October 28, 2008

Farwalking forever…

Filed under: Uncategorized — sensel @ 5:38 pm

I’ve been back home about a week, and while I’m happy to smell the Washington woods, revel in the mountains’ fall colors, and reconnect with friends and family, my adventures already feel far off. The task now, as always after a return, is to keep my eyes calibrated to “seeing fresh” and my wonder close at hand, because I think the joys of travel are as much a function of attitude and approach than actual dislocation. After my African trips, I’ve had to keep telling myself, “see with Africa eyes” — because even roadsides I’ve seen a million times can be beautiful, if I remember to look as though I’ve never seen them before. That’s when I notice color and texture and detail that gets lost in familiarity and context.

No culture shock, somewhat to my surprise, except for one observation — boy, does the U.S. ever have WAY too many signs, billboards, signs, advertisements, and signs. It makes our urban landscapes a lot uglier than they need to be. Oh, well. Everywhere has something that requires active overlooking, I suppose.

I thought I’d post an “after” photo of my boots, expecting them to be in shreds after some 650 miles, but you wouldn’t see the difference from the “before” shot. I should probably to write Vasque and offer to do a commercial for them! :-)

Onward, with farwalking feet and Africa eyes…


October 16, 2008

Photos from the Isle of Wight

Filed under: England — sensel @ 1:23 pm

Views from my  wednesday walk, including “The Needles” at one end of the island. 


   My little boathouse.

October 10, 2008

Lucky meander

Filed under: England — sensel @ 10:16 am

Good things come to those who stray. On my walk the other day, which was originally planned to be an out-and-back, I got to a junction and thought, “well, my feet are tired, but I’d like to walk alongside this woods instead of over that meadow again, so I’m turning here,” even though I didn’t really know where the turn was going to end up or how much it might add to my mileage. I’ve spent a fair amount of time nominally lost, in part because the island uses about four waymarking languages garbled into one, with lots of unmarked stuff in between, but there are so many trails that it works out in the end.

A few minutes later, I saw a little dog up sniffing around up ahead, like hundreds of other terriers and so forth that I’ve seen here in two weeks. Usually it’s just a matter of a few moments for the owner to appear behind.

Then I got closer and thought, “Hmm, interesting tail – hey! That’s not a dog! That’s a red fox!”

And I actually got to within about a dozen feet before he glanced up and went, “Ulp! Human!” and darted into the bushes. I’ve never seen a fox “in real life” before, so I was pretty excited. They’re a little bigger than I imagined, and pretty. And fuzzy-looking. Too bad he didn’t let me pet him. I’ve also seen a cute little mouse – a dormouse, I think – and some interesting birds I haven’t got a clue what they are, including a BIG yellow one, and approximately forty million rabbits. Cormorants and pheasants and grouse, moor ponies and fuzzy highland cattle and too many spiders.

Zillions of famous writers have spent time writing here, including Keats, Tennyson, and Dickens. Not to mention painters and other artists. Easy to see why. Had a great hike under cloudless skies yesterday (well, almost) along the island’s most remote coast, and boy, did I want to climb down the “Danger! Cliff erosion! Trail closed! DO NOT ENTER!” trail so I could walk on about two straight miles of uninhabited orange smuggler’s beach, which I could see from the clifftop had gained one lonely set of footprints while the tide was out. I was good, but it was really hard to resist. My fear of high tide is more than my fear of eroded trails, though, and it was pretty apparent that I’d be swimming if I walked too slow along parts of that beach, so alas. Couldn’t figure out any other way down there, but maybe that’s a project for next week. Somebody around here has to know if it’s possible or just life-threatening.

And I’m actually kinda ready to come home, so I’ll save the life-threatening parts for another trip. :-)

October 3, 2008

Up the down, heroes on the side

Filed under: England — sensel @ 10:27 am

Had a terrific walk today through a very atmospheric chine (on our planet, we’d call it a narrow erosion ravine, though one filled with great gnarled trees, vines, and unusual plants – the sort of place where you expect a toucan to land on a branch and start talking to you – and then along the beach and esplanade for a few miles through typical British beach holiday-land: rainbow beach huts, pinball machines, fake fun, and a universe of ice cream (much of which I tried to ignore, focusing on the beach and the waves). And then up a big chalk down (up the down? gotta wonder why they’re called downs, since they definitely go up). The views were spectacular, the weather briskly great, and the sea hypnotic, reassuring, eternal. It’s paler green here than the Pacific, and clean, and the seafoam at high water, gleaming and backlit by the sun, looked just like silk. I wanted to pet it.

Among the things I was reminded of, passing a lifeboat station, were the RNLI stations I saw in Cornwall. From my American perspective, I think of lifeboats as something the Coast Guard (read: government) provides. Here, they have the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, a fully volunteer, 100% donation funded organization with a zillion operations around UK coastlines. They do amazing work out of the goodness of their hearts and, I suspect, a very firm connection to people making their living from and thus risking their lives regularly on the sea. One of the newer lifeboat stations I saw near the Lizard had the boat station, oh, 200 feet up a very steep cove, with a long, long ramp out to the water. You could go down about 150 steps (with a sign at the top warning you that you’ll have to come back up, don’t forget) to a midpoint and tour a mini-museum in their radio office, and they had lots of historical photos. Amazing. When they’re scrambled, it’s of course mostly during bad weather, as in gale force winds, and it’s very hard to get a small boat past the 20-foot breakers crashing in. Used to be, it took 10 or 20 men in the shallows with long poles, practically drowning in the surf, to push the lifeboat out past the breakers before it could get underway to the rescue.(And in the days where they used oars instead of motors, for which there were a few photos or artists’ renditions, I don’t know how they did it at all. We’re talking manly men, here, obviously.) In this modern station, when they deploy the boat (which I’m guessing was probably a 20- or 24-foot vessel or so, spiffy and modern, this one, with an 8-man crew), it shoots down the ramp – maybe a 40 degree angle? –like a one-way rollercoaster and crashes into the water beyond the worst of the breakers. It must be thrilling and scary to make that ride, not knowing if you’re coming back. Not too many years ago, a lifeboat on a rescue was thrown by the 30-foot swells into the boat they were trying to save and all hands went down, not only on the sinking boat but also the 8 people (unpaid volunteers, remember) on the lifeboat.

I know very little about boating, but even if I did, I don’t think I’d make a good volunteer for the RNLI, because reading some of their rescue reports, I’d be hitting the rescued parties with a bat and then drowning them myself. It sounds like a statistically significant percentage have been idiots out beyond their depth in weather they had no business boating in. The RNLI guys are saints for rescuing them.

Had a couple of nights of windy weather here, with the accompanying surf pounding boom, boom, boom against the sea wall all night long – my little rental is not very far from the wall – and it made me wonder what really bad weather here is like. I’d kinda like to find out, but I’m kinda afraid to!

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