Walking

Watching the Warblers at Watchung

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One of the trailheads for the History Trail at Watchung Reservation, near the Trailside Nature and Science Center.

Well, now, trail heads, you’ve probably been wondering where your trail head in chief has been this winter.

I wish I could tell you that I was off on a long-distance hike in Australia or South America, or perhaps off on a mountain-climbing expedition in the Rockies or the Pyrenees.

But the truth of the matter is, between some ghastly weather in New Jersey this winter, a transition into a new job and not one but two graduate school classes this winter and spring, my hiking time has been severely curtailed. And by extension, so has my blogging time.

This weekend, having finally caught up on some things, I packed up my water bottle, binoculars and copy of “Birds of Eastern North America” and headed someplace I’ve not hiked yet: Watchung Reservation in Union County.

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Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, NY

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One of the QR-code signposts found along the Old Croton Aqueduct.

I’m always joking that if Washington Irving wrote the Legend of Sleepy Hollow today, Brom Bones would never be able to ride down from Ossining in time for the Van Tassels’ party because he’d be stuck in traffic on Broadway.

Now, the Old Croton Aqueduct trail, on the other hand, just up the hill from Tarrytown’s business district…you can definitely imagine the Headless Horseman barreling through here. Yes, never mind that the aqueduct, now the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park, was built quite a bit after Irving’s time. Today, instead of water, it carries walkers, hikers, bikers, and on certain sections of the trail, horseback riders. And yours truly got to check out the trail – long an item on my hiking to-do list – during a weekend outing with the family back in November.

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This one’s for the birds: Forays into birdwatching

I like learning new skills to bring with me when I’m out hiking – how to box a compass, how to recognize different kinds of plants, how to geocache.

And now, your blogger-in-chief is taking an interest in birdwatching.

Some bird watchers are experts; I am of the “I can recognize robins, cardinals and finches, but for anything else I have to go looking through the guidebook” level of birdwatching skill.

Why do so many people enjoy birdwatching?

Birds are beautiful (though some might beg to differ in the case of, say, a vulture), often entertaining, and most importantly, vital to a functioning ecosystem. Basically, if you don’t have birds, then you’ve got a serious problem. After all, that’s where Rachel Carson got the title for “Silent Spring;” she noticed, one day, that there weren’t any birds singing. And birdwatching gives you a sense of how many of what kinds of species there are.

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Down By the River: Riverwalk Trails, Hartford, CT

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Walking along the Yellow Trail along the Connecticut River’s west bank, looking south toward Hartford’s downtown area.

Well, trail heads, your blogger-in-chief has been a little bit AWOL these last few weeks, mainly because of grad school responsibilities, work (what else is new) and an academic conference: the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) spring convention up in Hartford. But fear not, oh gentle readers, for your blogger-in-chief had her (mental) hiking boots on.

In between conferencing (and wondering just how many times a sane person can use “trope” and “palimpsest” in a sentence), there was time for some outdoors stuff, including checking out some of the Riverwalk walking trails down along the Connecticut River.

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A Mountaintop Perch: Eagle Rock Reservation, Essex County, NJ

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The green trail will take you past this brook along the western edge of the reservation.

Here in the burbs of northern New Jersey, you’d probably expect that it’s hard to find a decent patch of woods in which to go hiking. But thankfully, we have a few such patches, including one that is literally up the hill from me.

Eagle Rock Reservation is perched high up on the ridge of the First Watchung, straddling the town lines of Montclair, Verona and West Orange. Like South Mountain Reservation down in Millburn, Eagle Rock is under the aegis of the Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

We finally got a weekend where the temperatures weren’t bone-chillingly freezing, or that it was either raining or snowing cats and dogs. So I spent that Sunday afternoon treating myself to a few hours of light hiking.

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Sugaring Sap and Syrup in the Snowy Swamp: Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center, Chatham, NJ

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The view from the wildlife observation deck off the orange trail at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center.

I always figured that Vermont and Canada had pretty much cornered the market on maple syrup. Which is pretty much the case. But New Jersey has a maple sugaring season, too – granted, around here it’s much shorter than it is to the north.

I learned a few things about maple sugaring in late January, when I headed down to the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham for a short group hike and a maple sugaring demo.

The center, near where Essex, Union and Morris counties come together, is part of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

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Auld Lang Signpost

IMG_5438Another year gone by already – well, that didn’t take long. And it’s apparently that time of year again to reflect on how 2015 was for hiking.

My hiking time this fall was a bit limited, especially due to a rather brain-draining graduate school project that I had to wrap up over the last few weeks. (It’s also the reason why the blog’s been a little quiet of late. So I beg your indulgence on that one, oh trail heads.)

All things considered, it was a pretty awesome year for outdoor pursuits.  I got to take on a short chunk of the Appalachian Trail back in June, during a National Trails Day gathering up at Bear Mountain. Took a first run out on some cool multi-use trails, including the Columbia Trail out in western New Jersey and the Pine Creek Rail Trail out in central Pennsylvania.

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Urban hikes and other ramblings

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Belvedere Castle in Central Park.

Happy December, everyone. It being the last month of the calendar year, I should be getting ready to do the “really great hikes I did in 2015” entry. Or its evil, eerie-in-a-Doctor-Who-sort-of-way twin, the “all the hikes I still haven’t gotten to yet” entry. (Yes, your trail-head-in-chief is a bit of a Whovian: I’ve got the season finale playing even as I type.)

It’s a short-ish entry tonight – it’s not about any specific hiking trails, but rather a few introspective pensées about walking and hiking.

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Ice cream in the Tuileries, mobs of football fans, and other memories of 24 hours in Paris

Now, I’d meant to do this week’s blog posting about what everyone’s favorite trail food and snacks were – and just what the meaning is of that mysterious ambrosia called “gorp.” (Some people think it means “granola, oatmeal, raisins and peanuts,” while other people go for “good old raisins and peanuts.” But that’s neither hither or thither.)

The truth is, the attacks yesterday in Paris are on everyone’s minds, and mine too. So I’m going to devote tonight’s piece to une rêverie parisienne.

I’ve been to Paris exactly once, so far. It was several years ago – the family and I were on a trip to England (mostly London, with side trips up to York and out to Bath), our first trip overseas. We decided, before flying home to the U.S., to take the Eurostar over to Paris and just take in the city for 24 hours.

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Sundown in Tenafly

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Pfister’s Pond in the Tenafly Nature Center, just before dusk.

Tonight’s posting is a short but sweet one, trail heads, a bit of quietness – and I think we could use a bit of quietness after that ruckus today over the alligator being caught in the Passaic River.

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Do you believe things happen for a reason, or do you tend to think in terms of coincidences?

That’s one of the questions a group of hiker friends and I were mulling over as we sat on the banks of Pfister’s Pond at the Tenafly Nature Center early one evening back in June.

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