The Crowbar

We all know what a crowbar is. It is the tool that is used to pry open a door or a trunk and see what is inside. It is a rough way to open something. Just use that crowbar to get something out. You can just hear the nails squeaking and that groaning of the wood under pressure. That is what Janet and I say when I get her out of the house to do something active. It’s not that she doesn’t want to do it, and once she is out, she has a good time. It is just getting her out of the comfort zone of our house and out and about. I say- ” I just crowbarred you out of the house.” The groaning and squeaking seem to stop once the door is opened.

As with an actual crowbar, there is always the initial resistance. Take this weekend for instance. We have a lot of snow on the ground and I always say take advantage of the weather when you can. Jan likes to snowshoe but when it is 20 degrees and the wind is howling on the golf course near our house, it can become a real sales job on my part to crowbar Janet away from the fireplace. We set up the camp chairs, strap on the shoes, and then trudge off into the north wind. She is bundled up and moaning a bit but then the sun shines and we move towards the valley to shield us a little from the relentless biting wind. Things get better. The hands warm up a little bit and the conversation between the two of us distracts her from the bitter temperatures and wind. Clothing helps too in that she has a nice Patagonia Gore Tex shell and pants.

No such thing as bad weather.

I try to pick the good days to make the crowbar a little easier. When the sun shines, I have a better chance and nice groomed conditions doesn’t hurt either when we venture to the slopes.

Nice weather out west.

But sometimes, we get caught in nasty weather which makes the crowbar situation a little more resistant. Like when we get caught in a freezing rain situation.

Thanks Pat- freezing rain.

But for the most part, Gore Tex always does the trick especially when you can successfully get out of the house. And Janet always admits when we return home, she was glad she went and feels good that she got another day outside. Whether it is hiking, cycling, skiing, snowshoeing or just a plain walk in the neighborhood, once she is crowbarred out, things seem generally to go well. Some initial complaints wane as the outing progresses. Jan is a good sport and I have put her in some pretty nasty weather situations which never seem to be daunting to me. But I am a different type of person. Janet would prefer warm weather but she will take the good with the bad here in Western Pa.

The Hiker

Jan and I are empty nesters now. And with the pandemic, there is a lot of time spent in the house together. Not that we don’t like that, but it is important for us to be active outside. Jan loves her home and takes pride in having it well kept despite having to live with a guy who is a little less neat. She enjoys the comforts of home especially in the inclement weather. But when the crowbar comes out, deep down she knows that she will have a good time despite the feeling that she is being forced out into the frozen tundra. Or a rainstorm. Or blazing heat. That perfect day with sunshine and pleasant temperatures is the Holy Grail that we seem to rarely grasp. I am a ” stick your face in the wind and let it rattle your teeth” kind of guy and Jan bundles up and pulls her facemask tight. But that is ok. She allows me to crowbar her out and I do things for her at home. Together we are making the best of the pandemic, and also enjoying more time together. We are getting used to this empty nest thing and haven’t killed each other yet. My type A personality is motivating her and her common sense is teaching me – daily. After 33 years together, we have used the crowbar analogy to our advantage. You can’t buy much in the way of sports equipment today- all sold out. Lift lines are longer, and in general it seems like most people are trying to be more active outdoors. Maybe somebody is crowbarring them all out too. Enjoy the winter and thanks for reading

The Stoke

The Daly Chutes – Deer Valley, Utah

” Dude- I am stoked”. ” Man- the stoke is high today.” ” Stoked man.” You have all heard this in a lift line or elsewhere on a great day. Young people still get excited about skiing and they verbalize it in different ways including the word………….”stoke”. Now I am beyond the stoke vernacular in age, so I would not be caught dead calling anyone a dude or that I am stoked. However, the neat thing about skiing is that all ages can participate. I have skied for 59 years – as a kid and now as a grown kid. But still- I know my place among the millennials and keep my distance when verbalizing how I love a great day of skiing. I get ……. well ……..excited ,or at the ragged edge of adjective description- ” pumped” LOL!!

