Nevermore!

I arose with Yosemite’s dawn and made my leisurely way through morning camp chores – mostly drinking coffee and watching dawn’s fingertips stroke Glacier Point. I finally tidied up breakfast and made ready to set off on my hike – a jaunt up the Snow Creek Trail. My pack was packed except for a few munchies – two Ziplock bags filled respectively with dried fruit and peanuts – which I removed from the steel bear box and set on the picnic table. I stepped to the open rear of my van to retrieve my pack and heard a commotion behind me.

I whirled, but my bags of goodies were already headed for the deep woods in the clutches of two large ravens. I dropped my pack and gave chase. Some distance into the trees, I realized – Holy EXPLETIVE! I’m sprinting! It’s been a decade or two since I did that and I decided it was best to quit, especially since the ravens, even burdened, were widening the gap between us. Uttering raucous, mocking caws, they soon disappeared.

I returned to camp and sat pondering my losses with a third cup of coffee. After a few minutes, up flapped Mr. Raven. He settled on a high branch, cocked his head to one side and peered down at me, seemingly hoping that I’d offer him a second course of breakfast. I addressed him in a conversational tone and told him that he closely resembled the southern-most orifice of the human body. I added that his ancestry was more than suspect. He listened attentively until I finished. When he was sure I had no more to say, he flew away.

A few minutes later, he swooped down and dropped my stolen baggie of peanuts at the edge of camp.

I’m open to explanations here!

Sunrise in Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne River

Breeze off morning rapids
Is a greeting –
Trailing scents of pine, of lupine,
Of sweet wood-smoke –
But its first touch
Is a blue blade
Pulled by dawn
From its sheath of
Ice.

By Robert Walton

Tuolumne River and Mountains


Robert Walton is a retired teacher, a lifelong mountaineer and rock climber with many ascents in the Sierras and Pinnacles National Monument, his home crags. His writing about climbing has appeared in the Sierra Club’s Ascent. His novel Dawn Drums won the 2014 New Mexico Book Awards Tony Hillerman Prize for best fiction, first place in the 2014 Arizona Authors competition and first place in the historical fiction category of the 2017 Readers Choice Awards. Most recently, his short story “Uriah” was published in Assisi, a literary journal associated with St. Francis College in Brooklyn.

Please visit his website, Chaos Gate, for more information.

If you’re interested in Dawn Drums, an excerpt from the novel was broadcast on KVPR, an NPR station, and is available at this link: http://kvpr.org/post/lulu-garlic-contraband-robert-walton-valley-writers-read

Photos of Yosemite by Jon Walton

Gulf Sunset

Even with your eyes closed, you have a vivid impression of me. You see and feel me, a Florida Gulf Coast legend. Your first impression may have been orange, but I’m so much more than red and yellow combined. I hold a myriad blend of colors. Notice my amber, my apricot, my tangerine. Feel my salmon and gold flame. Let my peach-yellow-tomato hues wash over you. Experience my glow and warmth.

How is it that I am? Cloud reflection of slanting sun. Sunlight on dust particles and clouds. Light passing through more atmosphere near horizon, long visible light waves, favoring oranges and reds.

Now, enjoy the complete picture. You sit on the beach, feel warm Gulf breezes and watch as I drop through the changing sky. Listen to the murmur of the gentle surf as light changes growing more subtle. Gulls and Pelicans graze the water, as I gradually disappear below the waiting horizon line.

bright golden sunset over ocean


Mary Ellen writes about her life as an Air Force daughter, search and reunion with her birth family, her gardening career, and her survival of a stroke at mid-life. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Gravel Magazine, Wildflower Muse, The Remembered Arts Journal, The Vignette Review, Modern Creative Life, Halcyon Days, The Book Ends Review, and . Her short memoir, Stroke Story, My Journey There and Back is self-published. She and her husband live in Sarasota, Florida, with their rescued Schnoodle. Photo by the author

Saint Michael’s: A Day on Chesapeake Bay

With a rumble and a roar, the engine inside the dinky little pushboat behind us comes to life. Chugging and wheezing, the pushboat propels us out of the harbor, and then the first mate unfurls the sails and we’re on our way.

