Outdoorsy Part XXIV: Camping Except for Not Camping At All

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

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

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

Day 1: Getting there—

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

Clearly, I needed this retreat.

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

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

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

Day 2

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

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

Day 3

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

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

Day 4: A Mini Sibling Adventure!

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

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

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

Day 5

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

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

Day 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 7: Enjoying Every Bit One More Time

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

Day 8

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

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

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

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

Outdoorsy Part XXIII: All The Bugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outdoorsy Part XXII: Bubblicious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outdoorsy Part XX: It’s A Public Park, Man

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.

Outdoorsy Part XIX: Golf Adjacent

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. 

Outdoorsy Part XVIII: The Ghost of King Zog

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.

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.

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).

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.

Outdoorsy Part XI: Zig Zag A Bit

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.