I see black bears

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I saw another bear on a trail. This doesn’t mean a bear was actually there. Only that I saw one. We were in the Lake George area in the lower Adirondacks, descending Prospect Mountain. This relatively busy trail is an 3 easy miles out and back with a trailhead right in the town. But even on busy, short hikes up tiny mountains you still get those quiet stretches. Perfect opportunities for taking in the surroundings, smelling pines, looking for birds. Zoning out or zooming in. Me, I look for black bears.

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This time I saw a big black furry head with rounded ears. He didn’t move towards us or away. He just watched us. A group of hikers were on their way up so I didn’t panic too much. Just two weak knees and that familiar fear-for-my-life shiver. I didn’t say a thing about the maybe bear because saying something makes it real and this wasn’t real. Also, I read that fear is contagious and I don’t want to pass my fear on to my hiking buddy. Though he doesn’t want to run into a bear again either, he refuses to hike in fear.

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I try to keep my sightings to myself. This would be a dangerous habit if the bears I saw were real and not the back lit silhouettes of stumps or trees with lumps. Besides, I suspect I can only ask my partner Is that a bear? so many times before he drops me for a lady with decent vision, or one who wears her glasses.

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I wear glasses to drive, but that’s all. Raj wears glasses all the time and doesn’t understand why I won’t. I tell him why: I don’t want to. That’s the answer. Also they give me headaches and squeeze my brain. It’s true. I’ve tried new prescriptions, different frames … before and after sitting on them.

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obligatory me having a think shot, Stewart’s Ledge

For the most part, leaving my glasses in the car is inconsequential. So what if I walk through life with rage vision?

Me – Eight dollars for asparagus! Unbelievable!

Raj – It’s $2.

Me – The sign says $8! How dare they!

Raj – The sign says $2.

Me – Oh.

And I see black bears everywhere.

I should stop looking for them. Stop thinking about them and talking about them. Though I do enjoy learning about them, and they come with the territory. We’re hiking in their home. Seeing them might be rare for some people, but it’s almost always a possibility. We’re finding every hiker has a bear story, along with strong opinions on protection. In addition to whistles and bear spray, we just added an air horn to our arsenal.

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There’s much debate on whether air horns are effective bear repellents. I think it can’t hurt. We picked ours up for a few bucks in the boating section and I do feel safer with it. It’s piercingly loud and unpleasant. Should the rare predatory bear approach we don’t have to worry about wind direction, or waiting for it to get close enough to spray or the fact that our can of spray says it empties in 5 seconds. Then what?

Oh, by the way, bear spray can explode so don’t leave it in the trunk. Fortunately, we didn’t have to learn this the hard way even though all last summer we kept ours in the trunk whenever we weren’t hiking. One less thing to remember to pack. Apparently, it can explode at high temperatures and car trunks get very hot. Don’t leave it in the car.

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Probably the main takeaway for us all to learn is that calling me Haileybear on the trail doesn’t help. Cue: fear-for-my-life shivers every time. All I hear is BEAR.

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Home Fries Sexy

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Apparently, I like my home fries sexy.

We stopped at a diner on our way home from the Poconos. Unless specifically stated, diners menus offer very few vegan/ gluten free options. Still, I have a soft spot. Sitting in window booths at tipsy tables with rippled chrome rims or at the counter on spinning stools watching a fresh pot of coffee fill from the drip is a post-hike ritual. Raj will try anything on a menu while I tend to stick to what I know I like (and won’t make me sick). My order is simple: coffee and home fries with peppers and onions. This is my old tee shirt of food. I’ve been ordering home fries with peppers and onions all my diner-loving life.

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Imagine our surprise when the check comes and we see our orders were written as they’ve never been written before. Our home fries were “sexy”. Now I have questions. Does sexy = peppers and onions at all diners? There’s only one way to find out. Raj will have to order his potatoes sexy next time and see how the waiter reacts. I can’t. I still get Moon Over My Hammie flashbacks.

Home fries … and put some heels on ’em.

I did a Google image search for home fries sexy. No naked people popped up, but neither did an answer. People seem to enjoy calling all sorts of potato dishes with stuff on them sexy, which kind of makes sense. If you want to feel sexy you put stuff on? Makeup? Uncomfortable shoes? Scented products? Putting on all the stuff at once is super sexy, or too sexy. I don’t know.

