17 July 2009

The Bear Climbed Over the Mountain: Final

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in their way.
~ William Blake

We spent more time climbing over boulders the size of small elephants, taking pictures and “drinking it in with our spirit.” Then we turned around and climbed back up and made our way to the trail.

The trees in Swallow Falls Park are royalty. The majority are hemlock and white pine and most are over three hundred years old. The branches of the hemlock resemble lace ~ feathery and delicate. Touching the trunk of one such hemlock, I closed my eyes and was instantly standing in a virgin forest on the brink of discovery, the sound of both pioneer and moccasined feet approaching in the distance. I opened them again and almost wept in disappointment over being stuck in the twenty-first century.

I enjoy the convenience of hot showers, electricity and the ability to speak to loved ones miles away in an instance. But modern man is lacking. He has lost touch with his soul and a sense of the Divine. With that goes his respect for the beauty of creation and the duty to preserve it for the next generation. Thankfully, no all are lost and so we have state and national parks, which are preserved from the plundering of fool and knaves.

The sheer magnitude of the boulders jutting out over the trail continued to astound me. Some appeared to balance by an invisible thread, while others looked like giants had played a game of dominos. They exuded an unearthly quality. I was reminded of the standing stones of Avebury. Oh, to step into the Tardis and be there when they first broke off and fell to their current, moss-covered resting places!

We had not gone more than a few paces, when we veered off the trail again ~ this time to make our way over the rocky giants in the middle of the Youghigheny River. While Ames, Aurelius and Jeanette alternately skipped stones and threw basketball-sized rocks into the river, Marly and I lay on a flat rock smack dab in the middle and watched tiny whirlpools form and disintegrate around us. The science of it eluded us, but we remained there transfixed, laughing like children as we stuck our hands into the miniature vortex.

Everywhere, besides the rhododendrons, were mounds of lush green moss. It was detailed and felt rather stiff, unlike other types of moss I have encountered. It looked almost like a pine tree branch in miniature. The feeling of timelessness continued to envelope me as we hiked up the Youghigheny River. I wanted nothing more than to stay alongside her banks, exploring every nook and cranny. But around about then, yours truly began wishing she had packed at least one protein bar.

I was not a Brownie/Girl Scout long enough to learn the mantra of always “be prepared.” We had enjoyed a substantial lunch (Marly prepared her famous stuffed sandwiches) and had not thought I would be hungry again. But none of us had counted on being enmeshed in the beauty of our surroundings to the extent that it was now fast approaching supper time. However, I had not come all this way to let a little hypo-ness cut short our hike. There were still more falls to see. So on we trekked.

Swallow Falls was a little less exciting than Muddy Creek ~ but I will allow that I was really hungry by then and although I had voted to complete the rest of the loop, I no longer lingered. The amount of more scantily clad people doing belly-flops may have also had something to do with my reluctance to linger and gaze at the falls. There is a place for everything, including belly-flops. But here in this magnificent place, it just seemed just a little. . .crass.

And then we arrived at the last set of falls ~ Tolliver Falls. When we started at Muddy Creek, and I found out that they were tallest falls in Maryland, I wished we had began the trail from the other end ~ so as to build up to seeing the more majestic falls. But somehow, coming up Tolliver Falls at the end was the perfect ending. There was no one else around; the falls were tiny and the pool tranquil. I plucked a rhododendron leaf and placed it in the pool as an offering to Titania or perhaps the descendants of Galadriel. Adding to the air of mystery, was the distinct sound of music. It seemed to come from both far away and somewhere deep within the earth. We stood mesmerized and curious as we watched the water spill over ancient rocks and decaying logs, the spaces between giving back melodic sounds. Who was it that said music is the space between the notes??

Three days is just not enough time to take all the beauty that Garrett County has to offer and we are already planning a return trip either in the Fall [the colour there must be eye-popping] or in February [which is their busy season]. I cannot wait.

Titania and Galadriel and their subjects are waiting for me.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

15 July 2009

The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Part Two

The bigger stones give it character. The rock is what makes this waterfall.
~ Paul Collins

he whole reason we ended up in Deep Creek Lake to begin with was because a few years ago I came across a magazine article about the waterfalls in Garrett County. I had long since forgotten the magazine and the county name, but I knew it was somewhere in the far western part of Maryland. Thank goodness for Google!

