Outdoorsy Part IV: Caumsett As An Adult

Fifth grade meant an overnight field trip to Caumsett. Sixth grade meant an entire week of overnights to Ashokan. Bits and pieces roll around in my brain, both trips melding into one because they both concerned nature and both made me feel awkward. To be fair, everything made me feel awkward. To be fair, lots of things still do.

Here’s what I remember that I’m pretty sure is Caumsett.

  • Sitting in a big room with a fireplace, listening to a man in a thick off-white crocheted sweater who was holding a replica of a baby alligator
  • Being on the beach, watching the man, who had black curly locks to his shoulders, lick his finger and smear a rock, and then show how the rock became paint
  • Going outside in the dark, sitting on the grass, looking up at the stars as the man shone a super-powered flashlight up to point to each one as they made constellations–and then hearing the story of how the stars were made:
    • Something about a dark blanket being put over the earth, probably because humans were doing something terrible, or maybe the animals were being naughty. Then the birds flew up and tried to take it down, creating holes because their beaks weren’t strong enough to pull it. The holes allow light to come through. These are stars.
      • Recently, I wrote a poem trying to express this sentiment. I don’t think it comes across at all. I don’t think the poem has any birds in it.
  • Ticks. Grassy land has ticks. Let’s all be aware of the ticks. They can cause disease. If you see a tick, light a match, blow it out, put the tip to the tick, burn it, lather it in Vasoline, and then pluck it out with long tweezers.
    • This means that I’ve known about ticks since I was in fifth grade, so everyone can stop telling me about the ticks. They are the reason I haven’t ventured into nature all these years. (Okay, one of the many reasons).

Up until recently, I thought of Caumsett as a magical land, far far away, nestled in my childhood memories somewhere between coloring a Snoopy cartoon in kindergarten and receiving a dictionary on graduation night in the sixth grade. It was a place of wonder in nature far out there.

Then my brother brought up riding in Caumsett. I was like, What do you mean? He was like, I ride my bike there. I was like, What are you saying? He was like, You do know Caumsett is on Long Island, right? I was like,  ? ? ? ?  He was like, Caumsett is on Long Island; you can drive there. I. Was. Floored.

It’s taken a few years more, but I’ve found a hiking adventure buddy willing to put up with my tiptoeing into the land of tick-infested-tall-grasses and penchant for needing snacks and clear path to a bathroom wherever we go. I’m a fortunate gal.

Sidenote: I’m now incredibly aware that my first question to anyone whenever they ask me to go somewhere is, What about bathrooms? I have no idea when this new habit started, but I think it’s a pandemic thing. I drink a lot of water. I have already peed in one plastic container out in a park because there were no bathrooms. I’d do it again. However, I’d rather do it in a toilet, unless that toilet is the equivalent to the Trainspotting bathroom. P. S. The bathroom at Robert Moses comes pretty close to that one. Now this sidenote has taken a turn towards full tangent, so let’s get back to Caumsett, A Childhood Jaunt Turned Adult Realness.

We met at Caumsett after my GPS took me past it. Getting there proves to be an interesting venture because you get to a point north on Long Island until you need to go across this little two lane thingamajig out in the water. Then you wind around and there are mansion-like houses and then the park that the GPS doesn’t recognize. I found the bathroom. Best bathroom I’ve seen in any park hands down! (See? Bathroom Awareness is a thing). Then I handed the Captain the map and was like, This piece of paper means nothing to me.

By the way, I call him the Captain after one of his characters in a story he was working on. Also, he can kayak, so, he’s like a captain for real.

Sidenote that literally just popped into my head: When I was planning my wedding, we found a guy who was a captain with whom I became obsessed. I totally wanted to have the ceremony officiated by a captain. That captain was busy the day we planned to get married. Then that captain kept emailing us about how he might be able to work it out. He had two weddings planned that day already, but he for some reason became reverse- obsessed with us. We stopped answering his emails and settled on Judy. Judy was the best. And now I’m divorced. Not Judy’s fault. The End.

