I caught a glimpse of a fellow walking along Route 22 just west of Churchville and I slowed down, thinking he was hitchhiking. But he told me he was just walking along, taking in the sights and smells of the weathered cornfields on his left and the brilliant blue of the clear skies overhead.
The thought occurred to me then that so much of what we do today is geared for and by "groups."
We all gather at the commuter lot or we carpool to this place or that event. People must be afraid of a solo trip these days, because I've yet to read an events announcement such as this: "Those who want to Hike the Trail to Birds Galore in Autumn Wonder just park and start walking, alone; you'll be in for a great time."
There are several places in Harford County where you can do the right thing for yourself, by yourself. Believe it. Just get the right clothing on, be sure to pack a bite to eat and a canteen of water and enjoy the day for just a few hours. You don't have to do a marathon every time you get out of the house.
The Rocks State Park is one of my favorites in the fall because of the foliage and the birdlife. Your walks in the park are filled with the sounds of leaves under your feet, along with the rushing waters of Deer Creek and the squirrel, chipmunks and deer who see you long before you may see them.
So we walk slower, quieter, and we learn to sit by a tree and drink that sip of refreshing water and while we do we inhale the potent fragrance of autumn and while we sit we see so much more than we do in a mob of talking, mumbling, questioning people.
Susquehanna State Park, along the western shore of the Susquehanna River at Lapidum, is a place where you can walk along rusty abandoned railroad tracks for miles. A terrific spot for all sorts of waterfowl and Bald Eagles, this solo journey is easy on the back and legs because, unlike the Rocks Park, it is all level terrain.
How about the winding trails around Harford Glen and Atkisson Dam?
Another sheer joy of being alone for the afternoon, and yet you will usually run into some others hiking around. Sometime it's nice to run into prople as you are walking. A friend I passed one day mentioned sighting an American bittern in the marshes and told me exactly where it was. It added yet another treat for me that fine spring day. It's really harmless, to pause when another traveler meets you, to just say "Hi" and fill each other in on what's along the trail.
Along Deer Creek's upper reaches in Harford County is Eden Mill and again, this is a low-key, low-stress walk on the quiet side of life. Very little traffic to dodge, nothing really exciting or major to see or look for. But take along a notebook as I always do, and pull up alongside a white pine tree and jot down how you feel, write a verse or two of poetry and take that treasure home, to read and relive your walk alone.
Closer to the county seat is the Susquehannock Environmental Center at Heavenly Waters Park. Walk around the pond and the surrounding trees and brush and you will usually spook a white-tailed rabbit or maybe a pheasant.
The area is tranquil and you suddenly are aware of the quiet; no kids yelling, no one with a loud boom-box on their shoulder. You can relax, close your eyes and fill your senses with the sounds of Mother Earth.
Last, on this short list of great walking areas, is the visitor area at Conowingo Dam.
There is beautiful birdlife on the islands downstream. Great blue herons and black crowned night herons, and both turkey and black vultures, and if your luck is running good, a golden eagle and maybe a few balds.
You will be a little more crowded at Conowingo, but perhaps that's the one for the first try at walking along the old rail line south with yourself as a guide.
Like that fellow in Churchville, you too can call your own shots, see for yourself and find that exploring and awareness don't always have to be packaged and prepared for the masses.
Here's a lits of where these areas are and phone numbers for additional information:
Rocks State Park, Route 24, along Deer Creek. Information: 557-7994.
Susquehanna State Park, Lapidum-Stafford Road, along Susquehanna River. Information: 939-0643.
*Harford Glen-Atkisson Dam, Wheel Road West. Information: 838-4750.
Eden Mill on Deer Creek, near Clermont Mill Road. Information: Parks and Recreation, 838-6000.
Susquehannock Environmental Center, 700 Tollgate Road, Bel Air.
Conowingo Dam, visitor's area, U.S. 1 at Susquehanna River.