To the trails!
In some ways I feel unsuited for the Here of where I live. Much of the Hudson Valley is undeveloped land. Moderate sized cities and tiny villages are clustered along the river and interstate roads, but there are vast swaths of protected forests and pristine mountains just a few miles away from the Metro North train tracks that criss cross our rural counties. These wide open spaces give locals and visitors a place to bike and hike and ski and camp and recreate out-of-doors. All in a climate that is far from temperate.
I don’t like to be cold. Or wet. Or out of breath. My urban sensibilities have taught me that I am safer when I feel the sidewalk beneath my feet rumble and wail and it’s necessary to dodge a wall of humanity every time I go outside.
It’s quiet upstate. And very dark. And the kind of humanity that chooses to live in a place like this are folks partial to their privacy who spend much of their time in their houses and cars. For the first few years after leaving Brooklyn I sprinted from my car into the house once nighttime fell, certain that a marauder or a 327 pound bear was waiting behind a tree for me, ready to pounce.
Living in a place for long enough can change you, though. For better or for worse. And I’m happy to report that after being submersed in all of this nature (and living three miles from the Appalachian trail) has turned me on to hiking. Thanks, in part, to Gina–who first invited me to join her hiking group a couple of years ago, and to some friends I’ve met along the way. I’ve learned to read maps and trail markers and identify birds. I don’t (really) mind going outside when the weather is less than perfect. I even bought a good pair of hiking boots last summer. (The very best new hobbies come with the necessity for new shoes.)
There are more than a dozen trails within walking distance of my house and a hundred more within a short drive. I can choose a route that will take me up a mountain or along a ridge line or towards a lake or a stream or a waterfall. Discovering each different landscape and vista has become almost as comforting to me as encountering the endless sea of unique faces that kept me company in the city.
Some mornings I hike with a couple of friends. We drop our kids off at school and then pack up our dogs and our water bottles and head to higher ground–gabbing along the way about art and education and travel. Other mornings I head out on my own–eager to find silence; hopeful that the cadence of my breath will calm the marching troops of worry parading through my brain. One Sunday morning a month Noah gets to choose the trail and our family heads out into the woods together–this communion with nature our way of worshiping all those things about life that mystify us, helping us to acknowledge everything we don’t understand.
I guess it’s safe to say I’ve grown into this place. And its grown into me. Yesterday morning as I headed out to take Luca on his walk through a local land preserve I didn’t give the biting wind and squeaking snow under my feet a second thought. It was only after Luca stopped in his tracks for the third time, pleading at me with his eyes to TAKE HIM HOME, that I looked at my phone and realized that it was -4 degrees. I gave him some treats, checked the pads of his paws for salt & ice and started moving a bit faster. But we didn’t go home right away.
We kept walking.