From Park To Mars To The Open Ocean

A few months ago, I answered a call for reading my poetry on video for the Babylon Village Arts Council. South Bay Sundays poetry workshop had been meeting in person during the nice weather in Gardiner Park, so it was a perfect setting. After one workshop, a video guy showed up with a mic and cameras. I was all like, Wow, I thought it would be someone with an iPhone. He was like, Nope, we’ve got equipment. I did my thang, introducing myself, raving about the park, and read some poems.

Here we are in January in winter and my video pops up on the Babylon Village Arts Council YouTube and Instagram. I’m delighted, and I click on it to see how it turned out.

Then I’m floored. It’s not me reading on a park bench. It’s me reading on a park bench and then footage that goes along with my poetry. And it’s all good lighting.

I am so grateful for BVAC and Deborah Hauser, the poet who currently heads up the BVAC Poetry Program, for sharing my poetry in such a detailed and unique way. Thank you!

Outdoorsy Part XII: Baby, It’s Kinda Cold Outside

Winter elements and my body have never gotten along. Fingers and toes go icy rather quickly. It’s incredibly uncomfortable.

Also, this past week, a pain started up in my left foot (not like the movie, but like for real). It’s pain I’ve had before that comes from being a super fit person. Show me a super fit person, and I’ll show you someone who has some sort of weird twinge happening somewhere.

When the weather started to turn, that half-sleep-half-wake twilight time started to be eventful. I get flashes of my daily morning walks. I get snippets of hikes from warmer days this year. I realized that I miss outside. All these years, I’ve never gone outside, so I didn’t miss outside. This year, being outside changed me, and now my brain is having panic nostalgia for the park.

The Captain was like, Would you go hiking in the winter? I was like, No. The Captain was like, I went hiking. I was like, I’m jealous. The Captain was like, Do you want to go hiking? I was like, No.

This extended circular conversation went on for a while until I was like, okay, let’s meet up for coffee, and I’ll bring a variety of footwear. So that’s what we did, and that’s what I did, and putting on my hiking shoes felt pretty okay. We met at the place where we zigzagged a bit, and then we went into the woods, following another section of the Nassau Greenbelt Trail.

Things that worked for me: A hot drink; a coat that creates heat from the inside; hiking shoes over padded wool socks; earmuffs.

Things that were still an issue: Never-warm-enough gloves; runny nose under a mask (it’s gross, y’all, but I was happy the trails weren’t crowded so I didn’t have to have it on the whole time); an attack swan that hissed at us; still-cold-toes towards the end; that hot drink was no longer a good idea after five miles when it needs to make an exit and the only bathroom around is the one in the park that isn’t heated.

This swan hissed at us.

Things that were glorious: the sky; mud that looked like lava cake and not falling into said mud; a random brick path; signs that helped navigate the way back; random Christmas trees in the forest; a stream of moss, glowing and bright and it made me squeal out loud.

The temperature reached almost 40 degrees, so I’d say another hike in almost 40 degree weather could be on the table.

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.

Outdoorsy Part X: Rambling

The first time I went to Bethpage State Park, the GPS took me to a golf course. It’s world renowned! Also, it’s not where I wanted to be. I called my brother because he’s biked there, and he was like, you’re totally on the wrong side. Somehow, my writer friends and I made our way out of the golf parking lot and into the nature side of the park after weaving in and out of highways and parkways and circling around a traffic circle several times (Big Ben and Parliament!). We had a lovely afternoon chatting and writing and chatting and writing and then going to get food and then sitting in a parking lot until the sun set. It’s still one of my favorite days of this year.

The second time I went to Bethpage State Park, I knew the GPS would take me to the golf course, and I knew I could fight against it when I got to the traffic circle. Fight against it I did, and I still looped around that circle (Big Ben and Parliament!) and wound up back out of the park completely before finding the nature part. Finally, I met up with a different friend, and we hiked. She said I was in for a very long hike because every time she came here, she got lost a little. I was fine with that. The bramble is pretty, looking like an English countryside with wildflowers. Somehow, instead of getting lost, we kept finding the parking lot. If only this were possible when driving into the park and not while hiking.

The third time, I was totally prepared. I circled around that traffic circle (Big Ben and Parliament!) only three times before finding where I needed to go. I texted the captain: when you find yourself in the golf parking lot, drive away from the bubble building, loop around the traffic circle, and go straight until you find the park. I waited in the parking lot on the nature side when the phone rang—the captain informed me that he was near the bubble building and couldn’t find the nature side. I was like, follow my instructions. He was like, I tried. I was like, welcome to my world.

