Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Solitude among the woods and waters of Nova Scotia

Splash! 
Morning mist on Mersey River.

There it was again. We had no idea what was making the noise 30 metres from our campsite, and we were not entirely certain we wanted to find out.

"It's probably a bear hunting for frogs," I said, hunkering down deeper in my sleeping bag.

"Bears don't eat frogs!" my companion replied from deep in her own sleeping bag.

"Do too!"

"Do not! Might be a moose, though."

"This isn't moose habitat! It's probably a bear … "

As it turned out, we were both right - sort of.  Later research revealed that black bears do indeed eat frogs. However, it was not a hungry bear on the prowl for the delicacy of frogs' legs. It turned out to be a bird - probably an osprey - diving for fish in Channel Lake's waters.

Channel Lake is part of a chain of waterways in the northwest corner of Kejimkujik National Park. Located in south-central NovaScotia, "Keji" is the only national park in the Maritimes completely surrounded by land, although there is a seaside adjunct apart from the park's main body. 

This 403-square kilometre island of wilderness is home to more than 100 species of birds; mammals such as deer, porcupine, moose - and yes, bear; and a variety of tree species, including oak, maple, hemlock, spruce and pine.
Sunset on Channel Lake

One of the best ways to experience the park is by canoe, on routes north or south of the large lake that gives the park its name. We paddled north of Kejimkujik for five days - partially following the route paddled by Albert Bigelow Paine in his book, The Tent Dwellers - through Big Dam Lake, Frozen Ocean Lake and Channel Lake before paddling back onto the main lake.

Because we paddled the park in early August - peak holiday season - we were surprised that three days passed without sight of another human. 

The first people we did see were two park rangers, performing routine backcountry campsite maintenance.

That's not to say we were lonely. 
Prickly Porky on the move
Porcupines, barred owls, deer and chipmunks visited our campsites. 

Paddling down the quiet waters of Still Brook, LittleRiver and West River, we encountered herons, a painted turtle, frogs, a mother loon and her baby, and a merganser family.

The unexpected solitude was a true gift. 

On our last night on the big lake, a lone loon swam past our Moose Island campsite, wailing her trademark cry, as if to say,"Farewell!" from the wilderness, eliciting a prayer of thanks from my own mouth.

(This story was originally published in the Summer 2001 edition of Ski Canada's Outdoor Guide.)

Post script: There's much more to the park than canoeing. It's also a national historic site, as this video shows.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Music one aspect of travel easy to pack home

The Doghouse Skiffle (jug) Band performs in Borneo.
One element of travel that is almost certain to be a part of any journey is the exposure to new and different kinds of music.

If you are in a foreign country, it's pretty much guaranteed that you will hear music different what you normally hear played at home (although that is changing these days, as our societies become more integrated and increasingly multi-cultural).

However, that can often be the case with domestic travel in North America, as well. The kind of traditional, local music you'll hear in Newfoundland or Saskatchewan will be decidedly different than that of what you may hear in New Mexico or Alabama.

Sometimes, though, you may be surprised at what you hear, abroad.

While we always associate a country's or a region's music with its culture, we may not always hear what we expect - and it can be a bit jarring, at times, albeit in a good way.

For example, a few years ago, I attended the Rainforest Music Festival in Borneo, Malaysia. The festival brings together musicians from all over the world. And while there are some local musicians that play there, it is actually quite a cornucopia of musical styles.

There was a jug band from Great Britain; an acapella singing group from Africa; and a bluegrass band from Oregon.

As I was listening to the latter play, I found it a bit jarring to the senses, almost surreal...I mean, here I was in a jungle in Borneo, listening to Foggy Mountain Breakdown, watching a large number of young Asian people bopping to music from half-a-world away as if they listened to it every day. Not exactly the image I pictured in my mind when I thought about what I might see when I was planning the trip.

I had seen some very good traditional Malaysian dance performances in Kuala Lumpur, a few nights before, so when you combine that with the festival`s musical fare and the music we enjoyed at a traditional Dyak village a few days later, it was certainly a well-rounded trip, musically speaking.

video 
Some soft, quiet music at a Bangkok Hotel.

You would think because Thailand is so close to Malaysia geograpically, Thai music might be the same. While you might some similarities, you'll also find difference, again, depending on what region you're in, as it varies within the country.

Let's get energetic with some mariachi music.
Some of my favourite world music is that of the Andes Mountains of South America. There is something about that sound, something that really draws me into a place of joy whenever I hear it.