I’m standing astride the deck of the H.M. Krentz, an actual working skipjack based in the town of Saint Michael’s, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Our Captain, Ed Farley, is a redoubtable figure: over sixty years of age, rugged, solidly built, with curly gray hair and an indifferently trimmed walrus mustache, attired in a billed cap, T-shirt, and oil-stained jeans. The hair on his brawny forearms has been bleached white by the sun. Tattoos, thick gnarled working man’s hands.

Maryland state law has long forbade the use of inboard motors on oysterboats – hence the pushboat – a deliberate policy of enforced inefficiency designed to limit oyster harvests. But I’ve booked a passage on the H.M. Krentz not to help Captain Ed haul in oysters (which he still does, in the winter months after the tourist season has ended) but to see for myself what happens to places like Saint Michael’s after the shellfish industry – once the economic mainstay of the region – collapses.

Chesapeake Bay and sailboatsSaint Michael’s is a town with a long and venerable history. The Christ Church of Saint Michael’s Parish (a parish of the Anglican church) was built in 1672 on the banks of what was then known as Shipping Creek (now the Miles River) in Talbot County Maryland. The town of Saint Michael’s was founded in 1775 on 20 acres of land purchased by James Braddock. During the War of 1812, the Saint Michael’s Militia, under the leadership of Captain William Dodson, successfully fought off an attack by the Royal Navy. Later the town became a major center for the processing and distribution of seafood, but those days are long gone.

My journey began earlier that day at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum located on the edge of the town at the end of Mill Street. My first stop was the Waterfowling exhibit, which documented the history of the market hunters of the Chesapeake Bay in the nineteenth century. Back then the bay was blessed with a seemingly limitless abundance and diversity of waterfowl: mallard ducks, canvasback ducks, bluebill ducks, redhead ducks, wood ducks, widgeons, mergansers, scaups, blue wing teal ducks, black ducks, goldeneye ducks, pintail ducks, brants, Canada geese, tundra swans… New-fangled innovations, such as railroads and refrigeration, facilitated the distribution of all this meat to exploding urban populations.

I viewed the tools of the market hunters’ trade, some of which look more suited to antitank warfare than bird shooting: “battery guns,” with as many as eight barrels linked together in a deadly fan-shaped array, “punt guns,” over eight feet long, capable of firing a pound of shot at the time. Of course, what seemed limitless turned out not to be. In 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act put an end to market hunting, but the waterfowl populations never recovered.

The next exhibit documented the history of oystering on the Chesapeake, and featured a simulacrum of a “keeper” oyster from the year 1701. It took both of my outstretched hands to span the thing.

After the oystermen had depleted the oyster beds off of New England, the packing industry set its sights on the oysters of the Chesapeake. Once again, a superabundance that seemed limitless was not. The annual harvest of oysters went from a high of 100 million bushels in the 1880’s to an abysmal 100 thousand in 1983. Once again, the population never recovered.

The exhibits contained an actual skipjack, the E.C. Collier, which sailed from 1955 through 1983 under the captaincy of John Larrimore, whose roots in the area extended back for centuries – the exhibit noted that Larrimores have been living in Talbot County as far back as 1662.

I paused to inspect a pair of oyster tongs – a pair of wooden poles, twelve feet long, linked in the middle with a hinge, with a pair of interlocking iron baskets at the ends. I try to imagine what it must have been like to wield one of these things all day long. That must have been back-breaking work.

On prominent display were photographs of the crew of the E.C. Collier. I was mildly surprised to learn the crews were racially integrated back then. I wondered what these rough, hard men would have thought had they know their lives one day would be turned into a museum exhibit? Although, I suppose, it’s better to be remembered than to be forgotten.

Back in the here and now, aboard the H.M. Krentz, Captain Ed is telling us that the Chesapeake Bay occupies what was once the valley of the river we now know as the Susquehanna. At the end of the last Ice Age, rising sea levels flooded the valley, turning it into one of the world’s largest estuaries. Counting the tributaries, like the Miles River, the coastline of the Chesapeake Bay extends for over 11,000 miles.

