I've been back in the US for more than two months now, and it probably shouldn't come as a surprise, but it appears that I'm losing the battle of the bulge. Not that I was thin in Taiwan (not with all that greasy fried street food there), but I'm sure I've put on some weight since my self-repatriation. We don't have a scale with us here, which could be a blessing. But it's become obvious (to me, anyway) that I need to start being more careful about the kinds of food I'm eating, and to get some exercise.
One of the few things I've been missing from having lived in Taiwan is the easy access to mountains, and the hiking trails within. I've also been missing milk teas 奶茶 (the bubble teas here can be atrocious), but considering what they did to my waistline back on Formosa, it's probably for the better that I've been cut off from my suppliers. But back to high mountains, which seem to be in short supply around here. Instead, I've been having to make do with short walks on mostly level ground along local nature trails. Such excursions have been great for the soul, but haven't done much for body shape.
This morning I went on one such jaunt, to the Winkler Botanical Preserve in nearby Alexandria. It's 44½ acres (18 hectares) of plants and trees hidden in a residential area. The place is apparently quite popular during the week with local school groups, but on this overcast Bastille Day I was the only person around. In fact, during the 90 or so minutes I spent walking around on the various paths, I didn't see a single other human being the entire time. It reminded me of those solitary Tuesday afternoons in Dakeng 大坑.
And just as in Taiwan, the sights and sounds of civilization were never far away. As it is in Northeast Asia, everything seems to be much more densely packed on the East Coast, at least in comparison to how it was when I growing up way out west.
One somewhat confusing thing about the Winkler Botanical Preserve is its opening hours. According to a website I checked out, the park is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on major holidays (which probably explains why it was closed on the Fourth of July, when I first tried to visit). The sign on the partially-open front gate this morning stated that opening hours were 8:30-5 daily. Yet while I was walking around, I came across another sign informing me that the preserve was open from 7:30 to 3:00 Monday to Friday. If the latter were true, then I was guilty of trespassing. It certainly felt that way as time passed by without another soul in sight.
There didn't seem to be a whole lot of wildlife around, either, except for the spider webs I kept walking into. There were a lot of frogs to be heard, hopping into the water as I approached, and I did see a group of geese, enjoying the good life.
Pride of place at the Winkler Botanical Preserve has to be the large pond in the center of the park, which would no doubt have looked better under more ideal lighting conditions.
These walks are nice, and I look forward to discovering more places to explore, but I miss the mountains. A group of my classmates are planning on doing some real hiking in the Shenandoah area early tomorrow morning. While I'll be busy tomorrow, hopefully I can tag along on future such outings. My waistline might thank me for doing so.