I can never get enough of it, and anytime I arrived at an airport in Peru, there seemed to be a Peruvian band with guitar, pan pipes, drums and all the other instruments used to produce the unique Andean song.

Another form of music that is always fun is that of Mexican music.

Whether it comes from a 12-piece mariachi band in a posh Mexican hotel or a simple duo singing from café to café on the beach, it's almost always recognizable and definitely full of energy.

Part of that energy comes from the music itself; but part of it also comes from the fact that it really and encourages participation by the audience.

video 
Shades of Remington Steele, Season 2, Episodes 1-2

Without a doubt though, the music that haunts me most, the sound that has the most mystical appeal for me is that of the Middle East. I have never been to the Middle East, and given some of the safety issues involved in traveling there, I may never visit there - although I sincerely hope that is not the case.

Of course, you don't need to travel there to experience some of their music and the dance that goes along with it. Any number of Middle Eastern restaurants in most major North American cities often present belly dancers for their patrons on weekends, restaurants like Vancouver's Afghan Horseman, Toronto's Anatolia or Calgary's Casbah Restaurant. Still, that's not the same as experiencing it in-country, since a memory of music from another country will often stir more emotions than a memory of music in a restaurant in your hometown.

That's because one of the wonderful things about music you hear when you travel is the fact that when you get back home and hear music from that culture or country again, it transports you right back to that place, it's like you're reliving your trip all over again.

You may end up buying a few CD's of the local music to take home. But whether you take those with you or just return with the memories, it makes for some pretty light extras to the baggage. And these days, with all the extra fees added to carry-ons and checked bags, that's a welcome addition to any traveller's take-homes.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Fantasy and reality sometimes blend together in much of today's travel

Ready to quaff like Tyrion Lannister
The past few years, there's been a new sort of travel niche forming.

While "literary travel" has been around for quite some time - the practice of visiting real world places where literary events and stories have occurred - the 21st century has seen the rise of what, for lack of a better word, could be called "fantasy travel."

In past years, there were plenty of tours one could take to visit all the places in London where, for example, Sherlock Holmes used to practise the art and science of detection.

You can take a pre-scheduled, all-arranged tour, or just buy a book and use it as a guide, as there are several books that will offer readers a chance to follow in Holmes' footsteps.
This book helps you create your own Holmes tour.

On a wider scale, you can take similar tours with a King Arthur/Camelot theme. You can set them up with a tour company or even design your own, with stops at places like Glastonbury Tor, Tintagel, or Stonehenge, to name but a few.

I myself have done a "literary tour" of sorts, although it does not follow a fictional storyline, per se. A few years ago, I did my own "Papa Hemingway" tour around South Florida and the Keys, with stops that included The Everglades City Rod and Gun Club, Hemingway House, and Ernest's Cafe (now shut down, I understand) to name but a few. Even did a bit of deep-sea fishing.

I was following in the footsteps of the real-life author, though, not one of his books.

While there are many tours designed around visiting the haunts of historical or fictional figures, and plenty of books written to help guide would-be travellers around from place to place, ever since the start of the 21st century it seems people are interested in visiting not only real world places in imaginary stories, they want to go to the real-world locations of fictional places.

It all started with the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.

Once that first movie came out, tourism and travel interest in New Zealand exploded, with hordes of would-be elves, hobbits, and other fans of the movie descending upon that country located in the southern reaches of the planet to see the places where their beloved movies had actually been shot.

Lots of quaffing going on in these tours
It goes beyond just being in the locations; there are actually numerous tours set up for travellers to take, tours where they can even visit the old movies sets, even walk through Hobbiton.

Now that's taken an even bigger step forward since Game of Thrones hit the airwaves on HBO.

That series, now in it's sixth season, has spawned an incredible array of tours and activities all built around the fictional kingdom of Westeros. They are far too numerous to list them here; but there are bus tours and beer tours and trips to Ireland and Iceland, Croatia and Dubrovnik. The possibilities are as endless as Tyrion Lannister's taste for wine and wenches.

The closest I've ever come to experiencing anything like that was the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. But it's just a one-night activity, and if you're in a place like Toronto, it's right there.

On a bit different scale, there are all kinds of James Bond experiences to be had, as well. You can learn to drive like Bond, drink like Bond, there's even a seven-day world tour ultimate James Bond experience. Given the nature of the films, and their penchant for settings all over the world, this too is ripe with possibilities.

