Our second hike was through the Garden of the Gods. The mainstay of the park is a lame stone paved trail that takes one past the largest of the rock formations, a bluff area over looking a valley. Once part of a vast sea that millions of years ago covered the state, today it plays host to tourists who clamber over the rocks that despite not being as dangerously high up as say the Grand Canyon would very likely be the death or at the very least severe disablement as a result of any misstep.


The Guide claimed that the hike (and I hesitate to call anything that is paved and manicured a “hike”) would take about 40 minutes. Even with photo ops, we trekked it in half the time. It was easy to see what a clusterfuck (god, I love this word) a well-laid out place such as this would be once the summer and families on holiday began to arrive though Rob is incredulous that anyone could possibly visit this area on purpose (if we could have endured a longer car trip, we’d have been farther south ourselves). As it was only the end of March and just in the upper 50’s to lower 60’s, there were few people aside from us visiting.


The Flip-flop family were the people we encountered on the first real view from the bluff. Clad in shorts and flip-flops, they had hopped and huffed themselves out as far as one could go without actually falling off. The youngest, a girl of about seven, had leapt a space just a tad shy of her own height out to a stony flat and was trying to coerce her father into following. If that were my daughter so inappropriately dressed for hiking/rock climbing, dancing around on a 7 by 5 foot surface above a sheer drop of a hundred feet give or take – I would expect someone to turn me in for bad parenting. The father gamely attempted to make the leap but one look down the crevice in between his perch and the girl’s stopped him fairly cold. He tried to grab a thin tree that even I could see would crack like an egg and thought better of that too. The mother was sitting a bit farther out with the two older children still farther out behind her. I wondered if she had scooted all the way out on her butt because it didn’t seem to me that she could have stood all the way upright if one of her children’s lives depended on it. Still, she was the one who insisted that they all gather on this far point for a picture they could use on their Christmas card. Gotta love those people who can plan their obnoxious holiday missives 9 months in advance. “Look here we are on the bluff at Garden of the Gods in Illinois. This shot was taken just before my late husband fell feet first into a crevice and dropped 75 feet to his innard splattering and excruciatingly painful death right in front of our children and myself. Merry Fucking Christmas to you.”


Rob, sure-footed as a goat, hip-hopped out to the edge. The mother commented to me on his agility and kept the comments on his legs and bum to herself, but I saw her looking. Rob does have a very fine set of legs and a magnificent ass. He was just saying to me the other day that I don’t express my awe of him enough and so I thought I would throw some his way.


We wandered away from the Flip-flop Family as quickly as we could, but soon encountered the Outsiders. Teens whose dress – MySpace Goth – indicated that they thought themselves rebels. The black on black look topped by the hack job hairstyles, Cleopatra eyes and possibly accessorized further with piercing is so cliché to me. Having taught in middle and high schools for twenty years I can barely remember a year that I didn’t see kids dressed like this. Sometimes a handful. More and more as the time passed. But it is a tried and true sign of rebellion – nose thumbing – that like the youth music of the moment can hardly be called original anymore. I wonder when, like blue jeans, Goth like dress will become something that adults wear routinely, enduring the groans and eye rolls of their own children. I was listening to an NPR interview with Tracey Ullman where she explains why she doesn’t wear jeans. As a 48 year old divorced mom, her son considered jeans on a woman her age to be “sexy mom jeans”, the kind that women past forty and single wear to catch a new husband. Will the Goth young someday be accused of wearing “edgy mom chains” or “black widow clothes” by their teenage children who are afraid that they are in the market?


I had seen the two girls before we began our “hike”. One was a faux Goth. She had the lope-sided Veronica Lake look, dyed a dark pink – magenta maybe – and was dressed all in black but she clearly looked like a poser. Just doing the minimum defacement to be allowed to hang around. The other girl was as close to the real deal as a kid can get in southern Illinois. Jet-black hair that was clearly a dye job and hacked/shellacked into a variety of stark angles. I wasn’t even sure she was a girl at first because she wasn’t wearing the skintight pants of her companion but boys black jeans with stomping boots and a black jacket over a t-shirt with something on it I didn’t bother to read. It would have been obscure or insulting or both and I don’t read kid’s shirts anyway. I never have. Once in my early teaching days at a middle school on the eastside of Des Moines after I had escorted a class to the auditorium for a school performance of some kind, one of my co-workers sidled up to me and asked me if I had read the writing on the shirt of one of the boys in my class. While I had noted the scrawl that covered his shirt, I hadn’t paid it too much attention. Turned out it was the word “fuck” in cursive over and over. I don’t read kid’s shirts. Nor do I look into their mouths. There are just things I don’t feel I need to know.


