The International Appalachian Trail

“Of the eons of geological periods recorded in the stratification of the earth: of the myriad minute entomological organic existences concealed in cavities of the earth…” James Joyce, Ulysses

Rugged coastal cliffsThere exists an International Appalachian Trail (IAT), a continuation of our iconic Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States. It extends along a path from Mount Katahdin in Maine, through the Maritimes, Greenland, and Ireland and the UK on its way to its terminus in Morocco. Portions of the IAT exist from Scandinavia through Western Europe as well. The trail traces as best it can, the former mountain range that existed in the epoch of the supercontinent Pangea, which our present day Appalachians were a part of. Plate tectonics rendered that land mass into the now familiar continental configuration humanity has called home, filling the gaps between modern day continents and islands with sea water. So while the IAT can be accurately traced and mapped, it cannot be hiked in its entirety. Small price I think, for how cool a concept the trail really is.

Although I have not come close to through hiking the original Appalachian Trail, I have hiked in various segments in most of the states that it passes through in the US. And most recently, I had an opportunity to spend some time in Ireland to hike the International Appalachian Trail where it “comes ashore” as it were, on the Emerald Isle.That particular spot, the beginning of the Irish portion of the trail, is at Slieve League on the often storm tossed North Atlantic coast. It travels from the impressive coastal cliffs of Slieve League Mountain (Sliabh Liag in Gaelic) in County Donegal, making it’s way through the Blue Stack and Sperrin Mountains, and reaching it’s terminus at Antrim in Northern Ireland.

The IAT in many areas is in it’s infancy, and information about it is not readily available at this point in time in Ireland. Other major trail systems are well marked in both the Republic and Northern Ireland, and I’m sure the IAT will eventually follow suit here as well. But for anyone interested in the current configuration of the trail, the Ulster IAT website is a good place to check it out. But the oceanic trailhead at Slieve League and the surrounding area, has always been, as they say there, a brilliant place to explore, long before it’s connection to the International Appalachian Trail.

Slieve League is less well known, and less visited. than the massive sea cliffs at Ireland’s impressive Cliffs of Moher National Park farther south along the coast. Although lacking the visitor amenities that exist at Moher, the more remote Slieve League is actually the more precipitous landscape. Located on the ocean near Teelin on the west coast of Ireland, Slieve League cliffs are actually a amongst the highest in all of Europe. After spending several days hiking and clambering over smaller rock formations on the Fanad Peninsula to the north,we tackled Slieve League on a breezy but uncharacteristically (for Donegal) clear day in August time, as the locals refer to the eighth month.

There were some aspects of Slieve League that were reminiscent of Point Reyes, California. If you have ever driven out to visit Point Reyes Lighthouse, you noticed the cows grazing in the fields during your journey towards the sea. Just replace the cows with sheep, and you have an idea of the approach to Slieve League. But while you won’t find the heifers actually along those California cliffs, the agile Irish sheep are found grazing all over Slieve League. Even the most wind swept and chancy purchase along the rocky slopes are utilized by the sheep transversing the coastal mount.

I can’t say whether or not the sheep enjoyed the sweeping panoramas of the North Atlantic or the raw beauty of the massive sea cliffs as much as I did. But they certainly focused on the foliage, and so did I, but for different reasons. The sheep were feasting on the same heathers, thistles, and wild carrots that slowly drew my attention away from the seascapes. I find I can often assimilate only do much panoramic majesty while outdoors, before my attention is drawn to more minute aspects of the environment. Looking for “organic existences concealed” as Joyce wrote. But existences concealed not necessarily in crevices or cracks, but hiding in plain sight, obscured merely by perception and a willingness to look away from one form of beauty to another. Beauty not of a lesser value, just a lesser scale. Being able to see the forest and the trees.

