Saturday, March 05, 2016 6:57 PM
In Bethpage, Long Island, where I grew up, there was a copse of young trees—we called it ‘the woods’ because it was the most wildly-growing aspect of our neighborhood—today, I have a bigger ‘woods’ in my backyard—Westchester is mostly wooded. But in the recently ‘Levittown-ed’ Long Island burbs, my childhood ‘woods’ were a few saplings and some shrubs—it didn’t even offer any real cover—as I grew older I realized it was just an overgrown lot.
Most summers our parents would take us to Lake Taghkanak State Park for a short week’s camping—with tents, sleeping bags, open fires, Coleman stoves—the whole nine. I thought I was out in the wilderness—we drove a long time from Long Island to get there—I thought we were out in the middle of nowhere.
One day, on a latter trip, I got lost hiking the trails alone—I walked through the woods wondering if I’d ever find my way back. After a time I came to a highway—I was at the entrance to the park—I recognized it from when we came in. Another piece of ‘terra incognita’ had been transformed into ‘just another place’.
Later, in my teens, I had a friend drop me off at Bear Mountain Bridge, and I hiked the Appalachian Trail alone, north for two days—I walked through what appeared to be the forest primeval, but turned out to be Fahnestock State Park, and on the third morning I found myself in Pawling, about to cross Route 22—but I hitched home from there instead, surprised that it took me only an hour to hitchhike home to Katonah after my long journey.
I used to walk a lot as a kid—for a time, I had friends who lived way over near the Connecticut border—that’s quite a hike for most people, but to me it seemed like a nice way to pass the time. I often enjoyed the long walks more than the destinations. I took a walk today—the first in some while—about fifty yards down the street and back again—oh, how the mighty have fallen.
I used to hitchhike quite often, too. Hitchhiking was a young person’s game—I would sometimes find myself on a lonely stretch of road, hundreds of miles from home, near sundown, in the rain or snow. Some places I had to walk for miles before I got a lift—I was never sure whether the walking helped or whether it was just something to do while I waited for someone to stop.
I don’t know what it’s like nowadays, but back in the early 70s, you met the nicest people hitchhiking. There were some intimidating weirdos too, but mostly people were as nice as you’d expect someone who’d pick up a hitchhiker to be. I had a higher opinion of people, myself, back then—today it seems like a dangerous thing to do—you don’t see hitchhikers much anymore—and people in cars are far less likely to stop for one. In the 1970s, hitching was already fading from the culture—it was a hold-over from the World War II days, when soldiers on leave were crisscrossing a nation on gas-rationing—and everyone was pitching in to do their part.
I used to love bicycling, too—but mostly in those early Long Island days. When we moved to Katonah, I was appalled by the total absence of level ground—bicycling was either braking on the steep downhill, or pushing your bike on the steep uphill. In Long Island, bicycling is lots of sedate pedaling—in Westchester, cycling is a death-defying x-games event.
Walking was always my favorite—even though I had a pretty bad case of canophobia—I’d walk down Route 22 to Bedford, or down Route 35 to the Salems, or down Todd Road to Lewisboro. Pound Ridge Arboretum was everybody’s favorite trail-collection back then—you could hike up to the fire-watch tower, or across the stream on the little ‘troll bridge’—there were hushed, cushioned cathedrals beneath the pines—and a huge sloping field with a giant oak in the middle. Today, the oak and the fire tower are both history—times marches on. I only miss them in memory—my own marching days are behind me.