TLT: Among Mountain Spirits

Hiking — being outdoors for any extended period for any reason, really — offers different things to different people. Some find that they can push their bodies to points they previously wouldn’t have dared. Others, like Cheryl Strayed of Wild fame, find peace and healing in the sun that chars off skin layer by layer, in the wind and rain that are as abrasive as they are cleansing.

Putting miles and mud on my boots, I’ve found that peace, and I’ve certainly redefined what my physical limits actually are. Unexpectedly, though, I’ve also found some connection to god. I say god and not God, because I don’t subscribe to any of the Religions of the Book, nor have I found any anchor in the other organized faiths I’ve run into.

God, if that’s even the right word for me, has come to mean the beautiful closed system we live in — or, if you like, the ecosystem. There is enough magic to be found in the krill who fill the bellies of the greatest sentinels of the open sea, the powdered allergy that keeps gorgeous swallowtails through to the end of their short season.

I didn’t come off the trail ready to give any credence to the myth of the winged tengu, the faces of which pop up across Japan’s temples and her trails. I’m not ready to invest in the idea of Gaia. I am more open to the idea of sorcery in the real world, though, and I think that can only be a good thing.

This post is part of a weekly series.  Each entry focuses on a single photograph to tell a story. If you liked this week’s version, take a second to check out the rest of Through the Lens Thursday.

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Through the Lens Thursday: Home Ain’t So Bad

Woe is any town unfortunate enough to be home. It’s the first place to be maligned when asked, and often when not . The biggest complaint is that there is nothing to do. This may not be true if you live in New York City, Tokyo, or some other metropolis, the borders of which seem to house a small planet’s worth of spectacle.

I’ve never lived in such a place, though. Whether by chance or fate, mine is always the home with more fields and trees than people, more mountains to climb than reliable pubs to soothe what ails you. And so it’s always been that I’ve looked away from my home for my adventures.

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Prison and Personal Injury, or a Recent Trip to Letchworth State Park

The Fourth of July weekend is coming to an anxious end, and with that ,  it’s only natural that many decide to head to their local parks/watering holes/sports stadiums to get one last bit of life in before work resumes on Monday. Thinking I’d use Sunday to visit a state forest I’ve never been to and hopefully check out some waterfalls, I instead found myself both threatened with arrest and injured — the latter of which occurred when a bear jumped out at me on the trails, causing a rather nasty sprain of the ankle. (That last part might be a lie.) Sonyea State Forest: A Stone’s Throw from a Local Prison Sonyea State Forest is located only a few miles away from the nationally famous Letchworth State Park, just outside of Mt. Morris, New York. The forest has a long history, starting many years ago as a colony for a local community of Shakers, before transforming into a retreat for those suffering from epilepsy. Following the advent of new treatments that effectively reduce the signs and symptoms of epilepsy, the retreat was finally repurposed by the state into the Groveland Correctional Facility. Groveland is a state-level high security prison for male offenders. Having never been to the forest before, I punched it into Google Maps on the trusty phone and sped on my way, the Tallest Man on Earth’s “Wild Hunt” trickling from the speakers, the gentle scents of honeysuckle and grass barely winning their fight with the country air (re: manure) as they pushed through my cracked windows. All signs pointed to a good morning. Continue reading →

Enjoying Independence Among the Trails and the Trees

The U.S. gets pretty loud on the Fourth of July. No, I don’t mean our typical level of noise we tend to make about global politics and whatnot; I mean oh-my-god-why-are-my-ears-bleeding kind of loud. Seemingly from the time the sun peeks its hot little head over the horizon, somebody is outside lighting up a charcoal grill upon which to cook up a week’s worth of tubular meat stuffs — all of them, mind you, to be consumed in one day.

Fourth of July, otherwise known as our Independence Day, is this annual exercise in complete sensory overload. Nostrils variably burn with the thick smoke of spent saltpeter and the charring flesh of some animal, porcine, bovine, whatever. Your ears are left undefended to ford a never ending stream of pop patriotism, belted out, as ever, by a dude with a beard. Fireworks excite the eyes, alcohol taints the blood, flame permanently reworks skin — as I’ve said, it’s all very loud.

I’ve always been more of a relax by the campfire with good beer, good friends, and a guitar to pass around kind of a fella. Despite my daily demeanor, I really don’t like “loud.” So at first light, I went straight for the quietest place I knew within 10 miles: the trails. Continue reading →

Nature’s Enclave in the Heart of Kariya

Tucking the still hot  U.F.O. instant yakisoba package into the plastic bin in the spartan kitchen attached to my bedroom, I pull open the door, pushing out of my host parents’ house and stepping into a small, verdant area lined with vines I never learned the name of and a yuzu tree, a sort of lime-flavored citrus fruit that masquerades under the yellow cowl of a lemon.

It’s another heavy day, thick with a visible humidity that takes whatever clothes you’re wearing and transforms them into something so tight and uncomfortable that you might as well be wearing a sweaty gimp suit as you walk. The sun climbs in a tortured crawl in the afternoon sky, painting my hosts’ garden of potatoes, peanuts, and green onions — a motley assortment  — in midday’s  fluorescence, reflecting a kaleidoscope of blues, oranges, and greens across the earth.

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Backyard Hike: Carlton Hill State Forest

For just about any New Yorker from Binghamton and over, Western New York is a podunk little region of the state so worthless that it doesn’t even warrant being split off from “Upstate,” the name given to all parts of the state that aren’t Long Island or the confederated bits of New York City. Let’s get it out of the way: yes, Buffalo and Rochester pale in comparison to the vibrant, cosmopolitan epicenter that is the Big Apple, but what we lack in city culture we more than make up for in our plethora of beautifully varied state forests and parks. From Letchworth to Stony Brook, WNY has more than its fair share of the state’s natural wonders.

Carlton Hill State Forest, located in Wyoming, NY, is one such paradise. Strangely, despite living only 25 minutes from the forest, I hadn’t ever been there — not before today. Carlton Hill, part of a multi-use land project sponsored by the Department of Environmental Conservation, features some of the best hiking around. Varied landscapes, diverse flora and fauna, and challenging, winding trails make for an enjoyable day hike — so long as you pay attention.

What Can You Expect of the Trails?

Carlton Hill is located in one of the most remote areas of any state owned nature preserve I’ve yet visited. Driving to the crest of Bank Road in the center of Wyoming, you’re treated to views of farmland and woods of birch, evergreen, and maple to the horizon and beyond. Somewhere in between, there are farmhouses and homes, but this is a part of Genesee county that is very much ruled by the verdant.

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