Outdoorsy Part XXV: What Water Is This?

You’d think by now I could easily catch on to what nature is where, but the winding roads of the North Shore clearly don’t want me to. I’m pretty sure they were designed to keep out non-inhabitants. Counting on my GPS, I curved along the backroads until I saw a figure in the distance. There on Boney Lane was the captain, waving me into the David Weld Sanctuary as if he were on a tarmac guiding in a plane for landing. It was helpful because as soon as I’d made the turn onto the road, my GPS proudly yelled, Arrived! and I had not arrived anywhere except on a road somewhere.

When I parked, the captain was like, You put in the wrong address so I was waiting for you. I was like, No, I clicked the link you texted me and that’s what the map did. Apparently, Boney Lane and Short Beach Road are the same but also different according to my phone. As if I could possibly put in a different address on my own. Like, 345 Curvy Lane, BackRoads, Long Island.

There was much need for sunscreen and bug spray. I doused myself in both as I also tried to not let bugs get into my car. One did but I’m pretty sure it’s now flown out. A wasp almost got in, and thankfully it didn’t because then I’d have to abandon my car at 345 Curvy Lane and hitchhike back to civilization.

Into the preserve we went. It was really green. Not very buggy, thankfully. This was the first hike for my new hiking boots, and grassy woodsy-ness was a good way to break them in. We went down a few paths and then suddenly, we were on a bluff overlooking the water. He was like, Want to go down to the beach? I was like, Is that really a question?

Through the woods we found the beach. What water was this? I didn’t know. It was the Sound. I looked out in the distance. To the left stood smokestacks. I pointed: Northport? He was like, Yup. I was like, That’s your response?!—I know geography for once and all I get is a Yup?! He was subtly impressed.

We walked the beach. Another good way to break in my new boots with soft land underfoot. Also a good way to break a sweat. We’d gotten off to a later start than usual because I’d taught yoga in the morning, so by now the sun was blazing. Super pretty and also super hot. I’d opted for shorts since I knew we’d be mostly on the beach and he’d said the trails were pretty wide. Except for a few places in the path where I passed through as if I were in Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks to avoid ticks, it felt tick-less most of the way.

This was Short Beach, but it was pretty long for a short beach. We passed by what looked like cabanas. Lined up with them out on the water was a floating platform. On that platform, batbirds perched, all batty and birdy. I walked a bit more quickly to pass them. Then we got to where sunbathers sprawled out. We passed them and got to a point where the beach curved around and we could see the other side. I was like, I know where that is! On the other side is the place we’ve hiked before attached to the Greenbelt Trail where Sunken Meadow and Nissequogue meet up (I think. I mean, I knew where I was but that doesn’t mean I know names of things). This was the second time I knew geography. However—what water is this? Is this the river or is this the sound or is this something else? It was the river.

Basically, all the water is the water, and we just call it different things whenever we want. It’s all connected. {However, this morning, an inanimate object DMd me to tell me I don’t know what a beach is, so ya know, don’t go by me).

We hiked more along the river side of the beach and then cut across and around some more until we found a place where the captain said was good for swimming. I was like, Sure, go ahead and I’ll stay alive on the shore. I had on half a bathing suit, and if he’d swam longer, I would’ve gotten into the full thing, but for a ten-minute swim with bugs attacking me, I didn’t do the production of switching my bottoms under a dress I’d brought. The taking off of the boots and socks was a production in and of itself.

Then there was the production of getting it all back on. Then there was the debate of reapplying sunscreen. It was not possible for me. I was slick with sweat. My sunscreen is on the expensive side. There was no point in wasting it; it wasn’t going to stay on my skin with all the moisture pouring off me. I know—this is so attractive. I could go on about what I possibly smelled like at this point, but I’ll leave that to your imagination.

As we started to head back, a swarm of bugs kept biting me. Only me. We stopped on the beach—I think on the sound side not the river side—and I switched from the natural bug spray to the intense chemical stuff. It worked. I’m okay with chemicals if I’m not being eaten alive by no-see-ums.

When we arrived at the bathrooms at Short Beach, I was like, Can we go in the shade? We walked towards the covered picnic tables, and I sat and took in the not being in the sun for a while. There was a breeze! That’s when we remembered the captain wanted to take a picture of what was in my backpack. He was like, Did you take less stuff this time? I was like, I actually have more than last time because of beach options. The one thing I didn’t have was my solar powered charger/flashlight/compass because it adds another few pounds and I simply couldn’t add more, and on a shorter excursion, I banked on not needing it.

After that, we headed back to the beach, back up into the woods, back up to the bluff, and then back through the preserve to find the tiny buggy parking lot. It holds six cars. Six. That’s probably enough considering it’s almost impossible to find if you’re not familiar with Curvy Lane in BackRoads, LI.

Here We Van Gogh Again

Upon finding out that there are two Van Gogh exhibits, I was like, Yep, I can go to the other one to compare. Upon finding out that the Van Gogh exhibit at the pier offers yoga classes, I was like, Hey BR, we’re going, and she was like, Yes, of course we are.

And so, a 6:15 AM train got me to Penn at 6:47 AM, which got me a taxi that arrived at Pier 36 a bit after 7 AM. My yoga friend was already there, and the night security guard had let her in to hang out at the front. He was super nice, explaining he gets excited when he sees people, and also we saw how the large portrait of Van Gogh could be stunning but also creepy if it were the only eyes on you in the wee hours in the dark.

Because we got there so early, we were first in line and first let into the rooms. We walked through the first two rooms and got into the bigger room where the animations of Van Gogh’s art goes across the floor as well as on all the walls. We set up, sat down, and basically stared. We were inside a painting.

The instructor, Dasha from Sputnik Yoga, started talking about what her yoga studio offers and how she teamed up with Lifeway for this sponsorship. Right away, we looooooved her—her energy was perfect. As people started piling in and lining up (we were all masked and the room was large), she found that a lot were new to yoga completely. She asked if any instructors in the room would demo. I didn’t even think. My hand was up. Well, look at that. She came over and I was like, I don’t do inversions. She laughed and was like, You don’t need to worry about that.

Then the magic unfolded. The music started up. The animations ran around the room. We moved through a yoga sequence in rhythm with both. Magic. Magic. Magic. I demoed each pose without knowing what was coming next, so it was a little clumsy at times, but also, sometimes it was clear where we were going though not at all static or dull. All those years of practice have paid off! When we got to balance, it was a little shaky because the walls were basically moving, but no one fell, so that’s a plus for everyone in the room. The most advanced pose was a half moon, which I rarely do, so it was an adventure. Savasana was the best savasana because, again, magical.

When we were done, B and I got to see all the photos from the session as the instructor airdropped them to me. Whoa. Basically, you’ve gotta do it for yourself because I can’t explain the energy. I could live on that energy. The exhibit played the entire animation again, and we all had free reign to go through all three rooms to watch from wherever we wished and to do more yoga if we wanted. We then headed into the absinthe lounge and had hot beverages, where I told B that was all I ever want to do—yoga and romping around the city. We romped around the gift shop for a while, and we found a tree that had a way for you to write a letter to Vincent and have him write you back (again, hard to explain, so do it for yourself).

