This article was started in a mound of snow, in the middle of a weekend of snowshoeing at Beaver Lake Nature Center in Baldwinsville and Baltimore Woods in Marcellus. As Henry David Thoreau suggests: “Write while the heat is in you.” There was no distraction around me. Ten minutes prior, two white-tailed deer gracefully hopped and weaved around trees. At that moment, I was in a masterpiece. Mother Nature is clearly one of the most original creative minds.
“If with closed ears and eyes I consult
consciousness for a moment, immediately
are all walls and barriers dissipated, earth
rolls from under me, and I float … “
– Thoreau (on Consciousness)
Thoreau wasn’t quite as removed from society as he is reputed to be, but he did spend time in the wilderness, reflecting and observing and writing.
While taking the highway to Beaver Lake, the weather gradually appeared less promising. The car engine was silenced as soon as I opened the car door.
Although my ear buds fit snugly in my ears, I decided to take them out. The guitar riffs and twinkling notes of Explosions in the Sky added accompaniment to the falling snow, but the instrumental music wasn’t perfect. Hearing the grunt of snow compacting beneath each step was more exciting. If you’re snowshoeing, walking can feel as if you have pillows strapped to your feet. At one point, I had stopped to readjust the shoes; as I bent down, the branch above dumped its snow on my head.
The snow was perfect for packing, and I made two snowballs on my journey. I packed the first and moved it around in my hands, gradually melting it along the way and into nothing; I packed the second into an apple-sized ball, and I bit a piece out of it — my teeth didn’t take too kindly to this, but my taste buds appreciated the reprise of a childhood memory.
For Onondaga County and surrounding areas, parks such as Beaver Lake and Baltimore Woods offer year-round wilderness activities that encourage moments of self awareness.
It’s important to remember the programs each place has to offer.
The county-owned Beaver Lake Nature Center offers over nine miles of trails in its almost 700-acre property. Visitors are welcome to visit daily, as the trails are open from 7:30 AM to dusk, and the cost is $4 per vehicle. Depending on the evening and if there is adequate snow cover, some trails are open until 9 PM for moonlight-themed adventures. Visitors are able to “BYOS” (bring your own snowshoes/cross country skis), but snowshoes are also available for rent for $5 per hour.
The 2.2-mile Southern Exposure Trail took me through various landscapes, around water, and through and over trees. The .5-mile Pine Meadow Trail was a perfect “cool down” trail after the previous workout. For those not familiar with snowshoeing, “Try Snowshoeing” clinics will be held on Sundays in January and February, at 12:30 PM, for $5 per person. The year-round guided walks are continued in the winter as well, every Saturday and Sunday; register that day for the December themed “Winter Wildlife Homes” or for the January and February theme of “Tracking Wildlife on Snowshoes.”
Nothing beats silence.
Nothing can top the thrumming of Nature that rubs my temples and lulls me into meditation, calmness. While sitting in the snow, I could have fallen asleep. Saturday was a gorgeous day to be outside and enjoying the weather.
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead
where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Many of my local hiking adventures happen at Baltimore Woods in Marcellus (because they’re close to where I live). There are plenty of benches to sit and relax and even sprawl out on. The nature center has been the location of numerous year-round hikes since my childhood, and going back always serves as a wonderful reminder why this park has a place in my heart.
As at Beaver Lake, people are allowed to BYOS, but snowshoes are available for a $5 rental fee, or free with membership.
The trails are natural and maintained.
“We don’t purposely make specific paths. We encourage people to wander around a little bit,” said Stacy Drake, marketing coordinator. She noted that the hilly trails present a great challenge for those familiar with snowshoeing, and the hills are the primary reason why cross country skiing is not allowed on site.
Stacy also told me that the center has taught kids how to “otter slide,” which is downhill sledding on stomachs.
The traditions of Baltimore Woods continue, welcoming visitors from all over to explore the 180 acres of land (6 miles of hiking trails). The programming and education departments also reach out to the community and into the City of Syracuse with the ongoing 12-year program that is Nature in the City.
“We have a constant involvement with all K – 6 grade classrooms in each of the Syracuse City School District schools,” Mary Kate Intaglietta, Executive Director, stated. “The kids get a lot of enjoyment out of the programs. Recently, we incorporated Geronimo, an Eastern Box Turtle, for a program. The kids would sit in a circle as the turtle crawled around while they learned about the creature for a hands-on learning experience.”
Baltimore Woods’ Winter’s Farm Market occurs on the second Saturday of every month. On Saturday, December 20, From 7 PM to 8:30 PM, there will be a Winter Solstice hike in the woods. The price is $5 for members and $8 for non-members. On December 26, a post-holiday Winter’s Ramble will be taking place from 1 PM to 3 PM; the cost is the same as the previous event.
Aside having a partnership with Onondaga County, Baltimore Woods is privately owned. The park is primarily funded through memberships, programs and charitable donations.
Upcoming star parties, campfire stories, photography workshops, and a Valentine’s Day Sweetheart Snowshoe ($20/$30 for members/non-members) give a glimpse at the activities Baltimore Woods offers. “We’re looking forward to our Local Harvest Dinner. There will be a panel of local growers and farmers, and they will be answering questions about their locally-grown products.” This event pairs with their Saturday local farmer’s markets.
The trails and programs at Beaver Lake and Baltimore Woods remind me why it’s difficult to think about leaving Upstate New York.
Christopher Malone plays with more thoughts and words at his blog, The Infinite Abyss(es). He can also be found creating worlds and playing with invisible objects with the Syracuse Improv Collective. Feel free to tweet at @Chris___Malone, or email him at email@example.com.