I was a teenager when I first was introduced to Minnewaska. I loved the name, it was rich with the heritage of the area. Growing up at the foot of the Catskill Mountains in New York, there was a blend of both Dutch and Native American names in the towns, streets, and natural locations.
Nestled on the Shawangunk Ridge, Minnewaska is a state park filled with various trees and hiking paths of different experience levels. As a teen, I spent the majority of my time at the park running around with my friends, discussing the riveting world of Harry Potter, and the magic of the world.
Years later I returned with my boyfriend. It seemed important, despite that I had moved out of New York State nearly ten years before, that I introduce him to my home turf. He needed to see it all, my school, my old home, the drive it took to get to the grocery store, to–I felt–understand me fully.
As a writer, I enjoy telling stories of my childhood in great detail and as we drove through the area he was able to easily pick out different locations I had spoken to him about. What caused us to move away was that the area seemed to be frozen in time. It wasn’t changing and progressing, instead, the few businesses were closing down and the cost of living was increasing while paychecks were not. It was a struggle. But never would I say I moved away because of the abundance of nature. In fact, that’s what causes me to miss it so.
We determined we would spend a solid day hiking at Minnewaska and set off early in the morning. In the valley below the mountain we stopped for gas. I stood by my car, waiting for the gas to fill, and crossed my arms. Around me was the uneasy familiarity of something from childhood. There was the curb I would sit during Fourth of July parades, there’s the weeping cherry tree I loved so much. If we turned right out of the parking lot, we’d go toward the church I visited a few times and the small town filled with shops. If we went left, we’d head toward the mountain.
The church bells began to ring, reminding me how early it was, and we got on the road to begin our steep climb to the top of the mountain–my Prius straining to keep up with the 55 mph speed limit–where we would spend the remainder of the day.
The heat is dryer in New York than in Virginia. What little humidity the area gets is nothing compared to my new home and I still find it refreshing. Close to the entrance the mountainous hills opened up into mirrors of the sky. Sky lakes, the water filled by rainfall through out the year, were deep and bordered by white cliffs.
During the course of the morning, we hiked through the cool mountain air and had the sun on our faces. Every hundred yards or so, we’d approach an outlook. Scrambling over boulders and inching toward the edge, we’d look down into a valley floor formed by the Ice Age.
“HELLO OUT THERE!” We screamed, hearing our voices bounce off the rock walls across the valley and back to us. “HELLO!” a voice returned and we squinted our eyes, shielding them from the sun with our hands, to spot other hikers far across the valley and standing on similar rock faces.
Each outlook was better, until we reached a large rock face that jutted out into the sky. On hands and knees, I worked against my fear of heights to crawl to the edge of the stones. The sun had worked its way into the white stone, making it warm to the touch, and far below the cliff were other boulders that had long ago fallen. Out here you can feel like a bird, out here you can imagine the past and all those enjoyable stories. Knights of the round table, Deerslayer running through the woods, cabins in the woods. Away from all of the noise of the world it’s easier to pretend.
Two hours in, we got as far as we were willing to go. A chosen trail that we had wanted to hike on was closed and we paused at the barrier, looking up the trail path and considering if we would disobey the rules. We didn’t. Instead, we laid out a blanket and sat down under a pine tree. Sandwiches, water, trail mix were split between us and as we munched we listened to the wind pushing through the leafy trees.
Other hikers would march on by and crows screeched in the trees, but otherwise we were alone. The cool air from the morning, the first indication that fall was arriving in the Catskills, had been sucked away and replaced by the warmth that accompanied summer days. And yet, sitting under the pines there was still the traces of cool air as the wind stirred that breath of air from its nooks between boulders.
On our return hike, the world looked different. The cliffs we had called to earlier were bleached with sunlight and our paths, previously blinding from the light in front of us, were now dark and shaded. Children’s voices reached us on the higher paths as they splashed in the sky lakes down below–now open for swimming.