February 13, 2011
Time: 5:30 am
Temperature: 27 degrees Fahrenheit
Forecast: mid-forties by noon
I am determined to go snowshoeing as soon as it is light. It may well be my last chance at powder for quite some time.
I work at my computer, glancing every minute or so at the window, waiting for the dark to slip away. As soon as there is the slightest hint of sun, I slip into my winter gear and head for the park.
The first ten minutes are cold cold cold as usual. The wind-swept field between the road and the woods is uneven; deep drifts of fluffy snow alternate with a crusty ice surface. Lolli is confused: we did this loop the other way two days ago.
I am entranced by petite leaves on a petite oak at the edge of the woods. Once inside where the hickories tower above me, I begin to notice the birds who seem to know the temperature is rising and associate it with spring. Chickadee, Titmouse, Crow, and Woodpecker all exercise their voices. Cardinal is particularly pleased to practice several of his songs.
I trudge along in the gray light following some other snowshoer’s days-old path. He (she?) takes me on a different route than my usual and I thank him (her?) silently for showing me another way around the fallen tree that blocked the trail a few years ago.
Over the creek, around another fallen tree, up a small rise, and wham! The sky brightens suddenly and fluffy white clouds slip quickly across a powdery blue.
My whole body smiles. I see colors I never noticed before and finally understand the purples, blues, and greens used by the watercolorist when painting snow.
It has been a long time since I hiked regularly in these woods. I realize how much I have missed it. Simple pleasures are the best.
March 3, 2010
“Wanna go out for a cup of coffee?”
So I perk a pot and pour it into the thermos. You scrounge around in the cupboards and refrigerator but all you can find is a hunk of venison summer sausage. We throw the coffee, the sausage, a bottle of water, and some extra socks and mittens (just in case) into day packs. And dog biscuits, of course. We pull on our snow pants and boots and slip into our jackets. Hats. Mittens. Let’s go!
While trying to shuffle the vehicles, I get the car stuck in the driveway. Twice. Finally, dogs behind the seat and whining with excitement over the anticipated adventure, you throw the truck into gear and we are on our way to Allegany State Park. Oh wait… we need gas. We buy a couple of granola bars, too, to supplement the sausage.
On the way to the park, we discuss possible hiking trails… A loop would be nice, but most are so steep and Mo just can’t do steep anymore. We decide to hike out and back on a section of the North Country Trail that starts with a brief steep part, but then levels off.
Alas, we find the snow much deeper than we anticipated and the old dog struggles mightily. Luckily, at the top of the steep part, we hit the snowmobile trail: wide and well-packed, and – at least for now – completely uninhabited by machines.
As we walk the easy, level trail, our eyes scan the edges for the perfect log. We opt to drink at the Hemlock Grove Cafe:
After coffee, as long as we’re here, we follow the snowmobile trail to the intersection of Black Snake Mountain trailhead. Someone has skiied here and packed the snow, so we give it a try. Wait, what’s that? I’ve walked this trail a couple of times before and never noticed that…
We continue on, crossing the creek, watching Lolli sniff the weasel tracks… until the level trail hits the steep, and then we turn back. What a pretty trail… Note to self: must come back in May for the wildflowers.
A little more distance on the snowmobile trail, and then we turn back. It seems snowmobilers rise later than we. We dodged none on the first part of our hike, but several on the return.
We parked on the south side of ASP 3 where the Finger Lakes / North Country Trail crosses. We headed south on the FLT/NCT – a short, steep uphill climb to the snowmobile trail where we turned left (east). At the Black Snake Mountain trail, we took a detour up the creek a ways, then back down. We hiked east a little more – probably almost to Science Lake, though we didn’t realize at the time how close we were.
January 17, 2010
After a fun-filled day of leading walks through the woods with small children, the Audubon education staff headed for the Igloo in Frewsburg for ice cream cones. It was a perfect June day; the walks had gone well; the ice cream flavors were sublime. I looked over at our college intern who had a rapturous look on her face and said, “Karen?” And she responded, “I am irrationally happy right now.”
Irrationally happy. I so loved that phrase that it has become one of my own.
Irrationally happy. I get that way a lot at this time of year. There is something about temperatures in the upper teens and low twenties combined with fresh white powder that makes me irrationally happy.
I can’t remember exactly when I bought my first cross country skis… perhaps the winter after graduating from high school. I learned how to ski with my friend Sue and one of our practice sites was Audubon. Sue still has her wooden skis that must be prepped each time with the right color wax, depending on the temperature – blue wax for my favorite conditions. When my sister moved to Florida, I sold my wooden skis and began using her waxless skis… saves me a little time when all I can spare is an hour at lunchtime!
