Outdoorsy Part XVII: Is This Nature?

Shirley Chisholm was not a cowgirl. I first saw her name in the novel The Sellout by Paul Beatty where the main character refers to Shirley Chisolm’s smile. I pictured a woman in a cowgirl hat and spurs with a lasso and a smile. Fast Forward to Shirley Chisholm State Park being constructed and my mention of it to my brother during which I ponder the name, wondering aloud if she was really a cowgirl. You can guess his reaction—one of those face palms and a mini lesson about how everything with the name Chisholm is not related to herding cattle.

I Love My Park Day is an annual event that encourages people to help keep our parks beautiful. Luckily, some parks extend the day into two days, which meant my brother and I could go on a Sunday, and we headed to Brooklyn. Off the Belt Parkway, the park is several huge hills, all built on top of a former garbage dump (as my brother likes to say, Where they buried the bodies. And I don’t think he’s completely wrong).

We met up early so we could walk the trails before the cleanup. Actually, I arrived earlier than early because traffic on the Belt is unpredictable, so what I thought would take me 40 minutes took me 20, which rarely happens. My brother got there on time because that’s what my brother does, and off we went, up a hill and winding around and up another and winding around. Birds chirped. We saw a cat. We got to places in the park where all we could see was water and grass, as if we weren’t in the middle of a frenetic urban space. Pretty trippy. We made it to the top of a rather high path, checked out the views—we could see downtown Manhattan’s skyline—and wound our way back down. We then went to the other side of the park where we found paved paths and went up only a little so that we wouldn’t be late for signing in.

We found the parks people (rangers? guides?), signed in, and waited. Then we waited a bit more. Then I was like, Imma gonna have to use the port-a-potty. I’d checked it out before and decided it was a big fat no. However, I’ll take port-a-potty over days of agonizing UTI any time. Off I went, holding my breath, trying to not touch anything while having to touch things in the portable toilet. So. Gross. Wearing a mask has its advantages. A long time ago, I had to use a bathroom in the Bowery where I was at first mouth-breathing and then not breathing at all by the time I was done. Here, I realized, the smell wasn’t atrocious, and any time I did breathe, the air was mask-filtered. (To be clear—the park does a great job of keeping these things clean. They still skeeve me.)

After dousing myself with all kinds of sanitizer except for the official park sanitizer that smells like that Bowery bathroom and doesn’t fade away for a week, I hooked up again with the group that was still waiting and still growing. There were a bunch of families and two young men whom my brother told me were most likely there for service credit. He can spot em. My brother has run all kinds of service groups with his students. He’s a good egg.

The two park people (rangers? guides?) introduced themselves, told us a bit about the park, informed us about who Shirley Chisholm is (NOT a cowgirl), and then showed us the way to the shore. My brother and I walked with one of them, talking about how many state parks are in NYC (seven!) and how my brother is a history teacher and tour guide and how the park already looked so clean so what exactly could we clean up. When we got to the shoreline, we saw what we could clean up. The tide comes in. The tide goes out. Garbage gets left in the beach grass.

Everyone grabbed a bucket and some grabbers. I was in heaven. Grabbers! Such fun to use! Unfortunately, we were using them to grab garbage, and there was so much. At first glance, you may not see anything, but then, it’s everywhere. We dove in and found mostly bottle caps at first. That prompted me to proclaim no one should be allowed to drink out of plastic bottles. Then we found a lot of straws. That prompted the new rule of no straws allowed. Then we found a lot of vaping things, and I was all, vaping should be illegal. Then we found candy wrappers. I didn’t say no one should eat candy, but really, people should eat the bigger sized ones so that there aren’t so many little wrappers around.

Since we were picking through the beach grass, we had quite a time deciphering what things were. We got into a routine of poking, picking, and then often asking, What is this? Is this nature? Sometimes nature and garbage look similar. I found a few plastic bags. My brother found a tampon applicator and a glove. I kept getting more upset about the garbage. He was like, Sometimes it blows out of cans when it’s windy, and I was like, People are gross and shouldn’t be allowed to do anything!

