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Now and Then

>> Sunday, April 4, 2010

Today we decided we wanted to find someplace for a hike that's a little different from what we've been doing lately.  We didn't have time to drive terribly far, but decided to venture to Bear Swamp for our walk.

I hadn't been to Bear Swamp in years.  There are a number of Bear Swamps, but the one I'm talking about is down near the southern end of Skaneateles Lake.  It's owned by New York State and managed by the DEC.

It's a fascinatingly wild spot.  In total there are 3,316 acres, with about 13 miles of trails.  Some of the hiking trails seem to not get used very often, and we took one of those today.  There were spots where we had a mighty hard time telling where the trail was, and it was a good thing there are trail markers.  Other trails are much easier to follow and are maintained for snowmobiles, and then others are passable by car.

The history of Bear Swamp is that it was settled after the Revolutionary War.  In fact, I believe the area was actually cleared and settled by Revolutionary War veterans.  The population in the area hit its peak during the Civil War era and then declined until the Great Depression.  It was purchased by the State in the 1930s and planted with red pine, Norway spruce and larch by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Now it is used for hiking, mountain biking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and judging by the number of shotgun shells we passed, hunting.  The State-owned land has a very jagged and erratic border, and is surrounded by privately-owned land with a few ramshackle hunting cabins scattered about.

This early in the spring there wasn't a whole lot growing, which made the few green plants stand out.  There were lots of what look like trout lily leaves, but no flowers.

There were also some big patches of myrtle, and some wintergreen, too.

One of the most noticeable plants was the skunk cabbage, which was everywhere.  I'm utterly fascinated by the stuff.

I love its speckly, shiny, pointy shoots, its pretty deep reds, and the way it looks so artistically swoopy when it first starts to grow.

A few of the trees were showing buds, but not all that many.

As far as wildlife goes, we didn't spot much.  That's probably because the hounds sounded like a herd of elephants crashing through the dry leaves.  Most critters had enough advanced notice of our approach to skedaddle long before we got to them.  This chipmunk was brave enough to hold still for a photo.

A ruffed grouse did erupt from nearly underneath my feet at one point.  Why is it that with every encounter I have with a grouse I feel like I lose another year of my life?  That kind of shock can't be good for me.

We also heard zillions of frogs croaking, creaking, groaning, clucking and whatever other noises they make.  I didn't manage to spot any, though, as the ground was way too wet to get close to the swampy areas where the frogs were swimming.

The dogs are pathetically out of shape after spending another winter refusing to go for walks in the snow, so we didn't manage to get too many miles in.  The humans weren't quite ready for the adventure to end when the hounds were, though, so we decided to do a little driving on the dirt roads that wind through the swamp.

We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  Those dirt roads go on for miles, and they're pretty rough.  At one point I did think to ask my husband if there was any air in his spare tire, because it occurred to me that if we had a flat and didn't have a working spare, we might be stranded there for days.  There was no way we could give a tow truck directions to wherever it was that we were. A little later my husband asked what I though his office would say if he had to "call in lost" on Monday.

Then, in the middle of nothing but woods, we stumbled upon a sweet old cemetery.  It was clearly an old Wilcox family plot from the 1850s and 1860s, back when the area was farmed.  One of the stones belonged to a Civil War veteran, and someone still puts a flag out next to his stone.

It's hard to envision the area as it once was - all farmland.  There are a few crumbling stone walls that are the only markers of what the area looked like long ago.  Somewhere in those woods are surely some old foundations from the homes that once stood there.

I have mentioned before my fascination with the way the wilderness reclaims places humans have worked hard to clear and build.  I just have a hard time envisioning the place as it may once have looked, and wonder what the people who are buried in that cemetery would think if they could see the place now.  Would they despair that all their hard work in clearing and farming the land came to naught?  Or would they be pleased to find their resting place so peaceful and wild?  I'll never know.

Eventually, and happily, we emerged from that tangled web of seemingly endless dirt roads into farms and then homes along the southern end of Skaneateles Lake, sans flat tires, and with the exhaust still attached to the car.  Another happy Sunday foray into the woods has put life back into perspective for me.


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