Sidewalk Bikers Ride The Lehigh Trail

Sidewalk Bikers Ride The Lehigh Trail
Same Flower, Another View.
Flower on Tree, Lehigh Trail, Palm Coast, Florida.

We chose Palm Coast, Florida as a winter vacation spot in part for its biking. We hadn’t biked since we were teenagers, but thought biking would be a cool pastime for old duffs to take up, provided that we could ride sidewalks mile upon mile with no hills in sight. That’s Palm Coast for you. If we had the stamina, we could do a hundred miles easy within city limits without violating that formula. It takes a lot of exploration to know that. We’ve been at it for seven years now and have not met a visitor or native who knows as many trails as we seem to know. We’re always surprising people. For toppers, Palm Coast calls these sidewalks bikeways, even though the really serious bikers— true bikers—ride the big roads, like everywhere else.

The most interesting trail for slothful bikers like ourselves is the Lehigh Trail, a converted train track running west straight as a die out of the Graham Swamp area all the way out to Belle Terre Parkway and wherever. We haven’t been to wherever yet. We park in the Graham Swamp Conservation Area lot on Colbert Lane, traveling south from the Palm Coast Parkway. The parking lot supports ‘mountain bikers’ and walkers who want to circle the swamp. I think there’s a small lake in there too. It’s all part of the St Johns River watershed. We tip our hats to these real athletes and head our bikes south down the sidewalk on Colbert Lane a couple thousand yards to the entrance to the Lehigh Trail on the right.

The major excitement of the trip is at the beginning of the trail. After a twenty yard concrete walkway that supports a nice bench and a sign with information about the trail, one enters a wooden overpass, twelve feet in width and an eighth of a mile over the swamp to the old railroad bed, where the asphalt begins. Enter the bridge, turn left around the corner, pedal four revolutions and stop! Park the bike.

Alligator Under Clouds
Alligator Seen From Overpass

Right there, looking down on the swamp to the right, you usually see a big alligator or two—a ten footer about my weight—a turtle, a Grey Heron, sometimes a snake, lots of dragon flies, and much more. It’s a virtual aquarium, and it’s really peaceful.

We are often joined by other bikers as excited about the scene as we are, and as frequent visitors. The one’s who aren’t from France or the British Isles, more than a few, are visitors or recent emigrants from the northeastern and mid-western states. The newcomers seem to like Palm Coast a lot, swear the place is not that bad in summer, and recommend checking out a neighborhood four miles up the trail called E-Section, where every street name starts with the letter E. I have a feeling there are lots of bikers in E Section.

Turtle With Lovely Shell Pattern
Small Turtle From Overpass on Lehigh Trail

These fellow enthusiasts always have lore to share from their experiences on the trail. One has just seen carp up by the bridge two miles away. Someone else has seen Gar. Could it be Alligator Gar? Yes, perhaps! One ex-New Jerseyite reports the frequent sighting of Boar—big and small pigs—and presumes some are on the alligators’ diets. Cougars are suspected visitors. Do you mean the Florida Panther? Well, perhaps, they could get up this way. The birds are astounding, of course, and snakes, pretty routine. Indeed, We see a snake about every fourth trip on the trail. Squirrels are ubiquitous. A woman reports a strange sign posted at a pond near Flagler Hospital: “Do not feed or molest the alligators.” Molest? One of our number decides right then to unleash a stream of water from his bottle toward the nearest alligator. No response. Maybe that’s where molestation begins.

Back on the trail, and off the wooden overpass, we’re on broad, straight, high-quality asphalt. We’re peddling on the asphalt with four-foot shoulders on each sight banking gently down three feet to swamp on both sides. The canopy provides welcome shade on some of the trip. We pass a black snake with a yellow stripe on its back. The forest is heavy over the swamp. On the right, the forest overtakes the swamp half a mile up the trail and the clearing, while dark, almost seems inviting. On the left, the bush along the trail is creased or stomped just enough to convince us that deer or other critters must use those places as paths. No, we wouldn’t want to be there at night. We pass a big hermit turtle out of his hole.

Flower on a tough looking plant.
Prickly Plant

The Lehigh Trail reaches the Old King’s Road in about two miles, which when crossed, takes us under Interstate 95, the highway from Jacksonville to Miami and other points south. If you want to, you can take a left there and bike in and through ponds and parkway all the way west to State Route 100, and to the Florida Hospital, Flagler County grounds. Alternatively, one can take a right before going to the hospital and head up instead to the Epic Movie Theater and, with still another right, to the Town Center itself. The important preface here is that Palm Coast, rumored to be  the fastest growing municipality  in the country before the recession, had the foresight to convert a huge piece of woodland into the future Town Center for development when the economy gets rolling again. In the meantime, this vacant set of trails, roads, parks and bridges is a biker’s paradise.

