Looking Danger Square In the Eye

Good morning from Buckeye Flats

Good, Vibrant Morning! by Marybeth Haydon

TRAVELING ALONG THIS IMPRESSIVE RIVER, WHICH IS FLOWING NORTHWEST, paralleling the coast, I scramble up a hill for a photo op. Standing as close to the edge of my perch as safely possible, I hesitate to begin shooting. The awe and power of the river is complimented by the fantastic diversity of the rock walls and it is commanding my full attention. Clearly, iron dominates the rock canyon, leaving a fantastic rusty patina which is frequently interrupted with dark green trees and shrub. Gray to black mudstones, siltstones and sandstones further the pleasant variations. Even a swipe of golden brown color to complete the picture.

Rough pallet of color

Rugged Pallet of Color by Marybeth Haydon

The river’s edge cuts a raw, white, jagged saw tooth line, the salt-crusted shoreline and boulders that rise above the water, where the natural water’s pulse and current spray have frequently misted the protruding boulders, scatter these highlights throughout the landscape. The current is intense, furious whenever the canyon walls insinuate upon the channel.
There is an odd, captivating rock formation close to the more turbulent section of the channel. It appears as though molten gray rock has spilled from the canyon wall with a round, spoon-shaped end closest to the water’s edge with its wide handle, ladle-like, balancing on the upper riverbank.  This salmon-frequented river flows primarily northeast before changing course to southern pastures and wetlands.

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Interesting Color Contrast by Marybeth Haydon

Only a few hours into the trek and I’m met with dry-grass contrasting a man-made path with lush forests of oak and pines and other trees that I can’t distinguish, looming into its distant future. This revs my energy level, the promise of cooler, green pastures is inviting.

It doesn’t take long to leave signs of civilization behind and soon the hushed, fog-covered forest embraces my curious nature.  Every step is soft, debris-mulched and fragrant under my boot.

This is true paradise.

Burlington campground Fortuna CA 092

Lush Greenery Abounds by Marybeth Haydon

On up the trail I continue, not knowing just why I feel I should get really deep into the forest today but I am very happy to be here, doing what I’m doing.  The scenery never gets old, thank You God. The wildflowers are in full bloom and some are exceedingly fragrant. Their youth is renewed every spring, man, what a thrill that must be! I continue to scan the ubiquitous plant life and deeply inhale the surrounding scents. The perfume of the forest, nothing can beat it. The fragrances change as I proceed, pine mingling with wild licorice, licorice mingling with bay, bay mingling with mustard … I’m not sure if the oak trees have a scent but their dropped acorns are like marbles under my boots.

There is a spot reserved for me under a very large sequoia, its branches outstretched in a welcoming, “Come hither, under my canopy and rest.”  I oblige.  I remove my pack, habitually snapping the belt closed and settle down for a snack.  The sound of rusting paper from my energy bar has apparently alerted many creatures, the most forward and aggressive of which is the scrub jay in front of me.  Not far behind are a few squirrels & chipmunks in various stages of anticipation and wariness, and I’m beginning to wonder where Thumper and Bambi are.

I ignore the advancing blue jay and tip my head back to see if I can see any sky.  What I do see sends my heart racing and my hands shaking.

My head now on a swivel, I check my surroundings more thoroughly, then up again into the trees.  I begin to rise, keeping my eyes on the trees above me, moving ever so carefully, forcing slow and deliberate movement.

Where is mama bear?

Two curious black bear cubs are peeking down and over the foliage of the pine that is right next to the big sequoia that I am against.  Still looking up, I reach for my pack, once again thankful for my habit of cinching the belt, and toss my power bar over past the oak that holds the cubs. Backing away, thankful for the soft, cushy debris and needle-carpeted ground I am looking everywhere. Seriously everywhere. Behind me, above me, beside me. No longer does my immediate forest hold a critter audience, the animals have left town.

I just can not even believe this is happening.

cubs in monrovia

Black bear cubs. courtesy Google images

My heart ratchets yet another level as I swing my eyes towards the scraping, then soft thump sound.  NO WAY! Those cubs are heading towards me, SNAP! I speak firmly to them, “No bear!” but apparently they don’t understand English. The larger of the two is still, although a bit hesitant, coming forward. I am nearly paralyzed with fear. WHERE IS MAMA BEAR?

Lord, please

I bump into a bush, maybe a tree I don’t really care and could not afford to be distracted with finding out. My entire body is shaking, my muscles feel weak, defenseless  and inadequate. I sneak a look and find the path I came in on still backing away. Both cubs seem to be very perplexed, the smaller a bit distracted with a flying insect of sorts, the other looking from its sibling then to me, sizing up the situation.  Thankfully they are remaining grounded where they are.  But for how long, and the million dollar question: Where’s mama bear?!

I need not wonder any longer.


Angry bear courtesy Google images

Emerging from the underbrush, sending a fleeting glance toward my power bar, is protective mama bear!  She brawls at her cubs like a mother admonishing her children for straying beyond the yard, then gives her full, very direct attention to me.  Somehow I continue to back away, averting eye contact, wild and insane thoughts swirling through my mind. Out of the corner of my eye I see the cubs scrambling up a tree to safety.  Obedient children now that mom’s back.

Realizing that I have been shaking my head in a “no, no, no!” while retreating further, I force every cell, every adrenalin dump into sniper-concentrated focus.  I know the choices on what to do, now how on earth do I choose which avenue to take?  “Read the body language” comes back to memory and I continue backing away, not saying a word, my hands needlessly out in a “stay away” gesture.

Mama grunts threats, her sounds deep and quite menacing, then makes a swipe at the ground in front of her, sending dust and sticks flying into the air, shaking her lowered head. I’m reminded of a bull about to charge and I’m certain I’m going to lose it completely, right here. Right now.  She has not charged me, I take this as a very good sign.  I am still backing away when suddenly I’m falling, and I still haven’t landed yet!