Mammoth Mountain , California.

So really- for the older generation of skiers, what exactly is ” stoke?” Well- it can be used to describe something about to happen. Like when your skis are hanging over a cornice and you are about to drop in. The excitement is high as you visualize your first couple of turns. And you are ….” stoked” . You drop in and make a series of linked turns and when you get to the bottom, the stoke turns past tense and you are ” stoked ” with that run. You have finished a high anxiety opportunity and you made the best of it and your smile is a wide as your face and you are ……………”stoked”. Me………………I am happy to have made some good turns and I silently say………..” alright!!!!!!” Would never yell out ” stoked.”

Stoke can also be used to describe the atmosphere of the moment. Like when you are standing in a lift line on a huge powder day. You hear the whoops and yeeeeeeowwws of the younger set as they recover their skis that they strategically placed in line at the front and they wait for the rope to drop. The ” stoke is high” as they impatiently wait on the chair ride for those first untracked turns in great snow. You hear the word ” stoked” all over the place as the crowd rushes from the lift to make those first signature turns. ” Dude- I am stoked” Not for me. I stay my course and politely ski out of the way of the dudes.

Laurel Mountain, Pa. 8:00 AM

I get excited as I look out on a perfectly groomed trail ready for the first turns of the day. I smile and click into my bindings, push off, and feel pretty darn good as I make my first turns on a sunny winter day no matter where I am. Out west or local. I am …….excited” I probably didn’t sleep real well but that is ok. I still have the enthusiasm of a kid as I slide down the mountain. Yes- I guess I am ” stoked” although I would never admit it or say it ……..except to you.

Things are a little weird now and my Jeep is my lodge as I now say. But we are happy booting up in the lot and eating our lunch in the Jeep. The stoke might be a little askew but we are definitely happy that the lifts are turning and we are skiing.

So although “stoke” is not really in my vocabulary, I am happy that the young people still enjoy the merits of skiing like I do and for that I guess I am …………………..” stoked.” Enjoy the winter and thanks for reading- dude.

Resolutions

Laurel Mountain

This time of year I usually see lots of people running our local park loop around the lake. People with the very good intention of changing it up for the New Year. Sadly, according to a study at the University of Scranton, 80 percent of people do not stick with their New Years resolutions for the complete year. I believe that a lot of people either start too fast or too hard to get in shape, lose weight, or whatever else motivates them. Then it becomes a chore and a lot of people quit what was to be a very good intention. I always encourage people to start easy and work into it. Then the chances of sticking with the resolution become greater and the benefits become apparent. You should be able to enjoy the workout and not stress yourself. I always say at this point in my life- no one is going to the Olympics. I have a friend who says to start slow and taper off. We all laugh but that is a good motto.

This time of year, I am usually skiing. I continue to ride a mountain bike for exercise but as I age, I have been trying to enjoy the activities and not stress myself with unattainable goals. I find that exercise 4 days a week including skiing and mountain biking is enough to keep me in shape. I have found recently that if I back off just a little bit, I can enjoy the activity so much more. Take skiing for instance. If you start out too fast, the turns are compromised and you end up fighting to get some kind of rhythm. I have found that if you start with some nice rounded turns, you can ease into the run and enjoy the quality of a good turn instead of trying to get as much vertical as possible. Quality instead of quantity is my current motto. I like to be able to look back and say, ” now they were some good turns.”

Mammoth Mountain, California

It also gets me ready for runs like the above when I travel. Same thing. Not too fast just make good turns and execute.

Winter riding is the same. This is not the time to be a world beater. Especially in my mid 60s where I am definitely not a world beater. I find that backing off a little bit enjoying the snowy conditions, and just appreciating the ability to get out and ride a couple of times a week is good enough. Alternate activities like snowshoeing are good too to mix it up a bit.

Winter Riding with the lights.
Snowshoeing with the bride.

