Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Nature

Paw Paw Foraging

It all started with a church auction item – an opportunity to paw paw forage with an experienced forager. I had no idea what I would be foraging for, but it sounded like an interesting experience.

These many months later, the season for paw paw foraging had arrived. Instructions were to meet and come prepared with boots, bug spray and drinking water.

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I had, since my successful auction bid, done enough research to know that the paw paw is a fruit that grows as an understory plant in several states from the Atlantic through Ohio. As it turns out, Native Americans harvested the fruit, as did explorers following suit, craving the sweet juicy fruit in their diet. According to many sources including Kentucky State University, the paw paw is rich in nutrients.

Our foraging began in a forest section of the Susquehannock State Park. After walking down several trails and into the brush, our leader, Laura, identified the paw paw tree.

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The paw paw has large exotic-looking leaves unlike most trees in east coast forests. We spotted our first fruit overhead. 

When the paw paw is ripe enough, it can be ever so gently plucked from the branch. For fruit that is out of reach, a gentle shaking of the tree’s trunk will release the fruit that falls to the ground with a thump, or – if you are quick enough – into the bag you are holding. If you are not quick enough, you may get a surprise bop on the head (don’t ask how I know).

The taste of the paw paw was everything I had heard described. We gently peeled our first paw paws then stood enjoying the flavor of the pulp, somewhere between the sweetness of a banana and the wildness of a guava.

IMG_5522 (1).jpgThe kidney bean-sized seeds were spit out.

I also understood why the fruit is not cultivated to any great extent, as very few paw paws appear on a single tree and they are a delicate fruit, ripening in a short time window. I’m told you may find some farmer’s markets where a stand may have them available for short periods of time and at a very dear price.

Paw paws tend to grow in colonies, the largest reaching to the sky peaking out of the forest’s canopy, with less mature trees sheltering underneath and a myriad of newer growth along the forest floor.

After filling our bags and leaving a generous amount of paw paws for other foragers, we did some initial sorting and talked potential use. There are  recipes for everything from quick bread to beer.

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As for me, my paw paw cache will be frozen in small amounts to be used in smoothies along with some frozen slices of rhubarb. Those exotic summery tasting fruits will be perfect for adding nutrients and a sweet and sour taste to the post-run smoothie on chilled winter mornings.

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Do you have experience foraging in the forest? Have you used paw paws in cooking, baking – or brewing?

 

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Hiking a 40-Mile Meditation

I’ve had a draft playing around in my head for a month or two, a sharing of my experience at the Hike Across Maryland (HAM). I’ve come to think of this experience as a walking meditation. This morning, a radio program gave me the impetus to move ahead and put those thoughts to keyboard.

Krista Tippett’s “On Being” was airing,  her topic being Running As Spiritual Practice.  A number of runners (including Olympian Billy Mills) share with her how running has taken them through dark times, lifted spirits, developed discipline and in many different ways become part of each runner’s spiritual practice.

I have felt many of those sentiments through my years of running. At the HAM, the closest I felt was the necessity to be mindful of every step I took as I ran and hiked the 40-mile distance on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in a single day.

The HAM is an incredible opportunity for hikers to test their endurance and pacing. From the 5 a.m. start at the Mason-Dixon line where Pennsylvania meets Maryland to the arrival crossing the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, we were supported by volunteers and checkpoints providing refreshments and documenting our passage. While this event is not a race, we were required to reach specific locations by specific times or be asked to drop and accept transport to the finish.

Rain was heavy the previous day, making our May 6th passage on the trail muddy and slick. Temperatures at the start in the high 50’s would have been perfect if not for the cool rain. A love of nature and tests of endurance still brought out over 100 participants.

Off-and-on again sheets of rain came down as we ran a portion of an early mile. As water ran down her face, my friend said “Isn’t this great? We get to be in the woods all day.” She was serious and set a tone of optimism for me.

