Travel is a relative experience. I used to think when I was a kid that travel only counted when it was done to some exotic faraway place, like Florida. Or, in other cases, upstate New York. To a kid living in suburban New York City, the rural landscape of upstate New York seemed like another planet. They talked differently from me, things seemed to move more slowly, and instead of mall after mall lining up the streets, there were endless reams of farms and hills, with houses tucked away, only visible as you drove down the interstate at sixty miles an hour. I wondered what it would be like to live in one of those houses on the hill, devoid of suburban street noise. Some people think of their oasis as a tropical beach. That house tucked in the hills away from it all was mine.
As an adult, I got an irresistible urge to travel. I left the country several times with my husband, going to Mexico and other so-called exotic places that required air travel. But the travel I liked the most was the road travel. I loved an open highway and a destination that was either faraway or some blip on the map. We traveled around the entire continental United States that way, hitting thirty-eight states in the process. During this time, I found that house on the hill tucked away from everything, and quickly made my nesting ground there. But the urge to hit the road didn't go away completely.
Lately that urge has been taking root in local travel. I was looking through an atlas of New York State and saw a listing of all the state parks. I'd had this idea before, just one of those why don't I do it for the hey of it, to go to every state park just to see what was there. I had already been to many of them, from Jones Beach on Long Island to Niagara Falls. Looking at the list revived that impulse to finish the job. So, armed with two Minolta cameras, a videocamera, a husband, and two dogs, the odyssey began.
This itinerary began with Max V. Shaul park, a farm located in Schoharie county that was dedicated to the state after Mr. Shaul's death in 1980. The park is mostly woods, with several paths for hiking in it. When we went, the weather was in a state of confused late March adolescence, not sure if it wanted to be windy and threatening or sunny and calm. The trees hadn't yielded any leaves yet, and there were picnic areas waiting for the campers of summer to descend upon them. When we went, there was no one there but us.
Most of the roads for vehicle travel were closed, being that it was off season. The road that took us into the park had no concrete, just dirt. It led to a parking area to what would be the information center in season. The other roads led to what was probably other picnic areas, though where we were we had a choice of trails to hike on. This park's main attraction, according to the map we got by the unmanned office, seemed to be picnicking in the woods with your family and hiking. If you were looking for a good swimming place, this wasn't it. There wasn't any ponds or any other means for swimming, which suited us fine considering it was only early spring.
We hiked up one of the steeper trails, which led us to an open field, one that turned out to be just outside the park. You could see the traffic below, traveling the state route to wherever their destinations went. They were the only noise you could hear. After Memorial Day, the first official day of park season, I am sure that would all change. Once we found the trail again, we made our way back to our vehicle, and it was the end of the journey.
It was a simple beginning to discovering the state's natural preserves. It wasn't the grandeur of the ocean or a what was considered a natural wonder of the world, but it was a reminder that in the midst of civilization and industry, pockets of natural beauty could be found and enjoyed. It was a reminder to me how necessary it is to have small places like these as we advance our society.