In any event, enjoying the moment and not killing myself seem to be the ticket for me as I make my way into 2021. It has been an odd time with the pandemic but outdoor activities seem to be Covid resistant and if we are careful, we can enjoy the outdoors and not need to worry. I won’t live in fear but I also need to be vigilant.

So as we make resolutions into 2021, it is important in my opinion, to be realistic with your goals and what you want to achieve. You don’t want to be one of the 80 percent that falls short. In addition, I think that a lot of resolutions should include what you can do for others. The elderly, the shut ins, people who are injured, friends who are having a tough time financially, psychologically, or otherwise all need our help. Maybe as we run around the lake, ride, ski, or do whatever we do in the New Year actively, we can include some thinking about what we can do for others. I am no motivational expert here. Just an older guy trying to keep on keepin on, and making the best of what is ahead of me. It takes a village as they say and we all can do something positive for our physical health this year as well as using some time to help others. Thanks for reading and Happy New Years to all of you.

Night Skiing

Keystone, Colorado

This time of year when I was a kid, I used to sit by our phone and wait for Bob Rose , our wonderful friend and neighbor, to call and tell me when he was picking us up for the weekly trip to the mountains. My mother would make an early dinner for my sister and me and we would pile into the Rose’s station wagon for the weekly ski season trip to the Rich’s house on County Line Road near Seven Springs The first outing of the weekend was night skiing and oftentimes it was brutally cold weather at night.

Dixon Rich and I still skiing together 59 years later
Seven Springs Mountain Resort at Night

In the early days, there was no snowmaking and the grooming was slim to none. We had to negotiate frozen slopes and trails with wooden skis, cable bindings, and leather boots. But all of us kids didn’t care because we were skiing and that is all that mattered. Seemed like more trips to the fireplace in the ski lodge than during the day, but as long as we could get a hot chocolate and thaw out in front of the roaring fireplace, we were fine and back out we went.

As we became teenagers with better equipment, the benefit of snowmaking and grooming became appreciated. But usually on Friday nights, the groomers were not out yet and night skiers had to deal with frozen moguls and deteriorating conditions until the groomers did their magic overnight for us to have perfect conditions the next morning. Didn’t think much about visibility in those days, just where we were going to build a jump so we could hit it all weekend long.

Fast forward and night skiing took on a new meaning as we included it in the itinerary for trips to Holiday Valley in Western New York with wicked snowstorms blowing in off Lake Erie. Night skiing there was at a whole different level. It was at that time that visibility became a little more important to me as we charged down the slopes making sure to stay near the edge to have the best lighting. Skiing at night is fun but you have to be able to see fairly well because the lights are limited in their range and you can ski in and out of dark spots. And again, it is really cold at night in a ski area. One of the more interesting signs that I have seen was on a chair lift stanchion at Killington and also at Whiteface that said” These slopes are as cold and lonely at night as they were during the 1700s. Don’t ski alone” Wise advice especially if you night ski.

Now in my 59th year of skiing and having skied in 111 different ski areas, night skiing is not a priority with me. Now don’t get me wrong. I still will include a night skiing session when my buddies and I venture northward to Western New York in the early season. We will take anything early on and if it includes a session at night, we do it. I have also night skied in Keystone, Colorado with my friend Norm which was an adventure. Keystone makes it their business to light some black diamond slopes which can be a challenge if the visibility at night is compromised by weather. But the same rules apply to when I was younger. Stay near the edge and take advantage of the best light coming off the stanchions. Norm and I got some extra skiing by venturing out at night. We loved to pack it in and that extra cold session in Colorado always will be remembered.

The bottom line to all of this is that at 66 years old, I still get as excited for skiing as I did as a kid. My first outings are local and then on to the scheduled trips out west and to the Adirondacks. But if someone said to me, ” Pat- lets go night skiing” – I would not hesitate, if it meant more time on the hill. I love to ski and will kick, claw, drive through brutal conditions, ski in the rain, sleet, blinding snow, and work real hard to get my time in. How about you? I close my eyes and think back to this time of the year when after all day Saturday and Saturday night skiing, Bob Rose would find me passed out in front of the fireplace in the ski lodge. ” Get up dummy. Time to go.” I laughed and poured myself into the station wagon. What I would give to do it all over again. You don’t quit skiing because you get old. You get old, because you quit skiing. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter. It is upon us.