Eventually, he made his way to where we needed to meet up with the hiking group. We spotted a group forming so he asked if they were there for the hike. Yes, but the hike leader wasn’t. What had happened was the leader either sprained or broke her ankle or foot, so she had called upon a different leader to lead us around. Somewhere in the chain of hiking and leadership, something stalled, so whichever person was supposed to be there wasn’t there. However, several of the women lead hikes in different parks, and two of them had a map. I was like, I’ll follow anyone who knows where they’re going.

Let me reiterate: my decision was to simply follow anyone into the woods.

So it was settled—we would all hike along the Red path if we got lost, and otherwise, we’d take some of the other paths. What I do know about the paths from the last time is that the trails overlap in some places. Like, you’re on the Blue trail and then you’re also on the Orange trail. We stopped several times to look at trailheads and markers. I took a picture of the map. Captain regaled me with tales of map making and the DEC. And then we were in the woods. Nature all around. We could hear the parkway in the near distance; otherwise, all nature. To think, I used never go outside, and now I can’t imagine not doing so.

The drawback of being this far into nature is that I have no sense of direction, so even if I’m following a certain path, I can loop that path in a circle for eternity and still think I’m making progress. I actualy had a compass on me. I bought a solar charger for my phone that came with a compass.

Back in maybe 5th or 6th grade—either at Caumsett or Ashokan—we had to learn to use a compass. I remember putting it around my neck and “plugging it in” by pushing it against my belly button. I still got the entire group lost. The end.

My orienteering skills have not changed. Thankfully, Capt has a pretty good sense of where he is and can find civilization. Plus, we were in a great group. Everyone was pitching in to figure out where to go. The members of the LIGBTC are so, so, so nice and also knowledgeable, which means even in getting a bit turned around, never once did I think I’d have to teach myself to build a fire and set up camp.

After a hike that was not 6 miles but 4, we wound up in the parking lot. Ah, yes, this is the moment I know well. Everyone decided to call it a hike, and we thanked the hikers for their wisdom and kindness.

Captain and I took a spin by the English-country-side-wildflowers-turned-cold-weather-dead-flowers. We found some pumpkin vibes. Then we went into the woods on a path, and I was like, how do we know how to get out? It was close to lunch time. I wasn’t about to get lost on an empty stomach. He was like, we keep going left. I was like, that’s the plan? He was like, yup. And I was like, Oh ok sure! Because it was more of a plan than what I had, which was nothing.

Going left worked, and we made a large circle and found the parking lot once again. I ate the lunch I’d brought—soup! because it’s soup season!—but it wasn’t easy because my hands were cold and they didn’t want to hold things like spoons.

For dessert, I wanted to go to Dunkin. Usually, I don’t crave anything sweet or any holiday-driven gimmick. However, they were touting a ghost pepper donut, and I was all about trying it. So we found a Dunkin, grabbed a coffee each, and we split a donut. That heat creeps up on ya, for sure, but it wasn’t what I’d call ghost pepper spice level. As I’ve heard, ghost peppers knock you sideways. This was merely a tongue-wake-up-call. That sounds unpleasant and dirty all at the same time. It was a fun way to top off the day.

Outdoorsy Part IX: Not Getting Lost At Caumsett

You know how hiking became the thing to do over the summer? Apparently, people hike year-round! I know! I’ll give you a moment to take that in.

That’s how I found myself all signed up for a guided hike in September, which is the dividing line between summer and autumn, and which is also the time of year I climb into a cuddly winter coat (I’ve got a big red coat that someone once referred to as wearing a sleeping bag, and he’s totally right).

I met up with the Captain at Caumsett. I did not wear a big red coat. After a slew of texts the night before about what to wear, I went with new leggings, high socks, hiking boots, and layers on top. I did not wear a hat though I brought one along with extra socks and sneakers and an extra shirt. I did not bring extra underwear, though now that I think about it, that’s not a bad idea. I also had snacks. Capt. had on like a hoodie. I was overprepared for this summer-into-autumn weather.

Side note: I don’t usually wear leggings. I find that they make me look like I have quad-butt, you know, like when you have visible panty line and it looks like you have four buns instead of two. These leggings were a bit thicker, so avoiding quad-butt seemed to work out, but they also have pockets that I think were made for taller people even though the leggings were supposedly my size because my phone was down by my knee instead of at my thigh. Is that normal? Legging wearers, lemme know.