So, now the love story [I told you I fell in love with a park]. Friday, we lazed around quite a bit (after a couple of us got our morning jogs and planks in) and then headed off to Swallow Falls State Park.

I love waterfalls. Granted, I have not seen many of them to date, but I certainly love the idea of them. There is something timeless, powerful and romantic ~ in the Byronic sense, not the tingly-luhv sense ~ about waterfalls that has always fascinated me. And now I was going to experience them up close and personal.

The map said that the trail began just past Muddy Creek Falls, so we headed in that direction. The Muddy Creek Falls are the tallest (measuring fifty-three feet) in the state of Maryland. It is the most incredible feeling, to stand on top of the falls, no more than a few feet from the edge and look down into the spray of icy cold whiteness as it pounds the rocks below. No fences. No guardrails. Just nature ~ unbound and unveiled. There is nothing lovelier.

Garrett County receives more snow fall than Fairbanks, Alaska, so I can only imagine Muddy Creek turns into a roaring Mr. Hyde of itself when the snow melts. When we were there, however, we saw only little pools etched into the smooth, flat stone at the top that told us the water level is usually much higher. I do not know how long our party stayed on top of Muddy Creek ~ time seemed to be in slow motion and there was just you, and the Falls and the moss-covered banks and an endless sapphire-blue sky. All I can say is God is an amazing artist and I gave myself over to embracing this particular canvas.

My fellow travelers and I took our shoes and socks off and stepped into water. Whew! Ice. Cold. And I mean ice. It felt wonderful. What struck me most was the power. You know the old cliché: still waters run deep. Well, these waters were not still. And where I was standing, it was not very deep. But the immense power of the current whipped my breath away. If it were deeper, it would have swept me along and over the edge. But even so, I felt profound respect and caution for the invisible power coursing over my ankles.

I did not want to leave; if we had spent our entire weekend just at the top of Muddy Creek Falls, I would have been content. (If I ever get married, I want to honeymoon there; yes, it is THAT awesome.) However, there was still a mile of trail to hike and three more falls to see, so we made our way down to the bottom of Muddy Creek. And promptly took a detour.

The bottom of the Falls is difficult to describe. I suppose it is technically part of the river bed. But it is completely made up of huge boulders. The Falls end in a small but deep pool surrounded by medium to large rocks. Several local teenagers use it as their watering hole ~ several, rather scantily clad ones were diving off the bottom-most rock shelf of the falls. It was the only blot on the landscape while we were there.

We made our way carefully over the boulders and down towards the very bottom of the river, where it forked and joined the Youghigeny River. The entire left bank of the river was covered with rhododendrons. I had never seen so many rhoadies in one spot and I certainly did not know they grew wild. You can take the Bahamas and any number of resorts: this is Paradise.

To be continued. . . . .

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

14 July 2009

The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Part One

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home.
~ John Muir

ever has a truer word been spoken. And to think Muir penned those words in the 1800s ~ certainly not a time we in the twenty-first century think of as being “nerve-shaken.” Ahhh, yes ~ some things never change, do they?

As regular readers know, a small group of friends and I vacation together every year. In 2007 we stayed on the coast of New Hampshire, eating lobstah and wading in the ice-cold ocean. 2008 saw us in a cabin in West Virginia, which touts itself as being “almost heaven” and I would definitely concur. This year, we decided to stay local again, but went a little farther north. And I fell madly in love. With a park.

More on that later. We arrived while it was still daylight on Thursday. We were staying in a rental cabin this time (no house sound system, alas), and while it was comfortable and cozy, we hardly saw it the four days we were there. There was ust too much to do and see ~ and we did not see nearly as much if we had stayed more than four days.
After dumping our bags off, we trolled into the little town of Deep Creek for dinner. Somewhere, someone had read that the Black Bear Tavern was a good place to eat.

Wherever that was written and whoever wrote it must have had no tastebuds.