Speaking of romping, she was like, do you want to go to the Met? I was like, yes, let’s do it. We headed outside where I acted like I’d never seen a bridge before because the view was simply striking. We grabbed a cab outside and headed all the way up. We found a place for food because I almost keeled over from malnutrition and ate beside the fountains outside. Then we had to reserve a time to go inside to then get tickets. We got tickets inside because we were paying by donation, and then we went off without a map. Careening around the museum without a map and without a plan was fun and a workout.

The only plan I had was to see the rooftop and to find a bathroom. We found the bathroom first, and then we got sidetracked by every pretty thing we could find. At one point B was like, This is kind of like going to Epcot. So true! We were in Greece and Rome and Egypt and other places across history and the globe.

Mostly I enjoyed the modern floor, especially the abstract stuff (that’s a technical art term) and the photography exhibit with a focus on women. The rooftop offers artwork as well as the best views from above. We took it all in, thankful for a semi-overcast day that allowed for gorgeous sunshine without that extreme sticky heat. As we headed out of the museum, I was like, You know, I didn’t take a picture of a statue butt (which is something I always do at museums because I’m 12). B was like, well there’s one right over there. I appreciated the support.

For days that start with art and yoga and end with art and sky and all throughout offer fun friend times, I am always grateful.

Mark & Harriet & Clark & Us: Sibling Adventures

My brother has a knack for gardening, and I have a knack for letting plants die, and we found ourselves among flowers and history several times this summer so far.

Clark Botanic Gardens is small, yet easy to get lost in. Several times my brother mentioned how the map is not to scale. I did look at the map quite a bit, thinking maybe this would be the day I could understand spatial relationships, and then I gave up when I noticed something gross on my hand and used the map to wipe it off while doing what any normal adult would do—shouting, Ewww, grosssss, get it offffff.

Also gross was a dead bird we found on a pathway that my brother thought had been killed in a sacrificial ritual because it looked like it had no head. I suggested that animals could have eaten it, and he suggested that animals would not be so precise. Neither one of us got a real good look at it, so let’s call this debate a draw.

Other than gross, the gardens were pretty. There was an apiary (but I didn’t see any honey for purchase, which was a bummer). There was a gazebo. Then paths wound around paths, and we saw art and flowers. A man with a camera and a large beard who referred to himself as Santa Claus ran into us several times, and each time he pointed out the turtles. One time he shouted at us across a pond about the turtles. Sure enough, there were turtles we would have missed otherwise. We also saw a rabbit and monarch butterflies. We started to see the same plants over and again, we realized we made our way around several times, just in different ways. There was also art, and we all know how I love public art.

You know where else there are gardens? Connecticut. We drove out to the Mark Twain House where there is also the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, and Stowe kept pristine gardens.

Let’s take a side note here about how I have misconceptions about history while my brother is a history teacher. You may all recall the There Are Two Hoovers incident, which garnered a full on facepalm. This time around, I kind of eased my way into the misconception: I know that Harriet Tubman and Harriet Beecher Stowe are two people, but sometimes I think of Harriet Tubman when I hear Uncle Tom’s Cabin, even though Stowe wrote it, and also, Stowe was a white lady, and sometimes in my mind (like always up until I saw the Stowe house) she’s black.

Perhaps my brother is now beyond facepalming at my historical inaccuracies because there was no shout or self-flagellation that occurred. A bit of a head shake. Perhaps because I was already shaking my head in my own shame already.

Anyway, we started with Twain. There’s a building that serves as a museum to show a Ken Burns film and a panel exhibit of Twain. Something I re-learned: Samuel Clemens named himself after a nautical measurement. Something I learned for the first time: Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, was terrible at inventing things. He tried a printing press and a memory game among other things, and they were both not good and sent him into debt. It’s a good thing the world loved him because he went on a talking tour to earn money to support his family.

His house is large. He had several children, but still, large. It’s also very ornate, each room with wood carvings and stenciled wallpaper. He had fancy fireplaces installed throughout the house, too. He clearly built the house he dreamed of owning when he’d had very little growing up.

The tour guide knew a lot. We heard so many dates and facts. When someone asked a question, she always had an answer. That means, on top of knowing the script for the tour, she has additional knowledge rolling around in her Twain synapses. It’s impressive. It’s one thing to memorize a script, but to be able to also offer answers to questions you don’t know are coming is super neat.

Once we got back to the museum part, we finished watching the Ken Burns film we’d seen only part of and then headed to the Harriet Beecher Stowe House across the yard. It’s literally a few feet away. Once that tour started, we quickly learned that the Stowe family lived there first. Twain build that monstrous house in her backyard. They were all friendly, so it wasn’t a big deal, but still—that massive thing going up behind such a regular-sized house had to be a bit of a headache at times. Stowe was happy to have this smaller house; she, too, at one time had a massive house and decided it was too much.

Her house has many of her own paintings. It also has plants. It also has her paintings of plants. She was really talented. During this tour, a family of four joined us, and one of the daughters had completed a school project on Stowe, so she knew a bunch of stuff. The tour guide was very attentive towards her because of this, which was nice because it made the tour simple and a bit slower than that face-paced-facts-in-yo-face of Twain. Something I re-learned is that Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Something I learned for the first time—well, we already know but I’ll say it again—Stowe was a white lady.

Another side note: I mentioned this to my mom, and she said, You know what? I think I thought she was black, too. So there. We’re all not on top of our history at all times. Why do so many women have to be named Harriet? And by so many, I mean two. These two in particular. It’s very confusing.

One room that makes you go, Oh my, is the one with all the memorabilia about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. While the book was meant to rail against slavery and racism, it inspired plays and movies and adaptations and toys and knickknacks that were very racist. It reminded me of when we went to a museum that had a sign that there would be racist images in a particular exhibit, and we were like halfway through and were like, there’s no racist stuff her, and then we turned a corner and saw a huge propaganda poster that used the word Jappy, and we were like, oh, yes, there it is. What we’re learning is that a lot of history is racist. And also, the Hoover incident occurred during the same adventure.

At the end of this tour, we went into the small museum gift shop and wrote a note on a community paper about the experience. I wrote that it was inspiring. Stowe lived a long life of writing and art, so of course, that’s inspiring. Also inspiring are her gardens. The flowers are so vibrant, and they made me almost want to plant some of my own. Almost, but not quite. I’ll leave the pretty plants to my brother.

Poetry and Cannonballs

The best part of NYC Poetry Festival is its location. After years of wanting to go and not understanding boats, I finally got myself on a train to take a taxi to catch a ferry to go to Governors Island. What I thought was going to be a day of simply listening to poetry turned out to be an exploration of NY history along with booths upon booths of swag and conversation.

Before anything poetry, BMc and I met up and wandered into forts called castles and forts called forts. We were able to pick up heavy things that weren’t as heavy as cannonballs. I don’t know the point of this activity, but we did it. We also found something called a playground that seemed to be a way to lure children into getting tetanus or an art installation or both. Then a park ranger told us we could walk up a cobblestone path behind some of the buildings where the boat people reside (don’t ask—I don’t know, either) and find some cannons. We walked up the path and found some cannons! Each cannon had a sign that said not to climb on them, so immediately I wanted to climb on them, but I didn’t because it was early in the day and getting kicked off the island before the poetry wasn’t a good plan.

