Last Night

Above my head a rumpled, gray blanket of clouds.

Beneath my feet the crunch of gravel.

Bats flutter in the gaps between the trees, held aloft by papery-thin wings.

Dragonflies buzz by, dipping and diving around the bats.

The air is filled with the buzz of katydids hiding in the woods.

Lightning bugs flicker in the undergrowth, their heavy abdomens bob and weave between illuminations.

This is summer in the Carolinas.


The Next Chapter

The Next Chapter

Some of you may have noticed I was silent online for a month or maybe two, or three. It was because I was preparing for a new chapter. One which is now underway. I’ll tell you about it in a moment, but first please allow me to reflect a bit.

Sometime in the last 6 months I found some writing that truly spoke to me. It was about the fact that each of us has a chance to write our own story. I believe many people don’t understand or acknowledge that they have the rights to their own story. Too many of us unknowingly outsource our story to fate, or victim-hood, or what everyone else expects us to do. But a few of us, fortunately, realize that we have the rights to author our own story.

Which got me to thinking about my story. For a few years now, I haven’t been totally happy with how it was going… I had some amazing adventures, sandwiched between deep chasms of sadness, as I’d embarked upon a chapter that took me far away from my family and home. Luckily for me, my home was still there for me and I also built up a powerful support network both inside of me and surrounding myself with living angels from all corners of the globe.

Alas, there came a time when I awoke to the reality that I still had the rights to write my own story and I began to ponder how I wanted that story to go. As often happens in life, it was easier to reflect on my experience and know what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to keep pulling up anchor and moving away from the people I love. I didn’t want to be constantly on an airplane and sleeping in yet another hotel room. I didn’t want to feel like I was disconnected from the people in my local community.

What I did want was to feel like I was part of something that matters, locally, in my own community. I wanted to sleep in my own bed, with my husband and our dog between us and the cat waking me up at 4:30 am right before my alarm. Fortunately, I found a career opportunity that allows me to put down roots right here in North Carolina and I am loving every minute of this new chapter which began last month.

I share this story with you because if you’ve been following this blog you’ve probably noticed my writing had fallen off pace. I can predict it might be that way for a while as I’ve now entered this new chapter and I’m focusing on living in the moment and processing a bit less. I’m currently engrossed in actively writing this new chapter with every passing moment of my life.

I will still occasionally wander to fascinating places that are blog-worthy but I’ll happily pass many more moments that may seem a bit more mundane – weeding in my garden, taking off on a bike ride or following my cat as he lazily strolls across the yard to visit the chickens. As a result, my activity on the blog will probably continue to be less frequent than in the past.

Now I want to share with you a wish I have for you. My only wish is that you also realize that every single day you also are writing your own story, if you know it or not. Every moment gives you a chance to keep the plot line going as it is or add in a variation or change directions completely. The choice is yours. You are the author of your life and I hope you write a beautiful story. Never forget that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I hope that you don’t let someone else’s definition of a beautiful life suddenly become yours and squash the unique story you have to bring to the world. Because the world needs your light, so, please, shine it with abandon and surround yourself with people who reflect your light into the world.

Hangin’ Round

Hangin’ Round

As we neared the fire tower, I wondered if I could manage to hike one more giant step. I’d already eased myself up about a 1,000 in the relatively steep 1.2 mile ascent to the peak that, as the young energetic ranger had told me was “50 feet higher than Pilot Mountain”. How was it that I found myself struggling to make it those last 100 steps to a peak I didn’t even know existed before I entered the park visitor center. I attribute this to pride. Pride and a nasty habit of trying to finish as many trails as possible at a park.

We originally struck out to Hanging Rock State Park this morning to see the “Hanging Rock”. My husband had observed that I was hankering for adventure and Hanging Rock was both on our North Carolina bucket list and an easy 2 hour drive from home.

On our way to the park we passed Walnut Cove which has a lovely water tower and Dansbury – the streets bordered by lovely old brick buildings and a quaint white church.