There's even a kayak tour in London where you can paddle into Q's secret workshop, for those who like a bit of outdoor adventure thrown into the mix. That's the kind of tour I'd be prone to enjoy. Go for a paddle, then quaff a few Vesper martinis.

video 
Not your Johnny Depp type of pirates
 
Of course, on a lighter level, there are experiences ("rides") based on The Pirates of the Caribbean series.

Seen any pirates around, pal?
I've even been on a "pirate" experience myself, down in Mexico, during a trip to Puerto Vallarta.

(And yes,  I did meet a parrot in Mexico, while waiting at the dock - but it was not part of the pirate ship experience.) 

 That experience was not really related to the movie series at all, but probably benefited from it.

You don't need to go to Disney, though; you can create your own pirate experience in a number of ways and places.

With all these tours, all these options, this all this makes me wonder, is life imitating art...imitating fiction?

Or is fiction imitating life?

I think I'll stop now. I think I hear a Batman-tour calling my name...

Monday, May 23, 2016

Flexibility: just as important in travel as it is in yoga

I got this raven photo only because I was flexible in my plans.
About a month ago, I attended a day-long symposium held by the B.C. Association of Travel Writers.

I go to a great many symposiums and workshops that contain elements of professional development included in their schedules.

These workshops can vary quite a bit in terms of content, from topics like pitching editors, photography, business planning... I've even been to one that included a session on fitness for writers, both on the road and while at home.

And in reference to this post's title, yes, yoga can be a great boon for travel writers - or for that matter, travellers of any ilk.

But the physical malleability required for something like yoga is only one aspect of flexibility.

Emotional-mental flexibility is a quality often overlooked, but vital to develop if you spend any time travelling, especially out of the country, or for that matter, any great distance even within your country, particularly countries as large as Canada or the U.S.

It's overlooked, which is probably why I've never seen a workshop session about the importance of keeping an open mind and not being fazed by unexpected circumstances or detours while travelling.

I was recently reminded of the importance of being flexible with respect to a day-trip I had planned.

My "partner-in-crime," the indefatigable Divine Ms. K. and I planned to go to the Sea-to-Sky Gondola at Squamish, B.C. We'd bought tickets back in December, but hadn't had an opportunity to use them. They expired in April, and we planned to go on/around the 16th of that month. However, the morning of the 13th, she realized she had to make plans to fly out of town for business the very next day.

Rather than wring our hands and bemoan the fact we'd lose the tickets, we just spent an hour or two re-arranging our day and by noon we were off on our local outdoor adventure.

To stay flexible on the fly, try this tome.
We had a great time, too.

Now while it may seem not that big a deal, when you run several businesses as a self-employed couple, it's not always easy to change plans on a moment's notice. But we did it, partially because we've developed the ability to go with the flow and be flexible.

That same attitude can help on more distant, more lengthy journeys, as well. I've had to do it twice in South America, a couple of times in Africa, and on many trips in Canada.

While it may seem like a waste of time to try to teach "travel flexibility" in a workshop setting, as so many take something like that for granted, there are books and other resources that address general flexibility that teach techniques which can be applied to travel.

You can find them by doing an online search. A quick glance on Google showed me "Learn to Roll with the Punches and Dodge Life's Wrenches." There are plenty of books out there devoted to the subject, including one by the Dummies series.

So, there's really no excuse. Being flexible mentally will not only help you be a better traveller, you'll probably handle life a whole lot better, too.

Just keep in mind the words of from "Cowboy in the Jungle," a Jimmy Buffet tune.

"We've gotta roll with the punches,
Learn to play all of our hunches,
Make the best of whatever comes our way..."

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

More proof that Vancouver really is for the birds

I spent much of my weekend this past week involved in birding activities.
I spotted this spotted towhee during my "big day" count.

Yeah, I know. That's not really anything new. I spend a lot of my free time birding, or taking adventures that involve some element of seeing or watching wild birds (when I'm not paddling...and the two often intertwine).

However... this time, my activity included my own personal involvement in one of the many events taking place as part of the 2016 Vancouver Bird Week.

This event has been taking place for four years now, and offers activities for all who are interested in birds, whether it's a casual interest, an avid passion, or anywhere in between.

The event has a theme and an official "city bird." This year, the peregrine falcon was the official bird of Vancouver Bird Week. The theme was "Birds in Our Garden."

I first heard of this annual celebration last year, just after it had wrapped up, via social media. This year, I was a bit more prepared, but still was not able to take part in as many activities as I would liked to have done.