The real question is: Do we want our breakfast-for-dinner potatoes too hot to handle or just a tad gussied up?

Home fries … and give ’em some appeal. You know what I mean.

Sexy is very subjective, too subjective for my old tee shirt diner staple. I want mine with peppers and onions and now I want to order them in a fun way that’s universally understood. Think of all the potential for nonverbal miscommunications. What if someone shimmies? I don’t know why Raj would shimmy, but what if he does? My home fries could come out with a runny egg on top. Home fries sexy, but not too sexy. Clearly means peppers and onions, no bacon, but some diner cooks might get a little saucy and sprinkle on some cheese.

Home fries sexy opens too many doors.

Or maybe this particular waiter was making a comment on her customers? Maybe she took one look at our hat hair, mud-streaked clothes and my come hither slouch and thought Now there are some sexy potatoes. That must be it.

 

 

Gertrude’s Nose trail in Minnewaska State Park

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It’s pj season and that means our Friday night ritual is to play will-we-won’t-we hike tomorrow. It’s an annoying cycle, but lately the Friday night into Saturday morning/afternoon rain makes it hard to decide, especially on cliff walk hikes with lots of exposure. On the flip side, I get grouchy, whiny and all sorts of charming if too much time passes between hikes. It’s really a question of will I be able to stand to myself if we don’t go? When we’re on the fence, I make peanut butter jellies. Once the pjs are made, we have to hike. It’s the rule.

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As promised, the rain stopped when we arrived and this normally very crowded park wasn’t. Nice for our first time back to Minnewaska State Park Preserve in years –  we don’t think the public should have to pay to access hiking trails. Why pay $10 with the Catskills a little further north and the Hudson Highlands and Harriman closer to the south? On this early spring day we paid because the Catskills were still holding on to some winter and we recently hiked our favorite Hudson Highlands trails.

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This was our first time hiking Gertrude’s Nose. Morning showers not only kept some of the early birds away, it also left us with the right amount of fog – enough to cool us down and add an otherworldly feel without swallowing the views. That large glacial rock to the left is called Patterson’s Pellet. The trail soon dips down the ravine and back up to the white cliffs on the other side.

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Beware of the booby-traps. These crevices made parts of the trail feel like an obstacle course. It’s very easy to see why this is such a popular hike. Some Catskills hikes have views, but they don’t take you above the treeline like in the White Mountains or Adirondacks.

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We felt a lot higher than we were. High enough to wave to the mountains over yonder.

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I love how stubby pitch pines push their way through. This was a nice, relaxing section until Raj decided to slip in slow motion. I watched with my hands helpfully waving while he fell for about ten minutes. Once he finally got tired of sliding around on wet rock he looked at me confused. Were you waving goodbye? I like to think I’m the kind of gal who would help a falling person, but now I know the truth: I’m a waver. You fall? Later alligator.

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These birds (turkey vultures?) had beef with us. As we approached, they slowly turned our way then spread their wings like flexing muscles while making full eye contact. They stood still for a few angry breaths before creeping towards us. Closer and closer and why are we still standing here? Off we went. I didn’t look back a few times half expecting to see these giant birds running with their arms out licking their lips.

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The picture doesn’t do them justice. These birds thought they were twenty feet tall. I wish I had their confidence.

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Here’s my fellow as we picked our way down the melting trail. The water was ice cold and running at a clip – perfect for wetting our hats to cool off once the sun came out. At this point we had no idea how far we’d gone or how much distance we had left. We had a map, but both of us got immediately bored and annoyed every time we took it out. After the cliffs, there were a few fun scrambles, a rock hop creek crossing and lots of mud. At some point the trail takes you through Mohonk Preserve before ending back at the lake. We saw a sign for Mohonk and started doubting that we were still on the right trail. I really hate that panicked questioning of every step forward. Fortunately this is a popular trail and it wasn’t long before a couple came along to reassure us.

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Not a bad place to rest. I highly recommend some shut-eye at a picnic table before heading down to Awosting Falls. We drove down to the lower lot because I’d already taken off my man boots and wasn’t about to put them back on. The falls are a pleasant, easy 15-minute walk from the lower parking lot.

