Thursday, August 14, 2008

Missive from Yankeedom, pt. 3

It's possible that I've moved not to upstate New York, but to some sort of deciduous rain forest: it's rained nearly every day I've been here, with numerous severe thunderstorms and some pretty serious flooding. As a result, I've been a little hesitant to go on a long road ride or a fixed-gear urban exploration ride for fear of getting caught in some sort of biblical deluge. But I'd heard rumors of a sandy, quick-drying park west of town, and on a whim yesterday afternoon I threw the bike on the car and headed to the Pine Bush Preserve.

Sandy indeed: I was shocked at how different the land of the preserve was from anything else I'd seen in New York. In fact, this was easily the sandiest trail system I've ever been on, including some pretty loose trails in southern Arizona and the Sandhills region in North Carolina. The difference from the rest of the city was striking: while the region is largely characterized by thick, loamy soil interspersed with rocky granite protrusions, the Pine Bush is covered with deep, light-brown sand heaped in rolling dunes with nary a rock to be seen.

As it turns out this area is an example of the rare 'pine barrens' ecosystem, and a specific inland variety that is unique in the U.S. The sand is the remnant of glacial lake that covered the area during the last ice age, explaining why there's beach-quality sand so far from the ocean. During my ride it was a veritable riot of vegetation: clearly all of our recent rain has prompted a great deal of growth. And like many forests, the ecosystem is threatened by a lack of pruning fire, which traditionally helped to beat back the underbrush and keep the woodland relatively open.

The effect is hard to capture in words, but the place is undoubtedly beautiful and even a little erie: the blackened sand, cut through with soft brown trails, all over topped with dense, clinging brush and interspersed with black-water bogs could easily be a little creepy. This was heightened by the fact that I got caught in yet-another thunderstorm, meaning that it was just me on the darkened, twisting trails, with thunder and gunshots echoing through the trees. (Evidently there's a shooting range nearby.)

The Pine Bush is -- or was -- relatively well known: George Washington includes his impressions of the region in his journals, Longfellow uses the setting in his poem 'Hiawatha,' Melville cites them in Moby Dick, and Nobokov writes about them as well. While the trails themselves weren't that interesting -- they were wide, relatively straight, and the deep sand had me pushing the bike more often that I'd like -- the park was great, and made me happy I made the trip. I can see why the area has captured the imaginations of past generations, and why it's worth saving the land now: evidently the park supports a wide diversity of plants and animals, a number of which are endangered. I'll certainly be back, though probably with a pair of running shoes as opposed to a mountain bike.

Alas, the rainstorm means that I didn't get any pictures. You'll have to take me at my word that the place is spooky. That, or re-read Moby Dick and see what ol' Herman has to say.

2 comments:

Phillip said...

Moby Dick's a long book. I'll take your word for it.

Sounds like you need a Pugsley: you're in a land of deep snow (which should start falling in about two weeks) and sand. You definitely need some Endomorphs.

Seriously, great write-ups about your new digs. We're missing you down here, but Critical Mass rides are already safer. No kids got knocked down on the last ride.

DukePirate said...

Moby Dick's a long book. I'll take your word for it.

No kidding. I'm trying to decide right now whether or not I want to teach it in an undergrad survey in the fall. I think it would be great fun, but I'm wondering if 18-year-olds want to spend Thanksgiving break curled up with Ishmael.

Sounds like you need a Pugsley: you're in a land of deep snow (which should start falling in about two weeks) and sand. You definitely need some Endomorphs.

Quiet you! I'm currently trying to ignore fact that my need for a jacket in August is probably point to some pretty bad things down the road in terms of temperature. Currently my only preparations are buying wool socks and a indoor-cycle-torture-device, aka a trainer.

... Critical Mass rides are already safer. No kids got knocked down on the last ride.

Ouch. If it makes you (or pre-teen Durhamites) feel any better I got harassed by some 12-year-olds on the street last night; they made fun of my General Lee, then asked if I knew any tricks. They were not impressed by my 'Charlie Chaplin,' and insisted it wasn't a real trick.

Critical Mass is the last week of the month here, so assuming I'm free to go I'll let you know how they run it. And if I (inadvertently) take anyone out.