ReWilding Challenge: August 2019 — Week 2


REWILDING CHALLENGE: DAY EIGHT


Caumsett State Park, Llyod Harbor, NY – 31 August 2019: Had a whole day off today to do the “touch” challenge and I combined it with some more wandering, skying and listening over a six hour period exploring and hiking in the Caumsett State Park in Llyod Harbour. I had remembered from an orienteering event that there was a place in the park where the woods opens up onto a cliff that you follow down to the sea, and I got the park map when I arrived, but it was not the same as the orienteering map and did not have the topography, just the trail schematic. I took a “guess” as to where I wanted to go and then set off at a very leisurely pace in that direction. Using the map, I decided to take the “more interesting” and “less trafficked” bridle path rather than the main paved trail which was full of chattering families and couples and friends out for a run or a bike ride or a walk. I was hoping for a more “wilderness” experience rather than a weekend walk in the park (even though that IS what I was doing too). I stopped first to photograph an interesting butterfly on a bush. Then continued and took the first bridle path I crossed. What a difference that made. Suddenly I was alone and the woods were quiet and I could hear the sounds of nature as I walked lazily through it. My first “turn” I came upon a deer with big antlers who just looked at me for a moment. He was in the shadows grazing and I stopped in my tracks with the intention of getting a photo, but by the time I got my camera set up he had decided I was not a threat and head down returned to his grazing, so I could not get a clear shot. I tried to move my position for a better angle, but he was moving too, and his head was down in the bushes, and the whole area was in deep shadow. I slowly tried to work my way around for a better photo, but his nonchalant grazing kept me frustrated. Eventually a ranger truck came down the trail and the deer went deeper into the woods. I could still see him barely through the underbrush and trees but he continued on his way deeper into the forest, and I had to be contented with having gotten to see him at least…

I continued on my path and stopped to photograph another interesting butterfly with unusual coloring. Continuing on my way I re-sected with the paved trail and the noisy people again, and it was kind of a shock and I felt a bit like the deer, wanting to get away. I saw a small footpath and I followed it randomly and it opened out onto an empty grass field and I walked along the edge of the field following the contours of the paved trail, but with a “barrier” of trees between us and that was enough to give me a sense of solitude again. After a little bit it reconnected with another bridle path, and looking at my “mileage” thus far I had gone one mile and a half. My maximum “goal” for the day was to finish at no more than three miles, since I have not been walking that much lately and want to ease back into it. But I really wanted to reach that overlook onto the sea. I wasn’t feeling tired and the terrain was mostly flat so I decided to keep going. From the map it looked like I had about half a mile more to reach my “destination”. I reasoned that I could rest when I got there and then do the return trip. The bridle path headed downhill and at one point I noticed a giant white rock shining in a clearing. Literally shining. The sun was coming through the trees at just the perfect spot to light it up and it was “calling” to me. I could easily imagine a leprechuan or a gnome resting on that rock, legs crossed, smoking a pipe or something. I headed over to the rock and just sat on it for a while observing the forest around me. This was a perfect “sit spot” and I looked up at the trees surrounding me and tried to see if I could see any squirrels. I saw some movement in the branches of a distant tree high up and then a bird flew out from there and it stopped moving. No squirrels. I drank some water and enjoyed the sunlight on my back for a little bit, then looked at the time and decided I’d better keep moving if I wanted to make it to the sea. Soon I had a choice of paths to take and I tried to choose the “least travelled” one, around the back side of a pond. I stopped to look at some of the clearings and an interesting rotting tree stump, but as I continued I could start to smell the salty sea air and picked up my pace, anxious to see the beautiful spot I remembered. When I came to the clearing that opened onto the water I realized this was NOT the spot I was looking for, but it was still beautiful and so I went out to the water’s edge and found a rock to sit on that was near enough to the tree line to give me some shade and I sat listening to the sound of the sea. There were lots of recreational boats out on the water of all kinds. Sailboats, motor boats, fishing boats. Everyone enjoying the last “official” weekend of summer. On a dark colored rock in the water some kind of dark heron was trying to dry his wings, stretching them out while standing there and looking odd. I snapped a few photos from far away. There were a few other groups of people along this wilder strip of beach but everyone self-separated and it was as “quiet” as a beach area could be on a summer Saturday. As I walked along the water’s edge to where it “turned” I could see a popular swimming beach a bit further down, full of tightly packed chairs, blankets and umbrellas, and I was thankful that the relatively few people on this part of the beach were appreciating the quiet and beauty of nature in the same way that I was. I liked the rugged rocky coast line, and walked to the area where the rocks formed a kind of jetty out into the water. From there I could now see the cliffs that I had wanted to walk along in the distance. They were pretty far from where I was and it was getting late so I decided to leave them for another day and be happy with the time I had on this little wild spot. As I returned to the woodline to pick up the trail back I saw that people had “decorated” a rotting stump with rocks. It almost looked like a Mongolian Oovo and so after making a few photographs of it, I added a rock and walked around it clockwise, not sure if the other people who added the rocks had done so with that intention or if it was just random. One person started it and others added to it. A collective yet anonymous work of art in nature. Maybe not so unlike people adding rock art to a place where other people had already made some rock art. Someone else had made a heart with the number 16 in it out of rocks and sticks a bit further down the beach, and someone else had made a few rock cairns that had no purpose. People seem to feel like they need to leave their mark or arrange or decorate nature. Luckily nature has other ideas. Nearby were the ruins of a building foundation “rewilding” with plenty of brush reappropriating the space. I walked a little ways along the cliff edge but the light was wrong for my photos and I gave up on that idea completely and started the return loop, choosing the “shortest” way this time, even though it was mostly paved, because it was getting late and I walk slow and I was worried that I would be very tired by the time I got back to my Jeep…