It was windy and overcast, which meant I was cold at first. We stood in one place waiting to see if we could find the hike leader. We’d decided to try a guided hike because the last time we were at Caumsett, I was all, Let’s go that way, and we wound up on that path that I can describe only as a real life rendition of that pig head in Lord of the Flies. If you haven’t read that book, then first, for shame!, and second, it’s kinda buggy. There’s also a wild boar. In the book, not at Caumsett. At Caumsett, there are trails that we figured the good folks at the Long Island Green Belt Trail Conference would be able to show us through.

We found the hike leader easily. Then a small group gathered. Then we were off. And when I say we were off, I mean like warp speed off. These people walk like they are on a mission. I was fine; all the working out and walking I do had prepared me for this moment of power hiking. I mentioned to Capt, This is a moderate walk? He was like, the hikes have only two labels: easy and moderate. I was like, Oh, then yes this makes sense.

Our hike leader immediately took us to places we hadn’t seen. We were around and through fields and woods. Then we were at the beach. Then we were on a small path deep in the woods where we all had to walk single-file. That’s when I realized, wow this really is a hike hike. Not like a walk in the woods. Several times over the summer I had found myself in this position—realizing in the middle of doing something what I was actually doing. I think it’s better that way. You can’t be afraid of something you’re completely oblivious to, amirite? (I’m probably wrong, but let’s just go with it).

The grounds were gorgeous. The sun came out. There were times where we were protected from the wind, so I was not freezing. It still amazes me how we can be in the woods and then at the beach. Nature. Kinda magnificent.

I was, however, in need of a bathroom. This should come to no surprise. When we were about to come through mile five, two women veered off. Capt overheard that they were going to the bathroom. He was like, we should go with them. I was like, Are you sure? My bladder was like, Why the heck are you asking? Capt was like, yeah. I was like, But we’re cutting it short. My bladder was like, I’m going to let loose if you follow the group back into the woods again.

So off we went, chatting with another hiker about her excursion last year to Nepal where she hiked to the base of Mt. Everest. This is the benefit of hiking with a group. You get to meet neat people. She also informed me that if ever there’s an older woman in the group, I can guarantee a veer off towards a bathroom at some point. Good to know!

The veer off was at a good time, too, because my lunch was back at the car. Apparently, if I’m not sweating or peeing, I’m eating. I’m very primal, y’all. Since I’d gone grocery shopping the day before right after teaching yoga outside when it was like 40 degrees and I couldn’t feel my feet, I’d bought a lot of soup. Now that the sun had come out, I was eating soup and running from yellow jackets in weather not meant for soup. And that’s Autumn.

Outdoorsy Part VI: Orienteering

More hiking means more summer wishes came true on a rather lengthy excursion to the end of the North Fork. As a South Shore gal, I know Montauk as The End, so I wonder what everyone on the North Shore calls Orient. It’s also an end. It’s a really far end. Along the way, I saw farms. It’s that kind of far.

Upon arrival at Orient Beach State Park, a lovely woman in the booth gave me and the Captain the rundown of what to expect in the park. She told me to drive really slow because there’s no rush. It’s two miles from the booth to the parking lot, so we could look out the windows to take in the scenery. She showed me a map of how we got there from Riverhead to the point. Then she showed me another map with the park trails. When we looked at the trail map, we saw really it’s only one trail, and the map shows it magnified at several levels. We made our slow drive the two miles to the lot, and we found that the day was already heating up.

We hit the trail where it was marked Start and End. That seems surreal, but it’s not because the trail isn’t a loop. When you walk towards the booth end, you’ve gotta walk back unless you plan to walk home. We took a side nature trail for a moment and read about a guy who was there once in history, and then we went back to the normal trail because I wasn’t wearing high socks and I’d refused to put on bug spray. So onto the paved path we went.

High socks and bug spray were not necessary on the pavement. After walking a bit, we went down onto the beach. Yup, this was pretty much a trip to the end of the earth, and it was heaven. Also, there was red sand. I’ve got a penchant for any sand not sand colored.

Then I tried to make a bird friend again. Why do I stalk the birds? I don’t even like birds all that much. Captain and I even talked about how I know a lot of birders and am not into birds. He considers birds dinosaurs.

