With a walk up the North Ridge I could say goodbye to the green hills of home, farewell for a little while. It had been a hot day but the evening was fairly comfortable. The steep seasonal road took me higher into my “big back yard,” the vast home country for which, technically speaking, I own and have to pay taxes on a mere 10 acres.
I was leaving it soon for the hot Southwest, for a family visit with some wilderness walking on the side. I’d be leaving the relatively cool and verdant East for the wide open spaces of the “Frontier West” (what was left of it in the city, mountain, desert and saloon ‘scapes of New Mexico and Arizona). There’d be no cowboy hat for this old rustler, but my fishing cap would come in handy, with some luck, and with some monsoon rains to keep the forest fires at bay.
Rambling north along the ridge I tried to gather my thoughts and concerns. It was like the process of packing for a trip. You’ve got stuff lying around in semi-disarray; you try to pick and choose and simplify, hoping you don’t forget more than one essential item. It’s a bit like editing an essay, too– you can do all the rewrites that you want, simplifying, strengthening the content, but there will always be an imperfection left behind. You can count on it. So I say, hell with it, just go walking and enjoy the end of day. Life is easier to deal with when you’re focused on the stream or river or the hiking path. It’s when you’re free of that and bushwhacking, on the other hand, that you start to see the greater challenges.
So I bushwhacked, too, and left the beaten path. It was almost Independence Day, a point not lost to me on the personal level. And to the keep the views fresh I imagined being a visitor here, a guy from the arid Southwest on a rare visit to the cool green North.
I stopped to photograph the seedhead of a plant called Goat’s Beard (yeah, the field guide makes it look like your proverbial dandelion on steroids). At a wood’s edge near the summit I was stilled by the warring tattoo of sapsackers. The birds were hammering on dead trees several hundred yards apart. A wood thrush chorused softly from the deepening shade. The visitor inside of me remarked, man, that’s impressive in a quiet sort of way. And the place is like a desert in the sense that humans have so very little presence here.
Out on the road there was a sign standing lonely in the midst of goldenrod and hackberry… “Slow/Merging Traffic/Ahead.” Okay. I hadn’t seen more than one vehicle on this entire walk. In the meadow was a group of whitetail deer. I could see two bucks with velvet antlers standing there among the others. Six or eight-pointers. Males not yet merging with the does. Arguably there is no place in New York (perhaps in the entire East) with a higher density of whitetail deer than in this location (the heart of Steuben County), so said the visitor doing a little research on the subject.
Visitor and resident merged as one; the bees and birds, the hills and valleys, the pines and cactus merged as one as I descended toward the house below. The packing and the preparation would remain imperfect. So it goes. A life of clouded journeys, most of them good so far.