Tangled in brush and briars, I look up the hill to see if she has decided to follow, then end me.  Piece by piece, Marybeth-mulch nourishing the forest. At this point I have lost all reason, tearing my clothes and skin as I thrash through the sticky under brush in full panic mode. I don’t see her, I have lost my pack somewhere along the fall and I no longer care. I am completely overcome with irrational fear as I begin to run down the trail.  DO NOT RUN FROM A PREDATOR but I figure after the fall that I’m far enough away and I’m around the bend so that she can’t see me? Panic trumps reason, it really does.


Paradise behind me. Courtesy Google images

I am back to the manmade pathway, out of the dense forest and I have not heard any movement or growl behind me since the fall but every fiber of my being is still at high alert. I collapse in a sobbing heap, then I begin to laugh. I think perhaps I’m hysterical, just a thought.

Once I recovered and was shakily on my way home I was first, exceedingly grateful that I was reasonably unharmed. Physically. Emotionally I’ll probably never be the same. I thought about the good habit of keeping my keys and phone separate from my pack and for the habit of always fastening my pack belt. Even though I lost my pack, had I not fallen, I would have had it for minute protection or for the first aid kit inside it.

Establishing good hiking habits and knowing how to interpret and react to animal behavior goes a very long way. Even when you mess up the best laid plans.

red daisy

For information on safety, signs of presence, and first aid please click: 

Pt 1    http://ow.ly/gY1Yn    Pt 2  http://ow.ly/gY1UB      Pt 3    http://ow.ly/gY1Og    Fight or Flight

Visit me on Facebook  http://ow.ly/hycIm    or at Twitter  http://twitter.com/MarybethHaydon


A Hotel Built Into What?


Shimao Wonderland Intercontinental Construction Is Underway

Adventure will meet luxury at the Shimao Wonderland Intercontinental, a five-star hotel currently being built into the side of an abandoned quarry Songjiang District of Shanghai.

The hotel, designed by the British firm Atkins, is set to have 19 stories and 380 rooms. Its facade will line one portion of a 100-meter-deep cave-like quarry at the base of the Tianmenshan Mountain.

The quarry that will soon house the Shimao is partly flooded, meaning the lowest levels are set to be submerged under water, a rising trend in futuristic hotel design. The two underwater levels will feature an aquarium, an underwater restaurant and guest rooms.

Adrenaline junkies will be in close proximity to activities such as rock climbing, bungee jumping and watersports, while those looking for a more relaxing retreat can admire eco-friendly roof gardens, a swimming pool, a sports center and unparalleled scenery — including a waterfall.

According to the Daily Mail, the hotel is set to open in 2015, with rooms starting around $300 a night.




Dangerous Encounter of the Man Kind

Image found on Google Images

Image found on Google Images

During my various adventuring, I have discovered that one never knows what they will discover. The expansive dry river bed stretched an easy 50 yards wide. The trek was arduous and demanding with the rough and uneven rock-covered ground. The sun is high and blistering. Gnats (my friend calls them Teensy Flies) swirl about my face, seeking moisture to rob from me. I sweat furiously and grimace as I roll my ankle yet again; man, I really don’t care for hiking over dry river rock. I look ahead, seeking my sons’ outline, his figure a black cutout, wreathed in the glaring sun, but he’s an acceptable distance ahead. He turns to check on my status and slightly waves, interesting how we think alike. He pauses at a junction.

We discuss whether to continue north or head east at the junction. Looking high and ahead we spot a copse of trees. It’s a no-brainier, let’s get into some shade, we forge onward, detouring to the easterly route. As we round the bend there are obvious signs of a recent flash-flood, carving huge sections from the forest floor. It is at least a six-foot deep divot by miles in length that has removed acres of shrubs, sycamore, pine and chaparral. After the devastating fire a few seasons ago, coupled with torrential rains shortly after, the forest is now transformed into a contrasting combination of desolation and of an environment in the throes of renewal. Fire is an important cycle of the forest and sections are healing and looking healthy with minimal debris carpeting the higher ground. Although, for this national forest to fully regenerate, it’ll be beyond my life span.  Another 30 years for softwood conifers, to 200 years for the redwoods and certain pines. My son scrambles to the higher ground, among a mix of mature growth with second-growth trees and shrubs, he turns and extends his hand to assist me. We continue our exploration, remarking how drastically the area has changed.

As we pause to hydrate, a shaft of sunlight breaks through the canopy of trees. Something sparkles near the ground in front of me, it draws my eye. I stoop down to inspect the oddity and gasp when I identify the threat.  I gravely warn my son, “Don’t move.” He looks at me, with concerned-wrinkled eyebrows, his water bottle paused midway. I point.

We have stumbled upon a trap. Another step and we would have been in very deep “Bandini”. Without moving our feet we scope our surroundings. My son spots then points to the joining trap wires, then to what the traps are protecting. Inadvertently, we have come upon an illegal marijuana farm, fully armed and exceedingly intent upon “no trespassing”.  Oh, snap… My hands are suddenly very sweaty.

Lord, Your protection please! If there are guards present, please blind their eyes and ears to our unintended intrusion!

My son slowly steps back, soft, careful steps, his head swiveling in hyper vigilance. He extends his hand, indicating for me to follow. I hold his hand, fearful, barely breathing. Every muscle is tense. We scan for our incoming footprints to follow out and away but they are impossible to detect even with minimal forest debris.

Lord God, direct out steps.

I feel like I’m in a military movie, this is so surreal. My senses are heightened, we retreat very carefully, staying low, hunched, military style. My ears strain for the slightest sound. Were we detected? My son signals for me to stop, I pull-up silently and squat lower still, he senses something.

