Spiritual enlightenment at Machu Picchu

machu_picchu

To read the article, visit GoNomad.com

“Few romances can ever surpass that of the granite citadel on top of the beetling precipices of Machu Picchu, the crown of Inca Land.”– Hiram Bingham

A quote from one of the world’s greatest explorers, Hiram Bingham, begins my exciting read about Machu Picchu for GoNomad.com.  It was just this past September when I journeyed to the land of llamas and alpacas for adventures in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

I traveled with a Boston-based travel company called Vantage Adventures surrounded by a cadre of 18 other Inca rookies.   We bonded over cooked guinea pig,  a mystical healing ceremony, holding the hands of school children with incorrigible little smiles, buying artisan jewelry,  trekking parts of the Inca trail and surviving a national strike.   To read more, visit GoNomad.com. To enjoy more photos of the trip, visit my FLICKR ALBUM.

Pine Hollow Arboretum: a garden in the woods

Pine Hollow Arboretum

Pine Hollow Arboretum

Pine Hollow Arboretum

Pine Hollow Arboretum

Pine Hollow Arboretum

Pine Hollow Arboretum

Wedged between busy Cherry Ave and a maturing Slingerlands hamlet is an arboretum that I can bet you’ve never visited. And, the thing is, it’s been here since 1966 and has since evolved into a not-profit educational center for all.

The Pine Hollow Arboretum Visitors Center was closed when Mutti and I visited on Sunday but a network of trails, 25-acres worth, allowed us to amble past quiet ponds, over grassy knolls and alongside loamy ridges.

The unique ecosystem allows for collections of cypress, papaws, tulip trees, redwoods, sweet gums, magnolias, arborvitae and age-old pines – a genetic diversity like no other – to soar to great heights. Gardening zones just don’t seem to apply here.

Why wait till summer to appreciate this living museum? The resident deer, nut-gathering squirrels and solitary fox are okay with the company.

Pine Hollow Arboretum

Giving land assures wild places for all

schiffendecker-farm-preserve-2

schiffendecker-farm-preserve

Van Dyke at the Spinney

Van Dyke at the Spinney Preserve

‘Tis the season for giving so three cheers to all who donate land to the Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy. If you can afford to do so, gifting land is one of the most important legacies a person can leave to future generations.

It assures protection of wildlife habitat, natural resources and valuable forestry. And forever-wild usually means no chance of overpopulated subdivisions or big box retail commercial stores or insidious industrial activities or cutting of valuable timber. Way to go to those who donate!

Mutti and I spent the weekend discovering a few more of those philanthropic preserves this weekend: the Van Dyke Spinney Preserve and the Schiffendecker Farm Preserve. Both are in the town of Bethlehem. Both allow for dogs. Both have cute, winding streams running alongside the muddy trails. And best of all, it’s all free to roam.

So, again, hats off to the conservation efforts of those who donate land. I, for one, can’t get enough of these little oases.

The healing power of Highland Park

Highland Park Lamberton Conservatory

Nothing can be more restorative to the soul than seeing green. Green as in the color of Architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s beautiful Highland Botanical Park in the Flower City of Rochester, NY.

Mutti and I park the car near the reservoir. Our self-guided tour begins behind the arboretum on a faint trail winding up and down brushy, woody areas of sweet-smelling spruce, hemlock and pine.

Our senses come alive by a carpet of fat droppings from a Japanese Big Leaf Magnolia. I squat down to pocket a few favorite book presses. Little Renee basks in the freedom to run in the afternoon sunshine. This is the antidote Mutti needs to mend a wayward spirit.

You see, on Veteran’s Day, Mutti bid farewell to her husband, Francis “Buzzy” Bond, one of the bravest men to ever serve. The combat hero endured decades of pain and anxiety with optimism and courage. Rarely did he end a Facebook entry without a resolute “And, don’t forget to smile!”

His accolades were enormous. It took 20 different baseball caps to help display all the medals, ribbons and pins he amassed jumping for the 101st and 82nd. He survived Vietnam with a bullet lodged in his brain and shrapnel throughout his torso.

I could go on but this post is not an obit. Yet, not far from the hospital, where all of Buzzy’s burdens disappeared, Highland Park’s immortal Redwoods help to console and calm. Bending branches of certain species don small plaques etched with the names of others that have passed.

