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.
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.
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!
Winter elements and my body have never gotten along. Fingers and toes go icy rather quickly. It’s incredibly uncomfortable.
Also, this past week, a pain started up in my left foot (not like the movie, but like for real). It’s pain I’ve had before that comes from being a super fit person. Show me a super fit person, and I’ll show you someone who has some sort of weird twinge happening somewhere.
When the weather started to turn, that half-sleep-half-wake twilight time started to be eventful. I get flashes of my daily morning walks. I get snippets of hikes from warmer days this year. I realized that I miss outside. All these years, I’ve never gone outside, so I didn’t miss outside. This year, being outside changed me, and now my brain is having panic nostalgia for the park.
The Captain was like, Would you go hiking in the winter? I was like, No. The Captain was like, I went hiking. I was like, I’m jealous. The Captain was like, Do you want to go hiking? I was like, No.
This extended circular conversation went on for a while until I was like, okay, let’s meet up for coffee, and I’ll bring a variety of footwear. So that’s what we did, and that’s what I did, and putting on my hiking shoes felt pretty okay. We met at the place where we zigzagged a bit, and then we went into the woods, following another section of the Nassau Greenbelt Trail.
Things that worked for me: A hot drink; a coat that creates heat from the inside; hiking shoes over padded wool socks; earmuffs.
Things that were still an issue: Never-warm-enough gloves; runny nose under a mask (it’s gross, y’all, but I was happy the trails weren’t crowded so I didn’t have to have it on the whole time); an attack swan that hissed at us; still-cold-toes towards the end; that hot drink was no longer a good idea after five miles when it needs to make an exit and the only bathroom around is the one in the park that isn’t heated.
Things that were glorious: the sky; mud that looked like lava cake and not falling into said mud; a random brick path; signs that helped navigate the way back; random Christmas trees in the forest; a stream of moss, glowing and bright and it made me squeal out loud.
The temperature reached almost 40 degrees, so I’d say another hike in almost 40 degree weather could be on the table.
You’re here! You’re, like, really here! Like on my screen! How did you know to log on? Yeah, I know I sent you seven emails in the past three days, but still. I don’t even have a plan to teach right now! I didn’t think anyone would show up!
Cameras on please. I want to see your shining faces!
I know you’re at home, but this is a classroom, so don’t do anything right now that you wouldn’t do in a regular classroom. Yes, I understand your grandmother loves you, but you can love her back later. Okay, fine, Hello, grandma, we all love you.
Your bed wouldn’t fit in your car to come to campus, so please avoid lounging in your bed for class.
Unmute yourself. No, I can’t hear you. I see you talking, but—yes, unmute.
Please stay off your phone. I mean, unless, like you’re using your phone to come to class. Then use your phone but stay off the other things it does.
Sorry about the gardener noise.
Is that a cat? I think I hear a cat. Oh, it’s a toddler. Hello, little toddler. I teach college because I don’t know how to interact with you. Am I doing it right? Sorry. Toddler? Please don’t cry. Toddler?
Hang on. Just a second. I’m lost in the Zoom.
You wouldn’t lug your laundry to campus and fold it in the classroom, so let’s not deal with our wardrobes now.
Speaking of clothing, thank you for wearing clothes. Let’s not get into why I’m saying that. I’ve heard some things.
Use a reaction emoji to show you understand.
No, you don’t have to ask to go to the bathroom, but you can type in the chat “Be right back” so I don’t call on you when you’re not there. But really, you can’t go between classes? Why are we having this conversation?
Sorry about the children screaming outside. I don’t know why they aren’t in school like we are. I’d ask them to stop, but we all know how that would go.
I can’t see you right now, so shout out your name along with your answer.
If you’re driving, please log out when you get to the next red light and then log back in when you are parked at your final destination.
I’m lost in the Zoom again.
If you don’t answer when I call on you like three times, I’m going to put you in the waiting room so you can think about what you’ve done.
Again, the chat. BRB. I don’t want to know about your bathroom situation.
Y’all, the electrician is here because he could come only during class time, so if class shuts down, give it a minute and then log back in.
Y’all, thanks for coming back into class. Power is back, but it’s shaky.
Everyone’s ceiling fan looks marvelous today.
Y’all, when the electrician was leaving yesterday, he said hearing me talk reminded him of how much he hated school, especially writing, so you have my apologies.
If you have a goofy smile on your face, I know you’re watching TikTok and not my stellar Prezi about comma splices.
Sorry, hang on. I’m completely distracted because there’s a woman on my lawn walking a 30 pound cat on a leash and it’s pulling her all over the place and she’s tugging at the leash to try to get it off my lawn and the cat is seriously huge, like I’ve never seen a stronger cat, and okay she’s given up the walking part and is now carrying the cat off my lawn. — Maybe we should end class here.
Strange days, y’all. Strange days.
As we all know by now, directions and I do not mesh well. Capt and I wanted to go on another hike with the LIGTC through Massapequa Preserve, which would cover a different part of the Nassau Suffolk Greenbelt. There is no traffic circle to contend with. That’s a plus. However, the directions for getting to the start of the hike literally include the phrasing “zig zag a bit” through the parking lot. I was convinced we’d never get there.
Capt zig zagged first and found it. I turned into a lot and then barely zigged and zagged and found it. It was a much easier find than what I’d thought. Crisis averted. We were on our way.
The trail is an out and back. It’s narrow in a lot of places. It’s mostly paved. There are a lot of bike riders who like to ride very fast on these narrowed paved paths, and that proved to be exhilarating. Here, exhilarating means annoying and scary all at once.
The group was much larger than on the other hikes. I realized that for the other ones, we signed up in advance because they were capped at 10. This one had no sign up and no cap. We were a throng of many walkers at different speeds, occasionally taking over the entire path, but the leader was very clear as she repeated several times: You cannot fan out three across because the path is narrow! Corralling a large group of nature walkers is no easy task. She led us around easily and clearly. This is my kind of walk.
We did get to a part of the park with fewer people and wider trails. Everyone fanned out a bit more. Somehow Capt and I got a bit ahead of our lead hiker, and she exclaimed, The solar charger! I remember you! She’d been on the circular tour of Bethpage when I’d first tried out my new charger. Now that’s going to be my thing. In poetry, I’m the gal with the astronaut ice cream and stickers. In hiking, I’m the gal with the solar powered phone charger. I can live with that.
I don’t know how far we walked, but I do know that on a trail that was out and back, we managed to find a loop around so we didn’t backtrack the whole time on the same trail. Luckily, though, we did backtrack on the trail that connected to the park where the bathrooms were. And luckily, there was a hiker in front of the capt and me who heard me talking about trying to find the bathroom and pointed it out to us. Good people, I tell ya.
We passed by where we’d entered the trail so I could show the captain part of the path I’d walked for the virtual Alzheimer’s walk with my brother in September. Fun Fact: I found an ALZ flag on the path where my brother and I hadn’t hiked, but I’ve convinced myself it’s the same flag I’d planted in September. I mean, what are the chances someone else randomly planted their ALZ flag in the same park? Also, though, what are the chances that someone took my flag from where it was and moved it? These are questions without answers.
We didn’t go the whole way. I stopped us before crossing Sunrise and headed back. We got into our cars. Then rain. Pouring rain. Talk about good timing. We’ve hiked in rain before, but it was more of a mist and I’d had my hat. The one time there was a downpour, we’d called it quits. Being in the car instead of getting soaked through was a gift. Also a gift, I ate my lunch in the car, and it was soup because it’s soup season, and it was good.
The first time I went to Bethpage State Park, the GPS took me to a golf course. It’s world renowned! Also, it’s not where I wanted to be. I called my brother because he’s biked there, and he was like, you’re totally on the wrong side. Somehow, my writer friends and I made our way out of the golf parking lot and into the nature side of the park after weaving in and out of highways and parkways and circling around a traffic circle several times (Big Ben and Parliament!). We had a lovely afternoon chatting and writing and chatting and writing and then going to get food and then sitting in a parking lot until the sun set. It’s still one of my favorite days of this year.
The second time I went to Bethpage State Park, I knew the GPS would take me to the golf course, and I knew I could fight against it when I got to the traffic circle. Fight against it I did, and I still looped around that circle (Big Ben and Parliament!) and wound up back out of the park completely before finding the nature part. Finally, I met up with a different friend, and we hiked. She said I was in for a very long hike because every time she came here, she got lost a little. I was fine with that. The bramble is pretty, looking like an English countryside with wildflowers. Somehow, instead of getting lost, we kept finding the parking lot. If only this were possible when driving into the park and not while hiking.
The third time, I was totally prepared. I circled around that traffic circle (Big Ben and Parliament!) only three times before finding where I needed to go. I texted the captain: when you find yourself in the golf parking lot, drive away from the bubble building, loop around the traffic circle, and go straight until you find the park. I waited in the parking lot on the nature side when the phone rang—the captain informed me that he was near the bubble building and couldn’t find the nature side. I was like, follow my instructions. He was like, I tried. I was like, welcome to my world.
Eventually, he made his way to where we needed to meet up with the hiking group. We spotted a group forming so he asked if they were there for the hike. Yes, but the hike leader wasn’t. What had happened was the leader either sprained or broke her ankle or foot, so she had called upon a different leader to lead us around. Somewhere in the chain of hiking and leadership, something stalled, so whichever person was supposed to be there wasn’t there. However, several of the women lead hikes in different parks, and two of them had a map. I was like, I’ll follow anyone who knows where they’re going.
Let me reiterate: my decision was to simply follow anyone into the woods.
So it was settled—we would all hike along the Red path if we got lost, and otherwise, we’d take some of the other paths. What I do know about the paths from the last time is that the trails overlap in some places. Like, you’re on the Blue trail and then you’re also on the Orange trail. We stopped several times to look at trailheads and markers. I took a picture of the map. Captain regaled me with tales of map making and the DEC. And then we were in the woods. Nature all around. We could hear the parkway in the near distance; otherwise, all nature. To think, I used never go outside, and now I can’t imagine not doing so.
The drawback of being this far into nature is that I have no sense of direction, so even if I’m following a certain path, I can loop that path in a circle for eternity and still think I’m making progress. I actualy had a compass on me. I bought a solar charger for my phone that came with a compass.
Back in maybe 5th or 6th grade—either at Caumsett or Ashokan—we had to learn to use a compass. I remember putting it around my neck and “plugging it in” by pushing it against my belly button. I still got the entire group lost. The end.
My orienteering skills have not changed. Thankfully, Capt has a pretty good sense of where he is and can find civilization. Plus, we were in a great group. Everyone was pitching in to figure out where to go. The members of the LIGBTC are so, so, so nice and also knowledgeable, which means even in getting a bit turned around, never once did I think I’d have to teach myself to build a fire and set up camp.
After a hike that was not 6 miles but 4, we wound up in the parking lot. Ah, yes, this is the moment I know well. Everyone decided to call it a hike, and we thanked the hikers for their wisdom and kindness.
Captain and I took a spin by the English-country-side-wildflowers-turned-cold-weather-dead-flowers. We found some pumpkin vibes. Then we went into the woods on a path, and I was like, how do we know how to get out? It was close to lunch time. I wasn’t about to get lost on an empty stomach. He was like, we keep going left. I was like, that’s the plan? He was like, yup. And I was like, Oh ok sure! Because it was more of a plan than what I had, which was nothing.
Going left worked, and we made a large circle and found the parking lot once again. I ate the lunch I’d brought—soup! because it’s soup season!—but it wasn’t easy because my hands were cold and they didn’t want to hold things like spoons.
For dessert, I wanted to go to Dunkin. Usually, I don’t crave anything sweet or any holiday-driven gimmick. However, they were touting a ghost pepper donut, and I was all about trying it. So we found a Dunkin, grabbed a coffee each, and we split a donut. That heat creeps up on ya, for sure, but it wasn’t what I’d call ghost pepper spice level. As I’ve heard, ghost peppers knock you sideways. This was merely a tongue-wake-up-call. That sounds unpleasant and dirty all at the same time. It was a fun way to top off the day.
Remember Leap Day 2020? I do. It was the day of my most glorious date with myself, trouncing from gallery to gallery, across the highline, getting lost, and then finding myself at The Rubin to measure my existence. It was the last time I was in the city. A pandemic floated in, much in that freaky way the yellow smoke licks at buildings in that T. S. Eliot poem.