The events ran from May 7 to 14, and included bird photography classes (outdoors, of course), guided bird walks in many of the Vancouver city parks and some regional parks in the Metro Vancouver area, birding for beginners workshops, a movie, a book launch, a special birding tour of Howe Sound, and a "big day" of birding, on May 14, which just happened to be International Migratory Bird Day. To take part in this,  participants went out and about, in and around Vancouver and tallied all the different bird species they saw.

video
 Mallard ducklings on Avalon Pond in Everett Crowley Park, Vancouver.

These tallies were then presented in the Vancouver Public Library's central branch Alice MacKay Room, at the Bird Week Finale ... which also marked the launch of a new book - or rather, a revised edition of The Birder's Guide to Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, produced by Nature Vancouver.

Following some speeches and presentations, there were several draws for prizes that included books, bird-friendly coffee, wine, cloth tote bags, and a spotting scope donated very generously by Bird Studies Canada.


Some nice draw prizes were handed out at the finale.
But wait - there's more...

This isn't news, but more of a reminder.

Rob Butler - the man who led the sea safari in Howe Sound - talked about how Vancouver will host the 2018 International Ornithological Congress.

This is a huge "feather in the cap" (pun intended!) not only for the birders here but for the entire city. Vancouver outbid everyone else for this event, which only takes place once every two years. Tokyo was the host this year.

The next one will take place in the summer of 2018.

Before that, though, there will be Vancouver Bird Week, 2017 to look forward to.

Next year, I plan to be much more involved. Because I really do believe Vancouver is for the birds. And that's a good thing.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Everyone has a bucket list - but how 'bout an "unbucket" list?

You don't have to be careful of cattle in Malawi - just ants.
These days, everyone seems to have a travel bucket list of places they want to go/experiences they want to enjoy.

But not every experience you have while travelling is an enjoyable one. In fact, if you travel enough, you're probably going to be able to easily put together an...

UNBUCKET LIST

These are my top 12 "do not repeat if possible" travel mishaps. Maybe you've experienced some of them - or maybe some of yours are even worse.

Anyway, without further ado, in no particular order are my "Infamous Top 10."

1. ANTS, PART 1. Sleeping with ants in a schoolyard in Malawi, Africa. This was during a 40-day overland trip through Africa, where we bush-camped most of the way. We'd crossed the border from Tanzania into Malawi, but weren't going to make it to the campground at Lake Malawi by nightfall so we got permission to pitch our tents in the schoolyard of a small town. Bad move. There were ants were so tiny, they could slip into the tent no matter how tightly the zipper was closed. They didn't bite - but crawled all over, inside our ears, and you could hear them communicating, a constant tinny humming noise enough to drive anyone mad. It was like a horror movie where a villain tortures you using ants. The school doors were unlocked, so many of us in the group moved inside to sleep in a classroom, it was that bad.

2. ANTS, PART 2. Pitching a tent right next to an army ant nest without being aware of it. This was funny - but only because it wasn't me standing in the next. We'd pitched our tent in a compound near the border of Tanzania and Malawi and my ever-present travelling companion, the Divine Ms. K discovered we had to move the tent - and was attempting to do so. However, they were crawling up inside her long pants and biting her - and they sting like hell! - so there she is in broad daylight shucking her pants and swatting ants with the help of one of the other women on the trip. A few locals walking by the compound found it quite hilarious to see this white woman doing the "fire-ant two-step." (Good thing she was wearing underwear...)

The Andes are gorgeous - but beware of altitude sickness.
 3. PERUVIAN MOUNTAIN HIGH. Not advisable to get THIS kind of "high" - altitude sickness in the Andes at the start of a four-day horseback ride through the mountains from lodge-to-lodge. Headaches, diarrhea, a few other symptoms, all unpleasant. Not unusual for many at high altitude/thin air, but not to be trifled with. I actually had to be taken back down to Ollantaytambo, a small village, to recover for a few days. And drink tea made from coca leaves (yeah, the same plant that cocaine comes from). Tasted yucky. I eventually caught up with the trip at the fourth lodge. Mountain Lodges of Peru did a great job looking after me, though.

4. DRINKING FROM THE ZAMBEZI. Back to Africa again. If you go whitewater rafting on the Zambezi and fall out (not unusual in 25 km and 20 rapids), be sure to keep your mouth closed. DO NOT swallow any water if you can help it. I did - and about 36 hours later, I was sicker than I'd ever been in my life, it was coming out both ends for a few days, then I had to recover from dehydration. Missed a scheduled canoe trip along a calmer portion of the river. Guess I'll just have to go back to Africa some day...

