The summit of Hawksbill Mountain is one of the most popular spots in Shenandoah National Park. There are many good reasons for that.
Hawksbill is the highest point in the park at 4,050 ft. above sea level. You have a 270-degree view from the summit. Hikers love it since two trails lead to the peak, and a covered shelter is available. Plus, the view is incredible.
I chose the Upper Hawksbill Trail for several reasons to do my second hike in the park this year. The trail has less elevation, is shorter, and I had never hiked it before. I wasn’t disappointed. Birds and butterflies were abundant, and most hikers donned face masks as we passed on the trail.
As you can see, the rock outcropping of the peak is rugged and angular. The Appalachian Trail is 500 ft. below. The drop into Timber Hollow, however, is 2,500 ft., which is the most significant elevation change in the park. Unlike others, I stayed well away from the edge.
Awash with news and information about COVID-19, it’s easy to feel tense, confused, irritable, fearful, or even bored. Due to the global pandemic, millions of people of all colors, religions, cultures, and languages are experiencing similar trepidations.
A sense of hopelessness can be emotionally overwhelming. There’s a way to help overcome that despair. Head outside!
Studies have shown that connecting with nature calms fears, and uplifts spirits. I embrace those findings as often as I can. I recently headed to my favorite get-away place, Shenandoah National Park.
Mine was a twofold mission. Besides going into the wild, this was my first hiking experience since my knee replacement surgery last September.
I started early to beat the heat and humidity. The sun hadn’t yet risen over the Blue Ridge Mountains as I approached the park on U.S. 33. I exit that road into the park at Swift Run Gap.
Rounding a slight curve on a typically hazy summer morning, I noticed a large dark object in the opposite lanes of the divided highway. I slowed and rolled past a massive black bear standing beyond the grassy medium.
The magnificent creature looked both ways and then bolted across the roadway. It promptly disappeared into the steep, wooded hillside before I could even grab my camera.
Buoyed by that encounter, I arrived at the trailhead in high spirits. Surely, anything that I would experience the rest of the day would be anti-climactic, unless I saw another bear on the hike. I didn’t.
I walked a few yards on the Appalachian Trail to where it intersected with the trail I wanted, the Mill Prong. It was all downhill from there until the return trip.
The forest was amazingly still. No birds sang, and no vehicles hummed along the nearby Skyline Drive. I took in every moment, the wildflowers, the ferns, brightly colored fungus conspicuously growing on dead trees. The distant sound of water gurgling its way down the mountainside lured me onward.
I heard or saw no one else. A gray catbird burst from a bush beside the trail. A feisty squirrel angrily scurried away, flapping its tail in disgust of the human disruption.
I rested at the shallow stream. The morning sun filtered through the forest canopy, sparkling the gently rippling water. I felt exalted.
Farther downstream, I sat on a large rock and just enjoyed the sound of water trickling over ancient boulders. On my return trip, I passed a few other hikers. Each one donned face masks as we passed on the trail. More gratitude and thoughtfulness mutually expressed.
Turk’s cap lily.
Common Wood Nymph.
Young Dark-eyed Junco.
Covered in pollen.
Click on the photos to enlarge them.
When I reached the parking lot, the strengthening morning sun spotlighted some bright orange Turk’s cap lilies just off the trail. Their beauty drew me like a magnet. I snapped my camera’s shutter over and over, trying to preserve the glory I beheld perfectly.
Suddenly, a female tiger swallowtail butterfly alighted on the same flower that I was photographing. Again, delight and gratitude filled me to the full.
In the rest of the world, the pandemic raged. But in the wild, only the big black bear, the forest’s serenity, the kindness of other hikers, and this tango of floral and fauna mattered.
I was thankful for each magical moment, and for the skillful surgeon who had replaced my knee. Gratitude is appropriate anytime, but especially during this pandemic.
Connecting with nature does indeed do wonders for your soul. You can find peace and gratitude in a local park or even your backyard.
Get outdoors, follow the prescribed safety rules, and enjoy all that comes your way.
I am fortunate that I can incorporate my three favorite hobbies into one outing. Whenever I go hiking, I always take my binoculars and camera. Every now and then, I am rewarded with an opportunity to capture the beauty of birds.
This male Indigo Bunting landed on this jumble of dead branches just out of the morning’s sunlight. Still, the ruffle of the striking bird’s feathers as it turned its head revealed several shades of blue. Indigo is the perfect name for this avian beauty.
I am happy to share my Photo of the Week with you, “The Blues Have it!”
Jay Lehman was the kind of man that you might meet only once in a lifetime. He embodied the very values of the community in which he was born, lived, and worked.
Jay died recently at age 91. He was the founder of the old-time general store Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio. I was fortunate to have known him as both a friend and a business leader. Scores of others can say the same thing about Jay.
That, however, is what impressed me so much about the man. We weren’t close as friends go, and we didn’t run in the same social circles. And, yet, whenever he saw me, he always went out of his way to call me by name, say hello, shake my hand firmly, and ask how I was doing. Jay was a good listener.