” Oh Thanksgiving- Oh!”

” Oh Thanksgiving , Oh Thanksgiving. How we greet you as in days of yore. Coming as you do in autumn when the summer ain’t no more. Oh Thanksgiving, Oh Thanksgiving, Oh!”

At the beginning of most Thanksgiving dinners in my house growing up, my Grandmother Reynolds would always recite this crazy little poem. We all would laugh and any new people or strays as they were called, would look at each other in bewilderment and wonder – ” what was that?” But Thanksgiving in our house was always a big deal. My mom was a heck of a good cook and she would make several turkeys, mounds of stuffing and potatoes, gravy and all the fixings for all of the relatives and those friends whom she felt needed a helping hand or lift at the holidays. She and my dad always worked so hard to make it nice and the meal was off the charts delicious. My favorite meal of the year. Plus, with my mom being the consummate entertainer, the house always looked festive and the fireplace was roaring because my mom thought of it all as entertainment and our house as a stage.

Fast forward and my dad bought a green Buick station wagon to pick up all the relatives. At 16, that was my job, and we laughingly called the station wagon the “ambulance” with the advancing age of my relatives. In fact, when they had too many Manhattans at my house, which I always made to help my dad, the term ambulance took on a serious meaning because I literally had to pour them into the station wagon in various stages of inebriation- they were Irish you know. My mother’s Aunt Lee would always be looking for her glasses after too many highballs which were invariably perched on the top of her head. My mother’s cousin would be putting the ignition key into his side window of his car. I told him to sit tight and I would take him back home later. The Manhattans were lethal and my dad’s eggnog was even more so. Octogenarians tended to be fragile anyhow and after several bombs served at my folks house, they only had one recourse- home in the ambulance.

It got to the point eventually when the ” ambulance” became only the delivery vehicle as we got older and my sister and I were in charge of delivering the Thanksgiving meal to all the elderly relatives who really could not make the trek to my folks house any more. I can remember many a Thanksgiving spending the whole afternoon delivering 5 complete turkeys and the accompanying dinner to each of the relatives, helping them get it ready, saying grace with them, and then headed on to the next stop. My mom and dad were amazing in their zeal for Thanksgiving and to make sure that all of our family in some way was together with at least a good homecooked Thanksgiving dinner.

Oftentimes I was beat up before I started the deliveries with the neighborhood Turkey Bowls. The Slippery Rock kids and the Clarion kids who played football, took great delight knocking all of us younger neighborhood kids into the middle of next week at the annual football fest. I was careful not to get hurt before ski season, but can remember catching many passes and then getting absolutely creamed by a kid who played college football. My dad would come over to the field and tell me to start getting ready for the deliveries in the green station wagon and believe me, I was happy to leave.

When I think back on those days, I marvel at my folks who made entertaining an art form. They were very generous to my relatives and also our neighbors and the time spent on making 5 turkey dinners amazed me. They did it as a team and even to a young kid, it was impressive. Even more so as I look back today. I am grateful for my parents and the generous spirit in which we were raised.

I remember asking them why they went through all the effort and my mom’s famous line was always” Patrick- happiness is like a perfume that you can’t sprinkle on others without getting a little on yourself.” I really think that they got more happiness out of doing those nice things than the people that they served.

I think there is a lesson to be learned here in that in this day and age of isolation due to Covid, a polarized political climate, and general uncertainty. The need for reaching out is even more paramount than in my parent’s day. There will be a lot of people this year spending Thanksgiving without their family. It will be a strange year and yet, if we all pitch in and sprinkle a little bit of that perfume, we all will be better off until things return to normal someday. Even in these hard times, we all have a lot to be grateful for. I am thankful every day for many things and even though this year will not be shared with relatives and friends, I will be happy to look at my wife and say , ” things will get better real soon.” Thanks for reading and reach out to someone who might want to hear from you. Sprinkle some of that perfume.