Ok, fine. I admit it ~ I am foodie. I have champagne taste and an imported beer budget. I use local, fresh Blue Ridge Dairy butter to cook my local, organic filet mignons. I have friends from New York City bring me a pound of Bayley Hazen blue cheese from Jasper Hills Farms whenever they come to visit, because regular blue cheese just isn’t the same. I am a foodie ~ hear me cook and relish!

I ordered a crab cake. It is Maryland, right? Maryland is known for its crab cakes. I should have had a clue when I asked the waitress if the fresh-water fish on their menu had been caught in the 3900 acre Deep Creek Lake and she said they flew their fish in. I ordered the crab cake anyway. I figured even though we were in the mountains, it was still Maryland and that meant it did not have too far to fly.

The crab cake wept. It practically apologized to me for its sorry demeanor. I looked around at my fellow table-mates and all were having a similar experience with their dinners: uber salty and mediocre. There was much ego stroking as one by one they expressed their anticipation of dinner on Friday as I would be cooking. Did I ever tell you musicians need love? Well, they do and so do cooks. ;-) We live in fear that someone will not eat our creations! I do not think this cook was living in fear ~ I think they had stopped living altogether. All I can say about Black Bear Tavern is: WT heaven. And no, I am not going to spell that out for you, dear reader.

Tomorrow: pictures and more thoughts on the trip.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

05 July 2009

A Frozen Fourth

Gazing on beautiful things acts on my soul,
which thirsts for heavenly light.
~ Michelangelo

While most people were planning how many hamburgers and hot dogs to grill and where to watch the fireworks this weekend, I was involved in two distinct, but related endeavors: getting together with my St. Cecilia Group Board of Directors on Saturday and shopping and cooking for an arts dinner on Sunday.

The Board meeting went quite well and several key decisions were arrived at ~ mainly related to the logistics for this year’s annual Arts Festival on November 21. More to come in the following months, so watch here for updates and announcements!

Sunday, I hosted a dinner to introduce some of my artsy friends to the Foundation for the Sacred Arts and the director, Ann Marra. The Foundation supports and encourages new artists who compose, paint or sculpt new liturgical art. Guests in attendance were Imelda Franklin Bogue, Richard Rice, Ligori and Mary Catherine Levri.

I kept the menu light ~ perfect for the Fourth of July weekend weather:

Prosciutto wrapped melon slices
Northern Virginia Gazpacho
served with French bread
Local seasonal greens and Jasper Hills Bayley Hazen salad,
with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette
Organic chicken, sautéed in a
Vermont Creamery butter, lemon, basil & white port sauce.
Served with seasonal vegetables and garlic whipped potatoes
Lemon and Basil Ice Cream

Lemon and Basil ice cream? Oh yes, dear reader ~ do not knock it until you try it! That quart of homemade goodness did not last in the freezer. It actually disappeared before the lemon ice cream. I decided to make ice cream for dessert as it was the quintessential American sweet, but being a creative foodie I could not serve plain old vanilla or chocolate. Our basil crop this year is phenomenal and since I was already making a lemon and basil sauce for the chicken, I searched Epicurious for a good recipe for both types of ice cream.

Whatever you do, do not boil the custard too long ~ it will curdle and that is not a pretty sight! Not to mention you will get less custard to freeze into ice cream. The lemon custard came out like a dream ~ smooth, rich and oh, so lemony! I was sure I had ruined the basil custard and was practically ready to pitch it out and start over again. But I kept straining it and the aroma was out of this world. So I decided to make a batch and see how it turned out. It raised some eyebrows, but as I said, it was the first to go.

The other edible highlight of the evening was Jasper Hills Bayley Hazen. Ligori brought me a pound of this heavenly blue cheese from New York. The dairy cows at Jasper Hills Farm listen to classical and jazz music during the winter months. I do not know the science behind this practice, but I am here to say that it works! The Bayley Hazen is the smoothest, richest, creamiest blue I have ever tasted. Alas! They have corrupted my taste buds ~ they refuse to let any other blue pass my lips! Thank goodness for foodie friends up north. You can only buy Jasper Hills Farm cheese in New York City at one or two markets. I am going to make this one last as long as I can!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela