I’ve started setting up yoga hikes for the summertime. Yoga either outside or in studio followed by a hike through a nearby park. I ventured into outdoor yoga territory on one of the brightest mornings, and that led to a super sunny hike around Hempstead Lake. The captain came for the hiking part, and we took the path on the sand closest to the lake this time, which meant it was like a completely different park.
Some parts were extremely buggy and spiderwebby, which is not my kind of outdoorsy. However, there were some spaces that felt like tropical island beaches, including one such space where people were swimming, which I wouldn’t think to do in this particular lake, but then again, I don’t think to swim anywhere ever. There were also spaces where the woods framed the lake, and places that had boats, and places that had roosters (I’m not joking—there was a rooster). Some duck friends crossed the path, too.
Then we encountered a guy. This guy had on a shirt, which is what I call progress. He was sitting on a concrete thing that you’ve gotta climb up and over to keep going on the path. As we got closer, he started to move a bit to make way for us. Capt climbed over first and said to him something like, Sorry to get your way, and the guy was like, No, no, man, it’s a public park, man, it’s for everyone, man. By the time I climbed up the concrete and down the slab on the other side, I had a contact high from whom I assume is a cousin of Jeff Spicoli.
We made it around the lake to where there’s a concrete water thingie where the water runs out and under the road. I remembered walking here a different time of year when the sand shows down by the water, and that seemed to be a way around this. However, this time, there was no sand to walk on. The capt started explaining high and low tides to me, and I said something about the moon because that’s the only thing I know about tides—the moon is in charge. Then he said, We could walk across it. Then I said, No we cannot.
And so, we made our way back onto the higher path and found the rest of the way around the lake. Jeff Spicoli’s cousin was no longer at the concrete slab by the time we doublebacked. Was this yet another brief encounter with another realm? Maybe! More likely, though, he found another place to get high. There are tons of places open to anyone to smoke up in a public park, man.
Sunken Meadow is huge. I’ve been there a few times now, and I’m always seeing something new. This time I found out that there’s a trail around the golf course that leads straight to a bluff above the sound. Birds flitter around. I don’t like birds but I loved them here. There’s a place where you can hit golf balls into the water. Thinking about that now, maybe it’s not so great but at the time it was all kinds of wonder.
Before seeing all that though, I managed to spray my water bottle with bug spray. And part of my windshield. The spray on my water bottle was the chemical-ish kind, and the spray on my windshield was the organic essential oils kind. That means my water was now semi-toxic and my windshield was not going to get clean any time soon. More impressively, I got out of the car and was ready to go in under five minutes. Goal achieved!! (Now for the next goal: Don’t spray the water bottle with bug spray).
While capt hit golf balls I made my way away from the edge of the cliff so that I wouldn’t fall off and I wouldn’t be hit on the backswing. Then a shirtless man ran by in the woods behind us commenting on how beautiful the view is. Perhaps the cousin of the ghost of King Zog?
Side note: We actually did not find the ruins we thought we found in Muttontown. We found something but not exactly what I had been looking for.
Anyway, we made our way down to the beach and walked it back. We took a break on the boardwalk because I was hungry and thirsty and working up a good swass. And if you didn’t know all three things about me already, hello, welcome, you must be new.
After trailing through that side of the park, we walked over to the boggy part. We saw some deer. I talked to them. They looked at me. It was a moment. Mind you, I don’t really enjoy animals (see the aforementioned birds) but here I am, all Dr. Doolittle.
The boggy part was an in and out trail unless we came out at the end on a golfing green and walked across the course while golfers were putting and swinging and doing what golfers do. Capt figured I could wear a collared shirt to look like a golfer and blend in. My idea was, How about not that? We didn’t even make it to that point anyway because the flora closed in on the path and ticks are not on my agenda. We turned back towards the road with me leading the way out for a few paces. This is what we call bravery.
Sure it was buggy and sandy, and it was also sunny and grand.
I got home and took the best shower of my life. All that bug spray—two kinds!— and sunscreen and sweat and sand washed away.
Then I took my mom to a tiny beach for a quick visit and got all sunburned. So much for safety first. Still a day outside from start to finish is great for the soul.
