A Long Walk in Steuben County, Early May, 1983

[Years ago, my brother Pete and I, along with a friend or two, would perform an annual rite of spring– taking a long, pathless hike over the hills and thru the valleys linking the towns of Canisteo and Greenwood, NY. One year we invited our poet friend, Steve Lewandowski, to come along and be initiated. Steve eventually felt moved enough to write a short account of his adventure with us and, more recently, agreed to share his DSCN6030upland tale with the readers of this blog. The following account, then, written and forwarded by Stephen Lewandowski is  (as he has stated elsewhere) “indebted in part to Peter Franklin who not only kept a journal of May 7, 1983 and shared it… but drew a map by hand of the Town of Greenwood with the streams and ridges named.”]

Walt and Peter Franklin and their friend Tim and I began in the early morning to walk from a bar in Canisteo to the Greenwood Hotel in Greenwood for a drink. The distance is twelve or fifteen miles.

DSCN6031We meant to start out with a drink and found Orville’s bar in Canisteo open at 7:15 am. Actually I think it wasn’t so much open as being cleaned out. But anyway, the door was open and we walked in on the surprised owner, had our ritualistic beer, played a game of pool and set out. We walked out of the Village of Canisteo past the school and through the cemetary and the living sign made of yew on the hillside. It says “Canisteo.” By the time we had walked that far, the beer was beginning to work its way out, so we paused gratefully among the giant, sheltering letters.

We walked to the west of Bennett’s Creek as it parallels New York State Route 248 in the Towns of Canisteo and Greenwood. Instead of following the creek or road, we went OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthrough the hills. We crossed five ridges, including Purdy Hill and Call Hill (2401′ above sea level) of about seven to nine hundred feet “lift” each above the valley floor.

We crossed the tributary streams flowing east to Bennett’s Creek, which in turn flows north to join the Canisteo River then flowing east to join the Chemung which, many miles east, becomes the North Branch of the Susquehanna. In other words, we were fording the headwaters of the Susquehanna in country where its name is almost unknown.

DSCN6036Like the bear, we went over the mountain “to see what we could see.” Mostly we saw the tail end of each other scrambling madly for footing either up or down a ridge or splashing through a creek. When we had the smallest moment of respite, we also saw spring wild flowers– spring beauty, hepatica, dutchman’s breeches, cranesbill, trout lily, and trillium– and heard and saw birds– warblers, thrushes, sparrows, towhees, and an oriole. I only remember taking one real break, which was for lunch, and I was so tired by then that I had an eerie feeling watching the clouds drift effortlessly over the territory that we had crossed with such effort.

The others had made this walk before, but it was my first time. We went through BearOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Lick Hollow, over Purdy Creek, across Fall Creek, over Call Hill, pausing for lunch, crossed Sugar Creek, Slate Creek and Slate Creek Road, through Erskine Hollow to Rock Creek, along Rock Creek to Brown Hollow, along the Hollow Road to Greenwood Hill and a piney state forest from which we descended in the late afternoon to the Greenwood Hotel situated in Cole Hollow.

DSCN6039When we set out, we intended to walk all the way to Walt’s house in Christian or Bootleg Hollow, over one more ridge to the south, but my legs were shot. From the bar, over renewed provisions of beer and wings, we called Walt’s wife, Leighanne, to pick us up. Someone in the group toted up our scramble– 4320′ of ascent and 3700′ descent– on a bar napkin.

I’d been invited to a party that night at the studio and home of a sculptor in Scottsville, so I got my car from Walt & Leighanne’s house where I’d left it and drove to Scottsville. The party was in one big room that served as the sculptor’s studio, and in one corner of theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA room was a bed. Probably the sculptor used that bed when tuckered out  from sculpting but for the evening it was being used to hold the pile of coats from fifty or sixty guests.

I talked and drank and ate. After a while, I went into the corner where the bed was and sat on the floor and talked some  more. Then I sat on  the bed and ate some dessert. Then I leaned back on the bed for just a moment of rest.

When I woke up, there were three or four guests left, the party debris had been all cleaned up and the coats were all gone from the bed. I told them about my walk earlier in the day, put on my coat (it was chilly) and drove home.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA



About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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20 Responses to A Long Walk in Steuben County, Early May, 1983

  1. Ken G says:

    12-15 miles through land like that would be a challenge. I’d be good for one mile. Then I’d go back, get the car and meet you at the end. Being here in Illinois, we grow up being vertically hike challenged… where’s the stairs?