I realized early on that 40 miles of hiking, with running spurts where I was sure of my footing, would require concentration. I decided if I was to make it through with minimal injury, it would need to be a meditative endeavor.

I cleared my mind of any extraneous mumbo-jumbo thoughts that usually find their way into my thinking. Every step was a mindful step. That’s not to say I wasn’t aware of the rushing of the streams we crossed, the calf-deep mudholes, the occasional birdsong and the rustling of unseen critters in the woods. It’s not to say I wasn’t aware of the beautiful deep, deep green the rain was bringing out in an already lush area. And it’s also not to say that I didn’t listen to and acknowledge a number of fellow hikers talking through their love of the trail, concerns about and pride in their children, job and health challenges. Being on the trail is license to spew out to total strangers the things that really matter in life.

With any and all of that seeming to be on a separate track, my concentration was in each step of the trail, 40 miles of meditation. Even that concentration did not stop me from taking a face plant as we climbed  a rain-slick boulder. The bill of my cap and my glasses let me escape with nothing worse than a small goose egg on the forehead and a few scratches on the palms of my hands.

At our last major checkpoint, I turned over my headlamp and heavier raincoat to friends who volunteered support, exchanging that weight for a couple of quick chugs of Coke. Off then for the last few miles, still mindful in each step, my pace was quicker than the pace of my first few miles.

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Hello, West Virginia!

Although the towpath near the finish seemed unending, the stairs to the bridge a cruel trick and as we crossed to West Virginia the wild beauty of the rain-swollen Potomac breathtaking, I stayed mindful of each step on this wonderful earth.

 

There are no regrets I took up this challenge. Through this 40-mile hiking/jogging meditation, I treasured the company of good friends as well as strangers and the support of the organizers and personal hiking friends who made the day.

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Enjoy your weekend, dream of a new challenge and try taking a mindful approach. Gotta run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Muddled Report on a Muddy 1/2 Marathon

If you are feeling like you are too old to do something, I suggest you take a run in the mud, or help a younger generation make some mud pies, or get a mud facial. Any of the three can be healing.

It’s not that I wasn’t forewarned. I read the information on the Squirrelly Tail Twail Wun website. I heard numerous stories from year’s past. The trail can be icy or deep in snow. This year, the mud should not have been a surprise.

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Unusually warm weather and rain a few days before the race guaranteed a messy course. Race day temps were in the low 30’s accompanied by a brisk wind.

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We look far too clean. In hindsight, we should have done a post-race shot. 

After the traditional pre-race photo with my running group, I did a couple of warmup miles and saw what I was in for. I enjoy a fall run on the trails around Pincho Lake but winter/spring conditions are quite different.

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The course circles Pincho Lake

Although there were a few drier spots along the way, running through the mud was tough going. Attempting to stay to the edge of the trail out of the deepest muck, I found myself entangled in wild raspberry canes along the trail edge. 

Around mile 8 as we slogged along, a friend on the course made a comment about the joy of playing in the mud. That helped my state of mind and I decided to let my inner child come out and play. 

With some bloody splotches on my hand from the close call in the raspberry brambles and having landed on all fours at one point, I arrived at the finish line a dirty, happy runner.

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You know you’ve lost all sense of adulthood (or fashion) when a soft long-sleeved shirt emblazoned with a cartoon squirrel warms your heart.

You won’t find overall finisher or age group awards at the Squirrelly Tail. You will find a memorable February challenge and a beautiful course, whatever its condition.

After picking up my finisher medal and enjoying some post-race chatter, I returned to the trail to get in another three miles to fulfill my 18-miles for marathon training.  Fortunately, I remembered to stash an extra pair of shoes and warmup pants in my bag for the ride home. Trail shoes are once again clean, only the memories and some dried mud on my floor mat remain.

What are your February memories to warm you through a blustery March? Did you let your inner child play, and did it involve mud?

 

 

A Fresh New Year Start with a First Day Hike

When I saw a January 1 mid-day hike at a nearby state park posted on Meetup, i signed up. I expected to meet with six or eight other hikers usually hiking with the group.

