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Happy Trails?

I so desperately wanted to keep this blog dynamic – fluid and close to real-time – and have miserably failed at that over the last year or so. I have no excuse really, time is certainly a factor, but I think weariness has to take top billing. We’ve been watching our 4th grandchild – “Teddy” – every day (M-F) while mom and dad work since the school year began in September. He comes around 7:45AM and is usually heading home between 5-5:15PM. He is an absolute joy to have around and watching him grow and learn has been so wonderful.

But he is now 22-months old and is….well, a force to be reckoned with! And I am 67 and my wife is 64 and we both believe in full-blown hand’s on child care. It provides such a strong foundation for the rest of their life when you constantly speak to, teach them, read to them, explain to them, and so forth. But…it is tiring! And by the end of the day, after doing the things that didn’t get done while he was here (either due to him napping or just the decision to let him chase bubbles in the yard instead of balancing the checkbook) there is little time or energy left for me to devote to writing. I prefer to catch up on my computer stuff such as Sporcle quizzes, social media, the news, etc. rather than try to write something meaningful for the blog.

I never meant for this to turn into a daily journal, but I think that’s where I was blindly heading, perhaps actually arrived at. It was meant to impart whatever thoughts, ideas, concepts, beliefs, wisdom….call it what you will…but to share things that I have seen and learned through my years here on earth. But to do this – regularly – requires a lot of time to devote to thinking and contemplating truly relevant and worthwhile information. And I simply have lost the ability to allocate that time to my writing. And as such, I began to drift into more of “dear diary” type posts than anything meaningful. And I think that’s why my posts have grown farther and farther apart. I am sorry for that. Please bear with me and I am confident that this will change.

But not in this post! This post will be a lot of catch-up and reconciliation of my life here.

To begin, I’ve already mentioned that we have Teddy five days a week; but only as long as schools are open. My daughter is a school psychologist and when there is no school, we don’t have Teddy. This is actually our second year of watching him, but last year was only a “half-year”. She gave birth in July and did not go back to school until January after the Christmas break. So we had him Jan-Jun, whereas this school year we started in late August and will not be done until June 15 – her last day. As I already said, having him here truly enriches our lives – he has a happy boy and has great sense of humor. And he loves to be outdoors.

But my daughter had a surprise pregnancy this year. Teddy was conceived with in-vitro fertilization as no other method was working. So she had eggs frozen and was debating on whether to have another child as a sibling for Teddy. While working through her lists of pros and cons, God had other plans for her; a baby girl is well along her way to a September birth! A total surprise, but a happy one.

Of course, Teddy and sister make two; when my daughter goes back to work we would have a two and half year old toddler and a four month old baby – five days a week. And I won’t say we couldn’t do it, because you do what you have to do, but it would be so utterly exhausting that I have to believe we’d be unable to provide the energy into the full-blown hand’s on care we both believe in. And we’d probably end up feeling some negative effects of it.

It seems the compromise may be to place them into day care a few days each week so we would only have the two kids two days each week. We can surely do two days a week without killing ourselves or downgrading the quality of our care. But we are both heavily weighted down with the guilt of placing our beloved Teddy into day care, as well as the new baby girl. It leaves me almost literally walking stooped over with the weight of having to say “we can’t do two kids five days a week anymore”. But we can’t.

That is only one of my spine-bending heartaches. The other is the imminent departure of by son and his family. They are leaving for their new life in Maine three weeks from today. And I will miss them more than I can ever articulate in this, or any other, form of communication. The three grandkids have been so tightly woven into my life since each was born. And that makes their leaving so painful. We’ll see them of course; they’ll come down and we’ll go up. And we will likely have the kids down for a week in the summer. But for the last 13 years, we’ve had a Wednesday night family night with them, and a Friday night sleepover with a return to home Saturday night.

So this will be hard for us; the first Wednesday night without them will be very difficult, but the first Friday night of going to bed without them here – and the first Saturday morning of waking up without them here – will be maddeningly torturous for us. Happily though, less so for them as they are embarking on a great new adventure. They have cousins and uncles and aunts up there, all very close to where they’ll live. The’ll be trail riding, fishing, swimming, and basically living an awesome summer life, so they won’t really be missing us the way we’ll miss them.

