A chunk of green and dirt in the middle of NYC!

A few months ago, my daughter moved to New York City, the Bronx to be exact.  I spent a week helping her move, and have been to visit a few more times since.  There are some things I really love about NYC.  (#1 of course, is that my kid lives there!)  Parts of the city are very walkable.  From her home, we walked to the Bronx Zoo, and to the registry.  It’s only about 1.5 miles to Target.  Although that seemed a lot longer in the pouring rain, dragging one of those old lady shopping trolleys.  There are a bunch of grocery stores within a few blocks, and we found a nice little hardware store.

And the public transportation…how I love public transportation!   There is nothing better than chatting, or reading a book while somebody else gets you where you need to go.   Instead of driving for 4 hours, I only have to drive about 1 hour to Connecticut, and then there is commuter rail to within 1 mile of her home.  Uphill walk from the station, but all downhill at the end of my stay.  We have taken the subway to Coney Island, and the New York Aquarium (wonderful sea lion show there!).  We have taken it to the Staten Island Ferry.  And that is a free (Yes, Free!) ferry ride to Staten Island with a beautiful view of the Statue of Liberty.

There is a downside though (isn’t there always?)  Not enough woods. I admit to being spoiled.  My woods at Hodges are only about 1/2 mile up the hill, and once there I have access to 1200 acres of dirt and trees.  Well, turns out there are almost as many woods in the Bronx as at the dam.  According to Wikipedia “Van Cortlandt Park is a 1,146-acre park located in the borough of the Bronx in New York City. It is the third largest park in New York City, behind Pelham Bay Park and Staten Island Greenbelt.”  To give you an idea of the size, check this out


Last time I visited, we spent Saturday going to the ferry, and then walking all over Manhattan.  Sunday we decided to relax and take a walk in the park…turned out to be a pretty long walk.  There are two golf courses in the park (just 1 golf course is awfully big).  There are playing fields, and lots of smooth flat trails.  There were a lot of people biking, made me miss my bike.  It’s possible to take a bike on the train, but I’m trying to decide if it’s worth the hassle.  We sat by a lake and watched some swans.


One of the things I most enjoy about being in the woods, is finding weird stuff.  I’m not a fast biker, or runner, and there is always time to step off the trail and take pictures of stuff that doesn’t seem to belong.  Well, we found these things in the middle of the woods, along a small trail connecting two larger ones.  What are they?  Giants’ grave markers?


Evidently, finding weird stuff, leads to more odd stuff happening.  I posted this picture on Instagram, and got a response from somebody at “Friends of Van Cortlandt Park”.  They said that these are called Grand Central Stones.  When the city was building Grand Central Station, these were put up as test stones to see which would weather the best.  However, the winner was limestone, because it was the cheapest. No idea which one weathered the best.  Grand Central station (which has a huge Apple store:) ) seems really old to me, but the park is so much older.  If you visit the Bronx, check out the Friends of Van Cortland Park here.

So, I guess if you look hard enough, there is dirt to be found almost everywhere.  I challenge you to find some, and get out and play in it!



Milkweed and Monarchs


One day last week, riding down the railbed, I noticed these weird, reddish, flowery things.  So, of course, I had to stop and take a picture.  As I pulled my phone out of my pack, 2 butterflies landed and stayed to pose for pictures.

Turns out the plants are milkweed, and the butterflies are monarchs.  I spend a lot of time in the woods, and see many more moths than butterflies, but suddenly, it seems that there are butterflies everywhere.  Well, monarchs can be found almost everywhere in the US, and their food of choice is milkweed.

I always thought of milkweed as plants with puffy, white seed pods breaking open in the fall.  But this is what they look like earlier in the year.  I took this picture last summer, and didn’t realize what it was.  IMG_1691.JPG

Monarchs lay eggs on milkweed plants, and when the eggs hatch, the little caterpillars eat the plants.  When they transform to butterflies, the adults eat nectar from many plants, including milkweed.  Milkweed plants are toxic, so please don’t eat them.  The toxins remain in the butterflies (so please don’t eat them either ;)).  The monarchs’ orange color is a warning to predators that they aren’t good to eat.

It would be easy to go out into the woods and focus only on the ride, run, or hike.  But there is so much more than that.  Most of us will never be world class athletes, so a few minutes break from a workout isn’t a big deal.  So tomorrow, when you’re out in the woods, stop and smell the flowers.  Or in this case, check out the flowers…and the butterflies!

