John Muir, the 19th century Scottish-American naturalist, has been credited with a quote so absolute in its simplicity that its suggestion literally beckons. “Come to the woods, for here is rest” is one of the most profoundly true statements of our time. Perhaps that is why hiking has become an increasingly popular activity. There is something about nature that has the power to calm frazzled nerves, lower blood pressure, boost your mood and build bone density. Studies have shown that hiking is a wonderful workout for the heart. It helps to lower blood sugar levels, helps to strengthen your lower body muscles and even helps with balance. Hiking is an activity that requires nothing more than a backpack with some bottled water and a good solid pair of sneakers.
We began hiking back in 2013, when our daughter began to discover trails in our area with friends. Sometimes, we hiked together as a family. Other times, Hubby and I braved the trails together and found respite, peace and a delight for our senses. Hiking puts one literally into the moment, for the sights and sounds of nature occupy the mind and clear it at once. Familiar trails almost breed a sense of Zen-like calm, while the sound of hiking shoe against dirt or rocks can lull and brighten even the sourest mood.
As we hiked during the early springtime, the air was sweet with the fragrance of new plants as they peered their heads above the dried leaves that fell during the fall. As the spring air warmed, we noticed different plants along the dirt paths as the seasons began to change. We reveled in the wonderfully sweet fragrances of Autumn Olive and Multiflora Rose, which grew abundantly on many of the paths we chose. The soft ground yielded beneath our feet, which released the fragrance of warm soil and sunshine. We found a few trails that led to the water, where the sea breezes kissed the perspiration at our temples and soothed us until we were ready to take to the trails again. Here and there, black and yellow garden snakes slithered across the trails, their sunbathing interrupted by our arrival. Birds twittered in the trees, while chipmunks alerted their own with a resounding chip-chip-chip. Every now and again, a horse and rider would lumber past, the soft clip-clop of hoof against dirt lulling us ever into the present moment. There is no experience that puts you more in touch with your soul than hiking.
One of the great joys of living on Long Island are the many trails that are available to walk. I was recently invited to join a group on Facebook with hikers from all over the area. Just when Hubby and I thought we had exhausted all the trails here, we found so many more with so much to offer. For example, although the approach is a bit harrowing, Nissequogue River State Park in Kings Park is a beautiful combination of woods and water, with towering bluffs to enjoy. Blydenburgh Park in Smithtown offers a dog run and multiple trails around Stump Pond, Long Island’s second largest lake. Norman J. Levy Park and Preserve in Merrick is a plant and wildlife sanctuary that offers beautiful views of the New York City Skyline, Jones Beach Tower and the waterways surrounding this former landfill. Goats are used to “mow the grass” while preserving the environment. Avalon Park in Stony Brook is another great way to spend the day, with a newly landscaped labyrinth garden, waterfall and beautiful views of both forest and open fields. Don’t forget to bring a note to put in the Silver Sphere.
While hiking the Nissequogue River trail, Hubby and I turned a sharp curve that could be considered a “switchback” by cyclists. In the center of the trail was a beautiful doe. She considered us for several moments as her tail twitched, her ears alert as she chewed on some freshly picked wild grass. We stood stock still, humbled by the beautiful sight. A moment later, she pranced off into the wood and disappeared. It was an amazing experience.
Last week, Hubby and I found a wonderful little spot near Oyster Bay. The Hope Goddard Iselin Preserve is a wonderful little trail that is rich with wildlife and flora that are a delight to the senses. As we walked, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Hubby had picked a handful of wild black raspberries and mock strawberries that were more delicious than the cultivated varieties. I breathed a sigh of happiness as I munched and hiked, grateful for the adventure and the ability to enjoy the wonderful trails that Long Island has to offer.
If you decide to hike any of the trails on Long Island, please use tick repellent and wear light-colored clothing. Check yourself frequently for ticks and avoid overgrown brush. Be certain to remain on the trail for your own safety, have a good pair of durable sneakers and never go without a buddy. As an anonymous quote states, “There is no WiFi in the forest. But you will make a better connection.” Happy trails.