Tim and i had a wonderful hike — one that i’d been dreaming of doing for years — this fall. On Oct.  17, we did the entire Breakneck Ridge Loop . Meteorologists among you, check your records: It was the most beautiful day in the world. Early-ish in the morning, i had a strong feeling that for me, this was Now or Never for the Breakneck Ridge Loop. i had been up as far as the POW/MIA flagpole at least twice: once with just Tim, i believe, or maybe with just Rachel and/or my friend Raja Abdul-Rahim from the Record, and once with all three of them, for sure. Each time, i was so exhausted and frightened by that part of the hike that looking up at the much-steeper section straight ahead at the flagpole was too much for me, and i chickened out.

But this time, we did it! Tim is such a trooper: At the flagpole, he pointed out that there were lots of dopey, college-looking kids and 20-somethings climbing all around us while chatting away, the females of whom were talking in that awful “Uptalk” way that i despise (“I’m like, ‘You’re more of a brother to me?”  And he’s like, ‘But I don’t wanna be your brother?” And I’m like, ‘Oh-my-God?” (To which her companion replies, “Right?”) Most importantly, he noted at two or three critical junctures that whatever i decided (bailing out onto any of the at least four or five “alternative routes” marked, “Easier Ascent,” or continuing to try to find foot- and hand-holds so i could haul my raggedy ass over the steep boulder i was trapped on) would be fine with him. That gave me courage to go on. And, we did it the hardest way possible! i was (and remain, obviously) soooo proud of myself. And of Tim, for being so supportive. Without him, i never would have made it.

Not that it was easy for him, either. We thought and thought about whether he should take the hiking poles i’d given him; this hike requires two hands and two feet for at least 50% of the distance, so we were thinking no, but then it’s also got a long downhill, much of which is very steep, when you finally reach the top, so we were thinking yes. Plus, he could always put them into my pack when he didn’t need them. They weigh nothing and fold up to about  two feet long. (Sadly, that’s a few inches more than can fit into either of the two little packs we brought, but you can bungee-cord them onto the back of a pack just fine.) He ended up bringing them and carrying them, uselessly, folded up, in one hand for almost all of the ascent. i forget why he refused to put them into or bungee-cord them onto my pack, but i think it’s spelled  S-T-U-B-B-O-R-N. i asked him many times to put them into my pack, but he just wouldn’t. A funny moment occurred when we were sitting down taking a breather and a guy passing us couldn’t resist saying to Tim with a grin, “How are those hiking poles working out for you?”

We saw many interesting folks along the way, and believe it or not, we were helpful to more than a few who had come without maps (how stupid is that?). Because we had done the Sugarloaf Mountain-Breakneck Ridge hike in September (more than twice as WayAboveFlagpole  long, but nowhere near as steep; almost no scrambling required) in the same general area, we were able to tell some people how far they were from a crucial left turn onto the red-blazed trail that takes you to the yellow-blazed Wilkinson Trail and ultimately, back down to Rt. 9D. So i was feeling pretty, pretty, pretty good as we trod downward, knees aching but hearts light. Let’s see if i can “upload” or “link to” or whatever the word is, some photos from that wonderful day.

NiceViewOf Bannermans Castle  LookingSouthFrom Flagpole

DSCN0777YES We're at the Top


Sharp-Shinned Hawk!

i know it’s one of the most common hawks you can find in New York State, but it gets an exclamation point from me because i’d never spotted one (or at least, never recognized one) before … until today.

i was doing my citizen science for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (and i know how cringe-worthy that sounds: i can hear my daughter’s eyes rolling from here), sitting at my dining room table as i do twice a week — two consecutive days, per the instructions from Cornell. i sit there next to my window, all cozy with my hot tea; binoculars; photocopied “score sheet” with my most-likely-to-see species written in, but with plenty of room to write in others; my little drawing pad; pencil with one of  my cool new Helix erasers that i bought online, paying about $3 for all 10 of them and then (dammit) $8 for the shipping; and my sharpener. What we Citizen Scientists do for Cornell is simply count the birdies of the various species who come to our feeders (i have four feeders) and record the highest number of each species we see over the two-day period.

As always i was just watching and counting and sketching and occasionally getting up to run and open my back door to yell, “Get!” ineffectually to the squirrels who continually attack the suet feeder, and frequently saying to myself, “Gee, this is pleasant! This is really pleasant! Thank you, God!” etc.

i was actually writing or sketching something when i heard a loud rustling sound out there. In my peripheral vision, i could tell it was a bigger birdie than the chickadees, sparrows, titmice, downy woodpeckers and nuthatches that i’d been otherwise seeing, but as i whipped around in my chair i expected to see a blue jay. Instead, there, settling on a branch near my black-oil sunflower seed tube feeder, was … a sharp-shinned hawk!

I think!

Small compared to the red-tailed hawks i often see soaring or perched on the sides of our highways, and very beautiful, it had a small head, grey back and a long, squarish-tipped tail with several dark horizontal bands across it. Its breast, belly and sides, which i saw when it finally turned a bit toward me, were white and heavily streaked with pretty, reddish-tan stripes (horizontal on the sides, and more vertical down its breast and belly). It had yellow feet, yellow eyes, and a yellow patch right where its small, hooked bill met its forehead.

And now, mustering all the technological prowess i possess, let me see if i can show you one, by pasting the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website’s Sharp-Shinned Hawk page here:

Don’t look at the part that implies that it could well have been a Cooper’s Hawk … or the part that notes that sharp-shinned hawks are common as rain. Just try to imagine how happy i am!