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Small Comforts

Grace and I love our new Eureka tent!

I’ve been reading “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” by Cheryl Strayed.  A memoir so raw and beautifully written you can feel the mortar of her life crumbling like bricks turning to dust, “Wild” recounts Strayed’s decision to hike 1,100 miles alone from the Mohave Desert north to Washington.

There are many things about the book that are striking: Strayed’s grief over the death of her mother, who died when Strayed was only 22 and her mother 45, the falling away of family, the self destructive acts born of heartbreak.  I admire the grit it took to set one foot in front of another, “Hunching,” as she titled Chapter 3, “in a Remotely Upright Position” under the weight of an extremely heavy backpack.

Many years ago, I climbed Mt. Marcy, the tallest peak in New York State, the trail ending at Lake Tear of the Clouds, source of the Hudson River.  Like Strayed, I carried my gear on my back, though my trek was a lark compared to her journey.  I slept in lean-tos and traveled with companions, “roughing it” for only three days, not three months.  This was 30 years ago, when my internal frame was younger and stronger.  I’m glad that backpacking is part of my history, both in the sense that I’m glad I did it and glad that it’s history. Just reading about the preparations and the load Strayed bore–clothing, dried food, camp stove, sleeping bag, tent, camp chair, cooking pots and utensils, toiletries, books, and water—just the water weighed nearly 25 pounds—made me cringe.  I couldn’t do it.  I can’t imagine wanting to do it—now.

I’m neither proud, nor embarrassed to admit that, at this point in my life, I like a measure of comfort.  I enjoy camping with my daughter, Grace.  I love waking to the cacophonous sound of a hundred birds greeting the morning. I love lying back in the beat-up vinyl lawn chair watching vigilantly for shooting stars.  I love wading in cold mountain streams and racing leaf boats with Grace.  But I do not love sleeping on the hard ground or going long sweaty days without a shower, or having to carry anything weightier than a thermos, an insulated lunch bag and a book.  I like having my car nearby, if only to keep food away from prying raccoons and bears.  And yes, I like being close to a bathroom with electric lights, flush toilets and warm water.

For these reasons, Grace and I tend to camp at state parks, pitching our tent in shady sites that offer nature and privacy, but are never far from basic amenities.  And if there’s a sandy beach with kayak rentals and an ice cream shop nearby, all the better.

Every year, I visit Campmor.com and add to our collection of camping equipment, making our adventures a little easier. Last year, I bought a grill basket so I could cook four hotdogs over the fire at once, instead of one at a time at the end of a stick.  This year, I bought the long-coveted (by both Grace and myself) larger tent and two sturdy cots.  I can stand up in the new tent, meaning I don’t have to lie on a leaking air mattress struggling to get into my jeans.  And the doors—there are two!—are generously wide.  While I still have to stoop to get out, I no longer crawl.  These are accommodations that allow me to focus on time with Grace, rather than my own discomfort.

I want to raise a daughter who is determined and focused and strong. Who will create her own adventures, struggle through her own hardships and emerge wiser.  Who may, one day set off into her own wilderness.  And, as I see her off, I’ll be cheering from the comfort of my camp chair.

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Conquering the Hill

This is a story about falling down and getting back up. More specifically, it’s a story about falling down, lying on the ground, and getting back up, awkwardly, with much groaning and effort.

It starts last winter, when my daughter Grace and I went cross country skiing on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail.  I had purchased children’s skis for Grace three years earlier, but had only recently invested in my own set. (Picture an 8-year old gliding along and her mom jogging through the snow alongside.) Winter was winding down and we were both eager to get out before the white powder gave way to mud.

Moving two long sticks in smooth parallel lines can be trickier than it looks, especially when you’re trying to ski around trail walkers and dog poop, but before long we found a pleasing rhythm. As we neared the Mercy College campus, I felt confident enough to ski down a small slope to the left of the trail. I can’t remember if Grace made it down the hill without falling, but I clearly remember my first run: it ended in a tangled heap of skis and limbs.

Let me be clear—this was a very, very small hill. I believe downhill skiers call the beginner slopes bunny trails.  This hill was the equivalent of a baby rabbit.  Nevertheless, there I was, unable to release my skis and unable to get up off the ground. Further disclosure—you might think that because I have a young child, I’m relatively young. Not so. I turned fifty last fall and suffer from chronic back problems and a general out-of-shape condition (which I intend to address any day now.) I tried pushing myself up, but my wrists threatened to give way. Any twisting could throw my back in spasms of pain.  Humiliated, I flopped back into the snow, resigned to lying there until my frozen body was found by cyclists in the spring.

