Back to Nature

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How lucky am I? I get to see this sight pretty much every day. Granted, there have been marvelous things in every city I’ve lived in. You might ask, “What are a couple of deer compared to going past the Coliseum on your way to work every day?”

“Apples and oranges,” is my answer to that. I can’t compare it. Of course, there’s nothing like walking in the ancient Roman Forum or staring up in awe at the breadth of Brunelleschi’s dome in the Florence Duomo. Nature, however, inspires a different kind of wonder.

I find that marvels made by man stimulate my mind, the desire to learn, travel, study and see more – even to learn the language spoken by those who created them (yes, this is the main reason I set myself to learn Italian back in the day). Nature, on the other hand, fills me with a sense of wonder when it is majestic, and of peace when it is simple – like when I see this doe with her fawns or come across a turkey hen with her poults (Yes, I just looked that up. I don’t just know all these things off the top of my head). Then there are those nearly magical moments, when the sun has just risen and it illuminates an otherwise ordinary woodland scene, just so…

Why it's worth it to get up at sunrise sometimes

Why it’s worth it to get up at sunrise sometimes

Those of you who have been following my blog since its inception (and I thank you very much for sticking with me if you have) may have noticed a sea change over the past months – well, not counting the very long hiatus. For the first few months of its existence, Adventures of an Expat Returned consisted mainly of posts about my explorations of the woods around my new home in Virginia. That is because my bicycle was, for my first eleven months in America, my only means of transportation. Things are far enough apart here that I couldn’t really go anywhere new. Neighboring towns and pretty much anything beyond my local supermarket, chain bookstore and chain coffee shop were quite literally beyond my reach.

I was beginning to feel as though I’d exhausted my available subject matter when winter came. That pretty much put paid to bike rides through the woods in any case, no matter how good my intentions. I was reduced to taking pictures when family, friends or acquaintances organized day trips to somewhere new and I didn’t feel rude snapping tons of pictures. Then, in January, I took up a new hobby – running. This was something I never would have imagined myself doing, let alone liking… or loving. It took me awhile. From zero to my first real 5K run took me a good five months, but my initial doggedness has turned to a true passion for my new morning pastime. Best of all, it got me back out into my woods, even when the trails were too treacherous for a bicycle. By the time the summer rolled around, there was no way I was trading my sneakers in for my bike again. At the moment, I’m training for a half marathon – a fact I’m pretty proud of, if I do say so myself.

I see some pretty amazing things in the woods in the morning. Apart from the aforementioned wild turkeys and deer, there is a red fox I occasionally spy through the trees and all kinds of birds – hawks, an eagle, even a great blue heron. In the park where I go trail running, there are supposed to be coyotes. I haven’t seen any of those yet and, frankly, I wouldn’t mind if it stayed that way. However, there are also everyday scenes of trees, rocks and the stream that runs through them  that catch the eye and make me pause, sometimes literally, if only for a moment.

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I think I stumbled across someone’s living room…

The problem is that, since I’m actually doing serious training, I can’t really stop and snap a picture the way I did when I was riding my bike for fun. Besides, then I had my backpack and could take my serious camera. Now I just have my phone’s camera. Let’s face it, the images just aren’t that great with those things, no matter how much we’d like them to be.

All this to explain why my blog has gradually shifted from nature to civilization, from trees to coffee shops. What’s important to remember is that this never was intended as a nature blog. It was a blog to document the adventures of an expat returned. Those adventures have slowly grown in scope, from the woods behind my house to nearby towns and cities and I hope, someday, even further afield. Stick with me. There are so many adventures still to come. I’ve got the next one planned. The one after? We’ll see. That’s part of the fun, isn’t it?

Thanks for dropping by and see you next time,

Jennifer

A rather blurry close-up of one of my neighborhood fawns, but still worth posting, I thought. They're growing up fast.

A rather blurry close-up of one of my neighborhood fawns, but still worth posting, I thought. They’re growing up fast.