This journey for them is one they’ve held as a dream for many years, and through great effort and hard work, as well as a lot of soul-searching, they are seeing their dream become a reality. And I could not be happier for them all. And truth be told, the “proper” evolution in families is for the grandkids to tire of going to the grandparent’s house as they age. My eldest grandson, now almost 14, still likes coming over but that wouldn’t have lasted too much longer; friends and life outdraw grandparent rapidly to a teenager. So the reality is that little by little we’d be seeing less and less of them as they grow; this move to Maine is just pulling off the Band-Aid more rapidly!

If it wasn’t such a haul to get there, I’d be more at ease about seeing them with any sort of regularity. But it is all of a five hour drive and that makes a day trip pretty unlikely. If it was two or even three hours we could always get up early and be there by mid-morning, spend some time, and then head back home around 6PM and still be home at a reasonable hour. Maybe we’ll break it up: leave at like 2PM, drive for 3 or 4 hours, get a hotel, have a nice dinner and rest, then get up in the morning with only an hour or so drive to get there. In truth, I don’t know how it will all turn out. I know two things for sure: I will miss them like crazy and I will make damned sure that I find ways for us to spend time together as often as possible.

Change. It is so difficult. And it is something we all face regularly in life. Frankly, it is one of the major factors in whether someone succeeds at work or not – at least in my place. Things often changed in the blink of an eye, and not trivial changes either. As an example, for nine months I was driven, and in turn drove my team, to hire more people. We have staffing goals, charts and graphs, and meetings several times a week all to maximize our efforts at getting people sourced, interviewed, hired, and on board. And then one day, it literally went from hiring to figuring out how to lessen heads – transfers, furloughs, or loan outs. If you can’t recognize your instantly new goals, strategize a plan, and reset your organization to the new agenda, you will fail. That simple – change is difficult.

There has been a lot of emotional turmoil over gay pride month, witness the fallout over Bud Light, which did a remarkable job of highlighting the power of social media’s influence over consumers. The truth is that almost every beer manufacturer released a gay pride can. But apparently the majority of Bud Light’s consumers are among the least tolerant people in our country. And that is their right. But it is sad that there is such intolerance for those who are different.

Intolerance begins invisibly, like the first drops of a summer’s rain where you have to hold out your hand to try to be sure it really is raining. It is sparse and light and at first, unnoticeable. But then, like an invasive seed, it takes hold – it roots. It is absolutely fine and normal to not approve of something: an idea, a philosophy, a belief, or a practice. And most folks just ignore whatever it is that irks them. But some folks… some folks just can’t leave it alone. For some reason, their disapproval grows into dislike, anger, and then spiteful intolerance. And then in some cases, comes the hatred.

It is usually rooted in fear; fear of the unknown. You are not familiar with whatever it is, be it a religion, a race, a sexual preference, or even a political party. Ignorance – lack of knowledge – becomes the fertilizer for the seeds of hate. Much like when you bite the inside of your cheek and it then protrudes inside your mouth making it a bulls eye target for your tongue. And then you keep biting it making it bigger and the cycle repeats. All you know is what you’ve read (most likely on social media). And you only read the bad stuff because that has become your trigger – your bulls eye target.

Our little town just had a Gay Pride parade last weekend – my daughter and grandson went, because it was a parade and he loves parades. Some pics of the parade turned up on the Our Town page of Facebook and guess what? The complaints and snipes immediately began to roll in: “why do they get a parade and heterosexuals do not?” “Why do they get a month while the soldiers that fought for us only get a day?” “Why do they have to parade it on our faces?” And so on.

Of course, the reason is that the LGBTQIA community has been under attack for years; discrimination, harassment, persecution, abuse, physical harm, and even death. They are not marching to throw their “gayness” in our faces, they are trying to show us that they are people with feelings and that they deserve acceptance – is about visibility as a path to dignity and respect.