 Grace tried to help, but there’s only so much an 8-year old can do. Eventually, I managed to pull myself up using a technique that Grace suggested and we started for home, my pride hurt more than my body.

Fast forward to January 2012.  A rare Saturday snow punctuated the middle of a mild winter. Knowing that the window of opportunity wouldn’t last, we gathered up the skis and poles and walked over to the Aqueduct Trail. This time we easily hit our stride and before long we had reached the college and the little hill. I might have skied right past it—why tempt fate?–but not Grace. Not only did she want to try downhill skiing again, she also wanted me to give it another go.

I had a choice. I could be the over-the-hill (pun intended) mom who gives up when faced with a challenge or I could show my daughter that when you fall down, literally and figuratively, you get back up. And you try again.

So, I stood at the top of the very little hill and counted to three. I remembered to bend my knees and lean forward. I concentrated on staying upright as my skis traced parallel tracks in the snow, moving at a surprising, frightening, exhilarating speed. And I did. At the bottom, I raised my pole in the air and whooped “I did it!”  Pushing my luck, I tackled that hill three more times. On the fourth run, I fell again, and once again, had trouble releasing my skis and getting up. But this time, it took me slightly less time to recover. And at least I went down trying.

Every outing with my young, strong, flexible daughter involves a whole lot of joy and just a tiny bit of fear. Fear for her safety, but fear for myself; that I will twist my ankle climbing rocks in the woods, or further hurt my back, or dislocate a shoulder that once plagued me with frequent dislocations. But I don’t want to be that mom. I want to join in her joy. I want her to be fearless, so I try to be fearless too. At least in small ways. And on bunny trails.

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Autumn Trekking and Letter Writing

Grace and friends at Marshland Conservancy, Rye

Inspired by mild, sunny days and the last golden foliage of fall, Grace and I have gone trekking twice this month. Trekking seems the right word to encompass both a gentle walk through the woods and a longer, more strenuous hike that involved climbing hills and rocks and fording (an admittedly small) stream. Much as Grace loves playing soccer, and I enjoy watching her games, it’s been a relief to reclaim our weekends before the snow falls…again. Every weekend that’s not rainy feels like a gift at this time of year, an offering just begging to be taken. 

The winter woods, draped in snow, have their own pleasures. But, it’s harder then to get motivated, to brave the cold and wet and the slippery trails, to get out of the house early to avoid the quickly darkening skies at the other end of the day. In Harriman State Park, in late fall, the brittle brown leaves flatten underfoot with a pleasing crunch, the trees are stripped bare, opening the woods in all directions, and a lone woodpecker raps high and far away in quick, hard bursts of sound.

At Marshland Conservancy in Rye, wild turkeys, having escaped the fate of their domesticated meal-bound brethren, cross the parking lot. The trail is flat and mostly even, though muddy in spots, and leads through the woods, alongside a tall-grass meadow and across marshy flats, where you begin to smell the sea in the brine-scented air. The trail ends at the beach—Long Island Sound—where, no matter the season, children entertain themselves by throwing sticks in the water, skipping stones and climbing rocks until the sun weakens and drops.

Back at Marshland Conservancy’s trailhead, the one room nature center is open and welcoming. There’s a naturalist on hand, a beautiful photo exhibit of the animals, birds and insects that inhabit the property, a three-dimensional map, horseshoe crab shells and most, importantly, bathrooms. But this may not be the case for long. So here comes the advocacy part.

According to our friends at Beczak Environmental Education Center and Sustainable Hastings, the proposed Westchester County budget calls for the closure of several county-funded nature centers, including Marshlands Conservancy, Lenoir Preserve, Cranberry Lake Preserve and three others.

In an e-mail message posted on the Westmoreland Sanctuary website, Michael Gabino, Director of the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary, outlined the implications of these closures:

  • All Westchester County nature centers will be shut down and in some cases the parks themselves will be closed and gated.
  • There will be no rehiring in the foreseeable future for these parks…without staff  on site to maintain the nature centers and the acreage of the parks, decades of progress has the potential to deteriorate in short order. Storms and careless visitors will erode the trails. Buildings will fall into disrepair.
  • There will be no educational programs, no interpretive experts at the parks, no summer ecology programs.