Another Lap Around the Sun

I always liked that expression, ” just another lap around the sun.” A funny way to describe birthdays of which I had one this weekend. Everybody has birthdays. No big deal except as I get older, they take on a little more significance to me because I am starting to see them as time slipping away. I have a friend who thinks of it as quality days left and to make the most of them. Now I am not ready for the glue factory by any stretch of the imagination, but you do start to think of these things as yet another year or lap around the sun goes by.

Mom and me at Lake Erie

Thinking about laps, I think about all the time I spent running laps around North Park Lake , or lapping my favorite mountain bike loops, or lapping my favorite ski runs. Up the chair and back down again trying to make the best turns I could. Running around the lake to see how fast I could go and to get in shape for something. Riding the bike and only seeing the guy’s rear end in front of me struggling to keep up or going fast enough to keep from getting run over.

These days, the laps are more about taking in the scenery and enjoying the ride more than anything. Looking at the changing leaves in the fall, or taking in the mountains from the seat of the chairlift or at the beginning of a run. Sure I try to make good turns but it is not about the most vertical feet attained anymore. Trying to enjoy the laps and make them count a little more from the experience side of things. Slowing down to take in the peaks and valleys below on a mountain bike ride. Enjoying the laps instead of always killing myself to attain some goal.

Sitting on a rock in Bend, Oregon – taking it in.
Enjoying some laps with my wife.

As I thought back this weekend on laps around the sun, I thought about what the next laps should include. I think we all have to think about that as we work through the Covid situation and the state of the country. There are people out there who are struggling and part of our mission on this next lap should be to help them . We all should focus on being kind and considerate in this age of social media nastiness. The political stress is waning now and I think we all could make great use of our lap around the sun helping people in need and being kind to others including those who don’t necessarily agree with us. These quality days left can include just being aware of your family, friends and neighbors and going the extra mile for them. An old pastor friend of mine once said that you don’t need to go out of the country on a mission trip if you don’t want to go. There are plenty of opportunities to help people right in your own hometown or neighborhood. All you need to do is look, listen and be aware. Just a little daily consideration for your friends and family is great too. We all need to look for those chances each day. Not preaching here, just sayin. We all are in the same boat together. Maybe opening a door for an elderly person with a smile could make their day? A kind word of encouragement for a friend. Helping someone out whose vehicle is stuck in the snow. Letting someone with a handful of groceries go in front of you. (People do that for me because I am too lazy to get a cart and end up with too much. LOL) Little things sometimes go a long way to helping someone just make it through the day. A phone call?

Time flies folks and as I look at the difference between these two guys, I realize that the laps around the sun are going faster and faster. I feel sometimes like I am driving a Ferrari, way too fast, standing on the brakes and not slowing down at all. Lets all slow down and enjoy the laps. Lets all make good use of them. We need to look for opportunities to be kind. Thanks for reading.

Change

So my wife and I were hiking the other day up in the Laurel Highlands and she said to me,” It took 32 years ,but I finally am hiking with you up in the mountains in the woods.” We both chuckled as I recounted all the times I told her how peaceful hiking is and how beautiful it is especially at this time of the year. The colors are vibrant as the changing of the leaves ushers in the fall season here in Western Pa. As empty nesters now, we are taking advantage of a lot of opportunities even in this restricted time.

As a byline, she also told me not to take her to any trails that might have rattlesnakes and I agreed seeing that I know ground zero up there for those sightings. But we did see bear scat and she was amazingly calm when we discussed black bear in the area. All in all, Janet is becoming an avid day hiker and when I approached the subject of possibly camping out and sleeping under the stars, she was not ready for that………..yet. But day hiking is relaxing and in this day of rapid fire change, it is nice to see a calm, peaceful changing of the leaves with a relaxing activity like hiking.

