“TRAVEL IN LOCAL SPACES”
by Jessica Kuzmier
PART ONE: SUNRISE
Spring is always a great time to go and travel to parks. The best time is early in the morning, before all the crowds decide to join you and the bugs wake up and find you. If you get there early enough, you might be able to catch a sunrise. Of course, that means you have to get there before sunrise, which means waking up before any life form even knows it's morning yet. At least when it's fairly early in the spring, you're not waking up all that much earlier than the newspaper delivery man, at least in upstate New York.
That had been the objective of my spouse and I, to catch a sunrise at the park, seeing that it was too early in the spring for any real growth to be around. At least we could experience some sort of unusual natural phenomenon, preferrably a park we hadn't been to before. In order to achieve this goal, we looked at our trusty map of New York State with its list of parks, and settled on Hunt's Pond.
Hunt's Pond is in Chenango County, which is located in Central New York. I am sure, given the appelation of the name, Hunt's Pond was originally part of an estate owned by someone named Hunt. The atlas didn't give too much background on the site, but it seems a lot of state parks start out as some rich landowner's acreage bequeathed to the government after the owner's death. This place didn't seem like much of an exception, but I admit I didn't really find out.
The day we chose for our sunrise drive was in late April, on a day that was forecasted to be unusally warm, so it seemed like a great day to go. Sunrise was at six-fifteen in the morning, which meant we didn't have to get up at 1 a.m. just to have a chance at making it. It was still early enough, though, that most preparations for the drive would have to go without error to make it in time, and of course with all good plans, something went wrong. Everything was fine, except I couldn't find my set of keys. This wasn't the most catastrophic event in the world, seeing that we had two other sets, but it was enough to cause a slight frazzle into the fairly well laid plans, enough to delay our going for five minutes. Which, when you are trying to catch a sunrise, could make a whole bit of difference. Plus, we didn't even find the keys.
I decided to not really let the whole incident bother me. It's easy to fret about things like keys; keys are one of the accoutrements of a modern, organized life, and a natural dictum would be that finding them took all precedence to frivilous things like travel. Travel can have a superfluous tone to it; most people don't pay the bills with travel itself, and it isn't like it saves the whales or any other activist enterprises. But travel is a statement that life takes other avenues rather than what follows a routine; by it very nature it is intended to break up routine. Seeing that the keys had gotten me home from the last time I drove, and not finding them laying around on the patio furniture announcing, here take me and break into the house, I decided to forget about it. If you let it, life's little inconveniences can ooze a lot of worry into your life.
In the rush, I hadn't compensated for the early hour with a satisfactory amount of java. For much of the drive I concentrated on energizing myself, sans caffeine. My mind was awake, mostly fueled by adrenaline from anticipating the trip, but my body was like, are you kidding? What are you doing up before dawn on a Saturday morning? And without your typical three cups of caffeine? Being pressed for time, we couldn't even stop for coffee. I was tempted to take a nap, but I was the navigator and wasn't sure myself where we were going, regardless of the map and list of directions I had. So I knew I had to stay awake and alert. My body seemed to gradually wake up relative to the increasing light of dawn. Okay, it said. I'll cooperate if it's at least light enough to see. The not knowing if we would get to the place in time for the sunrise probably woke me up as well; the lighter it got, the more chance we had of missing the sunrise. And of course, my luck we would miss the turnoff to the park, on a road aptly named "Local Road". The one thing I have learned over the years with travel is that the more exact your plans, the less likely they are going to happen that way. Well, I reasoned, the worst thing that could happen was that I witness the sunrise on a state highway driving by a gas station. I've heard of worse travel disasters in my life.
We managed to successfully find the park before sunrise. Our travels took us off of the state highway to a road lined with houses and dotted with signs, pointing to the direction of the park. I wondered what would compel someone to buy a house on the same road as a state park; obviously they weren't bothered enough by traffic to have that be an impediment to living there. Maybe they were just seasonal homes, and the proximity of the park was a good thing to them. I just found it to be a curious thing.
Our vehicle wound its way into the parking lot, a gravelly kind of path that was situated in front of a pond that was presumably Hunt's Pond. We were the only vehicle in the park. The time was about six-fifteen. The sky had lightened up to that whitish kind of light that precedes sunrise on what will be a clear day. Peering through the woods that dotted the west, we saw no sign of the orange orb of the sun; we had arrived in plenty of time. Given the vista of trees, the actual sunrise here was probably not for another fifteen minutes or so. Hey, who said I'd been in a rush?
