Part of me wishes for snow. It is winter after all and I have snowshoes and ice skates and now cross country skis. Playing in the snow is fun, at least for a kid who grew up in Western New York and embraces winter. So while I will appreciate the nearly 50-degree day at the end of Janaury, part of me longed to be shooshing on skis instead of clomping through mud on the trails at Golden Hill State Park.
I discovered this start park a few years ago, frankly surprised my father and I never knew about it while I was growing up. Located on Lake Ontario it’s the home of Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse. It also has a boat launch and hiking/skiing trails. Oh yes, it also permits small game hunting, which means you get to see signs like this:
I am also fairly certain there is a conservation club or shooting range nearby because there were too many gun shots too often for it to be someone hunting squirrels.
On the trail. There are different colored markers — green, blue and red, but I have round that they pretty much connect up. I started following the green blazes along the telephone pole line (a great way to find your way back if you’re not sure where you ended up). The trail was snow covered in spots, a bit icy in others, and very muddy in most places.
I crossed over one of the streams, low but flowing on this late January day. I saw the green blazes with two hikers. Then I saw blazer featuring just one hiker. I laughed out loud. Years ago when my dad and I were hiking in Allegany State Park, we saw similar trail markers. We named the hikers “Stan” and “Otto.” (Well I named them Stan and Otto. My dad just humored me.) Then when we’d see a single hiker marker we’d say “Oh no! What happened to Stan? We lost Stan!” Was that a silly story. Very well. It was a silly story. But I also have pictures:
The red trail is billed as an interpretative trail, meaning there are informational signs on that route. I learned that the spot was used by members of the Seneca Nation to catch their annual supply of fish and to boil maple sugar in the spring. The Senecas referred to it as “Ha-the-key-net-go-on-da-gee” which translates to “At the Site of the Maple Sugar Bush Where the Water Flows” or “The Stream Where Maple Sugar is Made.” Either way, I’m down with the boiling of maple sugar.
The lighthouse became an important feature of Lake Ontario navigation. It was built in 1875 to help protect ships from a shallow sandbar. A number of shipwrecks occurred around this spot — hence the lighthouse and the haunting of the lighthouse.
I took in the historical information, always one of my personal joys, as I saw two other people walking in the woods. It was a couple, both wearing beige field coats and carrying koosie-protected cans of beer. I smiled to them and laughed on the inside. Well, to each his own.
As I progressed through the woods, a tree caught my attention. Unusual knots formed along its trunk and it supported several other trees which had fallen, presumably due to age and weather. I was intrigued. So I stopped. My mind had been working hard during the walk, thinking about the perfect lines from Mary Oliver to describe the day and my state of being or linking my hike to something I read by Thomas Merton or Fr. Dan at Mt. Irenaeus. I was trying to create meaning during my walk.
But as I saw this tree, I realized that was my problem. I was trying.
I’ve learned in meditation that thoughts always come and go, no matter how still I try to make my mind. The practice of meditation is to let those thoughts be background — to not follow the thoughts. The practice is also based in not trying to have a particular experience. It is to just be. The mantra for that is “So Hum.” I found myself chanting that (perhaps outloud without realizing it, which may be why my beer-toting trail mates looked at me funny) and brought myself into the moment.
I did the same thing as I stood on the shore of Lake Ontario, looking out at the calmness of the water, of the streaks of light and subtle color along the length of the horizon and the interesting ice sculptures created by the mild temperatures.
This, for me, is a sacred space. I don’t need to force anything. I need to try. I just need to be, as I am and know that I am loved, accepted and cared for.
Date: Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016
Location: Golden Hill State Park
Total distance: 2.27 miles
Elevation: 39 feet
Duration: 1 hour 13 minutes
Weather: 45 degrees, mostly cloudy
Hiked with: solo