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"WHETSTONE GULF STATE PARK"
by Jessica Kuzmier
One particular day, the world of current events was really getting to me. Between the financial crisis, the debate about the bailout, investment banks collapsing, McCain and Obama duking it out, and Sarah Palin's incessant whine, I needed a vacation from it all. I needed to find a different way to define the world around me. When the minutiae of life gets to me, travel always helps me to see things in a different perspective.
This is how I happened to get to Whetstone State Park in the Thousand Islands Region of New York State. It was late September, and initially my husband and I were on a mission to find foliage up north. At first, we headed towards Utica, a city alongside Erie Canal and in the Mohawk Valley. This is where we discovered that here in the lower ranges of elevation, not too much was going on in the color-changing arena. I'd had some inkling to go to Whetstone Park, enticed by the creek running through the high canyon in some pictures I'd seen of the places. NY 26 and 12, the routes we'd started out on towards the city, would take us to the park. Away from the city we drove, and the farmland and rolling hills that epitomized the stereotype of upstate New York arrived again. The terrain flattened out as we got closer to the park, reminding me of the Plains more than glacial deposits of steep slate canyons, hundreds of feet deep. The pancake horizon made it seem like we had missed the park, like we had misplaced it on a hill in the Adirondacks some miles back.
But we hadn't, and in the midst of large farms in the middle of state roads, there was a sign that let us know that yes, we had stayed on target. There was a turnoff that led us through a wooded cove, as though the park had been hidden away from all of everyday life, so that if you really wanted to find it, you had to look for it. When we went in, it really did feel like we had come upon a hidden place. The facilities were closed, a sign announced, and it seemed like a lot of people had complied. It was as though everyone took off the minute the day after Labor Day, like some alarm had sounded and called everyone away from the festivities. The main road closed to traffic, but the first lot near to the beach was open. The lot was located next to a cabin that I presumed was part of the facilities that were closed (of which I later discovered it was open). When we parked next to this cabin replica, I felt as though we had driven up own private beach house, just arriving home for our seasonal vacation.
We headed towards the creek, which paralleled the driveway we had driven, and dressed the edge of the beach where the cabin was. There were slate steps along the banks of the creek, there, and a dam creating a kind of waterfall. Perhaps it was some kind of control for overflow, but the water was low enough that this seemed irrelevant. Fall is usually the time when these things are really low to begin with, the snowmelt that lends to rushing whitewater long gone.
This had been a particularly dry summer, so on top of that, a lot of the waterfalls had low outflow. All wasn't lost, though. Less water didn't mean it was completely dry. It just meant that the creek that may have been a full throttle whitewater thoroughfare earlier in the year was now low enough that I could walk on the creek using stepping stones. It was still wet enough that I needed to watch my steps from tripping on a slippery boulder. Flat as the slate was, it still was tricky walking that had to be carefully navigated. I found a path to walk along the edge of the water, leading me to a place where it was dry enough for me to sit and watch the creek flowing by, watching the makeshift waterfall dropping water over its banks in the dam. I stood at a platform of slate there on the side, not needing to venture further. But if you were careful, you could walk down the edge of the fall and stand on its base. No worries about bailouts here with this cascade of water here. I ate a peach, letting this giant faucet run over my concerns before climbing out of the ravine to continue roaming through the park.
While meandering, we saw a trailhead that led a path that disappeared in the wooded hills above us. As far as I could tell, this was the rim trail, which seemed to also be called the North Trail. When we entered the woods, there was a t-stop where one could make a left or a right. Making a left, we walked along a narrow ridge that began to raise in gradient as it climbed higher. It was God's staircase, or a stairway to heaven if you like; pine roots created elevated stepping stones along the rising trail. For a short time, we could see the gorge and creek below us, but soon, the trail carried us away from the waterway that we had come to visit.