Personally, I can’t imagine not being able to walk the trails at Marshland Conservancy with my daughter. I can’t imagine the good that will come from denying Westchester residents, especially children, a trek in the woods, a glimpse of a turkey, the chance to learn about ecosystems and rocks and fish and tidal pools. In these days of holiday shopping and multi-plex movies, perhaps the greatest gift we can give ourselves and our children is the gift of going outdoors, where it’s silent and free.

So, I urge you to write to your county legislators a.s.a.p.  According to Gambino, a final vote is expected by the end of December, if not sooner. For contact information, visit http://westchesterlegislators.com/contact-us.html

On behalf of trekker everywhere, thank you for your action and concern.

 

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Our Favorite Things: Part I

Joelle, Grace and Daniel at Little Stony Point, Cold Spring

Last weekend, on a breezy, sun-dappled fall afternoon, I met the mother of one of my daughter Grace’s soccer teammates. Elizabeth, her husband and two children had moved to the Rivertowns from New York Cityonly a few weeks earlier and I was happy to tell her about some of Westchester’s great outdoor spaces. After referring her to the Rivertown Kids blog, I realized that she would have to read through several postings to find concrete information about local (and not so local) nature centers, hiking trails, campsites and bike paths. So, Grace and I have compiled a completely subjective list of our favorite things related to outdoor adventure. We’d love to learn about your favorite things, so please comment!

1)   Best Nature Centers: Greenburgh Nature Center, Scarsdale and Beczak Environmental Education Center,Yonkers

Greenburgh Nature Center’s trails and outdoor animals offer the perfect nature outing for children of every age. Even toddlers can manage the gentle slopes and uneven paths and will delight in seeing bald eagles, turkeys, sheep, ducks and prarie dogs in their enclosures. On rainy days, the animal museum in the Manor House is a great place to visit, and perhaps touch, snakes, turtles, a chincilla and ferrets. GNC hosts family events year-round, as well as birthday parties and school break camps.  Grace has attended both the week-long summer camp and a winter break camp and has loved the hands-on activities. But GNC is not just for children. Last winter, with spring still weeks away and longing for a dose of nature, I tramped through the snow, alone in the quiet woods. For more information, visit www.greenburghnaturecenter.org

Located on a semi-industrial street along the Yonkers waterfront, Beczak is an environmental education facility with a focus on the ecosystems that make up the Hudson River and its shoreline. Grace has created small treasures at Beczak’s weekend eco-art actvities, we have kayaked during the summer celebration, and I have enjoyed affordable concerts as part of the Urban H2O series.  Check out Beczak’s River Explorers program for 5-10 year olds, Fish Tales story time for ages 3-5 or Rivertalks, a lecture series for adults. Beczak also hosts birthday parties and summer camps. To find out what’s going on, visit www.beczak.org

2)    Best Place to Wade in the Hudson River: Little Stony Point Park, Cold Spring.

When you still your mind and reach deep for a vision of your most peaceful place, where is it? For me, it’s the memory of floating on my back in the Hudson River at Little Stony Point, the thin branches of shoreline trees reaching toward the water, a clear blue sky overhead and Storm KingMountain rising up on the western bank. Obviously, this was pre-parenthood, but last June, my friend Jackelien, her two kids, Grace and I packed a picnic lunch and headed upstate.

Little Stony Point lies just north of the village of Cold Spring on Route 9D, about 70 minutes north of the Rivertowns.  Park on the left side of the road near the entrance, or across 9D in a small unpaved lot and follow the trail across the railroad bridge and through the woods. Don’t let the word “park” fool you. There is a beach, the river and a couple trash cans, and that’s it. There are “No Swimming” signs, but people do, and there’s no harm (in my mind) in letting the kids wade in the river. Use your own judgment (but keep in mind the river’s current). Even without the wading, Grace and her friends had a wonderful time enhancing a fort other children had created from a bent-over tree. It’s one of the loveliest spots I know on the river; a perfect place for a picnic, at the very least. Be forewarned: Little Stony Point is popular with the locals, so go on a weekday if you can.  For more information, visit www.littlestonypoint.org

3)   Best Place to Walk Across the Hudson River: Walkway Over the Hudson, Poughkeepsie.