Immediately outside of Dansbury we saw the sign for hanging rock and turned on to the park road. Our first stop was a reconnaissance mission to gather a trail map and route advice from the park ranger. I walked up to the counter, rested my hiking poles in front of me and asked for trail advice. The ranger took one look at me and said (I’m not kidding she really said this) “it looks like you’ve a serious hiker – our highest trail is Moore’s Loop – the one with the fire tower – that’s where you need to go. It’s 50 feet higher than pilot mountain.” A pleasant smile plastered on her face. I think I crushed a small bit of her soul by asking about touristy destinations like Hanging Rock – geez, it is the namesake of the park, after all – and waterfalls. I had disappointedly revealed that I was yet another bucket-lister. My hiker credibility a bit diminished in her eyes, she told me that yes, I could also see these things a short distance from the parking lot. Politely dismissed, I gathered my hiking poles and map decorated with yellow highlighter and wandered outside to find my companions for this adventure – my husband and our boxer, Desi.

Both now confused about how we should spend our time at the park, we took off on the Hanging Rock trail. Logic being that we certainly wanted to see the famous rock and other destinations may or may not happen. I was a bit disappointed to find the trail a wide and domesticated creature. In the beginning it was even paved in asphalt. And then the people – there were a lot of them. Pleasant enough and often with a friendly dog tugging at the end of the leash. But so many people, I can’t imagine what it’s like on a pleasant summer day.

We persisted, stepping a bit delicately in the recently melted snow and ice. Soon we came into a stand of hardwood trees and some vistas which afforded lovely views of the scenery below.

And after about 3/4 of a mile, we reached the beginning of the hanging rock formation. A nice lady snapped a photo of us under the rock.

A few hundred steps later, we walked out into Hanging Rock and took in the views. The air was still. The sky was blue. Most of the other hikers were polite and friendly. We paused for a snack and to enjoy the moment. I marveled at how my fear of heights is gone now. Thanks to the striding edge of Helvellyn!

On the way down we paused to do a bit Hanging Around ourselves. I simply couldn’t resist! Besides I have a goal to do 5 clean pull-ups this year so it was good training.

Now we reached a crucial decision point – would we take a leisurely turn, or satisfy the ambitions of the park ranger and tackle the fire tower peak? If you know me, you know what happened…

We looped around Wolf Rock and paused at the outcrop for lunch – Subway sandwiches we’d picked up on the way.

This section of trail was pleasantly narrow and we passed only a few people. One being a barefoot young lady with lilac-colored hair. We chatted with her about the surprisingly warm soil temp. A few moments down the path I reminisced about a friend who picked up a parasite through her feet once and happily kept my German-designed yak hiking boots strapped to my feet.

The path dipped down to a lake before we began the stairs of the giants climb to balancing rock and the fire tower. A gal with a Colorado ball-cap and a sunny disposition had suggested it was a good route as long as I had “good knees and was up for a strenuous climb”. Check that, I thought. We’ve climbed the fells of northern England and the Grand Canyon. This is kid stuff. Oh no, it was most definitely not.

A few hundred steps in I found myself remembering all those climbs to the top of church towers in Europe. Those climbs paled in comparison to this ascent. Also I began to ponder if it feels more difficult when you can actually see the top of when it’s obscured from view? Eventually, we made it to the top. As I sat down to quench my thirst and catch some air, we took in the views of Pilot Mountain.

A fellow Harley rider asked about our bikes and our Boxer. More Desi admirers arrived and I found myself thinking of our many mountain ascents and how they’re all unique.

The sun creeping westward, we finally made our descent down the long stretch of the loop. As promised by some hikers we met on the fire tower viewing deck, the terrain varied and the sunlight danced on the leaves as we carefully treaded through more black mucky trails and partially melted snow fields. We came across a pile of rocks that for all the world looked like a giant Jenga game to me.Eventually our path joined the fisherman’s path along the lake before ending our loop on the road. It was joyously flat as we admired views of the partially-frozen lake.

We all felt a bit like Desi, sleepy and satisfied with a day conquering mountains and ourselves. And if that ranger’s reading this, I hope she’s proud of what we accomplished!

2017 was a very big year

2017 was a very big year

As New Year’s Eve approaches I find myself reflecting on all that transpired in 2017. It was a very big year! I shared much of it with you, but I feel a need to once again reflect and sum it up. So, I did what every good American would do and pulled out a journal my sister gave me and wrote down my 2017 Adventure List. These are written in the order they appeared in my mind, which I do believe implies their significance in my memory.