If you refuse the digression to Town Center, you stay straight and enter the second section of the Lehigh trail, a lovely wooded trail that runs beside a canal all the way up to Belle Terre Parkway, the major highway between the Palm Coast business district and Route 100. E section is across Belle Terre to the left, and there are similar housing developments to the right. If you are patient enough to get yourself across Belle Terre Parkway using the traffic lights, the trail, we understand, continues further west beside the canal, and on to wherever, which we plan to bike to ourselves next year.

You might choose to park in the parking lot on the Southeast side of Belle Terre and access the Lehigh trail from that direction. In fact, that is the more popular entrance. There is no parking lot on the Colbert Lane entrance other than the Graham Swamp lot where we park.

Our typical trip, then, is from the Graham Swamp lot to Belle Terre Parkway, about a nine mile round trip. Our mid-trip

Yellow and Pink Cluster
Abundant Flower on Lehigh Trail in Mid-April

habit is to retire to a trail bench, of which there are many, eat some fruit, drink some water, and start back to commune with the alligators on the return voyage. We usually stage this for a late arrival back at the swamp, say about six p.m., when the light is moving lower, We’re talking late March and the month of April. I suppose we hope the alligators and turtles will start feeding. Also, The light for photography is pretty good then.

After recovering from two emergency visits to the hospital on this particular winter vacation, we have been lucky to ride the Lehigh Trail three times. We plan to go again before we leave in another ten days.

Butterfly with marvelous pattern on underwings
Butterfly on Lehigh Trail

Oh, have I mentioned that the flowers are special and the

Same Butterfly With Its Appearance from above
Butterfly at Flower

butterflies stunning?  We’ve never seen a more impressive butterfly than this dazzler. Have you? The image on the left features the underside of the butterfly in the upside-down position it most often uses to attach to the flower. The image on  the right is the same butterfly featuring the top of its wings.

Will Callender, Jr.©

April 22, 2012

Divining Nature

Divining Nature

I was brought up a Christian, in the American Baptist tradition, baptized by my father, the minister of the churches I attended until I left the church for good after high school. I had mentally absconded well before that, however, starting around the age of six, because—I secretly told myself—these parishioners weren’t hearing what my father was saying to them or following biblical precepts and ministerial requests, as I was. They were hypocrites devilishly dedicated to bad ways! Why would I want to associate with them? Since I had heard what my father said the first time, and followed his advice religiously, why should I keep going back week after week to hear more? Why not go out into the world, meet new people, and get on with life? Oh my, I must have been an impatient and censorious child.

Actually, what I did at age 6 is break away from my mother’s hand as our family of four, headed by my father the minister, wished the parishioners well on the church steps after Sunday service. I ran off into the bushes at the side of the church and hid in crouched position until my mother collected me. She asked: “What’s this all about?” “I don’t know,” I answered. The above “memory” is what my adult mind has been able to fashion out of this small escape all those years ago. Imagination, in my opinion, is a much under-appreciated fount of historical reconstruction.

Today, at age 75, I miss the church, I miss my long deceased parents, I miss the communion, particularly the singing, and I miss members of the congregations that I once knew well. I’ve tried to follow biblical and Christian precepts in everyday conduct. I’ve tended to conceive of the world as itself a church and to think of ordinary work in missionary terms, much as Max Weber explained the type of person I am in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. I have all my life thought of work in the dutiful terms of my Puritan forbears.

My basic problem, then and now, is an inability to believe in God. I’m not an atheist. I would never say: There is no God! God does not exist! I’m not much of an agnostic either; my preference that God exist overmatches any inclination to spend much time doubting. I wish there were a God, but I don’t think so. More on point, other people’s assertions about God mostly leave me cold. Or, to state my problem in a way that connects back to that intolerant child of six: the images of God I hear spoken of, or have read about, have the fingerprints of man, and only man, all over them. God dissolves for me in human hands, and in the incessant yak of human voices. Images of God often seem artful inventions that their creators and culture adopters carry around in their mental portfolios until they can be redeemed for eternal rewards or wielded as weapons for protection. God is variously advertised as the out-of-jail card, the last chance lottery ticket, the head cheerleader of touchdowns and home runs, and the most powerful weapon to deploy on the various battlefields of life.

