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Week 25: Mary Beth Ross

Well today was the 25th week of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail” and my hiking companion, Mary Beth Ross, and I saw something that neither of us, in our combined 128 years, had EVER seen before! Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we didn’t see something that we have absolutely ALWAYS seen before!  WHAT??? Are you saying to yourself, “What in the world is she talking about? This blog doesn’t make any sense!” Please let me explain.  

This blog is not going to start at the beginning of today’s hike as I am just dying to tell you what happened at Warner Hollow, the mid-way and turn around point of each week’s hike.  There, Mary Beth and I were standing by the lovely stream, minding our own business, chatting and taking photos of the beautiful summer scenery.  Mary Beth was facing the stream and I was looking at her, back toward the trail we had just come down. Mary Beth was saying something, but honestly, I can’t remember what because I was so startled to see a young female thru-hiker trekking toward us…absolutely naked (except for her hiking boots)!  I leaned into give Mary Beth advanced notice of what she was about to see but, not hearing me, she merrily continued her story.  Then the woman walked past the two of us and said, “Good morning, nice day, isn’t it?”  Mary Beth, completely taken aback, valiantly tried to keep our conversation going.  I just gawked!

If you knew me, you would know that there have been very few times in my entire life when I have been at a loss for words…this was one of them, so totally shocked was I!  As the naked hiker posed on the planks crossing the stream, I found my voice. “Excuse me, is there a particular reason why you are hiking naked?”  “Oh yes”, she replied “It’s National Naked Hiking Day.”  As she was quite friendly and very chatty, she shared her itinerary for the day: hike as far as Waynesboro and then go into town…after putting on her clothes.  I thought, well that’s a GOOD IDEA but only said, “Have a nice hike.” And off she went leaving Mary Beth and I to laugh ourselves silly and wonder how many other naked hikers we might encounter!

Spoiler alert…we didn’t see any other naked hikers! We did, however, see some very unusual nature sightings.  Just after getting out of our cars, while still crossing the open field and before entering the woods, we saw a beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. As Mary Beth placed her hand near the ground to give perspective to the photo, the butterfly hopped on to her hand! I’m guessing the butterfly sensed Mary Beth’s gentle nature and love of the natural world or then again, the shirt she had on was the exact color of the butterfly so maybe it thought she was a big sister!  Later as we hiked a rocky section of the trail, I was looking down to ensure secure footing, when I came to a dead stop just in the nick of time…I almost squashed the cutest little black mole. It was smack in the middle of the trail and didn’t seem to know where it was going.  Honestly, looking down at that little mole I felt empathy for him (her).  I think I looked like that the last time I got lost on unfamiliar streets in Washington, DC!

I mentioned Mary Beth’s love of the natural world, which she pursues with passion.  After a 38-year career as a pharmacist, Mary Beth studied at Frostburg State University and obtained a degree in Interpretive Biology and Natural History. She is a West Virginia State Master Naturalist and will soon take an exam to become a Maryland State Master Naturalist. Believe me, she knows her native plants and can go on a rant about invasive plant species that you wouldn’t believe!  For regular readers of this blog, Mary Beth is the one I consult when I need assistance identifying the wildflowers and plants that I mention in this blog.  I had a proud moment today when Mary Beth said, “Dettie, I can tell you’ve learned a lot about the plants and wildflowers of Maryland.”  I felt like a kid in grade school who just received a gold star from her favorite teacher.  As I took Mary Beth’s photo by the lichen covered wall, I learned a thing or two.  Thanks to my knowledgeable friend, I now know that there are three main types of lichen and I can learn a great deal more by watching YouTube …who knew?   

As we walked, we talked about other things besides plants.  We shared our concerns for our aging in-laws… Doodle, her mother-in-law and Pop, my father-in-law.  Although each have different needs, abilities and desires, we agreed that they are both very lucky to have family who love and support them.  We also talked about our wonderful children and grandchildren and how, depending on the day, we vacillate between concern for the generation above us and those below us. I laughed as I took the photo of Mary Beth striking the “strong woman” pose but I was thinking how she models positivity and strength for those in her life: her husband, children, grandchildren, friends and all those with whom she volunteers.

Mary Beth and I and our husbands are all in the process of exploring/navigating different phases of retirement. We certainly appreciate the freedom that comes with not working full time, but it can also present a challenge to discover and pursue new interests and find purpose and meaning outside of long-held roles and identities. For Mary Beth, her volunteer work at the Atkins Arboretum on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center provide her with lot of opportunities to share her knowledge and to be engaged in meaningful research projects. As we hiked along, Mary Beth said, “Volunteering is not just about giving. It’s about getting, too.  I receive so much.  I meet interesting people who make me think, help me learn and make me laugh hard than we did when we saw the naked hiker!”   

“Okay”, I said taking the bait, “tell me all about it!”  A fellow volunteer told Mary Beth of his 93-year-old mother, Pat Green, who planned and attended her own New Orleans Jazz funeral, waving to the bystanders as the funeral processed through the French Quarter. It turns out she was an avid jazz fan and didn’t want to miss the fun! OMG…too funny.  If you don’t believe me, google Pat Green, jazz funeral and read it for yourself.  Mary Beth and I hooted and snorted thinking that if Pat was still alive, she definitely wouldn’t miss National Naked Hiking Day!


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