I usually start at the kiosk near the parking lot and follow the yellow signs. To warm up, I ski fast and steady until I get out to the far side of Spatterdock Pond. Then, I like to stop in the Hemlock woods. For the first minute or so, all I hear is the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. Once my heart rate normalizes, the sounds of nature wash over and refresh me. Wind through the needles. Snow falling from boughs in a soft whoosh that then plops onto the trail. Foraging chickadees and nuthatches: chick-a-dee-dee-dee and that nasal ent-ent-ent.
After this brief rest, I ski more slowly, taking it all in, breathing in the peacefulness of the forest, letting the stresses and irritations that have built up fall away. Sometimes I scare up a couple of deer who bound off to safety… they should have known they were in no danger from me. I cannot resist stopping to decipher animal tracks and signs in the snow – mouse, squirrel, fox, coyote. Or I might attempt to take pictures of things I find… a winter caddisfly, wingless wasp, cutworm, or spider crawling slowly over the snow.
I reach the big mowed field with the intent of skiing fast, practicing long strides, but the delicate winter weeds stop me in my tracks and I marvel that even without color they are beautiful and deserve to be photographed. The round, dark seed heads of Black-eyed Susan. The “baskets” of Queen Anne’s Lace. The empty, dried Milkweed pods that have already released their fluffy contents.
I return to my desk energized. Hopefully no one minds that my 1-hour lunch break has turned into an hour and 15 or 20… Truth is, the afternoons almost always turn out to be twice as productive as the mornings after a good ski.
Not everyone enjoys winter. In fact, most of the people I meet seem to grumble about it. As for me… it makes me irrationally happy.
The Audubon Center and Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road. Even though their mailing address is Jamestown, NY, they are technically in the town of Kiantone. The trails are on level ground, though small hillocks and roots and sharp twists and turns can make for somewhat challenging skiing for beginners if there isn’t a good deep base.
Click “View Larger Map” to see map in its own window.
March 7, 2009
I am in no hurry. It’s not really a hike, or even a walk. I’m not out for exercise, except for the dog. I just need to reconnect with the woods. I’m meandering.
The birds are very vocal. Crows. Blue Jays. Chickadees. Nuthatches. Cardinals. The air is just still enough that traffic noises are amplified, which annoys me… but I try to ignore it.
As I walk into the woods and down the hill to the creek, I scan the forest floor for any hint of green. I see Foam Flower leaves and Christmas Fern. The leaves of the Partridge Berry are complimented well by the bright red fruit. All of this was covered one week ago by several inches of snow.
I sit on a log and watch the birds and listen to their songs and calls. I recognize many, but there are new ones, too. This is cavity-nesters haven! Chickadees. Titmice. Downy Woodpeckers. Nuthatches. They flit from one hole to another, engage in skirmishes, and scold each other. I try to find the source of a new song, but I am not successful. That’s OK. I’ll try again in a day or two.
February 22, 2009
“They” are predicting 24-hours of lake effect snow starting later this afternoon. A few early-arriving clouds are practicing off and on, ocassionally allowing sunlight through to add a sparkle to the snow.
The wind is in a particularly creative mood. She lifts great puffs of snow from the branches of the trees and directs the sparkling crystals in swirling dances through the sunlit air. She coaxes a great black cherry bow to play against the strings of a nearby hemlock. She adds percussion – the shushing rustle of a branch full of dry beech leaves, the clacky rattle of a single leaf on another branch. Birds join in… A blue jay’s loud jeer-jeer-jeer, the high-pitched, quiet teet-teet-teet from a small flock of exploring chickadees, a nuthatch’s nasal pnnt-pnnt-pnnt.
Not many animal tracks… a squirrel, a mouse, a deer. Holes in trees capture my attention. Pileated. Bark Beetles. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.
Time slips away as I practice taking pictures with my new lens of nothing in particular.
I long for a heavier pack – one filled with tent, sleeping gear, food – so that I might set up camp and stay in the woods tonight.
Access Point #4 to the Finger Lakes Trail is along ASP 3 inside Allegany State Park. It’s a little confusing because the pulloff for parking is on one side of a creek, and the entrance to the southbound section is on the other.
A little ways in, I crossed a snowmobile trail. I saw few sleds which is curious, since it was such a gorgeous winter day.
I posted more pictures on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenniferschlick/tags/tinyhike/
December 20, 2008
It is the last day of Autumn, although it has been looking like winter for quite some time. Today the sun shines, despite the efforts of a few, small, fluffy clouds.
I dress in layers – polyester to wick, wool for warmth, nylon to keep out the wind. Mother Earth’s skin is layered, too. A soft, wet, packing snow is covered by a layer of crusty ice and topped with sparkling powder.