“2017 Adventures”

1. Admired my first real Frida hung in the galleries of MALBA in Buenos Aires. What a fierce beauty she was! Extra special because I did not know it was on display in this museum and found it quite by accident. A most pleasant surprise.

2. Drank Belgian Biere in a cellar in Brügge with my expat sista Tilghman. Yes, it is some of the best beer in the world, although the Czech beer is slightly better. I can safely say this now that I have moved home from Germany! Ha ha.

3. Accidentally drove by Stonehenge on our way to London and stopped to snap a few photos from a nearby field road. Super-funny because we actually decided we wouldn’t have time to stop and crossed it off our list. Guess it was meant to be…

4. Visited the home church of my Thacher Ancestors – St. Barnabas in Queen Camel, Somerset County, England. A fulfilling and emotional journey retracing our roots to England. Which inspired the outline of a book I intend to write someday.

5. Enjoyed a few (ok maybe more than a few…) pints in the traditional British pub next to the family church with the Marston Magnus Drinking Club. More book material…

6. Watched the Tour de France and MET CAVENDISH!!!! And he signed my Tour baseball cap!!!

7. Learned to Stand Up Paddle (SUP) off the coast of Ilhabela in Brazil. The trick was first remembering how to dance.

8. Tip-toed through the tulips at Keukenhoff. I was too excited to only tiptoe and also occasionally jumped for joy. This place is spectacular!!!

9. Completed the “3 Countries in a Day Bike Tour” organized by fearless leader John – Germany, Netherlands and Belgium – 100 miles and unlimited laughs in a torrential rain storm with the Red Hat bike Gang. The commemorative jersey is in the mail, or so I’ve been told.

10. Survived the Dead Guys Bike Tour around Oxford, England guided by our dear friend Adam – most memorable – visiting the simple grave of J.R.R. Tolkien and the grave and home of Agatha Christie.

11. Attended the Garth Brooks World Tour in Nashville – Bonus: dancing in the Honky Tonks on Broadway with my love.

12. Lost my Tony cat. Found my Tony cat (whew, that was a close call).

13. Finally baked my first apple pie in a pan we received as a wedding gift 18 years ago. Thanks to the help of my clever nephew, it was delicious!

14. Enjoyed Tapas in the rain in La Rioja, Spain with my college racing team-mate Christina and her husband. We had not seen each other for about 12 years but it felt like it had only been yesterday. This is the good stuff!

15. Cheered on the fliers at the Planica Ski-Jumping event with a dear friend I’d met in California on a field tour years ago.

16. Hiked the Striding Edge on Helvellyn. Certainly my most memorable hiking adventure to date. Only the Grand Canyon comes close in terms of challenge and scenery.

17. Rode The Chunnel!

18. Drove on the wrong side of the road in England, safely, mind you, in a left-hand- drive German car, no less!

19. Morning jog through the Berlin Tiergarten for a sunrise view of the Brandenberg Tur.

20. Repatriated to America with only one broken glühwein mug in my shipment and was welcomed home by the most incredible surprise party with my family and friends! Reminded again that I am tremendously blessed!

Here’s to 2018! A time when I intend to spend as many precious moments as possible with the people I love near and far! Thanks for everyone who made 2017 amazing and will help make 2018 even better.

Make some room

Make some room

“Make some room”.

“MAKE some room”.

Barked my Sparta Class instructor as he restlessly roamed the circuit class floor.

We had just finished a solid hour of weight training exercises executed in pairs – 24 exercises total. My breath was labored. I was covered in sweet. A deep thirst filled my being. “What could possibly come next?” I thought, then I found out.

“50 Burpees” came the command.

Many groaned. I didn’t have the energy.

I wondered : “Can I do this?”. I had never done 50 burpees. 25, yes. 30, yes, but 50, never. Especially after giving everything I had to a circuit weight training class that was heavy on chest and back exercises. Could I make it to that impossible sounding number?

Before I had too much time to ponder, my partner hit the deck and I followed. I think this is one of the reasons for the partner: peer pressure.

Hands on the ground, I jumped my legs back into plank position. Sunk down into a solid push-up. Sprang my legs back in and jumped up. “One” rang out in my head.

The first 5 were solid, then it started to become a bit harder. I considered cutting out the push-up. Out of habit, it remained.

