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


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.

A Tryst with Nature at Chilika Lake

island in chilika lake, Orissa, IndiaSometime back, when I travelled to Chilika Lake, a lagoon, I got a unique chance to educate children as well as experience nature, both of which I adore. It was a nature camp and I was sent there officially to educate the children about nature and its significance. It is always cool to teach children, especially those at elementary and secondary school level. They are charming, inventive and most importantly, mischievous.

As part of the nature camping programme, we are advised to stay within the limits of any protected natural landscapes, viz-a-viz wildlife sanctuary, reserved forest or national park. We stayed in the midst of a lavish green backdrop encompassed by a variety of species, resident of Chilika. The ever-soothing early morning breeze flowed alongside the twittering and chattering cries of birds and little creatures.

Chilika Lake is the biggest tidal pond of Asia found along the Coromandel Coast of peninsular India. Being declared one of the six wetlands under the Ramsar convention, it offers a great deal of scenic beauty. Furthermore, this picturesque locale is a safe haven for diverse aquatic life forms such as birds (both waterfowl and waders), fish, crabs, etc.

Illumination of sky
With a crack of dawn
The never ending horizon
Never to be missed

We organized a birding trip to the nearby island, Nalbana. Boats were arranged for the trip. Nalbana is a wonderful island with vast life forms situated at the heart of Chilika Lake.

The children jumped in joy as the boat surged through brackish water and moved forward. We tried to arouse their interest by showing them some beautiful creatures like Irrawaddy dolphins, seagull, gull-billed tern, pied kingfisher, white-bellied sea eagle, etc. The children were given binoculars to observe the birds. Some of the kids were curious, questioning the open-feather stance of a bird. It was a cormorant. Unlike other water birds, cormorants do not have wax coating around their feathers. So it stays under the sun with its feathers open to get dry. This in turn looks striking and attracts students, birders and photographers. The children were so thrilled watching the hunting behaviour of terns and kingfishers.

Hovering along the airstream
With her eyes glued
Dives and captures him in a flash

As we paddled through the lake, we saw a huge flock of ruddy shelducks taking off, sensing us (strangers). Northern pintails, shovelers and gargeneys accompanied them shortly. It was beyond belief to spot all these wonderful creatures at the same time. The children looked absolutely thrilled.

After an hour long journey, we reached the island. The forest officials briefed us about the island and its significance. Nalbana Island was declared a bird sanctuary in 1973. It serves as a massive wintering ground for birds. One can see over thousands of birds systematically foraging the mudflats during the season. The best part about this island is that it vanishes during the monsoon season due to heavy showers and resurfaces back once the water recedes.

The children were taken to the watch tower, where they got to watch the birds through high range spotting scopes. Watching the peculiar behaviour pattern of larger and smaller birds, the children’s curiosity was aroused. The larger birds include greater and lesser flamingos, herons, egrets, pelicans, storks, ducks and ibises. The smaller birds include stilts, terns, sandpipers, ruffs, snipes, lapwings, coot, teal, etc. They even saw a few raptors like sea eagle, kites and falcons.

Brahminy Kite flying over the waterAs they were curiously screening the birds through the spotting scope, one of the children shouted out in alarm. He informed us that he had spotted a bird which had a white head with dark eyes and sharp beak pointed downwards, brownish feathers and pale yellow coloured legs with talons. It was clear that the bird he was describing was the Brahminy kite; we were startled by his acute observation. He continued further that the bird had repeatedly fallen into the water while attempting to take off. He sounded very concerned about the bird and its condition. We responded quickly by taking a look at that bird through the scope and witnessed the same scene as narrated by the boy. Immediately, we informed the forest officials, who after observation told us that the bird was injured. The feathers were wounded because of which it was struggling to fly. Without wasting much time, their team rushed to the spot and rescued the bird.

Book of Indian Birds coverThe Forest Ranger and Divisional Officer appreciated the boy for his intuitive observation and quick thinking. They presented him the famous book The Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali and encouraged him to do bird watching regularly. It was pleasant surprise for the boy and also for the entire group.

Overall, it was an enchanting experience in Nalbana both for the children and us educators. It was one of my most unforgettable experiences of my life with children and nature.

T R Gowthama: An Environmental Educator by profession, writer by passion and a nature enthusiast by heart. He is a creative lad, serious researcher, an avid learner and traveller. In fact, most of his writings are inspired from his real life and travel. He loves writing and writes on topics that inspire and interest him, which can be accessed here ( He is also an amateur photographer, whose lens doesn’t stop to click moments of life, which can be accessed here ( You can reach him at

Photo of Chilika Lake, Orissa, India by Dr Ajay Kumar Singh

Photo of Brahminy Kite by Jitinatt Jufask

Moki Creek, Utah

Rills at the stream’s edge repeat thought.
I think of the many animal tracks covering
the continent, can’t step anywhere without
hoof, paw, claw or flipper, hair-thin touch
of a water-strider or a spider landing
there before my booted, five-toed foot.

