Adventures in Pumpkin Carving!

 

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Halloween is my favorite holiday. I can’t help but love it. It’s a time for candy, dressing-up, and letting your inner child out for some fun. For me, Halloween just wouldn’t be complete without carving a pumpkin.

Pumpkin carving is a form of art. I’ve tried improving my skills over the years. I’ve spent hours looking at some of the spectacular creations that some people make with pumpkins. I want to be one of those people.

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Last year I carved a Gremlin in reminiscence of the 80s movie I enjoyed as a kid. I also was the ‘artist’ behind this pumpkin featuring the creepy puppet featured in the SAW movies.

 

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In 2011 I was so proud of my JAWS pumpkin – until people kept asking me what it was. Apparently it’s not as easy to see as I thought.

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And the year before that, I made a werewolf. My dogs chose that one.

This year I wanted to do something grand! Something fantastic! I narrowed it down to three options – a cobra, a Tyrannosaur, and a shark.  I chose the shark, since my JAWS pumpkin failure left me feeling a little blue. I spent an hour lightly drawing my design onto my pumpkin. I don’t use a stencil, I look at a picture online and freehand the design. Maybe that’s my problem.

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I was really excited, because this year I was choosing a pattern that required both carving and peeling – removing the outer orange skin layer of the pumpkin, but not cutting entirely through it. It’s a way of creating shading for a more 3D, detailed design. This is the shark image I chose.

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I failed, however, to realistically consider my time constraints. It had taken me a week to get around to gutting my pumpkin. Then another 5 days to sketch it out. Now, my time was up, and I had very little time left to actually carve the pumpkin. I HAD to get it done before Halloween. But, thinking over my schedule, I had only about a ½ that I could dedicate to my creation. It’s not something I can multitask, like typing a blog on my phone while in line at the grocery store. So, much to my dismay, this is my last minute masterpiece.

I promise myself, next year…..

 

Yeti and Nessie and Monsters, Oh My!

011I went to Maine a while ago, and stumbled upon a neat little place I’d like to share – The International Museum of CryptozoologyCryptozoology is considered a pseudoscience by many, and involves the search for animals whose existence has yet to be proven and/or accepted by the scientific community as real. Some consider cryptozoologists to be monster hunters. A bit of merit was earned after a coelacanth, a prehistoric fish thought to be extinct for over 65 million years, was discovered living in modern times. Whether you believe in the existence of Yeti and Nessie and other such creatures or not, it’s still a fun and interesting place to go look around. You’re also free to take pictures with the collections.

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005For $7 ($5 for kids) you gain entrance to the museum, which is a little hole in the wall off Avon Street in Portland. We were fortunate enough to visit when Mr. Loren Coleman, the director and founder of the museum, was there. Mr. Coleman is a true believer, cryptozoologist and investigator, who you may recognize from his numerous appearances in different documentaries and investigative TV series. He’s also a very nice, hospitable man who is eager to discuss the exhibits with both believers and non-believers.

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It’s a fun little side trip should you find yourself in the area, and the one and only museum of its kind in the world.

The Forgotten – Mount Tecumseh

007We had the mountain entirely to ourselves. While we passed cars at other trail heads, our lot was empty. The White Mountain National Forest didn’t even bother to mark the trail head with a sign. As the smallest of New Hampshire’s 4000 footers, poor Mount Tecumseh is neglected and forgotten.

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There are two trails to the summit. One starts at a ski resort. The one we chose begins at an unsigned lot off of Tripoli Road. To find it, it’s on the south side of the road, between the lots for Mount Osceola and Eastman Brook, which are both on the north side of the road. It’s 5.7 miles from I-93.

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The hike begins by leading you across two shallow rivers, after which you come upon a nice, leaf strewn path with  surprisingly few rocks that leads you up at a 45 degree angle. It was a different type of trail than the other 4000 footers we’ve done. A nice change of pace, but we were sure there’d be some climbing to come later.

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At the top of this trail there’s a small cairn, an indicator of change in terrain. From here the trail changes to more of a path winding through the woods leading to the occasional scramble over rocks. Then you reach the top, which is a false summit of sorts. There’s a barely noticeable, fallen cairn marking the leveling off of this trail at the top. A path to your right leads to what is probably the best view on this mountain, and what most who take this trail believe to be the summit. To reach the actual summit, continue on the trail. It will take you through a series of dips and rises until you come to the actual summit, about a mile farther and only 250 feet higher than the false summit.

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I can understand why so few people hike Tecumseh – there’s almost no view, and Mount Osceola, which has an amazing view, is right across the street. However, it’s still a nice hike. What it lacks in view in makes up for in peace and quiet. There’s no overcrowded trails, no hikers screaming to each other, no one smoking a cigarette at the top. There’s just you, your thoughts, and nature.