With a lot of trepidation and a lot of hope and excitement, I ventured out onto a train and into a city and found myself again at The Rubin, this time with my yoga gal pal, and it was glorious!
I’m pretty good with trains and subways. When the gals used to go to Shecky’s, I’d be the one they followed to get from Penn to the Puck building and back again. (However, D was better with streets—she taught me 1, 2, 3, Little Pigs Make 5 meaning 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Lex, Park, Madison, 5th, , which works only when you remember it and not when you’re standing on a street corner shouting, Pigs! There are pigs! They go to the market!).
Anyway, trains. I was nervous, standing on the platform with my mask on and a magazine in my face. Trains pulled in and out. Then when it was time for my train to arrive, a train pulled in, and I got on. Phew! I got on! It was super clean. I sat. It was super empty. I waited and then listened to the announcements that had been going on since I stepped on the train. Clearly, this announcement was just for me because it sounded exasperated as it explained this was the last stop and the train was headed to the yard. I got off the train.
Then the real train arrived. I got on the train. I used my phone with my electronic ticket app thing. My ten trip I’d bought pre-pandemic had expired and the “good” folks at the MTA did not let me extend it even though they said only essential workers should be using the trains at the beginning of quarantine, which was when my trips were to expire. So I was following rules, and they were being jerks. I bought a new ticket for this one round trip, not knowing if I’d be able to use another ten trip, not knowing if this trip to the city would be a success.
After the train pulled into Penn and I made my way to the sidewalk, I realized I’d done so without touching anything. You can get a whole lot accomplished without touching things with your hands! The first think I touched was the door to the Rubin, and that’s where I found B waiting for me. We were a bit early, but since the museum was empty, they let us in.
First up—origami! I’d followed their instructional video to make an origami lotus and sent it in. On the first floor, there’s a large basin of lotuses, many very advanced and crafty. Hanging from the top floor ceiling all the way down to the lobby are more lotuses. Brilliant!
Then we went all the way to the top to spiral our way down. We followed the arrows on the floor. We saw some exhibits and some remnants of exhibits that had been there but were interactive and so are no longer allowed. Like, the writing desk with all the envelopes was now roped off (last time, I wrote a letter). Like, the photograph of the pile of candy that had looked like a shiny rug (last time, I took a piece of candy). Still, we were in a museum! We were in the city!
The shrine room is still open. They limit it two at a time, which again, was not a big issue because it was pretty empty. We meditated a bit and then headed out to see more of the art. We talked crystals. We talked mudras. We talked how to make the intricate metal statues. We talked awe. We talked yoga. We went to the museum store and talked all things intriguing and interesting.
Then we were done with the museum and up for lunch. We walked to Chelsea Market. The streets are not crowded. This is how S had described it when she was talking me off the anxiety ledge. There are people out. There are no tourists. That makes a major difference.
Side note: When my brother and I completed our Walk To End Alz, we were walking behind some guy in Massapequa Preserve when I was explaining how I had a plan to go into the city. The guy turned around and warned me to be super careful because just last week, a man in midtown was wielding a machete. Oh, ok, thank you giant man who looks susupiciously like a man who would stand in Times Square and wield a machete. My brother told me not to worry about machetes. I figured that I couldn’t let it hold me back since that could basically happen any time in NYC, not just during the pandemic. Remember the slashings of 2016? Yeah, that was terrible. Also terrible: urban machete attacks.
We got to Chelsea Market without encountering pointy objects. We ate Thai. We ordered ice teas that the server warned several times about their being sweet. Omigosh, sweet is an understatement! I got an ice tea with lychee, and it was heaven on a sugar high. The food was delicious. The only drawback was the occasional large truck that rushed by the barrier inches away from where we were sitting, but that also reminded me of yoga in Times Square, lying on the ground with traffic a few feet away (that’s how B and I met, btw, so it all was very serendipitous).
After lunch, we grabbed coffee at a cute shop and walked in circles for a few blocks here and there, finally circling in on the garage where she’d parked. Then I walked back to Penn, again with no pointy objects in sight, and boarded the correct train the first time. I panicked when the doors closed because I couldn’t access my ticket, but then I realized that I had to sign into the app to actually get my ticket to work. Usually, I’m good with technology, but under the circumstances, my lapse is understandable.