We skipped rocks. That’s right, we. I got some skipping to happen. I’m heading for the Olympics soon.

After a bit more walking, Capt. was like, This is the hottest and sweatiest I’ve ever been. I was like, Oooh look at how the sand is so pretty. He was like, Let’s find some shade. I was like, Everything is so pretty! He was like, There’s shade over there, so let’s sit. I was like, Why are you so hot? He was like, It’s boiling out here. We climbed up between some boulders and got into the shadows of some trees. Then I felt sweat literally pouring into my eyes, and I had to use the flap of my backpack to wipe it away. Actually, yes, it was very, very hot. It kind of snuck up on me.

We rested and agreed to keep going at least to the next half mile marker. But first, we broke some rules.

A breeze kicked up as we ventured to find a lighthouse. We saw one, but it didn’t look like the one on the cartoon map. I thought the one we were looking for was on the other side of the beach and the marsh. We headed back, this time taking the paved path and reading the signs along the marsh. Everything felt cooler until we hit the patch where it was maybe 20 degrees hotter. I have no idea how that happened, but for a stretch, we were drenched again. I made a plan: get to the car and blast the A/C for at least five minutes while downing lots of water. I’d brought my insulated cooler bag packed with water and coconut water that I’m drinking because I have dehydration issues lately and I don’t like drinking it but I am because I have to.

Next, we walked the beach. Captain spotted a kayak at the lifeguard station and offered to grab it so I could sit in it. I declined, pointing out that it was daylight, there were lifeguards around, and they probably wouldn’t want us to do that.

Why the kayak? I cannot quite explain this. For the past year, almost every new person I’ve encountered has talked to me about kayaks. This prompted me to remember a found poem I wrote called “Survey” that lists all the weird questions I get when I take surveys to get free stuff. One of the questions for quite some time was “Do you own a kayak?” (The poem got published in an anthology put out by one of my favorite journals, and now that journal has closed indefinitely because the editor decided to be a terrible human towards a writer and then shuttered everything. Sigh.) The surveys also asked, “Do you own a crab pot?” What the hell is a crab pot?

Anyway, the kayak thing. I decided one of my summer wishes was to sit in a kayak on land. When I shared this on Instagram, I got a slew of replies about how to possibly make this wish come true. This bolsters my point: I know kayak people. The universe is telling me something.

I can’t swim. If you are saying to yourself right now, Everyone can swim, stop that thought immediately. I get told this often. I know how to swim. I can do the doggie paddle across half a six foot pool. I do not float. Accept this, and let it go.

Therefore, I’ve never understood kayaks. I refer to them as Little Boats of Death. They are cousin to the Canoe, The Boat of Death for Two.

I learned some things walking at the beach at Orient. First, we found ourselves at another body of water. When you’re out on the end of the fork, there’s water everywhere, and we found what seemed to be half-beach-half-marsh. People were paddle boarding and kayaking. We skipped some rocks. That’s right. We. Olympics here we come. I learned that skipping rocks does not make people fall off of their paddle boards.

I also learned that some kayaks are open. I didn’t know this. I thought you were basically in the boat as part of the boat. Thirdly, some kayaks fit two people. My mind kept exploding.

Then we saw them. Kayaks on the shore. Captain sat in one. He was like, It’s a good fit. He got out. I got in. And there ya go. Wish granted.

After kayaking on land, we went around through another path and found the parking lot again. We looped back onto the beach for a final shot at rock skipping and ocean watching. Then we were done with the park, which had been filled to capacity. We never found the bug lighthouse. On the way out, I pointed out a replica of the lighthouse we did see. Turns out it was the Orient Lighthouse, which seems appropriate.

On the way back West, we stopped at The Candy Man. We got candy.

Then we stopped at the Lighthouse Museum. It was closed. We found a set of steps down to another beach. So we took them. I lost count of the steps when I saw seashells in the trees. After a few minutes of beachiness, we headed back up. I took breaks every landing because I knew if I didn’t, I’d keel over at the top. I know this because once I decided to take the stairs instead of the escalator at that subway stop where the E and the F meet and it’s vertical and maybe the equivalent to climbing a mountain, so I took my time.

We tried finding some art galleries on the way back. Whatever we found was closed. I found a library for a bathroom break, and the librarian was like, We have an art gallery upstairs. I love serendipity. And apparently my new thing is taking pictures of signs in bathrooms. You should know that I sanitize my phone a lot. Like a lot a lot.