In the Jaws of the Museum

058It’s been bothering me all week that I wrote about the Boston Museum of Science, but not about one of my all time favorites – the Florida Museum of Natural History. If you’re ever in the Gainesville area of Florida, you should definitely put the FLMH on your ‘to see’ list. This is a place where you can have a little academic adventure. Of all the displays I love there, I’ve narrowed it down to my top 3 favorites to share with you.

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For me, one of the highlights is the wall of shark jaws, including – MEGALODON!!! The ancient precursor to the Great White Shark, carcharodon megalodon, was the size of a school bus with jaws that could easily swallow a human whole. I must admit that my fascination with this gigantic shark extended well beyond the museum to numerous documentaries and books as well. (Yes, I’m a science nerd.)

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Another favorite is the Florida fossil room. As an osteologist by training (thanks to UF), I’ve spent hours in there observing their bone collections. The seven foot tall, carnivorous ‘Terror Bird‘, Ithyosaurs, and so much more! My favorite skeleton in the collection, though, has got to be the 40 foot ground sloth. The mere thought of such a creature is just amazing. And the claws on the thing! Very impressive.

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Then there’s the butterfly garden. An absolutely gorgeous, edenesque spot with a lush garden, tropical flowers, and the biggest, most beautiful butterflies you can imagine. Ever seen the pictures of those huge South American butterflies in such brilliant shades of blue that it’s almost impossible to believe they occur naturally in nature? They have them! And they’ll land right on you if you hold still and are lucky enough.

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The museum is on the edge of the University of Florida campus, and hosts many fantastic traveling exhibits as well. They also have plant sales on the weekends where you can pick up some fantastic species that you won’t likely find anywhere else.

Off to the museum…the Dead Sea Scrolls @ The Boston Museum of Science

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I’m a huge proponent of seizing rare opportunities, so when I heard the Dead Sea Scrolls were on display at the Boston Museum of Science I made plans to go. I’m not motivated by any political or religious motives.  I was, however, at one time, an archaeology major, and while these artifacts lay well beyond my area of focus, there’s an odd allure to things that are ancient. These writings have defied the ravages of time and have survived centuries. I find that fascinating in itself.

 

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sea10Long introduction to the exhibit story short, they were discovered in Jerusalem about a mile from the north shore of the Dead Sea in 1947 by a sheep farmer who found a stray by the cave. He threw a rock in, heard the sound of breaking pottery, and came back to explore in hopes of finding treasure. What he found were clay jars containing scrolls. Not at all what he had hoped for, but the contents would one day become a natural treasure.

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The scrolls themselves are in various states of preservation. Some are mere fragments with the writing almost lost to time. Others boast legible writing on fair-sized pieces. They’re mainly written on parchment (animal hide, or vellum), some on papyrus. They survived centuries below sea level, in the darkness of an arid cave off the salt crystal shores of the Dead Sea. That conditions aligned in this one place on Earth to allow the preservation of such material is remarkable. The history of how these scrolls were saved through times of political unrest is also quite impressive.

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It’s postulated that the texts were part of a library of a Jewish sect, and include Biblical tales from the Old Testament, literary works, and more mundane documents such as deeds and letters. Most are written in Hebrew, but some are written in Aramaic, Greek and Nabataean. Remnants from between 825 and 870 separate scrolls have been identified. Most were written between the 2nd century BCE to the 2nd century CE,during which time different Judean groups struggled for control.

sea11While you weren’t allowed to take photographs of the scrolls themselves, non-flash photography was allowed in the other rooms of the exhibit. All of the pictures of artifacts shown here are part of the exhibit. I enjoyed the showing immensely and would recommend seeing it for yourselves if you get the chance.

Surviving Mount Moosilauke

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We chose Mount Moosilauke for our next hike because it promised a spectacular view and a challenging climb. Number 10 on New Hampshire’s 4000 footers list, the peak reaches its zenith at 4802 feet. There are four main trails and several smaller paths you can use to reach the summit. The Beaver Brook Trail boasted the most scenic and most difficult route, so that’s the one we chose.

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I was a little iffy about climbing such a high mountain this weekend. I’d been nursing a booboo knee for two weeks -it got nicely bruised on a mountain, but the real damage was done on home turf. A couple of Mondays ago, before work, I was walking  the pups in the dark when they caught scent of something that turned them into snarling, savage beasts lunging at the leads for the freedom to hunt down their unfortunate prey. Whatever it was (I suspect a Bobcat) got them worked up into such a frenzy that they started tussling with each other. I ended up wrapped in their leashes, at which point I knew I was going down, the only question was where. In an effort to not squash a dog, I chose a direction.

