My plans to take time off from work were squelched by too many year-end goings on at work. So I drove up to Connecticut last Friday night to get one full day of hunting in this past Saturday.
It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and the highways were regularly quiet. I-95 in Connecticut is normally a slow-lurching snake of chrome and misery, so to breeze north was a rare treat. I made good time in getting to my friend Steve’s house. Steve is an accomplished hunter and he is generous enough to let me stay at his house when I go hunting.
I was up before 5:30 a.m. the next day. Hunting or running the Tunnel to Towers 5k are the only reasons a anyone should be willingly awake before 6 a.m. on a weekend. I was ready and out the door without too much problem. Unfortunately I accidentally set off my car’s car alarm in the driveway of my friend’s house, waking him and at least one member of his family.
I was the only one pulling into the small area for cars at the unmarked entrance to the Cockaponset State Forest on Little City Road in Killingworth, Connecticut. I didn’t see any other human beings for the next 10 hours and that was a good thing. I saw and heard evidence of people, but all the time outside in the daylight it was just me and my quest to take a deer home.
Spending time in and around the natural world is a basic human need. The science is in, and there are significant health benefits to spending time around more trees and fewer people. Human beings are not meant to live without experiencing some part of the natural world on a regular basis.
I made my way into the woods. It was still dark, but a bright moon provided good light. Once it was past the legal hunting time I loaded up and kept making my way quietly to my chosen hunting spot.
I got very lucky the first time I staked out this area and it and it has the natural attributes that would make it a good location to begin with. It is a natural overlook with greenery for deer to eat and water for them to drink.
But nothing doing. While I heard gunshots going off in the distance frequently and thought maybe some deer would get chased my way, nothing doing. At midday, I decided to search out someplace different. I started by making my way to my old spot, at another overlook that is an even higher perch. It was there where I took my first deer several years ago.
The area has improved, in that the stream that was dried up a few years ago is back and flowing nicely. But it has attracted other, less ethical hunters. Someone left a camping chair and their garbage on this natural overlook, a major faux pas in the hunting world. I thought it would be justified to take this chair out of the woods, as punishment to whatever entitled rube left it there along with their refuse. Instead I moved on, making my way deeper into the forest.
And as I marched through an overgrown passage between trees, I finally saw a deer. He or she was not far away, but had seen or heard me first and was on the move, picking up the pace and getting out of good range before I could even raise my shotgun and get in my sights.
I paused, hoping some other deer may come along on its heels, but no luck. I hiked a bit more and found a new spot that looked over the growth where the deer I saw would have exited into a more open area, and if any deer had some along I would be in a good position.
The last two hours of the day passed by slowly. Someone in the distance fired off a lot of rounds; they were either target shooting or had come upon some prehistoric giant mega deer that took ten shotgun slugs to bring down.
I started to make my way out of the woods towards the end of the day, hoping to maybe get lucky on the way. When legal hunting ended, I unloaded and found my way back to my car.
Another hunting trip without some game to take home, but time in the woods is always time well spent.
President’s Day weekend has developed into a great family tradition of going to Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York, which is about an hour and a half drive north of New York City. People who live north of Albany may not consider that upstate but city dwellers have the right to call it “upstate” if it’s one inch north of the Five Boroughs.
Hiking and enjoying the outdoors should be done in all seasons. While it may be tempting to be house-bound during the colder months, too much time in doors will lead to a stifling madness and rotting sloth.
Among the activities there are guided hikes around the large Mohonk Preserve that surround the sprawling yet still rustic resort. Mohonk is surrounded by beautiful wooded mountains. My Father-in-Law and I went on a hike designed to track white-tailed deer. I thought maybe I could pick up some hunting tips that would serve me well later in the year.