And I love Long Island. I love that I can drive out to the ends of the earth and make my way back all in one day. I love that I can see different kinds of water and beaches. I love that I can pass by real farms and vineyards. I love that roadside stands have hand-painted signs to sell corn and honey and pie. And you can bet I’ll be heading back to have some corn and honey and pie. And there’s a whole community of kayakers that I still don’t quite understand, but I have somehow become adjacent to, and it’ll be fun figuring out why. Whatever the universe has in store for me, I’m ready for.

Outdoorsy Part V: Many Parks Are One Park

Post Tropical Storm Isaias on another rainy morning, Capt. and I decided it was a good day to go hiking again. The plan was Blydenburgh, which seems to be the middle of the Greenbelt. I got there and found it closed. I remembered that I had the Parks By Me app, so I searched and found Caleb Smith was nearby. We met there at the locked gates. Another park down. Capt. was like, “You wanna go to Nissequogue? I know it’s open.” And that’s how we decided to take a hike along the mighty Nissequogue and whatever else we could find that was open.

Because there’d been storms, getting there proved to be a puzzle. Trees were still down everywhere. Fortunately, the park was open and the rain was letting up. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of construction going on, and the only bathroom was a portapotty. My need to pee outweighed my aversion to moveable toilet rooms, so I held my breath, whined a lot, and succeeded in not giving myself a UTI. Then we were off! (Yes, I practically bathed in hand sanitizer).

Because there’d been storms, I was on high alert for tree branches coming down. Capt. was like, “They cleared the paths.” I was like, “There can still be falling branches.” Here’s how that works: Tall trees have lots of branches, and if a high branch falls, it could land on the lower branches, and then it teeters until an unsuspecting little lady walks under it, and then blam! Lady down.

That scenario did not play out thankfully. Instead, our hike took us to the beach.

ONCE MORE WITH FEELING: WE WERE IN THE WOODS AND THEN WE WERE AT THE BEACH!!! Gotta love Long Island.

The first thing I saw as we made our way to the river shore was an army of hermit crabs scurrying from the water into the high grass. [Note: I learned after posting a short clip in my Instagram story that they were fiddler crabs, not hermit crabs, and that I might enjoy a field trip with Professor Zito when he looks at marine life. Instagram is a wealth of information. P. S. I do not know who Professor Zito is.] I told the crabs they didn’t have to run away, but they did not listen to me. Then I pointed out to the captain that we were near water and rocks.

Here’s the third installment of Christina Skips Rocks.

Capt. handed me a rock. He was like, “I guess I’ll go first so you can see how low I get to the water.”

I was like, “My entire life is low to the water, Captain.”

Fair point.

He skipped a rock, and it jumped twice and sank. I threw a rock, and it kerplunked. Round 1: Unsuccessful.

He skipped a rock, and it jumped twice and sank. I threw a rock, and it jumped once and sank.

Let me say that again: I skipped a friggin rock!!!!!!!!! I did it!!!!!!!!

The two of us kind of stared at each other for a moment. Then he congratulated me, and I did a happy dance. Then I was like, “You know I can never skip a rock again, right? Like, I did it, and now that’s it for me.” I was like this when my brother and I won music trivia as Sip This. The host was like, “You have to keep coming,” and I was like, “Nope, we’re going out on a high note.” We kept going to trivia. I did win another time. So here on the beach, I decided to give it another go.

Let’s say that Round 3 proved unsuccessful.

From the beach, we went to the bluff. We stopped for snacking and watched the fishermen. Along with the fishermen were four young boys doing what young boys do. At one point, three of them were right near me waving around a detached fish head. I pulled my mask tighter around my face; forget germs–fish heads smell. From below on the pier came “Boys, get down here!” and then, “Sorry, you can yell at them.” The guy in charge of the boys wrangled them back and then continued to scold them every few moments for the next few minutes until they decided to calm down and fish again.

From the bluff, we went to the woods. From the woods, we went to the beach. From the beach, we went to the bluff. And then somehow we wound up back on the path where the crabs were. I have no idea how we did it, which is why I don’t hike on my own. Since we were on the beach again, we gave rock skipping another go. I skipped another one! We ended on a high note.