Suddenly I was at 25 – halfway there. I started my count over at 1 to spare my brain and spirit. Just 25 burpees now.

At 45, my partner was finished, and I was going slower. She then did the unthinkable and jumped in to finish my last 5 with me. I started to call the numbers out loud. My form was as good again as the first 5 and soon we were done.

I had completed 50 burpees. A feat in and of itself, but after an intense 1 hour workout, I was elated. I gulped down some cool water and thanked the instructor for showing me I could do something that I didn’t know was in me.

And that is why I train. I love finding the edge and pushing through it. Respecting what my body can do and knowing when it’s the right time to take it further.

It occurred to me that I do the same thing at work. I love finding an impossible challenge, grappling with how to solve it, adapting along the way and ultimately completing the goal. The outcome might look very different than I originally envisioned, but if it is fit for purpose, then it works.

As you start this week, make some room. Make room in your life for a new challenge. Look for an impossible goal and achieve it. As we close this year, finish strong! Go into next year with renewed confidence in your ability to push your limits and overcome. Then, nothing will be impossible.

The time in between

The time in between

What follows is a tale of a surprising encounter I had on my last day in Germany which reminded me to never presume I know a person by what I see on the outside. This opportunity came about following a strange series of events that created “the time in between”. Some would call it serendipity.

In my last week of living in Germany I had a boat load of things to wrap up. I packed a small box of items from my office – a framed picture that I’d carried with me from America to Germany of the Digital Farming team crowded in front of a 57 Chevy parked in front of y’all Nebraska corn. Another photo of a younger version of my husband smiling at me from the top of a boulder along a river near Yosemite national park. My 5 year service award. My favorite coffee cup.

This box sat in my apartment, ready for the movers who would come and add it to the pile of boxes and wrapped furniture that would be loaded into a van and packed in to a sea crate for delivery to my home in America.

As I prepared to move home, one task on my list was to return my fleet car to the Opel car dealership in Cologne. Cologne is a city I thought I’d visit often while I lived in Germany, but as it turned out my life in Germany was focused either in Düsseldorf, traveling to another country for the weekend or striking out for a wanderen (hike) in the Bergischeland near Altenberg Dom. I made a few trips to Cologne and every time I went I found the drive to be frustrating, parking to be a nightmare and the experience to not be different enough from my time in Düsseldorf to justify the trip. So, I traveled a few times with visitors who wanted to see the impressive Dom or drink a glass of Kölsch at Früh.

I also traveled a few times to the car dealership for an oil change. So it came that when I called up the dealership to arrange to return my car and booked the last appointment of the day on the day before my return flight to America I suddenly realized I wouldn’t have a way to get home. The drive was long enough that I didn’t want to hassle a friend, so I texted my favorite taxi driver and arranged for him to pick me up. I don’t know why I didn’t consider a train… my only excuse is I had A LOT on my mind that week and I wanted to simplify.

Now I realize that I made that choice for a reason. I made that choice so I could have “the time in between” to engage in a conversation that has fundamentally shifted my view on a very important aspect of humanity. Let me explain it to you here.

Here’s how “the time in between” came to be. In my last Wednesday in Germany I went to the office and forced myself to clock out on time to make it to Cologne for my car return appointment. As I traveled the busy roads the clock was ticking and I found that in spite of my best efforts I’d be a bit late. Which leads me to one of the most humorous things I learned in Germany. The idea that Germans are extremely punctual is a myth. Sure, Germans, just like most of us, strive to be on time or early, but I didn’t find people where any more often on time or late than anywhere else I’ve traveled in the world. Nevertheless, I would encounter a real logistical problem if for some strange reason I couldn’t return my car that day. At 6 am the next morning I’d be boarding a plane bound for America! I had to drop off my car!

As I pulled up to the dealership I rushed in to begin the return process. I had budgeted an hour for the process so the taxi was scheduled to pick me up at 4:30. At 3:45 we were done and I pondered what to do with the time. I decided now was my chance to enjoy one last Kölsch in Köln before I repatriated. I had noticed a corner bier joint on my way in to the dealership.

I finished handing over my keys, said one last farewell to Super Z and took off down the street by foot. The streets bustling with people, I passed by kiosks and kebab shops en route to my destination. Shortly after climbing out of a train-line underpass, I found the bier joint I had spotted on my way in. Two older gentlemen stood outside at the traditional round table for 3 – both with a tall, thin glass of Kölsch resting on a coaster in front of them. One smoking a hand rolled cigarette.

