When I was young and it was summer, my mother and her gang would gather together all their children, several cars and lots of food and head off to woodland places.
To my memories of these outings, I have added a soundtrack. It is the popular song – not to say earworm – by Sigismund, Moller, Ridge and Weir et. al., ‘I Love to Go A-Wandering’ … because this is how I came to love a-wandering.
Of the several woodland places to which we would wander throughout the lazy, hazy, hot, humid and mosquito-filled days of summer, one of the most popular desitinations was Letchworth State Park in Upstate New York. Cars would be filled up with gas, food and towels and on arrival, a ballyhooing tribe of children bolted straight for the outdoor pool. Following much divebombing and laser water shooting, there would be a German-English-French-American-style picnic lunch. And after that, we would trek out and dawdle off along the woodland trails. Val-dereee, val-deraaaah … Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
This past winter, I revisited Letchworth State Park in the middle of winter. Cold. It was cold. Very cold. Having lived in England for many years now, I have become used to grey and I am accustomed to damp. But, mental pictures of snowy landscapes notwithstanding, in practical terms I had forgotten what the cold of Upstate New York really means.
Well, in this case it meant that the first day after arriving in the area, I went shopping for new thermal waterproof boots. And long johns … and gloves … and a hat.
Arriving in Letchworth Park, we stopped at an overlook to view the gorge which has been carved over millions of years by what is now called the Genesse River. Bare trees and ice can be seen for miles, so now I am cold … and I have vertigo.
No, seriously, I have prepared for this trip and all of me – except perhaps the tip of my nose – is quite toasty. From the safety of a viewing carpark with a metal barrier rail, I am looking out at the ‘Hogsback’, a ridge of would-be bare rock which is begrudingly holding onto a small forest of twisted trees by the skin of their roots.
The sign on the ledge of the steep drop to the river below tells me that one of the trees somewhere over there is estimated to be about 500 years old. I think I may just have spotted it through cold-induced tears and a pair of 24X magnifying binoculars. Or maybe it was a deer. Val-dereee!
Seh-ga-hun-da means ‘the Vale of the Three Falls’ in the language of the Seneca, early residents of the area. The Seneca told the story that the middle waterfall – Ska-ga-dee – was so beautiful that the Sun would stop at its highest point above the falls in order to admire the view.
Packed snow underfoot, I climbed the easy trail along the river to see the middle and high falls. Above the high falls, there is a wooden railway bridge and right on queue, a freight train chugged across the gorge. While it does look rather precarious, in the day, train drivers would stop the train smack in the middle of the bridge for passengers to get out and take in the scenery. Vertigo alert!
It is beautiful, certainly, and I find myself imagining what it would have been like to have lived here through the winter in those early days when there were Seneca villages huddled here. And on that thought, methinks it’s time for a wander in search of a cup of cocoa … everyone back in the car! Valderaaaah … Aah ah Hah ha ha ha.