May 22-24, 2013
We had considered crossing the mid-section of New York State and visiting Niagara Falls. Both Chris and I had seen it in our youth but we were interested in enjoying it as seasoned adults. I wanted to ride the Maid of the Mist right into the roar and spray. But as I studied the map, I saw that a large deep yellow splotch, called Buffalo, lay between us and it. After 5 weeks in Boston, we couldn’t muster the energy to face another urban landscape and the commercialization of the Falls. So we traversed New York farther south passing small towns, woodlands and farms, stopping near Binghamton, NY.
The campsites at Oquaga Creek State Park were completely carpeted with dense lush grass. We were part of this year’s first wave of campers; it felt almost sacrilegious to mar the pristine beauty of the fresh lawn by driving over it. There were only three other people in the whole campground, this being the short season where the weather is mild but the vacationers are few. In several weeks children will be let out of school and the summer flood of travelers will overflow onto the roads and campgrounds. Our next weekend – Memorial Weekend – would likely give us a taste of what is to come.
The air was sweet and thick with the fragrance of dirt, cut grass and blossoms. Fruit trees from long-abandoned farms were now included in groves of wild trees. The apple trees burst with white flowers, their fragrance infusing the breeze, their petals fluttering down like blessings. Puffs of fluff of unknown origin (no cottonwoods here) slowly rode the invisible currents of air. The humid breeze was palpable, caressing the skin with its velvety touch in a way that dry air cannot.
Below us was a large mowed meadow, with wetland shrubs a little farther out and forests beyond them. Occasionally a large – very large – groundhog would sneak into the meadow to munch on tasty green sprouts. Chris is very curious about groundhogs since they don’t exist in California. The closest animal in CA is its relative, the small and scrawny (in comparison) gopher. I sometimes describe groundhogs as gophers on steroids. Chris was duly impressed by the size and heft of this rodent and can now understand how just one groundhog can quickly devastate a vegetable garden. (I know this from experience.)
After several days of warm and stormy weather, the cold front finally arrived bringing heavier skies and and a very chill rain. It was the Friday of Memorial Weekend and we used this unpleasant weather as an excuse to drive across the rest of New York. It was unseasonably bleak for the opening day of the summer vacation season. We arrived about 6 PM at Allegany State Park, a large park in western NY bordering Pennsylvania. The raw, dank weather may have influenced our opinions, but the campground was unappealing to us. Too tired to continue we spent the night there. The campers were less quiet than most other places we’ve been, with plentiful beer drinking, radios playing and whoops and hollers. Late at night after we’d gone to bed, a group of drummers thumped their way into our consciousness and we awoke. I explained to Chris that summer begins in the Northeast on Memorial Weekend. By then people are chomping at the bit for time outdoors after months of cabin fever, an illness that a native coastal Californian can’t really appreciate.
The next day was cold and windy but bright with sun. We drove south to the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania to seek another place to camp.