Outdoorsy Part XXV: What Water Is This?

You’d think by now I could easily catch on to what nature is where, but the winding roads of the North Shore clearly don’t want me to. I’m pretty sure they were designed to keep out non-inhabitants. Counting on my GPS, I curved along the backroads until I saw a figure in the distance. There on Boney Lane was the captain, waving me into the David Weld Sanctuary as if he were on a tarmac guiding in a plane for landing. It was helpful because as soon as I’d made the turn onto the road, my GPS proudly yelled, Arrived! and I had not arrived anywhere except on a road somewhere.

When I parked, the captain was like, You put in the wrong address so I was waiting for you. I was like, No, I clicked the link you texted me and that’s what the map did. Apparently, Boney Lane and Short Beach Road are the same but also different according to my phone. As if I could possibly put in a different address on my own. Like, 345 Curvy Lane, BackRoads, Long Island.

There was much need for sunscreen and bug spray. I doused myself in both as I also tried to not let bugs get into my car. One did but I’m pretty sure it’s now flown out. A wasp almost got in, and thankfully it didn’t because then I’d have to abandon my car at 345 Curvy Lane and hitchhike back to civilization.

Into the preserve we went. It was really green. Not very buggy, thankfully. This was the first hike for my new hiking boots, and grassy woodsy-ness was a good way to break them in. We went down a few paths and then suddenly, we were on a bluff overlooking the water. He was like, Want to go down to the beach? I was like, Is that really a question?

Through the woods we found the beach. What water was this? I didn’t know. It was the Sound. I looked out in the distance. To the left stood smokestacks. I pointed: Northport? He was like, Yup. I was like, That’s your response?!—I know geography for once and all I get is a Yup?! He was subtly impressed.

We walked the beach. Another good way to break in my new boots with soft land underfoot. Also a good way to break a sweat. We’d gotten off to a later start than usual because I’d taught yoga in the morning, so by now the sun was blazing. Super pretty and also super hot. I’d opted for shorts since I knew we’d be mostly on the beach and he’d said the trails were pretty wide. Except for a few places in the path where I passed through as if I were in Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks to avoid ticks, it felt tick-less most of the way.

This was Short Beach, but it was pretty long for a short beach. We passed by what looked like cabanas. Lined up with them out on the water was a floating platform. On that platform, batbirds perched, all batty and birdy. I walked a bit more quickly to pass them. Then we got to where sunbathers sprawled out. We passed them and got to a point where the beach curved around and we could see the other side. I was like, I know where that is! On the other side is the place we’ve hiked before attached to the Greenbelt Trail where Sunken Meadow and Nissequogue meet up (I think. I mean, I knew where I was but that doesn’t mean I know names of things). This was the second time I knew geography. However—what water is this? Is this the river or is this the sound or is this something else? It was the river.

Basically, all the water is the water, and we just call it different things whenever we want. It’s all connected. {However, this morning, an inanimate object DMd me to tell me I don’t know what a beach is, so ya know, don’t go by me).

We hiked more along the river side of the beach and then cut across and around some more until we found a place where the captain said was good for swimming. I was like, Sure, go ahead and I’ll stay alive on the shore. I had on half a bathing suit, and if he’d swam longer, I would’ve gotten into the full thing, but for a ten-minute swim with bugs attacking me, I didn’t do the production of switching my bottoms under a dress I’d brought. The taking off of the boots and socks was a production in and of itself.

Then there was the production of getting it all back on. Then there was the debate of reapplying sunscreen. It was not possible for me. I was slick with sweat. My sunscreen is on the expensive side. There was no point in wasting it; it wasn’t going to stay on my skin with all the moisture pouring off me. I know—this is so attractive. I could go on about what I possibly smelled like at this point, but I’ll leave that to your imagination.

As we started to head back, a swarm of bugs kept biting me. Only me. We stopped on the beach—I think on the sound side not the river side—and I switched from the natural bug spray to the intense chemical stuff. It worked. I’m okay with chemicals if I’m not being eaten alive by no-see-ums.

When we arrived at the bathrooms at Short Beach, I was like, Can we go in the shade? We walked towards the covered picnic tables, and I sat and took in the not being in the sun for a while. There was a breeze! That’s when we remembered the captain wanted to take a picture of what was in my backpack. He was like, Did you take less stuff this time? I was like, I actually have more than last time because of beach options. The one thing I didn’t have was my solar powered charger/flashlight/compass because it adds another few pounds and I simply couldn’t add more, and on a shorter excursion, I banked on not needing it.

After that, we headed back to the beach, back up into the woods, back up to the bluff, and then back through the preserve to find the tiny buggy parking lot. It holds six cars. Six. That’s probably enough considering it’s almost impossible to find if you’re not familiar with Curvy Lane in BackRoads, LI.

