Confession: I love my birthday. It’s not about the gifts. Frankly I don’t get that many except from my mother who loves a good Amazon wishlist more than anything on the internet. It’s not about parties, because frankly whenever I throw myself a party, it’s usually just my parents who show up. (Tragic but true.) I do kinda like Facebook and the constant notifications that someone has wished me a happy birthday. So this is not an occasion completely void of selfishness. There is something comforting about people saying “I’m glad you were born,” even if they only do so out of their daily social media routine.
I love my birthday and have started taking vacation the week of my birthday (to avoid working my birthday) as a time to embrace the things I love most. Not to get all new-agey on you, but it is a time I reflect on my past year, on what’s important to me, on what’s important moving forward and what I can thank for its service and leave behind. (see: ex-boyfriend baggage for starters.)
This year I celebrated making another trip around the sun at one of my favorite places in the greater Western New York area — Letchworth State Park.
While I do remember going there as a kid, it wasn’t routine. Or at least it’s not routine in my mind. The visits were more frequent in high school and college and always with my dad. It was one of our hiking spots — close enough for an easy day trip and far away enough to feel like something special. (Allegany State Park was another of our haunts, but that’s for another time and that park in particular has something sacred about it for me. Back to Letchworth.)
Scott and I went to Letchworth on Saturday, the day before my birthday. We packed some sandwiches (i.e. a jar of peanut butter and some defrosted pita bread) and a healthy amount of water and Gatorade and set out to explore. Scott has a much deeper knowledge of the park with a personal history that dates back to regular childhood visits. I was supposed to take the lead, but I let him guide me.
I immediately moved away from the Gorge Trail, an excellent walk along the “Grand Canyon of the East” but also mostly open and it was sunny and hot. We had other options so, no thanks. Scott suggested the Mary Jemison trail and as we stopped into the visitor’s center we asked about where to pick that up.
“Oh, it’s closed,” the young volunteer at the desk said. They are removing the 1870-era railroad bridge and building a new one. During the time of the project (projected to be three years, or said the article in the Democrat & Chronicle I pulled up) several trails and the area around the Portageville entrance will be closed.
Ah, but another eager young volunteer said that we could start from the Council Grounds and pick up trail 2A, the Hemlock trail. Boom. That was our decision.
The trail was nicely shaded and the terrain had some roll to it — a few up and downs to get the legs moving and the heart pumping. It was still and beautiful. At times Scott and I chatted — about past times at Letchworth, or favorite childhood memories or the meaning of life. Other times we were quiet, finding the rhythm in our walk, comfortable enough with each other to not be bothered (or bored) by silence.
We took out the map and looped onto Trail 3 — Trout Pond. Upon approaching the pond we found quite a few families out for the park’s learn to fish event. We continued on the Trout Pond trail, heading back into the woods to pick up the Hemlock trail. On the way out we passed two boys who asked how far they were from the end. We told them only a few minutes. Then we passed a larger group of guys — adults and kids who upon my guess comprised a boy scout troop. They looked a little worse for wear.
As we made our way back, a gentle rain started to fall. We hardly got wet, thanks to the coverage of the forest. In fact, the rain felt a little good against the hot day. It could have rained even more.
There were times on the hike when I thought I might burst with happiness. Does that sound silly? I grant you, it does. But there’s no other way to describe it. Well, no other way for me to describe it. Perhaps the best way was from the poet Robert Lax (who has been on my mind lately as I have just finished his biography):
Date: May 28, 2016
Location: Letchworth State Park
Trail: Hemlock and Trout Pond
Total distance: 3.36 miles
Elevation: 423 feet
Duration: 1 hour 51 minutes
Weather: 82 degrees, sun
Hiked with: Scott