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A Family Escape: Western Maryland

It’s so much more than the Wisp and Deep Creek madness.

I feel like I should be writing about Irene -- but I got nothin’. Yup, our power was out for 12 hours but we didn’t lose any food. Yup, the kids were out of school on Monday but a kindly neighbor agreed to share a babysitter.

We were lucky because our biggest source of distress today is the driving we have to do for the upcoming soccer season. Germantown! Rockville! Gah!

So, let’s return -- mentally at least -- to the simpler pleasures of the state parks of western Maryland. New Germany State Park. Swallow Falls State Park. Herrington Manor State Park.

We’re not talking Yosemite here. There’s a few bears but I’ve never seen one except in the local newspaper in articles about teenagers killing their first bear. (Just one sign that this is another world.) There’s no El Capitan to summit or fall off of. But there’s miles of gentle trails, enough to work up an appetite but more a stroll in lovely woods than a hike that will give you calves of iron.

Swallow Falls is a special treat. In winter the falls are half frozen, lovely sculptures of ice backed by soft angles of pine trees. Rock walls line some trails. In summer, the young, brave and foolish plunge in. The foolish swan dive off the handrails into pools below the falls. The brave struggle to walk on slippery rocks into the cool water. And Daughter -- one of the young -- found a natural rock water slide, about 40 yards long, and rode the current down, over and over again.

Herrington Manor has a basketball court and a tennis court. There’s also a small man-made lake with a small beach. At the Alpine beach house, you can rent kayaks and cross country skis to explore the lake -- can I recommend the inlets at the far end? -- and trails. My favorite is the Yellow Trail, which heads past an old collapsed house, a graveyard and ancient pine trees. I’d hike it daily if I could.

Well and good but Herrington’s real strong point is the nature center, staffed by college students who give several nature tours a day. And they’re so dedicated that they gave my kids a “private salamander tour.” Son can now capture tiny salamanders the size of worms while Daughter is the pro at identifying them. “That’s a Dusky,” she’ll say firmly as Son holds one out to her.

There are less organized pleasures, and one of them turned out to be tree climbing. At one point, I found Son up in a park apple tree munching one green apple and tossing others down to less brave children below.

There sounds here are nature sounds. Crickets call to each other, woodpeckers drill for food and hummingbirds angrily buzz each other to compete for sugar water like tiny fighter jets. One buzzed Husband, apparently convinced his large red T-shirt was some sort of unusual flower.

The town of Oakland has two highlights. One is Englander’s a really bad restaurant that has old fashioned malted milks. Real ice cream. Real milk. Real malt powder and Hershey’s syrup. We had several. The other highlight is the farmer’s market (Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.) We bought tomatoes, peaches, corn, apples and baked goods. The homemade Whoopie pies, Mennonite potato chips, pretzels and peanut butter and chocolate candies were particularly good.

I’m checking the soccer calendar. There’s a couple of gameless weekends, and I know where we’ll be.  

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