A Hidden Stag

A furtive movement seen from the corner of my eye as I coast down one of the smoothest portions of the wilder part of my bike trail is enough to make me hit the brakes. I peer into the tangle of bare tree branches and I spy…

First glimpse

He is watching me too, stock-still. He is only about twenty feet away (that’s about six meters, for my foreign friends), but the fact that there are a lot of dense branches and bushes between us emboldens me to back my bike up to a better spot and snap another shot or two. This one’s my favorite:

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Hiding in plain sight

We watch each other for awhile. He’s starting to look kind of irritated, and I’m starting to notice how flimsy those branches between us are, after all, when he loses interest and walks away. I follow him (with my eyes alone, of course. I may be a recently-transplanted city girl, but I’m no ninny) until I lose him amidst the trees. I’m about to ride away when I realize that the trajectory I last saw him on would bring him right out onto the trail where I’m waiting, albeit farther away (which would be far enough for comfort). I decide to stay.

I only have to wait a couple of minutes before my guess proves to be correct, and I am rewarded with the chance to take these shots. Forgive the blurriness, but it’s the best my trusty little pocket camera can do with such a distance to zoom over.

Look both ways before crossing the trail, Mr. Stag

Look both ways before crossing the trail, Mr. Stag

Glorious

Glorious

What a magical moment. I feel like a kid again, all full of wonder. What a gift this ride has been.

I’m glad you could come along.

-Jennifer

Winter Is Coming

IMG_7748Towards winter…

A deer trail buried in a blanket of fallen leaves leads deeper back into the woods

A deer trail buried in a blanket of fallen leaves leads deeper back into the woods

Fallen trees stripped of their finery raise bony fingers towards a wintry sky

Fallen trees stripped of their finery raise bony fingers towards a wintry sky

Autumn fading

Autumn fading

A bleak treescape

A bleak treescape

Winter is coming

We begin to see the forest’s bare bones. Winter is coming.

 

I hope you enjoy these links to other posts from bloggers around the world who’ve already felt the first winds of winter nipping at their toes. Have a cozy Sunday, everyone, and see you again soon. 

Thanks for stopping by!

Jennifer

A Saturday Morning Walk in the Woods

IMG_0077We’re going to take a little break from the bike today and use our feet instead. On the first Saturday in November, I decided to take my mom – another veteran expat and fearless adventuress – on a walk to see some of the places in the woods that I’d been telling her about for so long. We got up early and slipped out while Dad and our faithful pooch were still sawing logs (dear foreign friends, that is one of the strangest English idioms, I know, but it means they were sleeping very soundly).

We ventured down into the forest, hoping for some perfect leaves for pressing, some fine morning sunlight for pictures, and perhaps even some encounters with the local wildlife. We managed to get all three.

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A garland of oak leaves

The stream is gilded in the early morning light

The stream is gilded in the early morning light

Mom tries out my favorite bench

Mom tries out my favorite bench

When we reach our halfway mark, we stop to rest at one of my favorite spots.

Remember the deer from my first post about the golden woods? I’d been telling Mom about them, and we were lucky enough to encounter them again. This time the doe was standing on the side of the trail, keeping watch while her young ones (too big to be fawns, too small to be full-grown) browsed the bushes down by the stream.

Our friend comes out to visit us again

Our friend comes out to visit us again

She ignores us pointedly, hoping we'll go away, but we're forest tourists, so we stay awhile anyway and snap photos

She ignores us pointedly, hoping we’ll go away, but we’re forest tourists, so we stay awhile anyway and snap photos

When she thinks we're gone, she decides to cross the trail and see what the neighbors have growing in their back yard. Oh deer, you're going to get yourself in trouble this time.

When she thinks we’re gone, she decides to cross the trail and see what the neighbors have growing in their back yard. Oh deer, you’re going to get yourself in trouble this time.

Since we’re well-mannered forest tourists, we’ve got our cell phones switched to silent, but we figure Dad and pooch are probably up and wondering where we are by now, so we decide to head for home. We haven’t even gotten to the front door yet but we can already smell the breakfast cooking.

My dad makes a mean waffle

My dad makes a mean waffle

My dad is a master of all things brunch, and it’s just what we need after a walk in the cold November forest not long past dawn.

