Among the many kinds of walks we take, the walk close to home, along a less traveled path, has much to recommend it. Such a walk can be taken on the Foothills Trail at Mohonk Preserve. I walked alone there — with only my black Labrador retriever, Sam, for company the first two times — and returned for a third walk with Rebecca. On none of these three excursions did I meet another human and on the third one there were not even human footprints in the snow that had fallen overnight. We felt almost like the first travelers in an undiscovered land.
And what a land of wonders it was that revealed itself to us that morning! An outing in our own backyard would have been astonishing enough for the transient beauty with which this fresh dusting of snow had clothed every object. But the splendor was multiplied here by the numberless snow-lined branches we peered through. The fine black twigs of the low bush blueberry understory formed a vast net that somehow held the snow at the point of melting. For a few radiant, fleeting minutes we walked through a world transformed, through a landscape and forest that bore the signs of many transformations. Some of these changes took eons to accomplish, like the transport of large conglomerate boulders, either as “erratics” carried by the ice sheet during the last glaciation, or as talus pried loose from the Near Trapps cliffs by frost to tumble downslope. Hurricane Irene brought sudden change to the forest, uprooting many large trees — their trunks sprawled on the forest floor pointing north and west, which shows that the winds that felled them blew from the south and east, as only happens during a cyclonic storm. As the massive upturned root systems of these trees decay, the soil will drop from the roots, forming a mound or “pillow” next to the hollow, or “cradle,” left by the root ball. The resulting pillow-and-cradle topography will last here for centuries, telling the story of a powerful storm that should have served as one more warning of the dangers posed by a warming planet. Human footprints here, or their absence, ages hence, will reveal if we heeded such warnings or not.