Beating Autumn with a Stick


When we were walking around the Zemi Valley Open Air Museum in Cappadocia, Turkey, there was a ground’s worker beating a small yellow-leaved tree with a stick. We stopped in our tracks of exploring the historic dwellings in the rocks and just watched him, trying to wrap our heads’ around what exactly he was doing. He wanted to rid the tree of its leaves faster than nature would have it, so he could sweep them up and be done with it.

Be done with autumn. I have never in all my life ever felt like I was ready to be done with autumn and the season should move on into dreary November. Especially this autumn.

I have a contract with New Jersey Monthly Magazine to write a hiking story and capturing the fall colors in the photographs are of utmost importance. My editor said he was hoping for peak color in the pics. That would be nice, but we had travel plans. Choosing to travel to Turkey during the last two weeks of October was living on the edge as far as timing of peak season goes. It didn’t happen before we left and I was concerned it would happen before our return.

As our plane descended into the surrounding New Jersey countryside near Newark, NJ, I could see that every single deciduous tree had ALL of their leaves still on. The trees looked stuffed- round and swollen with fall color. Excellent. I didn’t miss it. I could get out for my two remaining hikes and Bryce could do a good job photographing. A trip to New Jersey was scheduled as soon as I could unpack and do my wash.

But the weather had other plans. Although skies were clear and the rain had passed, a ferocious wind had started up since our plane landed we and arrived home. I heard the wind roaring outside, pushing its way through the jambs of our windows and doors of our log home.

Come morning, autumn was gone. All gone. It had left in the night. It had moved on.The wind had beat the trees like the ground worker in Cappadocia with his stick. But the wind does a much thorough job.

Bryce and I traveled to New Jersey to hike the last two hikes for the story today and we were hard pressed to find any color hanging on. An occasional beech tree with its fluttering, paper-thin leaves. And a small red shrubby tree down low, that had beautiful rosy pink leaves. When I touched them gently with my finger tips to examine them up close, they all tumbled off the branches and floated to the ground like confetti. Their days are numbered too. In fact, later tonight, they will drop off too as the rains come.

I never get USED to this happening. This sudden abrupt switch when a cold November rain nails the autumn leaves and drives them to the earth. When they have held on as long as they could, when they have displayed their beauty for as many days as they could, they release their hold and drop, often all at once, overnight. I hate it. It is so sudden, so final. I like to see them flutter down like pieces of the sun, as though the forest is raining scraps of color- red, peach and golden-yellow. I like late fall to linger. So I can get used to the change that is about to occur.

Any change in life is easier accepted if it happens slowly, in stages, so we can get used to it. I had both parents die, both very young, in their mid-50’s.- one parent hung one like the leaves on the trees, and went slow with cancer; the other parent went fast with a heart attack. Guess which one was easier to accept? Cancer gave us the gift of time.

This aggressive fierce wind, beating the beautiful leaves like the man with the stick, makes me sad. Very few things in the natural world makes me sad but this does. I wanted more time.

Just One Night in Paris



It was just one night in Paris. One night to stay totally awake the entire night. It ought to be an easy thing to do in a city that presumably never sleeps as New York City. Bryce and I had a long layover from Turkey home on Air France- 15 hours. Although some orange leather reclining lounges in a dark area at the airport looked tempting to wile away the hours, not for 15 of them. Plus, I had always wanted to see Paris and couldn’t ever talk anyone into going with me. Fifteen hours was better than none.

Bryce’s GF was envious. Paris is the city of romance. She wanted to be there. Instead, Bryce was with his mother. It was up in the air how the night would go, however.

First off, we had to get rid of our luggage. Our day pack full of I pads, camera, books, snacks etc was heavy enough, let alone a heavy backpack. Left luggage closed at 9. We got in Paris at 9:30. Fortunately, they checked our bags all the way through.

Next hurdle, the train into the city. It stopped running at 11pm. We had to clear customs and find the train before 11. Done.

Lucky for me, I sat next to a sweet Parisian girl, Louise, who took us under her wing and babysat us through the process of finding the platform, buying our ticket, getting off at the right stop, and planning our night.

I bought a small travel guide to Paris at the airport with a pull-out map and circled highlights along our night’s walking route. We’d surface at the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral, walk down the Seine hitting highlights. Get to the Eiffel Tower by 1 am to see the last light show, circle back past the Louve to the train station. Bryce and I figured that we would refuel at little open air cafes and pump up with caffeine in order to stay alert. No problem. We were psyched.



When we climbed out of the underground train station and immediately saw the magnificent lit up Notre Dame Cathedral, it was breathtaking. All along the Seine were lights and people were out in droves, laughing, talking, drinking. Boats, lit up like wedding cakes, powered up and down the river. People looked strange. They wore weird make-up, strange hats and outfits. OK, this is Paris. I really didn’t know what to expect.

We marveled at the sight, looking up into the sky at the massive cathedral and looked at one another and said, “I can hardly believe we are here. Paris. From the canyons of Turkey’s Cappadocia to here in just a few hours.” It was a bit of a culture shock.