Interestingly, the outdoors has become a refuge for a lot of people in this Covid age. Many of my friends across the country are also making use of the time hiking, camping, and enjoying their native surroundings near their homes. From camping near the coastal mountains in California, to camping and riding mountain bikes up in the Bend, Oregon area, to hiking the Green Mountains of Vermont, my friends for the most part are staying close to home and enjoying nature at its finest. Recreation is becoming regional until things become a little more certain.

No matter where you live, there are opportunities to get outside and enjoy the change of seasons right in your own backyard. The fall is one of my favorite seasons and as I think about what has happened to all of us over the last several months, it is encouraging for me to see that active people are out and about. Even a lot of people who were not necessarily outdoors people, have taken the opportunity to buy a bike, a kayak, hiking boots, camping gear if they can get it. It’s nice to be in a remote place without a mask, right?

With change comes the knowledge that the winter season is approaching and people like me are looking forward to that change as well. Not sure exactly how the ski season will be in 2020-2021, but we are prepared with ski passes, trips planned, and a general positive feeling that being outdoors in the winter will be good for all of us. Keeping positive and hoping for the best. But at the very least, there are outdoor activities that can make winter fun and a lot of people might be trying snowshoeing, winter hiking and camping, and cross country skiing for the first time. We can all encourage them and join them to get through all of this together.

In this changing world, we have to stay positive and know that the only thing that is constant these days is change. When we see the colors fade and the leaves falling from the trees, we know that soon enough they will be green again and another season will be upon us. But in the meantime, enjoy each season near to your home and take advantage of spending time with friends and family in the outdoors. It does wonders for your physical and mental health. Thanks for reading.

” To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven”

– Ecclesiastes 3

How would you like to be buried with my people?

I came across an old deed to our family burial plots the other day. I have not seen this document since my folks passed away back in the early 2000s. The deed is for Calvary Cemetery in Hazelwood and it says things like, ” no carriages allowed in the cemetery after dark.” Seeing that Calvary was founded in 1886, and my maternal great grandfather bought the original plots, it is a historic document that is still legal today. Turns out we have several plots still available in this historic cemetery . Reminds me of the old joke that says ” How does an Irishman propose marriage?” ” He says, How would you like to be buried with my people?” LOL!!

Famous individuals are buried in Calvary. People like former mayors of Pittsburgh, Dick Caligiuri, Bob O’Connor, and David L Lawrence. Billy Conn, the former light heavyweight champion of the world, is interred here. Harry Stuhldreher, one of the famous Four Horsemen of Notre Dame football, and Frank Gorshin- the Riddler from the Batman TV show, are buried in Calvary as well.

Apparently my grandfather and grandmother went on dates to Calvary to decorate the graves and it turned out that their respective families were buried right across the street from each other. What a romantic guy my grandfather was. ” Hey Mary- would you like to go to the cemetery?” They took picnic lunches and continued that tradition with me as a young lad. Ham sandwiches sitting on some guy’s headstone. My grandparents, between bites, explained who all was buried there. We planted geraniums on both sides of the street and made it equal. Couldn’t have the Carroll’s have more flowers than the Reynolds. The flats of flowers were provided by my dad seeing that my grandpap was a little tight. No bee like a freebie.

Fast forward and I was driving. My first destination was to O’Brien’s Funeral Home on the Northside of Pittsburgh. All of “my people” had their arrangements with O’Brien’s and if you went anywhere else, you were thought to be “high hat” and were scorned by the relatives and friends. I was so proud of myself for making it to O’Brien’s and not wrecking the car. Turns out that I made many trips there over the years because of the eventual passing of my elderly relatives. I was so happy to be able to drive to O’Brien’s and so was my mother who was usually my passenger. Ever since she rear ended a garbage truck, she was happy when I got my license.

My most recent memories of Calvary were when my folks died and I took their cremated remains to be buried in the Reynold’s plot. I can remember how strange it was to have my mother and father sitting beside me with a seat belt on the urn. I remarked that I thought that they have looked better and had a laugh to myself in a very odd trip to Hazelwood. Sometimes humor can make the solemn palatable.