My two main concerns aside from boats were bathrooms and food. Actually, these are my concerns for life: boats, bathrooms, and food. I’m happy to report there’s a bathroom as soon as you disembark in the building that has the art gallery. There are also bathrooms that are trailers with stalls and not singular portapotties. I’m also happy to report that food trucks is where it’s at. I have issues ordering from counters, and luckily, I found a truck that was more of a cart and I could order at eye level. The salad I got was heavenly. I also purchased a cup of water for $2, but there were two limes in it, making the purchase worth it.

The poetry was a great plan. I listened to a group called Camperdown whose readings I’ve gone to online. I also listened to a chunk of the Red Wheelbarrow Poets, a group BMc is associated with. I heard a bunch more in the background because there were three stages of poetry all day plus an open mic. Not on a stage was a fun performance at the Walt Whitman Initiative table, which was my favorite poetry of the day because it was more than being at a mic but it was poetry in yo face.  

That’s also where I met in person for the first time someone I’ve known online through Walt Whitman Birthplace Association since I’ve been working with them. It makes sense that I’d meet him at a Walt Whitman booth, but to meet in a place that requires three methods of transportation is kind of funny. Then again, that seems very Whitmanian.

I also listened to Terrance Hayes and some of Deborah Landau, the two headliners for Sunday. That was the only time I felt like the entire festival quieted down.

The booths I hit up for some fun writing chatter:

The National Association for Poetry Therapy – this is a real thing and it makes me happy.

Nine Cloud Journal and the Queens Poets – I ran into a few poets I know from Queens, met some new poets from Queens, and bought some Queens poetry.

Sarah Lawrence College – I got professorial for a bit. They have a speculative writing track, and I’m all about that.

Squidbath – Old photos plus typewriter quotes plus stitching equals magic, and I have a piece hanging on my wall in front of me as I type this.

I also ran into Sarah Kain Gutowski whose name I recognized and we had one of those conversations trying to place each other’s names and faces. She had a booth that showcased a poetry and visual art project she’s been working on, which was stellar. Then we both remembered that I’d read for her students a few years back, and that conversation turned a bit towards how Fall 2021 is going to be as nutty as this past academic year has been.

Then I found the table for the Poetry Brothel and wanted to purchase one of everything. I found my necklace by Madame Tallulah and wore it for the rest of the day.

I also bought a tiny book by Michele Rosenthal called Smaller Than Life because it made my heart happy.

My most favorite activity of the day was the Poetry Labyrinth. You take a rock with a word on it. You walk around the brick labyrinth. You sit down. You write a poem. You can keep the rock or put it back. You can keep the poem or hang it up. I want this in my backyard. If I weren’t spatially challenged, I could probably make one.

The other most favorite part were the views. Like, I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty before, but from this island, it’s brand new. I’ve sailed on the Sea Streak into the port at sunset, but it looks surreal once more from this angle. The city is enchanting with all its history and all its words.

Then I got really excited when BMc offered to drive me home, so excited that I forgotten I parked my car at the train station that morning and then couldn’t figure out where my car was until after I got into my jammies and put on my acne medication that looks like clay and then called my mom to see if she could take me to get my car and I’m 42 and you’re welcome.

Go Van Gogh Go

A family friend gifted my little fam tickets to see the Van Gogh Exhibit. The tickets were for a Saturday morning. My mom hadn’t been in the city since the end of 2019, which is super weird because she’s a city girl. Here was the perfect opportunity to jump back in.

With luggage for one night, we headed in by train. My instincts to make sure she enjoyed herself consisted of my scolding my mom to not suddenly stop in the middle where people were walking and to not walk near gates that could make her fall over. I’m a bag of fun. She didn’t mind, however, because she did not fall and did not get crushed by the crowd due to my instructions.

The hotel was fine in the way that pandemic hotels are fine. They had no amenities, but the bellhop gave us water when we entered. He was the only person I liked at the hotel. He got a tip. Everyone else pretty much was not up to usual hotel-friendliness. When we got to the room, my mom decided to take a break for a while, and I decided to go outside for a while.

I had no plan. I was in the middle of the city and didn’t know what to do. As we all know, public art is my jam, so I headed over to City Hall Park. There was public art! I made my way around and through the park, taking in the public art, giddy and gleeful to be looking at the art that was public. See? I am a bag of fun!

The Brooklyn Bridge kept showing up at every turn, so I was like, Hmm, maybe I’ll check out that bridge. First, I got a tea from Starbucks because I was thirsty and had nothing to drink because I’d had no plan. Starbucks was super loud, and I’d ordered with a mask on, and I wound up getting the wrong tea. I sipped it anyway because I was thirsty and needed to be hydrated for this walk I was now taking across the bridge. Yes, that’s right, I got to the bridge and kept walking, and now I was in it.

That’s when the overcast day turned to the sunniest day in split second. My wrong flavor hot tea was probably not the greatest way to hydrate, and I had no sunscreen on, and I was holding my elbows out to try to catch a breeze without sweating. People walked by, ran by, whipped by on bikes and other wheeled things. Everyone was alive, and I was once again smiling at everything as if I’d never been outside before.

I thought back to about a decade ago. It may have been 11 years instead of 10. It was the first time I’d walked across the bridge, starting at the Brooklyn side that time. Along The Shore was a Landmark Fellowship for community college instructors to explore Brooklyn—it’s history, architecture, geography, climate, environment, food, literature, and culture. I met wonderful people and learned so much.

Here I was again, crossing Brooklyn Bridge, thinking of the fellowship folks, thinking about my dad, thinking about Whitman. Then I started thinking about how much I was sweating—no shock there—and how some people make dumb decisions like standing on the edge of girder to get a good photo.

After heading back to the hotel and grabbing my mom, we went off to find food. The Oculus was right across the street, so in we went. Then the elevators weren’t working, so she shimmied up and down steps like a pro while I hovered around taking up too much space so that no one could bowl her over. Hangry in the Oculus is not a way to be in the Oculus—we couldn’t find any food (by the way, they list Sugarfina as a place to eat—how about no). We got out of the Oculus with her shimmying up and down steps again (how can elevators be out of service in a place that is all levels?) and found a nice deli that had good food and no stairs.

Fulfilled, we walked to the 9/11 Museum grounds to see a tree that was now roped off and a glade that was also now roped off. At least we could see it from a distance. Then it was time to rest up for our upcoming art adventure.

Then next day was all about Van Gogh. We checked out with the unhappy hotel person at the main desk and asked the very nice bellhop to hold our bags for us. Then we headed down to Vesey, which is right on the water, which is windy. Once again, the morning was overcast, and I’d packed only shorts and a tank top. There I was downtown with the wind whipping around as we waited for my brother to arrive. When he did, he pointed at an inclined park that was a few feet across from where we were standing and told us it was the Irish hunger memorial something or other. This is something only he would know.

Without our asking, the guy at the door said he was going to call an elevator for us. This is good service (Oculus, take note). We walked around the building, got escorted to and up the elevator, and then through half the exhibit to the beginning. We were checked in and we stood there, staring at a wall of flowers and Van Gogh’s very large head. We’d made it!

