Wednesday, July 18, 2018

My sermon: Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world (7/18/2018)

It has been a while since I posted something in my blog. For my regular readers, I gave a sermon at the church I attend regularly the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula in Newport News or UUFP. That took a bit of my time. For some of my friends there and friends in Holland, I promised I would post my sermon on my blog. I will start out with the sermon, followed by the quote from E.O. Wilson’s book “Biodiversity” that I read as a preamble, and the closing words. Regular readers will recognize a common thread in my sermon; for new comers I have an extensive list of labels where you can hunt for more.  It is not great literature but a way for me to express myself.  But without further ado, here it is:


Hello everyone, most of you know me, I am Jan. I’ve been a member of the UUFP since the year 2000. I am a biologist, a naturalist.

My funny accent might give it away, but as a lot of you know, I am not originally from here. I grew up on the island of Curaçao in the Caribbean. As a child and teenager, I spent a lot of time in what was called the knoekoe (the local name for the bush) on the island, taking it all in; just moseying and looking around. One of my favorite things was looking for ball cacti, pulling out their little pink fruit out off the white pads, and eating them. I would also just fantasize about what I saw, about making trails so people could enjoy and appreciate nature more.

This carried on in my adult life, I first worked in international development, and then afterwards I had a 20-year stint as a field biologist. I loved being out in the field, experiencing nature in its fullest. I still do, you can try to take me out of nature, but I do not think you can take nature out of me; it draws me in like a magnet. Whenever I can I will be out there, find a tree I can hug and even kiss and be one with for a few seconds, feel grounded.

Of course, you can take photographs of nature (as I do) or look in photo books, but as Annie Dillard wrote in her essay “Total Eclipse”: “Lenses enlarge the sight, omit its context, and make of it a pretty and sensible picture, like something on a Christmas card.” Being emerged in nature, living and breathing it, is so important. At least, it is to me, and I hope to convince you that it should also be for all of us. Only outside can you touch and feel the trees and the soil; breath in the smells and fragrance and feast on the views. As you can imagine, I really hated to go back to the office to write reports about my fieldwork, especially since it usually meant that my fieldwork would turn it into some subdivision and destroy some of nature's beauty.

Earlier on as a graduate student there was nothing better to take pre-dawn measurements of plants in the desert of New Mexico and then hearing the coyotes howling around me at sunrise the minute the sun hit the area. It was magical; you knew they probably had been watching you all along and you never noticed them.

Later on, as a wetland scientist working in the woods I could not just do my job. Especially when working alone, I just loved to take time out at a beautiful spot and just sit on a log or lean against a tree and observe nature around me for 10 or so minutes.

Field work was not without its dangers. I will never forget the day I was struck by a water moccasin also known as a cottonmouth in Virginia Beach. The snake shot out of the high grass and hit me in the legs. I let out a very loud high-pitched scream. Thank goodness it did not break skin but just got stuck in my pants. But that night, 12 hours later my heart was still racing. The very next day, I did come eye to eye with a timber rattlesnake in the same area. I noticed a beautiful skeleton of a possum and bent down to look at it when I heard the rattle. The rattler just stood there and warned me to back off, as to say “this is my carcass,” so I slowly backed off, turned around and walk a different way.

Did I kill the moccasin that bit me the previous day? Absolutely not! As our 7th principle mentions, we have RESPECT FOR THE INTERDEPENDENT WEB OF ALL EXISTENCE OF WHICH WE ARE A PART; or in other words, I believe that we all have our place on this little blue marble that floats in space and we need to respect it and take care of it and of each other. The snake defended its territory and I stepped in it. I did not get hurt and I know my heart was good, at the time. On the next day, the rattler just warned me to stay away. Not all snakes are bad, not even moccasins. A number of years ago I ran into two that were mating (and they were not aggressive), they were not at all interested in me.

You have to take precautions, during the times I've spent outside, have been bitten by so many ticks and have gotten rocky mountain spotted fever, one of the tick-borne diseases. And let's not talk about all those mosquitoes.

Did all this deter me from ever going out into the woods or nature again? Absolutely not. This was in 2003, and I still go into the woods for work and I still do it almost daily for pleasure. Am I more careful? Naturally, I am getting older you know. But I just love to explore, bushwhack and take it all in.

I think that I suffer from an extreme form of Nature Deficit Disorder. Nature Deficit Disorder is a term first defined by Richard Louv, it indicates the need of people to reconnect with nature at times to regain balance in their lives. Louv contents that a lot of personal inner problems, social problems and inner-city problems can be brought back to the disconnection from the natural environment.