I got to know Jay the best through a cooperative marketing group that I facilitated. The original group included six Amish country, family-owned and operated businesses with a single location. Lehman’s was a founding member.
Jay started his little hardware and household goods business in 1955 at the crossroads of his rural hometown village. His original purpose provided necessary lifestyle items for the Amish community that surrounded Kidron.
Over time, the store’s purpose ironically flipped, becoming more of a tourist destination in Amish country. Jay embraced that change without losing sight or letting go of his and the community’s core values.
Faith, family, community, and a strong work ethic fulfilled humbly reflected not only the area’s priorities but Jay’s, too. Jay modeled those qualities in his personal and business life. That’s what made both Jay and his company tick.
In that success, Jay honored those values. He lived his faith by supporting the church and charities that he cherished. Even in a crowd of hundreds at statewide church conferences, Jay would acknowledge people by name and ask how they were doing. It might have been years since he had seen them. He understood the worth of healthy relationships.
That, in part, is what drew folks to Jay. He possessed a quiet, confident demeanor, and yet humility formed the mantle of his character. Even Lehman’s tagline reflects that concept: “For a simpler life.”
Jay saw the future in the past. He preserved anything of locally historical value for posterity and education. A walk through the store reveals hundreds of antique relics that would have been lost were it not for Jay’s foresight. If you want, you can have lunch at Lehman’s while sitting in the old town jail.
Jay enjoyed the simple life, but he certainly was not a simple man. He loved a good “Rook” game with friends and family as much as he enjoyed traveling. Future generations were as vital to him as his Swiss ancestors, which he revered.
As the company grew and expanded, family members, friends from church and community joined in to help him run the store. When he reached retirement age, he passed the leadership on to the next generation. But he continued to be a dynamic presence at Lehman’s.
It was a joy to watch customers recognize Jay as he strolled around his much-expanded corner store. He was the living icon of Lehman’s, now an international business.
Jay’s legacy will live on through his successful entrepreneurship and his lifetime of kindness and generosity. Living those essential core values shaped that legacy.
His was a compassionate life. Jay lived not just for himself, but for all whom he so tenderly touched far beyond the little town of Kidron, Ohio.
I easily spotted the small patch of Turk’s cap lilies as I finished my hike on a trail in Shenandoah National Park. The morning sun perfectly highlighted them against the forest green background. Since they stood high above other plants along the trail, I knew I could get a good shot of these nature wildflowers.
I took a few photos when this female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly suddenly attacked the flowers, flitting from one to the other. It was a very pleasant surprise. The beautiful butterfly moved around so much that it was difficult to get a good angle. As I snapped the last shot, which was this one, the butterfly fluttered off out of sight.
I was driving along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park early in the morning when I came upon this scene. Fortunately, the fog was rolling up the side of the Blue Ridge Mountains right at an overlook.
Watching the fog rise rapidly out of the Shenandoah Valley and up over the mountains was a treat. The sun was just peeking over the eastern ridge when I turned and caught this scene. The crown of the tree scattered the sun’s rays into the eerie fog, creating this spectacular scene. The high clouds perfectly framed my Photo of the Week, “Shining Through.”
In case you haven’t noticed, we have entered those dreaded dog days of summer. It’s hot, humid, and dry almost everywhere across the country.
The Shenandoah Valley hasn’t been excluded from the stifling temperatures and muggy air. Rains have been sporadic, all or nothing events.
The few times it has rained at our place near Harrisonburg, I could have walked through the widely dispersed drops and not gotten wet. Our backyard is so brown that it resembles a beach more than it does a lawn. Only, the grass crunches rather than squishes beneath your feet.
I understood the meaning of dog days even as a child but also wondered where that term originated. I knew that when adults talked about the dog days, it meant sunny, hot, humid, and dry times.
Those were days when the neighborhood kids would head for the woods or the creek down over the hill from our little red brick house. Mom wanted us outside playing, and with no air conditioning then, we were glad to oblige her.
But I sensed dog days meant something more profound than being so dastardly hot that the dogs wouldn’t whimper. Naturally, I Googled to find out the source of the saying. As simple as the phrase may sound, its origin is a bit complex.
It turns out that the phrase had little to do with dogs panting or even the lazy, hazy days of summer. There was a muddled mix of astronomy and fantasy involved in bringing in the dog days, not necessarily a heatwave.
Dog days first referred to Sirius, the dog star. The appearance of Sirius in the early morning sky just before sunrise ushered in the dog days for the ancient Greeks and Romans. In their time, that occurred in late July.
Back then, sailors, travelers, and stargazers didn’t have to deal with light pollution. They worshiped the heavens, establishing names and stories for stars and constellations.
In Homer’s “The Iliad,” Sirius is referred to as Orion’s dog star. Then, the dog star brought wars and disasters of all sorts. I guess they had to blame something. It might as well be an imaginary culprit.
Still, I can just imagine families gathered around a fire long ago, staring skyward, as an elder told the story of the dog star. Today, of course, most of us couldn’t find Sirius even if we could see the stars.