    • I know what you mean, Ken. Thanks for commenting here. Our first mile was usually a breeze, all idealism swimming along with a beer buzz, but after that it was the slow dawning of reality, huff and puff with brief epiphanies triggered by the presence of an interesting bird or wildflower or, in a couple of cases, a chase from an overly inquisitive landowner. But I’ve always liked the steep hills nonetheless. Iowa and northern Illinois have their charms, but there I’d probably hike along and hope to soon fall off the edge of the world.

  2. Brent says:

    It’s been a long time since you had a bludgeon. Steve’s account is a funny one, and the pictures you’ve chosen convey several dimensions of such a rivertop (and bottom) hike.

    • Yeah it’s been a long time since we’ve “bludgeoned,” thanks to work schedules, priorities, and simply getting older, and it’s long overdue, at least for me. Oh well, I’m glad Steve reflected on one of them. Thanks!

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    Thanks to Steve for sharing his account. A fifteen mile trackless hump over hill and dale is a pretty good day’s work. No wonder Steve sacked out at the party. My buddy Jeff and I (he survived his Mt. Washington trip) did a 4-5 mile bludgeon this morning near Rimrock. Plowing through thigh-deep powder on snowshoes for most of it…I’ll sleep like a rock tonight myself.

    • I’m glad that Jeff survived his Mt. Washington winter excursion. Did he actually (no) attain the summit? And it sounds like you guys had a nice Rimrock bludgeon. I did something similar today, but without snowshoes. A 2-miler, but when the crusty snow came up to my knees I turned around. Bob, I know you’ve read River’s Edge. After you’re rested, you might want to read a nice review of the book over at At Last to Wade the River. Mike would appreciate it. Thanks, as always.

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    Absolutely, Walt. No, he didn’t make the summit. He and his guide got over 5500 feet via Lion Head trail, but the weather was too much. He said it was like a jet engine roaring right over your head. Still a great experience. As he was leaving New Hampshire, he heard the news of the solo woman hiker who died while trying to traverse the Presidentials.

  5. That’s pretty damn impressive. We averaged about five or six miles a day in the Sawtooth Mountains and were rarely awake for more than half an hour after dinner. We couldn’t have done 12 miles with a grizzly in pursuit.

  6. Well, Jim, our foothills don’t have much on the mighty Sawtooths, so I can see how 5 or 6 miles there could make you sleep real well. Out here, if we’d had a grizzly in pursuit, it means we probably never left the bar to begin with. Anyway, thanks much for reading and commenting.

  7. What a trek! Great account, and the pictures are wonderful. Walking from one town to another through mountains and rivers up here in AK would take a little longer. 🙂

  8. Thanks Mary Anne. Walking town to town in your part of the world would be tough, indeed. My dreams tell me it would be fun to try, but I couldn’t do it even with a team of dogs. Looking forward, though, to more reflections from your blog.

  9. Mike says:

    Impressive walk and a nice guest entry. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever made such a journey but this entry has given me some pause to think forward. Thanks for the mention, too, Walt. I’m very glad you enjoyed the “review”.

  10. Mike, it’s the kind of hike that we referred to as a “bludgeon,” in which (tongue in cheek) we vowed not to bury our dead, that we undertook when relatively young and demonstratively foolish, and where no beaten path would carry us. Fun, yes, but not real sane. Nowadays we pretty much stick to established trails. As for the book review of River’s Edge, I want to thank you once again for doing a fine job with it, for which I’m greatly appreciative. [Readers all, if you’ve haven’t yet found Mike’s blog, At Last to Wade the River, accessible here at my “blogroll,” I encourage you to take a look and become familiar with it. Mike’s currrent post, as of 3/3/15, is a review of my fly-fishing work called “River’s Edge.”]

  11. Scott C. says:

    Geeze Walt, I was just getting out of high school in 1983! The impressive thing is that you can probably still do a hike like this today and I am fairly sure I can’t do anything like I could in 1983. Enjoying the blog and will see you in a couple weeks at the TU meeting.

    • Scott, You’re a young whippersnapper, huh! Well, I do appreciate your confidence in me, but we’re probably alike in that neither one of us has that physical tone we had in 1983. No doubt, however, we’re both more than ready to hit those brookie streams again after this helluva winter season. Glad you’re diggin’ the blog, and I’m looking forward to seeing you at the TU meet.

  12. loydtruss says:

    What a great adventure, loaded with attractions one would never encounter anywhere else. I am so into these type outings. Thanks for sharing

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