth pavement. You are focused on getting to the next place or task and taking little notice of the scenery as it becomes an afterthought in your rear view mirror. After all, you have little time to stop and smell the roses, in spite of your impressive rate of speed.

But on Unplugged Sunday you can  shed the three thousand pound time capsule, slow down from eighty feet-per-second to walking speed, and discover something great that was there all the time. Staying local, we explored an area that I have driven by (without exaggeration) hundreds of times and dismissed as irrelevant.

Choosing another portion of Joshua's Trust, this week's venture had three main trails looping through a vast wetland area. Our trail followed a stream to an impressive beaver swamp, then curved into the forest and rejoined the stream on the return route. Wetlands usually contain diverse and abundant wildlife, especially large avians. There is something about great birds that fills me with possibility.

The stream was running clear and strong. Massive slab foundations along the banks are evidence of the mills once situated on the small stream. Using dams and flow controls, workers would fill an upstream pond with water from the local lake, then use the water to steadily power the mill for the day. Clever, and environmentally friendly from an energy standpoint (versus coal, wood or oil), but devastating to fish populations that relied on easy passage for spawning.

Following the stream led us to the massive beaver pond. It was not the Everglades, but still quite something to behold. Because of its acreage, we were able to watch a blue heron, red tailed hawk, snowy egret, and various other birds and animals conduct their daily business without disturbance. We also saw, and heard, traffic at the far end of the pond. I realized it was the same route I traveled when racing through my day. Motorists passed by with no idea that we were there, oblivious to the enormous life-cycle within a few yards of them.

One creature managed to elude my sight - frogs, whose only trace was a chirping grunt before disappearing beneath the water's surface. Despite my best efforts, I could not get close enough to see exactly what they were. I am pretty good at sneaking up on things, so this surprised me. I decided the alert came from my steps vibrating through the soft banks. Easy prey creatures can sense that sort of thing.

When we left the background hum of the stream and hiked deeper into the woods, my "vibrations" became full blown tremors. My boots clomped and stomped the ground, my pack and gear flapped, creaked and clicked, and even my pants were noisy. I wasn't a stealthy stalker blending into the forest, I was a bull running down the cobbled streets of Pamplona! 

The solution? Nix my shoes and socks and walk barefoot in the woods for the only time that I can remember. My family, sensing my quest for silence, headed on down the trail to give me space.

Predominantly hardwood trees provided a leafy cover on the trails and forest floor, and also plenty of acorns. Runoff  from days of steady rain swept many paths clear, leaving damp hard-pack and cold pools in rutted depressions. Other than the sharp acorn caps, my tender feet enjoyed the saturated earth, rough bark on fallen trees, mossy rocks, and icy water. 

Moving at nearly one step every ten seconds, I became very quiet and aware of my surroundings. The birds seemed to appear out of nowhere, and the breeze now gently brushed my cheek. I cringe thinking just how much I missed before.

So the next time I drive by this area, I will smile and selfishly  ignore the blurred oasis outside my man-made steel cage. Because if I stop to take it all in, someone else might do the same, and it may only be there because everyone has been speeding by too fast to notice how wonderful it is.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tasty Rice and Beans (packed for the trail)

Written by Heather

When packing food for a day on the trail, vegan options are good idea to consider. It seems there is less need to worry about temperature control when meat, dairy and eggs are not on the menu. Enter the beautifully simple, rice and beans. This dish was made extra special with the addition of the last remaining shallot from last year's CSA. Thankfully, the farm will be opening again in two short weeks.

It may not seem like the most sensible idea to put trail food in glass, and often we don't. But on this day, I did. My husband tends to carry a heavier than needed day-pack (more power to him), he sees it as conditioning for times when a heavier pack is indeed needed. We made sure the glass was nicely cushioned and safe.


Would you like to make some? 

Tasty Rice and Beans
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 medium onion, diced fine (I used shallots on this day)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup long-grain brown rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1 3/4 - 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (or tomato sauce)
  • 3 cups cooked pinto beans 
Heat coconut oil in a medium sized pot. Add cumin and chili and saute for a few seconds (not too long!). Add onion, salt and pepper and cook until onion is soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add rice and stir well to coat. Next,add the water and tomato paste, bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat until all of the water is absorbed (40-50 minutes). Once cooked, add cooked pinto beans and stir gently to combine, with a fork.

Serving Ideas:

Top with salsa, shredded cheese, and sour cream. Would be great rolled up in a wrap or as taco filling too!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Swatting the litterbug.

Written by Adam
On May 8th, we visited a state park with plenty of potential for a great hiking experience. This was our second go at this park, where a previous trip included fireworks and blasting music from a nearby picnic. Hopefully this trip would be more... sedate.

Located along the banks of a vigorous river, the park boasts easy fishing access and day camp sites. Popular with the locals, the park offers well maintained trails and lovely forest settings. Spartan facilities include rather dubious outhouses (not port-a-lets, actual outhouses) and grill grates for barbequing. 

Venture out of the main park area onto the trails and you are greeted with a beautiful arboreal setting. Recent bridge additions allow easy crossing of the mossy streams that flow down the hillside into the main river. As the trail follows the river, access points allow rock-hopping to midstream without wet feet. The sun broke through a few times to illuminate the river in areas with a pleasing effect. 

Overall the air temperature was comfortable for hiking, and the mosquitoes had yet to arrive in significant numbers. The trail was well marked, relatively flat and enjoyable - an easy hike for all ages. 

All seemed well with the world.


Then we started to come across garbage. Everywhere. 

It feels like there is a litter epidemic. I harken back to the old public service announcement of the Native American with the tear running down his cheek

Littering isn't my thing, and I have trouble finding compassion for anyone who does. It really is inexcusable and without defense. On this particular day, we hauled out other people's beer cans, the remains of a car battery, broken glass and fishing line (fishing line is devastating to wildlife).

Next, we encountered someone who let his dogs run free. 

The Department of Environmental Protection  requires that owners keep their dogs leashed in state parks, but Skippy (the human, not the pup) decided this did not apply to him. Instead of controlling his animals, we had to keep them away from our dog with force. So much could have gone wrong here - dog fight, dog bites, quarantine, hospitalization, lawsuits - the list goes on. 

Maybe he was picking up trash, too, and could not hold the leash and the garbage bag at the same time.

In the end, the hiking was a pleasant surprise, despite the  evidence of careless human activity and overuse. It is a state park with plenty of natural beauty, but extremely over used. We'll do our part (and let nature rest) by not returning to this spot in the future.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Getting Crafty Before the Hike

Written by Heather

I think the finest thing about unplugging has to be the absence of time. It'll take a while for all of us to disengage completely, but these first glimpses we are experiencing have been pure bliss.

Last Sunday, we woke early and naturally... showered and headed to the flea market. A few goodies were found, including some pretty as can be vintage fabric for my collection. I haven't sewn in awhile, and the new fabric inspired crafty talk when we returned home.


Adam has been wanting a case to house his fly rod while hiking for quite some time now. Something simple and lightweight to slip into his pack, with two or three sections - his rod comes apart into shorter pieces. With no agenda in sight (other than one of leisure), it was a perfect morning to finally pick up a piece of linen and get stitching - with a little sewing from each of us.



He is very pleased. Of course (as is true with any prototype - ahem), there may be one or two more attempts before he calls it perfect. But is certainly does the job in he meantime, and it is nice to have finally started (and completed!) a project he's been wanting to make for ages but "couldn't find the time." On this day, we had nothing but time.










The hike was glorious, and the fishing was good too!