That doesn’t exactly capture my view either. Let me try it another way. When inspired in some delightful, happy way, I invent a God of thanksgiving, an external source to thank for the wonder and joy of life instead of taking credit myself or giving the credit to human worthies. After all, we’re entirely inheritors; we contributed not a whit to the origin of life. Life is given to us, a priceless, pure gift. We can receive the gift, hopefully value it, nurture it, carry it wisely and pass it on, but we’re no part of its origination.

I also find myself at times inventing in horror and sympathy a God of emergency care to provide help when no human could to the victims of an earthquake, volcano, tsunami, drought, plague, or other terrifying tragedy. God help them. Give them comfort. Bring them peace. The biblical Job, and all of the Jobs of the world, deserve God, and I in compassion am relieved to create God for them.

When I say I’m inventing God, I mean that a concept of God comes to mind at such times, while at other times, and at most times, I’m divinely vacuous. God is absent for me. While the images of God I ‘invent’ may be thoroughly cultural and historical in origin, and thus plagiarized, hackneyed, unoriginal constructions in and of themselves, they are nonetheless fundamentally human constructions. They are all too human. Concepts of God always require a human designer, even for the designer who chooses to invent a discovery of God, thus hiding the act of invention itself. In that respect, God is an answer to a set of design parameters, much in the same fashion as a mask and costume responds to one’s needs and inclinations for Halloween. It is always a human who does the thinking, talking, and dressing up. In this way God assumes a rightful place with the dolls, bears, and action figures in a child’s treasure chest, and later in a rear of the brain safety deposit box.

I don’t mind or complain when others invent Gods of thanksgiving or emergency care. As I’ve confessed, I do it occasionally myself. Maybe there are other Gods I’ll find myself inventing in the future. Why not? There is no need to forsake God’s arrival in advance. Otherwise, though, God talk mostly makes me sick: the omniscience, the omni-presence, the watchful guard, the record keeper, the domicile architect of hell, purgatory, and heaven, the disappointed one, the wrathful one, the flood maker, the jealous one, the saccharine lover, the savior, the shepherd, the predestinator, the gate-keeper, the judge, the destroyer, the warrior, the redeemer, the secret friend, the definer of evil and good. Beyond Gods of thanksgiving, peacefulness, creativity, and emergency care, the common, racetrack-fast, bulk traffic of divine invention, selection, and public announcement distresses more than comforts me.

My concern is the terrible weakness of man and the horrible things men do in the name of God or following loose bouts of God talk. War and violent attacks on others are the obvious examples. God, once invented and routinely promulgated in fervent belief, tends to get the garbage dump of human problems heaped on His divine shoulders. If humans create the problem, they should, in my judgment, solve the problem. It’s only fair. God would have done enough if He, She, or It were the Creator. Who could ask for more than the gift of life? Humans need to stop dumping their problems on God and take responsibility for their self-generated issues themselves.

Strong religious belief, centered on the worship of God, has throughout history resisted and retarded liberty, reason, and science. One can certainly be a scientist and believe in God, many scientists have and do. However, believers in God don’t often extend reciprocal favor to science. Instead, evolution, a process that appears to be embedded in matter itself, and the foundation of biological science, is viewed as so threatening to the creation myth of Genesis as to require an all out fight, including the pretence that the creation story has itself been verified by science. As Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize winning Physicist, pointed out, ours is not a scientific age even though our age is totally dependent on scientists and science. In other words, reason and science may furnish the foundation of our occupational thinking during the work week, but ancient tales and archaic beliefs—many frankly horrible, some silly, most untrue—are resurrected from family ancestry commitments in the search for the meaning of life on weekends.

This won’t serve well for the future if our species is to grow up and accept the responsibilities of adulthood and attain the promise of the self-description homo sapiens. For myself, I find greater, richer, fuller meaning in the scientific search for truth in nature—in mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, and like pursuits—than I do in religious traditions. Instead of wringing our hands that our children never learn enough science and math to compete materially in a soul-deadening, consumer culture, I recommend advising them to pursue the mystery and reverence of life, by delving deeply into the spaces and distances of an expanding universe, and into the infinitesimal quanta of particle physics. They would do well to pursue mathematics as if it were the language of the universe. Let them delight in visions of the atom. Grant them permission to appreciate the intricate architecture and processes of their own bodies and of the flora and fauna of the evolving organic world. May life renew itself spiritually and mentally in their minds. May they discover that nature is itself marvelous and through thought and experiment can be wonderously divined.

Will Callender©

April 13, 2012