I am heavy enough that every step breaks through the icy layer making crunching sounds. I can tell from the prints that the deer went through, too. The fox is light enough that all her footprints are in the powder… Lolli is at that frustrating weight: the crust holds her up most of the time, but every once in a while she breaks through with no warning… I know that feeling! When the crust is thicker, it happens to me…
There are plenty of signs of the passing season. Each one of them reminds me of another passing. A young man. Twenty-two. Car accident on Autumn’s ice. Slid into oncoming traffic. Prounounced dead at the scene. Later today I will attend his memorial service. There will be a chance to speak about his life. I won’t be able to because of the way my tears choke my throat closed making my words unintelligible.
A wild tangle of multiflora rose, tenacious against the wintery weather, still sports leaves and berries. In my effort to get my camera into the shrub for the perfect composition, I puncture a finger. As my blood drips onto the pure white snow I am reminded of Ryan’s tenacious desire to know and understand everything about the natural world… particularly the herps… and the image of Ryan’s hands holding a water snake fills my mind, blood dripping from his puncture wounds.
There is an anticoagulant in the saliva of water snakes, so when they bite, you bleed for a while… and they almost always bite. This never deterred Ryan. Through his fearlessness, he taught me to be less afraid of picking up little critters to learn about them. I still won’t pick up water snakes… but I will pick up frogs, salamanders, garter snakes, turtles, snails, slugs, centipedes, millipedes, and many more… Thank you, Ryan.
If the seasons of the year are a metaphor for the seasons of a lifetime, Ryan should have been leaving spring to enter the summer of his life… Summer. A time of productivity, action… He was completing his masters at Duke, ready to take on the world…
As I think about this metaphor I remember how Ryan tried to rush his spring – to be grown up quicker than other children. He started coming to Audubon Home School programs when he was young and I noticed what a good big brother he was to his siblings. And when he “met” Liberty, the bald eagle, he became determined to assist with her care. Our policy says you have to be 18. Undeterred, Ryan asked for other volunteer jobs. We gave him the tedious and unpleasant: inventory, data entry, dust the mounts, clean the fish tanks.
No matter what jobs we gave him, he did them without complaint and with a maturity we rarely find even in college kids. The Eaglekeepers gave in. Ryan became our youngest caregiver. He left a big hole when he went off to college… And when we started our internship program, he was one of the first college interns we hired.
There’s a spot along the trail with an odd assortment of plants. I wonder once again about the history of this spot of ground. Dogwood. Pokeweed. Goldenrod. Brambles. In spring there will be daffodils. Intertwined with all of it… Wild Grapes.
This, too, feels like a metaphor… for Ryan’s life, for my life, for each of our lives. We take our twists and turns, sometimes interacting with others, sometimes out on our own… Sometimes it feels random… but there is a greater purpose, even if we can’t see it all the time.
Ryan touched all our lives at Audubon and leaves behind many memories. My mind wanders through the building and sees projects Ryan built. The very fact we have so many herps on display is in part due to him. Out on the trail is a nest box he and his Day Camp kids put up. And each time we do a Home School program or hire a college intern, I will think of him.
Of all the wildflowers, Witch Hazel blooms last… still blooming on this December day. It will take a whole year for the seed pods to set… even longer before the seeds are ejected… even longer for new trees to sprout.
I suspect it will take a long time for me to understand the meaning of a life cut so short, taken so early…
Even Mother Nature seems to have wept over Ryan’s departure from her.
Now, we enter a season without Ryan. While we will miss him, our lives are so much richer for having known him. Thank you, Ryan, for the many ways you touched our lives and for the ways you will continue to influence us as we go through our days.
December 6, 2008
Terry pulls the truck to the side of the road and I climb out into a snowbank. As I pull on my wind pants, I wonder if I have enough layers. I’ve hiked in winter before, though, and I remember that through exersion I will generate my own heat.
The dogs are eager, impatient. We finally get our gear packed the way we want it and start walking.
A couple of other people have been out here and by their tracks we see that they frequently stray from the trail. We wonder if they are hunters. We see no deer, though signs are abundant: tracks in the snow, browse, hair, scrapes.
I have always loved the color of beech leaves clinging stubbornly to twigs through the winter snow. Today an even richer, deeper color catches my eye… The samaras of the Striped Maple.
We stop once for coffee and Pop-Tarts. Later we munch on chocolate and a shared Power Bar while we walk. We chat about this and that, but also walk in silence sometimes, in awe of the winter beauty.
Back at the truck I realize I had on just the right number of layers, for I was never too cold, nor was I ever over-heated.
The trailhead to the East Meadow Trail is along ASP 1 between the Quaker and Red House areas of Allegany State Park, right near where Bay State Road comes in from the west and France Brook from the east. Many of the hikes in Allegany State Park include very steep sections. This 4-mile loop trail does not.
I’m puzzled where the name “East Meadows” comes from for this trail… The trail is west of ASP 1. I suppose it is possible that it once was a meadow, but certainly it is no longer. The old Allegany State Park trail map promises a “vista” at the far west side end of the loop, which may have been possible when this section truly was a meadow. There is no vista today…
There are horse trails, snowmobile trails, and a section of the Finger Lakes / North Country trail that criss cross with this loop making it confusing at times. Follow the blue blazes, though, and you will be fine.