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Instead, the parking lot was filled with families, dogs, groups of friends, all ready to begin their new year following a trail through the woods of a state park.

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DCNR Secretary Dunn and park volunteers welcome hikers.

All in all, more than one hundred of us followed volunteers from Friends of Pine Grove Furnace State Park with Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn along the leaf-covered trail.

It seems I am a latecomer to the first-day hikes. State parks across the USA have been hosting hikes on January 1 for the last six years. In Pennsylvania alone this year, hikes were occurring at different times of day and night at more than 20 locations. That included a Last Night Hike in one park where they rang in the new year on the trail. Another park hosted a night hike that focused on owls in the park.

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Recent improvements to the Mountain Creek Trail include this bridge assembled by park volunteers.

My particular hike distance was just over three miles. That distance was fine for me as I’ve been nursing a minor injury. Leaders took us down a relatively flat and newly renovated Mountain Creek Trail.Although Laurel Lake at the start was frozen over, temperature at hike time was in the high 40’s. The hot chocolate and cookies at the mid-way point were an unexpected treat provided by park volunteers.

I’m thinking this will be a great new tradition. Probably not the same state park, but wherever I happen to be on January 1, I will be looking for a First Day Hike.

Tell me about your First Day. Any hikers who found yourselves in a state park?

 

 

 

 

Congratulations Mother Earth on a Resilient 2016

In spite of everything we throw at her, Mother Earth finds a way to cope and thrive. Regardless of how disappointing we humans can be in our actions, getting outdoors never fails to regenerate hope. Here are a few examples that popped up before my eyes during 2016.

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January hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT) enthralled with the view of morning mist over the farm fields below.

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A clear February sky over the iced Susquehanna River.

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A March day along the Capital Area Greenbelt with fresh buds on cherry trees.

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April brings the strains of jazz murmuring through the trees as the ensemble waits the arrival of the Capital 10-Miler runners along this wooded stretch of Greenbelt.

In June, the Rhinebeck Marathon included some miles on a heritage trail. On a smaller scale, the baby turtles began making their treks out of hiding along Wildwood Lake.

 

A July run down a country road brings into view a fisherman knee deep in waders. The stone building abutting the bubbling creek demonstrates its own resilience having stood strong for over a couple of centuries.

In August, nature brings us a spider web glistening in the morning sun. While the web may not be resilient, its creator is.  A run brought me to an ambling creek flowing by temporarily abandoned lawn chairs.

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A September view of the River Thames. Over the thousands of years it has flowed, the course has been altered by time and by humans.

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Not as old as the Thames, this grape vine growing at Hampton Court is more than 230 years old. Alas, I arrived too late in September to purchase jelly from its abundant crop.

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October took me to the banks of the Chicago River where it flows into Lake Michigan, a lake that was formed billions of years ago. It will outlast the concrete buildings and bridges surrounding it.

 

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A November breakfast at a café in the 540 million year old Laurentian Mountains was enjoyed on the warm side of this window.

What have I found to be resilient in December? That we have made it through a trying year with one day to go may be the best description of resilient. Mother Earth is still holding her own and so should we.

If you would like to see the perspective of other writers and photographers, take a look at these ideas on the meaning of resilient.

 

 

A Walk through London Parks

Sometimes you just need to walk away. A park is just the place to temporarily escape. If you can’t physically get up and take that walk, it helps to remember a favorite trail or an unexpected quiet place. I’m taking my mental walk through some enchanting parks found in London. Come along with me.

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Let’s start with Holland Park. Entering through the gates at Kensington High Street, first notice the remains of a 17th Century castle named Holland House. It was damaged during World War II and that is still evident.

The park has multiple areas for exercise and sports, but it is serenity we’re looking for and it can be found here amongst the English gardens,

the Kyoto Garden,

and a natural children’s play area that may make you wish you were still a child.