Then the rain rolled in. The sky had been looking ominous as soon as we’d begun. The drizzle came. Then it ended. Then it came. Then it ended. Then it came once more. Then it ended as we finished up our bucket. Some families came back with eleven pounds of garbage. We had four. We won, I guess? Less garbage is better.

Outdoorsy Part XVI: Rain No Rain

Here’s something you should know that I keep forgetting to say. I am a nightmare to hike with. Actually, not for the whole time. Mostly, it’s when arriving to a park. I take maybe ten minutes to get out of the car. There’s a lot of situating that goes on. When I finally get moving, I’m mostly okay except for when I’m jumping at noises that I’m convinced are bears or when there’s a path I refuse to take because I decide it leads straight to something Dante would write about, which I’m sure would also disappoint Frost. My goal this summer is to get out of the car in under five minutes.

I’m still new to hiking (or, as some people in a nature group call what I do, walking –seriously, I shared some nature stuff and they were like, that’s more of a walk than a hike—how about I didn’t ask you about words—anyway), so weather is a factor. I bring a lot with me in case of weather changes or mud or dehydration. This is mainly why I take so long getting out of the car. I decide what I need and what can stay, and the decision is never easy.

The Captain and I had signed up for a group hike through Caleb Smith State Park. Rain was in the forecast, and the hike leader responded to my RSVP with Be ready for showers. Okay, I guess hiking in the rain is a thing even though the description said rain cancels. The morning of when it was still raining, I got an email that canceled the hike. The rain was more than a shower but intermittent, so I guess that’s the line—uncertain rain.

We went hiking anyway, starting a bit later because the forecast called for a decent break. We started off in a drizzle (after I got out of the car in about ten minutes, locked it, put my key away, paid for parking, then had to find my key, open the car, and put the parking ticket on the dash—a nightmare, I tell you!). The park was mostly paved, though we crossed over into some woodsy, soggy, muddy areas. The drizzle subsided quickly, so the only rain that was happening was secondary from the trees.

We found some spots where the leaves looked burned. That’s not natural, right?

The highest point in the park is 120 feet up. Not nearly as high as Jaynes Hill. Still pretty steep though, and my glutes were loving it. The steps up were like lunges on overdrive.

Because the park was empty, deer were out. One actually ran across the walking path. A group of three were eating leaves. Then a group of what seemed like ten galloped away when they heard humans. There were no bears.

After finding the main building—bathrooms! I need to find out what other women do when they need a bathroom and are in the middle of a hike (or a walk, whatever) because if the only option is to pop a squat, I’ll do it, but if there are other options, I’m up for knowing about them—we went down the road to Sunken Meadow for another climbing hike. Before the hike, we skipped rocks. My first rock was basically a throw diagonally into the water. My second rock? Skipped! Getting my nature groove back one awful throw at a time.

The only part of the hike that gets tricky comes up towards the end when I have to come down from the bluff onto the beach where there’s no foothold and it’s a step about six inches too steep for me to actually step down. This is what roots are for—I grabbed onto tree roots and made my way half down. Then I half hung from a skinny tree trunk and made the rest of the way down backwards. Little people are highly resourceful.

Outdoorsy Part XV: Advice and Facts

Belmont Lake State Park has a long loop around the lake that’s easy to follow. It’s my kind of navigation—walk in a circle. It also has off-shoots, and I’ve wondered where they go. Because the Captain has a better sense of direction than I do (as do all people and most animals), he agreed to come along and scope out the paths. I mentioned this plan to my brother who replied, “They all go to the parking lot except for the one that goes to Argyle in Babylon.” That seems not-getting-lost-able. Here’s what we learned.

  • 1.

Most paths go to the parking lot when you veer away from the lake. It gets a little woodsy at times, but you can usually find a road or a lot somewhere close by. Also, there are entrances to the park from the street in some of the woodsy areas, which would account for how some of the joggers suddenly appeared seemingly out of nowhere. 

  • 2.

If you have not yet been vaccinated, here’s some advice: drink a lot of water the day before, the day of, and the day after. We learned this from a little old lady on a jazzy who was zipping through the woods. We put our masks up when we saw her approaching, and she yelled out to us, “I’ve been vaccinated! It’s okay!” and then asked if we were and then told us about the water, which she found out from her doctor. Later on, I saw this lady trying to get a young child in a stroller to smile while the man pushing the stroller kept moving it away since this lady had no mask on and the child was not entertained. I like this lady. She’s got spunk.