When Rob and I ran into the Goth girls, they were accompanied by a boy who was holding the leash of a yippy looking little black (what else?) dog. I had spotted them on the far bluff that we were heading toward earlier and we had slowed down our pace a bit as the Flip-flops were far behind and we didn’t want to be stuck occupying space. Wearing the obligatory hoodie and fringed shaded eyes, he was darkly dressed as well. I didn’t get the sense he was “with”either girl though Pink was clearly enamored of him. The slunk past trailing the noxious odor of cigarettes that became thicker as we approached the rocks they had just vacated. I had forgotten how smoke hangs in the humid air but not how much I loathe teen smokers. Especially when smoking is part of an “outfit”.


After we’d moved off the tidy stone trail to a real hiking one, we ended up following a couple who Rob had initially suspected of being a pair of young lovers in search of an open-air shagging spot, but when we caught up to them they were just a couple of middle-aged tourists (Tracey Ullman’s son is right – it’s the jeans – coupled with ball caps and dyed hair anyone can fool Mother Nature now, provided she’s only got a rear view and from a distance). They attempted small talk but we shut them down, not being in need of hiking buddies and also because we are both a bit reclusive – not just a honeymoon thing either.


The hike itself turned into another off road experience. Flooding has drowned evidence of worn trails and enough people have simply created new paths hither and yon that it is pretty easy to end up running out of trail in a dead end. Like the first hike, we simply bushwhacked but by this time were in the valley between the bluffs and a coming rain and the setting sun made it seem darker than it was. At one point we were skirting close to the bluff and the distinct rustling of, in my opinion, a lot of bats, sent me scampering at almost a run to catch up to Rob who is always leading the way at Storm trooper pace. Later as we approached the truck in the parking lot, Rob spied a bat circling in the dimming light.


“Is that a bat?”


“Yes, there was a whole bunch of them back in the bluffs.”


When he wanted to know why I didn’t point them out, I replied.


“Because you’d have wanted to go back and take a look.”


And he would have too. And I hate bats.


The parking lot was deserted when we emerged from the trail after bushwhacking through the rain. I wasn’t too surprised. We hadn’t run across anyone that day who wouldn’t have melted.




Our first hike of the honeymoon was to be a loop in Shawnee National Forest that would take us through the Little Grand Canyon. Not, according to my husband, very aptly named. He was right. Grand Canyon mini-miniature might have been more accurate, but to be fair, once we made it down from the Big Muddy bluffs and climbed down into the crevices, it was pretty impressive. Rock formations created by water usually do invoke a bit of awe. This particular place reminded one more of Devil’s Den in Arkansas than the real Grand Canyon however.


The loop took 3 to 4.5 hours to complete according to the information at the start of the trail, and it warned of places where climbing would be necessary and that the trail sometimes disappeared and in those circumstances one should stay alert for the trail markers. From up top, we could see the toll that the recent flooding had taken on the area. Drowned landscape was apparent because of the trees that popped up like shipwreck survivors, waving branches frantically for help.


The top bluff took about 40 minutes including the photo opp and we figured that the trail wouldn’t take us as long as the average middle-aged couple as we were in better shape and hadn’t any tiny people to carry or whine at us to turn back. As we descended the trail become slightly more challenging and then we lost the trail and after a heavy breathing jaunt up a hill that angled up like an extension ladder, we found ourselves back on the first part of the trail. Convinced he could get us back on the proper path, Rob led us back down into the crevice and within ten minutes we were happily, and carefully, descending. We lost the trail in flood waters. It simply disappeared beneath the muddy water. In the distance Rob spied a trail marker on a tree trapped in the deluge and decided we could scoot around and pick it up at a site farther down the way.


First we had lunch. We might have had a bit of nookie too but the ground was still flood soggy and we didn’t have a blanket. Nakedness and gnats might be okay for lust-addled teens with a six-pack, but we had an hour or more of hiking – either pushing on or turning back – and it was a somewhat unappealing prospect to do this wet and gnat covered.


We pushed on after our break only to quickly discover that most of the trail was lost in really deep water with just the tippy tops of trees visible. Faced with turning back and climbing the slippery rock we’d clambered down originally, Rob convinced me to climb up the opposite bluff. It was steeper than the ladder hill and muddy and slipping off would have been more than just painful. Bone-breaking at least and the worst I didn’t want to think about, but off we went. Rob is a like a mountain goat. Sure-footed. Perfectly balanced. If I hadn’t been clinging to the muddy ground for dear life, I would have marveled at what a physical specimen he is. Hockey has left its legacy in his legs and bum for sure.


Although it felt like forever, we reached the top in about 15 minutes. Rob reminded me as we stopped to catch my breath that this was an exhilarating experience and I would be thrilled when I reached the top because I would have done something I hadn’t before. And then he added, and maybe we could have sex up there. Yeah. We didn’t by the way. Have el fresco amour.