The first part exhibited a timeline of his life. A short film played. Music played. Some of the artwork was created floor to ceiling—like a large 3D vase that had images of his different flower paintings morphing across it through projection. Some of the artwork was deconstructed in 3D and set up to show layers. All of this is difficult to describe and very worth seeing in person.

We then walked around to find the room of wall to wall, floor to ceiling animations. The minute I walked in was the minute projections of candles whipped across the floor, making my vertigo say hello. Meanwhile, my mom was caning her way across the carpet. We both stopped and started laughing because neither one of us was about to fall in public. The security guard pointed me to some chairs for my mom. I thanked him. She found a bench because the chairs were too low. He came back over, concerned that the bench wasn’t comfy. This is good service (hotel staff, take note). I found a chair. Then my brother wandered in, having already seen some of it. He was like, I was in the other room. I was like, what room. He was like, the drawing room. I was like, Say what now? He was like, the room you draw in. I was like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. He was like, there’s a whole other room where you color. I was like, I’m totally coloring after I watch this.

I’m not sure how long the animation is from beginning to end. It’s mesmerizing. We watched the whole thing, and I know this because it actually ends with the candles that made me dizzy from when we walked in. We waited for the candles to stop before getting together again and following my brother into this other room.

We could color in a completed outline of a painting, color in and finish a partial painting, or create our own picture on a blank page. We each chose a partial or color-in painting. We sat. We colored. We finished and my brother proclaimed, Mine is the best. He was not joking.

Then we took it over to be projected onto the wall where it showed up as framed artwork in a gallery. Then we got sticky stuff and pasted them to a different wall. And now we’re famous artists with work hanging in NYC.

PS I compared experiences with one of my yoga clients. They were drastically different. That’s because there are two different Van Gogh exhibits.

When we came out of the exhibit, I saw more public art!

AND while walking across the bridge, I FOUND MY VALET TICKET!!!

Outdoorsy Part XXIV: Camping Except for Not Camping At All

I told people I’m going to stay at a cottage at Heckscher State Park, and several people responded with, Oh, camping! To which I responded, Do you know me at all? It’s a cottage. Not even a cabin. Cabin implies more woodsy. It’s a cottage—a one-bedroom, one-indoor-bathroom, living-room-kitchen-area with a screened -porch, an outdoor deck, a firepit, and a 30-second path to the beach on Nicholl Bay. This is also known as Heaven on Long Island.

Because I received the DEC grant through the Huntington Arts Council, I marked this weeklong stay as the time to get my writing done. It was also a time to not be on any social media, not talk to anyone, read a whole lot, and not think about any responsibilities (except for daily necessities like washing dishes, and now I am more grateful for my dishwasher).

If you’d like to hear the writing I got done, then come to my panel in November. Here are snippets of my cottage life.

Day 1: Getting there—

The morning before heading out, I bought almost all my groceries for a week during which I was nicely scolded at the grocery store because I’d let an elderly lady who had been waiting on the adjacent line to go ahead of me. The cashier pointed out the arrows on the floor and explained how they like to keep it that way. I understand avoiding chaos, but also, no one was behind either one of us, and when I told the woman to go ahead of me, the scolding cashier was not yet done with the person checking out. I explained none of this and simply said, Okay I gotcha. Then I was feeling dumb because I had so many bags, and how could one person have so many bags, and attachment and possession are so un-Zen-like and this is why the world is a hard place.

Clearly, I needed this retreat.

After realizing that bags are necessary to carry linens and food, I got excited and off I went! I got to the park and couldn’t find where to check in, and my phone service kept cutting out. So back to being anxious, thinking I’d have to spend the week in the parking lot in my car with my too-many bags. I remembered a sign for camping and cottages I would see walking, so I went that way. I found the check-in office. The guy had heard my message and called me back but the phone service hadn’t allowed for me to get the call. He said it wasn’t my phone—the service was wonky that day around the park. Once again, excited to be there.

Finally, I got to my cottage by the sea. Very English-Moorish with wild flowers and wild plants. I unpacked and walked to the path that would take me to the beach. I stopped short and literally gasped. That first view of the water from the path, whoa.

I then went food shopping for a few extra things and returned for some more beach walking in the evening. I was the only one on the beach. Then I went inside and started to read a book as the skies grew dark. I’ll repeat, this is heaven.

Day 2

Rain stormed in overnight and the morning still had a drizzle mist. I figured I would walk the path I knew so that in case rain stormed in again, I’d know how to get back. Then I got really excited on my walk, so I explored the loop path I don’t really take to the interior of the park. It’s all connected and very difficult to get lost. Even I did not get lost.

Everything soaked through because I’d been out for so long. My sock were gross. Then I couldn’t figure out the shower. I also can’t really explain it. It’s a standing shower and there are drains and there’s water that comes out of the shower onto the bathroom floor whenever I showered but not a lot of it, and I wound up showering kind of in a corner all week, but I was okay with that because it was a comfy shower with plenty of hot water. (Here I will remind y’all that I recently became a full professor). The rest of the day was misty, which wasn’t an issue since the rest of my activities were indoors—I wrote poetry and submitted poetry. Then I read some more. Beach walk at night—all by myself. I could get used to this.

Day 3

Rain had stormed again, and it was still going in the morning. I wrote and edited some creative nonfiction pieces. By the time I finished that, the sun came out. Sun’s out, guns out! A bit over-zealous, forgetting that clouds went away at peak sun time and it was not the usual morning walk, I went on a mission to find the boat launch, which I could never find when walking. This mission took me onto streets and through camping (there’s actual camping in tents at the park, which I did not do because the park has indoor cottages). I found the boat launch which also has a kayak launch. Some guy was funnily cursing as he got into a kayak. Then, after what seemed to be a long production in doing so, asked, Hey how do I know when to come back? The kayak guy was like, Don’t worry if it’s a few minutes late. The other guy was like, I don’t think I’ll be late because I’m already fucking tired! Heh heh. I did see him start to paddle out, and he had a friend paddling behind him, so I think he made it out at least past the No Wake zone.

When I got back to the cottage, I downed several bottles of water. I was soaked, this time with sweat, which should not be a surprise to anyone. I also had bug bites from walking on grass. Actually, I didn’t walk. I kind of galloped across, like a high-knee combine drill, to avoid any chance of ticks. The park has signs posted about ticks maybe every twenty feet. The grass I walked across was low, but other bugs presented themselves and bit me up. Basically, I was a sweaty, itchy, fulfilled mess. I showered in the corner, wrote and edited, and then took a walk to the beach in the evening. Then my flip flops broke on the way back. I didn’t really use flip flops on the beach, so it wasn’t too much of an issue to chuck them.

Day 4: A Mini Sibling Adventure!

My brother visited, arriving on his bike at my cottage right after I’d gotten back from a park walk. I showed him the path to the beach, and he stopped short as soon as he saw the water. I know! Then he went to ride for ten miles while I did some writing. The most challenging part of his visit was figuring out which parking field was where. Even looking at a park map did not help. However, by luck or something like it, when I pulled my car around to where I thought he’d be, he appeared in a lot, waving to me. We did it! Sibling magic. We went to the beach, which we have never done together ever. We witnessed a life guard watch two people out in the water on jet skis. My brother kept wondering what he was watching for, and I guessed that it would be to see if they needed help since they were out there floating and not jetting or skiing. When the lifeguard was satisfied that no one was going to drown, he passed by us and asked if we were planning a vacation because he overheard talk of Harry Potter. He, too, is a Harry Potter fan. He said he’s 28 but loves it. I was like, Harry Potter is for everyone, and all adults are big children anyway.