Then I got home. I washed my hands for the hundredth time. I changed my clothes. I sighed with happiness and relief and such joy and gratitude. I’d felt so nervous and also so wanting, full of anxiety and full of need. Then I did my best to keep myself and the people around me safe, and I experienced life the way it could be again. That gives me great hope.
You know how hiking became the thing to do over the summer? Apparently, people hike year-round! I know! I’ll give you a moment to take that in.
That’s how I found myself all signed up for a guided hike in September, which is the dividing line between summer and autumn, and which is also the time of year I climb into a cuddly winter coat (I’ve got a big red coat that someone once referred to as wearing a sleeping bag, and he’s totally right).
I met up with the Captain at Caumsett. I did not wear a big red coat. After a slew of texts the night before about what to wear, I went with new leggings, high socks, hiking boots, and layers on top. I did not wear a hat though I brought one along with extra socks and sneakers and an extra shirt. I did not bring extra underwear, though now that I think about it, that’s not a bad idea. I also had snacks. Capt. had on like a hoodie. I was overprepared for this summer-into-autumn weather.
Side note: I don’t usually wear leggings. I find that they make me look like I have quad-butt, you know, like when you have visible panty line and it looks like you have four buns instead of two. These leggings were a bit thicker, so avoiding quad-butt seemed to work out, but they also have pockets that I think were made for taller people even though the leggings were supposedly my size because my phone was down by my knee instead of at my thigh. Is that normal? Legging wearers, lemme know.
It was windy and overcast, which meant I was cold at first. We stood in one place waiting to see if we could find the hike leader. We’d decided to try a guided hike because the last time we were at Caumsett, I was all, Let’s go that way, and we wound up on that path that I can describe only as a real life rendition of that pig head in Lord of the Flies. If you haven’t read that book, then first, for shame!, and second, it’s kinda buggy. There’s also a wild boar. In the book, not at Caumsett. At Caumsett, there are trails that we figured the good folks at the Long Island Green Belt Trail Conference would be able to show us through.
We found the hike leader easily. Then a small group gathered. Then we were off. And when I say we were off, I mean like warp speed off. These people walk like they are on a mission. I was fine; all the working out and walking I do had prepared me for this moment of power hiking. I mentioned to Capt, This is a moderate walk? He was like, the hikes have only two labels: easy and moderate. I was like, Oh, then yes this makes sense.
Our hike leader immediately took us to places we hadn’t seen. We were around and through fields and woods. Then we were at the beach. Then we were on a small path deep in the woods where we all had to walk single-file. That’s when I realized, wow this really is a hike hike. Not like a walk in the woods. Several times over the summer I had found myself in this position—realizing in the middle of doing something what I was actually doing. I think it’s better that way. You can’t be afraid of something you’re completely oblivious to, amirite? (I’m probably wrong, but let’s just go with it).
The grounds were gorgeous. The sun came out. There were times where we were protected from the wind, so I was not freezing. It still amazes me how we can be in the woods and then at the beach. Nature. Kinda magnificent.
I was, however, in need of a bathroom. This should come to no surprise. When we were about to come through mile five, two women veered off. Capt overheard that they were going to the bathroom. He was like, we should go with them. I was like, Are you sure? My bladder was like, Why the heck are you asking? Capt was like, yeah. I was like, But we’re cutting it short. My bladder was like, I’m going to let loose if you follow the group back into the woods again.
So off we went, chatting with another hiker about her excursion last year to Nepal where she hiked to the base of Mt. Everest. This is the benefit of hiking with a group. You get to meet neat people. She also informed me that if ever there’s an older woman in the group, I can guarantee a veer off towards a bathroom at some point. Good to know!
The veer off was at a good time, too, because my lunch was back at the car. Apparently, if I’m not sweating or peeing, I’m eating. I’m very primal, y’all. Since I’d gone grocery shopping the day before right after teaching yoga outside when it was like 40 degrees and I couldn’t feel my feet, I’d bought a lot of soup. Now that the sun had come out, I was eating soup and running from yellow jackets in weather not meant for soup. And that’s Autumn.