Spanning the Hudson just north of the Mid-Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie, Walkway Over the Hudson is one of New York State’s newest public parks. The transformation of a historic railroad bridge into a pedestrian walkway was spearheaded by a grassroots non-profit organization, proving yet again, to paraphrase Margaret Mead, that a small group of thoughtful citizens can indeed change the world. Or at least the way we view it.

Now you can view the Hudson River and its shoreline from 212 feet above the water. If this sounds scary, it’s not. The Walkway is broad, smooth and motionless, with high barriers strong enough to keep everyone safe, but built to allow amazing views. At 1.28 miles each way, it’s just long enough to feel that you’ve exercised, but not too long for a small child. For more information, including parking locations, visit www.walkway.org.

4)    Best Bike Path: The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Popular with joggers, dog walkers and cyclists, the Aqueduct Trail runs for over 26 miles from Van Cortlandt Park at the Yonkers/Bronx border north to the Croton Dam, following the historic aqueduct that once brought water to New York City. The path is ever changing: wide and gravelly, narrow and smooth with packed dirt, pockmarked with small stones and scarred with tree roots. The scenery is often surprising as well: patches of deep woods opening to suburban back yards, grand homes, tennis courts and the parking lots of small towns. On the ride from Dobbs Ferry to Tarrytown alone, you will cross the campus of Mercy College and Main Street in Irvington before arriving at Lyndhurst, a national historic site overlooking the Hudson River.

Earlier this month, village officials and Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct celebrated the completion of a new trail entrance at Cedar Street in Dobbs Ferry. If you’ve ever struggled to carry your bike over the uneven concrete slabs that marked the former entrance, you’ll love the new paved ramp that slopes in a gracious curve to meet the dirt trail.  For more information, visit: www.aqueduct.org

5)    Best Mountain Climb for Children: Sugarloaf  Mountain, Garrison

O.K, so Sugarloaf is really a large hill, but to the 5-10 year old set, it’s a mountain. Grace and I climbed Sugarloaf for the first time two months after she turned five and we’ve done it twice since. The trail ascends gently for most of the hike, though the terrain is rugged in spots and you’ll have to climb over trees felled by recent storms. Toward the summit, the climb is steeper and may involve some scrambling.  When you reach the top, keep walking along the ridge until you see a rocky outcropping that overlooks the Hudson River and the Bear Mountain Bridge. At 890 feet, the view is beautiful, but the scenery is also lovely at lower elevations, where one can gaze across fields of high grasses to West Point looming across the river. The adjacent hill is topped by Osborn Castle, a privately owned fairy tale home.

For directions, visit www.nynjtc.org/hike/east-hudson-highlands-5. The hike up Sugarloaf (one way) takes about 1.5 hours. While light-weight hiking boots are ideal, we find that sturdy sneakers do just fine.

Stay tuned for Part II of Our Favorite Things, where we’ll cover Grace’s and my favorite campground, pick-your-own apple orchard and more.

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Following the 9s

Little Stony Point Park, Route 9D in Cold Spring, NY

When I was still driving to Albany three or four times a year, first from Long Island and later from southern Westchester, friends thought I was crazy for following Route 9 along the river rather than jumping on the Thruway as soon as possible. The more polite ones would lift an eyebrow just slightly, while others would blurt out “why?” In their minds, the meandering road involved too many stop lights, low speed zones, and a longer, more exasperating trip.

Inexplicably, I felt compelled to defend my choice of routes. Sometimes I would simply say “I prefer the scenic route.” Other times, I would go into more detail. “I find the Thruway mind-numbingly boring. If my child, who is prone to car-sickness, feels nauseous, I have to drive 30 miles (give or take) to the next rest stop before she can get out of the car.”

On Route 9 (or 9D, 9W, 9H, 9G or 9J), I can pull over at almost anytime, not just for her, but for me. It gives me time to make a cell phone call, stretch my legs, reach for a snack or change the CD of whatever audio book we’re listening to. Things no-one should be doing while driving 70 miles an hour on the Thruway.

And being on the “skinny road,” as my father calls it, actually involves, at least in some stretches, some driving skill. I love hugging the mountainside as Route 6/Route 202 narrowly snakes over Anthony’s Nose, linking Route 9 in Peekskill with 9D, which leads north to Garrison, Cold Spring and Beacon. Sometimes, especially if we are with friends, tourists to the mountaintop, we stop at the scenic overlook at the summit and take photographs of the river and the Bear Mountain Bridge.