Trailhead on cliff above oceanI accessed Slieve League from the lower parking area, roughly at the base of the split mountain that rose before me. It is a longer route, and requires more effort, but if one cannot handle the grades and contours of this portion of paved track ,it would be unwise to plan to hike the more difficult portions of the trails here that rise from the upper parking area. Especially under wet and windy conditions, unsteady or unfit hikers could truly be at risk, and there are sad tales. This is especially so as you advance to the higher, narrow, ridge lines. This is hiking, not mountain climbing, but it is not a closely monitored National Park like the Cliffs of Moher. And if one stumbles on Slieve League, there are few soft landing spots. And the length of two football field is a very long way to fall. On the way to the trail heads there are sweeping coastal views: to the south, towards the harbor mouth at Teelin and eventually to the north along the sheer cliffs plunging into the foamy sea some 600 meters below. My longer route had given me a chance to warm and stretch my muscles and tendons before ascending the rocky paths to even more spectacular views of the coastline. As I hiked, I filled my lungs deeply with the strangely soft and fragrant Irish air, here enhanced even further by the sea breezes,

view of hills and ocean along trailAfter climbing some distance, I sought out a place to sit and observe the hills and moors bordering the coastal cliffs. Here and there, tiny bubbling brooks tinkled downslope, and shallow glacial ponds afforded a habitat for a few curlew. Ravens filled the air with intermittent raucous explosions of sound, and terns, gulls and bitterns, rode the waves below and soared along the cliff faces. I made my way out into a small, sloped, rock strewn meadow and found a suitable flat chalky rock to sit on and observe. Lichens and mosses of many hues seemed to be painted on small outcroppings of rock like minute Jackson Pollock paintings. Looking seaward, the North Atlantic was blue, choppy and deserted over countless nautical miles. Only a couple of small tourist boats that appeared late in the afternoon from nearby Teelin Harbor, broke the hypnotic undulations of the sea. The sound of crashing waves far below along the cliffs was almost muted at times by distance and the constant sounds of the winds.

As scientist/ author Hope Jahren noted in her wonderful book Lab Girl, “A cactus doesn’t live in the desert because it likes the desert; it lives there because the desert hasn’t killed it yet”. I thought of this while sitting in this harsh, windswept seaside environment, and I was moved to reflect on not only the beauty of this place, and in Ireland in general, but on the surprising local fauna or more accurately the lack of same. The visible lack of mammals in particular. For with me amongst the heathers and thistles, were not deer, hares, hedgehogs, or weasels, but sheep. During the past eight days spent in what should have been prime wildlife viewing areas, a single rabbit was the only non bird or fish we encountered. There had been no shortage of avian life, and ravens, magpies, jackdaws, terns and gulls were common, and here added their calls in chorus, above the background sounds of wind and wave at Slieve League.

But although not wild in anyone’s mind except probably their own, the sheep that populated even the most unlikely areas of the slopes and moors were fascinating. These sheep are “color coded” by paint markings so that the shepherds (unseen but inevitable) can keep track of the individuals in their flocks. Since the sheep wander freely on on public lands like Slieve League, it added a necessary but bizarre curiosity in an already unexpected encounter. The sheep were extremely agile, bounding from rock to rock on downslopes like overweight mountain goats. With relatively barrel shapes and spindly legs, an image of Babe Ruth rounding the bases came to mind.

white mountain goat along trailI was snapped out of my reverie by the realization that I was under close scrutiny myself, by a pair of burly rams slowly approaching upslope. I realized that the path I had taken out into the moor was a sheep trail, and the rams were coming to reclaim the right of way for the lambs and ewes in their flock. At first I was going to sit quietly and see if they passed me by without incident. However as they approached more closely, the massive curved horns they sported suggested another course of action might be more prudent. As I slowly backed away and exited the pathway stage right, the two rams seemed to relax and slowly angled off in an opposite vector. Almost at once, an enormous ewe astride a boulder began bleating loudly, alerting the other sheep in her small flock that it was time to move. Having climbed a large granite outcropping myself for a better (read safer) view, I watched as the flock loosely gathered and made its way across some scree to a higher meadow.

As I started my descent back along the narrow ridge line I had ascended previously, my impressions of Slieve League, this gem on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, began to evolve. While I still held in awe the geology of this oceanfront ecosystem, I pondered how we fit into all this, as surely humanity had put its mark here as well as the elements. And it was the sheep that came to represent to me this interaction of humanity and nature here, that in fact exists everywhere.

Scientists (like the aforementioned Hope Jahren) in the field of geobiology, study the interaction and impacts upon each other of the earth and it’s biosphere. As humans are certainly part of the biosphere of our planet, I guess feeling that at Slieve League was a natural, although hardly original, perception on my part. And in these interactions we have precipitated, and will continue to do, not only people but environments, are often changed. Maybe something along the lines of the Butterfly Effect, or for that every action there is a reaction.That is perhaps yet another of the hidden aspects or concealments of nature that James Joyce was thinking of when he penned the introductory quote above.