There was also bacon. Need I say more?

There was also bacon.
Need I say more?

Thanks for coming along! I wish I could send you along some those waffles and bacon, but I’ll have to settle for wishing you a great brunch, sometime this weekend. See you next time!

– Jennifer

Formerly expat gals are intrepid

Formerly expat gals
are always intrepid

The Woods Are Lovely, Golden and Deep

IMG_7378The woods are lovely, dark golden and deep.

Those words kept running through my head as I watched the leaves beginning to turn in the woods behind my house. Only last week they were at the peak of their colorful glory, and shortly before that it seemed that they had just begun to lose their green.

Why does this qualify as a post for the Adventures of an Expat Returned? How is this a specifically newly-returned-to-America topic? Well, let’s begin with the fact that, while abroad, I nearly always lived in big cities. This means that I had very little access to nature except on weekend excursions, which were few and far between (that’s what happens when you work weekends). It is therefore relevant to my experience of returning to America, which has meant returning to live in a semi-rural area for the first time since I was a kid.

Umbrella pines on the Palatine Hill

Umbrella pines on the Palatine Hill

Rome’s beauties tend to be of the architectural as opposed to the naturalistic variety. Of course, they do have some lovely public parks in Rome, my favorite of which was the Villa Borghese park (where you can find the famous Pincio Belvedere that is featured in pretty much any movie filmed in the Eternal City).

Your faithful writer sits atop a fallen umbrella pine near the outdoor hippodrome in Villa Borghese park

Your faithful writer sits atop a fallen umbrella pine near the outdoor hippodrome in Villa Borghese park

The umbrella pine is one of the symbols of Rome. It’s everywhere (although, having been brought over from North Africa during the time of the Ancient Roman Empire, it’s not truly native), it’s beautiful and it’s a conifer.

The steep, cypress-lined road that climbs to the Church of Santa Margherita above the famous little hill town of Cortona

The steep, cypress-lined road that climbs to the Church of Santa Margherita above the famous little hill town of Cortona

If you think about it, Italy is famous for its conifers. Just think of Tuscany and what comes to mind? An avenue leading to a villa in the hills above Florence, perhaps, and it is lined with… cypresses, another gorgeous tree and, again, not deciduous.

Cypresses rise from behind every garden wall in here in the hills above Florence

Cypresses rise from behind every garden wall in here in the hills above Florence

Olive groves and cypresses are an integral part of the Tuscan hills' distinctive beauty - and neither tree changes its colors in autumn

Olive groves and cypresses are an integral part of the Tuscan hills’ distinctive beauty – and neither tree changes its colors in autumn

Despite having had access to places world-renowned for their beauty for many years, it had been a very long time since I’d seen the brilliant reds and yellows of a North American fall, the bright fiery shades of autumn I remember from my childhood.

And this is just my back yard. Imagine what it's like down in the woods...

And this is just my back yard. Imagine what it’s like down in the woods…

Lucky for me, I have my faithful steed...

Lucky for me, I have my faithful steed…

...and a long and winding, well-kept trail...

…and a long and winding, well-kept trail…

...and woods wild and golden enough to satisfy your average hobbit's sense of adventure

…and woods wild and golden enough to satisfy your average hobbit’s sense of adventure

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Further on, the golds begin to give way to a little more red

Further on, the golds begin to give way to a little more red

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See the deer behind me? That’s how close (and tame) they were

I get off my bike to take a picture of those red leaves, and what should I see, not so very far off the trail?

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Can you see mother doe in the background?

Can you see Mom in the background?

This is about as wild as it gets in the woods behind my house, but for someone who’s spent most of their life in the city, it qualifies as an adventure. And a little further along the trail…

And the path continues...

A nice place to pause for awhile before our adventure continues

Thanks for coming along. Come back and visit soon for more rides through the autumn woods, as long as the leaves last.

– Jennifer

And by the way, a big thank you to all of you who have followed and liked my blog lately. It’s great to have you here, and I hope you’ll keep on visiting!