Things to Be Thankful For


Every year I look forward to Thanksgiving because it means time with loved ones and time around the table! Copious amounts of food covered in cheese, smothered in marshmallows, seasoned by things that only come out of the cabinet after November or are the miscellaneous parts of animals that would otherwise have no every day use. This Thanksgiving my sister and her family were joining us from New Jersey and the following day we were going to have a reprise of an annual traditional gathering with the entire family that had been defunct for some time. Between both days, I had way more food and drink than what is humanly required to sustain yourself. I had prepared the week before by trimming my calories and increasing my activity to lessen the guilt I knew I would feel. Even with all of that said, I was very aware of my excessive caloric intake.

After a glorious few food days hovered in a house, I thought it would be a good idea to get the entire family to Patapsco Valley State Park Avalon, the nearby state park, for some air, exercise and exploration. A few Sundays ago I joined my parents for a walk at the same park. On that trip, it was early in the morning and there were so many people out enjoying all types of activities. People were running, walking in groups, alone or with dogs or biking. As usual, I subconsciously noticed that besides my parents and I, the percentage of people of color was minimal – more like nonexistent. We ran into a neighbor, who is African American and unprompted, she immediately she says that she never sees any black people when she comes to the park; which seemed to be often. Normally, that wouldn't matter because you grow to learn that as a minority, our numbers will be low in some places, but the underlying message of this really hits home now as a problem. Low representation of minorities in the parks or the outdoors should not be the case as we move into the future.

I then had a conversation with my parents about the implications of this, even though we have had this conversation many times during the course of my working on the project. I even had the idea (I have too many) of creating an outdoor apparel line. Clearly I have no experience, but my point was about exposure, much like the narrative thread of my project. Hypothetically speaking, if I could create an outdoor apparel line that used a bevy of multicultural models outdoors doing things, there could be some exposure of people seeing people like themselves. Ideally, as a result, more people of color would go to parks and enjoy the outdoors. The lack of minorities in parks and the outdoors in short, is a matter of limited exposure and exclusion. Ultimately my dream outcome after the documentary is finished, would be a tv or web series that allows me to highlight the national and state parks as a travel show. It would be great for the parks, great for creating interest in our environment and great for getting people involved in physical activity.

While we were walking, we came across a mysterious stack stone entryway on the side of the hill that was under the train track, running parallel to the path. From the bottom of the opening was water trickling ever so softly and quietly into a little rock pool below. Needless to say, my curiosity got the better of me, again. When I looked at this entryway, a big cartoon ghostly finger said, “Come on over, look inside, don’t you want to know what I have?” I walked over and couldn’t see much, so I decided to grip the rock to climb up and into the entry. Once upon a time, I don’t think I may have been this curious. Now, I can’t seem to get enough. I couldn’t see much of anything. The opening was tall enough for me to stand in with little room to spare. However, from the point of the opening to the remaining tunnel, it got smaller and I had to crouch. The tunnel was a continuation of the stacked stone, which made it even more obvious that a person built this for some reason and I wanted to know why. Unfortunately, there was no light at the end of this tunnel. If I remember my math correctly, I would say that this tunnel was at a consistent 45-degree angle and turned to the left 20-25 yards ahead. There was absolutely no light at all penetrating this thing. The little bit that was seeping through was from the opening at my back. I found my trusty iPhone to use the flashlight feature, which for some reason did not want to work when I needed it. My father, who was standing at the mouth, was kind enough to lend his to the cause. For what I thought was a very bright light, in this space, it could not penetrate the darkness and I was highly disappointed. How am I going to be able to go in this thing without seeing what was in front of me? Not that I was “scared,” but I did at least have the common sense to know that I need to see what I was getting myself into. From that moment I knew, I had to come back with more light!

Back to the most recent post Thanksgiving outing; I had an ulterior motive for wanting the entire gang to go to the park besides the fresh and air and exercise; I needed an exploration team or at the very least, some folks to have my back – a squad. In the beginning I thought it would be great to get someone smaller in there with me (niece or nephew), but when I thought about it again and shared the idea, it was brought to my attention that it may not be safe. I promise I love these two, with all my heart, but I guess I wasn’t using my adult safety hat when this seemed like a good idea. I thought it would be great for us all to have an adventure that would outrank all the tablet, game system action they seem to prefer to real life adventure seeking. The weather had been so mild and everyone was on board to go to the park, well at least the adults were, leaving the kids with no option. Here it is, the day after Thanksgiving and we barely needed a sweatshirt in the morning. The 7-piece squad jumped into their positions in the truck and off we went. The beauty of Patapsco Valley State Park Avalon is that it is a 10-minute drive away. There is another entrance to the park that is even closer but that is where all the mountain bikers enter the trails. This particular part we frequent has several trails including the paved ones that run along the Patapsco River. One of the other main attractions to this park is the swinging bridge. Not recommended for those fearful of the bridges that swing, or bounce, or are narrow.