We did see some deer tracks and learned a good bit about the eating habits and other behaviors of delicious deer, but there was a lot more to see. Our group’s guide, who is the official naturalist of Mohonk, gave us a lot more information that was useful and some that caught me by surprise. The one piece of information that struck me as particularly hopeful was this one:
When Mohonk was founded in 1869, the founders could look for miles in each direction and not see any trees. Almost all of the surrounding countryside had been clear cut. In the early 1900s, Daniel Smiley, from the family that founded Mohonk, noted the sighting of a porcupine on the surrounding woods, meaning that after 50 years of recovering, the forest was now healthy enough to support porcupines living there.
To see the surrounding countryside now one would think that it has been left in pristine condition since European settlers first came to these shores. But not so. The demands of a growing country took its toll on the natural beauty that we take for granted today, and the beauty of upstate New York is the result of a concerted effort of many years ago.
People fought to rebuild and restore these woods, many of them did so knowing that they would not live long enough to see the full benefits of their work. Today in New York State Adirondack Park is the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States, larger than Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon, and the Everglades combined.
It is a sign that with effort and time, we can recover and rebuild. That with enough planning and care, even a ravaged and abused land will recover if allowed. The Earth may be very troubled, but the Earth is also very resilient.
At a time when the country and world around us appears in total conflagration with unending violence and dysfunction, evidence of our ability to renew and improve our surroundings may appear to be in short supply. But the verdant areas not far outside our teeming metropolis is a point of evidence that people living in divisive times can still unite and do great things that will pay off for future generations.
Summer is a traditional time to go to the beach and be near the water, and New York City has 14 miles of public beaches where you can contract skin cancer while being eaten alive by horse flies. I never understood why people would want to go to a sunny place and let the sun burn them during the hottest time of the year.
But believe it or not, New York City also has woods and you would do well to spend some time in the shade this summer. There’s something immensely satisfying about going for a walk in the woods and knowing you are still within the five boroughs of New York City.
For more than 10 years I lived in Inwood, the northernmost neighborhood in Manhattan. I was lucky enough to live right across one of the wooded sections of Inwood Hill Park, which contains the last piece of natural forest in Manhattan as well as Manhattan’s last surviving salt marsh. It is also the highest natural point of elevation in the city.
I moved into Inwood on a Saturday in the summer and the following Monday went on a jog in the park before going to work. Not familiar with the park and its paths yet, I became lost. I couldn’t believe it that I was lost in the woods in Manhattan, but I was. I eventually found my way home and wasn’t too late to work, but Inwood Hill Park remains a treasure with lots wooded paths to walk. Even on weekends in the spring and summer when the park is typically crowded, you can find some solitude in the woods.
Be careful though, there are no shortage of shady characters who know this as well, and while I was living in Inwood a young Julliard student named Sarah Fox was murdered in a wooded part of the park one afternoon while she was jogging.
Inwood Hill Park may be one of the best and most overlooked wooded parks in the city but it’s not the only place to cool off in the shade.
Now that I am in Queens, I live not far from several parks that have real woods and wooded trails.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I decided we would go to Alley Pond Park. My wife, who grew up in Queens, knew it as a place high school students would go to drink alcohol under the cover of darkness. The park is the second largest public park in Queens (Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which doesn’t have dense woodlands, is the largest).
Alley Pond Park would be difficult to reach via public transportation as it is not near any subway lines; you’d have to take the bus if you don’t have a car or can’t walk or bike there. We found a parking space in a small parking lot that looks like it overflows during busy times. We put our twin daughters in a jogging stroller and managed to navigate it through much of the wooded paths in the park. Of course, being in New York City, the paths in the park were sometimes paved and sometimes led to steep staircases that we dared not traverse with a stroller, but we were always able to turn around and find another suitable path that would let us enjoy the woods a little more.
We saw lots of birds and even a rabbit. There were plenty of mosquitoes as we got near swamp areas of the park. We came across other strollers in the woods but like Inwood Hill Park, one can achieve a certain solitude in the woods even on days that the park is crowded.
No matter what borough you reside in, there is no shortage of wooded parks in New York. It will be cooler and less crowded in the shade.