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Unfortunately, something sharp stabbed me, resulting in a bone bruise that juts out past my knee and a knot in my shoulder the size of my fist that keeps going into severe spasms. The night before the hike, I put icy hot on my shoulder in an attempt to prepare it for carrying my pack. I’ve used plenty of different topical rubs, including icy hot, many times before. This time was different. I’ve had it result in muscles of fire before, but this time it was a full on napalm assault that brought me to my knees. I swear my skin was smoking, and whether it was a sudden allergic reaction or just luck of the draw, it appears to have caused a mild chemical burn.

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So needless to say, I was not at my best going into this hike. But I was immediately enthralled, captivated by the beauty of the color of the leaves and the cascading water falls. I was positive this was going to be my favorite hike to date. Shortly in, we passed a warning sign. Most of the higher mountain trails have them. We didn’t think much of it and continued on our way, passing several families with small children and a group of women in traditional hijab garb. Then a little further up we started passing a few stony faced hikers with bloody knees. Also commonly seen on the higher mountain trails. When you’re hiking across wet slick rocks, gnarled tree roots and huge rocks, it happens. You slip, you trip, your foot gets stuck, a loose rock catapults you into space and time…..

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Like any good assassin, Mount Moosilauke distracts you with her beauty. This trail had metal hand rails installed into rocks, wooden steps put in places, and many scored rocks for grip. Plenty of other trails don’t. Yes, it was steep. Yes, it was slippery. But it was also very doable, so we continued doing it.

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Then we ran into a fast talking Brit with bloody legs, who told us about his friend higher up on the trail who had hit his head and was not doing well. He was on his way to the parking lot to get help. He told us there was a hut about the same distance up, but thought that getting to the parking lot would be quicker. In a few minutes we came upon his hiking companions. The one indeed had taken a good whack to the head and was too unsteady to stand at the time. However, he wasn’t bleeding, his pupils seemed normal and reactive, and he was eating a snack bar, all fairly good signs. We left him with his group, with the promise to get to the hut and let them know, so help efforts could come from both directions. Only, as we discovered another mile up, the hut was simply a lean-to for camping and an out house. Maybe rangers usually hang out there, but due to the government shut down, no one was on duty. We hadn’t even had to pay the $3 parking fee that day.

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We continued up the trail because there was really nothing we could do at that point. Too many people would just hamper the rescue efforts on such a narrow trail. Also, we had passed a man who we told about  the incident who informed us that he used to be a boy scout and that he intended to make a stretcher from branches to get the guy down. He seemed very excited to take charge of the situation.

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We continued up the trail until we reached the top of the north face. We then had to hike across the mountain to the summit. We arrived, exhausted and slightly disappointed because the view was socked in. But, charming seductress that Moosilauke is, it burned off a little, just for us. We reveled in the amazing views until we were frozen, at which time we started are descent.

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We found the trail we had arrived on and started down. It wasn’t until we reached a tree that had been recently sawn in half to allow passage that we realized something was wrong. We hadn’t passed that tree on the way up. An hour had passed since we had left the summit. Only, this trail had been so easy, we had no idea so much time had passed. The funny thing about climbing is that unless you look behind you, you have no idea if another trail joins with yours. So on your way down, you don’t realize that the tiny little side trail to your right is the one you came up on, not the trail right in front of you, and to be honest, sometimes it all looks the same.

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We were a good way down the mountain already. Going back to find the branch off would add at least an hour to the trip. Had it been earlier, I would have agreed. But dusk was rapidly approaching, and I had no desire to descend that slippery, rocky, dangerous slope in the pitch dark. We would be getting off the mountain at 9:30 pm if we did that. I felt that it would be best to simply get off the mountain, then sort things out from there, once we were safely on flat ground. So we kept going.  Until we reached a river and lost the trail. We headed back up to where the trail was well-defined, discussing our options, which weren’t good. Insisting that there wouldn’t be a side trail down the mountain that just ended at the river, I found a map on my phone. We walked back down to the river, the sun setting and darkness falling quickly. We no longer had much of a choice.

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My hiking companion caught sight of the rest of the trail – on the other side of the river. The fast-moving river full of jagged rocks. There were exposed rocks to hop across – if you are a giant. So I made the giant cross, while I climbed up river until I found a spot with exposed rocks closer together and started crossing. Hand and foot across the slick, slimy, sharp rocks. After dunking only one boot in the water, I made it to the other side where I was pulled to safety. We went back down river to find the trail again by the light of a glow stick.

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We quickly found ourselves at a check-in booth stating that the trail needed to be adopted and was currently un-cared for. But as the navigator on my phone promised, the road was right around the corner. Upon reaching Tunnel Stream Road we were a little over 8 miles from the car, but figured once we reached civilization, we could get a lift the rest of the way. If only we knew.