We arrived at the entrance to the park and there was a line of cars. It seemed as though we were not the only ones that wanted to enjoy a post Thanksgiving outing. Luckily, my parents have a park pass and eventually we were able to breeze on by. After we parked, we took the path along the Patapsco River. Something in that moment of walking with my family, especially with the kids, made me feel youthful and free. Naturally as with most large groups, we split up, taking turns mingling with one another. While we were walking we passed many people walking, running, riding, with pets, with kids, with friends; much like the last time when I was with my parents. Unfortunately, it was pretty much the same demographic for the park goers. Although I will say because there were so many more people this day, there were more people of color, but the majority of them weren’t African American.

The entire time that I was holding hands with my nephew, or talking crap to my sister, I am on the look out for the “spot.” Low and behold, my father tells me it is up ahead. For my sister and her family, they had no idea what we were looking for. For me, I was excited to see it and get this adventure going. Here it is. The moment I had been waiting for. I got my backpack and unloaded my items. Headlamp. Check. Flashlight. Check. Backup squad. Check and in full effect. I climbed up into the entryway, making sure I kept a firm foot on the wet rock and turned the flashlight and headlamp on. By no means was it fully lit, but my visibility was much improved the second time around. Carefully I continued to walk further into the tunnel. Almost halfway thru I heard an unfamiliar voice yell, “Snake!” Huh? Right after, I heard raised voices I recognized say, “Snake. Get out of there!” I tried to get out as fast and safely as I could. When I got back to the entrance I realized that my squad had grown to include another family, including the first person that spotted and warned me about the snake. I was given the clear that it was safe to come all the way out. According to the squad, it may have been a Copperhead (which are venomous) and it had slithered away somewhere to the side.

Ok, so maybe that was exactly why the idea of having my niece or nephew in there with me was not a smart one. I wouldn’t say I was frightened. That may have been because I didn’t see the snake. Yet and still, I was grateful that I was smart enough to have a backup squad for that reason. This alleged Copperhead could have very well introduced itself to me in the tunnel and not have been happy about my presence. I put a lot of faith in the medical professions in my family, if I ever were in an emergency medical bind, but I would never want them to practice or perform anything on me if it could have been avoided. Plus, I imagine I would be a bit hysteric and not a good patient. The new family was very interested in my unfulfilled exploratory actions. They asked some questions and shared their excitement about the idea of my curiosity. One of the boys of the family did his own brief exploration up the hill to the track, but was quickly called back down by his family. To be completely honest, it was exhilarating in that brief moment of exploring the unknown, topped with a near miss, all under the watchful eyes of loved ones and curious onlookers. Is that crazy? Maybe I am an exploration exhibitionist. I wonder if I can make a career of having others watch all my near misses?

Now that my true mission for the day was scrubbed, we finished walking the path. At one point my brother in law took the high road, literally, and found his way at the top and on the train track. Everyone had the discovery bug. We meet back up with him at the bridge, which dead-ends the path. The entire group was reunited and we got ready to cross the bridge. This place was really packed. I am not sure if I ever remember this many people concentrated in any state park. You almost had to wait in line to get over the bridge. Again, this is not for people who suffer from Gephyrophobia (sorry-fear of bridges). Some people had to carry their dogs and/or children across. The swaying of the bridge could definitely be disorienting. People were crossing with their bikes. It was a tight squeeze. Unfortunately, since it was this crowded, it was hard to enjoy the view of the crystal clear water below our feet, or to actually manually make the bridge sway or jump, much like you would a trampoline. You had to keep it moving.

After the slow crawl across a few of the squad made bathroom stops. While were waiting for the group to reassemble, there was quite a lot to take in around us. Apparently, there had just been a wedding and the newly Mr. & Mrs. were fully decked out in dress and tux, followed by a photographer and assistant, walking up the trail into the woods. What a lovely and ambitious idea. I also noticed a sign marking the spot that recreational camping began in Maryland’s public lands in 1916. It is amazing to me how the idea of connecting to nature is something that transcends time but everyone does not get the opportunity. People have always felt the call to connect to nature and I want all us of to get on board.

We all walked back across the crowded bridge one more time. I think this time, my father had the time and space to sway the bridge for us. Upon the start of the walk back, my sister and I decided to have some one on one time and made our way up to the train track, leaving the others to walk the path below. This is a clear indication of my age, but anytime I walk along a train track, I can’t help but think that I am in “Stand By Me.” I even cherished the chance the to have the same kind of personal conversation with my sister, like the characters had with each other in the movie. It is not often that I get to have her to myself anymore and I always try to remember to ask her how she is doing. The thing that I have noticed during that walk is that, I am still the baby and she is still the all knowing, even down to getting off the track and back to the road. As usual, she was right and we found an easy way back to the awaiting group in the truck. All in all, the sum of the moments of the day was nothing short of lovely.

For more information about your local state parks visit America State Parks

#PatapscoValleryStatePark #StateParks #Americastateparks #Diversityintheoutdoors

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Sponsorship provided by:

The Rubys Artist Project Grants were conceived and initiated with start-up funding from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation and are a program of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance.

 

 Support provided by:   IFP/HBO New True Stories Funding Initiative

ATHLETA|Towson, Maryland

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