We couldn’t get over the level of energy in the squares and the amount of people. Surely we would have no time staying awake all night long. Then it hit us. It was Halloween! Halloween night in Paris. How fortuitous! No wonder they looked strange. And they will be up all night too.

We bypassed the sights and headed straight to the Eiffel Tower. Sat under its massive structure and marveled at the light show, eating black olives out of a Zip Loc and Turkish string cheese, getting powerfully thirsty. We couldn’t find water, or coffee or anything of sustenance. It was after 1 am. Drunk young people were finding taxis back to their apartments. Bryce and I were running out of steam. We needed a coffee.



The night started out warm enough that a fleece and a raincoat was enough to keep warm. We sat on benches and rested. I pulled up my hood, thrust my hands into my pockets. I got colder. We got sleepier and more physically drained. “What time is it?” 3 am. “Let’s walk a little ways, then take another break. We walked up to the Arc de Triomphe, down Av des Champs-Eylsees to the fountains at Place de la Concorde.


We saw homeless people wrapped in plastic in corners of magnificent buildings. We sat on stoops if there were no benches, resting. I took my son’s arm for support, laid my head on his shoulder when we sat. No coffee anywhere. No cafes anywhere. It was like downtown Washington, DC after hours. Pretty, lit up buildings, traffic going by, but no signs of life on the streets. Occasionally a drunk Parisian Halloweener would come up to us as we rested and ask for something- a cigarette, a light, money, who knows what. They couldn’t speak English. I had to pee. There wasn’t a public toilet in the 8 miles that we walked. Long wet lines were everywhere on the sidewalks where the young partiers had to relieve themselves after drinking all night. We stepped in between them.

How are we going to stay awake for the next few hours? The train began running at 5 am. We had a few more hours to get through. We sat and timed ourselves, stretching out the hours, trying to reach the train station by 5.

Around 4 am we couldn’t find the cathedral and our spot to go underground. Where could it have gone? It is so huge. I looked up in the sky and saw a dark hulking shape. There it is. All its lights had been turned off. Same for the Eiffel Tower after 1 am. Show’s over in Paris at 1 am, even on Halloween. Who would have guessed.

My hips and legs were aching and feeling stiff from walking on a concrete surface and sitting. We grew so sleepy we had to take turns resting our eyes on the benches when we took breaks.
At 4:30, we went underground and sat on the bench in the breezy passage and waited, totally alone in Paris, for that first train to run and take us back to the airport. Eight miles on our feet, not a single cup of coffee. What a night it had been. Totally worth it.

It was only one night. One night to stay awake all night long. I may never get back to Paris again but it was a much better choice than sleeping away the last 15 hours. Bryce and I made a memory. One last memory with my son on his graduation trip to Turkey and that to me is most important.

Cracking Almonds in Babushkas …as we look fear in the face in Turkey


There was just a touch of lace around her face, trying to pretty up a wrinkled old face, lined deeply from hard work. The old woman’s scarf wrapped around her neck and head and covered all visible signs of hair or what color it was or how little was left. I couldn’t be accurate in judging her age.

On her robust body, she wore a long gathered skirt, a blouse and a long knitted button down vest…sneakers. She held a cloth bag by its handles. She sat in the bus shelter waiting for a bus to take her to Avenos and watched me, smiling. I was trying to figure out how she kept the end of her scarf on the top of her head without a bobby pin. She was trying to figure out who I was and who I was with.

In broken English with a Turkish accent she attempted a conversation. “Are you from America?” (yes)

“Is that your husband?” (no, it’s my son). Any more children? (a daughter). “Is THAT your daughter (a Korean girl standing next to me whom I exchanged small talk with. No.) We all laughed. She blushed and laughed too. “I said, “She could be if I had two different husbands.”

When the bus pulled up, my new friend got in first. Bryce and I walked carefully down the aisle trying not to wack anyone. When I passed my new friend, whom had claimed a seat, she patted her knee and offered her lap for me to sit in. I was floored.

When I first decided to take my son to Turkey for his graduation present, the most frequent response was, “Why?” Followed by, “I don’t think it’s safe.” I was advised to be hyper viligant, contact the department of state about our whereabouts in the country, keep ours ears turned to the news and avoid crowded places where many tourists congregated.

As I walked down the bus asile, contemplating the old woman’s lap, I was feeling pretty vulnerable. (not!) Had it not been a short bus ride, I may have taken her up on her offer.

Canceling our trip to Turkey, planned 11 months ago- as soon as flights can be bought, crossed my mind in a fleeting momen, as I listened to the paranoia. We were not going anywhere near the border of Syria. We were too excited for this adventure to throw away $1400 and give in to fear. When my diplomat nephew said not to worry and HE proceeded to buy a flight to join us, I knew there should be no worries.

Everwhere we went, we were met with not just cordialness but warm friendliness. It made me feel foolish about considering abandoning our trip after I was in the country by about 5 minutes. WHAT was I thinking?

But it was the group of older women that lived around our hotel who really gave me pause. We saw them everyday as we came and went about our day, heading to the bus station to visit a nearby town or off on a long hike up a picturesque valley.