Following the 9s also involves choices; the longer the trip, the more choices. “Which bridge should we cross this time?” I ask my daughter Grace. There’s the Bear Mountain, Beacon-Newburgh, Mid-Hudson, Kingston-Rhinecliff, Rip Van Winkle. Never the Tappan Zee, with its high toll and city traffic. Most times, we take one bridge crossing from east to west, and another on the way home, just to mix things up. High above the river, I sneak glances at the broad expanse of water, hoping to glimpse the sloop Clearwater under sail.

I can explain all this. What I can’t explain is the gravitational pull toward the small towns and their businesses, the historic markers and roadside oddities that are now as familiar to me as my own village block. To be sure, there are stretches of big box stores and traffic lights (most notably on Route 9 in Fishkill and Poughkeepsie), and run-down city streets. But these are part of the character of the Hudson Valley as much as the hills, quaint downtowns and river views.

There are memories here too, experiences shared with a companion, many years ago, who loved exploring the back roads as much as I did and the time spent aboard the Clearwater as we sailed from one port to another. When I adopted my daughter, bringing her home from China just before Christmas 2002, our first road trip together was to Albany along various 9s. Over the years, we have hiked Mt. Beacon and Sugarloaf Mountain on Route 9D, explored the shops of Cold Spring, eaten picnic lunches in the gazebo at the Garrison waterfront, toured the Saugerties lighthouse, and stopped for snacks and smalls gifts at Black Horse Farm stand on 9W in Athens.

My parents moved from Albany to North Carolina four years ago, so Grace and I rarely travel that far north anymore. But this weekend, we will go apple picking upstate, following the 9s to another adventure.

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Finding the Time

Catching minnows at North-South Lake in the Catskills

When my daughter was young, on the cusp of an active social life, I vowed that we wouldn’t become one of those over-scheduled families, rushing from music lessons to sports to playdates (arranged weeks in advance), gobbling 20-minute dinners and lamenting the “craziness” of our life.

To some degree, I’ve stuck to that promise. With rare exceptions, Grace and I eat evening meals together every night. Now nine years old, she loves soccer, so for the past three years has faithfully and happily attended practices on Saturdays and games on Sundays. When Grace expressed an interest in learning Chinese, I told her that I could investigate language classes, but she would have to choose between soccer and Chinese lessons. Soccer won, hands down.

Even so, the precious weekend hours have become increasingly crowded with errands, birthday parties, church services and meetings, sports and playdates. I added free-lance reporting to my schedule, on top of a full-time job. The hike up Anthony’s Nose, or the bike ride along the Aqueduct Trail keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the “To Do” list. It’s too hot (summer excuse), too cold (winter excuse), we’re too busy (spring and fall excuses) and we’re just too tired.

Three years ago, I started Rivertown Kids for the Environment. At the time, I was a newly minted graduate of Leadership Westchester, an intensive 10-month personal and professional development course that helped me peel back layers of indecision and craft a vision for my life. Thanks to David Severance, our amazing facilitator, and my classmates, I was able to stand up and say “the things that matter most to me are community, children and nature.” At our graduation ceremony, I boldly and excitedly told the audience about my new organization—Rivertown Kids—that would “foster a love of nature and stewardship of the earth in young children.”

It was a good idea—all my friends told me so, and I believed it myself. So what happened? It turned out that most of the parents I know, even the ones who try desperately not to over-schedule, are in fact overscheduled. And if you don’t know about the view from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, or the hidden gem of Hudson River beach across from Storm King, or the supplies needed for a successful camping trip, well… then it becomes easier to stay home.

Perhaps more importantly, I have lost just a little of my own inspiration. I have not carved out the time; I have not made being in nature, on a regular basis, a priority. I am not blaming myself, or excusing myself: it is just the reality.

But if I am in need of inspiration, I pull up the memory of a recent afternoon in the woods that will remain forever imprinted in my, and hopefully my daughter’s consciousness. On the mossy banks of the creek that ran behind our Catskills campsite, Grace had discovered a patch of delicate white flower petals and miniature pine cones. She carefully placed the pine cones in a half dozen petal cups and launched the tiny boats downstream, delighted when they remained intact through dangerous (to a flower petal vessel) eddies and dismayed when they shipwrecked. No movie, no video game, no activity can top that.

