Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Harpers Ferry, Murphy Farm and Bolivar Heights, April 2014

All my hikes in Harpers Ferry Easter weekend were short. But all were wonderful. I had good weather and great views. Two of the hikes were on battlefields, and I'm combining them into a single post even though they were done on separate days in separate, but close, locations.

On Saturday I walked the loop at the Murphy Farm. The two mile trail starts at the Visitors Center for the park, and aside from a moderately steep drop to cross a stream the trail is level, and for most of its length a wide crushed limestone surface. And if you are not in the mood to cross the stream or want a shorter hike there is a trailhead with parking at the farm. Highlights of the short walk were the cannons and historical marker for the Battle of Harpers Ferry, and two vistas of the Shenandoah River.

The second walk was Easter Sunday, and consisted of a mile on Bolivar Heights. Everything is "heights" around Harpers Ferry - Bolivar Heights, Maryland Heights, Loudoun Heights - because the town was built into a hillside and on a flood plain. Being located next to the river is great for transporting goods, but not helpful when defending against an army occupying high ground. There's a quip allegedly from some Civil War figure that he'd rather have to attack Harpers Ferry a dozen times than defend it once. Seeing Bolivar Heights and Murphy Farm made me think there's some truth to that witticism.

A hundred and fifty years later what was a helpful view for battle is now a marvelous vista. I walked the flat portion of the trail facing the confluence of the rivers, and as the photos show I had a great view. Like Murphy Farm the Bolivar Heights trail has canon and historical markers, but its the views that make the hike.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sunrise Easter Service, Harpers Cemetery, Harpers Ferry, April 2014

I'm labeling this a "hike" although its more of a walk, but since the location is accessible from all over town.... as for why I'm writing about it, that should be evident. If you haven't figured out yet that I'm a Christian, I've kept it hidden too long. While A Taste For The Woods isn't a "Christian blog", I will write about my faith from time to time, but I hope my many non-Christian friends here will find some of what I write in this post of interest.

The owner of the hostel I stayed at on Saturday night suggested guests might want to attend the Easter sunrise service at Harpers Cemetery, an annual event run by the churches in town. She suggested that even if you weren't Christian you might enjoy the service simply for the view overlooking the confluence of the rivers. I planned on attending, and at 6 AM Sunday morning I headed off. My back was bothering me, so I carried hiking poles for the short walk, and used them to help support myself during the service. Since the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has its headquarters in Harpers Ferry this can't be the first time they've seen a tired hiker with poles at a service, so I wasn't too concerned. And I blended well into the group of about 100 people in attendance.

The service itself began at 6:30 with an invocation and singing, followed by the Gospel reading from John Chapter 20 describing the empty tomb. The three clergy, two Methodist ministers from the churches in Harpers Ferry and Bolivar, and the pastor of the Lutheran church in Harpers Ferry, spoke about the meaning of the text. The bulk of the sermon fell to Pastor John Unger of St. John's Lutheran, and he was very personal with his presentation. Pastor Unger spoke of his own struggle with doubt; his mother died the previous year after a horrible prolonged and debilitating illness, and how not only was he wondering why God allowed this to happen, but how he could spiritually minister to his congregation with doubt in his mind.. I've never heard a clergyman publicly express they had even a moment of doubt, and I was moved hearing it. Pastor Unger with God's help worked through his doubt and grief. He was in darkness, and the Light of the world shone through.

After more song and prayer the service ended. I wandered around the cemetery taking photos and thinking, Death, where is sting? Grave, where is thy victory? as the light of morning shone on me, Harpers Ferry, and the whole world.

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Harpers Ferry, Lower Town and Jefferson Rock, April 2014

I spent Easter weekend in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Its a town I've had a curious history with. I passed it three times on bicycle tours, but never visited due to the difficulty of getting a bike and trailer over the stairs and pedestrian bridge on the Potomac. I finally visited the town in 2009 for the anniversary of John Brown's raid, but my knees were in the early stages of giving out and I did little hiking. Last year my visit consisted of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters and a walk on the grounds of Storer College. So this Easter I made my visit count, and I feel like I've finally begun to see the town. 
I parked my car at the National Park Service Visitor's Center on the outskirts of town. After taking the five minute shuttle bus ride into the Lower Town, I began to walk around. The historic section of the Lower Town is very small, but there's a lot packed into it. Aside from the historic buildings and John Brown's Fort - the armory engine house Brown seized - there are spectacular views of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, the C & O Canal Towpath, and the surrounding mountains. 

And speaking of mountains, keep in mind that once you leave the floodplain of the Lower Town, everything in Harpers Ferry is UP. Bring your climbing legs. And once you have your climbing legs on, take the short walk to Jefferson Rock. Thomas Jefferson described the scene from the Rock in his book Notes On The State Of Virginia. He used a different spelling of Potomac, and his use of language reflects a different era, but its such a wonderful description I'm quoting it at length: 

"The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue

Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature. You stand on a very high point of land. On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder and pass off to the sea. The first glance of this scene hurries our senses into the opinion that this earth has been created in time, that the mountains were formed first, that the rivers began to flow afterwards, that in this place particularly they have been so dammed up by the Blue Ridge of mountains as to have formed an ocean which filled the whole valley; that, continuing to rise, they have at last broken over at this spot and have torn the mountain down from its summit to its base. The piles of rock on each hand, but particularly on the Shenandoah, the evident marks of their disruptions and avulsions from their beds by the most powerful agents in nature, corroborate the impression.

"But the distant finishing which nature has given the picture is of a very different character. It is a true contrast to the former. It is as placid and delightful as that is wild and tremendous. For the mountains being cloven asunder, she presents to your eye, through the cleft, a small catch of smooth blue horizon, at an infinite distance in that plain country, inviting you, as it were, from the riot and tumult roaring around to pass through the breach and participate in the calm below. Here the eye ultimately composes itself; and that way, too, the road happens actually to lead. You cross the Patowmac above the junction, pass along its side through the base of the mountain for three miles, the terrible precipice hanging in fragments over you, and within about 20 miles reach Frederictown and the fine country around that. This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic."

In 2009 I was too tired and weak in the knees to climb the stairs to Jefferson Rock. Not this time. The Rock is only three tenths of a mile hike, and I did it. 

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A Taste For The Woods: 2014-04-27

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A Taste For The Woods