The once hard, frozen ground is mushy. My mudroom fulfills its name. There are still patches of snow on Tice Ten Eyck Mountain, winking through the evergreens surrounding the Ashokan Reservoir. It’s a fine day to break some cabin fever and head outside for a refresher course in life.
The miracle of ecological diversity in the Hudson Valley is mirrored by a wide variety of terrain, altitude, geologic features, and wildlife, captured in easy, seasonal hikes. I happen to like the transitional times, as when an old-fashioned winter evolves into an unexpected spring. Walking around Lake Minnewaska one early March, I spotted a grayish, fuzzy lump at the top of a spruce. It was a young porcupine, alone, literally hugging the tree. I wondered: Where was its mom? Was it safe up there? Would it be safe down here? Those thoughts opened me up to an afternoon of reverie, pondering the eons of nature required to create that forest, create that porcupine, create me.
A walk around Cooper Lake, Woodstock’s freshwater source, presents hikers, artists, and birders with luscious views throughout our annual orbit around the sun. I was there a few years back and heard a tremendous BOOM coming from all around me: maybe from the lake, or an echoed growl from the bowl around the lake, or maybe just a jet above? Then I heard a distinctive smashing, cracking sound. The melting ice on Cooper Lake split right down the middle, offering a sacrificial cry to the forces of creation and destruction. I may have been the only one to hear it.
Winters can be tough here; at least they were before carbon footprints got in the way. I get that folks don’t enjoy driving on ice, fussing with six layers of clothes, and shoveling; but as the forces of winter subside, it’s enjoyable to take some time and look carefully at the newly exposed lichen on the boulders, the melt on the forsythia buds, the migrating hawks dancing on the wind.
The simple pleasure of getting back outside gives me a chance to repair my interior self, ready for more daylight and blossom-scented air. The change from winter to spring is rarely dramatic, as the seasons often intertwine and struggle over a period of weather-confused months, seemingly reflecting the tumultuous times we live in. The antidote could be a favorite trek of mine, along the now-accessible Hudson, starting at the Esopus Meadows Preserve and walking southward. I once started out on a warm, early spring day, encountered dropping temps, sat beside the river as a gale approached, and saw a bald eagle flying northward under a double rainbow. On a gloomy, but now glorious, day in March!
Special places, like the Mountaintop Arboretum in Tannersville, the Shawangunk Grasslands Wildlife Refuge near Wallkill, and the Basha Kill Refuge outside of Wurtsboro are excellent spots for quietude and nature-watching, but it’s the special effects on the soul that count. I try to leave my day-to-day, my work, and even my cellphone at home, so I can get out and wonder, enjoying a piece of the Earth as it was, and still could be. If a porcupine can do it, so can I.
Harv Hilowitz has lived in Stone Ridge for 30 years, working as a school administrator, business consultant, and contributing writer for various publications. When not running between gigs, he has time for ice hockey and docent work at Mount Gulian Historic Site in Beacon.
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