A sudden, alarming and tremendous CRACK!

Was that a high-caliber rifle shot?!

… echoes through the canyon, then a sonic boom of falling rock from the canyons upper edge and massive boulders begin tumbling warp-speed towards the dry riverbed, along the bend that we took to enter this portion of the forest. The thundering roar of the rock-slide was a safe distance from us, yet with the present uncertainty, it quickly added to the confusion and sense of alarm. The ground shakes as during an earthquake. The rumbling is near deafening as the amount of falling rock increases in quantity and pace. Finally it settles with a choking dirt cloud, a bursting mushroom, it then blossoms indolently. I feel faint from anticipation and realize I had stopped breathing. I cover my mouth and nose with the crook of my arm, squeezing my eyes shut against the dust and old forest fire ash fragments.

I put my faith and trust… our lives… into Your Hands, Lord. Thank You, if we had stayed hiking among the dry riverbed, we would have been seriously injured. There would not have been ample time to scramble out of the path of the rock and landslide. Praise You, Lord!

We thoroughly scrutinize the area we have left behind us, low in the brush, high in the trees, and determine that we are alone and high-tail it back towards the dry riverbed. We are in the wide-open space, very public, as we check out the rock-slide. My son asks me if I’m alright, I respond wordlessly with a waffling gesture with my hand. It required very little discussion to conclude our “adventure” for the day, as we stumble-hiked over the miserable terrain, heading back to our vehicle.  My son’s war whoop echoes across the massive canyon as we clear the “trouble” arena. If I had the ability, I would have joined his enthusiastic vocal relief, a woman’s voice just doesn’t do it justice though.

Thank You, Lord God. Thank You, thank You!

“… You are my Rock and my fortress and my deliverer; the God of my strength, in Whom I will trust.” 2 Samuel 22:2-3

Double the Adventure Pleasure: Caving & A Bear Sighting

Doe with two fawn

Dow & two fawn by Marybeth Haydon

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING SYNTHETIC ABOUT THE WILDERNESS. It is so fresh, so honest and seemingly random. Zero pretense. I like it. I like it a lot. I think that God is expressing His majesty, His creative, limitless presence through nature, and through His people that He loves when we allow Him to. I’m surrounded by His presence, the evidence expressed in the numerous species of living things, the vastness of the sky, the universe. Even in the great variety of color. I suspect green is His favorite since it renews, returns every spring. Through His inexhaustible imagination, through His power over all, for nothing is too difficult for Him. Nothing.

Facinating formations

Facinating Formations by Marybeth Haydon

 It’s my first time “caving” and I’m stoked. As I drive through the winding road to get down to the caves entrance, I see  movement off to my left. The dark form is heading up onto the road and I slam on brakes. Bear! Frantically, I scramble for my camera and head out onto the road. The bear is thin, and its fur is mangy. It stopped its foraging as soon as I exited my car and is now heading back down the hillside. It cries out with what almost sounds like “Ma!” Now I can’t see it any longer, only the movement of the brush branches; so I try tracing the moving bushes but come up empty. Just as I’m heading back I see it scuttle down from the tree it had scrambled up on. Obviously I really scared it, and clearly from its size it’s a juvenile, probably the runt of the litter at that; I’m mildly surprised it’s still alive. Disappointed that I missed yet another photo op, I continue my drive down towards the cave.

Can see the beauty better from pics

Water In the Cave by Marybeth Haydon

Sept 17, 18 2012 Sequoia Natl Pk 252

Slow Beauty by Marybeth

THE SOUND OF THE MOVING WATERS, SOME SCANTILY, some pooled, some rushing with surprising power, sound utterly fantastic in this underground world. The sights from initial to final are breathtaking. The stalactites (above, holding on tight/”tite”) and the stalagmites (below, powering up with might/”mites”) are plentiful, so varied. As I continue forward, my eyes feast upon the variety of tites, mites, soda straws, flowstones, helictites, and pillars. The few strategically placed lights (solar-powered from above) really highlight and enhanced the colors and other-worldly formations of mineral deposits. It’s wonderfully cool in this massive cave and plenty dark as well. I find that I’m just a tad off-balance working my way through the darkness but the tour is quite impressive. Most of the pics I take are in the complete dark and it wasn’t until I uploaded them onto my computer that I was able to see and appreciate them. Seriously cool formations, what an excellent adventure.

AS I HEAD BACK, I’M MINDFUL OF THE SECTION WHERE I SPOTTED THE JUVENILE bear and sure enough, I see the tip of an ear!  With my heart racing, I pull over and I am shocked to see mama bear!  I am so completely stoked, I am giggling as I capture her doing what is completely natural for her, in her natural habitat.

I don’t see the juvenile, but I’m very excited to have mama all to myself.

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Mama Bear by Marybeth Haydon

I even stopped snapping pics just to watch her.  She’s so casual, sitting back as if the twisted undergrowth is her personal lounge chair. She swipes lazily at a berry-laden branch and pulls the berries to her mouth. I can’t completely comprehend just how relaxed she is, for she sure can see me if I can see her.

A amazing to see in her natural habitat

Amazing to witness in her natural habitat! by Marybeth Haydon

She gnaws gently at her leg, obviously taking care of an annoying itch.  I glance over my shoulder time to time, just to be sure another bear isn’t coming up from behind me.

Gotta bite that itch

Black Bear Foraging . By Marybeth Haydon

Remembering that these bears come down to lower elevations during this time of year to climb up into the oak trees to feed on acorns, I also scan nearby tree tops.

All is well, bless God.

Figuring I don’t want to intrude any longer, (I could have stayed all day, the relaxed actions of this powerful animal is fascinating.) I trek back to my truck and head on up to the main road.  All the while I am laughing, thanking and praising God for the fantastic treat, and to have been able to safely capture some of it on film … well,

I flat-out got a slice of heaven today! 