On the other side of the park is the closed down mental institution that is now a park. We walked that, looking at the abandoned buildings and taking in more downed trees. Because I didn’t think I could face another portapotty moment, we walked to the library and used their bathroom. Their song of choice for hand washing is “Over the Rainbow,” and the sign says to sing it twice. I wasn’t even through the first few lines when I knew I’d already hit twenty seconds, so either they don’t know the tempo of Judy Garland’s melodious tune, or they are aiming for a super long hand washing session. Outside, we passed a garden, and I snapped a butterfly landing and leaving. I also made a new friend.

Then we saw a dinosaur. On the way back through the mental institution grounds, I thought I was seeing things at first. I saw what looked like a T-Rex bobbing its head around. Finally, after squinting and doing my best to decipher what was happening, I said to the captain, “Hey, what do you see up ahead?” And he was like, “That’s a dinosaur.” If this had been one of those heat wave days, I would have chalked it up to hallucinating, but the two of us were both hydrated and well. We were indeed seeing a dinosaur.

I’ve been manifesting things lately. My energy and the world’s energy is totally in sync. Case in point: on one of my walks, I was mentally composing a text message to someone I hadn’t seen in a while. A few moments later, she appeared on the path walking towards me. Yeah, I know. Trippy, right?

So a little bit before the dinosaur sighting, Capt. and I were talking about Old Bethpage Village. I was like, “Adults in costume sometimes make me uncomfortable.” Then I described the hierarchy of discomfort. The most egregious are the characters with the big heads that don’t say anything (Mickey Mouse at Disney; the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup at Hershey Park). Under that are people in costume who never break character, not even for a second (the knights at Medieval Times; colonials in every colonial village).

Now here I’d gone and done it again. I’d manifested myself a dinosaur. Had I been alone, I would’ve backtracked and circumnavigated the park back. And I would’ve gotten lost doing so, and it would have been worth not being near the dino. Since Capt. was there, I didn’t think he’d want to take the trip, so we gave the dino a wide berth as we passed by.

Nissiquogue State Park 8 7 2020 (3)

Then we debated a bit about the kayak plan. I have this plan that I want to sit in a kayak on land before the summer ends. There’s a long explanation behind this desire that I can explain another time. We saw below us at the water people near some kayaks. The launch where we were was roped off, so to get to the guy, we’d have to drive somewhere. I was like, “That’s too much kayak effort.” So Capt. decided to let it go for now. However, he’s been kayaking, and he may be able to hook a gal up with one. On land. With a life vest. Because as much as this gal is learning to love nature, this gal is also still highly aware of all the dangers that are the reason it’s taken so long to get out in nature. I like being alive. I plan to keep it that way for a while longer. Which is why I wore appropriate attire to ward off slipping and lyme disease. I even put on a hat.

Nissiquogue State Park 8 7 2020 (7)

Oh, also, happy birthday, capt.

Art, Books, Friends, Go

Remember when I was inside a museum? Guess what. I was inside another museum! Art and writing have always coincided for me, so getting back into the groove of visiting museums and galleries is getting my writing brain back into gear. All art one art.

BG and I met at the Heckscher Museum of Art. We’d reserved our slots in advance. Also important to know: admittance was free! They took our temperature and opened the door for us to go inside. Then we saw the art. Most of the museum was artwork by local students. When I started commenting like, “This is eleventh grade” and “This is twelfth grade,” BG didn’t realize I was reading the descriptions. Then he was like, “Oh! Like these are literally students!” I was like, “Yeah, I wasn’t being judgey about their abilities.” We both agreed that these students are super talented. Also, their artist statements sound like they have been making art for the past two decades.

We were allotted 45 minutes to take in the entire museum, which is plenty of time for a museum of that size. I think we actually spent an hour inside anyway. There weren’t a lot of people, though the two of us managed to create a crowd as we got enveloped in conversation and someone on staff had to remind us to stay away from other people. We were acting like there was nothing wrong in the world even though we had masks on and had had our temperature taken.

Sidenote: I call this the abnormal. It’s not the new normal. There’s nothing normal about having to wear a mask in public and not be able to jostle your way to the artwork when someone tall is taking too long and refuses to move.

Sidenote to the sidenote: I didn’t jostle anyone. We simply got too close. However, in normal times, I may jostle a few people.

Sidenote to the sidenote to the sidenote: Jostle is a fun word to say. Go ahead and say it out loud. I’ll wait. Okay, done? Wasn’t that fun?

