Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Whitewater, LABOR DAY, Moday September 6th 10:00 AM

We only offered one hike this day and I was glad for the insistence of the park staff on this issue. I was wanting to offer 3, but by the morning of this one hike, my legs a and my brain were ready for a break. It was slightly better weather as the previous day had been nice and warm and despite the threat of rain, the 10:00 went off without a hitch.

A family of 5 came out for this one with two older girls and a 10 month old boy named Shawn. The father was a writer for the local paper in St. Charles MN who had actually come at the behest (or command, I can't quite tell) of a local Coffee Shop owner/ Music Therapist/ Gift Shop Owner/ Music impresario in town Laura. She was the one who had earlier marched me down to the head offices for the news paper two doors away and introduced me to everyone in town in about 30 minutes. I had a few hikers who had come at her recommendation and more that knew about it but were a bit put off by the 500 steps up to inspiration point. From what I had heard everyone knew about it, but now the press was here to make it official. In any case, it was a really pleasant hike and I had the pleasure of watching two young girls go from being charmingly indignant about having to hike quietly for an hour to being gleefully enthusiastic when they realized there were drums scattered throughout the valley.

This hike was really dominated by a murder of crows that seemed to be following us around. Perhaps they sensed how tired my legs were. In any case, they provided a constant iteration of stereophonic rhythmic sound which rang out overhead and really made special emphasis of my point about how the valleys changed as we walked. In fact, the whole valley was really active probably due to a warm night and then a slightly wet morning. The birds liked the warm night, and the bugs were enjoying the mist of a cooler morning which kind of felt like sundown at times. I also think the approaching rain storm might have had something to do with their extremely thick presence. I got the two little girls to engage in a little game at each of the bridges in which we leaned back and forth on the bridge to listen to the sound of each side and then had them tell me what they heard on each side. I could see them struggling for words to describe the sounds which eventually just came out as "that side is louder and that side is like a little water over there" but it was amazing to watch the expressions on their faces which told a richer story about what they were hearing without perhaps having the words to describe it. I also lack the words but my over education sometimes makes me believe I can explain it IN words. I think the expressions on the faces were much more accurate.

Despite my original notion that I would turn back at the second large bridge, I decided that since the girls had managed to remain silent for such a long time, I would push a bit further and hit a bit of the mysterious valley which was a great moment as there were so many different insects droning from so many places that I was able to point out and get the two of them to hear how the entire valley sounded from the bugs mixed with the activity of the many birds that were letting out short and sparse regular chirps from all over the valley. A really beautiful moment that we stood silently and enjoyed for an indeterminate amount of time and the parents seemed to get a bit of a rest.

As we turned back and started to hear the drums, the kids started to get excited and a bit scared as at first they could not distinguish the sound from thunder or distant gun shots. One of them thought it was a bear! The younger one heard it first and then slowly, as they realized it was a drum and then started to hear more sounds coming from other parts of the park, I saw a big smile emerge on one of their faces. Then as we climbed the stairs, my sister Jennifer let out a big BOOM on the drum at just the right moment which allowed them to clearly hear how the valley changed as we rounded the corner to inspiration point.

They eventually made it all the way up though we stopped quite a bit to listen and rest. The park was relatively empty so the drum performance really rang out by itself but we were accompanied by the sound of birds getting more and more excited.

This hike has really made me more aware of just how easily animals and birds are disturbed by the presence of humans. Not just by the sound of large drums which they seem to respond to, but also to just our presence walking through a space. I think my hiker from the day before was really right about them trying to identify us and realizing that we are not a part of the woods. They stop when we stop or sometimes only call out when we stop. A hunter knows how quiet you have to be to not let animals know you are there and how the slightest disturbance can scare them off or give a warning to other animals over long distances. I think that this activity, along with the activities of naturalists who track animals to study or help them, might be the only experience other than hunting that raises this awareness. Ryan Ingebritsen, composer of "The Trash Hunter", finally has something in common with hunters. We all have something to learn from one another. Perhaps we should just start listening.

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