Thank You, Lord, that You made up for my missing a pic of the juvenile that I encountered earlier for an even better photo op!

hunting cougar

Hunting Cougar courtesy Google images

Next, I need a picture of my own of the ever-elusive mountain lion.

That would really put me over the edge! 


Here comes the storm

Beauty Within the Approaching Storm by Marybeth Haydon

GRATEFUL FOR THIS NEW LEASE ON LIFE, THE OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE THE TIME to be outdoors experiencing, sighting, encountering, exploring, smelling, hearing, feeling, tracking, enjoying, documenting, collecting, photographing, fearing.Grateful for the physical demands; the climbing, the meager oxygen, the falling, the decent, the blisters, the aching muscles, the pain, cuts and bruises, the heat, the cold, the hunger and the thirst. Even the threatening times, the terror, the confusion, or when I’ve attempted a trail far beyond my experience or abilities.

Interesting bark texture

Looking Up by Marybeth Haydon

Grateful that I began to notice that I tend to look down, straight ahead or to the side as I walk. Rarely up. Once I began to look up, what a refreshing perspective! (Not to mention the numerous stars!) This perspective reminds me to look up to Him, in all circumstances. In all trials, joyous occasions, new experiences, past experiences, and throughout my life, because there are continuous lessons to be learned and appreciated. It’s amazing what can be discovered when I look up time to time.


Grateful that I’m never too old to learn, to enjoy, to embrace, to change. Cherished family, good friends, warm hearts become my sum total.  The heartache, trials and loss although perceived as beyond my ability of bearance, somehow I endure and I survive, building strength and character along the way.  My heart overflows with memories and timeline snapshots of my life, some more vibrant than others, but forever locked away never to be forgotten.

I’m grateful and appreciate all of it. For I have a completely new field and range of admiration towards my creative, wise, uncreated God by witnessing His handiwork and experiencing His discipline, lessons, companionship, protection, His leading, clear intervention and approval. And through this, I am also finding purpose along the way.

And most importantly: He loves me and isn’t afraid to show it.

 father daughter hiking b n w

The Towering Forests of the Giant Sequoias

Forest, Marybeth Haydon

Giant Sequoia’s by Marybeth Haydon

I’M IN A DIFFERENT SORT OF FOREST THIS OUTING. THE TOWERING, aptly named Giant Sequoia’s are a jaw-dropping experience to stand beneath. Exceedingly lush greenery, ferns, flowers and low-lying brush all dazzle the eye with such a nutrient-rich intensity, thriving in rich beauty beneath the trees. The large trees with thick, impressive branches often inhibit rainwater, greedily absorbing the moisture before it reaches the plant life beneath them. But the cool, moisture-rich fog that lingers beneath the trees keeps the forest floor inhabitants hydrated, allowing the plants to look longingly up at the giant redwoods. It seems almost as a love-story, the duo-shared nutrients feeding the other, depending upon one another in an almost intimate manner.

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Massive, yet shallow roots. By Marybeth Haydon

Even the long ago felled giants continue to feed the forested floor with the decaying wood. Beautiful, full ferns sprout from the tops of the now sideways trees. The champions lay precisely where they fell after a devastating flood in the 1960’s, their root system so very shallow, could not keep them upright in the weakened, saturated soil. I can only imagine the impact of it hitting the ground, surely it felt like an earthquake. The roar had to have been something of a train wreck and the massive wave it created in the flood waters must have been intense-intense. I picture something similar to high tide waves hitting cliff shore boulders, the impressive splash and height the foamy water reaching high, violently into the blue.

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Small Nurse Log by Marybeth Haydon

Its resting length is more than half of a football field and impossible to scramble to the end with the dense new-growth forest swaddling, caressing it. Even in its death it is fertilizing the forest for long-term health and providing essential habitats for endangered animal and insect species. Accordingly, these fallen trees are called nurse logs since they provide ecological facilitation to seedlings.
Puts giving your life for another in a completely different perspective.



These colossal ancient-of-days are at least 21 feet in diameter, jutting their spiking crowns 200-feet to over 400-feet into the sky. The thick, fibrous and split bark snakes irregularly upward and outward, cultivating protective highways and byways; trunk to branch, branch to twig, to the very narrow, high top of the tree. Protection is its mile marker, shielding the delicate inner structures from injury. This “guardian” is a thing of beauty, with tints of brown and red, shades of sienna and burnt umber all richly textured and variant. The cluster of trees so similar, the hues quite individual.

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Co inhabitant’s by Marybeth Haydon

THE FOLLOWING MORNING I LEAVE MY CAMP EARLY AND BEGIN TO EXPLORE MORE FOREST. The feel of the land is very different in the early morning; a sense of refuge fills my spirit. Mystifying, even magical. So very quiet and tranquil. The environment is similar to a rain forest from another part of the world. Well, at least similar to photographs that I have seen of rain forests. And fortunately, this woodland is lacking the deadly snakes. There is a fantastic hush, a peaceful wonder in the air. The intensity of the giants can be overwhelming.

What an impressive, imaginative, creative God we serve. To have even thought up the idea of more than a septillion of created forms, with their reproductive capacities not to mention the inner, intricate workings and details, how it all works together, harmoniously, it’s too much for me to comprehend!

My God truly reigns.

A wild turkey trots across the path, quickly into camouflaging brush, and unfortunately too quick for me to capture on camera. Well, snap! I decide to stand still for a spell, see what else may cross my path. No more critters, but I spot an ugly banana slug among the debris. It is yellow-green with brown splotches, vacuuming the forest floor.  Pass.
I capture a few pics of smaller nurse logs, redwood sorrel, orangebush monkey flower, a plethora of various ferns and mosses, and of course a pretty butterfly. Scrub jays are in abundance and squawk their territorial ranges, jousting, flying swiftly at intruding jays much like fighter jets.

