This past Sunday I got up well before dawn. I hadn’t slept well on Friday, and it’s not like I had anything to keep me up Saturday night. So I went to bed early and then woke up early.
I decided to go to one of the local greenbelt parks – maybe I could get some good sunrise pictures. So I grabbed a half a sandwich and a coke out of the refrigerator (no time to make tea) and drove about 15 miles to one of the nicer parks in the area.
I got there just as the skies were getting good and light, although my watch told me sunrise was still a few minutes away. As I walked from the parking lot to the main walkway I heard a crow. The Morrigan? No, just a crow doing crow things.
I started walking around the “lake” that’s really an oversized retention pond. I looked off to the east and saw nothing. Turns out this isn’t a good spot for sunrise pictures. The hills and trees mean that by the time you actually see the sun, the sky is so bright all the dawn colors are gone. I got a few pictures that look better on the camera than they did in real life.
Moving around the lake, I spotted something moving in the water. Couldn’t really see it, but the motions made it clear it was a snake. A little farther on I saw a heron. This is the best I could do for a picture. I was carrying my travel camera (an Olympus OMD E-M10 Mark II, for the camera geeks among you) and the combination of low light and long distance made for a rather grainy shot.
A little farther on the walkway I heard the unmistakable sound of hot air balloons firing up. I’ve seen them in the air – occasionally they fly over my house – but never at launch. I saw them start to rise from behind the trees and realized I was on the wrong side of the power lines. I walked as fast as I could to get to a point where I could get a clear shot.
After a bit, I noticed one of the balloons starting to drop. I didn’t pay much attention to it, but then I heard someone yell “I think he’s going to do a splash landing.” I started running back to the lake.
I used to run, but that was a lot of years and a lot of pounds ago. But I can still run for short distances, and I made it to a spot on the top end of the lake in time to see this.
I don’t know enough about hot air balloons to know what was wrong, but the one on the right ended up in the water. Maybe it had a leak, maybe it was trying to carry too much weight, or maybe (as I’m guessing) it had burner problems. It never deflated – that kept all but a corner of the basket out of the water. After a few minutes of firing the burner, they were able to get back in the air and on their way.
There are more balloon pictures on my Instagram feed, if you’re interested.
I went back to my walk. I followed the concrete walkway around the edge of an open field until I came to a bridge and a path I had never tried before. I wanted something different so I went across. A very short walk later I found the parking lot and the open field where the balloons had launched.
And then I found a path back into the woods.
I knew two things. One, I had never been on this path before. And two, my car was parked on the other side of the creek. I called up Google Maps on my phone – it showed the trails but didn’t show any way to get back across the creek.
Now, I’ve been on that side of the creek before, but at the other end of the park. I knew there was a bridge some distance to the northeast, but I didn’t know exactly where it was… and I didn’t know exactly how to get there.
On one hand, this is a suburban greenbelt park. It’s nice, but it’s not exactly huge. Worst case I could follow the paths until they leave the woods and then walk back along the road. I knew my legs would hold up all day, but I wasn’t so sure about my back. But if I followed the creek I had to eventually come back to the main walkway, right?
I mostly have a good sense of direction, but occasionally I make massive errors. But it wasn’t even 8:00 yet – I had time to be wrong and recover from my mistake.
I went into the woods.
I’d like to tell you I had a mystical encounter in the woods, but I didn’t. What I had was a nice walk exploring some unfamiliar ground. While the paved walkway was crowded with walkers, runners, and cyclists, I passed exactly two people on the trails. I found a trail down to the creek and realized I was wearing the wrong shoes for going down steep dirt inclines. But I made it fine, and going up is a lot easier than going down.
Just as my back started hurting, I saw the bridge. It wasn’t exactly where I thought it would be, but it was close enough. I took some pictures of the creek from the bridge, then went back around the lake to the parking lot.
Of all the things Covid-19 has taken from me, I miss traveling the most. That’s nothing compared to the people who’ve lost lives, loved ones, and livelihoods, but it’s still a loss. I miss getting in an airplane, flying to some place I’ve never seen before, exploring the sites, eating local food and drinking local beer, and taking lots of pictures. An hour and a half in a suburban park – even a park as nice as this one – is a poor substitute.
I have a week of vacation coming up at the end of September. Hopefully I’ll be able to go somewhere then, though if I do it will probably be a driving trip and not a flying trip. Maybe I can go back to Ireland and Britain sometime next year. Maybe.
But for now, all I’ve got is a walk on an unfamiliar trail early on a Sunday morning.
It was good.