Side note: If you’re going to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, please take me with you.

The rest of the day, I edited, wrote, read, and then walked the beach. At one point in the evening, I didn’t want to go back from the beach. It was well after 7 and with sunset at 8 something, I knew I’d had to go back because there were no lights. And also, night animals. I’d seen so many bunnies and chipmunks and birds during the day, and they’re all okay, but at night? I didn’t want to know.

Day 5

I left the park to visit another park. Technically, it’s an arboretum. Bayard Cutting Arboretum is five minutes away, but also ten minutes away when you cannot find the entrance. I found the entrance and then got lost in a very manicured garden. I also got caught by the massive sprinkler, which felt good because the sun was beating pretty hot. I kept running into a woman who clearly was out for a relaxing walk alone, so I slowed down my pace and eventually lost her. And got lost again. You’d think in a place where you walk along the edge of the water you can’t get lost. Think again, friends. This is me.

When I got back to the cottage, I wrote and edited for several hours. Then I was like, I need to move, so I took an afternoon stroll to the beach. This is when I learned how strong the skin on the bottom of my feet is because without my flip flops in midafternoon, the brick path scorched and the sand charred. I burrowed my feet into the wetter sand nearer to the water for my walk and then hobbled back, doing that same high-knee tire run I’d completed across the grass the day before. Later that evening, after more reading and writing, the path and sand were cool. That’s how sun works.

Day 6

I left the park to visit another park. Connectquot is hard to spell and about fifteen minutes away. Quick! Guess what I’m going to say next!

If you guessed I couldn’t find the entrance, you are correct!

The entrance has a big-ass sign right off of Sunrise, yet I somehow made my way to the street next to the park and drove quite a bit, wondering if I could loop around and get in. I can never loop around, so I don’t know why I thought it would work this time. After finding the entrance, I found my way into the park. Then I couldn’t find where the paths started. I wandered down to the river where all the geese were. Then I meandered over to some buildings. Then I saw a white blaze across a tree and knew I would be on the Greenbelt! Not to be confused with the Green Trail, marked in green. Got it? Greenbelt White Green Trail Green. At some points they cross. At one point, I was on the Yellow Trail and the Greenbelt.

This is the first time I’ve ever gone into the woods alone. I went on Saturday because I knew there would be other people there. I went super early because it was another searing day. It’s my kind of hiking because a lot of the beginning runs right next to a road and at a certain point there’s no way to go except straight ahead. Also, when I pulled over to the side for some shade on a bridle path, I took a quick screenshot of the map of the park so I’d have it if my cell service went out.

I wound up on the Green Trail by accident. I knew it would cross the Greenbelt again, so I kept following the green arrows. When a bunch of horses came around a corner, I pulled over to the side again and checked the map. The horse leader called out, Are you contacting Sputnik? I answered that I was just checking to see where I was. He asked where I was headed.

I had no idea. There was no actual destination. So I said, The green trail?

He was like, I don’t know about the colors.

Neither do I, sir. Neither. Do. I.

He followed up with, If you get turned around, the visitor center is back down this path. Make a left and a right and you’re there.

I thanked him. I don’t know left or right, but it was still helpful.

I got to a bridge. I looked at the map. I knew where I was. I did a victory dance and sang out, I got to the briii—iidge, I got to the briii—iidge. Getting to the bridge meant nothing. If you’ll recall, I had no destination. However, this felt like a defining moment. I’d accomplished something, like knowing where I was on the map. I then followed the Greenbelt. The path narrowed. I knew where I was and that I could take the path to the edge of the park.

And then there was a cat. A black cat laid flat out across the path. I looked around. No one else was around. I’m aware that a cat is not a wild animal—usually—which made it even scarier because why was this cat there? I asked it out loud, Why are you here, cat? This cat was going to be the downfall of my hike? I moved forward a little, and it looked at me. I moved back a little, and it ran away, under some brush. I called out, No low brush no high grass, cat! Because that’s how you get ticks.

Also, ticks cannot jump or fly, so you get them by standing where they are and having them crawl on you. This is what high socks are for. Despite the hot temps, I’d put on long pants and high socks. The pants also acted as a signal that I am a person in the woods, not an animal to be hunted, and also a way to find me if for some reason I wound up in a place where knowing my left from my right may be helpful and not being able to figure it out.

I kept going, passing the cat, through the woods. I hiked the fuck out of that trail! Then I finished my first water. I had another frozen water, which had been melting down on the outside pocket of my backpack. I was pretty sure it was making my back and booty wet, but that didn’t matter because the swass had been thriving since I’d passed the fishery near the end of the Yellow Trail. I took a moment to eat a snack. I looked at the time and how far I’d walked. I figured if I went to the end of the park, I’d have to use my pee spout—have spout will hike—and if I did that, there was a possibility I wouldn’t be able to get my sweaty pants back up, and I’d have to hike the rest of the way back sans bottoms, which is not good for avoiding ticks (though I’d still have the high socks, so maybe it would’ve been okay.

On my way back, two runners came barreling through. One was in a sports bra and shorts. The other was in shorts and a tee. They had nothing with them. There I was with my large backpack of pee spouts and food, and there they were, trail running almost naked. Nature is a strange place.

I did a happy dance when I made it back to the fishery. There’d been a few turns where I was like, Did I go this way or that way? However, I kept looking for the blazes and the arrows, and they guided me. Also, the happy dance was for the bathroom at the fishery. I’d made a really good decision to go back when I did because I really needed to pee and I did have a hard time getting my sweaty pants back up. All my clothes were simply wet pieces of cloth by that point. No shape. No form. Just swaddling for a hiker on a hot day.

Not long after that, I found the parking lot and stretched. Then I found a CVS where I got a bottle of orange-mango Body Armor for hydration and a Key Lime Kit Kat for a reward. I also bought a pair of flip flops for $2.99. Victory after victory.

After peeling myself out of the used-to-be-clothing, I took a corner-shower and sat with my writing. When I was done with that, I organized some of my digital music library. (iTunes, my phone, and my laptop are all different, and I’m trying to make them the same). Later on, beach walk. Later on, Netflix and Hulu because I’d finished all the books I’d brought to read.

Day 7: Enjoying Every Bit One More Time

A bit of rain came down in the morning, so I started with writing. Then the sun came out. I went hiking around Heckscher, once again forgetting it was later with stronger sun, but my sunscreen works really well, so while it was hot, I didn’t burn. I went to the beach and then more writing editing writing editing. Then to the beach. Then I did some packing.

Day 8

Checkout was at 10 AM. There was a huge storm the night before that woke me up because it was so loud. The morning was so calm. I finished packing. I took a walk on the beach. The water was barely lapping. It was everything. I got back inside and saw a sizeable cricket right near the doorway. I yelled at it. It started to skitter. I crushed it with my new flipflop. I had a split-second thought to scurry it outside, but its movement was not towards the door. I’d been very nice to nature the whole week, and this bug was not where it was supposed to be. I’m very happy this happened on the last day because now I can never go back there.