I did try to take a “short cut” that ended up being a wrong turn, but it was fortuitous because I again spotted what looked like a nice “sitting rock” in the middle of the woods (I guess these incongruous large boulders are from some kind of glacial thing, since they seem to “not belong” to this landscape, and I think I read that somewhere). I made my way to the rock, hoping it would be “bigger than me” for the scavenger hunt, but it turned out to just be on a hill, and I was taller than it but a little bit. From the rock I could see another odd “human intervention” where someone had put a perfectly round rock on top of a weathered root, and it kind of looked like a fanciful “dragons egg” or something. I was thinking it was some kind of art work and then noticed also a path and a circle made of sticks with a wooden cross and some stones and pine cones piled up in the center and began to wonder if this was some kind of native american site or perhaps a modern wiccan site or maybe even just a spot where a ranger talk and walk stopped to discuss the “old ways” of worshiping nature. It remained a mystery and I continued back towards the proper direction and the pavement…

It was now just a straight walk on pavement the rest of the way and I went slowly trying to let noisy groups chattering pass me by. But the crowds were just dense enough to make it almost impossible. I did manage to space myself between a few groups, but then spotted a hawk on a low branch of a tree right near the trail. I stopped to try to photograph him, but the light was wrong and I was in a bad spot vis a vis the bird. He was facing away from me and there were branches in the way. I tried to slowly move around him. But other park visitors saw me photographing something in the tree and began to gather around and take photos too, and the hawk flew off to another tree on the other side. I repeated my process of getting closer and did get a photo of him on the ground eating what I think was a field mouse. I did not get any good photos of him flying or in the trees despite trying and spending a fair amount of time watching him. What I thought was really cool was that he let me approach him at the end until I was practically right under the branch he was on. If only the light had been better it could have made for a great photo op, but my images are either too blurry or he is facing the other way. At one point I feel like he DID look me in the eye and then deciding I was not a threat, turning back to whatever he was observing that would probably become part of his dinner. I had to move on, as it was getting later and I wanted to get back home in time to make a nice evening fire. I also was hungry. I had not planned to stay so long in the park and had not brought any food or snacks. That was a mistake. Next time I will be sure to at least have some snacks in my pocket. In any case after I left the hawk I was sandwiched between a noisy family group with two husbands, one pushing a stroller, who were chatting about politics and complaining about democrats and russia and a whole busload size group of Chinese tourists, speaking in Chinese. Civilization had caught up with me and I was glad to almost be back to the Jeep, but feeling very happy with my ReWilding experience for the day…