Oftentimes today, I look at gravestones in cemeteries like the ones shown here in a local Lutheran Church. As a history buff, it is intriguing to me to see stones with born and died dates in the 1800’s and in some, as old as the 1700’s. I ride my mountain bike by a site in the mountains that memorializes a lightning strike that took the life of a young person. National Cemeteries like Arlington and Gettysburg memorialize great struggle and the lives that were lost in those wars

So, looking at that deed this week brought back many memories of my folks, my long gone relatives, and a final resting place for our family out in Hazelwood, Pa. I am not sure I want to be put to rest there because I have these grandiose ideas of being blown to the wind in the mountains. But my wife, who is 8 years younger, says, ” You will probably go before me and if so, you won’t have much say in the matter.” We both have a good chuckle about that one. When I remember my last time out in Calvary and observing all of my relative’s memorials, I know one thing. I won’t be having any picnics out there any time soon. Thanks for reading.

A Walk in the Woods

I have to say that this time of year is my favorite among the seasons. The temps are changing and the leaves are turning colors- somewhat blazing this year. I love to hike at this time and my interest in that pursuit all started when I was a kid. I loved being in the woods. The first five human beings I knew outside my parents, were my five backyard neighbors- Richard, John, Ron, Glen and Cliffy. We lived in the woods – playing Army, catching crawfish and salamanders, and basically being there until my dad rang the dinner bell from our back patio. My parents didn’t worry about us much in those days. We were gone all day and would come running in for lunch, dinner and stay out as long as possible. We even drank from garden hoses and nothing ever happened to us. Imagine that? Slept out under the stars. We loved the woods and I still do today. This is a picture of Richard, John and me at Arapahoe Basin a couple of years ago. They both live in Colorado now. Even with the fact that we had not seen each other in a while, it seemed as if we left off right where we were the last time we were together. Isn’t that the way it usually is with good friends?

Fast forward from childhood, I hiked and back packed a lot in the fall right after college. The woods in the mountains seemed like a good place to reflect and try to figure out what the heck I was going to do with my life at the time.

I would either set up my tent or make arrangements to sleep in a ” lean to” shelter provided by the state. I would look up at the stars in the middle of the night while stoking the fire and try to figure out a path forward – like many of us at the time. Hiking was a relaxing way to reflect, take in the change of seasons, and breathe in fresh air. A walk in the woods was always therapeutic and still is today.

Moving on, to today’s world, hiking is a great activity for my wife and me to enjoy. As empty nesters, we love to get our gear together, strap on our boots and packs, and take that proverbial walk in the woods.
We either go to the Laurel Mountains east of here, or locally to one of our favorite routes in Sewickley. We often remark in our local hike that we could easily be anywhere with the scenic forest and well built trails .

It looks a lot like Vermont or New Hampshire with the rocky trails and hardwood forest, but it is only a 15 minute drive from our house. We don’t have the dramatic backdrops of the Green Mountains or the Whites of New Hampshire, but for a local hike, the scenery is pretty good here in Pa. A nice way for my wife and I to connect without any pressure of keeping up with anyone or keeping some sort of time schedule. Time moves slowly when you take a walk in the woods.

My folks never understood my need to be out in the wilderness, either locally or when I traveled near and far to basically camp, hike, climb, ski, and otherwise enjoy what is out there. Their idea of camping was sleeping at a Holiday Inn with the windows open. Me? I like that tent where I can see and smell the night. The stars, the planets, and the general feeling that the woods are embracing me. I feel like I belong there. That is why it irks me to no end when I see people deface rocks and overlooks with graffiti. All of us who love the outdoors need to protect what we all enjoy. Public lands, trails, National Parks, are all part of our heritage and if we want to leave ” a walk in the woods” for our kids and grandchildren, we always must pay attention to protecting our outdoor places of recreation.

