It was as if, one morning, without any warning, we arose to find the world a different place.
Because, it was.
Almost overnight, we acquired a new lexicon of terms and a distant geographic awareness that crash landed at home. Wuhan. Bergamo. Social distancing. Shelter in place. Virtual … everything.
It was March, after all, and the notion of being house-bound seemed inconvenient, but somehow tolerable. The stores were open, so there was food. There were some shelves that were often empty, but the essentials were there.
The streaming services on our television sets offered up series to binge and the newly quaint way of communicating known as “Zoom” seemed to facilitate keeping in touch … with the office, the family, and cultural and religious institutions desperately trying to stay afloat.
It was only going to last for a few weeks. Or, was it?
…Life in the Woods
After a month of numbing television, we glanced through the books on our shelves looking for something that would engage, then crawled up into the attic to see if – perchance – the boxes of volumes from high school and college might yield more than clouds of dust and a few squirming silverfish.
There, near the bottom of the pile was the paperback. Walden, or Life in the Woods. Henry David Thoreau. A quick read. Might be good for a few pithy quotes and some solace from the Concord, MA, philosopher who lived in a tiny cabin by a pond for a year … not because he had to social distance … but because he could.
“I went to the woods because I
wished to live deliberately, to front
only the essential facts of life, and
see if I could not learn what it had
to teach, and not, when I came to
die, discover that I had not lived.”
March turned into April. The days crept a bit longer with Daylight Saving Time and the barren trees of winter began to display their buds, then mint green leaves. We ventured out – for more than a furtive drive to the local market to get frozen pizzas and milk and, if we were very lucky, paper towels and toilet paper.
And, the scenery flowing by our car windows offered an invitation to engage in activities that many of us had left behind years ago.
“Let’s go for a walk.”
“Do the bikes in the barn have air in the tires?”
“The parks are closed … but the trails are open.”
A network of…
The Tri-state area is laced with hiking trails and networked with roads that entice bikers … not just the intensely concentrating quartets and trios resplendent in Italian and French cycling team jerseys and helmets that come to a point in the back … but those who pumped up the tires, put a few drops of oil on the chain and set out to spend a few hours going from Lakeville to Salisbury on the Railroad Ramble or trying their luck on the Harlem Valley Rail Trail.
We stepped out of the house, laced up our walking shoes and discovered mystical nearby places with names like High Falls, Bash Bish, Umpachene Falls, Pine Knob, and Lion’s Head, to say nothing of the more familiar Appalachian Trail and Mohawk Trail that ribbon through the region.
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
Of course there are considerations. There always are.
Pedaling on back roads requires a sense of surroundings and awareness of the approaching pick-up or SUV or, it seems more and more, the silent Tesla. Riding in single file and keeping to the right edge of the road is highly recommended as a well-used Roadmaster with a wicker basket on the handlebars is no match for a 2500-pound motorized vehicle.
When hiking, comfort is essential – good shoes and socks and, perhaps a hiking stick to assist and steady. And, don’t forget the insect repellent. Doing a thorough check for ticks this time of year is highly recommended. We may be avoiding COVID-19, but in so doing, it’s not advisable to emerge with Lyme Disease or the associated “-osis” maladies.
But venturing out has bountiful rewards. Eliminating the couch-burn that has come along with mainlining Downton Abbey, NCIS, and Arrested Development is certainly one of them. Breathing deep the crisp New England air is another. Discovering the placid beauty of the fierce majesty of Kaaterskill Falls or serenity of Cream Hill Lake certainly makes the list.
“A lake is a landscape’s most
beautiful and expressive feature.
It is Earth’s eye; looking into which
the beholder measures the depth of
his own nature.”
So, arise! If there are no bicycles in the garage, there are sales and rental stores throughout the region that will gladly help you regain the confidence you had as a 13-year-old, pedaling through the neighborhood with abandon. There are even “electric bicycles” designed to provide the assist that aging knees would welcome on hills.
As for hiking, find your way to the various websites provided by the local counties throughout New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Trails are not only detailed and documented, but rated for difficulty and, in a time when everyone can be a critic, evaluated by those who have gone before.
And when the adventure is done for the day, take a moment to reflect on the wisdom and clarity of the bard of Concord, Henry David …
“I left the woods for as good a
reason as I went there. Perhaps it
seemed to me that I had several
more lives to live and could not
spare any more time for that one.”