Try To Capture September

I’ve spent days thinking about September. How can I write a poem about her? Rapid changes are occurring all around me this month, and I’m getting dizzy! I’m downright giddy with bursts of nervous energy. This zest charge was unexpected, hidden in the mists of the crisp early morning. I floated, it seemed, at the crest of September with my feet stretched downwards to dig into the sands of its shoreline. I have been unsuccessful! Since the beginning of this fast−moving month, I tried to pay attention to the small nuances and living details I experienced. I moved carefully, even cautiously, from day to day through the month of ever–changing September. Yes! I am standing at the midpoint of the month, and I still feel like I am lost at sea.

I take a deep breath, hold it in for a couple of seconds as I remember my fingers. I look at the computer screen. I exhale. Nearby, my sleeping dog shifts in his black, furry bed. In his sleep, he snorts, and my leather chair squeaks as my fingers pound out some letters on the stiff keyboard. I move my body forward again and bring my mind back to September. The sun streams through the dusty window.

My back seeks the stability of my solid chair. I raise my hands to my face, close my eyes, and think about my breath. As my chest rises, I become aware of the sharp, piercing call of the eagle flying above the trees outside the window.

Author hiking on forest trailAt the beginning of the month, I took short walks in the woods. I saw subtle changes. My two dogs stopped and sniffed the breeze. They tried to catch the news of the day, to bring it home and share it with me. We paused on the path, and I watched them stop and stare into the privet bush, then up into the trees. They paid close attention to all the wildflowers as I touched them. I tried to concentrate on the details—to memorize each little fine distinction of a fragile yellow crownbeard flower or the dark blue–green leaves of the white snakeroot plant. I asked, “How does it look in the shade? How does it feel to the touch? Try to remember it all!”

I reached out, touched the trunks of trees as we traveled together in the afternoon sun. I recall the feeling of textures and the girth of a tree in my arms as I tried to encircle it. I needed to touch the overlapping surface of the locust tree, to put it in my memory bank, where I can retrieve it when wintry days become anxious and lonely. Eventually, I realize what I searched for in September. Every new day in this quest twists and turns in on me as I search for the form that would be perfect for my September poem. I begin to visualize myself as a whirling dervish. I swirl in circles, round and round, and my feet are on sifting and shifting sand all the time. My thoughts race far faster than I could ever write. My entire body quivers inside because of all the raw sensations that this month gives me.

I realize September is the one month of the year that is a charade. She is undependable, captivating, Sun setting on golden leavesand quixotic. She cannot be captured in the pantoum I had intended to put her into. I think, I’ll catch her by a sliver of one of her yellow petals! Then, I’ll flatten her out between the pages of a villanelle. But as it turns out, she becomes a book of sand, and I simply cannot get a grasp on her!

This morning, I tried to put some words to my paper. I had to step over obstacles of images and feelings. I said, “I have to just go after a little piece of September. I need to catch her unawares, and grab what I can. It might be just a fragment, or an adjective. Do it quickly, and run fast, bring that piece to my paper and slap it down with glue. I’ll have to use E–600 for this job! What will be large enough to hold uncooperative September?

“Yes! I’ve got it now. My tribute to September will be an ode. It will celebrate precocious September perfectly.” My “Ode for September” must be hefty and as unsettled as she.

My ten–line stanzas will be a passionate song about September, the whirling dervish.

Lynda Lambert Author PhotoLynda McKinney Lambert lives in the rural Village of Wurtemburg in western Pennsylvania. She writes poetry and creative non-fiction essays. She retired from teaching as professor of fine arts and humanities at Geneva College, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvannia, USA. Lambert’s first book, Concerti: Psalms for the Pilgrimage was published by Kota Press. Her work appears in Spirit Fire Review; Indiana Voice Journal; Magnets & Ladders; Stylist; Breath & Shadow; Wordgathering; The Avocet; Proverse Hong Kong; Behind our Eyes: A Second Look – Anthology; and other literary journals and anthologies. She is also an actively exhibiting fiber artist. Major themes in her creative works are Nature; Mythology; Art and History.