Upon handing over my keys, the park guy told me that next year, they are renting for only weeklong stays instead of shorter ones. I was like, that works for me because I was here for a week. He asked me how I found it. I told him, It was a fantastic week.

Life at the cottage involved sweeping every morning. I finished reading three books and put a small dent in my Netflix queue instead of adding to my list, getting overwhelmed, and shutting it off to watch reruns of Guys Grocery Games—there’s no TV and no radio. Everything I watched and listened to was completely purposeful instead of mindless. I used the wifi mostly for writing and to access workout videos every morning. I wasn’t on Facebook or Instagram all week and it made a huge difference in time and energy. To pretend I know no one and have no responsibility to anyone or anything, every day reminding me that everything I do is actually a choice, was exactly what I needed to find some peace and calm again.

I had the thought, I could live here. I’d have to install a dishwasher and maybe figure out the shower so I wouldn’t have to shower in a corner, but otherwise, it got me thinking. Then again, I just had that light switch fixed and bought new air conditioners and had them professionally installed, so I’m pretty invested in my house for the next hundred years. If I moved to the beach, I’d be worried about hurricanes every day. An occasional visit and a round of pretending seems to be enough. 

Outdoorsy Part XXIII: All The Bugs

This is the one in which I remember why I used to never go outside.

Welwyn Preserve stands on the north shore where the GPS gives out and across from a camp. Buses lined themselves up so that cars could not pass. The GPS flickered on to tell me to go elsewhere after I sat behind buses for ten minutes. I wound up exactly where I’d been, behind more buses. I texted the captain that I was about to give up. Then someone from the camp waved his arms dramatically, instructing cars to go around. I crept up and turned sharply in front of the front bus that was idling right in front of the entrance to the preserve.

Once in the preserve, there are no signs, so I careened around the woods, hoping that I was going the right way. Capt was waiting in the parking lot. When I got out of the car, the temperature had risen by about 20 degrees from when I’d left my house, which had been about an hour before. I offered some bug spray, and Capt was like, It’s a short walk so we won’t need it. I managed to spray my sunglasses with the gross stuff when I sprayed my backpack, and then used the other more natural kinds on my hair and skin.

We started to venture into what we thought was a path but didn’t know for sure. Then Capt was like, I need bugspray. I waited at the kind-of-trailhead, and already had some sweat happening along with bugs in my ears. Welcome to my lifelong nightmare.

This hike was, like, woodsy. Overgrown. Tangled vines. Dead ends that required backtracking. Canopies of spiderwebs. I had on pants, so I wasn’t concerned about ivy—and there was a lot of it—but then the narrow paths narrowed more, and getting through required head down, arms up shuffling. Bugs hovered around my ears and eyes. This was as bad as Lord of the Flies road in Caumsett. And worse because, it just was.

We came to a tiny clearing that seemed to be the ruins of something, but there wasn’t much. It was weird, for sure, but not much. Just a dog statue and some other concrete stuff in a space about 10 by 10. Then off onto another narrow path that really wasn’t a path. More doubling back. More eating and inhaling bugs.

We bumped into a woman and her dog in another tiny clearing where paths met, and she directed us to the beach. I was like, We are following her. We did, and in a few minutes, Capt was like, Do you see it? I was like, All I see in front of me is your back and plants. He leaned to the left. Oooh, I saw it. There was a wall and then the beach and then the water.

I do not know what used to be here, and I do not know how that woman and an entire family found their way to this beach without going through the dense flora we crawled through. It was weird. Still worth it. Maybe a boardwalk used to be there—benches and steps made of concrete still stood there, but it didn’t go anywhere. The wall went for a bit, and there were some other trees-cut-into-benches lying around. We got down onto the beach to walk, and we had to climb over boulders to walk the length of the beach. Basically, everywhere we went had an obstacle.

When we got towards the end of the beach, we saw the family clamming. The water seemed to be a brook coming from somewhere up in the woods and down into the sound. It got really low, and we tried to cross, but there wasn’t a span where our shoes wouldn’t get wet. We headed up a hill and found armies of fiddler crabs. Then we spotted a sign that indicated across the little brook was private property. The Capt’s dreams of climbing up on the pier in the distance were now dashed. Actually, he probably would have gone and done it if he were on his own.

On the way back towards civilization, we found a much wider path marked with red dots. Where was this path on the way towards the beach? We have no idea how we got there. You’d think that a wider path would mean fewer bugs, but no—this only gave them more room to swarm. We trudged our way up and found the road we’d driven on the way in. Then I looked right and was like, Hey there are the ruins. Visible by simply turning your head, there were a bunch of graffitied buildings on the grounds. A woman who used to work at the camp across the street found them at the same time we did. I told her about Zog’s legacy in Muttontown. I did not tell her about the shirtless ghost.

Then my shoe broke. Part of the sole detached itself from the other part of the sole. A sure sign that this hike was coming to a close. We went to use the bathrooms in the museum that shared the grounds, but they were open to only patrons. The nightmare continues. Would this be the day I break out the spout? Imagine that horror show—all swassed up and needing to peel off my pants to pee in the buggy forest. I may as well just pee my pants.

Back at the cars, Capt said he’d find a library for us as I changed out of my shoes into flipflops. Sure enough, a public library was nearby. Capt saves my bladder from uncertain UTI territory. Out of all the things I’ve learned about hiking and being in nature, the best lesson is to know where the closest library is. It’s genius. Simply genius.

We found the library, but the GPS didn’t want us to get there. It had us pass the parking lot and drive around the block. Capt wound up at the post office. I wound up finding the back entrance to the lot. Oh sweet heaven, air conditioning and clean bathrooms. This is the upside of paying taxes.

And here’s a photo that clearly shows my mad backpack game. It’s as if I have a small child attached to me every time I hike.

Art Ownership and a Zoltar Encounter (and Warhol)

Because the art expo was during the day, BG figured I’d be up for it because it was well before my bedtime. Because it was at a brewery, I was iffy at first because I don’t drink and I don’t eat—I live on air—and I don’t like going to things where I’m not going to support the business. Then I realized, I could buy him a beer, so I was like, We’re doing this. Because MD has been trying to get us together to go to an outdoor summer concert and because there would be live music at the art show, I told her about it, and then we, all three, were finally in the same place at the same time in the blazing sun with creative minds all around us.

When I go to fairs, I want one of everything. My strategy, then, is to visit every table and then circle back. It works because I get to then figure out if I really, truly want something, and also I don’t need to carry it around with me. If it’s gone by the time I go back, then it’s not meant to be. Because I recently paid a pretty penny to have my kitchen wall light switch repaired for the third time in two years and bought two air conditioners and paid to have them installed and had my gutters fixed and cleaned, I can never move from this house. Therefore, I’m finally looking to decorate my living room wall. It’s a big empty space. Art can go on it.

I didn’t buy anything to go on the wall. Instead, I bought magnet art and a sticker. Baby steps.

