After two nasty winters (read: long, cold, and snowy) in the Northeast, Mother Nature has smiled on the coast of Maine and much of the East during the final months of 2015. Why this past Thanksgiving, the Family Rothermel walked in tee-shirts and shorts in Chelmsford, MA before the afternoon meal. By mid-December no snow has fallen. Hallelujah brother. As you know, you can take the boy out of Arizona, but you can’t take the Arizona out of the boy.
One Arizona Christmas Day when we were living in Tempe it was 85F. That’s Almost Heaven, West Virginia for me. This year Hannah and I scheduled a trip to central New York in mid-December, which is always a roll of the dice since the Snow Gods take up residence there for months on end. However, this year, fifties and even sixties are predicted for our weekend in Ithaca, New York with our son Will and his wife Laurel.
Our Saturday includes a noon wrestling match at Ithaca College where Will works in the athletic department. I never realized I was such a fan of the grappling art. I thought basketball was the ideal winter spectator sport with its inside warmth and games lasting but an hour and a half. Well, let me tell you wrestling is even more spectator-friendly as each of the ten matches lasts seven minutes or less. If a wrestler gets pinned, a match can take a minute or two. Today these ten matches are over in 55 minutes! It certainly helped my enjoyment that the #2 nationally ranked Ithaca College crushed Oswego State 45-3. As a fan of Tom Brady and our New England Patriots, I am used to such scores.
After, we walk the Ithaca Commons, a two block pedestrian mall, checking out the Ithaca Ice Festival with its ice sculpture competition. Though it is 58F, the warm temperatures don’t deter the Michelangelos of Ice as they wield their chainsaws and drills to craft their works of art. By the way, on the walking mall in this liberal bastion of sanity (think Burlington, VT or Cambridge, MA, or Berkeley, CA), the only political table is for Bernie Sanders.
Come Sunday, temperatures remain warm as we head ten minutes out of town on the winding road to Enfield Glen, a rugged gorge in Robert Treman State Park. In winter, due to dangerous conditions created by snow and ice, most of the park’s trails are inaccessible. Not today! In shorts, I am living the winter hiking dream.
With Will and Laurel’s Golden Shepard mix Otter, we four climb immediately into the winter forest of bare-limbed hardwoods. The rooted and rocky trail allows us to walk side by side high above the rapids of the Enfield Creek. Even on a leash, Otter will travel ten miles to our five.
The Gorge Trail to the Lucifer Falls winds two and a quarter miles up the narrow canyon. The eroding tar-paved trail looks like it was constructed a 100 years ago; it just may have been one of those CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) projects during the Depression of the 1930s.
With twelve falls along the way, we soon encounter our first falls. As I walk with Will, we talk about his job and sports (he loathes the Patriots as the Colts are his team). I think of the great opportunity he has working in the athletic department at Ithaca College. At today’s wrestling match, we see him interact with the student athletes and their parents. As a kid he was good at math and sports, but he is even better with people; he engages and listens.
After almost an hour of easy hiking, we approach the 115 foot Lucifer Falls. The stone work steps and walks which allow us to hike up the gorge are something that the builders of the Great Wall of China would applaud. The stone wall barricades are ample protection for the steep cliffs to the creek below.
Winding our way to one final falls, it is hard to believe that we are just ten miles from Will and Laurel’s home and the town of 30,000 Ithacans. At the top of the trail is another park so families can visit the waterfalls with just a short walk. I call out to three hiking college girls who are in happy conversation, “Is this your pre-finals stress release hike?” They smile and laugh and then continue to enjoy the gift of a warm December day with friends.
Heading back to the trailhead on the Rim Trail, we see white blazes which usually identify a major trail, like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. Following the blazes for a few hundred yards, we see a sign which identifies them as a part of the 600 mile Finger Lakes Trail in New York.
While Hannah and Will hike ahead with Otter, I check in with Laurel on her transition to Ithaca from Virginia. As a top-of-the line ER nurse who has lived in Miami, New York City, and Boston before Richmond, VA, she is adaptable and makes an effort to make things happen in her life and their lives. Already they have made football watching friends and have had colleagues from Ithaca College for dinners.
They get it. No matter how long they stay in central New York, Ithaca is not just a waystation for them to mark time. They are all in. Making their house a home and building a community of friends for however short or long they are here are crucial to living a rich and meaningful lives.