A final suggestion, if you are looking for an activity this fall, maybe try hiking? There are so many places to go and aside from a rucksack filled with water and snacks, and some good sturdy hiking shoes or boots, the investment is minimal and the rewards are great. My love for the woods and the outdoors stems all the way back 55 years with my old buddies playing Army in the woods behind the Zankey’s house. For all we knew, we were in the Rocky Mountains or as far as our imagination led us at the time. Take that walk in the woods. It will restore you and give you needed perspective in our world today. Thanks for reading.

Peeling Back the Onion

I had the rare treat of eating my cereal last week watching the waves crash up on the sea wall. I was able to view the steady stream of fishing boats headed out for a day on the water with the exception of the days with a small craft advisory and rough seas. Life slows down a little bit when you are at the “shore” ( aka the beach in points south). I am not typically a shore/beach person but despite all the travels that we make, the annual visit to the Jersey Shore for over 30 years, is always appreciated by Janet and me. We live in the empty nest now and the time spent in Avalon and Ocean City brings back wonderful memories of our family together when our son Jack was a boy.

Although the pace is rather docile for me at the shore, I do appreciate some of the things I see from the seat of my bicycle when riding along the roads of Avalon. The meticulous landscaping of the homes in Avalon is really admirable. It is interesting to see the pristine condition of the homes there and also fun things like the flags of various colleges and universities proudly displayed indicating where the kids attend or the alumni status of the owners. Post Labor Day is a little slower than high season but you still see people clamoring for sticky buns at Kohlers, coffee at the Avalon Coffee Co., and when venturing north to Ocean City, the always delectable Johnson’s Popcorn and Manco and Manco Pizza. Perhaps my favorite is the hot donuts prepared each morning at the end of the boardwalk by Brown’s, a historic breakfast joint. All of this was introduced to me by my wife Janet, as she spent her childhood at the Jersey Shore. Her aunt and uncle have a place there and Janet and her cousins spent summers there growing up, and worked there all through high school and college. Jan has the Jersey Shore in her blood and no matter where we travel through the course of the year, she always looks forward to our time there. I have a feeling that as the years go by, we will spend more and more time in Avalon. Happy wife- happy life.

One thing that was different this year was that Janet and I are on our own now. The car conversations on the way down are different but we truly have the chance to connect. Although the Pandemic has me home and spending more time with Janet, the relaxed pace of a pending vacation , especially a road trip, is well worth the time spent driving. I am used to packing it in on a trip. Ski trips are my thing and the more runs I can make, the better I like it. Gas pedal to the floor and trying to get all we can with a lot of excursions. But the shore trip is different. Slower pace, long conversations on the beach, walks,riding bicycles together, and great books to read while continuing to catch up and discuss things. An interesting point in time on the trip this year was when we visited Via Mare, a classic Italian “go to ” restaurant. The food is always consistently good and the atmosphere is such where you could see Tony Soprano and Paulie eating in the corner listening to classic Italian tunes played on the restaurant Pandora system. I was explaining to Janet about Al Martino and several other Italian/American singers who we heard, when there was a lull in the conversation. I had talked myself out and in that moment of silence, I looked at Janet and appreciated her just like my times at breakfast appreciating the beauty and majesty of the ocean. I didn’t have to entertain her, I just relaxed and enjoyed her, reminiscing on the 32 years spent together as man and wife. The shore will do that to you. It slows the pace and the things that really matter overcome the daily grind and ” busyness” of everyday life. To me, life at the shore is like an onion. You slowly peel back the layers of the complexity of daily living at home, the politics, the Pandemic, the rush rush of daily living, and eventually come to the good part of the onion. What really matters.

I have learned to appreciate the shore. I learned that appreciation through Janet, and her love for the place is infectious. But more importantly, I have learned that life is short and although we are empty nesters now, we have a lot of life to enjoy and do it together. My type “A ” personality is mellowing a bit as I peel back the onion. I am hoping to keep some of that perspective and bring it back home. Thanks for reading.