In the Lamberton Conservatory, we meditate in temperature-controlled rooms of tropical and desert wonders. White, football-size mums, beds of blooming barrel cactus and webs of Spanish moss all help to heal the heart. Quirky storytelling about the habitats of plodding turtles and one lonely duck make us smile.

Back outside, after a loop around dormant azaleas and rhododendron shrubs, we run out of time to explore the Poets Garden. I suspect another round of park-hopping to buoy our spirits real soon.

Highland Park

Highland Park

Highland Park Lamberton Conservatory

Highland Park Lamberton Conservatory

Highland Park Lamberton Conservatory

Highland Park Lamberton Conservatory

Highland Park Lamberton Conservatory

Highland Park

At Great Falls, a cascade of surprises

Great Falls, Potomac, Maryland.  Photo courtesy of Peter J. Pfeiffer, Jr.

Great Falls, Potomac, Maryland. Photo courtesy of Peter J. Pfeiffer, Jr.

Photo courtesy of Peter J. Pfeiffer

Photo courtesy of Peter J. Pfeiffer, Jr.

Views of other smaller falls on the Potomac River from the boardwalk on Olmsted Island.  Photo courtesy of Peter J. Pfeiffer.

Views of other smaller falls on the Potomac River from the boardwalk on Olmsted Island. Photo courtesy of Peter J. Pfeiffer, Jr.

In my last entry, I mentioned the preserved canal system running parallel with the C&O Canal towpath. Today, I highlight the equally impressive Great Falls just opposite Lock 17. The above three photos were taken from Olmsted Island, on the Maryland side, by military veteran and volunteer Virginia Master Naturalist, Peter J. Pfeiffer. Because I could kick myself for leaving my Nikon at home, Peter was kind enough to send copies of his beauties taken at sunset.

Olmsted Island sits smack dab in the middle of the roughest part of the Potomac river. Named after the NY’s Central Park landscape architect, Fredrick Olmsted, the rocky island is navigable from a gentle, winding boardwalk perfect for wheelchairs and bird-watching enthusiasts.

The island is rich in natural wildlife and dense ecology. This place is also a haven for hikers but at the hour that I visited only photographers elbowed the platform for pictures.

“Most people don’t realize it, but [this area] is one of the top 25 visitation sites nationwide,” said Bill Line, a spokesman for the National Park Service. (Read more on the Baltimore Sun)

Even at dusk, adrenaline-seeking kayakers braved the rapids and funnels running downstream through the narrow Mather Gorge.

“The water level fluctuates greatly,” said Peter, pointing to the lower tree branches of Olmsted Island. With dubious eyes, I stared at Peter finding that fact inconceivable.

Great Falls is part of the nearly 20,000-acre C&O National Historical Park and something you absolutely need to visit. For more information, visit the National Park Service.

Our nation’s earliest canal along the Potomac watershed

 Patowmack Canal

 Patowmack Canal

 Patowmack Canal

 Patowmack Canal

Living in upstate New York, who hasn’t hiked, biked or paddled the historic “Clinton’s Ditch?”
More famously known as the Erie Canal, this magnificent treasure celebrates a 200-year-old anniversary in 2017. But did you know that there’s a canal that’s actually older? Thirty years older, in fact.

I’m on a post-trick-or-treat assignment along the border of Virginia and Maryland near a scenic heritage town called Potomac. With few hours left before sunset I went prowling along a roaring Potomac watershed called the Great Falls. To my delight, I stumbled across the remains of a steep stairway with a series of five locks called the Patowmack Canal.

This canal has a history that predates our own vital artery. The Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center tells the story of how important the waterway was to President George Washington. Shortly after the Revolutionary War, he pushed for its construction envisioning making the Potomac River navigable all 184 miles to the Ohio River Valley.

I took a walk along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath, including the challenging Billy Goat Trail reflecting on the fact that George Washington never did get to see his dream come true. He died in 1799, two years before the canal opened at Great Falls.

As one might imagine, the work was difficult and dangerous. And it probably wouldn’t be a stretch to think that the Erie canal owed its success to the use of engineering techniques, like locks and damns, pioneered at the Patowmack canal.

This early transportation footpath endures for visitors to hike, bike and enjoy. For more information visit the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal website.