The captain took us into the walled garden and remarked at how the garden didn’t really have much color. Being the height of summer, I suggested that maybe there were more bloomy things happening in the spring.

Out of the garden, we walked past the horsefly dragonfly things that I literally gasped at. We found raspberries. Okay, he found raspberries. I was like, Those are raspberries!?!? I see them all the time! Can they be eaten? He was like, Yes, you can eat a raspberry. He plucked a red one, washed it off with his water, and ate it. I was astonished. It’s as if I were back in fifth grade seeing the magical land of Caumsett for the first time.

We found a building that was maybe called the garage house. It looked abandoned but some sort of unit was chugging along inside the first floor. I wanted to climb the steps to the top, but I thought better of it, figuring if any of those large bugs came at me, I’d fall to my death while trying to swat them. Capt decided to give it a shot, so afterwards, I did, too. I expected great views, but mostly, I could see only the other part of the building and lots of trees.

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We went around the building out to the back and Oh. Meee. Oh. Myyy. I grabbed my head, both hands on either side, stunned. The hill we were on was high and rolled down to a pond. Beyond that, the water went out way back to meet the sky. I couldn’t stop saying how pretty it was. Then from behind, I heard, You’re looking at Connecticut. An older man and a woman arrived behind us. I was like, Connecticut is beautiful!

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Then Capt and I walked down the hill. I stopped to look back. (I did not turn into a pillar of salt. That’s a joke for all you myth-joke-enthusiasts). Up on the hill, the house reached towards the sky behind it. I did a happy dance. Everything kept being pretty.

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Except the bugs. The dragon horse fly things that I’d panicked about before flew around the path by the pond. There were dozens of dozens. I repeated aloud many times, They aren’t real. They aren’t real. They aren’t real.

See? This is why I’ve always turned down offers to go hiking and camping. I know myself. For anyone who’s a nature person, like a real true camper hiker one with nature person, my behavior isn’t cute. It’s juvenile and annoying. I can’t help it. It’s my reaction to all things creepy and crawly. I don’t think these things will kill me, but I also don’t like them.

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There weren’t too many in the little path under the trees to the water, so we went there and watched some fish jump up through the surface and splash back down. There were birds. There were flies. Capt talked about the British. This is very similar to the conversations I have with my brother when we go on Sibling Adventures. He tells me the history of a place, and I respond with, I totally did not know that.

We walked the rest of the path down to the beach. [They aren’t real. They aren’t real.] Yet again, Long Island does its thing. We were in the woods. Then we’re at the beach. How does that even happen? It gets me every time.

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This beach has rocks because it’s the North Shore. That means it was time for the second installment of Christina Skips Rocks. Capt skipped a few, one leaping no less than five times before going under. I basically threw a rock into the water. Then he showed me how to hold it better. I held it differently and instead of kerplunking straight down, it went diagonally into the water, splashing straight to the bottom. He suggested I do a windup like a pitcher in baseball and then was like, Just throw it, like a ball. Explaining that when I throw things, they don’t go where I want them to, I threw a rock into the water as if I were throwing a ball. He was like, Yeah, so you do have the power to throw. That was never the question. I’m quite mighty. I simply have no skillz in aim.

I tried a few more times. I managed to throw a rock straight behind me onto the sand. Then I threw one in the opposite diagonal, which I have no idea how that happened because if my momentum is going left, how does the rock go right. Then I did another and it almost skimmed the water before drowning. The beach has many rocks. We could have stayed all day. Instead, I was like let’s do those little rock tower things.

The proper term is cairn. He’d never built one. I was surprised because he’s been on rocky shores all his life and can skip rocks. How could he never have built one? So we built them. Mine wobbled until I realized my bottom rock wasn’t built for foundation work. He built a mini-fort because he understands rocks.