Artwork credits: Deena Hadhoud, Emily Rubenstein, Ahlicks, and JGA Creations

The bathroom was inside rather than a port-a-potty. Bless you, Great South Bay Brewery. Y’all know how I rely on bathrooms, so in MD and I went as BG stayed at a table taking a survey about his life so he could buy a custom-made notebook. As soon as we got in the door, MD was like, Omigosh it’s that thing from that movie! Helpful. I was like, what? where? Off to the side beyond the bar was a Zoltar machine. I’ve seen them in real life before and had my fortune read by one with a few broken fingers. MD had never seen one up close, and so I was like, You’ve gotta do it, handing over a dollar to her as my gift of fortune. Zoltar is pretty loud as he moves his head and hands. This one has no broken fingers but even after the fortune card spat out, his hand kept moving, and it got a little creepy. The fortune was fun, and she got some lucky numbers out of the deal for the next PowerBall.

Before leaving, BG and I made one more lap and then asked the band for their name. They played covers from a variety of decades, and at one point, they were singing a song by Four Non Blondes and I literally thought the lead from the band was singing and had to look up to see if it was her. It was not. It was The Drinkwater Brothers. BG was like, what if they were the Drinkbeer Brothers, ’cause we’re at a Brewery.

Another jaunt into the art world came in the form of another Sibling Adventure! When we last adventured, we cleaned up some garbage. This time, we planned for indoor activities. My brother’s school year finally finished, so I booked us tickets to the Nassau County Museum of Art. Because I’m now a full professor, I’m making more academic choices, which means I bought myself a membership to the museum that came with a membership to NARM, a reciprocal museum thingie that allows me to get into a bunch of other museums, too. So I didn’t actually buy art here. I bought the museum! This paragraph needs more hypertext, no?

The first part of the adventure was all about the unbearable New York traffic. My brother, who never runs late, was running a little late. I knew he thought he’d get to the museum from his house in twenty minutes. I also knew he didn’t realize traffic. I waited a bit and then went into the museum. The guy at the front said I could check in for both of us and he’d let my brother in later. My brother arrived after a 45 minute drive, all apologetic, and I was like, You were cursing in your car, weren’t you? He was like, No matter where I went, for no reason, no construction, I just couldn’t go anywhere. Yup, that seems about right.

Sidenote: Apparently, the traffic is due to not only those who usually take public transportation now driving cars but also more delivery trucks for more people shopping at home. Hey, everyone? Go back to doing things the way you did them please and thanks.

Before he got there, I got a bit taken aback by the number of people in the building. I didn’t feel unsafe—I’m not talking pandemic—I’m talking how usually I’m one of three people there. Instead, there was what seemed to be a field trip of teens roaming about. Also, there was a video shoot happening in one of the galleries. The guy at the desk was like, Gallery 1 is closed at the moment. Then another guy came over and was like, No, it’s not. So the first guy was like, Okay I lied, everything is open. Ha! The doors had been closed, but the people filming said patrons could come in while they were on break. There was equipment everywhere, so taking in the artwork from La Belle Epoque while navigating state-of-the-art video tech was quite the juxtaposition. Toulouse-Lautrec probably would have enjoyed it.

My brother found me outside Gallery 1 as I read about the art movement, and he was like, I want to see the Warhol.

Warhol again? you may ask. The answer is always, Yes, of course, Warhol again.

Up the winding stairs we went. Some of the artwork we’d seen in person before—the animals and some of the flowers. Some of the artwork was new to us: Mt. Vesuvius, portraits of characters using diamond dust, portraits of Jewish people, drawings of flowers, album covers.

Here’s a quote that sums up Warhol’s main pop aesthetic that made the two of us go, yeah wow:

Business art is the step that comes after Art . . . I wanted to be an Art Businessman or a Business Artist. Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.

Andy Warhol

Then? Soup cans. Whoa.

In the midst of this Warhol extravaganza, a fire alarm sounded. It was one of those deafening, piercing alarms. We poked out of the small gallery we were in. A semi-frantic man was quickly walking through the hall. I gestured into the air and asked, This means we leave, right? He was like, yes, please exit now! Down the stairs we went and outside into the 100 degree weather. I entertained my brother with how I handle fire alarms on campus: I walk away from the building, and my students ask if they should follow me, and I ask, Do you want to be close to the building if it explodes?

After about ten minutes, the alarm had stopped and no authorities arrived, so back into the building we went, up the stairs, back to the Warhol. Then back down the stairs to finish off La Belle Epoque. We went to the back gallery and found a lot of Tiffany lamps. Fact: I didn’t know Tiffany lamps were named after a guy with the last name Tiffany. On the wall in the hallway hung a very detailed timeline. In very un-history-teacher-like-fashion, my brother did not read every single word of it. That proves that it really was a lot to take in. We did some scattershot observing, pointing out things we recognized. At the end of it all, he was like, Basically, a lot of stuff happened in a really short period of time. History lesson done.

At this point, Gallery 1’s doors were closed. I asked at the desk if it would reopen soon, and the guy was like, It should be open. I was like, The doors are closed. He went to see if either set of doors would be open, and they weren’t, and he was like, Sorry they haven’t told me anything different. I was like, I totally get it—there was a lot going on still. The gift shop was open, though, so back up the stairs we went. Because I bought a membership, I got a free poster. I really thought about what I wanted on my wall and also what meant something to me. I got the poster from Fool The Eye. It was between that and Energy: The Power of Art! The former won out because it may look better on my wall. Also, it may not go on the living room wall at all. I may move things around now that I’m staying in the house forever. The women at the register had a dandy of a time trying to ring it up until finally they were just like, Thank you very much for your support in being a member and we will figure this out later. Heh heh, they’re wonderful people at the museum. Also, “dandy of a time” is my new fun phrase.

Because our time schedule was off, we hadn’t eaten lunch and were starving. We found some shade and ate. Then I was like, We can drive up the hill or walk. My brother chose to walk, so in the 100 degree heat, we made our way up the road to the Manes Center for Pop Art.

The number one reason to see this exhibit together was to be able to say, Good God, it’s a Lichtenstein! in the same room at the same time. We checked out the Robert Indiana and Katz work along one wall.

Then there at the end, Good God, it was a Lichtenstein! Everything else paled in comparison.

Good God, it’s a Lichtenstein!

On the final two walls were Rivers and Rauschenburg, both very interesting. Over the final piece, a light was flickering, which caused the piece to look different every moment. This seemed to be accidental, but also, it was like performance art. Like we were part of the art. That’s what I’d like to believe.

Outdoorsy Part XXII: Bubblicious

In between two major highways, the wilderness grows wild as if the highways aren’t there. Blydenburgh has a sneaky way about it, offering a huge lake that seems endless and paths that intertwine with each other.

BMc and I met up in the parking lot that’s in the middle of the park, so far in that I thought I was going the wrong way for quite some time. I kept following signs for children’s camp grounds and a dog park and then the parking lot appeared. BMc asked if I wanted to go to the bathroom first. Clearly, the word is out. Your gal likes a bathroom, and these were pretty clean by park standards.

I put him in charge, pointing out that I simply follow anyone I’m with since I have no sense of direction. He suggested we follow the lake so that we know where we are, and I was like, I have no opinion on this matter.

We came across several points where we could get lakeside. At every point, I was like, It’s so pretty! We also came across buildings, one that’s a mill and a house that’s pink (if you didn’t just sing like John Mellencamp, for shame!). At these abandoned buildings, we saw an old couple, having a fun time taking pictures of each other. Then the guy bobbed his head really quickly, which caused a quacking sound. These are the people I wish to become some day.

