Sunshine lifted the fog from my house early Monday morning and its clear rays combined with energy from a really good night’s sleep to get me in the car and headed to the trail before 9:00 a.m..
It seemed the sun had only worked on my rooftop and nearby hilltops, though, and as I drove north to the American Chestnut Land Trust’s Parker’s Creek Preserve, I found myself deep in the misty gray.
Hiking in the fog is a near-miraculous experience. It is, quite literally, walking in a cloud. Sounds are at once hushed and also heightened – the noise of the human world seems unable to penetrate the cloud, but reduced vision makes hearing all the more acute. Also, because the mist obscures the larger vistas, the eye is drawn to all the tiny marvels of nature that are so often overlooked.
From the parking lot, the hike commences via a mown track through grassland to the edge of the woods where the Stream Loop, Ridge Loop, and Laurel Loop diverge.
I enjoyed the Stream Loop last week in buttery sunshine, but was excited to experience the Laurel Loop under a layer of cool silver gray.
The leaf litter was thick, but the moisture of the fog made it soft rather than loud and crackling. Just beyond the view of the picture above, it becomes obvious how the trail was named – it winds through hillsides full of mountain laurel that arch over hiker’s heads.
Scampering beneath the laurels and over the leaf litter off the sides of the trail, gray squirrels went about their autumn nut gathering, but didn’t seem frightened by my heavy footfalls or the bright turquoise of my sweatshirt. They kept a wary eye but didn’t skitter up the nearest tree. Of course, none held still long enough or close enough for me to get a picture, either.
No matter; I hiked along in a state of peaceful joy, and the woods rewarded my positive attitude with two excellent fungi as still-life subjects:
Just after this shot I looked up to see a serious uphill climb. Not large compared to the inclines I used to hike in the Appalachians (the Gateway Trail comes to mind), but I haven’t been mountain hiking in over a year now, and my leg muscles have gotten lazy. I would have taken a picture of the hill, but I didn’t think of it until half way up, when I stopped to huff and puff and my heaving lungs prevented me from holding the camera still. Had I been able to get a shot, I would surely have captured the man-made miracle at the top of the climb: some wonderful worker or volunteer had built a bench there, hallelujah!
Though the temperature was in the low 40s, the uphill section had warmed me up enough to ditch my sweatshirt and sit on the bench with my notebook for ten minutes without feeling the chill. This is what I wrote:
“A chickadee calls “fee-bee, fee-bay” in the beginning of December?
The woods in fog seem even more magical – cloistered, protected – all the sounds amplified because the visual details are muted.
Drops of condensation fall from leaves. The rat-a-tat-tat of a persistent woodpecker at work. The squeaks and bell calls of innumerate little brown birds. Squirrels bounding through leaf litter as deep as they are tall.
I want time to stop so that I can sit on this quiet bench for hours – till the birds and squirrels trust me, till they hop on and over me as if I were a statue.”
I even took the time to get videos of two woodpeckers, a white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) and a red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). Not great videos, mind you, but you can catch the motion of the little trunk hoppers:
And by the time I was done writing and birdwatching (starting to feel fairly competent with my binoculars), the sweat had evaporated out of my shirt, so my upper half was refrigerator chilled, and my butt was numb with cold. Totally worth it, but time to get moving again.
I hiked the one mile loop in an hour and twenty minutes total, moving at a pace easy enough to touch the trailside trees with gentle gratitude, marvel at a flock of migrating robins in the canopy, and take a few more pictures. It was sublime.
If you liked this trail story, check out some other great southern Maryland trails:
- A Gift of A Day
- Adventures in Brown
- A Golden Hour
- Trail Photos: Flag Ponds
- Trail Shots: Calvert Cliffs