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Dizzying Height by Marybeth Haydon

I stand and attempt pics demonstrating the extreme height of the redwoods but struggle with getting dizzy as I tip my head back to capture it. Seriously. This really is “looking up”. But I did get some photos nonetheless.

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Loggers Notches by Marybeth Haydon

I’m intrigued by the notches that remain in the tree stumps. I investigate and learn that the lumberjacks would hatch these notches in order to insert what is called a springboard. After seeing an old photo of these springboards, trust me, they are aptly named. One end of the board is placed in the notch, then they continue up the tree until the final springboard is inserted. It becomes a “platform” for the logger to begin chopping the behemoth down, all by hand. The springboard is used to get beyond the widest part of the tree to begin chopping at a narrower section. I would suppose that while they stood on these springboards, with the action of chopping either another notch to get higher, or from the vigorous action of sawing the giant tree down, that those boards they were standing on really began to “spring” up and down.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until much later that they discovered the wood from these trees was inadequate for building. Such an incredible, mortifying shame to have logged these ancient giants for nothing. 

Crazy or gutsy, or desperate for work?

I’m so glad we are learning from our mistakes and are becoming better stewards of our facinating planet.  Be kind to your environment, and leave no trace of your adventuring.

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Impressive Statistics by Marybeth Haydon

There are interesting info and photos at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logging  Please check it out. It even shows where one springboard is inserted in a neighboring tree, enabling the logger to walk along the springboard to the opposite tree with just a vertical board placed to support the unnotched end of the springboard.

Close Encounters Of The Bird Kind

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Matthew Brinker, Special Op Support Mission Balad Iraq 2008

Special guest post from Matt Brinker. Matt is a Ret. FL. Army Guard H-60 driver CW2. He likes sci-fi, all sports, history, science & politics.  As Matt puts it, his only labels are: “Catholic, Brinker, American. Love GOD, freedom, and peace.”  Matt is from north Florida.

Here is his story about an animal encounter while serving our country while in Iraq.

One day in Iraq, I was flying a routine Baghdad ring-route mission in my UH-60A Blackhawk for Cco 1-244th (Privateers) Florida Army National Guard. Basically transporting military and civilian contractors from base to base in and around Baghdad. Great hours building missions for pilots but boring and worthless missions in our eyes. Even though it’s safer to fly then drive in Iraq. Those IED and ambush attacks on the highways are not very good.

On this summer day  in 2008 of about 110-120 degrees, a usual hot day, I’m lead aircraft on this two ship mission and I’m on the controls because I’m a stick hog (I like being and staying on the controls of the Blackhawk). We are at Baghdad International Airport (aka BIAP) with a normal load of passengers and bags ready to takeoff for Washington Pad or the US and International Embassy (aka Saddam Hussein’s house) for our last half of our day.

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Captain & Crew Chief next to damaged Blackhawk. Photo by Matt Brinker

We are cleared for departure for the 6 min flight to our next stop. We lift off to our airfield altitude of 50 feet or less (most of the time less!) and up to our cruising speed of 110 kts along the runway on the military side of BIAP until we are cleared of the airfield. Once we clear the airfield we turn left heading north and climb to our cruising altitude of 500 feet or less towards our reporting point. We get our “Up” call from our wingman, stating that they are up and in formation, we are a flight of two now. So with that, we call BIAP tower at the reporting point to change frequency to Washington pad while at the same time our wingman is calling Baghdad Radio to inform them of where we are and where we are going. Baghdad radio was just an army information center to maintain air traffic awareness and situation awareness of any enemy contact.

So with all communications done, the aircraft is as quiet as a screaming Blackhawk can be when the call over the radio comes in, “We’re hit!”

Nothing more.

At that moment my co-pilot and myself make eye contact, scared as hell. My co-pilot quickly responds, “Say again.”  I ask my crew chief and gunner to find our wingman and report. My crew chief reports from the left side, “I have visual… they are slowing down but maintaining altitude… something is wrong.”

I’m baffled and alarmed. “What?  What’s wrong?” At the same time I’m slowing down and making “S”- turn maneuvers. My co-pilot tries contact again and this time we get a response.  Wingman responds, “We took on a flock of pigeons. Our number two engine is making a really loud noise”.  And it was so loud we could hear it on the radio communication. They continue. “We are turning back to BIAP… can you contact the radios?”  We said we will and followed our injured wingman back to BIAP with no further issues.

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Soft-ball size damage to chin bubble of aircraft. Photo by Matt Brinker

Once landed and parked, we saw what happen.  Al Quaeda “secret air force” was out in numbers and they won. Our wingman hit, our best count, 12 pigeons. At our altitudes and with the gunnery skills of most Iraqi’s people, the bird’s were the most dangerous aspect of our mission.  Yet, two pigeons went directly into the number two engine and one in the number one engine. Their crew chief took a shot from one pigeon to the arm and its innards sprayed his face shield.  He was one bloody mess.

The chin Bubble on the pilot side (right side) had a softball size hole. With all that, the Blackhawk, with a little cleaning, did a one-time flight back to home base at Balad for maintenance. A 35-45 minute flight normally, that Blackhawk took an hour with a screaming number two engine, but it made it.

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The pigeon slid down the aircraft. Photo by Matt Brinker

Even though we made a joke of it, giving the crew double ace classification and rewards for taking on the “enemy” and coming out alive, the animal life there in Iraq were very dangerous to us in our mission. I went through two deployments and over 500+ combat flight time without a bird strike, but I had to bend that Blackhawk several times to avoid those damn Al Quaeda suicide fighter birds.  And we all learn a lesson from this; nature has right-of-way at all times, even in combat.  When we weren’t fighting nature in the air, we sure were in the sand. Camel spiders are no fun either! Thankfully I didn’t have to deal with the likes of them. Much.


