Off the Map Week Three: The kindness of strangers

“I could club you with this,” spoke my straight-faced friend, Minnow, hefting a sizeable log in her tiny hands. She claimed to be kidding … just making a playful comment after we had inched our way out onto a cliff to get a dramatic glimpse of Deckertown Falls. Yet only fifteen minutes later, I was standing on the edge of a similar cliff and heard, “Look out!!!” I jumped uphill, and less than a second later, the upper third of a tree crashed down exactly where I had been standing! Minnow had nudged the base of the dead tree and accidentally triggered the collapse. I could have been knocked senseless, rolled off the cliff, and plummeted fifty feet to the canyon floor! My companion looked wide-eyed, shocked and innocent, but I made a mental note to myself: maybe I should let her walk in front for a while, just to be on the safe side.

Despite having a friend who seemed to be unconsciously trying to kill me, I was thoroughly enjoying my time in the gorge-riddled hills of southern New York. We disregarded the advice in our hiking book and went beyond the documented waterfalls, discovering an enchanting series of pools and falls further up the canyon. That’s one thing I appreciate about the Northeastern states: their forests of hemlock and maple tend to hide and protect a lot of natural treasures.

In Southern California, where I work, all the best outdoor features were discovered and catalogued by the end of the 20th century, thanks to the land rush and population explosion. Everything has been freshly plotted and surveyed by modern standards, so few natural surprises remain. In the Northeast, there are cultural and geologic wonders that have been found and forgotten several times over the last four hundred years as marginal pastureland and logging tracts have reverted back to forest. Growing up, I always had the sense that I could rediscover the secret places that were overlooked by the previous generation.

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