Working With What You’ve Got

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Home from “park rangering,” Stamford, CT is not exactly an outdoorsman’s paradise.  With a  job search on my mind, and a relative lack of outdoor pursuits in the immediate vicinity, I find myself spending more and more time in front of the computer or TV.  That’s not to say there’s no place to hike. There are a few places that are close that I love, such as Ward Pound Ridge Reservation and Mianus River Gorge.  Also, Stamford, CT is a jump-off point to get to many distant places, such as the Catskills, Green Mountains, White Mountains, Berkshires, etc, but travel isn’t always convenient.  I’ll hike anything, it doesn’t matter how large or small, tall or short…as long as there’s a trail.  However, the hike-able area nearby is less than I’m used to, and my hometown doesn’t really have that outdoor “culture” that I like.  Ultimately, the less time I spend outdoors and the more time I spend in front of a screen, the more irritable I feel I become.

December swim in Kaaterskill Creek
December swim in Kaaterskill Creek

I recently got to visit the Catskills, hopefully as a retreat to be away from my constant job search.  Unfortunately, I feel like I spent more time driving than actually enjoying the outdoors.  To me, driving is not an adequate escape from the computer or TV screen.  Maybe I’m just tired of operating machines, constantly.  After failing to locate the way to hike up Mt. Utsayantha (in Stamford, NY, funny enough), I was beginning to feel like I was spending the whole day in the car, becoming increasingly irritated.  Thankfully, on the way to the house, we’d be passing by the resting place of great American naturalist, John Burroughs.  Burroughs was the east coast John Muir, if you will.  I was able to jump out of the car, and take a short walk up to his burial place, a little bit behind is home, Woodchuck Lodge.  This wasn’t a “hike” by any means, but it gave me the time to enjoy the scenery, take a deep breath, and try to link into the spirit of Burroughs.  After just a few minutes, I was feeling better, like I finally got a reprieve from my now screen focused life.  Despite the fair amount of driving, over the weekend my brother and I definitely fit in some outdoor time that was much needed, including a winter dip in Kaaterskill Creek (in wetsuits, of course), and a short hike to Diamond Notch Falls.

at Diamond Notch Falls, Catskills
at Diamond Notch Falls, Catskills

It is clear that for the amount of time I am at home, I will not be living that daily outdoor lifestyle that I love, like I got to live at Camp Walt Whitman and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  In fact, at home, I spend less time outside than I did during the school week in college.  However, reflecting on Burroughs’ writings, I realized that being home does not mean I can’t find that healing feeling that nature provides.

John Burroughs' resting place
John Burroughs’ resting place

Burroughs writes in his essay “Nature Near Home,” that “familiarity with things about one should not dull the edge of curiosity or interest.”  Despite the fact that nature at my home seems small, insignificant, and maybe too familiar, unlike a large wilderness or national park, doesn’t mean there isn’t nature to be had.  Burroughs continues to write in the essay about the multitude of winter birds that can be seen, heard, and enjoyed around one’s home.  I know nothing about birds.  But that’s the point.  Why not?  Because I haven’t taken to time to enjoy them as nature.  Everyone has different and preferred ways they like to connect with nature.  For me, it’s hiking and backpacking.  The problem for me lies in the fact that I am fixated on it.  To me, places where big hikes and backpacking trips cannot be had are suffocating.  Nothing inspires me to go outside.  Therefore, I get upset about it.  But I’m not opening my mind and heart to other opportunities.  I’m not thinking creatively enough.  Because in places where you can’t find a new hike, doesn’t mean there aren’t birds, small patches of woods, fishing spots, etc.  You just have to find something that can give you that feeling that is indescribable.  It is time for me to search hard for that thing that isn’t hiking, but inspires me to be outside.  If I find it, I’ll feel a lot better.  Thankfully, imagination is a powerful tool, and can help reveal a small patch of woods as a diverse outdoor playground, for any age individual.

Maybe rap-star Mac Miller said it best:

“Open up the fridge to make some waffles,
But no more syrup left in my bottle.
Damn, well it’s okay,
I top it off with scrambled eggs.
Aye, gotta work with watcha got,
Aye, gotta work with watcha got.”

Did I just put Mac Miller in the same group of thought as John Burroughs?  That might be a crime.  Oh well, it’s just some music I’ve been feeling right now, haha.  But it’s true, sometimes when I can’t find the syrup, I need to find a new way to look at waffles.  When I’m at home, I have to work with what I have, rather than curse it as unusable; as if it’s not nature.

I wonder if writing about this subject on the computer and internet is a complete hypocrisy to what I’m saying about spending more time in front of the computer and all that…

Just yesterday, I got a solid 3.5 hours of hiking in the snow at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Pound Ridge, NY, and it felt perfect.  I needed that.

snow along the trail in Ward Pound Ridge Reservation
snow along the trail in Ward Pound Ridge Reservation
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3 thoughts on “Working With What You’ve Got

  1. Have you tried cycling? I’m not sure how appropriate it is this time of year, with all the snow, but it can be a great escape to the outdoors. I enjoy riding a road bike, and while that means never leaving the pavement, the worst rides still have me under the sky with no walls around me. The best rides feel somewhat like hikes, going up forest service roads with the fragrant smell of pines, the sense of desolation that comes from covering 10 to 15 miles in an hour and seeing no one during that time, even drinking from creeks when my water bottles go empty.

    But you’re right, also, that nature comes in big, grand packages as well as little ones, that migrating birds can connect you with the world beyond mankind, too.

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