If I put out feelers, I can sense, not a foot
away from any skin cell on my body, the thought
(or actual presence?) of the past that covers
or hovers around me. I breathe without
hesitation, each breath inhales a touch
of past exhalations, floating, landing.

Things live beyond themselves, the very land
is made of rocks that have risen, a foot-
long branch scatters needles like thoughts
from a purposeless daydream where I discover,
again, how mercilessly quickly time goes, without
a by-your-leave, without a parting touch

so I could feel I’ve been present, have touched
at least the stream’s rills or smelled the land’s
damp scent. I want the imprint of my foot
to be more conscious, want my thoughts
to last, as memories I’ll later discover,
palpable parts of day I needn’t do without.

Sit down here with the invisible, without
conscience’s scolding chatter, free to touch
almost unbearably cold water. Over land
infected with risen rocks, places where foot
after foot has passed and tracks, like thought,
wash down over the course the stream covers.

Look across where trees’ reflection covers
water, one existence layering another without
the need to ask permission or excuse the touch
it lays imperceptibly, surely, as it lands
on water’s surface and changes the passing, foot
by foot, down this slope into my thoughts.

Not to take without giving, not to measure, foot
upon foot, each thought by its ‘profound discovery.’
To land in the midst of myself, to be touched.

By Grace Marie Grafton

hiker under giant stone arch in desert

Grace Marie Grafton is the author of six collections of poetry, which can be reviewed on Amazon’s site. Grafton_Whimsey_CoverShe lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a redwood tree outside her kitchen door and a native live oak next to her deck. Nearby are red squirrels, raccoons, salamanders, and (never seen) mountain lions. Other of her nature poems can be found in Canary (online), Peacock Journal (online), Third Wednesday, Poecology and The Common Ground Review. Her book, Whimsy, Reticence and Laud: unruly sonnets, is rooted in her love of nature. She has taught for decades with CA Poets in the Schools, frequently taking her grade school students outdoors for their poetry lessons.

Photo of A hiker at Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, United States by Koji Hirano.

I Know Where He’s Been

I know where he’s been. The damp stains on his t-shirt and the look on his face say so much. It may have been strenuous because he looks exhausted, but I can tell he liked it. I would, too.

I can see by the way his body moves when he walks that it was long and arduous for him. That look in his eye conveys the wonder he felt and the satisfaction it gave him.

I know he was in a darkened place filled with scintillating smells. He likely heard some pounding against wood. I bet he felt every curve, maybe touching the hard places and breathing in the scent of the soft ones.

I wonder if he took off from work to go there, and if he’s done that a lot or was this the first time? Did he worry about being seen? Did he know how good it was going to be?

I know what it’s like, so I know he was sheltered by the green canopy that covers the trail as the broken pavement makes way for insistent plants to push through. If he looked up he probably saw indigo buntings as he neared the crest of the climb, their chirping melodic whistle reaching his ears. He may have heard the flute-like song of wood thrush.

The woodpeckers, after tapping purposefully up in the trees, were likely finding sap or grubs for breakfast. Although he couldn’t see the campground hidden behind the trees and moss-covered boulders, the sweet, pungent scent of bacon wafted down from there. If he was lucky, he heard a lone rooster greet the morning with a cock-a-doodle-doo.

Since it has been raining pretty hard the past few days he may have heard running water on the side of the mountain and looked over to see it forming rivulets down to a fresh stream from the runoff. He might have had to climb over a tree fallen across the trail, its roots loosened in the rain-soaked earth.

He might have ventured off the main trail to a path around the side of the mountain. Goats and deer could have met him as he made his way gingerly over rocks and roots.

When he got to the top he probably sat on the stone wall at the overlook. He may have seen misty fog nestle between the cleavage of the other peaks in these foothills of the Appalachians. I hope he noticed the warblers and chickadees and cardinals singing to their friends in neighboring trees.

He possibly paused at the overlook a few minutes to breathe nature’s glory in full view before starting back down the trail. The birds now would be settling in for the day, more quiet than on the walk up. The trees and boulders look a little different from this side, and he may have noticed some squirrels at play or a large colorful wild mushroom he hadn’t seen going up. As he neared the bottom he likely started to hear cars a quarter mile or so before emerging from the trail, back to the everyday bustle of life, and drivers going by like me.

Overlook from trail in essay

Courtney Hill Gulbro lives in the foothills of the Appalachians in North Alabama. She has returned to creative writing after a career as a counselor and counselor educator.

Photo by the author of the overlook at the top of the trail in the essay, Monte Sano State Park, Huntsville, Alabama, USA