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 XXI: Burnt Toast

Before heading out to hike, BMc needed to know one very important item of information: I am an annoying hiker. He didn’t seem phased by the notion, so off we went, BMc, the captain, and me. The path from Belmont Lake State Park to Argyle is an in and out that, according to some hiking websites, is about 9 miles. Perhaps including a walk around the lake. Perhaps not. I’d waited to do this hike because I wanted to build up to the possible 9 miles with some other hikes first. Spoiler alert: it’s not 9 miles and I hadn’t needed to build up to it. Still, it was worth the wait.

We met in the parking lot, and the captain was like, We need to go where we cross under the Southern, and he pointed in one direction. I was like, nope, it’s that way, which is the other direction. I was right. That’s 1 out of 10 if y’all recall. (I’m right one time out of every ten).

After snarking about upper management and administration, and after watching two women and a child get followed by geese because they’d been feeding the geese as they are not supposed to do for this very reason, we found the path under the tunnel into the wilderness. The captain was about to go to the wrong path, so I was like, No this way. Unprecedented. This was twice in one hike that I was right. How this happened, we will never know.

Whenever I smell burnt toast, I immediately ask whoever is nearby if they smell it, too. Burnt toast smell is a symptom of having a stroke, so I figure we all can’t be having a simultaneous stroke. There in the middle of the woods, I smelled it. So I asked. They both smelled it, too. It smelled delicious. We started talking breakfast food. The smell lingered, got stronger, faded, got stronger, faded, and eventually went away. We don’t know where it came from. I do know that I want more of it in my life. I don’t eat bread, so I’ll take the aroma whenever I can. It’s like one of those many foods and beverages that have a better aroma than taste. The aroma was strongest around a pond that we came upon when we got into Babylon. Mmm, toast.

BMc asked at one point what we were carrying in our backpacks. The captain had water and snacks. I had that and so much more! Your gal had her full lunch, a towel, sun screen, two kinds of bug spray, band aids, tissues, gum, deodorant, hand sanitizer, eye drops, chapstick, a solar powered phone charger that doubles as a flashlight and has a broken compass, and, as a new addition, a pee funnel that is supposed to let me stand up while peeing if there’s no bathroom around. I have a feeling I might pee all over myself, but I’m clearly prepared to do that and still be able to clean up afterwards. I’d rather not squat over the ground seeing that every time I go outside, random people warn me about ticks.

We made a bicycle friend. While most of the cyclists inched by without warning, this guy shouted from well behind us, On! Your! Left! Which is how it should be. I yelled, Thank you! Captain heard him mutter, You’re welcome. That guy should teach a class in how to warn pedestrians that you’re riding a bike. This is also what bells are for. If you’re going to go riding, then know the rules.

Things that came up in conversation that I didn’t know about that were to become my homework:

Watching the movie Hook.

Watching some show or movie that starred one of the actors from Hook.

That actor’s name who starred in A River Runs Through It whose face I could see and whom I called “a doughy Brad Pitt,” like not in a bad way but like in an observable way.

Something else that I have now forgotten. Actually, I haven’t forgotten. It’s something I didn’t write down and didn’t make a memory of. (Lisa Genova’s book Remember has changed my life. Read it, and you, too, will realize the different between forgetting and not making a memory).

Argyle Lake appeared not so much later. There were large birds around, one that was standing tall on a rock with large wings fanned out. It looked bat-like, and I didn’t like it at all. By now, I have forgotten what kind of bird it was, but the captain and BMc knew. I will refer to it as a batbird. There were many batbirds on the large rock thing in the middle of the lake, all hanging out in the sun. They didn’t look like bats when their wings were closed. We also saw a black bird with a red spot on its wings that I usually see out at Heckscher, and BMc was like, it’s a red spotted black bird. I was like, That’s its name? He was like, Yes. Right now, I don’t know if that’s what its exact name was, but I do remember thinking it was a very obvious name.

As we headed into town to get some coffee (aka so I could eat my lunch because I was starving) and use the bathrooms (no spout for me this time!), I spotted another guy toting a backpack. I pointed him out—See? That guy’s got a backpack, too! We all looked to where I was pointing. This guy had on combat boots and shorts and no shirt. He was also running. They suggested that perhaps his backpack was filled with something different, and it was possible he was running from something or someone just as much as he may be running towards something. Fair enough.

We visited Babylon Bean where I found a bench to eat my lunch. Our sidewalk conversation seemed to annoy the woman who was at the other table conducting a video chat, so she got up in a huff to go inside. Work in public means the public can get in your way sometimes. We next visited the library and then the statue of the guy who clams. There’s a name for him. It’s not longshoreman. It’s not clammer. It’s something specific, and I can’t remember that, either.

Back to nature, we took some of the same and some different trails back. I wouldn’t know the difference. Plus, everything looks different on the way back because you’re facing a different way. What made me feel most secure about being in the right place? Burnt toast. There it was again, wafting through the air. Ahh, the delights of nature never cease to amaze me.