What concerns me the most, is who or what is next? OK – this group of closed-minded people don’t “get” the whole alternative sexuality thing, they fear it, they hate it and anyone who practices it. But will it stop there? The short answer is no. Next could be religions: Islam, Jewish, Muslim, or some other religion that frightens them. Or is could be race, gender, political party, etc. And given the sway social media carries these days, that is a frightening thought.

I will end with some thoughts on my last hike. The trail is a Nature Conservancy property and it is one of the more challenging trails in our state, not very long but a good number of crazily steep ridges and ravines that provide serious elevation changes. It is also loaded with rhododendrons and mountain laurels which, this time of year, make for breathtaking scenery. In fact, they call the first mile the magic mile due to the lush greens and blossoms in the spring.

I’ve been hiking here for well over 30 years. And years ago, it was rare to see a soul on the trail; in fact it was startling to actually run into another person. Over the years it became more popular (internet and social media) and it became quite common to run into other hikers – no big deal – just another reminder of the population growth in our little state. The use of the trail tolerated all the traffic fairly well and routine trail maintenance kept it in good shape. I had not been to this trail in over a year and my last hike was like so many others there; enjoyable and uneventful. But this last hike was a real eye opener for me.

To begin, I did not drive to the trailhead; I hiked to it. I began a few miles away on another trail that ends on the dirt road that this trail is located on. Parking for this trail is small, room for two cars. Any others have to find an area along the dirt road which is wide enough to permit a parked car without blocking the road. I popped out on the road around a quarter mile from the trailhead and was immediately greeted with 4 or 5 cars parked on the side of the dirt road…with many more as I got closer to the trailhead. In all, there were 12 cars there. And once I arrived at the other end of the trail at the other trailhead there were another 9 cars. That is an incredible amount of traffic for this little trail! And it showed.

There were areas of massive erosion in many places; erosion is deadly to trails, but especially on steep slopes. Once the “crust” has been broken and the rutting begins, foot traffic exacerbates the erosion as it becomes ground to dust and blows away in the wind. And then during heavy rain, the soil washes away further gouging out the trail. This rutting action then exposes the large rocks and boulders lying beneath the surface, As they become exposed they break loose and roll down the hill and leave behind even more ruts. It becomes a vicious cycle rapidly once it begins. You see it most often where dirt bikes have been scrambling on a hillside and the result can be an ever widening and deepening gash in the earth.

The huge growth in popularity of this trail seems to be triggering its demise as it has led to a giant influx of people hiking here. And every footstep just increases the damage. There are sections blanketed by rhododendrons where the foot traffic has exposed the roots and the damage is slowly killing them off. Which of course, leads to more erosion! So sad to see this. But that was not all of it.

In one section you have to descend a chute of chimney – really just a cut through two ledges – to get to the lower elevation. There is now graffiti on the rock wall. Yes – someone tagged the ledge – in a Nature Conservancy area. Additionally, there was litter: bottles, tissues and toilet paper, granola bar wrappers, mylar balloons, and the like. So depressing. The increase in popularity has brought in people who have no respect for nature and don’t care how they treat it; complete disregard and lack of respect.

What’s the answer? I have a couple of ideas actually. The easiest would be to limit the available parking. Allow only 4 or 5 cars to be able to park and somehow close off the “spillover” areas currently being used. Of course, success of this is unlikely as the same people who have no respect for the trail will find a way to simply “force-park” their vehicles wherever they can.

Another option would be to shut down the middle section of the trail where the damage is the most severe. You could hike in from one end or the other, but would be forced to turn around and backtrack to leave. For the same reason as the parking, I doubt this would work either. People with no respect would merely climb over or go around the ropes or chains or gates put up to close the trail.

The most dire, but probably most effective solution, would be to shut down the entire trail for several years in order to allow the trail to heal along with some restoration and rehabilitation efforts from the Conservancy. Because if left unchecked, there will be no more trail to hike! I will not plan to return to this trail any time soon, mostly to lessen foot traffic and to help it heal. I will likely pay another visit in the Fall to see how the trail fared through the summer.

If you can, please get out into the woods dear reader. Nature is so good for you: your body, your heart, and your soul. But, if you do go, please carry out what you bring in? And please leave the spray paint at home! Stay well!!

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