REWILDING CHALLENGE: DAY NINE


Nissequogue River State Park, NY – 1 September 2019: The challenge for today was about “water” and the text called for “running water” like a river or stream rather than a lake, so I made my way to the Nissequogue River in the afternoon (I used this morning to capture part of the “Slow Down” challenge that I was not able to do on a work morning, and “slept in” taking my time to get up and out of bed and generally avoiding hurry or the pull of a “to do” list, which meant that I didn’t get outside until well after noon). It was a beautiful day and there were a lot of people out recreating on the water, so my experience was not as “wild” as it might otherwise have been, but still I was able to find a bit of solitude among the multitudes. My river of choice is technically a tidal basin, opening up into the Long Island Sound, and is one of my favorite places to kayak and to walk along — but mostly during winter when it is pretty deserted and really does seem like “wilderness”. Now it is summer and a holiday weekend and people are out boating and just enjoying that last official bit of summer…

I walked along a path that is usually empty, but today was an overflow parking lot for the nearby Marina. Eventually it came into the woods following alongside the river until it opened on a clearing not far from where we exit with the kayaks. I took a walk along the bank and it was a fairly high tide with the water coming right up to the edge of the woods, and not much area for walking but there was a white egret or heron wading in the shallow area near the seagrass and it did not fly away. I was able to make some nice photos of it and followed it along the bank for a while before the “bank” ran out…

Made sure to photograph a “fluffy cloud” for the scavenger hunt…

I walked back the other way and found some comfortable rocks to sit on and do my “water” challenge — taking off my hiking boots and socks and rolled up my pants, first walking in the gooey muddy sand that the water left behind, and then stepping into the cold water itself, feeling it flow around my feet and watching the concentric circles radiate outward in the water as I took a few tentative steps further in. At that point I heard a sound and a large dog ran into the water nearby, I looked over my shoulder and his owners were up on the bank by the clearing. That would be the end of my water “immersion” as I sheepishly got out of the river and back onto my rock. I continued to sit and observe the water as the couple called their dog and politely moved down river a little ways from me to do their own photo shoot…

My observation was next disturbed by some horrible pop music blasting at maximum-distortion-decibel-level over the sound of a loud boat motor, which was completely out of place in this location. Luckily the boat was moving at speed and it was not surprising to see it was overcrowded with loud people partying. What was interesting was how incongruous it was with everything else that was happening on the waters. There were many boats and lots of people but in general everyone was appreciating the natural environment and respecting the space and there wasn’t really “excessive noise” from any of the other boaters or people gathered along shore. The noisy boat was gone quickly enough and I returned to my reflections on the water, eventually putting my socks and boots back on and continuing to walk along the shoreline until the area of the marina, where lots of people were hanging out…

I went back the way I’d come, but then took a loop through the woodline along a short segment of the Greenbelt Trail for a bit. The path was pretty empty and I was enjoying the walk when all of a sudden I saw what I thought was a group of people on the trail ahead, but it turned out to be a family of deer. The leader bounded off with graceful leaps into the woods at that moment, but the others stood in place for a few seconds. It took me time to get my camera from my pocket and turn it on, and by then they had all gone into the woods, but stood still for a few moments, feeling the brush between us to be protection enough. I tried making a few photos of them through the woods before finishing my walk, happy for the deer encounter and generally glad with my day…

Later on, coming out of the grocery store, I looked up at the sky and it was “interesting” in a pattern of clouds that covered the sun and I thought it might have been a full moon, but it was definitely the sun because in the evening the moon was just the smallest crescent. I stopped an made a photo of the sky right there in the parking lot, while people around surely were wondering what I was doing. But it is ok, I have “permission” remember…


REWILDING CHALLENGE: DAY TEN


Nesconset, NY – 2 September 2019: Had to take a break yesterday because work had me inside all day, and I only got out in the evening, but at least I got outside and saw the moon, just a little sliver of a crescent between the pine trees in my yard…

Lake Ronkonkoma, NY – 3 September 2019: Back to the challenges, and had a few hiccups in today’s “sink into the earth” challenge, as I chose to do the challenge activity in the middle of the afternoon on a work day on the shore of Lake Ronkonkoma, where I thought there would be some nice sandy spots to lay down and “sink in” undisturbed away from the main beach areas. It started off ok as I found a quiet spot with some shade and settled into the sand kind of “digging” my way down a bit to get in contact with the earth (I did not take a blanket) and clearing away some twigs and things that might have been uncomfortable. I sat at first, then stretched out into a lying position, looking up at the clear blue sky, but soon realized that I wasn’t going to hear much nature as the sound of lawn maintenance teams working on the other side of the treeline drowned out everything else, apart from the passing motorists’ engines and the planes overhead coming and going from the airport. The only sound of nature I was able to hear was the occasional wind rustling through the leaves directly overhead. I tried closing my eyes a bit but that just made all those outside sounds even seem louder. I was about halfway into my time now fully stretched out and comfortable in the sand, when the family with dogs and kids in tow decided to go for a walk right in my little clearing. That kind of put an end to my time of trying to sink into the earth for today, and I got up and took a short half mile hike around the park behind the lake that I had never visited before…