  • 3.

Go here to find children.

  • 4.

Some plants that look like lettuce are called skunk cabbage and they smell like skunks, which means they smell like weed, not as in gardening weeds, but as in the pot. I first saw them, and the Captain was like, “Skunk cabbage,” but they didn’t smell. Then I had an annoying bunch of gravel in my boot, so I had to sit and shake it out, and when I sat, I was whipping my head around, looking for people smoking up. It stank. And it wasn’t the people. It was the plant.

  • 5.

Yellow flowers are not all the same. I knew these flowers weren’t daffodils or dandelions, but I didn’t know what they actually were. I also knew there was a good chance I’d find out for sure (and find out for sure about the skunk cabbage) if I posted pictures on Instagram in my story with question marks.

I get all my science facts from an inanimate chair.

Coat Versus Museum

Taking myself on a date to the Nassau County Museum of Art has become an at least annual routine. On the docket this time: Heroines of Abstract Expressionism and FEM, and also the Manes Center for the first time with the promise of a juxtaposition of works from the Manes collection.

The real focus of the day did not turn out to be art, however. The focus of the day turned out to be how many times I needed to be told I was not allowed to hold my coat. My options were to wear it or to check it. No coat holding allowed.

I made friends with the first security guard right away because I said Good morning to him, and he then directed me towards the wall where I could read about the exhibit. See? Friends! I then checked out the beginnings of the exhibit, at some point sliding my coat off. I’d made it halfway around the room when my new friend moseyed on over and explained I couldn’t hold my coat. Ah, okay! I looked around at all the artwork on the pedestals throughout the room. I got it. I put the coat over my shoulders and kept going.

The next room and the hallway are always brighter, and the starkness of the white walls behind whatever art is hanging offers a stunning contrast. I struggled to keep my coat on my shoulders while simultaneously taking pictures. The struggle is real, friends.

In the back room after the one-person-at-a-time hallway, I found myself not only climbing into my coat but wrapping it tightly around me because this room was an ice box.

The art on the second floor offered a more contemporary and different mood. There’s also a bathroom up there, so I took advantage of being the only person on the second floor. Upon coming out of the bathroom, a new security guard found me. She told me to put my coat on. Seriously, I was out of the bathroom for two seconds and she was all over me. I looked around as I put my coat on. Unlike the first floor, there was literally no artwork that I could accidentally bump into, and I was literally the only patron there. At least I was giving the guards something to do in a fairly empty museum.

I made my way to the Manes Center. No one was there yet, so I hung out by the front doors. The security guard from the first floor of the museum showed up and opened the building. Fast friends, we two! Another patron came in behind me, and we waited in the front hall while the security guard went to put the lights on.

There was a light issue. He couldn’t get them on. There was a lot of flicking of switches and moving from room to room. The woman who works the front desk showed up and also couldn’t get the lights on. Flicking. Switching. Room to room. Then suddenly, all the lights popped on at once. They promised juxtaposition, and we got a light show to boot! They apologized profusely, but really, what was there to apologize for? It’s not like there was a huge rush of a crowd anxiously trying to ram the doors down.

Manes is loaded. Or was loaded. I don’t know anything about him other than he is/was an art collector and his collection includes Warhol and Lichtenstein. The center also includes an art library that is chock full of every book about art imaginable. No one gave me any instructions about my coat, so I took it off and carried it around just because I could.

Outdoors was still a little brisk so I didn’t go for the long walk around the grounds, so I’ll take myself back on another art date for the next exhibit in warmer weather. No coats and outdoor art is always a fun plan.

Outdoorsy Part XIV: On My Turf

Usually when the captain and I go hiking, I drive out east or up north, and I follow him around, assuming he knows where he’s going (9 times out of 10, he does). This time, though, I was like, Drive west, young man. He was like, Sure. That’s how we wound up going for a windy and at-first-chilly jaunt at Hempstead Lake State Park, which is a park I’ve been to multiple times, so I was totally in charge of navigation.