After the museum, it was gallery time. We headed over to B. J. Spoke Gallery, a haunt for us when we go to poetry readings. This time, it was all for the art. One of the newer artists is a collagist, and so is BG, so we dug her work a lot. The artist behind the desk told us about her own artwork when we commented on her photograph. She was like, “I snuck into that guy’s backyard to take that shot.” It was well worth it–some rusted out trucks in a yard filled with vibrant green grass entitled Retired. Loved it.

Up next, all the books. Book Revue has all of them. However, BG was like, “Food?” I was like, “I brought some.” He was like, “Really?” I was like, “I don’t go anywhere without food.” I grabbed my food and met him outside Burgerology where we also met up with VS and stayed for hours with the danger of people who don’t know how to parallel park always at our backs and falling leaves from the trees above landing in our laps. Worth it. P. S. the staff there worked their asses off, and their bathroom was immaculate.

Up next, all the books, round 2. Back up to Book Revue. An hour of book browsing and asking, “Hey have you read…”, “If you like that one how about….”, and “Did you see the new….” We devoted a lot of time to boxes of books that were 1 for $3 and 5 for $10. I found a novel I’ve wanted to read that my library always says is on the shelf but isn’t. Then I found another book by a poet I’ve wanted to read. I grabbed a third book, another poetry collection, because I liked the cover and the shape of the poems inside. This is definitely how you should choose books, covers and shapes. VS combined ours into 5 and then BG created his own little haul.

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The sun had begun to set, and it felt like one of those summer nights when the world is normal and you’ve done all the things you could possibly have wanted to do. With the crosswalk voice urging us to to wait and then move, we found our way back to the glitter of the parking lot and headed home. Summer days. Summer nights. Art. Books. Friends. Perfection.

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 II: Jayne’s Hill, Sibling Adventures Edition

Sibling Adventure Time!

On a previous Sibling Adventure, my brother and I thought we’d find Jayne’s Hill when we went to see some other hills. We didn’t find Jayne’s Hill. This time, the main mission was Jayne’s Hill. Again, we almost didn’t find Jayne’s Hill.

Jayne’s Hill is the highest point on Long Island. It’s in the middle of the woods up a rocky trail out in Huntington accessible by a park that has a dog park and also accessible at some other pathway somewhere else. I’m a wealth of knowledge concerning all things geography. The path is shared by horses, dogs, and hikers. And bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. Also, I do not know why it is called Jayne’s Hill.

We figured we’d be able to meet up mid-morning, hike up, hike down, and be done by noon so that he could go meet his friend for lunch and I could meet T and D at the picnic tables next to the dog park for lunch, too.

We should have known this plan might have had some flaws when I was able to find the parking lot and he wasn’t. He called and was like, I’m in a parking lot with horses. And I was like, You need to go South or North or East or West, like keep going up or down the road you were coming from. Again, so helpful with spatial navigation. However, it worked! He found me, and we found the trail, and away we went!

Then we were done! After maybe ten minutes, we wound up walking in a circle back out to where we began. We had not gone up to any recognizable elevation. We looked at each other quizzically. Then we saw a sign that said Main Path. Oh! We hadn’t been on the Main Path. Let’s take the Main Path.

The Main Path was much like the short path we’d just taken, only steeper with more rocks and sand and dirt and ditches and mud and bugs. We spent much of the time swatting our arms in front of our faces even though we’d already sprayed on our bug spray. I was covered in layers of sun screen, bug spray, and sweat. And now dirt because that’s what sticks to you when you’ve slathered things on your skin.

We noticed that there were some signs and blazes, but none of them really told us where to go or where we might be headed. We’d read about following the white hashes, so we tried to do that. Every time there was a fork in the path, we took the one that seemed to go more up because Jayne’s Hill is up. You can’t get more up than Jayne’s Hill. How many times can I say Jayne’s Hill?

We found some fantastic views. We were up high. Like super high. We had to be close.

I mentioned that none of this path looked like the path the guy on the video took to get to the rock at the top. A PhD student put together a hike on Zoom for Walt Whitman Birthplace Association (you know, the place that named me Long Island Poet Of The Year? Yeah, them). I watched some of the hike to get the lowdown on Whitman–a quote from his poetry is on a plaque on a boulder at the top of the hill, and come to think of it, how did the boulder get up there? I guess nature put it there. Anyway, the hike we were on did not look like the hike the PhD guy was on.

Then suddenly we were down low and back in the dog park. We hadn’t seen Jayne’s Hill, yet we’d hiked for about an hour. This is why the path didn’t seem like the one on the video. It simply was not the one on the video.