REWILDING CHALLENGE: DAY ELEVEN


Nesconset, NY – 4 September 2019: I switched activities for day ten and eleven when I thought I was going to have to go into the city for work, but that got canceled so I ended up doing the “deeper look” challenge in my backyard where there is a lot of cement and found some weeds growing up relentlessly through a crack in the cement. I would have liked to do this challenge in a more urban area, and hope to have the opportunity at some point during the month to revisit the activity…


REWILDING CHALLENGE: DAY TWELVE


Nesconset, NY – 9 September 2019: I’ve had to take a bit of a break due to work and travel (I had a wedding in another city and working at the same time so needed to take a few days off and away from nature. Now jumping back into the challenges, I skipped around in the order again so I could keep going even when I didn’t have time to get out to a “wild” place. So, the next challenge I could complete in my backyard was actually the day fifteen challenge, “becoming animal.” Behind the safety of my fence and bushes, i was able to get down on all fours and explore the ground like the little squirrels and bunnies I often see doing just this. I took some time to observe a group of ant hills in a sandy patch of my yard, and a mushroom in the grass, as well as dandelions, all things that are on our “scavenger hunt” list, as well…


REWILDING CHALLENGE: DAY THIRTEEN


Connetquot, NY – 14 September 2019: Just getting back into the flow of the challenges today, and had to push myself to get outside as I was tired from a busy and stressful work week. I knew spending time outside would make me feel better, but it was hard to get motivated to get out the door. Once I got to the Connetquot State Park I felt better and decided to hike the slightly longer trail, but still make it a short-ish loop. The walk ended up being about three miles in all, and I did feel a bit “creaky” by the end, but glad I did it. I had hoped to see some deer at this park, but I did not even see tracks. I did see some kind of animal scat, though i don’t know from which animal. And I checked off a few other scavenger hunt items, like tree sap and a fun shot of “other people on the trail” which turned out to be a group on horseback that made for a nice photo. I also did the “mindfulness” challenge when I came on an interesting stump with a rotted section that almost looked like it had been scooped out…

Its been along time since I have been to this park and there has been a lot of change…

As I headed for the trail I came across some kind of scat but I don’t know from what animal. It looks too small for deer. And there was a lot of it, so maybe rabbits?

Someone made a little rock cairn on top of a stump, but I don’t think it signifies anything because there was no trail off-shoot that needed marking. Maybe they just wanted people to stop to look at something here…

I found this rotting stump and fallen tree, and thought it was interesting how it was “rotting” into chunks right inside the hull of the tree trunk…

One of the things on our scavenger hunt list was “tree sap” and this one tree was oozing like it had been wounded somehow, the sap had hardened in this form, and was even in one spot the color of blood…