5. DID YOU GET THE FOOTWEAR MEMO? If you're told to wear sturdy footwear for a three to four hour hike along a coastal path in Wales, wear it. I did - but someone else in our group did not. One couple had proper hiking boots, apparently - but didn't want to get them wet. Doh! Why bring them, then? Instead, their feet got wet and beat up, wearing what were essentially loafers up and down a trail full of switchbacks and small footbridges with plenty of muddy patches. Then they whined about it. Double doh!

6. DON'T GO IN THE OCEAN WITHOUT A WETSUIT. If you're going to practise wet entries into a kayak - or even if you're just horsing around - in the Pacific Ocean, even close to shore off the coast of Alaska wear the wetsuit. I didn't, I got hypothermia and had to cancel the week-long kayak trip slated to start the next day. On the positive side, I got to see my first wild grizzly bear and several black bears up close. As well, and probably more importantly, some odd readings at the Wrangell hospital prompted me to get some tests done in Vancouver and I found out I had a bicuspid valve disorder in my aortic valve. I was born with it and didn't know. It meant that eight years later I was prepared for the open-heart surgery I had to undergo to fix it.

7. IF THE FISH SAMOSAS TASTE "FISHY" THROW IT BACK. I didn't eat the bad samosas at a market in Lilongwe - but someone very close to me did. And got as sick as I did from drinking Zambezi River water. Not fun. Especially when you're bush-camping and using "long-drops" for bathroom facilities. (At least when I was sick in the campground in Victoria Falls, I had access to real toilets.) I ate some samosas from the same market - but not fish. I was fine.


8. STAY OFF THE WHEEL! If you have bad knees like I do, try to avoid getting stuck on top of the wheel seat when you have to trade in a flight in a plane for a three-hour van ride down dusty, bumpy dirt roads in Ecuador. Not fun, pure agony, I didn't think I'd ever feel good again. It took a few hours for the aches in my knees to go away after unloading. Next time I'll get aggressive and grab any seat away from the wheel. If I ever have to ride a bus in Ecuador again, that is.
Heath River is a great place to see parrots - but it's not Manu.

9. HAVING A TOUR COMPANY PULL THE PLUG MID-TRIP. This happened in Peru. I spent a week in the Andes, horseback riding and visiting Machu Picchu, and I was supposed to spend the second week at Manu National Park and visit one of the world's best parrot licks. However, when I got back to the hotel in Cuzco, G Adventures, the company I'd made a down-payment to told me I was unable to get there due to complications with the airline that they'd contracted to fly us in there. Or some such rot. Now I'd arranged to pay 50 per cent of the trip cost and work the other 50 per cent off via a contra deal (I was giving travel writing and photography workshops at their Vancouver store for $150 a class at the time), but I suspect the person who approved that had since been told they'd goofed, and that the deal had been nixed at the head office. (I found this out after.) At the time, it left me stuck either getting a refund for the trip and hanging around a hotel in the Andes for a week or taking a less expensive, less promising but similar trip to Heath River. I chose the latter, expecting a partial refund on my return but when I got back I was told I had no money coming back. My 50 per cent deposit for one trip had become full payment for a lesser trip. Given all the circumstances, and the way my contact was acting (and she left the company shortly after that), it sounded fishy to me. I've never been a big fan of that company ever since.

10. LEAVING YOUR CAMERA AT HOME (DOH!) I once took a great four-day canoe trip on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, in Alberta, which is home to Spirit Island - one of the most photographed spots in Canada. I can't remember if I realized that was part of the trip, or not, but I chose NOT to take a camera because at the time I was working as sports editor for the Alaska Highway News in Fort St. John, B.C. and I wanted a complete getaway from anything resembling work. That meant I wouldn't be taking any photos, since I did that pretty much seven days a week at my job. It also meant I had no photos of one of the most special places in Canada. And a few years later when I started freelance writing, I really wished I'd taken some photos of the trip. Maybe someday I'll return via a cruise on a tour - but it won't be same as doing it by canoe. And I certainly won't get any of the unique shots I could get from sitting in a canoe, paddling around the island.





Ready for a lake cruise?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A reminder of how soul-restoring a simple walk can be

Avalon Pond, Everett Crowley Park.
So I'm sitting at home, looking out the window at the birds flitting about at the numerous feeders in 
our yard, with two of our three parrots sitting on me...at the same time, I'm scrolling through the Facebook newsfeed on my iPhone.