The way I deal with my Nature Deficit Disorder has always been to go out in nature. I guess in the old days when I grew up on that tropical island you could have called me a loner. Being out in nature was my solace, and actually it still does. You could say that I could be considered an introvert. Later on, I learned by way of some psychological tests that I am truly an introvert among other things. However, as an adult I have forced myself out of my shell when I am in public.

Being an introvert does not mean that you do not like to talk to people or that we are anti-social. Every person needs human interaction and so do introverts. However, we introverts also need a lot of recovery time or me-time. For me it is so comforting to retreat into my own world and in particular in the natural world where I can be alone. That is my way of expressing and dealing with this curse of being an introvert.

So, when I am done teaching or interacting with people, my alone time is best spent outside hiking in the woods, on my sailboat on the water or in my kayak. Doing this alone would be great, but with my loved ones is great too, as long as they do not expect me to talk too much. I often just like to be in my own thoughts. However, when I am sailing I am just concentrating on staying on course and not running aground, but even that clears my mind.

I am not sure if he was an introvert, but the famous John Muir who hiked up and down the Sierra Nevada around the 1900s is credited as the person who initiated the Sierra Club, and was the impetus of the National Park Service wrote “the deeper the solitude the less the sense of loneliness, and the nearer our friends”. Muir also wrote: “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” I think he was onto something here.

Earlier this decade Japanese researchers introduced the term Shinrin-yoku loosely translated as forest bathing. No, it has nothing to do with an outdoor shower, although I am still trying to convince my wife that we need one of those too. The Japanese researchers showed that the volatile compounds or phytoncides emitted by the vegetation in a forest, in particular the conifers, lowered the blood pressure and slowed the heart rate of their subjects, and one exposure to these chemicals (or to the woods) could last as long as two weeks.

John Muir also wrote: “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” As our friends from Japan found, of all the trees in nature, pines are the highest emitters of phytoncides, those chemicals that are good for you.

Maybe this is why pines have a rich history in mythology. Of course, we use them in our Christmas celebrations and with good reason. Many cemeteries plant pine trees and other conifers as symbols of eternal life, they stay green throughout the winter. Druids in England lid bonfires in Scotch pine forests during winter solstice celebrations. The Romans worshiped pines during the spring equinox festival of Cybele and Attis, while in ancient Greece worshippers of Dionysus often carried a pine-cone-tipped wand as a fertility symbol. Even in Siberia and Mongolia, people there enter a pine forest in silence and with reverence.

Native American people see the pine tree as a symbol of wisdom and longevity. Its needles and sap are medicine that protects people from illnesses, witchcraft, and more.

In the Orient the pines are also associated with longevity, virtue, youth, masculinity and power. The Japanese word for pine is Matsu which also stands for “waiting for the soul of God to descend from heaven.” In ancient Shinto beliefs, gods were said to have ascended to Heaven on a pine tree, where they now reside on a beautiful volcanic mountain in giant or old trees. Pine trees are associated with the New Year in Japan. So much so that many Japanese hang a bundle of pine twigs and bamboo trunks known as a Kado matsu ("Gate pine") on their doors to receive a blessing from the gods.

This almost reminds us of Muir’s quote: “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world,” doesn’t it?

While I love that quote, and conifers such as pines rule, I would love to expand Muir’s quote to: “Between every two trees in a forest is a doorway to a new world.” I strongly believe there is power in nature as a whole, and not only in pine trees.

For me, it does not matter how familiar or unfamiliar the woods are, every time I step outside into the woods the worries of the world fall off my shoulders; I can retreat into my own world and relax. Early on in my life, in Holland, Uganda, Nepal, Yemen, and New Mexico I was in my happy place when I was alone just strolling around in nature, looking around and sometimes studying the things I saw around me.

What do I look for when I retreat into the natural world? For one, I grow bonsai trees at home and it is great to study the canopy of mature trees in the forest for examples to style my little trees. In my reading by E.O. Wilson you heard me tell you that he considers that there is more order in a handful of soil than in on the surface of all planets combined.

To me nature is full of order; full of hidden patterns, and that is another thing I am always on the lookout for. It is survival of the fittest, parsimony, and full of those patterns waiting to be discovered and understood. That is what I do in the woods.