Navigation in this case means going around in a circle. I’m stellar at finding my way around a lake. Also, I’m stellar at layering. That day was one of the first warmer days, but we met up after I was done with work in the late afternoon, which meant that kind of warm that’s not warm. Captain, somehow willing Spring to stay put, decided a t-shirt and some joggers would do the trick. Meanwhile, I had on maybe five layers. While I may have been over-layered, I was happy to be that way when we first hit lakeside and a wind gusted at us, and I was like, that is cold, and he was like, Yeah, that was. Sometimes our conversations are too profound.


Instead of staying at the exact shoreline, we took the higher path around, which was less wind, more bugs. We walked through patches of hovering-black-bug-thingies that didn’t bother to swarm the captain but instead descended upon me. It seemed I was the only one being attacked until two girls walked towards us, arms all aflail. Yes, these were my people, and yes, we were under bug-siege. Nature can be cruel.


Despite the bug infestation, nature treated us nicely. No mud. Lots of sunshine. Glistening lake. Some discarded flowers that were somehow prettier in the sand. Also, the Loch Ness Monster’s cousin appeared. It was a rousing walk to kick off hiking season (but, like, a slow kickoff since I haven’t been back out since because it’s been cold, yo).

Lost In Brooklyn

Way back when the weather went back and forth between freezing and not–kind of like what it’s still like right now–I went to see S. She was like, I have to go to this printing shop. I was like, let’s do it. She was like, it’s a bit of a walk. I was like, Yesssss. She was like, no, really, it’s a mile and… I was like, the longer the better let’s goooooo.

Can you tell I’d had enough of inside?

It wasn’t nature walking. It was sidewalk walking. Crossing streets walking. Dodging people rushing the other way, including children on scooters with their mother not caring that their children were literally aiming for oncoming pedestrian walking. That is a very specific kind of walking, I suppose, but it was there. It was all there.

There was no snow fort to climb over at each corner. There were no large puddles of leftover mystery moisture. It was brisk when the sun went in, and that offered relief from the over-doing-it all-out sort of foot race I’d turned our walk into.

Then we got to one of those corners that isn’t simply two streets crossing each other but it’s a web of weirdness. You can’t tell which light is for who. There are crosswalks that seem to link one side of the street with a cloud by way of the sewer. You know, those places where you have no idea who decided it was a good idea to make all roads lead to that one point where nothing special lives except for confusion. We got out our phone maps. We walked a little. We checked the map. We walked a little. We checked the map.

S realized: We overshot it. I was like, Yassss.

If you can’t tell, I was really enjoying the walk outside not in my house.

We double backed and found the shop and it was small and about a billion degrees so I waited outside. The scooter children wheeled by followed by their mother who clearly saw them making pedestrians jump out of the way and said absolutely nothing. When S was done, we headed to Starbucks because I had points that I didn’t want to lose. (If you don’t know what that means, I feel sad and need you to contact me so I can explain the wonders of free things).

At the Starbucks, my first notion was, This music is too loud. My second notion was, I am an old lady. I ordered a tall Emperor’s cloud green tea and asked to use my points. After a short wait, one of the baristas practically had to shout to get my attention, and then asked, Did you want a regular tea or a latte? I was like, Just a hot tea. Then the manager called me over to the register and explained that she had to scan my app again because the wrong amount of points were taken. She said the points would show up later and the drink was on her. I thanked her, and then realized my whole use-them-or-lose-them points issue had not been resolved. Also, this debacle proves that am not an old lady and the music was indeed too loud.

Not that this is a story about reading comprehension, but here’s the follow up. The points never appeared back in my app, so I sent a message to customer service explaining exactly what happened as I have here (minus the music being loud). The response I got was this: We are sorry you experienced this. We have read your email very carefully. We are sorry you did not like the taste of your dragon fruit latte. Please be aware that this latte is a different amount of points from a regular tea. We will contact the store and give you your points back.

Let me point out their second statement: We have read your email very carefully. Really? Did I ever mention a dragon fruit something or other? I don’t even know if that’s a thing. I have no idea what they were talking about and I never tasted anything I didn’t like. I mean, in this instance. I’m sure I’ve tasted things in my life I haven’t liked. Like the first time I had cilantro. It was bad. Real bad. But I’ve grown accustomed to it, now. Anyway.