They sat alongside the stone cobble drive, on old foam sofa cushions. Their big skirts dipped between their legs as they sat sprawled with a cinder block between thir legs. With a smaller chunk they slammed almonds and poked them put of their shells. I chatted away in English. They chatted away in Turkish, neither of us needing to know exactly what the other was saying. They took turns presenting their plams up to Bryce and I with the sweet extracted nut kernals. We all laughed and chattered and understood everything. They were still at the slamming at 5 pm that afternoon and we exchanged the same pleasantries and scored some more nuts.IMG_0616

At the end of the next day, we see five old women laden down with plastic grocery bags, the thin stretched-tight handles cutting into their manly hands from the weight. In between two of the women, the weight of two more heavy bags were shared, each carrying a handle to help with the load. I sent Bryce running ahead to offer his assistance. They jibbered happily in Turkish as Bryce took the bags out of their hands. We didn’t realize they were our nut-cracking neighbors at first for many of these older Turkish women dress and look similar.

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The next morning as we’re leaving for the day, the women are in the open house next door, on the floor again, on old sofa cushions, rolling out dough and chopping it into tiny shapes like pastina or orzo. Their knives moved rapidly, obviously from years of acquired skill. Another women cut dough into strips for noodles. Another ran dough chunks through a pasta press. They invited us in. I wanted to stay and work with them for the day. I started to ask questions, and one ran and got our hotel owner to translate.


“They want you to know that this is the flour that was in the bags you helped carry.”

(we figured that out).

“WHO are these women?” I ask our hotel owner. “Are they related?”

“Just friends, one lives here and one here and one here and one here,” as he points to the surrounding homes.

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“Is it a job?”

“They don’t do this for work. They have gotten together to make their pasta for the winter.”

Of course. Make their pasta for the winter.

When we returned to our hotel at the end of the day, the pasta was drying on racks, or on blankets on the side of the stone drive. The Call to Prayer echoed throughout the village. Life was good.

When I posted a photo of our neighborhood girls on FB with a caption, my writer friend MaryAlice Yacutchik- whose ancestors hail from Russia, where they wear babushkas, as do mine in Poland, said, “When we get old I want to get together and wear babushkas and make pasta and crack almonds.”

It’s a deal. Something to look forward to.

This is why I travel. To feel foolish for being afraid of these lovely people. To be reminded once again how we in Amercia are so afraid of other cultures, other religions and how it can hold us back from experiencing magic and the best part, discovering that we are not so different and people have warm hearts all over the world. And this was only two in a long string of wonderful memories as we spent two glorious weeks in the wonderful country of Turkey.

Is There a Yurt in Your Future?

Yurt 1

Into the Mystic: Paddling amid the foliage on Swartswood Lake in Sussex County.
Photo by Cindy Ross

Yurt 2

One of the five yurts available to campers in Swartswood State Park.
Photo by Cindy Ross
Yurt 3

The 16-foot-diameter interior features two sets of bunk beds.
Photo by Cindy Ross
  •  Fog blankets Swarts-wood Lake as we dip our paddles into the glassy water. A family of swans materializes on the surface through the opaque air. Nearby, an osprey dives through the whiteness and resurfaces with a stunned fish. The morning show has begun in Swartswood State Park.

We are following the Water Trail around the 520-acre lake in our canoe. There are 15 charted stops to learn about the rich natural, cultural and historic points of interest. Some of the most interesting sights are uncharted, like the red fox standing motionless on a downed tree.

Swartswood, in the southwest corner of Sussex County, became New Jersey’s first state park in 1914. The lake is a bit older; it was carved by glaciers thousands of years ago. For the past 15 years, overnight visitors to the park have had the opportunity to sleep in yurts.

A yurt is a cross between a cabin and a tent. Traditionally, Mongolian nomads packed these round huts for their desert travels. These days, modern yurts are springing up around the country. Five are available at Swartswood, and they can be found in three other Jersey state parks: Allaire, Belleplain and Byrne. Traditional cabins are also available at Swartswood, as well as sites for trailers, pop-up campers and tents—but a yurt is somewhat unconventional and much more fun.

A wooden lattice creates the frame for the yurt, the roof lines radiating like the spokes of a wheel. Two sets of bunk beds are positioned on either side of the spacious 16-foot-diameter structure. The floor is made of painted concrete. Natural light pours in from the skylight 10 feet above, which is easily opened with a pole for ventilation. Additional ventilation and light are provided through wide screens around the yurt walls,
with vinyl flaps that can be rolled down for warmth.

Swartswood’s five yurts are situated in a loop, with distance between them for privacy and quiet. Parking is a stone’s throw away. The area around our yurt is open and grassy, enabling white tail deer to browse nearby. Through the neighboring forest, the shimmering lake entices us to paddle. It’s a pleasant 10-minute walk to the beach and the marina (where boat rentals are available).

The entire Water Trail can be completed in a leisurely three hours, but we take additional time to get out and hike the 1.5 mile Grist Mill Trail. This loop begins at Keen’s Mill, a restored 1830s mill, on the west end of the three-mile lake.