Unfortunately, the difference between high and low tides is a scant two feet, making the process of flushing out pollutants painfully slow. The water that enters the bay at the mouth of the Susquehanna takes a year to make it to the Atlantic Ocean. Heavy metals sink to the bottom almost immediately and remain forever.

The Captain points to the shoreline and tells us that a friend of his, an archeologist from the Smithsonian Institution, has uncovered spearpoints and other evidence of the earliest human habitation in the New World – a staggering 23,000 years ago, more than 10,000 years before the Clovis culture which has long been accepted as the beginning of human habitation of this continent.

He also tells us a little bit about himself. He moved to the area as a young man and decided to make a living on the water, ignoring the advice of an old waterman who told him, “If I were a young man, I would get as far away from the water as I could. I would put an oar over my shoulder and keep walking until some landlubber asked me what that funny stick was.” Forty-two years later, Captain Ed still is making his living along the water.

The Captain pauses in his storytelling to haul in the oyster dredge we have been pulling behind us. He dumps the contents of the deck so we all can have a look. A pile of muddy oyster shells, two or three actual live oysters, and three horseshoe crabs: two dead, and one very much still alive.

Captain Ed hands the live one over to one of the passengers, a little girl who appears to be of preschool age and who accepts her gift with equanimity. He informs us that the specimen is a male, as evidenced by the single claw on each of its first pair of walking legs, in contrast to females which sport bifurcated claws. He also tells us that the oldest horseshoe crab fossil dates back some 400 million years, and that the horseshoe crab has survived six mass extinctions.

The Captain admonishes us to look up – a pair of bald eagles is soaring overhead. I borrow a pair of binoculars from a fellow passenger in order to be able to see. Even at distance, the birds are impressive creatures: snow-white heads, sharply beaks colored a vibrant yellow, wings longer than the armspan of a full-grown man.

It’s time to start heading back. By this time, the air is getting chilly, and half of the sky above us is covered with gray and white cumulus clouds. After docking, I ask Captain Ed, “Can I get a picture?”

“You had two hours to do that!” he shoots back. In a world of “have-a-nice-day” enforced politeness, I find his brusqueness refreshing.

I exit the museum, without ever getting the picture of the Captain. My journey takes past the old white clapboard Union United Methodist Church. I turn left again and begin walking along the Saint Michael’s Nature Trail, which conveniently has been covered with smooth asphalt. To my left is a stand of yellow pine, each tree shooting up for fifty feet or more before putting out branches. To my right is a salt marsh, with reeds towering twice my height.

I pause at the Bill Shook Memorial Footbridge and watch a great blue heron foraging at the water’s edge. She moves one step at the time, slowly, deliberately, then freezes for a moment before seizing a fish with one lightning-quick strike. Her jerking, halting movements remind me of a chicken in a barnyard pecking at grains of corn.

I follow the trail to where it ends at Route 322, the only way out of Saint Michael’s, then turn left and begin walking back to town, where the highway turns into Talbot Street.

The houses lining the street are painted in a variety of garish, improbable colors – mauve, lime-green, fuchsia. Most of them have been converted into overpriced gift shops or trendy little gastropubs, although I do espy a post office and an Acme supermarket. There is still a certain amount of foot traffic here, although the tourist season seems to be winding down.

I meander down some side streets, past the old nineteenth-century houses, and here the atmosphere changes. There is something very reassuring about these surroundings. Stately oaks, walnut trees, and spruces shade the brick walkways. Homes are fronted by picket fences or carefully tended gardens. Columned porches beckon to visitors. The houses themselves are built from traditional materials – wood, brick, and slate. When these materials weather, they acquire character – a road map of their years.

A few years ago I was working cleanup at a construction site on plots bulldozed out of virgin farmland in Carroll County. The houses there reminded me of Tom and Ray Magliozzi’s assessment of SUV’s – “Sure, they’re big, but they’re mostly air.” These houses were huge, but they were slapped together out of the cheapest materials possible – asphalt shingles, vinyl siding, particle board, screw-on aluminum shutters.