I walked in and ordered a beer from the bar maid. My German passable as we completed the entire brief exchange in Deutsche. I began to feel I had actually made it and could pass as a local. It was a lovely afternoon so I walked outside with my Kölsch and was pleased to find the y’all round table vacated. I dropped my shoulder bag at my feet and took my first long drink of the lighter cousin of Alt.

Halfway through the glass I received a text from my taxi driver. He was in Köln, but unfortunately discovered that there were two locations in Köln with the same exact address and he was clearly not at the right one. This meant he was still about 45 minutes away from me. I eased his distress by letting him know I had a comfortable place to wait. Then settled in to a bench seat at a table and order eine mehr Kölsch mit bratwurst, bitte.

This series of events is what led to the “time in between”. What happened next was completely unexpected and changed my view on an entire population of people: namely – refugees and native borne peoples of non-native descent. What struck me later is that none of this would have happened if the car return hadn’t gone so fast, or my taxi was late, or my nostalgic thirst hadn’t kicked in, prompting me to walk up the road and grab a bier.

What happened next is a lady walked up weighed down by heavy bags – the plastic handles cutting into her forearms – and expressed to me in German how tired and thirsty she was. This declaration was promptly followed by collapsing herself into the bench seat at the neighboring table. We began to carry on a conversation across the two tables. After a couple of sentences in German from me she switched to perfect English. I guess my German wasn’t so good after all… A bit later, the bar maid appeared and she ordered a beer. When it arrived, we toasted our biers and I welcomed her to join me at the bench just opposite me at “my” table. I say “my” table because in Germany, a table never belongs to one person. They are meant to be shared. Sharing doesn’t always result in a conversation, but many times it does and these spontaneous conversations are sometimes the most interesting you’ll have all year. Such it would be that day.

But, first I should give you a bit more insight into what I was rolling over in my very mind that day in the hours that led up to the “time in between”. The German election results had just rolled in and AFD had gained seats in the parliament. Enough seats to indicate that 1 in 10 voting age Germans had supported their cause. A cause which was largely rooted in anti-Islamic campaigning efforts. I myself had witness these campaign signs as I traveled on my daily commute to and from the office and when I was strolling about in Berlin on sunny Saturday afternoon. Signs which featured sun-kissed women in bikinis accompanied with slogans: bikinis not Burkas. Others featured women wearing said Burkas with messaging making it clear this was not welcome in Germany. But the one that really got me was a tight shot of not one, but two, pairs of bosoms bouncing out of the top of Dirndl blouses which espoused a fervent desire to maintain traditional German culture.

As I had driven through the neighborhood just a couple of hours before, I was contemplating the results of this election and the conclusion that 1 in 10 Germans had felt strongly enough in this direction to vote as such, ok maybe not completely on the Islamic topic, but this and some others associated with it. And as I drove, I looked at the people in the streets and observed that nearly 100% of the people I saw did not look like “traditional Germans” but were in fact appeared to be Arabic of some descent. We’re they Islamic? This is could not tell by looking, but I observed a bustling neighborhood with people who likely hailed from Turkey (note that in Germany you will find the largest population of Turks outside of Turkey – many of whom are practicing Muslims. My own local treasured Turkish grocery did not sell pork products at all…), South Africa, and possibly refugees from Syria. I found myself wondering how these people felt when they woke up and heard the election results and learned that 1 in 10 of the local population maybe didn’t want them here? Little did I know that I would soon be able to hear how this felt first hand!

I was rolling this over as I walked back through the neighborhood to grab a beer and then this is when “the time in between” brought me full circle. There’s a detail I haven’t yet revealed to you. My drinking partner was a woman of Arabic appearance. We started with the usual stuff: where are you from, what do you do…? I learned that she was a chemist intern who would love to be hired by the company I work for: Bayer. After the small talk, we somehow, maybe it was on her mind too, came to the topic of the elections. She introduced her self as a Muslim, non-practicing. I found this to be an interesting way to define herself. A catholic (especially one that is non-practicing) typically wouldn’t define themselves as a catholic in terms of their racial or ethnic background. She wore no head covering, and otherwise traditional “western” clothing. But her face, her face and her hair color is what gave her away. This was of no consequence to me until I realized what it meant to her and her new perspective of how she felt she could fit in her current place in the world. Which, I’ll cut to the chase, following the election results, she felt she didn’t fit at all.

