I’ll dress well for the January snow and wind. Grab the camera and a walking stick (if I can’t eliminate technology altogether for a simple walking venture, at least I’ll get the upper hand).
Head out the door and start to walk. Stroll down to the village, take a left and start the hike up Dryden Hill. Go west and, at an intersection overlooking Bootleg Hollow, start the mile descent back to the house and home… Altogether it’s a four-mile block of rural America that I haven’t traversed entirely on foot in more than three decades, but now I’m ready to see what I can see.
I could hum, the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain… but being more philosophical today, I remember the naturalist and writer John Muir in his first season of exploring the forces of nature found in the Sierra Mountains. Muir’s passage, “Beauty beyond thought everywhere, beneath, above, made and being made forever,” seemed like a good line to adopt for the walk.
It seemed good, not because I wanted to inject significance into a simple hike, but rather to check for its truth even in a time and place like this. Although “unplugged,” I carried some hope and aspiration, probably enough to fill a daypack of imagination, but we’d see how far that would take me.
For all I knew, nature’s beauty on the great hill of snow and ice and wind could turn its back to me (pathetic fallacy at work here) and become ferocious. If so, I was hoping there was still a way to find it warm and beckoning.
2. There wasn’t much to see en route to Greenwood. The beaver ponds were frozen and covered with snow, but hungry songbirds fed along the roadway– dark-eyed juncos, tree sparrows, a downy woodpecker. Later on, I’d get some decent views of a red-tailed hawk, a raven, and a red-bellied woodpecker gleaning the discarded bones of a deer.
I passed through the village and lamented (again) how the place has lost its school, its tavern and businesses and, ultimately, much of its character, thanks to the centralizing forces of modernity. I took a few photos and wished I could stop the downward slide. The only bright spot I saw was my own reflection in a pane of glass– uglier than ever, but a free soul still healthy and on his feet.
The climb to the heights of Dryden Hill was fairly strenuous but pleasurable. From here on out, not a single vehicle would pass me on this seasonal road. I took photos of the Bennett Creek Valley and the hollow where I live. I climbed into the wind and saw a lot of indication why this township is considered to be a top deer producer in New York.
I saw coyote tracks. The wild canine is hunted unmercifully in this region with the use of trained dogs and vehicles equipped with high-technology. In my opinion, we need less whitetail deer and more coyotes, but then again, promoting an “imbalance” in the ways of nature often seems to be our cultural modus operandi.
I was sensing the dark side of natural history. Hints of it exist in almost any place that’s studied, and Dryden Hill is no exception. There were hints of stories to be found, perhaps extricated from the soils of yesteryear, and spoken to whomever wished to listen– tales of beauty and wonder, and tales of difficulty and terror.
A strange building rose from a field near the summit. Large and rather hideous, it appeared to be an unfinished barn or summer home or hunting camp on posted property. Approaching it, I also saw a trailer and a freshly dug pond. The site used to provide me with some of the best, most far-reaching views of the hills surrounding my home.
I whispered some heated and uncomplimentary things about the owner’s mother or mother-in-law or grandpappy, then headed on. I felt better the closer I got to home. Making the long descent to the house, I finally recognized John Muir’s “Beauty beyond thought everywhere…” returning to the eye.
Another naturalist, Henry Thoreau, once noted in his Journal: Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told, and it depends chiefly on the story-teller or historian whether that is interesting or not. You are simply a witness on the stand to tell what you know about your neighbors and neighborhood.
I don’t know if my “story” holds any interest today, but I appreciate Thoreau’s understanding of what a country rambler has to do and then report on. I felt like a winter witness on the hill. And home was there in the fold.