November 1, 2008
The day begins warmer than it becomes… though it is pleasant and hatless throughout. As Terry and I and two dogs enter the trail we notice a fire circle… ashes still warm from someone’s Halloween celebration. Leaves were raked meticulously away from the stones and only a little garbage remains leaving me the sense that these were fairly responsible celebrants.
The trail is wet: the water table is close to the surface and there are many creeks crossed by quaint bridges.
We can never stop ourselves wondering where the little side roads come from, and where they go…
A timbering project slows us down and muddies our boots.
We stop to read the DEC posting. Non-native Austrian Pine stands planted decades ago are being harvested and the usable lumber sold. Native Hardwoods are left standing to reseed a more resilient, native forest. (I wonder… will seeds from the Austrian cones grow in this new-old woods?)
We see more Austrian pines in the distance… future logging projects. And once we pass by this mess, we see evidence of another “forest management project” in shades of blue and pink.
We stop for coffee and pie and a chunk or two of dark chocolate, laced with orange. We have been walking a little over 2.5 miles. The old German Shepherd is showing signs of fatigue… so we turn back. Five miles is a good day hike. And there will still be time for afternoon chores.
There is a small pull-off at point V (terminus) of the Earl Cardot Eastside Overland Trail on 28th Creek Road outside of Gerry NY. From here, we hiked north to point S, which is just south of Chautauqua Road.
The parking lot at point U on County Route 50 is enormous. If you park there, the hike south is lovely. If you prefer to hike north, avoid the logging and forest management projects by staying on Harris Hill Road until you see the sign on the right (east) side which takes you in to the “closed” section. The sign says that section is closed due to blow-downs. But we found the trail clear all the way to Point S. What it’s like beyond that, I do not know.
October 19, 2008
The grasses and weeds and even the sign at the trailhead are covered with frost, sparkling in the slanting rays of late morning early autumn sun.
I walk alone today, if you consider hiking with two dogs “alone.” And then there are the birds.
As I cross the first bit of meadow, warblers and juncos, not the least bit shy, flutter in front of my face, foraging in the shrubs and weeds for seeds and bugs. If only they would sit still I might manage a picture even without a 300mm lens. I think of Tom who could probably tell me what kinds of warblers they are. Oh, but if I stop here, I’ll never make my goal: the shelter by lunchtime.
The rise through the meadow, gentle at first, becomes steep. Just before entering the woods, I turn: Route 86 – the Southern Tier Expressway – winding through the Allegany Mountains, one week past peak autumn color.
I’ve driven this road hundreds of times and longed to explore the round, rolling hillsides on foot. Today I get my chance, if only for a couple of hours. I cross a boundary – a line of very old sugar maples strung together loosely with bits of rusty barbed wire.
The forest on the other side is open, spacious, and made up of much younger trees. I am grateful for the white blazes without which it would be impossible to find the trail due to a fresh fall of colorful leaves.
A few hopeful songbirds try to flip the seasons with their spring songs. Year-round residents voice their “here I am” foraging notes. The nasal “pent pent pent” of a white-breasted nuthatch… The insistent “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” from the black-capped bird of the same name…
The loudest sounds are my labored breathing, the thumping of my heart as I ascend the steep hillside, and the crunchy rustling of dry leaves beneath my feet. A blue jay practices a borrowed sequence from another bird’s repetoire, then shouts, “Jay, jay, jay!” – which I take to mean, “Get out your camera and photograph these brilliant yellow leaves against this crystal clear saphire blue sky.” So I do.
The hum of the wheels on the highway fades to silence after I reach the crest and descend into a more peaceful woods. Here, only airplane noises can reach me – and there don’t seem to be many of those today.
Leaves on the branches above are thinning as the blanket beneath my feet deepens. My nose stings from the frosty cold. My stomach reminds me that there’s an apple in the backpack. I tell it to shush and be patient… We’ll be at the shelter in a few more minutes.
The trees on this side of the ridge are older and their stateliness calms me… My pace slows, my heartbeat normalizes. Just as I have left the sound of the highway behind, so, too, my worries and stressors. I am…
… walking home.
This Hike: I started at the northern-most access point of the Finger Lakes / North Country Trail that goes through Allegany State Park. The trailhead is on Bay State Road, just after you get off the Expressway, long before you enter through the Park Gate.
I hiked to the Trail Registry / Shelter that is northeast of Beck Hollow Road. I had lunch at the shelter, then hiked back out again. Everything was in great shape. The trail stewards must have just been through to clean up the leftovers from Hurricane Ike. I evicted a mouse from the privy, though I suspect he’ll be back.