For the first time since Cane died last September, I went hiking at Chestnut Ridge Park yesterday.
Chestnut Ridge is an old park whose development by Erie County began back in the late 1920s, and a lot of the park’s original infrastructure, quite a bit of which still stands, was built by work crews of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Chestnut Ridge is a very large park–at more than 1100 acres, it is 300 acres larger than New York City’s Central Park–and it covers a lot of rugged terrain, ranging from forested hills to steep gorges through which streams run. The most famous feature in Chestnut Ridge Park is the Eternal Flame waterfall, which is just that: a waterfall behind which there is a small grotto into which natural gas seeps from underground. This gas is almost always aflame, and if it happens to be out, you can literally reach in behind the water and relight it, if you’ve brought a lighter with you.
Chestnut Ridge was a common destination for Cane and I in our weekly nature walks and hikes, and we covered a great deal of the park’s terrain and trail system over our years of trekking there. My last visit to the Ridge with Cane was last July, I think…which was therefore the last time I was there at all. Shortly after that visit he started limping slightly, and that was the beginning of his end.
Yesterday was my first trip there alone in many years.
Being up there yesterday was many things. It was beautiful, obviously, and being in nature was honestly what the doctor ordered after what’s been a trying few months recently. I kept thinking, though, of the presence I was missing; I’d walk a hundred feet and suddenly realized that I hadn’t had to stop three times for a greyhound to smell this tree, that bush, this patch of dirt, that rock. When you’re used to walking those trails with one hand always holding a leash, it’s a bit strange when that hand is unoccupied. And when I made my way down to the side of the stream at the bottom of one of those gorges, there was no watching as Cane found a deep spot to lay in–you know, to cool off–and to drink.
I won’t be staying away from Chestnut Ridge this long again…but it’s not going to feel the same there again, is it?
It was a good day, a good walk in the woods. There was even time for a touch of whimsy, like plucking a few wildflowers and wearing them in the bib of my overalls. One should always strive for a touch of whimsy. At least, that’s how I see it.