There’s also a point when we started to hear rushing water. It was sudden. BMc was like, it’s waterfalls. We rounded a bend, and there through the chain link fence was a waterfall. On one side of the path, the lake seemed so calm. On the other, water rushed through. At a different point along the path, there’s a huge tunnel that goes under one of the wide highways. This was where the water was also coming from, and I realized that this water is the same water we saw at the other park on our other hike, and then I had that whoa moment that all water is the same everywhere. Whoa. Trippy.

Then I smelled grape Bubblicious. I immediately asked BMc if he smelled it. He was like, No, but what does that signify? I wasn’t sure. Burnt toast means a stroke, but the sweet fruity aroma of sugary gum is not in my wheelhouse. Then he was like, Oh, wait, and he sniffed his water bottle. Yeah, blueberry something or other had wafted out of that. Mystery solved. This time.

We walked across some bridges and elevated pathways, wondering who built them and how they got there, agreeing that our curiosity was fleeting. We wouldn’t go looking it up later on. We could simply be happy it was there. After a few more turns, the water wound up on our other side, and I was like, Are we going the right way? He was like, Yes. I was like, But the water is over here now. And he was like, we turned. And I was like, Oh, yes, that’s how space works.

Now’s a good time to remind everyone: I’m a teacher. I shape young minds.

Right when I started thinking I’d need a bathroom or I’d have to use my lady spout, a bathroom appeared. I can’t remember this ever happening before. Right near the place where they rent out oars and boats launch, there’s a bathroom. Super clean—this park is all about clean facilities.

The park is also full of fences, and figuring out what they separate proves to be difficult. Also fleeting. It’s interesting to guess until the last fence post. A very angry horse indicated at one point that we were near the horse stables. We’d seen some horses on the way in and followed for a bit, but following horses is never a good idea, so we’d curved off onto a different path. Now we’d happened upon the horses again. It was only the sound of an angry horse. If it had come upon us, I wouldn’t be writing this. I know my place in this world. I know the skills I have. Defending myself from an angry horse is not on a list of things I can do.

Thankfully, that was not something I needed to encounter. Lots of chimpmunks, no angry animals the rest of the way, and incredibly large trees. Because it’s a forest in the middle of a traffic jam.

Outdoorsy Part XXI: Burnt Toast

Before heading out to hike, BMc needed to know one very important item of information: I am an annoying hiker. He didn’t seem phased by the notion, so off we went, BMc, the captain, and me. The path from Belmont Lake State Park to Argyle is an in and out that, according to some hiking websites, is about 9 miles. Perhaps including a walk around the lake. Perhaps not. I’d waited to do this hike because I wanted to build up to the possible 9 miles with some other hikes first. Spoiler alert: it’s not 9 miles and I hadn’t needed to build up to it. Still, it was worth the wait.

We met in the parking lot, and the captain was like, We need to go where we cross under the Southern, and he pointed in one direction. I was like, nope, it’s that way, which is the other direction. I was right. That’s 1 out of 10 if y’all recall. (I’m right one time out of every ten).

After snarking about upper management and administration, and after watching two women and a child get followed by geese because they’d been feeding the geese as they are not supposed to do for this very reason, we found the path under the tunnel into the wilderness. The captain was about to go to the wrong path, so I was like, No this way. Unprecedented. This was twice in one hike that I was right. How this happened, we will never know.

Whenever I smell burnt toast, I immediately ask whoever is nearby if they smell it, too. Burnt toast smell is a symptom of having a stroke, so I figure we all can’t be having a simultaneous stroke. There in the middle of the woods, I smelled it. So I asked. They both smelled it, too. It smelled delicious. We started talking breakfast food. The smell lingered, got stronger, faded, got stronger, faded, and eventually went away. We don’t know where it came from. I do know that I want more of it in my life. I don’t eat bread, so I’ll take the aroma whenever I can. It’s like one of those many foods and beverages that have a better aroma than taste. The aroma was strongest around a pond that we came upon when we got into Babylon. Mmm, toast.

BMc asked at one point what we were carrying in our backpacks. The captain had water and snacks. I had that and so much more! Your gal had her full lunch, a towel, sun screen, two kinds of bug spray, band aids, tissues, gum, deodorant, hand sanitizer, eye drops, chapstick, a solar powered phone charger that doubles as a flashlight and has a broken compass, and, as a new addition, a pee funnel that is supposed to let me stand up while peeing if there’s no bathroom around. I have a feeling I might pee all over myself, but I’m clearly prepared to do that and still be able to clean up afterwards. I’d rather not squat over the ground seeing that every time I go outside, random people warn me about ticks.

We made a bicycle friend. While most of the cyclists inched by without warning, this guy shouted from well behind us, On! Your! Left! Which is how it should be. I yelled, Thank you! Captain heard him mutter, You’re welcome. That guy should teach a class in how to warn pedestrians that you’re riding a bike. This is also what bells are for. If you’re going to go riding, then know the rules.

Things that came up in conversation that I didn’t know about that were to become my homework:

Watching the movie Hook.

Watching some show or movie that starred one of the actors from Hook.

That actor’s name who starred in A River Runs Through It whose face I could see and whom I called “a doughy Brad Pitt,” like not in a bad way but like in an observable way.

Something else that I have now forgotten. Actually, I haven’t forgotten. It’s something I didn’t write down and didn’t make a memory of. (Lisa Genova’s book Remember has changed my life. Read it, and you, too, will realize the different between forgetting and not making a memory).

Argyle Lake appeared not so much later. There were large birds around, one that was standing tall on a rock with large wings fanned out. It looked bat-like, and I didn’t like it at all. By now, I have forgotten what kind of bird it was, but the captain and BMc knew. I will refer to it as a batbird. There were many batbirds on the large rock thing in the middle of the lake, all hanging out in the sun. They didn’t look like bats when their wings were closed. We also saw a black bird with a red spot on its wings that I usually see out at Heckscher, and BMc was like, it’s a red spotted black bird. I was like, That’s its name? He was like, Yes. Right now, I don’t know if that’s what its exact name was, but I do remember thinking it was a very obvious name.

As we headed into town to get some coffee (aka so I could eat my lunch because I was starving) and use the bathrooms (no spout for me this time!), I spotted another guy toting a backpack. I pointed him out—See? That guy’s got a backpack, too! We all looked to where I was pointing. This guy had on combat boots and shorts and no shirt. He was also running. They suggested that perhaps his backpack was filled with something different, and it was possible he was running from something or someone just as much as he may be running towards something. Fair enough.

We visited Babylon Bean where I found a bench to eat my lunch. Our sidewalk conversation seemed to annoy the woman who was at the other table conducting a video chat, so she got up in a huff to go inside. Work in public means the public can get in your way sometimes. We next visited the library and then the statue of the guy who clams. There’s a name for him. It’s not longshoreman. It’s not clammer. It’s something specific, and I can’t remember that, either.

Back to nature, we took some of the same and some different trails back. I wouldn’t know the difference. Plus, everything looks different on the way back because you’re facing a different way. What made me feel most secure about being in the right place? Burnt toast. There it was again, wafting through the air. Ahh, the delights of nature never cease to amaze me.