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Winter hike at Van Meter State ParkPosted Sunday, January 25, 2009, at 10:30 AM
Cattail fuzz swept by breezes coming off the marsh at Van Meter State Park are caught on leaves and twigs.
Since I don't have cable TV, dinner wasn't until 6 p.m. and don't drink to excess, even on New Year's Eve, that left me with a whole day to spend and no specific plans and nothing particular to do.
I wouldn't have thought of going on a nice long hike.
It wasn't all that cold out. The high reached 47. But like most folks -- I assume -- I don't think of winter as prime hiking weather.
Lucky for me, I have a friend, Dennis Hopkins of Blackwater, who thinks any time is a good time to get outside and hike or bike or canoe or camp. He periodically drags me out of the house to see the what's happening on the other side of the walls.
We've gone on a number of bike rides along back roads and seen arious out-of-the-way sights in Saline and nearby counties. So I wasn't surprised when he dropped by New Year's Day and said, "Let's go up to Van Meter and wander around."
More photos at:
The park may not get as much publicity as Arrow Rock -- its charms are more subtle, its events smaller and quieter -- but it is one of Saline County's treasures. Still, I had managed to live here 4 1/2 years and still had not been further than the visitor's center. Until Jan. 1.
Apparently I'm not alone in thinking January is not peak hiking season, because the only living things we saw (of the human variety, anyway) were the park's administrator, Connie Grisier and her husband, Martin. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, they left Dennis and I to the company of the birds and squirrels, which were available in quantity.
We stomped all over the park, from the look-out docks that protrude into the marshland to the Old Fort earthworks, the burial mounds and the lake.
Things can be seen on a winter hike that are generally hidden by the greenery of summer. Frozen fungi stand out against the dark bark of fallen trees. Wispy cattail seeds collect on tree trunks, branches, fallen logs, twigs and anything else that gets in their path. Even hikers.
Other sights: Numerous deer tracks in the soft trails; a scramble of feathers in the path, possibly the site of some brief violence followed by dinner; occasional trunks shaved clean of bark by local bucks.
What struck me most was the vines.
Entwined in the forest of trees is a another forest, vines of all sizes, sometimes in thick tangles that provide a dense cloak for small trees, sometimes with enough girth that they appear to be full trees slithering up the sides of full trees.
Vines were everywhere, making odd loops and strange nests. Vines are present just about everywhere, I suppose, but usually are not so evident, tending to blend with their hosts as they insinuate themselves, so it was interesting to see what a prominent place they play in the woods of Van Meter.
So my new years resolution this year: Don't stop hiking just because it's winter.
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Eric Crump is a former editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. He lives elsewhere now but still loves Marshall and Saline County. He's trying to catch up on all the stories he should have written while he was on staff.
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