After our paddle, we hike the 2.8-mile Spring Lake Trail, which winds through a younger forest to secluded Spring Lake. The trail is located in the southeast corner of the park and connects to the 0.6-mile-long Duck Pond Trail, a paved pathway suitable for inline skating, roller blading and wheelchairs; it is accessible from a nearby parking lot.

Back at the yurt, we cook on a fire grate provided by the park. Off in the woods, a great horned owl provides the soundtrack for our repast. Soon, we’ll retire to the yurt to read by lantern light—with little more technology than those desert Mongolians enjoyed.

Cindy Ross blogs about her outdoor adventures at


as I work on my book about raising and educating children, I think about the fact that my children missed 70 days of public school their last year there. (with the Blue Mtn School district’s approval). The law states that I could have been jailed 5 days for every truancy- that totals 300 days in jail (as only 5 are acceptable) – with all this talk about breaking laws- what do you folks out there who think we should never break laws think about what happened to this woman?

PHILADELPHIA, PA — A mother of seven died in jail serving time because her children had skipped…

RISK in Veracruz, Mexico…the rest of the story

I’ve been accused that my last blogs have been boring. I can fix that. There’s been conversetion lately about risk so let’s hear about what it’s really like to be a travel writer- from the back side- the Paul Harvey “rest of the story.”

I went to Veracruz, Mexico last year. Travel writers often get invited to discover countries who have recently decided to attract American tourists, either they are hoping to get on the tourism market bandwagon, or have recently cleaned up their act so that it is now safe or safer for us to travel there- we Americans who need a place to be very safe before we want to risk going there.

You may recall that it wasn’t too many years ago that there were many beheadings in Veracruz. It was a pretty corrupt violent state. (Actually, when I just Googled it, there’s been some recent beheading activity). But in 2013, the state welcomed the adventure travel trade and I went to check it out.

Veracruz made sure we felt safe, the whole 5 days we were there. Everywhere we went, we were followed by a truckload of medical folks- like docs in long white coats with emergency medical bags. In addition, we had our own armed guards- another open pick-up with a handful of soldiers with machine guns- they actually leaned on the cab and sometimes took aim as we traveled. That made us feel real safe.

I signed up for whitewater rafting, rapelling down a sea cave, caving and dune buggy riding.

Let’s start with whitewater rafting. It was Class 3-4. We each had a beastly Mexican man in the stern that yelled commands to us in Spanish. So we had to first learn AND REMEMBER what “paddle forward”, “paddle backward” meant as well as “left side”and “right side.” That was a challenge, especially as a hydraulic was about to swallow up the raft. We needed a few seconds to translate in our brains, a few seconds we might not have.

Our guide asked if we wanted to “swim” the rapids. “Here, it is safe- no rocks.” A few of us said, “Why not,” and rolled overboard. I  never swam Class 3-4 ON PURPOSE nor by falling overboard. As I ran the river and struggled to keep my feet up to prevent entrenched foot (caught in rocks- because who knew if there wasn’t a single boulder under water), the massive waves kept hitting me over and over and over again, slapping me in the face with such force. I gasped air inbetween but never knew what was behind each wave, so I began to drink in water fairly quickly, because they were unceasing. It took some time to think I should be turning my head to the side every time a wave swept over my head, that way it would not be forced up my nose at least. (we were given no instructions) I grew concerned because I could not drink much more water before I would be in trouble. The rapids ended just in time and they hauled us into the boat by our life jacket arm pits, a little weak from the experience.

Later on, I made the mistake of asking our guide if they ever surf waves. “Oh yes, would you like to try?”

In order to stay on top of the wave, as you position your raft upstream, you must paddle like crazy to remain on top of it. My group did not. They lily dipped their paddles and in two seconds, the river dumped half of them out. A few got caught underneath but the raft had not flipped so there was no air for them to breathe. They were pretty scared. They were trapped under there pretty long. One older woman blamed me for the whole event.

Next day was repelling. We started by being told to pile into two wooden fishing skiffs on the coast. The plan was to motor around the point where the sea cave was and the cliff which we would repel down. The sky behind the boats was dark and jagged lightning was slicing through the sky. Raindrops had begun to fall. The sea was wild and the boat rocked and rolled. Walking was an option to get to the cliff top. Since I get real seasick. I did not want to be in that boat one second longer than I had to, plus I did not like the looks of a storm brewing and being in a boat. A few of us opted to walk.

When we got to the repelling site, there was a 70-year-old Mexican man in polyester long pants, a white button down dress shirt, a cowboy hat and barefeet. He had ropes and caribeaners and would belay us down the cliff, over the sea cave, and into the rocking and rolling skiff in the sea below. I was skeptical. I asked a bonafide climber to check his equipment out and he did say it was legit.

I have climbed and repelled in the past. I know to keep yourself perpendicular to the face, legs apart and hop or walk down. As I repelled, the Mexican man up top disappeared from sight. He could not see how fast or how slow I was going. He let out line too quickly and before I knew it, I was laying flat against the wall, upside down. The rope was tight. I couldn’t move. I yelled up, “I’m in trouble down here. I’m not scared but I might start to get scared soon.” I laid against the wet rock wall completely upside-down , head first and the sea churned far below me. He begins yelling something to me in Spanish and I have no idea what my instructions are. Soon he repels down over the lip and reaches his hand out, yelling to me. I tell him in English, “I am not climbing UP this. Figure out how to get me down.”