I may never find the time to climb mountains every weekend, but surely Grace and I can scale small hills just a little more often.

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Postcards from the Catskills

Hiking along Mary's Glen Trail

I. I’m always a bit amazed—though I shouldn’t be—at the amount of stuff needed for a camping trip. Tent. Check. Sleeping bags. Check. Blow-up bed and sleeping pad. Of course. And then there’s food, a bright compact lantern, the new stainless steel camp pots, rain gear, hiking shoes, sandals for shower and shore, heavy jackets for cold mountain nights, an electric tea kettle, bathing suits and beach toys, and our camping dishes and utensils.

After the car is filled, leaving room only for me to drive and Grace in the back seat, I mount the bike rack, secure our bikes—one blue adult hybrid and one small pink bike with a horn. We pull away from the house singing Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again”.

II. Mornings I am awakened by a cacophony of birds–chirping, whistling, chortling–surrounding our small tent with sound. The sun has not yet risen above the pines and birches that ring the rocky hard-packed dirt of the campsite, but once I emerge, stiffly, into the day, I see that the sky is flawless, the air hinting of warmth, and light infused green everywhere.

III. New this year: when I check into the campground, the park ranger asks me to sign a piece of paper acknowledging the rules relating to bears. Black bears share this forest land with campers and hikers and the number one rule is: “Under no circumstances, feed the bears.” I tell the ranger, “Under no circumstances would I feed the bears”. She informs me that there have been no bear incidents this season, leaving me wondering “what exactly is an incident?”

I am half in, half out of the tent when a man stops at the edge of our campsite and tells my friend Amy Jo that a bear is heading our way. A small bear, he notes, but since we have children he wanted to let us know. “Is it a cub?” I ask. I know a thing or two about bears. One is that you can’t outrun or out climb them. The second is that bears generally won’t bother humans unless they are looking for food left out by careless campers, or if their cub is threatened.

With a mix of fear and curiosity, all four of us—two eight-year olds and their moms—peer around the corner of our site. Indeed, there is a not quite grown black bear lumbering down the road in our direction. I order the kids into the car. Grace and I are safely in ours, no she scrambles out—she wants to be with her friend Maya. Just get in the car! Then we wait. After a few minutes, I begin to feel foolish. How long should we stay locked up? The bear seems to have disappeared into the woods. We all climb out, glance nervously into the trees and resume our day.

Later, I report the sighting to the ranger at the front gate. She gives me a half smile and says simply “I’m not surprised.” I ask her for the second time if a bear happened to be nosing around our tents at night, would it be best to lie quietly terrified in our sleeping bags or make a lot of noise. For the second time, she tells me that as long as we lock all food, garbage and scented toiletries in the car, the bears will leave us alone. Although I am somewhat reassured, I keep the remote car alarm nearby as I sleep that night.

IV. To Grace’s delight, I am not bugging her about showering this weekend. So she is happily dirty, wild-haired and wearing the same baggy rainbow striped leggings with the hole in the knee, day in and day out, regardless of the weather.

V. Even in a fully equiped kitchen, cooking is not my forte. However, I’m game, with Amy Jo’s help, to put together a three-course meal over a campfire. Thanks to the kindness of the previous campers who left a pile of kindling behind, and several days without rain, we easily manage a respectable fire. I wrap potatoes in aluminum foil and place them in the fire. We place corn on the cob, still in their husks, on the grill. Each of us spears our hotdogs and cooks them like marshmallows over the flames. The aluminum foil falls away in the heat, leaving the potatoes ashy and burnt around the edges. The corn is not completely cooked and the hot dogs not quite hot. Nevertheless, it’s not bad, and washed down with some red wine (grown-ups only!), it tastes like a real meal.

VI. The long weekend slips away in languorous days spent hiking, bicycling and lounging at the edge of the lake. The afternoons are hot, the water cold and refreshing, as mountain lakes should be. The nights are cool, though there is no need for jackets. We crush hot marshmallows between graham crackers and chocolate, lick our sticky fingers, add more wood to the fire. We marvel at a perfect sky, studded with a thousand stars. We don’t want to leave.

North-South Lake (http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24487.html) is located in Haines Falls, NY, about 3 hours north of the Rivertowns. It is a popular state campground and tends to be crowded during holiday weekends. For any weekend, plan to make your reservation as far in advance as possible.

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