constantly bee.

"Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are."

-Gretel Ehrlich


Work, even work that you love, has a curious way of graduating from task to taskmaster, pushing us in whatever direction it chooses, sometimes by wheedling us with little victories to make it feel as though something is actually being accomplished and hence one MUST keep striving even harder.  Other times it simply tightens the figurative screws with deadlines and unspoken threats of the consequence of not plodding on.

My work screws get tightened every January.  No getting around it as competing priorities bottleneck.  Throughout most of the year which chore comes next is normally obvious and while they may not assemble in agreeable single file, my various duties, for the most part, do align in at least semi-orderly fashion.

But not in January.

I equate the first month of the year with regards to my work schedule to my driveway,  my family's two cars and the two cars owned by the tenants to whom we rent out our second floor.  Most days, the individual automobiles come and go freely without any obstacle, but every now and again, there's a car parked in the lane while its driver unloads groceries, a car idling in the road waiting to deliver its impatient, worn-out inhabitant from a day punching the cliche out of some clock, and another car waiting in the back with a passenger eager to escape to anywhere else but there.



The year wasn't even a week old and that old familiar weight was back.  Adding to the heaviness, there was snow and ice on the ground and temperatures were holding well below freezing with sustained winds that made it feel even colder.

I'm oddly fond of the cold anyway, but, regardless, the weekend would find me out of doors no matter the conditions as I desperately needed to expose my senses to something other than a monitor's glow, the obnoxious ring of a telephone, the bland scent of instant coffee being reheated (yet again) and the smooth, texture-less touch of keyboard keys.

My name had been added to the roster of a nearby trail race, but, not longing for only-talking-about-running company, directive flagging or stocked aid-stations, that entry was spurned for the lure of the percussive crunching of two and only two feet punching through crusted over snow, an unaccompanied, taxing uphill clamber and the nothingness-and-allness-all-at-once of a forest trail barren of billboards, traffic, machinery and chatter.

Early Friday evening I drove Lily, Piper Bea and their (and my) beloved Aunt Nancy north to Juniata for a weekend with my mother and stepfather at their cozy, forested retreat.  Peeling myself away from the no-don't-go charm of the cabin and its wood stove, I trudged back to the car, steered it home to Manheim and wedged in one final four-hour session at my desk before retiring to bed.

The scarce treasure of sleeping in found me rising refreshed at 8:00 and a couple more hours in the office ensured that I could wander away the afternoon in the woods unencumbered by obligation and spend all day Sunday sledding and playing in the snow with the kids.

The winds were howling along the Susquehanna River as I stepped out of the car in the lot that sits just beneath Route 322 at the eastern side of the Clark's Ferry bridge.  The southbound Appalachian Trail practically falls off of Peters Mountain and into that lot before crossing the bridge on a pedestrian walkway, hanging a hard left after departing the bridge, only to cross another bridge, this time over the Juniata River, before arriving in the community of Duncannon.

In order to reach Cove Mountain and leave humanity behind, you need to navigate the entire length of town.  The Appalachian Trail avoids the main drag by stepping one block further away from the river and following High Street to its end.  Perhaps it was the knowing that this was all just leading up to the elevation gain and quiet I was craving or an embracing of the simple act of movement after a week of too many sedentary hours, but, whatever the reason, this mile or two of sidewalk and concrete proved more enjoyable than I would have predicted.  Most of the inhabitants of Duncannon seemed content to spend the day indoors, protected from the biting wind coming up off of the icy river, and with rare exception the only faces I saw were hunkered down behind glass, staring obliviously at television screens, peering out the windows of their homes at the odd passerby (me) or fixed on the road ahead from behind-the-wheel perches.

Crossing the old, crumbling bridge over Sherman's Creek, I glanced to my left and caught sight of Peters Mountain in profile above the far riverbank from where I'd started.

A few hundred yards later, the AT left the road at last and, as though it was eager to lose itself as quickly as possible, it climbed 750 feet over the next mile and, not surprisingly, hadn't seen much traffic in the frigid conditions.  The grade was significant enough all on its own, but a couple of inches of snow and any icy sheath over every exposed rock, root and branch made me relieved to have lugged along Microspikes on the paved portion of the run that now emerged from my pack to provide traction.  Alternating between running and hiking, I inched my way around the ridge as it remained parallel to Sherman's Creek while climbing higher and higher above it.