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Our final pj spot of the day. I can’t wait to do this hike again on an October weekday. Next time, I want to go in the reverse direction to get through the more challenging wooded and scrambling sections first and savor the views the rest of the way.

If you must unburden yourself of $10, Minnewaska is lovely place for it.

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

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True crime is having a moment. Calling attention to the fact that true crime is having a moment is also having a moment. It’s too much, too sad and ugly. That’s not for me, I say while scrolling through my horror to-watch list. By the way, I’m happy to report Puppet Master (1989) still holds up. You might even detect an awkward Twin Peaksy vibe, though Puppet Master preceded the show by a year. Ahead of its time.

I make some true crime exceptions.  Midnight Assassin, The Murder of the Century and Devil in the White City detail crimes that all occurred prior to or on the cusp of forensic science becoming a thing. In small doses, these books are fascinating. How did they find the guilty if they weren’t tromping around wielding bloody knives? What about the psycho killers who looked normal or worse, attractive?

Recently, I dipped a toe in more modern recent crime with People Who Eat Darkness, reconfirming this stuff is not for me. Nope. Definitely never again. Until I stumbled on late author Michelle McNamara’s True Crime Diary and her excellent book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.

Next thing I know, I’m reading more than I ever wanted to know about Ted Bundy. Is this how true crime gets you?

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With more than 30 books to her name, Ann Rule is often referred to as the Queen of true crime. The Stranger Beside Me is her first and maybe most famous. What sets this one apart from both her body of work and other books written on Ted Bundy is the author’s personal relationship with him. Long before he was first arrested, they were friends. The two met as volunteers at a Seattle suicide hotline in 1971. Lucky for her, she wasn’t his type.

At the time, Rule was a former police woman supporting her family in part by writing up crime summaries for local police and freelancing for true crime magazines. Bundy was a psychology student. If this story were fiction it couldn’t be more contrived.

We go right into one of Bundy’s most dangerous traits: his appeal. Rule’s first impressions of Bundy were all positive. Obviously she wrote this book in hindsight. You can almost feel the author looking for red flags her cop radar somehow missed while they were working phones together late into the night. Instead she describes him as attractive, intelligent and charismatic.

The later edition I read included several additions where Rule revises this depiction. She expresses regret at overstating his attributes, perhaps inadvertently feeding into the frenzy of fan mail and females lining up to give the serial killer bedroom eyes during the trial. A common criticism of the book is that the author was too close to him, but her point was that not all killers look like killers. There’s an ick factor in the author’s remembered fondness, but it comes across honestly and illustrates the effectiveness of Bundy’s well practiced duality.

If you like true crime, you’ve probably already read this book. If you’re tiptoeing around like me, I recommend reading it fast and then go plant a flower or hike somewhere pretty. Do something to shake it off the heaviness. Bundy confessed to murdering more than 30 women, though many believe his victims number much higher. His known crimes spanned Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado and Florida, where he was caught and later executed. The author’s later revisions include a few graphic details of the crimes in an effort to cool any sympathy for Bundy her earliest editions may have generated.

Rule’s firsthand account is compelling and thoughtful. She delivers on the book’s promise and shares the magnitude of one particularly devastating missed opportunity. After a series of women go missing in the Pacific Northwest, one woman escaped with a close call. She was able to give police a detailed description of the man’s face, the car he tried to lure her into and a name, Ted. On noticing the similarity of the police sketch to the friend she used to volunteer with, also named Ted, Rule called a friend on the force. She didn’t actively suspect him, but it was enough of a coincidence to throw his name in the hat. She pointed cops to Ted Bundy. The face matched, he even drove the same kind of car as their suspect and yet that’s as far as the lead was followed. It was a big hat full of thousands of leads. This fact haunts the rest of the book as many more brutal murders followed.

That’s it for me with the true crime. No more. I spent some time recently on a looong car ride with a true crime addict. Guess what kind of podcasts I got to listen to? She says she loves true crime because it makes her feel more prepared. These bad things happened to innocent people and we should know what they went through. Wouldn’t you want someone to know what happened if it was you?

That was a fun question to ponder on the parkway.