Our travel guide interpreter up top begins to yell translations. “Get your feet undernath you and STAND UP.” They let out some rope to create slack. All my comrades were down in the swaying skiff holding their breath, praying. I figured it out and finished the repel, hanging above the cave in the air as the ocean rolled in and out of the monstrous mouth of the cave. My comrades teased me once safely in the boat and said I was doing Cirque de Soule ala Cindy. When I told my daughter back home, she behaved as though I was the child and she was the parent, telling me to be careful. “I need a Mother.”

The next day we went caving. By this time, I started asking questions. “What kind of cave? Is it a cave or a lava tube?” CAVE they said, not a big deal. We had no flashlights. We traveled to the jungle, along with our entourage of trucks full of medical people and soldiers.

We walked through the jungle and found a cave that we crawled into its mouth. It WAS a lave tube. Lava tube floors are treacherous things- full of glassy, abrasive lava rock that cuts and rips if you so much as touch it. People turned their cell phones on for illumination. The soldiers had to juggle their machine guns and phones for light at the same time. The doctors and EMT’s had smooth soled leather shoes on. They were not happy following us in there.

When we got to a section where the ceiling broke down, and the light of day entered, we all paused and talked. Someone said this was the end. I got bored and turned around with a few others and decided to walk back early. Unbeknowst to me, after I left, one of the guides asked if they wanted to go in further to see the bats.

“Seeing the bats” meant penetrating further into the lava tube with cell phones. Cave rules are THREE types of a light source for each person. NOT, with this establishment. The explorers had to crouch down and nearly crawl. The bats, which were vampire bats became disturbed and began flying out , past the people, brushing their hair and face and arms with their wings, freaking both of them out- people and bats. The soldiers were stumbling. The medical people were stumbling. The writers and travel agents wondered why they were following so blindly and had given over so much trust.

When we were all reunited afterwards, I was bummed that I had missed out but those who did not miss, were white with fear and traumatized. THIS would not go over big with most American tourists. The Veracruzians can’t lead just anyone down a cave like that.

The next day we went 4-wheeling over crazy high sand dunes. I was starting to catch on to these people and their idea of risk and especially safety, which was a tad different from ours. The folks in my group played it safe, but another buggy of American tour operators rolled and got a little hurt and a lot scared.

Our last night, we went out to dinner on the square and I noticed the young man in our group who had been in the flipped buggy was staring and was silent. I went and sat with him and asked, “Had enough high adventure, eh?” And he quietly shook his head. “I wanna go home.”

Wanna know what I got paid to write that story? $75 and it cost me $100 to get myself to JFK so I left America with a deficiet of $25 from the get go. I DID NOT have to pay for my memories however. They were provided by the Veracvruz Tourism.

PS- This is only ONE side of the Veracruz trip- there were many deightful segments making the entire adventure certainly worthwhile…but if you want to look AT RISK- depending on where you travel and how you travel, adventure and risk is fairly easy to come by…. This is what we travel writers do for you Americans to TEST whether a country is prime time and ready for our comrades.

Here’s another side…


If you mention my name when you get a ticket,  and use this code “ROSS14″ ATC will take $5.00 off your ticket!

Harpers Ferry, WV (August 21, 2014) – Discover the unique history of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) in theaters this fall during the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s (ATC) fourth annual Membership Drive, Relive the Legacy. This year’s event will showcase the never-before-seen film “The Appalachian Trail: An Am…

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Environmental Conservation · 107,785 Likes
Join us as we experience the never-before-seen film "The Appalachian Trail: An American Legacy" on the big screen! #RelivetheAT
Appalachian Trail Conservancy


When my 20th anniversary of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail came about, my family traveled to Baxter State Park to climb the greatest mountain. The weather was not the greatest however, mist and occasional light rain- no wind. The plan was to traverse the Knife Edge after celebrating at the summit so we made the decision to go after evaluating the weather and how we all felt- strong and confident.

My children were pumped for the crossing. They were ages 7 & 9 and had just recently hiked the last 250 miles of the Continental Divide Trail in Colorado and cycled 650 miles of New Mexico on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail. They were beasts as far as fit little kids go.

Since the drop offs were all fogged in, you had little clue of the extreme exposure, if this was your first time. My kids thought the rock scrambling was great fun. My girlfriend who had been on the mountain numerous times, knew too much. She gripped Sierra’s raincoat sleeve with such force and frequency that she ripped it right out of the socket.

A few of the adults along were quite fearful and not as fit. We had to take care of them- wait for them and encourage them. When we reached Chimney Pond and our cabin for the night, the adults collapsed on the chairs, my kids asked if they could go outside to play. The 12 mile day had not phased them. Certainly “the emotional drama” of the Knife Edge had not exhausted them.

