Fresh Air for the Holidays

 

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Hawk Mountain

My very first job was at a rectory. I went to Catholic school, and in my Parish, several students were hired to work occasional odd jobs throughout the week. The tasks were minuscule; answering phone calls, jotting down messages for the priests and deacons, and making sure the holiday gift donations were organized properly. I windexed the front door if someone got fingerprints on the glass. I tidied my desk and emptied the trash bin, and when a bride and groom would stop by to turn in their nuptial paperwork, I’d leap from my chair, bursting into a smile to welcome them…all the while praying that I didn’t have any bits of chocolate chip Chewy granola bar in my teeth. I believe I was paid approximately $8.00 per shift, but at the time, I regarded my employment there as if I worked in the White House.

In my teenage years, I held a seasonal position as a sales clerk at a chocolate store in our local, typical, suburban mall. There, I still answered phones, took messages, windexed the glass case that displayed the caramel pecan turtles and the buttercreams, and greeted all of our customers with a smile on my face. It was not so different from my little rectory job, if it weren’t for the cash registers, malfunctioning credit card machines, cranky customers, crying children, and the 15 Christmas carols that the mall looped on repeat.

Now…don’t get me wrong. I’ve always loved the holidays. It’s November 29th, and our Christmas tree has already been standing tall, adorned in its glistening glory, for the past four days. I willingly decorated for Christmas on my birthday this year since I was so thrilled to adorn our new home with a 7.5 feet faux pine tree, twinkling lights, and everything sparkly in shades silver and gold.

As an adult, I’ve learned how quickly overjoyed can occasionally turn overwhelmed. The shopping, the cooking, the baking, the decorating, the wrapping, the parties…it’s no wonder the customers at the chocolate shop were generally irritable. Growing up, my mom used the phrase “mall brain” quite often. I now know what she meant. The stores are sometimes warm, crowded, and overstimulating…and while I find it naturally satisfying to walk out of a store with a sack full of stuff, sometimes I need a bit of fresh air…a chance to step away and let my saturated psyche breathe.

For some, breathing may mean taking a long soak in a hot bath. For others, it may mean losing your mind and devouring a delicious novel. For me, I like to get outside and feel the Earth beneath my feet. A few weeks back, I began bugging Dan to take a day trip to Hawk Mountain. I’m a total “leaf peeper” like my father, so I had been wanting to visit to take in the sights of the season. Since Dan is in the final months of graduate school, our free weekends are typically few and far between, but we were finally able to squeeze some time in on a Sunday to take a drive.

If you haven’t been to Hawk Mountain before, it’s located in Kempton, Pennsylvania, about an hour and 30 minutes north-west of Philadelphia. It’s also easily accessible from the New York and Baltimore areas.

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If you enjoy bird watching, photography, hiking, leaf peeping, or you simply appreciate the outdoors, I’d recommend visiting for the day. Hawk Mountain is “the oldest and largest, member-supported raptor conservation organization in the world” – and it is a very active, scientific and educational space. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on raptors (I can probably identify a Red Tailed Hawk since one often swoops down in our backyard), but I do find it fascinating that so many species of birds can be seen together in one vicinity.

If you aren’t interested in raptors, do not be deterred from visiting! The views from the mountain are absolutely stunning throughout the year. As I mentioned, autumn boasts beautiful displays of color at Hawk Mountain, but it is also their busiest visitation time, so if you’re looking for a bit more solitude, please considering stopping by in the winter. According to the Sanctuary, caution must be exercised as the trails are “not maintained” during the winter months, but the snowy overlooks are surely peaceful and relaxing. The springtime and summer months are great for hearing songbirds, seeing changing blooms and for spotting butterflies. There are various trails with different degrees of difficulty, and there is plenty of information about accessibility available. It’s a great day out for families and friends, and we witnessed plenty of memories being made…from grandparents walking with their grandchildren to couples sharing lunch, perched on the side of an overlook.

 

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Dan and I left Hawk Mountain feeling so fresh and full of life. We only were able to spot a few raptors, but as I said, I enjoy the space for its beauty and for the trails, so I wasn’t disappointed. We’ll consider visiting again this winter…so I can hit restart and to “turn off my mall brain.” I think it’s important to take things down a notch every so often…to reflect on times when life was simple…like it was when I worked at the rectory. It helps me to keep smiling in the same, genuine way that I did back then.

Click here to learn more about Hawk Mountain!

Til next time…

xo,

Ris

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