I was out! S and I took that long walk back, and it was a brilliant day of catching up. That’s why we’d totally missed the place the first go around. Walking and talking and feeling like the world was a normal place. That’s what friendship is all about. That and making fun of the response I got back from Starbucks because when I told S, she was like, You totally didn’t say any of that! Thanks, friend.

I’m Going To Be A Martian Soon

Maybe that’s not how it works. If I go to Mars, am I a Martian? No, that doesn’t make sense. Like, if I go to Iowa, I’m not an Iowan. None of this really matters. What matters is that I’m going to be on Mars soon! Not me physically, but in spirit. Remember when I got that boarding pass for the rover? Touchdown is soon. I’m gonna be on Mars!

February 18, 2021 Perseverance will arrive to its destination near Jezero Crater at around 2:15 PM EST. NASA has it all planned out. I am so ready. So are the astronauts. The ones that need to be liberated.

Outdoorsy Part XIII: Where Are We Hiking?

The Captain gave me no choice in the matter. It wasn’t “What do you want to do?” or “Should we get coffee?” but it was “Where are we hiking?” meaning “It’s warmer than last time so you are going to hike.” So we decided on Massapequa Preserve again, the part we hadn’t walked from Merrick. I’d done it before with my brother for the DYI Alzheimer’s Walk (Go Team JoeRau!), but we’d walked the paved path. This time, Capt. would navigate the woods, and I’d follow.

You know what? I just realized that Capt. is a good guy. He could totally lure me into the woods and murder me because I wouldn’t be able to find my way out, and he hasn’t done that. Thanks for being a good pal.

Anyway, we met up and it was indeed warmer than last time. However, in my brain—and body—it was somehow colder. I literally stated this “logic”:

It’s almost 50 degrees, but it’s like going up to 50. Last time, it was almost 40, but it was going down to 40. It’s been cold, so up to 50 is, like, colder than down to 40 when it’s been warm. You know?

Capt. nodded at this. He could have been simply nodding to stop the nonsense. No one should agree with this. It makes no sense at all. That, however, is how I felt at the time.

There was mud. There were trees. Lots of fallen trees, broken through the trunks, lying over other trees. There were also wooden paths to walk on, complete with a set of steps. That one took us over water, and I was like, I’m pretending there’s no water and no way to fall. Some of the wooden slats on other paths were bouncey, and Capt. was all ready to warn me, and I was like, Nope we’re pretending it’s fine, and so it was. Over 25 years of yoga pays off in balance.

Several other walkers and hikers were out, and we ran into one couple twice. They were very curious about the woods. Where they go. What was in them. The second time we bumped into them, they were like, Is it muddy? I was like, Yes in some places. They were like, Here? I was like, throughout, here and in other places, like where the dirt got wet. Okay, I didn’t say all that, but I was thinking it.

There was a swing in the middle of nowhere. One lone swing, dangling from a tree.

The attack swans swam leisurely here and there. I stayed far away.

Rounding around the water, Capt. thought we should go one way, and I was like, But the water is on this one side of us. It has to stay on that side. Otherwise we won’t be going around it. He was like, You might be right. So that there is my 1 out of 10 times I’m right about directions.

From Park To Mars To The Open Ocean

A few months ago, I answered a call for reading my poetry on video for the Babylon Village Arts Council. South Bay Sundays poetry workshop had been meeting in person during the nice weather in Gardiner Park, so it was a perfect setting. After one workshop, a video guy showed up with a mic and cameras. I was all like, Wow, I thought it would be someone with an iPhone. He was like, Nope, we’ve got equipment. I did my thang, introducing myself, raving about the park, and read some poems.

Here we are in January in winter and my video pops up on the Babylon Village Arts Council YouTube and Instagram. I’m delighted, and I click on it to see how it turned out.

Then I’m floored. It’s not me reading on a park bench. It’s me reading on a park bench and then footage that goes along with my poetry. And it’s all good lighting.

I am so grateful for BVAC and Deborah Hauser, the poet who currently heads up the BVAC Poetry Program, for sharing my poetry in such a detailed and unique way. Thank you!