We stood outside and watched for the sunrise by a picnic table, located in a patch of grass that led down to the pond. The air was cold and held no hint of the warm day that was purported to happen. It was ironic that we'd rushed here for the sunrise, afraid we weren't going to make it in time to see it, and now here we were waiting for it. Such as it is when you travel. While waiting, and to keep warm, I walked around the immediate area. I walked to the pond, which really was the size of a small lake. Between the birds and some kind of draining system at the other side of the pond that made noise like a whale, it sounded like the tropics. Of course, one feel of the wind destroyed that illusion, but when the air was still and you closed your eyes, it didn't feel like upstate New York in April.
Finally, at about six thirty-five, twenty minutes past sunrise proper, the sun started peeking through the trees. I guess because it already had officially rose on the horizon, it didn't seem to have any of the usual oranges and reds that accompany sunrises. But it was bright, in a white light sort of way. With the high clouds in the blue sky, it promised to be a clear day.
PART 2: WALKING AROUND THE POND
After we took a gazillion pictures of the sunrise, we decided to see if we could walk around the pond. The one way led past a dried up creek into weeds, with no real formal path to follow. In fact, the weeds only got thicker. So what was this, you can't go around the pond at all, and everybody's stuck with this one picnic table? That didn't make any sense. We walked the other way toward the batthouse, but it just seemed to lead to another road like the one we drove in on. It seemed like a dead end. Oh, well. No problem. I settled on some birdwatching where I was, watching chickadees, robins and Canadian geese coming in for a landing on the pond, while my spouse checked out the creek and our dog jumped back and forth between us.
While we were puzzling over this, another vehicle arrived and parked some distance from us. Several people with a dogs got out and began heading down the path that looked like the road. About an hour later, they reappeared in the same place they disappeared down, which I thought was curious; maybe they had just walked down partway and decided to call it a day early. But needless to say it looked like they'd walked somewhere. They drove off, and my spouse, dog and I decided to venture down the path whence they came.
The path, while drivable, was rocky enough to be considered light off-roading. It was along the periphery of the pond; its primary purpose seemed to lead people to various campgrounds along the way. That was a very common thing up here; during the summer many people clogged the parks ready to camp for a weekend jaunt. But no one was here right now, so all the paths were a different vantage point of the park. The natural scene was calm and meditative, but along the way we saw garbage strewn about, debris that signaled that Man Wuz Here at some point.
There was a marina with rowboats tied up by the shore. It looked like we'd have a fun time in the water together, seeing that swimming was out of season. Besides, even if it were, it seemed like you weren't allowed to swim in the pond anyway. I have no idea why. To me, bodies of water are for swimming in, so the whole purpose of having a pond opened to the public was defeated if you couldn't swim in it. But that's me. All that notwithstanding, I thought that we'd at least have fun on the boat. But they were locked together and weren't going anywhere.
We proceeded on the path, until we passed by a patch of snow. It was the last snow of the season; at least we hoped so. Having snow past the middle of April was always a nutty experience. Hopefully it would be the last we'd see of the stuff until at least November.
Then we came to the end of the path, which deposited us by a glen. The pond seemed to sort of dump into it, and the noise that sounded like a whale at the other end of the pond was some kind of drain or pump; I'm not really sure what it was. But it definitely was the end of the road. I was surprised that it didn't continue the whole way. Maybe because there were less trees on the other side, and they didn't want to obstruct the views of the campers in the summer with other bathers in plain view. But we had to turn around. Now, at least, I knew why we saw the other walkers coming back on the same path they came in on.
By the time we got back to our car, the sun was warming up, and the summer weather promised by the forecast seemed to be a possiblity. It seemed like it really was going to be a nice day. Once we left the park, we drove on past a state forest. Now that the sun was out, we could see flowers that we hadn't noticed on the way in: the first flowers of the season. Spring was finally winning out over the long winter.
Back when I got home, I found the keys on the countertop, even though I swore that I looked there three times. The sun was out, and being that it was ten o'clock on a Saturday, half the East Coast was probably still waking up. Maybe they'd all show up at Hunt's Pond for lunch, making it one crowded session. But in the early morning sun, we'd had the whole place nearly to ourselves. Now that's communing with nature.
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