The drive along New York’s northern border isn’t quite as nice as it could be. It’s raining. The road is far back from the shore. The towns are small and far between. Fortunately, the lackluster scenery from the road makes the views from the short detours seem all the more impressive by comparison. I take many side roads to the state parks along the shore. Southwick beach stuck out among the rest because of the length of the wide sandy beach. It reminded me of Montana de Oro where I grew up. I once walked the sandspit there for three hours to reach the end in Morro Bay before turning around and walking back.
Just north is Sackets Harbor. It’s one of those historical registrar towns that I’ve come to appreciate on this trip. Some towns let their historical areas crumble and deteriorate, but when the city takes the effort to become a historic site the buildings are taken care of. Sometimes renovations can look too new, which is why I appreciated some of the old brick buildings in town covered in ivy.
The Hudson River Valley’s natural beauty marked it at an early stage as the place for New York City’s elite to retreat from city life and take in the countryside during the more picturesque seasons. As a result, hundred-year-old mansions are perched on both sides of the river’s gorge, spaced just far enough apart from one another to signify the wealth of the owners. Everything here is still catered to weekending New Yorkers, with expensive antique shops and restaurants. The town of Hudson is a particular standout for its unique smushed corridor of a downtown. The streets are flanked on either side by rows of beautiful blocks of color with ornate carvings of stone ornamenting the windows and doors.
Despite the grayness of November trees I know I’ve got to explore the Catskills. The reason, I confess, has to do with a fiction book I read in elementary school called My Side of the Mountain. In the book a young boy whose father has postponed a summer backpacking trip to next year, decides to not only go without his father, but to stay in the woods indefinitely and live off the land - Chris McCandless style. And while the fact that he survives the winter and isn’t noticed by hikers and stays in the wilderness for years is pretty far fetched, I remember how all the details of how he survived made it so believable. Fishing with grubs, burning out a goose-pen in a large tree for shelter, setting traps until he finds a fledgling peregrine falcon to hunt for him. Ok, maybe that last part isn’t as believable, but it could happen. The story really stuck with me and lead me to do things like trying to build a shelter with oak branches in my backyard and gathering miner’s lettuce and running through streams with my dog. And I know the best reason to visit a National Forrest isn’t because it’s the setting of a work of fiction, but there it is.
So in order to see more of the forrest, I took an indirect route looping around the Catskills on my way to a recommended hike. While I think it’s a little odd that a National Forrest can become more full of restaurants, hotels, and homes than the rural land just outside the boundaries, I concede that it’s just a part of the popularity of the Catskills. And I know that if you want to be in the wilderness, you’ve just got to get off the road and onto the trail (or off of it). So I take a nice hike up to Giant Ledge. The ledge turns out to be a boulder jutting out on a cliffside overlooking the rolling hills below. The view would surely be better in the Fall, where the contrasting leaves would add depth to what is now a blanket of grey, but the experience of standing on a ledge and not being able to see the ground on either side of you is pretty spectacular. The trail is actually more picturesque than the view this time of year. Moss covers the rocky path crossed by babbling brooks.