Camel Spider. Photo courtesy Google images.

Matthew S. Brinker CW2 (ret)

Florida Army National Guard

If you would like to visit Matt on Twitter, you can find him at :


EDITORS NOTE: A very sincere “Thank You!!” to Matt, and ALL of our servicemen and women at home and abroad, ensuring our safety, freedoms, and the American way! We flat-out could not enjoy the autonomy and liberty that your sacrifices have given us and future American generations to come! We are aware of the enormity of those sacrifices that include family, life, limb, spirit, emotions and the mind even though we don’t necessarily always speak of these things. We appreciate our Armed Forces and are indebted to you!

Caught In a Wildfire Pt.5 from Lessons Learned As a Novice Hiker


View from the summit before I ran out of camera battery. photo by Marybeth Haydon

Todays summit was unexpected and spectacular.  I completely ran out of camera battery at the summit since I had not charged the battery last night and took many pics on my ascent.  I thought I would just check-out the trail for future, but then after ascending 2,000′  I decided to complete the hike, knowing I would later regret a turn-around.  Was this yet another poor-judgement novice-call by going well beyond the planned hike? Ill-prepared for a summit?

The day is late and I’m getting plowed-under with fatigue from the unplanned summit.  The descent is always harder for me with all of the cartilage in one knee completely removed (surgically, I shattered it in a motorcycle accident) and misaligned bone structure in both feet. Thus, I have no choice but to take my time heading down, grateful for trekking poles to help distribute weight and for the added stability that the poles lend.
While I was trying out this new trail on the way up this morning, I powered up my cell phone a few times in what looked like strategically clear areas to call my son to say hello from the top of the mountain. I never got any bars, so I’m not even entertaining the idea on the way down.

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Wildfire courtesy Google images.

As I am continually amazed at the stunning and often tranquil views, I look up, changing my viewpoint to scan the east when I fearfully skid to a stop. Ohhh SNAP! There are flames head!  A HUGE wildfire, the smoke and flames are just incredibly high into the atmosphere.   This is bad.

Really, really bad.

I look at the south-easterly mountain ridge just beyond the ski lifts and realize that any minor shift in the wind will bring those flames right over the ridge and into the area I’m hiking in and into the mountain community below.  There’s a decent breeze surrounding me and in about 20 minutes, the usual pre-twilight gusts will begin. Snap.

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View During My Ascent by Marybeth Haydon

I’m hiking mid-week, so the ski lifts are not open, not operating. No one at the lodge either. Did I mention that this is really bad? Remembering that I found zero cell service on my way up, I power-up my phone anyway, desperate for communication, I need to warn the community. I need to get to safety. I neither hear nor see any fire-fighting helicopters or news copters for that matter, so I am concerned that this massive fire is still somehow undetected.

Oh, Lord! I really need Your intervention! I’m about to be stuck in a wildfire, with less than a ¼ cup of water left and a good 3 more hours left to hike out before I’m anywhere near the barest of civilization! I didn’t bring sufficient supplies since I had not planned on a complete summit.  (Always, always bring more water than you think you will need!)
Desperate, I power-up the phone. Do my eyes deceive me? I scroll down and contact the community volunteer fire department. I have connection!   Thank You, Lord!   I immediately tell the woman answering the phone where I am and that I have sighted a large wildfire, are they aware of the fire? She hurriedly tells me to hold on, I panic; I’m not sure how much longer I will have service. I remain as still as possible, afraid of losing the few bars that I have. A gentleman is now on the line, asking exactly where I am. I give him the coordinates, point out that it only takes a mild shift of the wind to get that fire advancing over the ridge and he lets me know that he’ll take it from here. I tell him I don’t know how long it will take me to evacuate, please be on the lookout for me or my vehicle if I haven’t reached it should the fire hit our area.

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Same Wildfire from news. photo courtesy Google images

I remember that my son is expecting me to call by 5:00 p.m., if not, that I am in trouble and to contact the area rescue, my back-up plan since I am hiking a new trail, one notoriously dangerous and known for its fatalities in foul weather. And it’s impossible to predict foul weather on this mountain; it seems to have its own weather system and erratic timetable.   I had taken two steps after hanging up with the fire department, so I stop and repower-up the phone and EUREKA! I again miraculously have bars. I remain board-stiff where I am, and call my son. He is on the line with someone else and asks if he can call me right back. “No!” I tell him in a rush, “I’m in a wildfire, I called the fire department, but I need you to know I may not make it back before 5:00, so know that I’m ok, and I love you!” He is stunned, and then lets me know that he understands. I explain I have to high-tail it out, the best I can, need to go. Now. We say goodbye and I start truckin’. Well, semi-truckin’. No pun intended.
A million things and scenarios are whirling in my mind. I wonder why I still do not hear helicopters and question if I’m going to have to end up in one. I begin to plan how to best indicate the wind direction should helicopter rescue be necessary. I decide to tie my windbreaker to a trekking pole, making a sort of wind sock. I’m still heading down, all sorts of thoughts and plans running through my mind. I’m very thirsty from the salty GORP that I had at the summit and realize that should the wind shift, I don’t even have enough water to keep a handkerchief wet in this hot weather for smoke protection. I’m out of camera memory, so I’m unable to capture these near-aerial, spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime views of the enormous wildfire.  Aw, double Snap!

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Wildfire courtesy Google images.

Again, I’m struck with wondering if I’m actually learning from all of my hiking mistakes! Suddenly a strong gust of wind partially pushes me toward the uphill side of the trail.  Ok, calm minds prevail. Be calm, embrace it, girl.

