Friday, January 16, 2015

Borderline Crazy

     Today's goal: #38, #39 and (just maybe) #40. But before we head out on the quest, a little meditation on the idea of "quests".
     It seems a given that people need goals to function. Our brains and bodies are wired to work towards something. It's almost a definition of what life is. At the most basic level it's food and water, shelter, sleep and sex (not necessarily in that order). On its grandest scale it might mean living a good life and getting into heaven. A common template is carefree childhood, good education, successful career, marriage, family, financial security, well earned retirement. Hard to argue with but as most of us discover, not that simple.
     No, wait! Don't click that mouse. This isn't a life coaching blog and I promise not to preach. I just want to consider the why and how of our time spent outside. Take the time honored tradition of summiting, whether it involves climbing the hill in back of your house or becoming an Adirondack 46er. Getting to the top of something is such a clearly defined goal that it has universal appeal. But even the most addicted peak-bagger will tell you it's the challenge of the ascent that they relish as much as the few minutes on high.
     Sure the hunter wants a buck but most will admit they are just happy to be in the woods and I've seen fishermen coming off the Battenkill at dusk with an empty creel and a big smile. Catch or not it was time well spent.
     I have a friend who does long distance hikes. Think the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail; thousands of miles, millions of steps. I'm sure it's very satisfying to finish trips like this but I'm just as sure he finds all the experiences between beginning and end to be the real reason for going.
     Back to #38, #39 and the unlikely #40. They are monuments marking the border between New York and Vermont. Topographic maps show an even one hundred starting at Vermont's southwest corner and ending where the line becomes the Poultney River and then Lake Champlain (where presumably, monuments would sink, you know, like a stone).
     They are not evenly spaced and it's hard to see a pattern in their placement. Some are near road crossings and easily examined. Others are out in the middle of nowhere. Of course, it's these latter ones that intrigue me. But most are on private land, often posted.
     #38, #39 and #40 (with a question mark) serve triple duty. They lie on the eastern boundary of New York State, Washington County and Chestnut Woods State Forest, which is public property open to all. With a place to park and no worry about trespass, the only thing between me and the monuments was some steep, confusing Taconic terrain. Irresistible.

Near Pumpkin Hook

      With monuments in mind I drove east beyond Cambridge thru Ash Grove, Pumpkin Hook and Chestnut Woods. Sounds like someplace Winnie the Pooh would live and I love it out here. It gets wilder by the mile and after passing thru a craggy notch I found the lane leading into the state forest.
 I walked past a NO ATV'S  sign following (you guessed it) ATV tracks up thru an old gravel pit and a Red Pine plantation. Beyond were open hardwoods and steadily ascending slopes. These are called the Chestnut Woods but I looked in vain for sprouts of the once majestic tree. The blight of the early 1900's took a devastating toll.

     The state forest boundary is well marked with signs and yellow paint daubs but it zig zags a bit and I wasn't always sure which side of the line was private and which public. That's a charitable way of saying I didn't know just where I was. When in doubt, go higher. Eventually I reached a rocky crest and got my bearings.

Reaching for the Sky: Ice Crystals and Oak

     The dominant feature of this state forest is a long ridge that ascends from around 1600 feet in the south to almost 2000 feet at the north end. Once I knew I was on the spine of this ridge I also knew that the state line and my target monuments were far downslope to the east. It was cold and getting colder with just a few hours of daylight left. My food cache was down to one squished banana. Of course I headed down and east towards Vermont and my destiny. Quests are like that.
     Downhill goes quick and easy and I soon came upon the familiar yellow marked trees. This was the eastern boundary of Chestnut Woods State Forest and also the VT / NY line. I had been aiming for marker #39 but it was nowhere in sight. Going north towards #40 was out of the question by this late hour. My only option was to head south connecting yellow dots and hope for #38.
     Fifteen minutes later as I crested a small knoll, there it was! Just like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but without the dramatic music, there was my monument. It was a granite obelisk about 6 - 8 inches square and standing waist high. Surveyors had splashed it with (surprise) yellow paint and a big Red Maple had toppled right next to it. It felt a little desecrated but who's complaining. At least it was here and my quest was complete.

#38 with Vermont left and New York right

     Well, almost complete. After spending a few minutes with #38 (I nicknamed her Old Faithful) I still had to follow the southern border of the state forest back to my truck before dark. This I did energized by a mission maybe 1/3 accomplished but 100% rewarding.


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