Me, I’d rather make a thrilling web series about crocheting a calendar blanket whilst watching Puppet Master. Turn it into a Netflix show. Then we’re rich. Boom. Three-month plan. No more true crime.

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What About Bob? gets me through another beating, I mean taxes

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My taxes are finally filed, though I must admit my heart wasn’t in it this year. My brain was checked out, too. After slogging through, I always step away for a few days then go back and comb through every step for mistakes. Usually I fix the one or two errors, wipe my tears with all my money before kissing it good-bye, and swallow my rage with a long muddy hike. This year, I go back to check my work expecting the usual only to discover more than one or two tiny mistakes. I told them I was legally blind? I lived abroad for more than six months of the year? Yes to foreign bank accounts? My life rocks? It was such a mess I deleted the whole thing and started over, doing only one little section at a time.

Baby steps, like the good Dr. Leo Marvin tells Bob in the best movie ever made. What About Bob? Bob is my spirit animal, my Patronus if you want to get all Harry Potter about it.

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As every four years we the people realize how stupid and dangerous allowing the electoral college to continue choosing our president is, every year I allow myself about two minutes to fantasize about living in another country where taxes are like laundry, just another thing that has to get done. It’s not the paying them, it’s the unnecessary complexity (we’re both freelancers), and unfairness of what the peasants pay compared, but I won’t go there. I can’t because it makes me mad and I don’t have a hand puppet to keep me civil.

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Every year I get a little better at managing finances and running my work like a business instead of a series of ongoing, overlapping side projects. This year I even checked out a finance book from the library. I didn’t read it. Baby steps. I did read Rich Dad Poor Dad a few years ago. I learned some things, applied none of them and now forget all of them with the exception of one realization. I’m financially illiterate.

I’m looking for a finance book to read. Most of them want to make me a millionaire and I’m like settle down. Let’s get me a bank account first. Pull the cash out of the mattress, you know. Any books on how to remember which floor boards the piggy banks are under?

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Should the government ever develop an interest in us humans without three vacation homes, I do have one idea. Our library system used to let kids read down their fines. I think it was a summer program, not sure if they still do it, but I always admired the spirit of the idea. Kids with overdue book fines were able to lower their fines with every book they read and logged. Simple. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people could volunteer down their taxes? Every X amount of hours volunteered reduces taxes by X percent. Or read down our taxes. Let’s do as Neil deGrasse Tyson says and Make America Smart Again.

There’s so much need in communities – hospitals, senior homes, food programs, learning programs, athletics programs. Help a financial illiterate decipher the treasure map she bought on a postcard in Coney Island. You know there’s old timey ganster money buried in the Catskills? Dutch Schultz hid it right before Lucky Luciano and friends deleted him. True story.

Organizations like New York Cares and Achilles International simplify the process of getting registered and out the door. They guide you from the vague desire to do some volunteer work to the real place of doing it. Lowering taxes in proportion to hours of volunteer work would get so many more people out the door, giving communities a wealth of resources to draw from. Come tax time, regular people might feel a little less forgotten and helpless because they have some agency. They already paid some taxes in the form of time and effort. In fine fine print, say 2-point font, let’s add that volunteering is good for a person’s health, offering a sense of purpose, socializing, physical activities in these days when it’s so tempting to crawl under the force field of the covers. At least build a blanket fort for someone else first.

Bob says it best.

Gimme Gimme Gimme. I need. I need. Gimme. Gimme. Please.

 

Ghosts Among Us by James Van Praagh

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Time to go back to sleep and try this day again tomorrow.  I just learned my fellow poisoned me with decaf this morning and all this past week. This was after attempting to move the car for alternate side parking only to discover we have no power steering at the moment. We tried to maneuver the car to the other side of the street and parallel park it. That didn’t happen. Then I was poisoned. Did I mention he tried to decaffeinate me? By accident, he says. I shall avenge myself anyway.

After revisiting Ghosts Among Us by James Van Praagh. I am too old to care what other people think, especially about my reading choices dammit. Still best to click away. Something very interesting is happening over there. I’m gonna write some stuff for my eyes only and post it on the internet if you don’t mind.

At some point, past-me put this book on hold at the library and then forgot why so present-me could mistake it for a collection of ghost stories. It is kind of that, only I assumed it was a work of fiction or something along the lines of Weird NJ.