I wrote a feature story for The Appalachian Trailway News Magazine on my anniversary hike and Sierra’s portrait on the Knife Edge in the fog in her raincoat was on the cover. The image sparked readers to comment which were published in the following issue under “Letters to the Editor.” Todd and I were chastised for our irresponsible parental behavior, we even got accused of child abuse. These comments were made by elderly Girl Scout leaders and Todd and I found them amusing. In our defense, we responded back with information about who these cover children actually were, what they had accomplished in their short lives and who their parents were- Triple Crowners. We also had a sleeping bag and stove for emergency purposes which our accusers did not know. Everything in its context.

Baxter State Park has rules pertaining to when the officials feel it is safe to climb Mount Katahdin. Our anniversary day had not been a forbidden climb, it just had an advisory warning attached. And Todd and I had heeded that advice and proceeded with caution, wisdom and experience. We were not breaking any rules or laws with this decision but numerous times in our children’s upbringing, in the midst of an adventure, we did.

I’d like to look at those times, of risk, of breaking laws, of trespassing, of questioning authority, and examining what we are teaching our children, good and bad, by bringing them along as accomplices.

In our marriage, Todd has always been the one who feels it important and necessary to follow rules, heed laws, do not trespass, etc. I, on the other hand, do not always feel so inclined to. We usually can balance.

One particular time, Todd’s vote was to trespass. When we were llama packing on the Continental Divide Trail in Wyoming, we were following a guidebook whose route took you across private property. The other option was a long road walk. We knew we’d be trespassing but the country was so vast, we rarely saw a soul.

Out of all the days to be in mountains, that particular one, the landowner chose to move the cows down from the high country. A solo backpacker could hide but not a family with a string of llamas. A wrangler on a 4-wheeler stopped us to inform us that we were trespassing and had to walk another ten miles to get off even though night was falling. We claimed we were lost to appeal to his emotions. He instructed us to pull out our map. There was a bright highlighted route right on the exact path we were on. We begged to speak to the owner and asked if we could camp somewhere out of the way and he finally consented. The kids were 5 & 7 and did not have a say.

When the kids were 14 & 16, we were adventuring in Hawaii and they did voice their opinions. We visited a local friend who offered to lead us cross-country over the newly formed lava flows in Volcanoes National Park, to where the lava was dumping into the ocean. Armed with headlamps and warm clothing, the plan was to walk out the 2-3 miles to the cliff and watch where it dumped into the ocean by night. We followed the Chain of Craters Road stepping over piles of hardened lava that had broken up the blacktopped road. After 200 yards, a yellow-tape blocked our way and warned that it was dangerous to proceed and that we should not go any further. Stepping over the yellow tape was easy. Dozens of people did it every night.

We headed towards the plume in the sky, across the broken undulating lava over gorgeous ropy, curving hardened flows. Sometimes it looked like a frozen, black waterfall. We stopped at the cliffside. It was possible for the cliff to peel off and drop huge sections into the ocean unannounced, but we took our chances. In some places, the lava was still warm to the touch. We sat out there and watched the most amazing light show of steaming bubbling brilliant orange and red lava flow into the ocean and hiss and steam like a wild hot animal. It was incredible. We sat mesmerized for a long time. Clouds of silica particles blew in from time to time, making it sometimes difficult to breathe.

After a few hours of watching the show, we picked our way back, the sky completely engulfed in stars all the way down to the horizon. The ocean, we kept at our side and nearby. Some people get lost out here at night but we kept our directional skills sharp and everyone close at hand. It was one of the most amazing nature spectacles of our lives.

Park officials did not stop visitors from going out. They were aware of it. We went at our own risk and we risked our children’s well-being at the same time. It was  a situation where had to weigh the risks and the consequences…being cited for trespassing, perhaps fined, maybe hurt, a remote possibility to all die if a chuck broke off and fell into the ocean. We all wanted to take the chance and have this life experience. The kids had a voice in the decision and they said, “let’s go.”

As parents, we could have trumped their decision and said the risks are too high, but we did not. We all have a sense of adventure in our family, but as parents we must weigh the pros and cons, judge how much safety you are willing to compromise, if what we are doing is disrespecting property, and any time you go beyond the “No Trespassing” sign you are disrespecting property. Sometimes, you evaluate if the sign is an attempt to keep out vandals, which category we do not fit. We would never harm the land or the property nor leave any indication that we were present. We believe in behaving ethically but that does not necessarily equal legality. You need to qualify that every step of the way. If the experience far outweighs the risk, we sometimes chose to just do it.

When we were traveling in Sicily by bus, we found ourselves in the town where the Zingaro Nature Reserve was located. After hiking all day, we discovered that there was no room in the hotels, all the rented rooms were filled or were too expensive and no buses would be entering or leaving town until the next morning. We walked the streets and told everyone in our group to keep their eyes opened for potential “stealth” camping spots. An abandoned pizzeria on a hillside was the accommodation of choice. We waited until dusk feel and then creeped up the one-way gravel road that looped around the property to the restaurant’s patio. We cleared away the glass chards and trash and set up our tent as the mosquitos were horrendous. Every time someone unzipped a tent fly, the neighborhood dogs would bark. We tried to keep silent.