As I reached the turn in the trail, I saw the riders in the distance…


REWILDING CHALLENGE: DAY FOURTEEN


Napeague Harbor, NY – 15 September 2019: It was a beautiful day today and I “skipped” around the challenges a bit, catching up as I can with what is do-able given my schedule, and so decided to do “Take A Hike” today, because I had the time, and also was going to go to a new area off a trail that I had first discovered in June, when Dimitri was here. I drove all the way out to Hither Hills state park near Montauk Point, and the weather was perfect for walking. There were more people at the “Walking Dunes” than when I had been there with Dimitri in early summer, and I decided instead to explore the coastal trail that we had walked a bit together. I did not know how far I would go but was determined to try to walk to the “end” of the “earth” (that is to go as far as I could out on that little strip of land that we could see from the beach, that looked like some kind of deserted wilderness from a pirate story). I set off with water and snacks, and made sure to eat a solid meal before heading out, so I wouldn’t get side-tracked by being hungry. The day was gorgeous, not too hot, not too windy, but with a gentle light summer breeze off the water. I walked along the red sand, and followed the water’s edge as it curved along the dune line, past where we would come out from the “Walking Dunes” trail, and past where the marsh joins the harbor waters. I passed a few other hikers coming back the other way and got passed by a couple of guys carrying what looked like an elaborate picnic or elements of a photo shoot, i am not sure which, that included some kind of persian or indian guitar (i couldn’t see it apart from the handle sticking out with the four unique looking pegs — i thought it would be cool if they stopped and set up somewhere along the edge of the water, but they went into the Marsh area and continued on their way while I continued following the water’s edge). There were a lot of dead horseshoe crabs on the sand, and I didn’t recall seeing them the last time we were here, but they brought back “traumatic” memories of cut feet in salt water as a kid send for “recreation” to a beach on the north shore that was torturous on bare feet. I kept walking apart from a short photo stop here and there, and eventually made it to the strip of land at the end. I could see some folks fishing further down the beach, but I was drawn to a jeep trail that went on top of the dunes, and I walked up it and did some “trail sitting” at the top. In the far off distance over the marshes I could see the two guys barely (I couldn’t really “see” them or what they were doing, just their clothes — as one was wearing white and was very tall — and their movement), and I could see over the dunes to the bay beyond, and the whole of the south fork coast twisting east and north to form the calm protected area of waters. After spending some time resting and drinking water and just observing the butterflies and a great blue heron that swooped down into the marsh much faster than I could get my camera out to photograph him, I continued the last little bit over the dunes and down to the coastal water. This beach was rocky and full of shells and debris delivered by the tides. It was not “beautiful” but it WAS beautiful at the same time, in its desolation and solitude. I found a rock and sat on it for a while watching the water, listening to the sounds of the sea and a trail whistle in the distance. There was no one else around and I could appreciate the solitude and wild beauty of the place. On the return walk I encountered a red Jeep coming down the beach and I determined that I would be sure to get a permit next year so I could explore much further around this area. I crossed back over the dunes and started the walk back. I decided to take off my shoes and put my feet in the water where it was soft clean sand. Then I looped the laces together and wrapped them over my hiking stick and rolled up my pants and continued walking half in the sand, half in the water, feeling the healing of the earth on my old tired feet and I kept walking like that for about half a mile until an area of beach that was rocky and full of shells, where I stopped to put my shoes back on. I profited from the stop to sit down and watch the water, there were a couple of people kite surfing (i guess that is what it is called) in the distance, but otherwise I was still alone in my wilderness. After awhile I got back up and continued walking. I passed a couple who stopped to ask me where I was coming from. They had been on a boat and saw me walking out that way, and wondered where I had headed. When I told them, they mentioned that if I had gone the other way I would have seen the “art barge” and I said I would do that next time, then they continued on their way, and I continued on mine — glad I did not see the “art barge” this time as it would have broken my focus on the remote wild aspect of the place. I will leave the art barge for another day and another mindset. The curve of the waters edge brought me slowly back to civilization, an elderly couple walking, he with a cane, like my hiking stick, walking more slowly than me, but I was glad to see them walking there. And on the other side by the exit back to my Jeep a family with small children. All the stages of life. My walk was only 2.6 miles but it seemed like I had visited another world, remote and wild, even if just for a day…

I drove out to Hither Hills State Park and stopped to check out the beach there before heading off to my hike. Even though summer was officially “over” there were …

The tide seemed to still be going out when I got to the strip of wild beach along the edge of the Napeague Harbour…

I set out along the strip of sand, with a few stops for photos of things like the gnarly trees washed up against the bluff…

The view from on top of the dunes, following the Jeep trail over the top…

And looking back down the Jeep trail to the beach from the dune…

Snapped a quick photo of a bleached bone in the sand. Not sure what it came from, but my logic tells me it was someone’s fried chicken leg rather than a wild animal. Still it is a bone I found in nature, so it counts…

I was hot, but happy in my solitude alone on this deserted wild beach…

All around me was empty beach, rugged and wild looking, as nature intended…

Out of nowhere this red JL came driving down the beach, and I thought it was perfect because my JL is red, as if it was my Jeep spirit kin…

After the JL, this truck came the other way (I guess my solitude had just been an illusion)…

Walking barefoot and along the water’s edge I let the gentle water wash over my feet. I watched my footprints in the sand erased by the water’s motion…

My own wild and dirty feet covered with multicolored sand…

The view back down the beach during my return…