There are a few maps near the gate of the dog park, so we checked those out. They were nearly indecipherable, but I took a picture of them because the sign said to take a picture of them. We headed back to the starting path to try again.

And that’s where we found a sign that said Jayne’s Hill. This would have been very helpful had we seen it the first time around. What had happened was after we did the two minute walk in a circle, we were at an angle where we saw Main Path instead of Jayne’s Hill. Now that we skipped the walk in a circle, we found the sign. Hooray, we were going to see the highest point of LI after all. Also, the sign does not have an apostrophe, so maybe it’s supposed to be Jaynes Hill, but I’m not about to change how I’ve been writing it. And maybe the sign is wrong.

We came across a hiking man who seemed to be coming down from up high, so I asked him, Do you know if this is the way to Jayne’s Hill? He was like, I think so; I got up to the top and saw a giant rock and planned to ask my kids if I made it. I was like, Yes, congrats, that’s it! He was like, Thanks! Then he told us when we come to a blaze that has two hashes, take the one that’s higher up. Good to know!

Every time we came to a new blaze with a fork in the path, we took the one that was higher up. We were gaining momentum. We were fighting the bugs. We were drenched with sweat. We came across some pink spray-painted plants, and then some gnarly roots. We passed by high grass on the narrowest part, and I was making the kind of noises you make when you’re 5 and don’t like the taste of the medicine that will cure your ear infection (the bottle says it tastes like banana-strawberry, but really it tastes like chalky sidewalk). My brother was like, it’s grass. I was like, we have to do a tick check. He was like, yeah, okay, but it’s just grass.

Then we came to the steps. There are 43 steps to get up to the top, and so we climbed 43 steps. At just about the top, we saw the top of a round object. The boulder!

Sidenote: One of my favorite lines from any movie is the line from Shreck when Donkey says, “That is a nice boulder.” I laugh every time, and I don’t know why.

My brother was like, Go ahead, this is your thing. Awwww! Gleeful, I climbed the last few steps and made it to the top with him in close tow. There we were, finally at the top of the highest point of Long Island, Jayne’s Hill. There were Whitman’s words emblazoned on a plaque embedded into a large rock.

We stayed for a short while to take it all in and also to rest before the trek down. I’d texted T and D to let them know I’d be a few minutes late. Having taken the Main Path, we were a bit behind schedule.

A bit behind turned into a lot behind. You see, we had an easy time going up because the random man told us how to read the hashes. Going down, we got confused. Do we still follow the up, or do we now follow the down? Also confusing is the fact that the map, which I took a picture of as instructed, did not match anything in the woods. There were signs for trails like the Green Fence Trail and Kissenger Trail. The map showed Chipmunk Trail and Deep Laurel Trail. None of this lined up.

We walked in circles. We went up and down. We double-backed. At one point, my brother was like, There’s the parking lot. I looked to where  he was pointing down and over the side and was like, That is a parking lot, but it’s not the one where we parked. Then he was like, I think I hear a horse, so we must be close to the end. I was like, No, that’s a rooster.

Sidenote: As much as my brother loves being outdoors, especially riding his bike and taking stunning photos, he’s a city boy. He gives tours of NYC. So, like, horse versus rooster really isn’t something he would care too much about.

Then we found the neon graffiti. My left-right confusion kicked in. Which way do we go? Which way did we come from? We took one way, couldn’t find white blazes, and came back. We took another way, couldn’t find white blazes, and came back. Finally, I retraced the steps for maybe a third time and finally understood what he meant when he was pointing us in a different direction. I was like, Oh! We’ve gotta go up to go down again! He was like, Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying.

Still, I know the difference between neighing and crowing.

We made progress quickly until we came to a spot that had maybe five different paths to choose. Thank goodness I’d stopped that guy to ask directions at the beginning because I remembered this is where I’d asked him. We knew where to go. Then we found a tree we’d had to scramble over. And then, we found the path out of the woods, just in time for me to wave across the picnic area at T and D who’d started lunching, and just in time for me to run to the bathroom because for the last half hour, I’d had to pee so bad that three times I thought about poppin’ a squat despite the tick and bug infestation in the woods. (My brother: Why didn’t you pee before we started? Me: I did. My brother: Then why do you have to pee again? Me: I’m a woman.)

No ticks. All sweat. Lots of dusted up dirt. Some Whitman. Lots of good memories. Another sibling adventure day done right.

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