Next, we’ll move to Postman’s Park. Located in the City near St. Paul’s Cathedral, walk through the unassuming entrance under the shade of its trees. The traffic and tourist noise diminishes. We are now in good company. The park is dedicated to memorializing ordinary people who died to save others.

Read the poignant stories of those honored on the plaques, or simply sit quietly.

Here, the clatter of those telling us of their greatness can’t compare with the brave and spontaneous deeds of those who would not otherwise be remembered. Their names will not appear on the side of a building, but here in this tiny park they are remembered.

We’ll finish with a walk across the Hampstead Heath. The Heath is there to enjoy today because forward thinking Brits of the 19th century fought to keep it common land. The Heath is made up of forests, ponds and heath, large scrubby grass areas. While it provides wonderful views of London, if our purpose is to clear the mind, then keep your eyes on the beauty of open space.  Do some people watching. The area is so vast, we have the company of others but can still feel as though we are in a wilderness of sorts.

There, now. Doesn’t our park walk improve your outlook? With patience and perspective restored by the memory of those beautiful green places, I hope your are  ready to return with me to today’s reality.

Where do you go when the world gets to be too much? I’m  open to finding new destinations to recharge.

 

 

 

 

London Running – Take 3 (or first-timer at a park run)

I registered for park runs several years ago when I first learned of them from a British blogger. For anyone unfamiliar, park runs are free timed 5K’s run entirely by volunteers. They are not about racing, but about running for everyone. Each park run provides an accurately measured course and timing to allow the runner or walker to compare results against themselves over weeks or years.

So far, we have only a couple of park runs in the USA. Although none near my home, a runner need register only once and you are set to run a park run anywhere they are held. I registered with the organization and received my initial sheet of bar codes. Since receiving the bar codes, they have been sitting in my miscellaneous running folder. I thought to pull them out to travel with me to London.

London was a great location to experience my first park run. Since there are more than 100 park runs established within the 32 boroughs of London, I had a wide selection to choose from.

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I decided on one about five underground stops from me. Convenient, and I liked the sound of the name: Putney Green. The Putney Green stop is only a few blocks from the Fulham Palace Park RunThe 5K takes place in Bishop’s Park near the Fulham Palace, home to bishops since 700 (yes, that’s right – 700).

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River Thames near Putney Green and Bishop’s Park

The course is two and a half laps around the park, so runners are running along the River Thames for a distance three separate times during the 5K. One of the runners informed me that this portion of the river is the site of the Cambridge University Boat Club and the Oxford University Boat Club  boat races, renowned in Britain.

Several hundred runners turned out for Saturday’s park run here. A friendly group, as are most runners around the world. I was putting in a medium hard effort but wanted to enjoy the run and the running company, having done a number of solo runs the previous couple of weeks.

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Runners find a queue to get their bar code scanned to ensure their time results.

With a total of 340 participants at this run, finish times were in a wide range, Several runners at the front of the pack did sub 18-minutes, with first place at 16:48. There were a number of walkers and several families running together. I fell somewhere mid-pack with a time of 27:07.

Along with the clock time, results also show each participant’s age-graded percentage, a nice plus. Within a couple of hours, participants received an email with their time and place. My email came with a nice congratulation on having run my first park run. If I do more park runs anywhere in the world, those results will be available along with my results at Fulham Palace.

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Following the event, runners were invited to join others at the Drawing Room Café in the Bishop’s Palace. The café offered a selection of coffees and teas along with wonderful pastries and artisan sandwiches. Although the interior of the cafe was lovely, so was the day. That brought most of the post-run group to outdoor tables overlooking an expansive green.

The park run morning offered an opportunity to visit a borough of London I had not yet seen. When and if the opportunity presents itself, I will return for the friendly company and historic sites that are a part of everyday life.

If you get a chance to do a park run while traveling anywhere, take the opportunity. You simply need to register with the organization prior to participating and remember to bring one of the bar codes (you will receive these in the mail after registering) with you.

I look forward to hearing about your next park run, especially if it is your first.

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