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We hiked down the dirt and gravel road, relieved to be on our way back to the car and safety and food. But there was something strange about this road. When we came upon a series of fallen trees we realized the road was unkempt and undrivable. This was confirmed when, by the dim light of the glow stick, I noticed that something looked odd and insisted on stopping. We grabbed the flashlight from the pack and discovered that we had reached a section where the entire road was washed away except for the narrow strip where we were standing. Complete disaster movie conditions. So our flat road to safety became a hazard that required careful navigation up, down and around, climbing down and across  gorges, carefully skirting along a narrow rims, tripping across a loose rock moonscape, until at last we reached the end of Tunnel Stream Road, which was blockaded off with a metal barrier and a sign explaining the damage beyond as the result of Hurricane Irene.

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From there we took a right onto Tunnel Brook Road, which started out as Tunnel Stream had – a flat graded dirt road. We had already traversed 1. 9 miles, and had another 1.8 to reach the highway. Hopes were high. Dork that I am, I started making the “Checheche aahaahaah” sound from the Friday the 13th movies. Like some beastly cue, the woods came alive around us. Constant snapping twigs and rustling noises. We walked through a fresh cloud of skunk, wondering what predator had elicited the reaction. Several times some type of animal followed – or stalked – us from along the wood line. There were times when the hair on my arms stood on end and my heart thumped in my chest as my adrenal gland spewed like an uncapped fire-hydrant. At one point we came upon the strong stench of pig. Growing up in Florida, I had a half domesticate/half razor back boar named Mowhawk as a pet. It’s not a smell you forget. Mohawk really was a very sweet animal, but some types of boar can be highly aggressive and territorial.

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We walked as quickly as possible, the battery on my phone now dead from getting maps and navigating. My hiking partner’s phone not getting any reception because he has AT&T instead of Verizon. (To make a long story short on that end, there have been numerous situations in which my phone has been the soul beacon of hope because I had service and he didn’t). Eventually we saw some lights in the distance. There were two houses, both situated far back from the road. We could see cars passing sporadically on the highway in front of us. What to do? Approach a house and bother people who obviously want seclusion, or continue to the highway where help and cell reception should soon follow?

moosilauke9We soldiered onward to the highway. Which ended up being a barren stretch of pavement without a light in sight. Gone were the ideas of stopping at a gas station or restaurant, calling a cab or asking for a lift. And there still was no AT&T reception, so calling the non-emergency police line was out, too.

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What takes mere moments to pass while driving in a car takes 10 minutes on foot. And nothing looks familiar in the inky dark we were surrounded by. The good news was that the curious critter noises in the woods were being made by much smaller animals. The bad news was having to run past the bridges to jump over the guard rail before the random vehicles came speeding through. The first to pass up was an over sized pick-up that honked its horn at us. Us, standing 10 feet from the road, exhausted and obviously in distress, This was not the kind of road you choose to walk down – there was nothing around for miles.

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We continued on our way, hoping someone would call the cops for us (or on us) when the gun shots started. First just one shot. Then another. Then someone decided to empty their chamber. Silence as they reloaded, then it started again – until we turned the light off. Strange coincidence, or direct correlation we’ll never know, but we walked by moonlight for a good half mile before turning the light back on.

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We passed a house here and there, but quite honestly I’ve watched too many horror movies and I just wasn’t in the mood to be hunted. Before my phone died, my navigator had predicted that we’d reach Lost River Gorge, which was my land mark and only a 1/2 mile from where we parked, by 9:30 – the same time we would have gotten off the mountain had we climbed back up and down. So we knew around what time we’d know how much trouble we were in.

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After hours of hiking in the dark (after hours of hiking in the light), we reached the parking lot, which was 1/2 mile before lost gorge, as we approached from the west this time instead of the east. We know how lucky we were to get out of this one unscathed. We’d gotten into some pretty bad situations lost in the woods in Florida before (including a close run in with HUGE gators), but this was worse. But, quite honestly, I’m sure we had a better day than the kid who hit his head. I believe everything happens for a reason. Perhaps, had we gone down the way we climbed up, one of us would have been severely hurt.

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We’ve hiked dozens of time without using 3/4 of the supplies we carry in our packs each time. We tend to forget half the stuff we even have. But when an occasion arose when we needed those forgotten items, they were there. My dad passed away in July – very sudden and unexpected, very much before his time – but he left something very important behind. My dad was huge on outdoor preparedness. When I moved up to Massachusetts he sent me with tons of supplies – every nonperishable item in our packs, from the quick clot, first aid and bite & sting kits to the light weight LED flashlights, fire starter and space blankets, are items my dad felt we needed to have in our packs at all times.

We made it to the nearest open gas station at 5 of 10, bought two lonely slices of pizza that they assured us had been sitting for quite some time, and started on the journey home where the real nightmare would begin – facing two very angry, very hungry pups!