Down the road was an inexpensive but very fancy restaurant- with white linen tablecloths, three crystal glasses at each place setting. We ordered pizza.  The kids whispered, “We’re living like the homeless but eating like the rich, this is great.”

After dinner, we kept our headlamps off and walked in darkness back to our abandoned pizzeria. The plan was, Todd would sleep outside the tent, keep watch and rouse us at the first crack of light.  We’d pack up and leave before anyone knew of our presence. However, in the early grey morning, Todd was wildly awoken by the crunching of tires on the gravel. My god, someone is coming up the drive! AND, they are shooting a gun! A car spins by and Todd sees a man’s body rising out of the open rear car window, with a rifle in his hand and he is taking aim and firing. Incidentally, the Rough Guidebook to Sicily states that this town had one of the worst reputations in Sicily for Mafia violence in the 1950’s . Eighty per cent of the adult males had served prison sentences and one in three had committed murder. Todd held this thought in his mind as he watched the passing car.

Because of the way we were situated, the gunman would have had to turn backwards after he passed in order to see us and he was too intent on seeking small game, rats, other trespassers, who knows what to shoot at, and didn’t bother looking behind. The car circled the pizzeria, shooting away, and went down the gravel drive. It took twenty minutes for Todd’s knees to stop shaking. We tore down the tent in a flash and slithered out the road. The kids gave us a “high 5” when we reached the blacktop public road and announced, “That was the best night of the whole month-long trip.”  And Todd and I looked at one another and thought, what is wrong with our parenting? IS there something wrong with our parenting?  What have we created in these children by our example? What are we modeling for them and is it a good thing?

When Todd turned 50, eighteen-year old Bryce announced to his dad that he needed to do something adventurous on this day, to set the precedent for the next decade. We would take him on a mountain bike ride to the Port Clinton fire tower, which is surrounded by a chain link fence with razor wire up top. It is clear that the forest service does not want people climbing it. However, local kids always do and the fence door is yanked up so you can crawl underneath, albeit in the sharp stones and glass chards but a normal sized adult can smash their body underneath and through. Todd was not excited about doing this. He believes all trespassing is wrong. All rules are created for a reason and should be followed.

“You’re doing it,” Bryce announced. Once we were up top, in the glorious breeze and far-reaching view, it was a lovely place to celebrate fifty years on the planet. Had a forest service truck pulled up, we would not be able to race the steps downward before we were caught. The parking lot is also a popular drug dealing spot too, but Bryce and I rationalized and said that it probably occurred at night. “Relax and enjoy the view.”

Here, an adventure involving a trespass was initiated by my adult son. What does that say about his upbringing? What have we created by our modeling? What do we expect?

A few years afterwards, Bryce thought that Todd and I were getting a little too comfortable and needed to stretch ourselves. Climbing up a slanted tree trunk over the Little Schuylkill River on wooden slat steps to a branch 20+ feet above the deep swimming hole was just the place to stretch his parents. We didn’t want to. I have jumped off my share of things as a young adult- metal RR trestle bridges, cliffs etc. But I HAVE gotten more timid as I’ve grown older and Bryce believes what I have always repeated, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space,” a quote brought to you by mountaineer Jim Whittaker, a quote Bryce has taken to heart. Todd and I knew he had us. We consented to jump on a stinking hot afternoon and wanted to just shut our son up.

Todd had no problem handling the climb as he is on ladders to house paint far above the yard and never minds the dizzying heights. But standing on that tree limb, looking down, brought the fear of god into him. He mumbled and swore for twenty minutes about how ridiculous this was, how badly he DID NOT want to do this. Bryce and I treaded water for that whole time, growing chilled from the cold water, Bryce throwing out every accomplishment Todd had done to date in his life- a Tripe Crowner, building his own log home from scratch, a famous and successful chainsaw carver and blacksmith artist, in hopes to build his confidence. “Dad, you got this, just jump.” And so he finally did. Todd enjoyed it so much, he got right back out of the water and did it again. Bryce called it “Jumping off the Tree of Courage.”

So what does this say? What did we teach our children for them to arrive at this point and encourage HIS PARENTS to do the adventurous. Even though here at the Tree of Courage, we were not trespassing or doing anything illegal, we WERE however, making decisions on what is safe and how much risk is involved.

My son wants to climb everything he sees, every rock outcrop and pinnacle. He has only rock climbed twice in his 22 years but he longs to gain height. As a very young boy, we would occasionally wander out of camp and up a rock face. Our friends would run to his rescue as he could not figure how to descend and needed to coached back down. I tell him now- take a class, learn to do it right.

When we paddle rivers, he longs to jump off every rock cliff and bridge. I tell him he needs to swim and search what is under the water first before jumping. He could paralyze himself, hit something that dislodged and floated down the river when it flooded and is buried under the murky water. I tell him I am not interested in wiping his drool and diapering him as a paralyzed adult.