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If you’re going to read this book, I recommend an open mind. Skeptics will not enjoy themselves here. I flip back and forth. Scientists are convincing, but I prefer to believe there’s more to us than just this. Even still, it takes effort to refrain from Oh, boy eye rolls when people insist they’re sensitives or mediums – with the exception of Amy Allan on Dead Files. Her I believe because she reminds me of my sister. That’s reason enough.

Van Praagh is a mental medium. Want to know what that’s like? He tells you, sharing his own story as well as anecdotes of the dead passing on messages to their loved ones. He lays things out in a matter-of-fact, take-it-or-leave-it way. Better still, he goes there, right to the spot hard skeptics love to poke and poke at. Not proof, the other place. In Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife author Mary Roach writes that the difficulty of believing in spirits is that they never seem to acknowledge the most obvious questions: Does death hurt? Where do we go? What’s it like?

The meat of this book addresses these questions and expands them to why we’re here in the first place. I had to power down my skepticism in a few parts because I like the overall intention behind what he has to say. He urges us to learn our lessons, take risks and don’t waste potential. Sometimes it comes across as motivational speakery, but these aren’t bad messages to hear.

Who wants to entertain the possibility that our souls live on, death is painless and deceased loved ones visit us? That we’re our higher selves when we laugh and love? That putting out thoughts of love and light is healing? Who doesn’t? This is a quick, compelling read, though not so quick for me. I kept looking up to share the details with Raj because many of the ideas were new to me, or intriguing takes on familiar concepts, looking at you, hell. Sharing details led to pointing out passages, which led to him holding on and finishing the whole book before me.

According to Van Praagh, there are no coincidences, but there are often signs. One of my favorite sections dealt with energy and the power of our thoughts. He also provides some meditations. I read this section right after listening to the StarTalk episode with Sam Harris, The Illusion of Free Will, where they also discuss the practice of meditation. Coincidence? The universe wants me to hush up and calm down. Maybe the universe decafed me. I will begin thinking positive thoughts and learning my lessons after payback, Universe. Or Raj accidentally buying decaf and destroying me with it was my payback for making him watch Crazy Rich Asians. (Why do people love that movie?)

I must admit once I realized what this book was about I stayed aboard for the after party. Tell me what happens when we die. This book gave me a glimpse of what I want think about death, afterlife and how I want to spend my time here. There are sections on angels, earthbound ghosts, demons, hell and this lovely place called Summerland where apparently there’s a house being built for me. I hope they know I prefer winter and make appropriate adjustments. Just kidding. Straight to hell for me. Kidding. Not. Yes. Not. Yes. Carry on.

January in California

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We flew back from San Francisco on Sunday and I reported for jury duty in downtown Brooklyn on Tuesday, hopping from one favorite place to the next. I will not gripe about jury duty anymore. Tuesday morning Raj rode the subway with me, walked with me to the building and didn’t leave until I went inside. I thought he was being nice when actually he knows me well enough to suspect I’d turn around and draw this jury duty thing out a little longer, which I would have. But at last it’s over and I can go back to missing California.

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We had Fisherman’s Wharf kind of to ourselves. Thanks, downpour.

It’s only been a few years, but I forgot how it feels to walk among the redwoods in Big Basin. The region was deep into a drought on our last trip here. This time we balanced on fallen trees to skirt stretches of sludgy mud. Streams ran and creeks babbled so hard they graduated to Chatty Cathy status.

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Our first hike of 2019.

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Along the way we crossed paths with banana slugs,

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rare albino redwood,

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and the tallest tree in the park, over 500 years old.

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Though California smacks a bear on every souvenir, the state animal is Ursus californicus, there are no bears in Big Basin. I asked every ranger I saw and they all confirmed. I was asking for a friend. A friend was just wondering. I love Big Basin for its trees and birds and views and trails, but mostly for its lack of bears.

Oh, but you know what? There are mountain lions. They said this so casually I was stunned into WTF. How are they cool with mountain lions?