And here is where it got really interesting – she was born in Germany! Yet, she now felt she did not belong, in the place of her birth because of her appearance and her implied connection with a religious group. This is where the conversation became startlingly eye-opening for me. I too was living temporarily in Germany, but thanks to my Northern European roots and my wardrobe acquired in Germany, I had come to the point where everyone thought I was a local. So much so that when I traveled to other arts of Europe people would be more inclined to think I was German than American! And here was a woman who was born in Germany and suddenly felt she did not belong, and this part made me profoundly sad, was no longer safe in her own home. To make matters worse for her, she was recently married to a refugee who struggled to find work and also felt at risk of attack.

Then the situation became more dire. She talked about her former dream of moving to America, which she now wasn’t so sure about following our own elections and general sentiments toward Islamic people in the US. I reassured her that there were places where she could live and be safe. But, again, I found myself reeling from learning about her view on the world.

Then I sat back and wondered what did these guys (AFD) really hope to accomplish. They say they want to preserve and protect the “traditions of Germany”. But, if new people were coming in, couldn’t it be that new traditions could be accommodated while the old were preserved?

They campaigned on a platform of no Islamic mosques, but how can you welcome people in to your country for safety and not allow them to express their religion? Is the only way to thrive in a new place to adopt the local religion instead of making space for diverse religions? Ok, I visited Turkey and I experienced the intrusiveness of the call to prayer ringing out so loudly from a nearby mosque that we literally were forced to stop talking until it concluded. But is this so different from the lovely loud church bells that ring from towering spires in the center of every German town many times a day?

I know that there are elements of good and evil mixed in with all these establishments, but I couldn’t wonder if the AFD strategy was beginning from a place that could never win. People voted for them for many reasons – some out of fear of change, others perhaps out of hatred, some in reaction to feeling out of control. But, I wondered if this vote would only do more to empower the forces of terror in the Islamic world?

Many of these thoughts developed in my next conversation so I didn’t talk about it with my new friend. I wrapped up our conversation by encouraged her to keep studying, train in Krav Maga, stay alert, and don’t give up on America. We parted with a hug and a smile. Me, saddened, but also grateful for “the time in between” where two worlds serendipitously collided.

My taxi pulled up, and I dashed across the intersection (of course only after the little man went green – I was still in Germany after all!) and climbed in. As we made our way to the autobahn, he grumbled about the mix-up and the traffic. I shared with him my experience at the beer joint. And this is where the day took yet another interesting turn.

My driver was a native born German who had deep German roots and a traditional upbringing. I couldn’t miss the chance to gain his perspective on the election. He shared with me his take on where the vote came from – a point of deep-rooted frustration in the German populace. The decision to take in a large refugee population had created local strains in services and public spaces. Welcoming people into your community but asking them to exclusively follow your rules had (I would say not surprisingly) caused some rubs in small communities. Many refugees are still not allowed to work and struggled to learn the German language. There is no safe place to where they can return but it appears many people feel there is no plan to appropriately integrate them as contributing members of German society. Add on top of this the high tax rates in German and abundance of social systems, all of it came together with some tragic terror attacks to stir up nationalism similar to what is seen around the world. This is a gross simplification of all the social factors, but was the gist of what we discussed.

At the end of the day I found myself with quite a lot to contemplate as I considered the plight of my two very different German native-born conversational partners. One who feels like she no longer belongs in her home, but had no home to wish to flee. I failed to mention her parents live in Turkey and she is Kurdish, so no option for her to safely return. Another who feels his tax burden is increasing with no end in sight and his homeland is being invaded and not respected by a people who struggle to adopt the local customs either out of blunt disrespect or lack of understanding.

I debated if I would even write about this on my blog because I fear it could create some non-productive discussion, but I’m still a believer in the power of sharing stories to learn about others. It is for this reason that I offer this to you and I encourage you to think harder before you look only at the outside of a man or a woman or a child and think you know that person. Because the truth is that what is on the outside is often only the beginning of the story and what lies underneath may be very surprising indeed.



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!