Lynda McKinney lost most of her sight in 2007 due to Ischemic Optic Neuropathy. She creates her art work and writing projects via the use of technologies for the blind. The essay above is taken from her book Walking by Inner Vision.

Discover a Rail Trail

Rail Trail along forest meadowWhenever we want to experience an excursion on a different walking track, we go in search of a rail trail. These trails are shared-use pathways, recycled from abandoned railway corridors, and set aside only for walking, cycling or horse riding. Rail trails link country villages and small towns. They meander through scenic forests and picturesque rural settings, just as railways did in the past. Following the routes of most rail trails, one will cut through hills, walk under roads, over embankments and across gullies and creeks. Despite the changes in terrain, the trails are comfortable to walk on. This is because the gradient on which the trail was originally constructed had to accommodate a large locomotive, pulling a long string of railway cars.

When a railway closes, the rails are removed but the bridges and cuttings still remain. These are often rebuilt and strengthened to be structurally sound. Signs provide easy-to- follow directions, and guide booklets are always available. Rail trail travellers are also well catered for. Wineries, cafes, B&Bs and small nearby villages accommodate the longer overnight journeys that people sometimes make.

Apart from being lovely places to hike through, rail trails also function as linear conservation Bright Pink Christmas Orchidcorridors, protecting native plants and animals. In December 2013, our Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Ranger, Peter Kleis, discovered a rare Christmas orchid, the Dipodium punctatum. The Queensland Herbarium advised, ‘this Australian native terrestrial orchid is a saprophyte—a leafless plant—that lives and feeds on decaying wood, similar to a fungus.’ The orchid will die if it is removed from its environment, and is a fine example of the special surprises that can be encountered while walking a rail trail.

We love where we live because a short remnant of a rail trail leads directly past the back of our home. Across from this unsealed walkway stretches the Samford State Forest, filled with native vegetation and wild birds. Sitting on our open back veranda with coffee and a snack, we wave to couples pushing strollers, children on bicycles, walkers and horse riders. Everyone enjoys this peaceful pathway.

Rail trails exist world-wide, so research one near you and rather than ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ it, get right out into nature and experience it.

Visit Mary’s Website: Nature As Art and Inspiration

For more information about Rail Trails in Australia visit the Rail Trails site at


The Waterfall

I’ve always had a thing for waterfalls. With a deafening roar, they command attention. It’s as if I should be reflecting on something important when I look upon them, as if some sort of revelation should magically come to me and I’ll have everything figured out. I visited a trail a short drive from my college town of Potsdam, the growth in the beginning of the path slyly hiding the treasure that lies a mile through the thicket. One glance and you would think this condemned path has not had visitors for a long time. I started down the path with stomping at my heels. My boyfriend stayed close behind me, which bugged me at first, but I found there was reason behind it after he caught my arm when my foot got snagged by the undergrowth. I sometimes regret having company as I make any physically exerting trek, I don’t like to feel rushed, but today, I was content with the company.

Living in a house with four other girls doesn’t leave much room for alone time, especially when our impending graduation that will soon separate us looms overhead as a constant reminder of the short time we have left together. Not that I don’t plan on keeping in touch with my best friends from college, but I know it will never be like it is now. We’ll no longer spend day in and day out together ignoring our responsibilities; collectively pretending that our biggest worry will forever be how much homework we let pile up by the end of a busy weekend and our impending sleep-deprived Sunday nights. Lately, I’ve been trying to get excited about starting my future, but the only feeling it elicits is anxiety. It’s as if after graduation I am being shoved off a cliff, left to blindly grasp anything I can get a hold of.

couple hiking beside srreamIt was a sunny Sunday afternoon when I visited the waterfall and my boyfriend was up for the weekend. Although I usually prefer exploring alone, our long distance relationship has taught me to not waste any of the time we have to spend together. Of all the beautiful spots around Potsdam that I had heard about, I was only interested in Allen Falls. The growth in the beginning of the trail grabbed at my feet as if the passage led to someplace secret that was not meant to be revealed. The logs mocked us as we jumped over them, trying not to trip on the next one that would appear suddenly in our path. Once the trail started becoming less rigorous, I let my attention wander in the direction of the stream we had been walking alongside. The water calmly moved forward with us, gently beckoning us to follow.