In the shade, we took a break so I could eat a snack and we could both look at maps I’d bought from the Greenbelt hiker people. They are more maps with lines that I don’t quite understand. We also watched a few people arriving to enjoy the beach in beachy ways like tanning, picnicking, and swimming. One woman lay belly-down on a boulder in the water and made swimming motions with her arms and legs. This is my kind of swimming and next time, I’m going to suit up and dive in. Only I’m not going to do that because now I’m remembering there are animals in the water and so no thanks.

Capt was like, I think the path goes up there. I was like, there are people on the beach that way, so there must be a path there, too. He decided to follow my suggestion and keep walking on the beach. After a really really long walk and still not arriving to where the people were, I was like, You should know that when I make a suggestion that concerns anything about directions or spatial situations, you need to veto it. He was like, Good to know. We finally came out to some fisherman road that people drive on and took to walking it back.

I thought I didn’t like the big dragon horse flies, but I started wishing for them as we made our way down this new path. It was like walking through a wall of gnats. We didn’t stop waving our arms the whole time. We stopped to put on another layer of deet to no avail. He veered us off to another path under different trees. For a few moments, it was better, but then, flies flies flies. So. Gross.

Thankfully, he can read a map and has a good sense of direction. We saw buildings. I get excited when I see buildings because that means we made it. Of course, I checked out the bathroom again, and we ate some more food. I kept happy dancing. The park is such a pretty place.

Then we hopped in our cars and drove down the road to Target Rock. There’s another history lesson here. Something about the British again. I’m pretty sure they would shoot at the big rock in the water for target practice. In the distance beyond the water, I was mesmerized by the smokestacks out in Northport. Something about smokestacks and electricity scaffolding sends me reeling.

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Also sending me reeling, in a different way, was when Capt was like, Oh, there’s a tick on my sneaker. He flicked it off. I jumped up yelling, Tick Check Tick Check! And then proceeded to scour every inch of cloth and skin I could see. No ticks. And that’s when my bikini top closure snapped in half and my top fell off. This is how I hike.

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We hadn’t visited Target Rock in fifth grade, so that was brand new. Caumsett now is a bit different from fifth grade Caumsett. The brick of the buildings, the red ink rocks, the tall yellowing grass, that’s all the same. Actually, it’s probably mostly the same. I’ve changed, not nature. I’m more inclined to actually go out into it. I actually enjoy it.

P. S. I wore knee high socks. Because of ticks. Quit your worrying.

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Outdoorsy Part I: Sunken Meadow

I’ve got a summer wish list that I’ve been checking things off of like a woman on a mission who must get all these things done before the bus explodes. You know, like Sandra Bullock in Speed but without Keanu Reeves and without a bus. The reason I’ve been mission-izing my wish list dawned on me in a moment of clarity while microblogging: I’m trying to prove that I can have a fun time on my own without the help of anyone else, thank you very much, so you [most recent guy who broke my heart] can suck it hard. This moment of clarity allowed me to discover the following:

  1. No one ever said I couldn’t have a fun time on my own or with someone. No one ever accused me of not being fun.
  2. I’m having a fun time, so trying to create vengeance through fun seems nonsensical, and takes some of the fun out of the fun.
  3. No one needs to suck anything, hard, soft, or otherwise.

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Most items on my wish list involve nature. I’ve never considered myself a nature girl. Here I am in the summer of quarantine, visiting every state park I can with a handy Empire Pass in my back pocket. Something about lockdown brings out the need for nature. Also, Long Island is beautiful, and I want to explore it, especially since travel is out of the question right now.

One of my friends used to work at Sunken Meadow State Park, and all during quarantine he’s been regaling me with these neat vignettes about his antics. What better guide to have? We met up in the parking lot with him driving around to get me and bring me to where I needed to go to start, which I told him was 85% going to happen (the %15 percent that I would wind up in the right place when there are lots of lots to choose from was generous). Then off we went, onto a trail and over a bridge and I stopped short.