We Have Obviously Angered the Weather Gods

I keep asking God to make it summer, but He seems to have more important things to do than worry about the weather  ;-).  So I decided to find some gods whose whole existence is about the weather to see what the problem might be.



As you can see from this picture, we must have done something to anger Boreas, the Greek god of of the north wind, who is also called the cold breath of winter.  Or maybe the problem is that we insulted Skadi, the Norse goddess of winter and hunting. It might even be as simple as the fact that we have disregarded the power of Jack Frost.  But whoever we insulted, they are dumping snow all over us.

So right now, we need to start doing whatever we can to appease the summer gods, and beg their presence.



We have many choices!  There is Aten, an Egyptian sun god.  There is also an African sun god named Ra (I always thought he was Egyptian.  See what you can learn from Google).



Sekhmet is an Egyptian sun goddess,  Theia is an Greek Titan goddess in charge of the shining light of the clear blue sky (hopefully that is a sky without snow).  There is also Utu, a Sumerian sun god. The Celts had a sun god named Lugh, and the Greeks had a god named Zephyrus who was in charge of the wind and known as the god of spring breezes.  

It doesn’t matter which of these gods we do sun dances for (they’re all myths anyway, right),  soon the winter gods will be vanquished and the summer ones will reign again!

The Year In Sports

I went out to run this afternoon, and thought about what other things happen today.  It’s Goundhog Day (I think he saw his shadow), The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, and SuperBowl Sunday. I got to thinking about how we measure of the passing of time:  seasons, liturgical year, sports seasons, school year, calendar year, heating degree days. For so many people the most important thing about today is the super bowl.  The only interest I have in most organized sports, is how big games affect the number of people in the grocery store.  So I decided to look at sports seasons as they relate to the seasons on the trail.



Baseball spring training starts early in February.  By this time of year, trail runners and mountain bikers have had more than enough of winter.  This season can bring anything from beautiful early spring days, to mud, to the heartbreak of a blizzard! Last year  we had a huge blizzard on February 9th, and the Blizzard of 78 was also in February.  But there have been February days that a runner only needs shorts and a light fleece.



Regular baseball season runs from April to September, the best time of the year.  The worst of the mud is over, the days are warm and long, and then everything gets hot and dry…love it!  Even the post season, in October,  can be pretty nice, although there is a history of both hurricanes and ice storms at this time of year.



Hockey gets the wrong end of the year, with the regular season running from October to April (the exact opposite of baseball).  Sometimes we have nice days in the late fall, and there can be a thaw in January.  But mostly this is the time of the year that everybody hates (except for maybe skiers and hockey fans?).



Basketball shares the same season as hockey…the yucky weather.  Both of these sports are usually played indoors, no surprise there.

Football season runs from September to January and is followed by the Super Bowl which falls today (Seems like a short season compared to the other sports.  I wonder if they get payed less for playing less?) Today’s game will be played in New Jersey.  You have to wonder why they picked a cold place when there are so many stadiums in warm places?



This is what the woods looked like today.  It was 49 degrees around 1PM, and started to rain while I was out running.  Overall, it was a pretty good day to be out.  I hope the weather holds for the people sitting out in the stadium tonight.  Well, at least they will be outside 😉


Some bridges are big enough to drive across.  Some will carry your bike.  And some are cobbled together and will barely hold you.  But they all keep you out of the water.  In the water can be kind of nice in the summer, but right now when its about 12 degrees out, out of the water is the way to go!

This first bridge you see at Hodges Village Dam is the Bailey Bridge.  A bailey bridge is a pre-fabricated metal truss bridge.  This was was built to carry heavy equipment during dam repair work in 1997-1999.  After the work was done, the bridge was left in place.  


Before the bridge was built the only two ways to cross the river at the dam were to wade through the water, or to cross on the dam itself.

The bridge you see at the top of my blog crosses a swampy place west of the railbed, just north of the dam.  The current bridge is chained to trees and has stayed in place through many floods.  The previous bridge at that spot was not anchored, and floated away every time the water was high.





About a year and a half ago, the Corps of Engineers replaced another bridge just north of the dam, on the other side of the railbed.  The old bridge was not very sturdy, and often floated out of place.  The new one has a metal base and is anchored to concrete blocks.  Its been under water a few times, but has stayed in place.





