A stream that runs under the bridge near the New Jersey office.
I was feeling stir crazy. I have not been outside the house since Wednesday. I bundled up and took a walk over to the stream in the forest behind the playground near my home. In the past, I had seen skunk cabbage, an indicator that spring has sprung, growing here.
The air was cold and crisp, and a steady breeze blew against my exposed cheeks. The path to the stream leads behind the tennis courts to an open grassy area with a volleyball net. The grass was soggy wet, but I made my way through to the muddy area under the trees. There were lots of small dead branches across the swampy area under the trees.
I made my way down to the stream. No ice. Usually, the side of the stream would be lined with ferns and skunk cabbage growing in dense clusters. Not today. Not yet.
To fend off seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and get some fresh air, Bhavna and I decided that in 2019 we would find our way outside despite both hating the cold. We joined the REI co-op, bought some base layers, and new jackets, hiking boots, etc. After three months of staying indoors drinking craft ales, I start to look and feel "round", especially in. my belly.
One of the perks of joining the REI Co-op is that we get access to classes about hammocking, hiking, biking etc. This past weekend Bhavana and I signed up for a beginner's hike; the Hike and Hops at St. Michaels Farm Preserve. The Lawrenceville REI Co-op organised this hike. When we awoke that morning, Bhavna and I were sure REI would cancel the walk. It had rained the night before, and the warmer air temp was melting the snow. We expected the trail would be too wet to hike. It was too wet but not so much to cancel the hike. We layered up and drove to the trailhead on Princeton Avenue to find a group of about eight people waiting in the parking lot.
Some history on the property is provided by the D& R Greenway Land Trust.
Now over 400 acres, the St. Michaels property, which was preserved in 2010 and expanded in 2017, is an expanse of farm fields and forests on the edge of Hopewell Borough. From many parts of this preserve, the visitor has long views, lending the preserve a wonderful expansiveness which promotes a sense of well-being in anyone who walks its many farm roads and paths. From 1896 until 1973 this was the home of St. Michael’s Orphanage and Industrial School which was operated by the Catholic Diocese of Trenton. After the orphanage was closed, the building where the children lived and went to school was torn down and most of the land was leased to a local farmer. Before the diocese divested themselves of the property through development they offered one last chance for preservation if D& R Greenway could raise the funds to purchase the property. Over $11 million was raised, and in 2010 D& R Greenway succeeded in purchasing the land through a public/private partnership. It is now preserved as open space forever. The largest amount of the $11M purchase price for this property came from the State farmland preservation program. Six miles of farm roads provide walking trails throughout the preserve.
We met the trail guide Dan and his friend John. John lives in the area and is an educator in a local public school. We were given an overview of the trail and a history of St. Michaels Farm before proceeding along a soggy and muddy open field. We struggled to make our way back to more solid ground, and since I stopped for Bhavna and to take photos, we fell behind the rest of the group.
The trail was soggy; perhaps boggy is a better word. Our guide Dan had to choose alternative paths across some of the streams. On the trail, we ducked under fallen trees and scrambled over others. We forded streams with water just barely under the ankle of the shoe. Water entered Bhavna's shoes.
I'm working from home today. We both injured a foot this weekend while on this beginner's hike. I think the issue is that we are both barefoot inside our house. We only wear shoes for work or to go hiking. For both of us, wearing shoes is an exercise in damage control. When I wear shoes outside on walks and hike along difficult terrain, my toes curl inside the shoe; trying to get a grip. This action stresses my toes. Is this the reason Westerners have such ugly feet? It's damaged from years of doing the opposite of what nature intended?
What made the trek worthwhile was the camaraderie of the group during the hike and the post-hike Troon craft ale we drank together at the Brick Farm Tavern.