How do Californians hike, camp or bike at ease in mountain lion habitat? That amazes me. It seems like they’re everywhere. We stayed in Mountain View during the week for work. On a free afternoon, I decided to run to the Rancho San Antonio Preserve a few miles from our hotel. You know what I didn’t notice on the website? Warning of mountain lion activity. Fortunately I didn’t miss the sign posted on the trail I’d planned to run. I found another trail and tried to enjoy running in this beautiful place where mountain lions live. Soon enough I was back on pavement pretending suburban streets with squirrels and lemon trees were just as thrilling.

There are worse ways to travel home than a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway (plus a plane ride).

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We reached the highway with an hour of daylight remaining. The only downside of visiting California in winter is the shortened days. With the exception of enjoying an Irish coffee, trying Fernet-Branca and building a fort for pillow fights, most of we wanted to do was outside.

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Rain held off just long enough for the sun to set over the Pacific. Then it was just us in the rain on a dark highway with a thousand speeding lunatics. Hint. Hint. Okay, West Coast. We’re leaving.

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Free brownies if you can you tell me what this is? To be clear, free brownies for me. I will eat the brownies.

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Chocolate chip cookie mush anyone?

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If the tree in our living room strung with lights and shiny balls wasn’t a loud enough indication of the holiday season, the tin of sugary buttery bits on our table must be. Baking is challenging enough for those of us who like to wing it. Add veganizing and gluten free-izing variables and the odds of realizing our baking intentions are not in our favor. Sometimes it works out and when it doesn’t we pretend. We peel or scrape up the results and drop them not in the trash but in a cookie tin to be offered to guests with a straight face. If we can’t eat chocolate chip cookies at least we can watch the lights go out in friend’s eyes once they pry open our lovely Christmas tins and see what we’ve done.

In lieu of photographic evidence of our failure, here’s a view from one of my favorite hikes this year. There, that’s nice. Hungry? Have a cookie.

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Bryce Canyon National Park

Sam’s Point, Ice Cave and Verkeerderkill Falls Trail

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We have snow in our yellow mums. They were starting to part and brown anyway. Clumps of snow are filling in the gaps and sitting on the tops of what remained of the blooms. Yellow petals poke out, holding on. It’s wet sloppy snow I wouldn’t want to drive in and don’t have to. One nice thing about living in the city.

First we make the hot cocoa. This epicurious recipe is the only way I like my cocoa, not too sweet. It works with almond or coconut milk, too.

Then I bust out the crochet because it’s time to finish the dozen hats I started last month. There was a yarn sale you see and nobody to hold me back. Now I’m in possession of a basket full of soft colorful yarn. Crocheting hats for my family is part of my self care regimen. Like yoga and running, it helps. So does hiking.

New York is a beautiful state to explore even when the trails are muddy. We managed to get in a few fall hikes regardless of some rainy weekends.

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People weren’t kidding when they advised us to get up early for Sam’s Point on a weekend. It was a rainy Saturday and yet the parking lot of about 100 spaces was filled by 9:30. The place opened at 9, and we were there by 7:30. I take warnings of get there early very seriously, especially when it’s more than 2.5 hours driving to get there. Also, it’s hard to sleep past 3 am when I’m excited for a hike. This is not something my boyfriend loves about me, I suspect.

So here are a few pictures from our 5ish-mile hike in the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park. It’s $10 to park and the ice cave is closed until spring.

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The ice caves are probably the reason Sam’s Point fills up so fast. If you’re not keen on a longer hiker and just want some time outdoors, the hike to the cave is about 1 mile out and back, plus Sam’s lookout is along the way.

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Plenty of daylight seeps through, and the one stretch that would feel like a cave has motion sensor lights and a boardwalk. On one hand, it was nice to not bump my head on a protruding rock. On the other, it never felt like we were in a cave. I’m glad we saw it, but was happy to continue on.

The misty morning and early fall colors gave the woods a dreamy feel. The ranger said the fog would burn off but it never did.

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The Verkeerderkill Falls trail is stunning and it’s mostly flat. The trail takes you through dwarf pine barrens along the ridge. This ecosystem is dependent on fire and you can see burnt trees from the most recent one (2016, I think)

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as well as regeneration. Many of these bushes still bore berries in October. You know what that means. A ranger told us hikers see bears up here all the time in summer. He said the bears are too busy munching on berries to mind the humans. Good to know they’re not bothered by us, but I was missing my bear spray about now.