I get the impression that most of the people actually living here (as opposed to the services workers and the day trippers) are retirees. Which is fair enough. But I wonder – can we build communities like this for people to live and work in, and raise children in, and walk to the post office and the grocery store, and enjoy natural beauty within walking distance? Do we even want that? Or would we rather go on spending our wealth on McMansions, giant gas-guzzling SUV’s, and manufactured entertainment?

My journey takes me back to where I began, on Mill Street. I stop at the Crab Claw, a popular seafood restaurant on the water’s edge, located right next door to the Maritime Museum. I choose a table outside. I get my pick of seats – all the other customers are clustered together in the little heated vinyl tent that encloses most of the dining area. Carol, my waitress, appears to be about my age. She’s brisk, efficient, and yet welcoming in a way that feels neither forced nor contrived, as if I were an old high school classmate having coffee in her kitchen.

Carol brings me a plate of fried Chesapeake Bay oysters and a bottle of Goose Island India Pale Ale to wash it all down. Afterwards I linger at my table, watching the sun as it sets in the western sky, casting glimmers of light over the steely gray waters.


Patrick D Hahn is an Affiliate Professor of Biology at Loyola University Maryland and a free-lance writer. Click Here for his website, Patrick D Hahn: Science Writer and his blog, Meliponula: Tales Of An Academic Prole. Photo by the author.

Winter Walk

I tugged my second mitten up onto my hand, and checked that the knitted fabric of my hat was warming my head to its fullest extent. I was intending to start my walk off immediately, giving the relentless cold of the Maine air no extra chances at seeping in and chilling my stationary body. However, upon looking up, my plans momentarily paused.

The rugged beauty of this place seemed to catch me off guard and stop me dead in my tracks every time. It so greatly contrasted the tailored neatness of each little yard back in suburban Maryland where I spent the rest of my year. I breathed deeply, inhaling a degree of crispness that I was certain had no equal. Pine blended with smoke from the log fire crackling inside and the combination left me feeling more alive than I knew possible.

The forest was all browns and greens, the sky gray, yet not remotely depressing. The different browns left from foliage fallen over many Autumns built a dense cover through which the ground could not be seen in the entire woods. The trunks of ancient pines and oaks shot into the air, branchless until much higher. Meanwhile, younger trees, no longer saplings, created a lower level of boughs.

As I took in the scene around me, feeling comfortably insignificant in a place so vast and wild, the dry air began to trickle into my eyes. They watered, I blinked several times, and the moment was over. Remembering my plan to avoid the chill, I started off. The world was perfectly silent as I moved along, save for the crunching of my boots along the icy ground. Every so often I would pass a pond or stream, each with a white covering that told of a thick frozen layer beneath. On the road, places where rain had collected in a pothole was frozen the same cloudy color.

I carried on my brisk pace for the most part, stopping now and then to investigate the intricate patterns made by deep cracks running through these spots. Coming to the end of our driveway, I halted, but not for fear of a car or truck whizzing by. This was a place where there was never any need to worry about that. Even in the summertime, when the cottages speckling the lake’s shoreline were bustling with activity, much traffic on our small side road was rather infrequent. On the occasion that the odd mud-streaked car or pick-up truck drove through it was always at a cautious pace, wary of the twisty wooded path and uneven ground.

During winter, the cabins were sealed tightly and a ghost town was formed, desolate and utterly deserted, save for us. Hence, I was not paused at the split in the road for safety’s sake. I was simply deciding which way to go. If I headed right I would pass by a few snow-covered, little-league ball fields and find myself at a larger side road. To my left was another branch of the same unpaved road, along which I had been previously ambling. I chose left. The path less traveled generally tended to be the one that I ended up on, anyway.

I wandered along, noticing the tiny icicles hanging from branches here and there. They sparkled and reflected one another and I suddenly wondered how one could spend so much money on gemstones when these things of splendid beauty lined the trees for free. I continued on my way, pleasantly deep in the thought.