Muttontown Preserve has ruins from the Albanian King Zog. That sentence seems very made-up. I’ve never heard of this king before, and I don’t know why a nature preserve on Long Island would be the place for the ruins of royalty. I headed into nature to find out.
Muttontown Preserve two parking lots and unclear trailheads. I met the captain in the lot near the Chelsea Mansion/Manor. I saw it called both things. It’s a large house with pretty grounds. We had to walk back down where we drove in, pass by the artists’ studio where there was an artist and a car that looked like half a car but turned out to be a car with a trailer, and went up the other path where there was a building. This was the nature building. Since it was closed and there was nothing out front that showed where to go, we went around back. The bathrooms were closed—and Capt was like, You didn’t check to see if there would be bathrooms?!?!, and I was shocked myself—but on the wall were maps. One marked where the ruins were. So it really is a thing. We turned from the maps to face overgrown nature. Trees and high grass and barely any paths to make out. I was like, Maps aren’t really helpful if there’s no starting point. So we simply started walking.
Muttontown Preserve has bugs. This was the buggiest walk to start off. I sprayed myself down with gross bug spray. It didn’t help. We’d seen a guy in the parking lot douse himself in bug spray, so I figured we should follow him because he had a backpack and seemed to know what he was doing. A few minutes later, he was heading back towards us. So much for knowing stuff. Also, I, too, had a backpack, so I don’t know why I was using that as a sign about knowing things. My backpack weighed the equivalent of a small child, and I had no sense of direction. Every time the capt would show me the map on his phone and be like, North blah de blah, I was like, yeah, ok, I can’t even see what’s on the screen, and if I could, it would not make one difference.
There were trail markers. They corresponded to the maps. They meant nothing to me.
After a few trails, a few circles, and many many many bugs, we came upon a sort of clearing. In that clearing was a large circular firepit, a large rotisserie made of tree trunks and a large branch, a few picnic tables, and a shirtless older man with his lunch and an iPad. There was a 50/50 chance we were going to leave here alive. We all greeted each other about the same time. The guy asked where we were from, and then he looked at Capt and was like, You’re not from around here. So the captain said, I’m from Pennsylvania.
The captain is not from Pennsylvania.
The guy was like, What part? The captain was like, the Poconos, like up in the mountains. The guy was like, Yes, I know it, and then named some highway that I suppose goes to or through the good state of PA.
Then the guy commented about how he liked Capt’s socks. I chimed in, Yeah, they’re pretty great. They had Starry Night on them. I like fun socks. The guy was like, Did you buy them for him? I was like, No, he bought his own socks. Then the captain asked the guy if he knew where the ruins were, and the guy said, There are no ruins—that’s a myth.
Then he explained how there’s another entrance to the park. We can go there and see a mansion. It costs $1200, which is what pays for this—and he motioned to the trees. Then he said the captain could leave his socks for the king at the ruins.
We left there alive, and not two minutes later found the ruins. I was like, He was talking about where we parked, right? Right. Why did he tell us to leave your socks there? No clue. You’re not from Pennsylvania. Nope.
The ruins are large walls with graffiti on them. No sign of a king anywhere. Lots more bugs. It was kinda cool to see the remains of a building in the middle of nowhere.
Then we left, and I saw a snake, so I was like, We need to take a path that has no snakes. We did that, and then we walked around to the manor and walked the grounds of the manor and found the parking lot again. We ran into an old couple who asked what there was to see, and I said, A lot of nature. Then a younger couple was roaming around the manor grounds, and the guy had a backpack, so they were clearly looking for the paths to hike. She came over to where my car was and asked, and I was like, You’ve gotta loop back around and go behind the building for the maps. I’ve got a backpack. I’m an expert now.
There’s a 50/50 chance that the shirtless guy near the firepit was not real. He could have been a ghost or a woodland magical being in the shape of a man. Or perhaps he’s a descendent of King Zog, trying to veer people away from the ruins as to not ruin them even more. Maybe he’s the King Zog’s ghost. I kinda want to go back just to see if he’s still sitting there.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Go here to find children.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.