There is basically only one switchback on the entire climb and a motionless runoff stood sentinel at that very bend in the trail.  Why I can't say, but the sound of water trickling covertly between rock and ice never ceases to give me thrills.  Pausing there for several minutes, drinking in the music, I did not fail to notice that it was THE only sound to be heard and for that I silently rejoiced.

After another short but steep slope, the trail passed right by Hawk Rock which offered a dizzying view of the valley below and, to the east, full visibility of Duncannon and the confluence of the Juniata and the Susquehanna.  If this vista could be accessed by car, complete with neat rows of vehicular parking spots and maintained bathrooms, it would no doubt be frequented by every inhabitant of this part of the state as well as anyone passing through.

Call me spiteful and selfish, but I'm glad it's harder to reach, its natural beauty already tainted by the spray paint and scrawling of disappointing (though enterprising) taggers.

There had been a couple of sets of aged footprints that had joined the AT from a bisecting trail a half mile or so before the overlook, but feet had gone no further and the track afterwards was completely devoid of any sign of recent ambulation.  Admittedly, Hawk Rock alone more than justified the effort but those other visitor had missed out on the easygoing miles that followed, as the singletrack ran the top of the ridge, slaloming gracefully through the trees while serving up just the slightest of undulations.  Even in the snow, I was able to move along at a brisk pace and my thoughts drifted for just a moment to the speed at which one could travel this section on surer footing.  No need to follow that thread as the day was too beautiful to waste wondering at others.

Because of my midday start and having taken many minutes decompressing at Hawk Rock, I gently reminded myself that I wouldn't be logging the miles my body wanted to as my heart and mind adamantly wanted to end the day in my children's presence.

I decided that reaching the Cove Mountain shelter would be goal enough.  It came up faster than expected, announced as all AT shelters seem to be with a proper wooden sign and indicators of the distance to the next opportunity for rustic lodging.

A spur trail to the left dropped down a 200 yard incline and led right to the open face of the shelter.  Two stacked bunks lined both of the interior side walls of the structure and hooks aplenty stood ready to hoist packs, clothes, gear and food out of harm's way or at least the reach of mice (or so the hooks would have you believe).

I lounged for a moment in one of the lower bunks and tried to determine which roost I would choose if I were to stay the night, on one of the upper bunks that were tucked slightly beneath the eaves or right where I was, closer to the floor and more exposed to the outside but with less room for cold air to swirl under me.  A matter to be decided some other evening with the proper gear in tow.

Having documented my stopping by, stating publicly my intent to return, and feeling refuled by some crackers, Gummi Bears and not-surprisingly-ice cold water, I was ready to be on my way when something pinned to the wall caught my eye.

Corny perhaps, but the sentiment made me smile and I hoped all at once to run into the WoodSpirit and to BE the WoodSpirit.  Maybe I would cross paths with another hiker making her or his way to that very shelter and he or she (or they) might look at that very sign and wonder, "could it have been?".

Who knows.

I hadn't seen another person since leaving Duncannon behind and I wouldn't see anybody until  getting back off of the mountain.  Did get another peek at Peters on the descent and the way it was framed so beautifully through a break in the trees seemed like all the luck I could have asked for.

The sun was slipping and sliding out of the sky, descending toward the river and casting Duncannon in shadows intermingled with hues of purple and orange.

Crossing back over the Susquehanna, the wind that had seemed subdued while in the forest reestablished its dominance in an intensity of sound and strength.  Hearing the whizzing of automobiles on the other side of the barrier on my left while gaping to my right at the current below, choked with creaking and colliding sheets of river ice, I shuddered at the thought of freefalling from the bridge into the dark water and  succumbing to its relentlessness.  I couldn't decide if the stark, miraculous beauty of the sunset was complement or contrast to the inhospitable cold and unapologetic gale.

It is what it is, as they say.

We are what we are.

As I always try to remember to do, I thanked nature for letting me be whatever it is I am.

January, do your worst.  February will be here soon enough.


  1. Another good one. I've not been on that section...yet. I wasn't going to run today, but now you got me motivated.

    1. That's high praise, TB, and I'll take it. Get outside and enjoy the day...it's shaping up to be a beauty. It's January, so I know where I'll be, but the weekend approaches and I'll be sure to sneak in some adventuring. Be well!