Once at the top, Rob – in full hunter/gatherer mode – ascertained that we would have to hike the bluff top until we merged with the original trail. I didn’t doubt that we would. Rob never gets lost and he is my Sasquatch. He has no fear in the outdoors and I know from the tales he has told that he knows exactly what to do in the woods in every situation. Two hundred years ago he would have been a mountain man. A trail blazer. Trapping, living in the wild and amassing knowledge of the wilderness that would save his life and that of others.


We ended up covering the trail in four hours including breaks. Not bad for a couple of 40 somethings.

We have been promising Katy a hike and a picnic lunch in the nearby Elk Island Park for some time, but until this week, it has been far too cold. Friday the weather turned and though not as warm as some of you in the southern 48 might think it should be to hearld the coming of spring, it has felt mighty good up here. Today we decided to skip our usually Sunday afternoon skating at the Moyer Ice Arena here in Josephburg and head over to Elk Island for a short hike and lunch. We fortified well with tuna wraps, grapes and baby carrots not to mention a thermos of Earl Grey and another with water for hot chocolate. Bundled and with Katy’s little green toboggan packed in the back of the Equinox, we felt ready to tackle the snow-covered trails.We made one stop on the way and that was in the tiny town of Lamont which is just north of the Fort. We needed to pick up the Edmonton Journal because even if it is light on news beyond its own borders – we are newspaper addicts and have to have at least one paper coming into the house daily and well, the Globe doesn’t run a Sunday edition. In fact neither paper runs its big edition on Sunday. The biggest paper of the week is the Saturday edition for both. Lamont though is not much of a town. Rob remembers the ice rink there as being a vandalism target for the bored teens trapped by a lack of transportation, probably, and somewhere to go, likely. There is a grain elevator and railway tracks. A main street with a donut shop, a bank and a grocery. Very small. Not picturesque. It bills itself as the “Gateway to Elk Island Park”. And with that, enough has been said.The park is a forested preserve for elk and bison herds. It’s mainly Aspen as this area is the transition land between Aspen parkland and boreal forest. There are plains and woodland bison here and they are kept in separate areas. They have flourished here to the point that this park has repatriated some of both herds to other areas that are trying to reestablish them. It’s part of the national park system and so there is a toll station at the entrance/exit areas. Trails are maintained and some of them are groomed specifically for cross country skiing. It’s snow up here a fair amount in the last few weeks so the snow we encountered was too deep for Katy to walk and we’d suspected she wouldn’t do much hiking anyway – thus her green toboggan. Rob is always teaching Katy about something whether it is about drywalling or painting or the fact that there was a squirrel living in the area we were hiking through. He pointed out the food leavings and the collapsed tunnel the squirrel had been using to travel.We picnicked at a spot that would overlook the lake in warmer weather but right now unless you knew it was out there, you’d have a hard time picturing it at all. It was a quick lunch. Just the wraps and hot drinks and grapes, and then back to the vehicle to tour the rest of the park from the warmth of the car. Katy and I are not quite so Canadian as we need to be for winter hikes yet.As we trudged back to the main trail and then to the parking lot, a story came to me. It amazes me how this happens. How I can be doing something completely normal, like pulling Katy in a toboggan, and suddenly a story comes. Like a gift. A gift with a lot of work attached to it, but still a present from the universe just the same. I think it will be a creepy story. I just finished Stephen King’s The Mist. A very quick read – day and a half at most as it is only a bit over 200 pages. Sadly it is something I could have started and finished in an afternoon or evening back in the day but I don’t have the stamina – or the time – for such a quick turnaround these days. Anyway, I think some of the inspiration came from my reading too. I have always loved apocalyptic survival stories. Mine is not an end of days thing, but it is about survival and I hope it will be a little suspenseful anyway.On the way back to the car, Rob stopped us to show Katy a picture of a bison and then a moose. There are stations on the trail in that give the history of Alberta and pioneers and some of the wildlife in the area. Katy really loves moments like these although Rob doesn’t think she is always paying attention to him, she is. She is becoming quite a daddy’s girl. Recently she has been telling Rob that she loves him. Spontaneously and not merely as a response. They say it takes several years to blend families. I wonder what they mean by that because I know so few “real” families that are “blended”. Perhaps what they mean is that it takes time for people to get to know how everyone reacts in situations – what they are likely to do or say. Still, even though I can predict my siblings and parents, I wouldn’t say that I knew any one of them very well, except maybe my mother, and I know they don’t know or understand me at all.As we were driving out of the park, we stopped to watch a moose grazing. Katy was quite fascinated and equally horrified when she was told that she’d had moose for supper the other night. The drive home was quick. We don’t live far from the park. It was another splendid day.