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The trail alone was well worth a little anxiety though. Parts of it looked beachy and since we couldn’t see through the mist I kept forgetting we were on a ridge.

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While not a fan of boardwalks in caves, I could get used to them on muddy trails. And you can’t hike wrong with a waterfall beckoning.

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Not a bad spot to eat a PJ. After lunch, we hiked back to Sam’s Point lookout. Rumor has it the view is lovely.

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I wouldn’t know.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty – not a cozy beach read, fyi

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The internet offers numerous no-fun interpretations of demon dreams, all implying the dreamer sucks: Demon dreamers have many enemies, bad habits and possibly a twisted mind. Opening a store would be my downfall? I had no intention of ever opening a store, but now maybe. Also dodgy people may live in our walls, which would explain how a loaf of bread went missing. Our plaster walls feature some cracks and bulges that have always made me wonder if there isn’t someone slowly inching around in them.

Guess what? The internet doesn’t know everything. I’m pretty positive The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty is to thank.

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It’s important to read the classics. This 1971 novel and its 1973 movie adaptation defined demonic possession as a sub genre. The terrifying movie inspired kid-me to use a tough girl nightlight. It was refreshing to watch it as an adult and see it still holds up, still terrifies. Only no need for a nightlight now. I simply open my curtains and the luxury building across the street sets my bedroom aglow with lobby glare. The city is my nightlight, but the book left me just as unsettled during the day.

William Peter Blatty doesn’t let you off easy with a few cheap, fleeting boos. Both Blatty and the movie’s director, William Friedkin, believed they were telling a story on the “mystery of faith”, not a horror. The movie sticks tight to the book. Watching it many times first didn’t ruin the read for me. The movie is incredible, but the book mine’s the characters’ thoughts and emotions. The writing is so effective it feels like he’s mining us readers’, too.

He opened the door as if it were a tender wound.

There are four main characters: possessed girl (Regan), her mom (actress Chris McNeil), Father Damien Karras ( a doubting priest with a psychology background) and Father Merrin (the exorcist of unshakable faith). We all know the basic gist of the plot – a priest in the midst of a spiritual crisis is called upon to assist in an exorcism of a young girl. A bit extreme, but we’ve witnessed her health deteriorate as her behavior morphs from sweet to odd then creepy and so brutal it’s hard to read. You do because despite the deeply disturbing moments the writing is beautiful and increasingly removed. As the action intensifies, Blatty’s writing performs the equivalent of a camera pulling away.

Anticipation builds as Chris desperately seeks a medical explanation for her daughter’s strange, escalating illness. What happens when an atheist must face the supernatural to save her daughter? Of course, the mother will do anything. Chris uses her fame to have her daughter tested by the best medical doctors and psychiatrists. Her frustration and fear ground us in a mother’s horror where lesser possession stories cash in for shock value. Blatty may have inadvertently figured the formula of back-bends and levitation, but he doesn’t follow it.

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The movie’s poster features the iconic image of Father Merrin arriving at the McNeil house.  Chris McNeil is our entry, and the story leaves you with the unforgettable sight of little Regan’s evil face with grey cut up skin and glowing green eyes. They’re all special, but Father Damien Karras makes going along for this ride worthwhile. His spiritual torment thrusts us onto a rotting demon coaster in a broken car without a lap bar. Hands up.

I love this one scene of Karras watching the sun set in the same spot he watches it set each evening.

Once Karass met God in this sight. Long ago. Like a lover forsaken, he still kept the rendezvous.

The Exorcist is everything I want in my October reading. Much as I enjoy the genre, well written horror novels and movies sometimes seems like an oxymoron. For every novel I finish, there’s at least ten I return to the library with my tongue out. If entertainment is all you want, this novel delivers. It’s fast-paced, visual and provocative. Want a book with meat? The author has something to say here about faith in our modern world.

You may not realize how much of this novel sinks in until weeks later when you’re house/pet sitting alone in the country with a puppy, a blind, hard-of-hearing pooch and two bratty cats who love staring out windows like something’s coming. Normally I savor solitude but this is horror that stays with you, much like white animal hair.

Next time I pet sit, the furry ones and I need to clarify who’s protecting whom. Slackers.

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