Think about it, every spring the leaves come back, the dogwoods and the redbuds flower and we have to deal with pine pollen. Let me tell you, I had the worst allergy season this year. In summer months, nature does its thing, I enjoy watching the adult birds raise their young, watch the skinks (or lizards) in our backyard, and just see everything grow. In fall nature is preparing for winter. In winter, you notice things you hardly see other times in the year, like when looking up in the canopy you see that not many tree canopies touch each other. Also, that there is a rhythm on the way the trees branch and the way side branches come off.

In her book: “The Solace of Open Space” Gretel Ehrlich wrote: “Autumn teaches us that fruition is also death; that ripeness is a form of decay. The willows, having stood for so long near water, begin to rust. Leaves are verbs that conjugate the seasons.” Yes, nature to me is very predictable and it helps me to sort my thoughts. So yes, a new door opens every time I enter nature, I discover something new.

Those snakes, ticks, mosquitoes and other varmints are not going to stop me from going out there. I take precautions, use bug spray, watch out where I step. I need to get out and be one with nature. The tall trees are my cathedral, my spiritual home. That is why all those parallel tree trunks in the forest are so important to me; they are my doorway to a different, a new world. As I said those forests are something we all need, not only for clean air and clean water, but also as a spiritual experience, for our sanity, our health and overall wellbeing. Once I enter the woods I need to become one with it and feel grounded, to touch the bark, feel the tree, like when I was young when I needed to eat those little red fruit in in those cacti. But most of all, I need to get out there and I urge you to go too.



Organisms are all the more remarkable in combination. Pull out the flower from its crannied retreat, shake the soil from the roots into the cupped hand, magnify it for close examination. The black earth is alive with a riot of algae, fungi, nematodes, mites, spring-tails, enchytraeid worms, thousands of species of bacteria. The handful may be only a tiny fragment of one ecosystem, but because of the genetic code of its residents, it holds more order than can be found on the surfaces of all the planets combined. It is a sample of the living force that runs the earth – and will continue to do so with or without us.

Edward O. Wilson
The Diversity of Life


Closing (Benediction):

Let us go out now into the sunlight filtered by the pine trees and oak trees. May the subtle fragrances of the woods bathe your body and your lungs. May this all bring you blessings and enhance your enjoyment of life for days to come, until the next time you can return to nature and experience it all over again.

Bless it be.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Motel room DNA (6/25/18)

As most of my loyal readers know, I am a frequent traveler. I travel a lot for work and stay in motels and hotels. Most of my travels are in Virginia; however, I do travel out of state, but that is mostly for pleasure. We actually just got back from a trip to New England where we watched our daughter get her graduate degree in Divinity from Harvard. Afterwards we spent a few days running around in the western part of Massachusetts, southern Vermont and New Hampshire. Most of the hotels were courtesy of my hotel points, or courtesy of my professional travels.

Those professional travels and staying in hotels is always somewhat boring, but on the other hand also strange at times. The strangeness is particularly acute when you stay in a new motel, like the one I stayed in the other week or when you go out of state on vacation. You need to learn the lay of the land, where the good restaurants are, what the best route is to drive to the place you are teaching, and just the layout of the room. One of the main question is, how much light comes into the room at night and how do I get to the bathroom in the dark at night without tripping over things or stubbing my toes (we older guys have at least one required bathroom visit every night).

There is also always some strangeness not knowing what to expect from your neighbors. How noisy are the rooms and how noisy will the neighbors be? Will they be quiet or won't they. Last week I had a snorer next to me. Just faintly, but I could hear him or her and it just put a smile on my face. It somehow made me think of some of the other noises you might hear when it is really quite, and I felt blessed with this very muffled sound. I wrote about sounds that next door neighbors make in this post last year. Truthfully, that was not the only time I've heard it. There is still a lot of loving going on in hotel rooms; it ranges from the rhythmic thumping to the more, sometimes, quite vocal ones.

This sometimes makes me wonder about the room I move into for the night (or two). Who was or were the occupants before me, and what went on in there just the night between those sheets, before I lay my tired body in that bed? Wanna let your imagination go wild? Or was it one of those filthy roadside crew guys or roofers from Ohio who I talked with the other day. Those guys spend two three months away from home on a roofing crew, live in motels; at night each person drinks a 12 pack of cheap beer, and eats pizza and passes out to repeat the process the next day after spending the whole day on a hot roof. I am sure they take a shower and clean up before they get in bed, and I actually had a great talk with them that one time. The money is good, and they all miss their wives at home. It reminds me of that one time we did an ecological survey of an area in South Carolina that was burned. Every evening we came out looking completely black, covered by black soot. You should have seen the bathtub after I took a shower that night. I felt sorry for the cleaning crew, we had a hard time cleaning the shower after we were done.

My room for the night.  No ghosts of the previous night visible.  This Hilton is always nice and clean and a pleasure to stay in.  It will be my home for two nights.
Wondering what went on before you, makes me wonder sometimes where to sit in my room. How much DNA was left behind on the bedspread or even on the chair or couch in that room? What am I laying my head on? I heard that friends of mine check into a room and always purposely spill something on the bedspread and then ask the front desk for a clean one. I guess that might minimize foreign DNA exposure at least on that part.

It is not only human DNA I wonder about. Bed bugs are another thing. Someone before you could also brought them into the room. My wife inspects places for bed bugs, so she trained me to look for them. Every time I check in that is the first thing that I do. I am sure that it doesn't guarantee anything, but it makes me feel better. Still, every time I come home, she gives my grief about potential bed bugs and asks me if I parked my car in the sun and exposed my suitcase to the heat. The problem is that I usually bring my computer bag into the place I teach and that bag or bags do not get exposed to the heat.  I also keep some of my prescription drugs in that bag and my vitamins and ibuprofen, which I do not want to expose to heat.

As you can see, traveling can be fun; there are all kinds of thing to keep account of.  It is often a lonely business, especially when I teach alone.  After work, it is often dinner alone and then back to your room where you drown yourself in the news, your social media, a book, or something else (I do not do sports or a lot alcohol like those roofers from Ohio, etc). However, you could also let your imagination go wild and fantasize about what went on in your room before you, and be a somewhat voyeur after the fact. Oh the perils of traveling.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Depression sucks (6/11/2018)

Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, what news stories last week! It really bugs the cap out of me. I have a father who took his own life with a gun. He was depressed and took it out on his loved ones. I was an ocean and a continent removed, but still he did it on the day that I bought a new car to start my new job after two years of under and unemployment. I had called him the day before to tell him this and had no inkling about that he was about to pull the trigger. Did I resent him for that? Yes I did in some form or fashion. Was I hurt? Yes, I think as a family member of or close to someone who commits suicide it hurts, I'll never forget it. In a way I had expected it and had made peace with never seeing him again the last time they visited us, a half year earlier.

A number of years later I got the phone call from my brother that the person we considered one of our best friends committed suicide. My brother tried to convince me that he hurt more than I did. Who gives a shit about comparing hurt at such time or any time after that? Yes, as a younger brother he has always been in competition with me, and even in our friend’s death he tried to be better (more hurt) than me. 

A number of years ago, a good friend gave me credit for saving his life. He was about to do the same and it was me along with a few other close friends who were able to talk him off the ledge. Now every time I see a post of his on Facebook, I still let go a sigh of relief knowing he is still OK, or at least alive. I don't believe you (he) can ever be safe, but hopefully friends and family can help you (him) through your (his) darkest hours.

Growing up I learned that suicide is the most selfish thing you can do in life: “end your suffering but usually substantially increase the suffering of others.” Others say it is a cry for help, at least when people survive the attempt. I am not so sure anymore, I think that is probably mostly bullshit. It is depression, and that can be chemical but also just mental.

Depression is a scary thing, whatever the reason. I have been depressed, and have I ever thought about ending it? Absolutely, but only for a second and never really seriously. First as a teen when my parents pulled me away from my home in the sunny Caribbean and I ended up in damp cold Holland. I also thought about it at some other times in my adult life. Right now I am in a good place, so I have no worries, but I kind of know what depression is. Every time I had those thoughts of ending it, I knew they were ridiculous and would not solve anything, except solve my misery. However, I quickly realized that I would miss out on so much, or the rest of the story, and how hurt we were when our loved ones did it to us. I told myself to snap out of it. I realized that there was so much more to discover, to teach, to see, to photograph, to hobby and now to write about. I had and have so much more to say and (maybe my selfish way) to contribute to society. I forced myself to do one of those things I really enjoyed, like those I mentioned above, or some of the things I have mentioned in my blog like forest bathing, or walking in nature and exploring. It did not solve my depression instantly; yes, I stayed depressed, but every time depression set in I tried it and slowly the veil lifted and things started looking better again.

Here is a selfie of my ugly face on to of Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire.  We hiked it a couple of weeks ago.  Although the mountain kicked our ass (my knees still hurt two weeks later), it was an exhilarating thing; it lifted all our spirits, as it should.
Naturally, I had a few visits to a psychologist, I did not feel comfortable with the guy. But then I went to talk to him about another issue than depression, and he was OK in helping me with the issues at hand. For me it was a lot of working on myself and realizing that I was ridiculous and actually hurting my loved ones. I realize that I make it sound so damn easy, and it isn’t. I am also sure that I again will have periods of depression and hopefully will get through it.

As you can see, this week brought up a roller coaster of emotions for me. I still often think about my father and Rob, especially when there is another high profile suicide in the news. The first time it really hit home was when I heard about Robin Williams, although I have forgiven him, knowing what we know now. The other famous suicides will also eventually slide off my back as well. My father's suicide will never be easy to forget since he killed himself on Dr. Martin Luther King Day, January 15 and I will get a yearly reminder as long as I live.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Green Wall (6/7/2018)

Sitting in our gazebo and looking at the late May/early June woods behind our home, I am awestruck by what we euphemistically call our “green wall.” It is a pallet of different levels of green and different textures being contributed by different species of trees and shrubs. Sitting here I see a pyracantha that we are training up the gazebo. Behind it there is our red maple tree that survived hurricane Isabel in 2003 as a mere sapling, but now is a big tree. Next to it is a strange blue spruce that we got as a life Christmas tree one year and is completely out of place here in southeast Virginia. I also see azaleas, dogwoods, a redbud, a red tip, sassafras, a yellow popular (also known as a tulip poplar), white oaks, red oaks. more red maples, sweet gums, loblolly pines, American hollies, a winged sumac, beauty berries, paw paws, viburnums, one butterfly bush, a fringe tree, two magnolias, a Carolina jessamine, and a hawthorn bush. That is only in our small backyard; no wonder we had a shade garden. I am really hunting around to find sunny spots to put my bonsai trees. They really need sun to thrive. You can see that in the understory of our yard where we have a lot of ferns. However, in one sunny spot we have native sunflowers, goldenrod and milkweed. I hate to admit it, but we have a horrible invasion of Japanese stiltgrass.

Two photos from our back yard.  The bottom one gives the view from the gazebo.  As you can see it is pretty darn green out there,  with the sun peeking through the holes in the canopy, also known as sun flecks.   It is woods as far as they eyes can see.  The bottom photo may be a little fuzzy because the gazebo is screened in and I am taking the photo through the screen.
I am probably forgetting some plants in our yard, so be it. Our yard surely is not master piece of landscaping, that will come once we retire and can spend more time out there, and work on the design. But one thing will be for sure, I do not expect that we will change the aspect that our yard runs right into the woods behind our home. Having such a yard that runs into a forest, we hardly can see the edge between the two, and so does the wildlife and nature that lives in the woods behind our home. Although often frustrating, deer make our yard one of the first stopovers in their daily migration into our neighborhood. Tasty plants don’t stand a chance. Over the winter, they even pulled one of my azalea bonsais of the 5-foot-high table to nibble on. Oh well, they did to that tree what was long overdue and what I did not dare to do. In addition to all the plants and the deer, we have so many different bird species visiting our little plot; we have skinks everywhere, frogs, toads, a couple of snakes, bunnies, turtles, squirrels, mice, moles, voles, just to name a few. And let’s not talk about all those daddy longlegs that are out there in our yard right now.
This is the azalea bonsai that was pulled of the table this winter.  It is currently blooming, but as you can see the left side was completely defoliated by the deer that got to it before I got to the deer.  Anyway, the defoliation is probably long overdue.
But one thing is for sure, the green wall in our back yard is in contact and communication with the woods behind our home. Others in our neighborhood have cut all the trees in their yards, turned their yards into managed lawns, hit them with fertilizers and pesticides. They created a biological and ecological desert.

In his wonderful novel “The Overstory” Richard Powers writes a short story about a Ph.D. student who discovers how plants communicate with each other by releasing volatile chemicals in the air, warning each other of pending insect attacks. She gets vilified by the establishment to be proven correct years later after she has dropped out of science. While this is just a story or fiction, it probably comes very close to how communication between plants was discovered. It seems that the Soviet scientist Boris Tokin was the first to describe in the 1920s and 30s that trees gave off volatile chemicals. Boris had an inkling that this was for self-defense, but I do not think for communication between plants or as he called them “phytoncides.” On a side note, it seemed he was an interesting character and being a politically correct communist, he published about his effort of integrating the philosophies and thoughts about Darwin, Marx and Engels. As I mentioned in previous posts, researchers in Japan, among them Tomohide Akiyama and Dr. Qing Li discovered in the 1980s that some of these phytoncides were actually beneficial to humans and introduced the world to the concept of “forest bathing” or “shinrin-yoku.”

But it is not only through the air that plants communicate. We are finding that even through the roots and by way of mycorrhizal fungi plants can communicate with each other over large distances and even exchange messages and even food like carbohydrates with each other in times of need (watch this great YouTube video). I would therefore not be surprised if the trees or the plants in our yard are communicating with the others in the woods. I also wonder if people who put all those pesticides on their lawns, in particular fungicides are severing those connections and isolating the few remaining trees on their properties; making them weaker and more susceptible to insects and diseases, let alone weakening them by pumping chemicals into them.

I guess for right now I will not be able to prove any of this, but all I know, our backyard teams with biodiversity: the trees, shrubs, animal life, and as I described in one of my posts even the little spiders with their iridescent eyes that reflect light from our headlamps at night. I know that our backyard looks pretty darn healthy (with the exception of the stiltgrass); it has not seen many chemicals in a very long time and it seems that nature is thanking us.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The "Wild West" (5/20/2018)

During the past five weeks I had three trips to the western part of the state.  Truth be told, I really enjoy going out there, were it not for the long drive.  Folks in my office joke about it, how I supposedly like it out there.

First it was a drive to Christiansburg for a meeting, followed by a trip to the Roanoke area to teach two days.  This past week I spent four days in the Abingdon and Bristol area of the State, in other words the far western part.  This was again to teach, but since it is such a long drive I need to have a day of travel before and after the classes.

My visit to Christiansburg included some field demonstrations like this hydroseeder.  It was a cold day and I thin I ended up catching laryngitis that day.
It was particularly this last trip that I enjoyed a lot.  For one I was not in a hurry to get in the car and drive back.  I could therefore take my time to enjoy my surroundings.  I did my obligatory microbrewery visits, one I have visited a few times, in Abingdon, the Wolfhill Brewing Company; and a new one, Studio Brew in Bristol, Virginia.  Studio Brew might be the far western brewery in Virginia.

In addition to having the corporate party, it was open mic night at Wolhill brewery.  This guy was actually pretty good. 
At Wolfhill I was kind of lonely.  I just sat on a bench had a beer, ate my tacos for dinner and watched people.  Nothing wrong with that; being an introvert it can be nice to people watch.  There was an office party and whether she was the organizer, the office butterfly or more, I don't know, but this one lady was hugging all the men and being very nice.  Just interesting to see. It was also obvious who the boss was.  My guess it was either a law or an engineering firm.

At Studio Brew I had a great talk with the the owner brew master.  They make great food and some really interesting beers.  I just had a wonderful relaxing time after teaching a whole day.

This is the interior of Studio Brew.  These guys make some interesting high alcohol brews, and being so close to bourbon country a few barrel aged ones.  I was impressed!
Actually, when done teaching I did not run out to the bar.  Abingdon is such a great place!  It is situated at one end of the Virginia Creeper Trail.  This trail is a rails to trail park and the first thing I did after teaching was to get out on the trail, walk to mile marker 1 and then back to the car.  Most of the walk is through nature and fields.  It is nice and relaxing 2 mile walk.  It is a great way to come down after being up for 6+ hours or so.  At this time of the year the native cherry trees were in bloom and it rained cherry petals (something we don't have in coastal Virginia and I miss from living in the mid-west).  It was so nice to walk on the trail, look at the plants and trees growing along the trail, breathing in nature, after being cooped up in a class room all day.  Please don't misunderstand me, my students were great.  It was great to interact with them and it was so rewarding when they came up to me after the class to shake my hand and thank me for traveling all the way out there to give them the workshops.

Just a picture of a tree on the Creeper trail.  I really enjoyed the walk and some of the views, although there seems to be a huge construction project going on right next to the trail.
On the way home I could not help myself and stop over in Draper to go for a brief walk on the New River Trail.  This is an other rails to trail park that I have written about in the past.  It is one of my favorite and I quickly went for a 1.8 mile walk.  So nice to be out in nature, in the mountains.  In summary, three nights, four days, two microbreweries and three walks in nature.  The fringe benifits from being on the road; let my colleagues think I am partial to the mountains.  It is really not that bad there in the "Wild West."

Last but not least a miscellaneous picture from the New River Trail.  Very lush and green, although sections of the trail are invaded by Chinese privet, which is not really not a good thing!