I didn’t realize how chaotic my thoughts had been until the only sound accompanying me was the soft puttering of the water, lending me no distractions from my frenzied mind. As we continued down the path, the quiet calmness we were surrounded by started to gain volume as the stream picked up speed as though it had been startled into action. Although it was louder and faster, the water rushed forward in an organized way; it knew where it wanted to go. Finally, the trail led us to the top of the waterfall. Instead of continuing along the path, I climbed and perched myself on the most stable rock I could find and watched the water rush to where it was meant to go all along. The water from the stream never ventured off course; it always made its way to the assortment of rocks in order to spew out to the pond below.

In that moment, I envied the water as it confidently cascaded to its next point, without ever slowing down or questioning. I couldn’t help but think as I sat at the top of the waterfall, that I was looking down at my impending doom, my unknown future. The pond at the bottom of the waterfall represented everything I was afraid to find out; a leap of faith I wasn’t ready to take. I sat there for a while, unwilling to continue and eventually my boyfriend convinced me it was time to move on. As we tried to find our way to the clearing that surrounded the pond below, the trail seemed to disappear off a cliff. Upon further inspection, we realized it wasn’t an actual cliff, but a very steep part of the trail; one last obstacle to endure.

This treacherous path will lead me to the other side; the cliff I have to scale in order to enter the unknown. I slide down carefully as my boyfriend stayed close behind in case I lost my footing. Quicker than I thought possible, it was over. We had made it to the clearing unscathed and were rewarded by the beautiful sight of the waterfall. The water looked almost crystalline as the sunlight created glistening jewels in the pond where the water had been deposited and stilled. We could watch from below, where we had previously been and see it differently. Distracted by the vast difference of the gentle roar of the waterfall and the rest of its tranquil surroundings, I didn’t yet pay attention to the significance of my downward trek. Beams of sunlight squeezed through the trees and streaked the woods. I could see rocks stacked high; a small sign of human manipulation in an area that seemed to be mostly untouched. We sat on rocks the size of car tires in silence, admiring our surroundings.

woman alone watching waterfallPresently, I am sitting on top of the waterfall still, looking down at the place that I will inevitably one day be, just not at all sure what’s down there, or how to get there. However, my reluctance to grow up is challenged by the people who support me. For example, my boyfriend influences me to search for something that makes me excited about my future, not dread it. Just like how he encouraged me to climb down the trail and lent a hand when I needed it, but for the most part, let me make my own way down, like how only I can make the final decisions about my future and the steps it takes to get there. But unlike I originally thought, I won’t be blindly flinging myself into the unknown, I will be conscious of every step along the way to control where I go. Once in the clearing, I could breathe again. There was still fast movement where the water rained down into the pond, but once in the pond, the water calmed for it was where it needed to be.


Photos by Ammentorp Photography

Triple Falls Portrait

Bare rock protrudes
Extends the mountain side
Moss, lichen cling
Little River cascades
Down three rocky tiers
Waterfalls churn
Pummel granite slabs
Thunder reverberates
Through the valley
Mist, spray permeates
Prism droplets sparkle
Water grinds stone
Forms shallow pools
Tree limbs overhang
Provide shade
Wind sprinkles leaves
Float on the surface
River meanders
Dodges boulders
Black racer glides
Startles wading bathers
Rainbow trout hide
Elude fishermen’s flies
Eastern sweet shrub blooms
Fruity fragrance drifts
Arouses hikers’ senses

By Suzanne Cottrell

Author at Triple Falls

Suzanne Cottrell, an Ohio Buckeye by birth, lives with her husband and three rescue dogs in rural Piedmont North Carolina. An outdoor enthusiast and retired teacher, she enjoys hiking, biking, gardening, and Pilates. She loves nature and its sensory stimuli and particularly enjoys writing and experimenting with poetry and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in The Avocet, The Weekly Avocet, The Remembered Arts Journal, Plum Tree Tavern, The Skinny Poetry Journal, Three Line Poetry, Haiku Journal, Tanka Journal, Poetry Quarterly, Women’s Voices Anthology (These Fragile Lilacs Literary Journal), The Pop Machine (Inwood Indiana Press), and Nailpolish Stories, A Tiny and Colorful Literary Journal.

Photo is a portrait of the author at Triple Falls in DuPont State Forest in North Carolina, USA.