So we retraced our steps, returned to the t-stop where we started, and continued along the way which would have been on our right when we first entered the trail. This place made me feel like we fell down the rabbit hole with Alice. In the middle of a hiking trail, a sign appeared. This in itself was not so strange. Perhaps it was giving directions, or marking some landmark or historical event that took place here. But it wasn't. It said: one) handstands. I have no idea why I would want to do this, so ignored the sign and continued on my way. Then I came upon: 2) touch toes x amount of times. I felt like this was some kind of YMCA place trying to civilize all the crazies who thought that hiking was more of a real exercise than calisthenics. There was 3), 4), and I presume there was a 5), 6), and 7) lurking around somewhere. I felt like Richard Simmons was going to appear out of nowhere, begging me not to eat Boston Cream Pie. Besides the semi conversion to some lame gym, the trail crisscrossed in circles, which seemed like a weird thing to be doing in a place like this. So we left this place of bizarre fun mirrors and gave up on the wooded trails entirely. Besides, we were supposed to be off this trail by 3pm and it was nearly 2:30. I'd almost gotten stuck on a trail before on the borderline of the bewitching hour, and I didn't feel like a repeat performance. With the long drive back, we had little time that we could spend here. Trees were things we could see at home. May as well go and see things I couldn't, like the creek and the gorge.
We crossed over the bridge that divided the trails from the picnic area, walking through the grassy area towards the makeshift beach that dressed the shore by our personal cabin for the day. I love beaches when they are out of season, be they oceanfront spits that seem to go on forever or sandboxes that created dreams for a day, like this one. An out of season beach with no one on it tells a different story than one packed to the brim with holiday goers. It seems to say, I exist without having to need you, as though it is reclaiming itself for the nature it intended. I am not responsible for its livelihood then, like without me it will collapse. In these out of season moments, I am only a visitor gracing its banks, like I have been invited into a finicky cat's domain for a few minutes before it goes on its merry way, slaking itself and sifting its sand beneath me like a shapeshifter that can never be pinned down or truly captured.
Leaving the beach, we continued along the concrete path that normally was opened to vehicles but now seemed opened only for us. From a distance, it paralleled the creek, and often we diverged from the road and sat along places by the water. There were many places to do that, and climbing to the creek's edge was safe as long as we took our time. In climbing up and down the hills by the banks, we benefitted from the fact that had been dry for a time. The creek was on our left. To our right, there were hills that seemed like it was great to climb. One was pure dirt or sand, giving it the look of a quarry. It looked like fun to climb, but I wasn't sure it was near any trail, and it was possible that the only way down was sliding down on our butts for several hundred feet. I admit, there was a part of me that found the whole thing exciting. But I refrained myself, and we moved on along the more conservative path that we had chosen.
We never got to the end of the path, the clock dictating to us that we needed to get home and that a four hour drive awaited us before we even got there. We kept pushing the edge our time constraints, not really wanting to miss out on whatever was at the end, but there just wasn't enough time. It seems that is the way life is in general. There is always something to miss out on, because there isn't enough time. There is only so much that can be seen in a limited span. At least we had made a concerted effort to see as much as we could.
We saw a couple of people show up to the park as prepared to leave. They had canoes; it seemed as they were checking out the area to go canoeing, to see if the water was high. Sadly, none of the places this year so far as I could see had high water, which was a problem for me as a kayaker and also a viewer of waterfalls. This waterfall thing wasn't the end of the world, because none of the places I had seen seemed to have nothing at all with water. None of them were completely dry, but I could see the ribs of the rock formations which the water drove itself over. There was sometimes that fall was like this anyway, but this year had been pretty dry as far as rain was concerned. I had been wanting to this particular place for a very long time.
There is a picture the gorge on the NYS park page, full of slate erratics that are scattered in some prehistoric rubble that speaks of a timeline greater than I could measure. It was one that inspired me to come here. My visions of the place concocted large walls rising around me. I thought of all of the rock formations, like for me really interesting to look at this old part of creation which had been the whole reason why people realized that the earth was more than 6000 years old. The ice age was still prominent in these gorges with the waterfalls and erratics, and the silence was a reminder that time was longer than what I imagined it could be in the timelines that I created for myself. When all of these long caves and running water tells of how long creation can take, and is a reminder that whatever I choose to create for myself of my own life. The visions of gorges and streams were what I imagined, and different. They created an image that reminded me that no matter what was going on in the headline of day, time was longer than I could ever imagine. br>
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