It. Was. Gorgeous. The sky was overcast, and the clouds were moving grey, and the water was running right under us, and there were birds, and the mountain shone so evergreen (okay, it’s not a mountain. It’s a big hill. But maybe a mountain. I don’t know. I’m new to nature, remember).

We went up a path, found a picnic area, and went up another path, and then another kind of steep path. At the top of that one, he stopped and was like, Yeah, that hill deserves a break. Lungs pounding, I stopped too and was like, Thank you for saying that because I thought I was out of shape for a moment. He told me on the other side of the fence nearby was a hill called Cardiac Hill. So what did we just climb? I couldn’t figure out how it could be much different since the fence was simply separating us from the same mountain/hill/land-incline.

Then suddenly, I was walking on a ledge and then through a forest and we were in the woods, y’all. And then through the woods, up and down and on steep and narrow winding paths, I reminded him, If you encounter a really large gap, we’ll have to double back. Because, you know, I’m short, and I wasn’t about to leap over a gap when the landing was wide enough for only one of my tiny feet. Luckily, no leaping was needed, and we came to the bluffs, and we were at the beach.

So to recap: we were on a mountain => we were in a forest => we were at the beach.

How does this even happen? Whoever complains about Long Island needs to be dragged up Cardiac Hill and rolled down a beach bluff.

We got down to the beach, and he gave me options: walk back through the woods or walk on the beach. The beach! The beach! The North Shore beaches are rocky and narrow, and since I’m a South Shore gal, I don’t get enough of these other kinds of beaches.

Apparently, when you’re from the North Shore, you skip rocks. When you’re from the South Shore, you do something you call skipping rocks, but all you really do is throw a rock into the water and watch it sink. We tried this several times, my friend showing me form and flicking and finding of the good rocks, and me side-winding and twisting and tossing a rock into the water with very little hopping and a whole lot of going under without much fanfare.

Also along the beach were fishermen. Which meant I walked by a full fish dead on the sand. Also dead was a large crab thingamajig with a long pointy tale, drifting in the shoreline as if it were once alive and decided to be dead to freak me out.

See? I’m so one with nature, now.

Actually, I am somewhat proud of myself. When we finished that path, my friend was like, but wait there’s more! We went down into another part of the park where all these little hermit crabs crawled around, in and out of holes. Crabs walk sideways, y’all! Like, I know this, but like, now I really know it.

At that point, thunder rolled and a bit of a spritz started. He was like, Are you good with rain? I was like, rain doesn’t make me melt, so I’m fine except if there’s lightning. He was like, Yeah, if you see the hair on the top of my head start to rise up…, and I jumped in, Yeah, I’ll take cover, for sure. He stopped and was like, Or maybe you can tell me first as a warning. I make a great friend sometimes.

No lightning. No hair on end. No taking cover. Well, that’s not completely true. We went semi-covered in a semi-covert operation to get a picture of a bird that I decided I wanted to stalk. We’d been talking about a recent new story about a woman who got too close to a moose and was pretty much jacked up by the moose when she got too close. I think everything about that story is right. Leave the animals alone. Follow the rules. If you break the rules and annoy the animals, you get what you get and you don’t get upset. Okay, maybe you get upset, but you deserve it. A little over an hour later, here I am in marshy territory, sneaking all up in this bird’s business because I decide I want to be friendly with the animals instead of being grossed out by them (in my defense, both animals I encountered on the beach were dead, and that’s freaky). The bird kept flying away from me, and then I decided to maybe leave it alone before it went all Hitchcock on me.

We came up on the boardwalk. We walked over two more bridges. We finished a whole lot of the park, which meant we’d finished a whole segment of the Greenbelt. The Greenbelt trailis 32 miles running north and south. In my days at Heckscher, I completed some of it. Now here I was at the other end, another segment complete. Is it possible to complete in one day? My Great Saunter experiences point to a big fat No for me.

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With sand in my shoes, wind in my hair, sweat on my skin, and a hum of sky in my ears, we finished the hike, regrouped in our cars, and called it a day.  A great day, for sure.