The sky is darkening from the smoke.  I can now smell the smoke and suppress a cough.  Focus, safely evac and evade. Thankfully my asthma is not affected yet, I figure I still have time to get out but I sure am thirsty, stress-sweaty, and completely punishing my complaining knees by trying to jog whenever I hit a flat section of the trail. Which are few.

It’s just You and me, Lord. Absolutely no one is out here today! I thank You in advance for You guidance, Your help. Please place a barrier on that ridge so that this lovely mountain community doesn’t get destroyed. Or me.

About an hour later I’m nearing the ski lift and lodge. I spot a father with his young son heading east to the backbone trail, even though I’m a ways off, I holler down to them that they may reconsider coming up the mountain, and explain about the massive wildfire. The dad asks if they would be able to see it from the trail they are about to take. I assured them they definitely would and reminded them all it would take is a shift in the wind to get this place blazing. To my surprise and confusion, they take their chances and continue up the trail!  Go figure?


Same Wildfire. Firefighter rescuing a dog. photo courtesy Google images.

Thankfully, the fire remained northeast.  The mountain community unaffected and I wish I could say the same for those in the cities on the urban side of the mountain.  It’s difficult to describe the total loss, the devastation one feels after losing their home to fire.  I can relate, as a fellow victim.  Stictly from a possesion-value point of view, to lose all family heirlooms, handed-down recipes, photos, mementos.  The investment of time, energy, talent, ideas and money into the house itself.  I pray for those who had loss as a result of this massive fire and that no lives were injured or lost.

Gratefully home, I switched on the news and sure enough there it was in all its spectacular, destructive power. I contacted my son that I was safe at home and gave God the glory for yet another day of His protections and interventions.

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Same wildfire. photo courtesy Google images.

Lord, You put me on that trail today, for that very moment in time to pray for and do what I could by alerting the officials. I realize the majority of my concern was for me, and I’m sorry. Yet, I’m grateful for Your intervention, getting me back safe, and for preventing the winds from changing. I know that the community, if they only knew the danger they were so close to, would be grateful for Your protections too. I now better understand 2 Timothy 4:2 about being instantly in season. You want me ready at all times, regardless of how I feel. Thank You for Your trust in me that You know I will respond to You! What an honor, Lord!

Todays Lesson Learned: Go no where without 10 Essentials which include extra water, food, clothing, first aid.  Be prepared for absolutely anything going south!  For more about 10 Essentials go to my post Safety Pt. 2  http://ow.ly/gY1UB

Are you enjoying my Lessons-Learned (How Not To Hike Stupid) series?  Share your comments, questions, or concerns. Go to the “About the Author” tab on this site, scroll down to the “Comments” section bottom left. Your input is appreciated!

Or Twitter: http://twitter.com/MarybethHaydon  Or comment on my Facebook:   http://ow.ly/hycIm


The Danger of Overreacting To Danger Pt.4 from Lessons Learned As a Novice Hiker

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Photo courtesy Google Images

In stark contrast to last night’s star gazing, a beautiful stand of quaking aspen stretches far to the east, the sunrise painting the jagged pinnacle with a fascinating spectrum of color, highlighted by the multicolored sunrise, then modified by the occasional, wispy cloud. Shimmers of golden foliage radiate life, fresh and new this very morning. I’m certain I’ve never smelled air this fresh, clean or inviting. It carries the taste of promise on it. I watch as the sun continues its slow climb to a higher station in the lightly mottled sky. My eye is drawn to the fascinating lake that reflects the entire scene on its still, mirrored surface. Serrated vivid hues of yellow, gold, and orange with a thread of charcoal, bridge the spectacular cobalt water to its shoreline. The bank is punctuated with a ribbon of darkly shadowed brush, fanning its smudged boundary along the irregular water’s edge, dividing the scene dramatically, strikingly. It moves the heart, an intoxicating vista. A dark pool brackets the outer westerly edge, hinting at deeper waters, a potentially profitable bass fishing hole, mingled with underwater plants and leafless, drowned trees. Truly the pearl of the region rests and boasts of its beauty before me.  I realize I’m hungry. I tear myself from the blessed demonstration of a promising new  day to reignite last night’s campfire.  My dwindling pile of dead and down looks  too meager for a hot breakfast, but I want a hot drink and I have enough wood  to heat a few cups of water. I spread out my petroleum-laced cotton balls under  several twigs and strike the match; instant results. I gather fresh pine  needles and break them up and then add them to my tin of water, setting my pine tea to boil onto a flat rock that I had placed in the fire circle last night.

The early morning air is brisk; I warm my hands over the paltry fire, then cup my hands over my nose to warm my face. The steam from my pine tea as I sip it  supplements the warming process easily.  I scarf a breakfast bar during my morning devotions, and stand midway; need to stretch and wake up the muscles. I decide I will continue climbing; I want to reach the overlook at its highest rim. I pack my gear after scattering the remaining ashes, now doused in leftover clean-up water. Casting a longing look at the array of aspen and the surrounding, profoundly exquisite lake I leave my camp site with as little trace of my temporary residence as possible, ending my cleanup with a downed, short pine branch sweep.

MP910221019[1]I realize I hadn’t studied my map and compass again, just to be sure my bearings are correct. I justify the compass edge against the maps left westerly edge; adjust the bezel, point the compass towards my target goal, note the boxed needle and then top-pocket the compass. I fold the map into my pack, confident I’m on-course. It appears I’m on a game trail, it sure beats fighting underbrush and Mountain White Thorn patches. I study my target goal far ahead and am glad I began during the crisp early morning conditions.  Now this is backpacking! 


Photo courtesy Google images.

