There is this thing in America which begins earlier every year and is increasing in strength and ferocity. We call it “Black Friday”. Immediately after giving thanks for everything in our lives, we either take off after the evening meal, or wake up at the crack of dawn to join thousands of other Americans to go shopping. I tried it once years ago – there was no place to park, crowds in stores were elbow-to-elbow, and to top it all off, the prices were not good! So, I decided then – never again.

Delightedly, this year I learned of a new tradition called #optoutside. Instead of heading in to a store for shopping, or sitting on your couch watching tv, thousands of Americans decided to opt outside for some time in nature.

We pulled up the google maps, located some new trails, and then headed out. Our trail selections were just about 2 miles from each other but about as different as night and day. Our first stop was at Spring Creek Bluffs. We parked in a small gravel lot, leashed up our hound dog and took off. The trail started in some scrubby woods and quickly we found ourselves in a high bank overlooking Spring Creek. Chas found a log that had fallen across the Creek creating a natural bridge and walked across it with Desi. It was mid-afternoon and the light glowed through the colorful leaves creating a scenery that looked a bit like the stained glass of European cathedrals.

We wondered if these were the Bluffs and hoped that wasn’t true. Soon enough we came to a point where the Bluffs appeared, with straight, tall Beech trees sporting yellow leaves standing like guardians on the slope.

The slope quickly climbed steeply to the peak of the Bluffs and as we reached the crest we met some folks who spoke with an English accent turning back because they thought the trail had ended. We enjoyed the view for a bit before continuing on.

Good thing we continued because the trail became even more breathtaking as we followed the ridge and meandered down to a greenway that bordered a neighborhood. We met a runner who jogged by with ragged breaths and a haggard expression on his face. Boy, I know that feeling, I thought. After a few hundred yards we turned back on to our trail to loop back to the beginning.

A short distance later we rejoined the path and walked along the ridge and down the slope before winding up on a surprisingly long boardwalk. The place must be swampy in the summer time. At the end of the path we found a beautiful placard engraved with this poem. Nice inspiration on our day opting out in nature.

After completing this trail, we drove the short distance to Hemlock Bluffs – a nature preserve that had a beautiful nature center and what turned out to be very well-developed chip bark trails.

Such a contrast to our first trail experience of the day. At Spring Creek Bluffs we saw maybe 10 people and one dog. Here groups of families, many with happy hounds tugging at the end of a leash, strolled along together enjoying the fine fall weather. Because we were still traveling the same bluff (I had assumed), I expected the scenery to be the same. As it turned out that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This park hosts a rare grove of Hemlock trees – a type of evergreen that is normally found in the mountains of western North Carolina – that thrives here because of a unique cold and swampy microclimate.

The preserve also has a large population of beech trees and what blew me away was the color of their leaves. Here the trees were wearing golden brown leaves, while on the other bluff the leaves were bright yellow. I still don’t know why this phenomenon would occur, but you can bet I’ll be doing some research on it.

We hiked all the trails at the park (about 3 miles worth), sometimes racing to stay ahead of noisy families, other times enjoying a rare human-free moment. I was impressed with the infrastructure and think it would be fun to return in the summer for a hope at a glimpse of the many salamander species that make this preserve home.

Today was sunny and warm and we headed off to San Lee for a mountain bike ride. Another gorgeous day on a challenging terrain made a bit more treacherous by the coating of colorful leaves.

I’d recommend checking out all of these parks if you have some time to explore in the area of Cary and Sanford, North Carolina. And if you didn’t do it this year, I’d encourage you to join us next year as we #optoutside!


‘Tis the season?

I’m settled back in to my home in America and find myself seeing my old world through new eyes. Something about returning to a place gives me a warm feeling when I recognize something familiar, but a bit of a jolt when something is different. If you’ve left your home for any decent stretch of time and returned, then you know the feeling.

Tonight on my drive home I saw Christmas lights draped across a large hedge. Then a bit further up the road, a full blown Christmas tree lot with an inflatable Santa bouncing around happily, beckoning to minivans loaded with small children.

On Saturday, I went for a hike with my book club crew and stopped by Walmart on the way home to pick up a few things. I noticed that the outdoor garden center was jam-packed with rows of children’s bikes neatly parked on kick stands waiting to light up little Billy’s eyes on Christmas morning. Just inside the store an entire seasonal section was loaded with wrapping paper and bows and every other imaginable Christmas item.

And if all got me to thinking…why can’t we celebrate the moment? The present moment being Thanksgiving season in America. It feels a bit intrusive to me that retailers and tree vendors and even homeowners have taken the decision to simply over-shadow a huge America holiday by thrusting the trapping of the next holiday on us.

Then I realized that the retailers would certainly not be stocking items before people are willing to purchase them, which means we are part of this equation. The guy running the tree stand is not going to start stocking perishable trees before people will buy them. And for Pete’s sake, a person wouldn’t choose to spend extra money on lights decorating their shrubs before they deem it’s the right time.

So, I’m left wondering. In the midst of our apparent crisis of not being able to live in the moment. Leading to a host of books and podcasts and seminars and retreats on mindfulness. Here’s a perfect time to try it. Can we all come together and say – no, it’s not Christmas season yet. The season upon us is Thanksgiving. Let’s fully live this season and then move on to Christmas! How about we all try it on for size? It’s a great test of our ability to implement mindfulness and savor the season, as they say on all the frozen turkey wrappers.

Otherwise, I’m thinking we might as well give up now and just go ahead and join our friends down under and celebrate Christmas in July!