There was an old bridge south of Greenbrier that everyone called the tippy bridge.  Over the years it got more and more warped until you had to pick your way across, hopping over the gaps, and trying to stay upright where the bridge deck was slanted to about 45 degrees.  (A challenge with a bike!)  A year ago this past fall, it was finally removed, but hasn’t been replaced yet.  Pieces of the old bridge are sitting next to the trail.



A couple of big dead trees were dropped to make a temporary crossing, but it’s better for feet than bikes.



There is another bridge near Greenbrier that is near a place where beavers like to hang out.  Sometimes it’s high and dry, and sometimes the beavers pile up enough brush that the water comes right up to the deck.



The most transient bridge is the pallet bridge near the town wells.  I don’t know who builds it, but it is not always the same.  Sometimes   it’s pretty stable, and sometimes it’s nonexistent.  



But all the bridges offer the option of dry feet, and I’m grateful for that!

The Change Can Be Amazing

One of the best things about running year-round on the same trails is watching how the trails and the river change with the seasons.  Sometimes there are huge changes just over a few days.



This was the beaver dam just last week during the dreaded Polar Vortex.  There was a bit of water going over the dam, but the river was mostly frozen. The water drops a couple of feet as it comes over the dam.  



This is the same view this week.  The temperature is in the low forties, there has been a lot of rain, and the snow has melted. Now the water only drops a few inches as it comes over the dam.



And this is a summertime picture of the same place.  The rising and falling of the water can completely change the landscape.  When the river is really high, the trails disappear.  The difference can be quite disorienting, as many of my usual landmarks are buried.  The snow changes the landscape, too, but not usually as much.

I’m lucky to live so close to the trails, but you can even see this difference in your neighborhood.  Look at people’s yards, flowers, and trees, in the summer, the wet, and the snow.  The change can be amazing…go check it out!

Please Go Outside

I spend a lot of time out in the woods, running, mountain biking, and sliding around on the ice.  In the summer I spend a fair amount of time riding my bike along the side of the road, too.  And I’m always struck by how few people are outside.  I don’t mean just walking from the house to the car, or from the parking lot into Wal-Mart, but actually outside. When the roads are not snowy or icy, I try to ride my bike to run errands right in town.  And most weekends, Eric walks into the center to run errands, but that doesn’t seem to be the norm.  Where are all the people?



I spotted this picture on Facebook last week, and it got me thinking.  Tim Gill writes a blog called Rethinking Childhood. He writes about  the shrinking role that outdoor play holds in the life of most children.  That is a bigger topic than I want to get into here, but I think it’s true for adults, too. Why are we indoors?  Do we really have less time than previous generations?  Is the world more dangerous for adults out alone?  Are we just soft and wimpy?

Maybe just soft and wimpy.  During the dreaded “Polar Vortex” of the last week, newspapers and the internet  were full of warnings to stay inside or risk hypothermia and frostbite.  Every hot summer day brings a warning from the same places to stay inside where the air conditioning is so you don’t suffer from heat stroke or dehydration.  Let’s be a little realistic here.  People everywhere work outside in all kinds of weather.  And even pampered people pay big bucks to ski in very cold weather, or go the the beach when it’s very hot,   So, obviously, we just choose to stay inside.

I spend a lot of time at work trying to get the parents sitting in chairs out on the floor to workout.  A common excuse is “I don’t have time.”  While your kid is safely engaged in their karate class, you have time to workout, or better yet, go outside for a walk, or just stand out in the parking lot and collect some sunshine.  

When my kids were small, I used to get up at 5:30 in the morning to run before Eric went to work, and we used to go to karate on alternate nights so somebody was always home with the kids.  Make time.  Do you watch television?  I’m guessing the answer is yes, because people are usually shocked to hear that I don’t.  Why not turn off the television and go for a walk, run, or ride? So you work all day?  Get up a bit earlier and run.  Walk after work.  Or take your lunch break as walking time.  If your kids are little, put them in a stroller or backpack and take them out with you.

Another amusing thing I hear from people is that being outside when it’s cold or wet will make you sick.  Wrong!!  Bacteria and viruses make you sick. I have no scientific evidence for this, but find that the winters I get outside most days, I rarely get sick. Working out regularly is an awesome thing.  Taking it outside as often as possible is even more awesome.  Get back in touch with the outdoors.

I want to leave you with one last thought.  Don’t be this guy.  Go outside!