It’s a few hours later and the day is heating up quickly. I scan the terrain after a swift motion catches my peripheral vision. I couldn’t see what sort of animal it was, but it’s at least the size of a coyote.  A strong, offensive, unbelievably vile smell permeates the air, and then I hear the ominous sounds of a swarm of what I think must be bees. As I round the corner, it’s apparent that it isn’t bees, but an enormous amount of flies.  A huge, black cloud of very noisy flies in fact, drawn to the scent of a fresh kill. The kill’s death-scent; a chemical dinner bell for creatures big and small. Perhaps I scared off one of the scavengers just previously. The kill is partially buried with forest debris, known as a food cache, and I mentally run-through which animals try to hide their kill only to return to feast on it later.   Large or small   …  returns later to feast …

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Food Cache photo courtesy Google images.

My eyes wide, I examine my surroundings more methodically, thoroughly. I really, really don’t want to interrupt an animal’s lunch, especially a carnivore’s meal. I can’t shake the mental picture of a boiler-rooms’ large pressure gauge, needle pegged at its maximum red-line danger zone. I sense red flags waving frantically all around me.  Cougars are crepuscular hunters and it’d be dusk by the time I crossed this path on my return.  Yet, insanely I muse:  Turn around or continue? If I continue, it means crossing paths with this kill yet another time.

What am I thinking, why even question continuing?!angry wolf 2

I decide I can return to this trail another time, possibly with a hiking partner; but now is time to turn-tail and head home.  I hadn’t thought-out just how remote this hike is, nor had I thought about the larger wildlife in this region.   I waste not another moment in this particular area. My steps are swift, and not as careful. My focus is straight-ahead, I am not checking my surroundings. I remember that I need to watch for predators. Again my focus is tunnel-vision, I’m not trail tracking.

While keeping an eye on the surrounding wilderness for any predators, (that vile odor is still prevalent, I’m now down-wind of the kill) out-of-the-blue I hear a much-too-familiar-to-me rattling sound. I gasp and see the rattler under a small shrub just a single pace ahead of me.  In lieu of the last rattler encounter, the infamous “Incident”, I completely overreact. I scream (as if that helps), jump up (I seem to manage this acrobatic move rather easily these days) and turn to run. I did everything one does not need to nor should do. Somehow, as I turn to flee, I trip over my trekking pole and find myself scrambling for purchase as I’m now over the side of the mountain.   Again!  

I am in an even worse place as far as other vipers are concerned, this area has all the hallmark’s of DEFINITE snake infestation, plus falling further down the side of the mountain is a viable threat.  I’m sliding down the loose-rock. Terrifying images of a den of vipers sear my intellect; I am screaming for God to, “Get me out of here! Oh, Lord help me! GET ME OUT OF HERE!” as frightening déjà vu sears my mind, scrambling massive panic cells throughout the bloodstream. I frantically scuttle uphill with every ounce of effort and beyond. I am more terrified of startling another snake than falling down the mountainside. This hike is circling the drain but fast.

At least it rattled at me Western Rattler

Crossed the trail & into the area I fell into! photo by Marybeth Haydon

Retreated to its hidyhole on the other side crop

Retreating further into the “snakie” area. photo by Marybeth Haydon

Somehow, it had to have been His Hand helping me, I get back onto the trail and I see the snake moving across the game trail, heading right into the potentially snake infested area I just scrambled out from.


I yell aloud to myself, “Get the camera, get the camera!” as I fumble with the camera case zipper. I’m able to get two pictures off, one of the tail end as it leaves the trail, another with its rattle standing up when it is under some brush. I always strive to have the ‘evidence’, I’m not completely sure why. I sometimes think since I experience way too many freaky things in the wilderness and I need the photographic evidence.
Inventory reveals that I have bent one of my trekking poles, my arms are cut up, I completely messed up my knees, “that” knee especially, and my most favorite hiking pants are torn. BLAST!  Insult upon injury!  I bend forward from the waist trying to get my wits about me and blood to my head, once again I feel like I may faint.   Oh, snap … I really messed myself up … again. I am way, way far from civilization.

Seriously, am I learning anything?

Not wanting to see how badly the knee is injured, I skip looking through the gaping tear in my trousers. If I know how bad it is, I probably won’t make it all the way down, and it’s a at least full days hike back down. Sometimes ignorance is bliss or something to that effect.  I can’t have The Incident affect me like this! I just cannot overreact when being simply warned by the viper that I’m too close.   It’s not like I was standing on it, it simply wanted its “space” so that the shy critter could move away from me. This is, in fact, exactly what the snake did. Textbook, easily anticipated, extremely easy to avoid confrontation much less flat-out panic. Logically I know this to be true, but I struggle with residual fear from standing on a rattler just a month previous.

I ever-so carefully continue my descent, now completely rattler-paranoid, foolishly jumping even at the sight of a lizard.
Why do I hike the wilderness? Am I energized by the drama of risk, of real danger? Is this what lights me up?  What is wrong with me? I’ve encountered many rattlers before The Incident; I simply waited for them to move on. No harm, no foul.

Lord God, please help me get over this new fear. Help me overcome this new fear of rattlers, I must not overreact! Draw me close to You once again! Show me how to apply Your word to this situation!

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View from near the trailhead. photo by Marybeth Haydon

And amazingly, the adventures continue….

Todays Lesson Learned: By overreacting, I literally threw myself into a potentially more dangerous situation.  For more on snake and other animal behavior (so that you know what to expect, and can react with calm) click here  http://ow.ly/gY1Yn

Are you enjoying my Lessons-Learned (How Not To Hike Stupid) series?  Share your comments, questions, or concerns. Go to the “About the Author” tab on this site, scroll down to the “Comments” section bottom left. Your input is appreciated!

Twitter: http://twitter.com/MarybethHaydon      Or comment on my Facebook:   http://ow.ly/hycIm