Arriving at a dead end, I began to cut cross country, leaves crackling loudly with each step. I trekked along carefully, keeping an eye out for frozen puddles. Having wandered along for a little while, I felt a slight shiver run through me as a breeze began to pick up. The air around me became even more fresh and a new smell mingled with the existent ones. It seemed to me that if the purest, brightest light that shone from an icy world could embody a scent, then this would be it.

I had emerged at the lake. Its appearance suggested that it was from a world altogether separate from the one that I had seen here just months before. I stared in awe at one place while I remembered another and I wondered how the two could be the same. The inviting warmth of endless little green-blue waves was the last I had seen of the stark expanse, uneven, hardened, and stretching before me. I stood there, stunned into stillness. The breeze, once a slight zephyr, picked up into a wind that wrapped around me like a blanket of cold.
ice covered lake and forest
I huddled on an armchair-sized rock, taller than it was wide. Gradually, my initial gawk became more of a contemplative gaze as I slid deep into thought once more. Mine was a comfortable sort of silence as I stood there that day. Maybe a little sad, but not in a miserable sense. It was the sadness that helped create the calm. It was the calm that helped establish the inner peace. And it was the inner peace that helped me connect every aspect of my life in certain way. A certain way that prompted me to whisper words that captured the loveliness of that connection.

As a young girl stood by the edge of a frozen lake on a wintry day in Maine, a sigh was carried off on the wind that sounded awfully like “God’s in His Heaven and all’s right with the world.”


Sophia Anne Charles is a talented, emerging writer of nature-oriented poetry and thoughtful, short fiction. Her focus is the intersection of nature, the human spirit and life’s often-lost simple observations. She resides in Gaithersburg, MD, USA.

Photo by Ying-Feng Johansson

My Lavender Clouds: Purple Asters

For the month of September every year my land is graced with sprays of purple asters. This delicate color comes before the burst of autumnal gold and orange of the sugar maples and poplar trees in our forest. These tiny asters are all over my land, and I have to be extra careful to not weed them out of my flower beds in late spring. They are volunteers. Wild, wistful and so welcome.
Large bush of purple asters

Living in Vermont up high – 1800 feet – offers sweeping views of the Green Mountains and the 35 acre emerald green field in front of our house. There is fog cupping the valleys early mornings and coral clouds at sunset. These vistas are a perfect backdrop to my flower gardens that are dense with flowers in the summer. They grow close and crowded. I like it that way − less to weed and prop up. They do it themselves by twisting and twining together in my flower beds. Most of the flowers I don’t know their names. They’ve been given to me by gardeners that divide up the roots of their flowers and thin out their beds. I do neither, preferring my land to have its way and grow thick and lush.

And those asters. I did not plant them. They are a gift of the wild, along with the tiny white and purple violets and yellow trout lilies dotting my “lawn” in early spring. I say lawn but it is really a bit of grass with a hell of a lot of clover and moss and wild flowers intermingled. I especially like the delicate trout lily with its bobbing yellow dangle – a miniature lily. Another wild flower that is a summer visitor is the tall yellow lupine that I leave in groups and carefully mow around. And the beauties of all wild Vermont flowers, the stately orange day lily that I have many circles of. In another ten years on my property, I won’t have any more grass to mow. The wild flowers will have taken over. I hope so.

For now, I’ve got my lavender clouds of asters everywhere on my land. The nights are frosted and the days crisp with the smell of apples in the air. Many of these apple trees all through Vermont are nearly wild too. Years ago they were planted, some a hundred years or more. Now the deer and raccoon and woodchucks can gorge themselves. Every other year, we all get to have a bumper crop of apples. But every year I get to love my delicate purple asters.


Auhtor PhotoDian Parker is a freelance writer for a number of New England publications, including Art New England, the White River Herald, OpEd News, and many others. She is the gallery director for White River Gallery in Vermont and an oil painter. Parker has written about porcupines, old growth trees, architecture, artists, inventors, and immortality. She lives in the backwoods of Vermont at 1800 feet; snowshoeing and working on a short story collection. Photo by the author of flowers from her garden.

View her work at the links below:
Sustaining-Ecstasy
Porcupine Courtship: A Raucous Affair
Stones in Translation
Five Paintings
Artificium
Back of Beyond
The Art of Falling