I decided to go on a short hike. I drove to a State Park I like. The short road to the park from the main road was closed due to a little snow. I grabbed my trekking polls and set forth. The first wild life I encountered turned out to be a dog. It was wearing a vest. It took a shit in the road.
It wasn’t long before I encountered a women who seemed to be the dog’s owner as she started to call to the dog to come to her. It didn’t. Another larger dog emerged from the woods. The woman knew this dog as well. The woman had a blue stick with a cup on one end to hold a ball. She launched the ball with the stick and directed the dog to retrieve it. The dog thought it a good idea to go and get the ball, but was less interested in bringing it back.
I entered the park and walked along a trail designed to accommodate wheel chairs. I had been to the park frequently. I had never seen a wheelchair, but still thought this was a good idea. I considered how much I would appreciate this accommodation if I needed a wheel chair to get around. The path goes to a picnic table that is feet away from a long lake.
The lake was mostly frozen. I got interested in some green vegetation under the water and how this contrasted with the white ice. I took out my cell phone to capture an image. The big dog burst into the frame, followed by the woman calling for the dog to leave me alone.
“It’s okay.” I said. The dog and the woman went away.
The lake was created by an abandoned bluestone quarry filling with rain water. It’s unnatural origins, made it none the less beautiful. I thought about the dynamite blasts and chisels that brought that vista to me and brought construction materials to New York City.
I followed the shore line and kept a look out for another image to capture with my cell phone. A neon red object suspended on a tree branch caught my eye. It appeared to be a float for fishing line, that never made its destination. That was not the image I was looking for.
I remembered taking little walks with my mother as a child and having her stop and say, “Look Dave, you can only see what God has made.” I remembered walking with her as an adult and coming to spots where nothing “man made” was clearly visible, even with a 360 degree inspection, and telling my mother, “mom do you remember when you used to tell me about places like this when I was a kid?”
I was never a wise ass on these occasions to point out to my mother the path we were standing on. It was too sweet to imagine that we had just stepped into a time primordial to want to ruin it.
I averted my gaze from the neon object and looked to the sky. I marveled at the clouds until I spotted the contrail of a passing jet airliner.
I moved on and encountered the women and her dogs again. The big one was doing better with bringing the ball back.
I followed a trail that was one of the ways they removed the quarried stone from the forrest, it took me to a hemlock grove. The area used to be mostly all hemlock frees until the trees were clear cut to strip their bark to make the tannic acid used to tan the hides taken from unfortunate animals, to make clothing for people. The hemlocks went from evergreens to stumps in a hurry. Why this grove had been spared I don’t know. Maybe the land owners were making enough money selling rock and wanted to give their underpaid workers a little shade.
I like encountering large boulders in the woods. I particularly like the ones left by retreating glaciers long before the advance of people into the region. I like the ones I encountered on this walk too, made by chunks of stone that were blasted loose by man made explosives, but for some reason not blasted into small enough pieces to be carted away to be sold.
I sat a one of them and meditated for a bit, listening to the hum and whine of traffic in the distance and to an occasional bird song. As I moved on another dog came to me, followed by a young man wearing a tee shirt with the words Sierra Mountains on it. I had never been to the Sierra Mountains, but had heard that it was a much more remote place then where I was. One could escape traffic noise there.
As I headed out I came to a snow covered spot on the trail, which had been easier going down than it was going to be going up. I dug in my poles and moved carefully along. A young man in a bright orange vest stopped going down so I could go up. The dog accompanying him had a matching orange vest. “I said, “Thank you for waiting for an old man.”
“Sure,” he laughed.
I felt blessed to be able to take a walk for the simple pleasure of it. Many men are too tired after an exhausting day of work to do so. Many women, understandably and totally unjustifiably, are afraid to risk walking alone in the woods for fear of sexual assault.
I am grateful for the metal poles that had helped keep this old, retired man stable enough to feel confident to venture forth. I am grateful for having the ability to see past the history of this lake, to be able to filter out the vehicle traffic noises, well enough to hear the bird songs and am grateful for the highway that brought me to this place. With all of this gratitude there is also a great sadness as to what man has done to Nature.
Mountains aren’t majestic enough, we need to add great stone buildings to the skyline from rock gouged from this majesty. Fish are too tasty to be left in the water or too much fun to catch and release to not find new ways to lure them into a hook. In general men have found Nature to be in need of modification to utilize or play with at tremendous collateral damage if necessary and even when not necessary.
I appreciate this State Parks that helps preserve a faint image of what were once vast forests. I appreciate its proximity to New York City. On the occasions that I visit New York City, I still look up at the tall buildings with the same amazement that I had upon seeing them as a young man.
It feels hypocritical to morn the scars that men have brought to the land and admire the handiwork at the same time. It feels hypocritical to appreciate the “man made” conveniences that bring me to Nature and then to despise them upon my arrival.
Something in me wants it all. There is also something in me that knows that even if I devoted my life to leaving as few foot prints on the land as possible, I couldn’t do much to retard the accelerating damage that mankind is doing to Earth.
My default option is to continue to seek out Nature in what ever form I can easily find it and once there, feel the presence of God to seek repentance for being apart of the entrenched culture, from which I can not break free, that supports my laziness and desecration of the Natural.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Earth, Water, Sky: 3 Adventurers Tell Their Story on The Good Men Project
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