Whatever tradition you acknowledge and expound, the dog days of summer are here. They have gotten off to a roaring start in more ways than the hot weather.
The comet Neowise has been thrilling people for a couple of weeks now. It should be at its brightest. If you haven’t taken time to check it out, all you need are some binoculars, some keen eyes, and be willing to enjoy the cooler evening air with a good view of the western horizon. You won’t be disappointed.
Summer’s dog days are also hosting the debut of the delayed Major League Baseball season. Even with a 60-game schedule, I’m not holding out much hope for my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians.
Authorities thought that the warmer months would slow the spread of the cursed Covid-19 virus. Instead, the number of U.S. cases and, unfortunately, coronavirus-caused deaths are both increasing as the summer steams along.
I hope the dog days don’t bark too loud or long this summer. Given the state of world events, that would be some welcome news indeed, as soothing as a drenching rain.
Are you warm enough? It seems like the entire country is on fire right now. Record temperatures, Excessive Heat Warnings, and Heat Advisories have marched across the continental United States west to east.
We all could use a little cooling off. I thought this photo of a bush pilot flying just above the Knik Glacier near Palmer, Alaska, might bring a bit of refreshing relief from the oppressive heat and humidity most of us have been experiencing. I took the shot a year ago while visiting with friends in Anchorage.
We were standing on a terminal moraine facing the glacier when this tourist plane cruised low over the receding glacier. Our guide said the flight cost $600 per person for that brief thrill. I was just happy to be with friends, enjoying these beautiful sights, and crisp, clean air.
I loved how the morning’s sun cast a distinctive shadow on the bright, white siding of this Old Order Mennonite farmer’s barn. When I looked closer, it seemed like the shadow didn’t precisely match the shape of the mangled windmill. The fins appear to be collapsed. The shadow shows differently, however.
The difference between my vantage point and the sun’s position in the sky created the effect. “The Broken Shadow” is my Photo fo the Week.
My wife and I have enjoyed Shenandoah National Park since we moved to Virginia three years ago. There’s a lot to love about the park, and it’s less than an hour away.
We’re not the only ones who appreciate it, of course. The estimates of annual visitors compare to those of Ohio’s Amish country, our former residence. Each location attracts millions of visitors a year.
Of course, the novel coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on tourist numbers everywhere. With the virus cases flattening out in Virginia, the park has mostly reopened.
When we want to break our stay-close-to-home routines, Neva and I head for the hills. Sometimes I will venture out alone, birding, hiking and shooting photos. It’s an enchanting place, a multi-sensory extravaganza.
I hear the beautiful song of an indigo bunting, and I raise my binoculars, scanning the area for the likely source of the melody. Novice that I am at identifying bird calls, I want to make sure I am matching the right species with the song. I’ve learned that, like human accents, bird calls of the same species vary geographically.
Once I find the bird, I switch to my camera to try to get a decent photo. With the trees in full summer canopy, that’s not easy to do. Now and then, I am fortunate to find a bird singing in the open, and I click away.
I catch a slight, silent movement out of the corner of my eye. Is it a doe with a fawn, or perhaps twins? Is it a black bear grazing before nightfall? One never knows. On warm days, keeping a lookout for a lounging timber rattler while scrambling on a rock outcropping is always a good idea.
Male Indigo Bunting.
Beauty in any season.
Gold and black.
Pink and blue.
The park is a great place to take sunset photos, too. But sunsets in the mountains can be problematic.
The expansive, rolling Shenandoah Valley is bordered on the east and west by mountain ranges. Sunsets can be as disappointing as they are stunning. Weather plus geography equals a formula for the unknown.
When we lived in Ohio, all we had to do was look out our windows to know the potential for a spectacular sunrise or sunset. We were spoiled.
Here in the breadbasket of Virginia, the rising and falling topography makes it iffy to predict what the eastern and western skies will do at dawn or dusk, respectively. You hope, pray, and go for it. Sometimes you are disappointed. Other times, you are speechless.
…to this dreamland sunset in a matter of minutes.
(Mouse over the photos for the captions)
It can be cloudy and raining in the valley. The view from the mountains of the park, however, might be spectacular if you wait long enough. Pick one of the many west-facing overlooks along the majestic Skyline Drive, and prepare yourself for come-what-may.
The elevation of the old, folded mountains ranges up to 2,500 feet higher than that of the valley. From the park, you can see the Allegheny Mountains that mark the boundary between the Commonwealth and West Virginia.
Patience, intuition, and good fortune can be the formula for bathing in a dreamland. Even with a thick cloud cover, the sun can still break through, turning drabness into beautiful in the blink of an eye.
I’ve learned to be ready for the unexpected as the sun slinks below the jagged horizon. Will the clouds refract the sun’s rays into pinks and blues, lavenders and oranges? Or will they merely steal away the sun without fanfare?
You don’t have to have a national park to enjoy heavenly landscapes. Wherever you are, just wait and watch, and let nature do the rest.