I don’t want to sound like a frightened mother, one who does not want her child taking risks and living an adventurous life. I have lived longer, heard more stories of fatal accidents and want my children to WEIGH the risks. I am sure I am partially responsible for creating this monster and did I model a good example all his life or a poor one?

Todd and I have balanced one another throughout our 30+ years of marriage and our 20+ years of parenting. Our children have both the cautious example and the adventurous example set by their parents and can hopefully, somehow come to a happy medium philosophy of taking chances and living on the edge as they create a life for themselves.

A Message From the “Other Side”

When I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail with my friend Joe Donmoyer the other week and his son, Shawn, we came upon a family of thru-hikers. I was immediately impressed and learned that the Canadian family had an 11, 13, and a 15 year old with them. They were already half way finished with the epic trail. After I congratulated them, I looked at the kids and asked, “Are you having fun? Do you like it?” They shrugged.

I said, “I get it. A little boring in the great green tunnel? “

They nodded. “My kids would have a hard time too, I believe, but then again I spoiled them out on the Continental Divide.”

And the mother looks at me in disbelief and says, “oh my God, are you Cindy Ross? It’s because of you and your book, Scraping Heaven that we are out here. If you could take those babies across the Rocky Mountains, I knew we could take our family across the Appalachian Trail.”

She went on and on for awhile and then asked if her husband could take a photo of us together. She whipped off her hat and her glasses, smoothed her hair over and affectionately put her arm around me. I felt as though I looked pretty darn bad after hiking and sweating all day but I was happy to stand there with my new favorite fan.

I hiked away marveling at how you never know whose life you are going to touch when you are a writer. I have spent the greater part of my life as a writer expounding on the virtues of taking your children out into the natural world and how to do it. From a quick paddle to an epic 3,100-mile traverse of the Continental Divide. I have hoped that I have inspired a few families to at least try car camping at their state park, but you never know what kind of an impact you have.

Taking your family on an epic 2,100 mile traverse of the Appalachians is life changing stuff, and to be even partly responsible for making that happen makes me feel like my life and my work has not been in vain. Like a teacher, every now and then you get a positive affirmation to let you know your seeds have been sown on fertile ground.

These moments help writers when they are struggling with a monstrous project like writing a new book. Especially when it spans a monumental amount of time like 25 years of material. Especially when the content is controversial and your daughter, your #1 editor, screams at you that you can absolutely CANNOT write about family bath time nor hardly anything else that’s private and personal.

That’s ALL I’ve ever written about- personal and private stuff. I have been told that that is where my real strength as a writer lies (not in grammar or punctuation or any other mechanical skill that most good writers possess because my formal education was in the fine arts, not writing) and in my blatant honesty, helping my readers connect and believe they are not alone in their feelings.

When I wrote Scraping Heaven, I did give the manuscript to my husband, Todd to read and edit. But afterwards, my writer friend, Mary Alice got ahold of it and would ask me, “What was REALLY happening here with you and Todd?” and prompt me to tell her the rest of the Paul Harvey story. I’d delve a few layers deeper and hit upon richer material and she would say, “That needs to be in there,” and so it got added.

When the book was published, Todd began to read it aloud to Sierra before she went to bed. He would come down from her room and reply, “I don’t remember reading that before,” and I broke it to him that it probably was in the second edit that he didn’t get to see and smile sweetly to him.

My daughter Sierra said that there will be a stiff price to pay if I do not respect her wishes and privacy when writing Modeling a Life, about raising and educating my children alternatively. She said our relationship will suffer. “Is it worth it?” she asked.

I teased her and replied, “That depends.”

She was too young to put her two cents in when I wrote Scraping Heaven. Todd just shakes his head and knows his wife is completely unmanageable. Sierra has her mother’s mouth and opinion.

This may be some of the reason I have been dragging my feet these past years and have not displayed the level of commitment that one needs to see a book through to publication. When half of a chapter has big X’s crossed out- not just sentences or paragraphs but whole graph, it is not exactly encouraging.

And so I allowed myself to be sidetracked, by veterans and their cause and a whole slew of excuses. But the time has drawn to a close. Bryce has graduated from art school and if I want him to illustrate it, I’d better get my dibs in for his time before he commits to other projects. And, both children are well on their way to impacting the world positively. I did want to be able to walk the talk.

Dedication has been renewed and work at turning the manuscript into an attractive package for a publisher is underway. And to verify that I am on the right track, I had a message “from beyond” this weekend.

I was attending the Elk EXPO at Benezette. I was standing there minding my own business licking an ice cream cone when a couple came up to me followed by two children. They said, “Are you Cindy Ross?”

I said, “yes.”

“It is because of you that we are here with our children. You are the reason we travel and go everywhere with our kids, having adventures in the outdoors.”

I smiled happily.

Then they asked, “Did you get that book published yet about raising and educating your children yet?”

I said, “Funny you should ask. I have recently gotten back to work on it with renewed passion.”

“Well, we need to read it. Please hurry up and get it published.”

And I said, “Thank you. I needed to hear that right now.” And they walked away.

I have no idea who they are, or where they are from. I didn’t want to know. I viewed them as angels, messengers from the other side. And I am going to listen to them.