It was in the mid-40s. In December. In western New York State. There had been no measurable snow, setting some sort of meteorological record. Craziness. And while I was wistful for the white stuff, my dad was fine with the abnormal weather patter. “I must be old because I don’t miss the snow,” said my 75-year old father, whom I never remember ever complaining about the weather because what was the point? You can’t change it.
Taking advantage of the unseasonably warmish temperatures with no wind and blue skies, we set out to hike at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. This was a popular site in my childhood days, my dad frequently piling my brother and me into the car and taking us out for a walk in the woods. Or maybe it was just “frequently” in my memory. Perhaps we tend to remember the things we loved with more intensity which skews our recollection. But never let facts get in the way of a good narrative.
As we approached the wildlife refuge area, I asked my dad where he wanted to go. I didn’t bring a map since the trails here are well marked and well used and I trusted my dad as the general guide. To be honest, we never really used maps. Our hiking plans were based on the zeal of “Hey! Let’s go hiking!” and then briefly checking a map at a trail head and following blazes. More than once our great ideas have flamed out, like the time we parked a car at the end of point-to-point hike. What a stroke of brilliant inspiration! It was a great idea only the execution fell flat when we reached the end of the trail and I remembered I left my keys in dad’s car back at the starting point. Other times we’d get on a trail, start following blazes then lose site of them as the trail became less obvious. We frantically started looking in the trees for markers and made our way back by dashing from blaze to blaze.
One of my dad’s favorite sayings is, “I’ve made every mistake you can make. Most of them twice.”
Our time in the woods often fits this description. We also believe we would be terrible explorers because we would be lost and eaten pretty quickly if left to our own bushwhacking devices.
But I digress.
None of that came into play at Iroquois. Dad said he always goes to the “red barn” and so that’s where we parked, taking the Kanyoo Nature Trail. “Kanyoo is an Iroquois word meaning wildlife,” the interpretive sign at the trail head told us. “On this trail, you will discover the diversity of nature — constantly changing over time.”
We entered the trail and went left, walking on a trail well-cushioned with crunchy leaves. The sun was out and blue sky framed the starkness of the hibernating trees, growing tall and thin. Our walk was dry but took us through forested wetlands and emergent marsh. It was still and peaceful, aside from the stray sound of a shotgun. (Hello hunting season. Goal No. 1 for our walk was not to get accidentally shot.) Interpretative panels informed our walk and we stopped to check them out.
The first one described all about the mayapple then added this informative sentence “All parts of this plant are extremely toxic, and can even cause death if ingested!” OK. Good tip. Although my dad and I don’t eat anything in the woods because, well, we know walking and solitude and prayerful meditation and not much when it comes to science and survival. The next interpretive panel told us all about invasive animals introduced to the area, taking over the land and crowding out the natives. (Almost sounds metaphorical, doesn’t it?) We then read a panel about brood parasites — birds who lay their eggs in another birds’ nest. We were starting to get a bit depressed with the educational portion of our walk.
We followed the trail markers which took us out into a tall, grass field. It was the only place where we encountered mud and the single-track trail started to look a bit overgrown. It definitely was a trail, perhaps taking us closer to one of the pond areas where we heard some geese. But we also heard the shotgun sounds of the hunters. Combine that with slightly difficult walking for my dad and we turned back into the woods.
There are several points along the trail which are well-marked and allow you to make decisions on where to turn or loop. We kept going straight and the wooded trail ended at a wider, more open trail which ran perpendicular. We turned right, heading intuitively back toward the red bar, the woods on our right and private backyards to our left. That path dead ended. Oops. We stepped into the woods. Was this a trail? We took a few steps and spotted a wooden bench about 200 yards ahead. Ah-ha! There’s the trail. A few steps of bushwhacking and we were back on track.
As usual when I’m out with my dad, we alternately have discussions then silence. The silent times are peaceful and natural. We can be together, enjoying each other’s company, having a really good time and be quiet. Other times we chat about current events, politics and family. In my lifetime my dad was my connection to nature, the one who introduced me to the woods and taught me an appreciation for being away from technology and chaos and “work.” But I didn’t really know how he got started. Did he hike when he was growing up?
He did some with the boy scouts, scouting being an important part of his youth. Sometimes he’d go on hikes with his parents but, he told me, his mother liked the woods more than his father. She always wanted a jeep to be able to drive off-road and had dreamed of taking a road trip along the highway from Dawson to Alaska. I don’t think I knew that. I never knew my paternal grandmother, but maybe some things — like love of nature and road trip adventure — are inherited after all.
Hike 52 Project
Date: Dec. 6, 2015
Location: Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge
Total distance: 1.8 miles
Elevation: 84 feet
Duration: 1 hour 21 minutes
Weather: 43 degrees, sun and clouds, no wind
Hiked with: Dad
“Week 1 #hike52”
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