I come upon a post in a group I belong to, "The Best Reasons for You to Walk in a Park," by Erin Acton. Now it turns out Wednesday was "National Take a Walk in a Park Day" (yes, there is such a day, I looked it up, there are plenty of websites dedicated to the topic.) I start reading the blog post, watching her video, and it start to resonate with me.

I'd been having a bad week, no, make that a bad week-and-a-half up to that point, one of those weeks where nothing seems to work or go one's way. It was starting to get depressing. But Erin's well-sourced suggestions about how a walk in nature, getting out in nature, can really help alleviate stress, struck a chord in me.

Not that I didn't know that already, but it's like I needed a nudge, a reminder, that taking a few hours out of the day to go for a walk, aside from the physical health benefits, offers larger benefits for the soul.


It's like I forgot what Henry David Thoreau wrote in his treatise, "Walking" on the matter:

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day, at least... sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements."
Thoreau and Emerson had it right.
Again, it's not like I was re-inventing the wheel; I just had to decided enough was enough, I needed to get out and get some fresh air, a bit of exercise (which I'd been neglecting the past several days for a variety of reasons), and commune with nature, albeit in an urban setting.

So I packed up my camera and tripod, and headed off to Everett Crowley Park, a 40-hectare park barely a five-minute drive from where I live, less than 500 metres from busy SE Marine Drive in Vancouver. I've been there before, but hadn't visited since 2008.

It has changed a little; there is an additional trail that has been cut, parallel to an existing one. One of the things I do remember is a lookout along the Vista Trail, which provides a view of the Fraser River, less than a kilometre to the south. When I was last there eight or nine years ago, that portion of the river was all trees and other greenery; it's now all buildings and development along the shoreline. A bit sad, since I don't necessarily agree that's "progress." So far, the walk wasn't really lifting my spirits as I'd hoped it might.

But, I persisted on and a few minutes later down the trail, the magic of nature started to re-emerge.

I heard a woodpecker hammering away on a tree nearby. I located it, high overhead. Then I heard a chirping in the brush near the trail, the unmistakable sound of a hummingbird. Never managed to spot it, though.

Then still higher overhead, a hawk glided by, returning in the opposite direction a few minutes later.

Further along the trail, off to the left about 30 metres away sat a hawk on a tree branch. Of course, the bird flew away before I could get set up to shoot some photos, but it was still magical.

Eventually, I made my way over to Avalon Pond at the northeast corner of the park. There were always ducks there - usually mallards - and I'd even seen a heron there, once, high up in a tree.

The mallards were there...and so were a pair of mated buffleheads.

A male bufflehead patrols the pond.

Buffleheads are really cool diving ducks. Smaller than mallards and very unique looking. Plus, it's just a cool word to say - "bufflehead."

 Try it. Say it out loud a few times. It almost sounds like the kind of insulting name Bugs Bunny would call Daffy Duck in the old Loony Tunes cartoons.

But it's not - it's the common name for Bucephala albeola. A friend of mine calls them "saddle shoe ducks," which gives you an idea of what they look like, if you didn't already know.

Anyway, I tried shooting some photos and video from a trail that ran alongside the pond, then found a spot at one end where I could sit down a log, set up my tripod in an easy-access position and took the better part of an hour watching them swim and dive back and forth among the mallards. I even got a few good shots.

video
The mallards always seem friendly at Avalon.

Letting go, breathing - really breathing - I could feel a sense of peace and perspective start to take root in my being. I noticed some of the songbirds flitting about in the bushes around me. I spotted several hummingbirds and out of the corner of my eye a larger bird dodging about in the hardwoods 50 yards away (maybe a pileated woodpecker?)

That two hours I spent did wonders for me - other responsibilities kept me from a four-hour sojourn as Dr. Thoreau prescribed - got me back on the rail properly, which I was in danger of falling off (and with the fall, could a potential train-wreck be far off?)

Walking back to my car, doing some shopping for groceries, talking with people I met - it all just seemed better, following my walk.

While I enjoy watching the visitors to the birdfeeders in our yard immensely, sometimes a walk rewards one with different kinds of benefits. I resolved not to let it get to this point again, to take time to re-connect with nature via a walk in the woods, not just from my living room window.

And next time, I don't think I'll wait another eight years to go back to that little park that can offer such a balm for my soul.

Trail map for Everett Crowley Park.