Clermont State Park, New York: When The Scenery Changes

The traffic of New York City is behind me now. The trees to each side are becoming increasingly taller; the sky is growing darker. We’re heading up to a friend’s house in a small town upstate called Germantown. He moved out of Queens and up there a few years ago with his girlfriend in an effort to find some peace and quiet away from the city but still within arm’s reach. As a working writer, my friend still comes to the city regularly for meetings and whatnot, but his main workspace is now situated on a farm surrounded by fields. The hazy blue outline of the Catskill Mountains sits at his yard’s horizon. I’m driving up to spend the weekend in his house with some mutual friends, my husband and my two dogs. My husband is going to go skiing for the first time this winter at a place called Catamount, which is just across the New York/Massachusetts border. I am probably not going to go skiing. My husband is much better at it than I am and I don’t want to hold him down, nor do I want to ski alone. Also, the idea of skiing without health insurance makes me a little bit nervous. I’ve only skied once and I don’t trust that my legs have enough muscle memory to take the falls that are aimed for my neck.

%Gallery-187733%When we finally make enough left turns off of the highway that we are winding our way down the country road that leads to my friend’s house, it’s already dark. I’m grateful when we arrive intact without having hit any deer on the way. Actually, I’ve never hit a deer before, but the threat always seems sharply present, perhaps because I grew up in the country. We let our dogs meet my friend’s well-trained and affectionate German Shepherd. They romp around in the dark of the night, rolling in the snow and chasing each other around the pond. Their shadowy silhouettes appear every now and then, assuring me that they’re still close. We dine, we drink, we converse and I finally crash on the living room floor. Suddenly, it’s morning and I’m still finishing my coffee when those who are skiing head off toward the slopes and we who remain reach a consensus: we should take the dogs to Clermont State Park.

The park is only a few miles away and, apparently, it is a good spot to let the dogs run off-leash – a luxury they don’t always get within the concrete bowels of New York City. The word “Clermont” comes from the French phrase, “clair montagne,” which can be translated as “clear mountain.” The park’s name was purportedly derived from this phrase and inspired by that same hazy blue view of the mountains in the distance. The Catskills stand erect just beyond the hills that are just beyond the Hudson River, all of which is viewable from the Clermont State Park entrance. The park was originally an estate belonging to Robert Livingston and it was established in during the first half of the 1700s. Robert Livingston was the son of the first Lord of Livingston Manor, Robert Livingston the Elder. Almost 50 years after the estate was established, Major General John Vaughan and his men raided the land and burned the Livingston home in 1777 because of the Livingston ties to and prominent role in the American Revolution. Over the next few years, the family home was rebuilt. New walls were built and new ideas were conceived. Robert’s eldest son, Robert Livingston Junior, was the most notable member of the family. Also known as “The Chancellor,” he is one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Now acting as a New York State Historic Site and a United States National Historic Landmark, Clermont State Park is a good place for hiking, walking, photographing, dog-entertaining and learning. Charred remains of a second house that was on the original property during the British raid still stand on the grounds as a reminder of the past while the main home on the estate is now kept in pristine condition; it’s a massive white house situated on the river’s edge and symbolic of the success of the Livingston family.

When we find ourselves fully immersed in the forest and don’t see any other people around, we unleash the dogs. One of my dogs is part Whippet and she bolts off after the release of her leash as if she had been training to race and the shotgun signaling the start just fired. She weaves her way in and out of the trees and up and down the hills, leaping over the creek and fallen, mossy trunks. It’s cold. We are all wearing the snow gear we would’ve worn had we decided to go skiing. The ground is covered with snow, slush and ice, but the hike is helping to keep us warm. Cold fresh air feels especially nice in my lungs, so I deeply inhale and follow that with a long exhale. The air is just air indeed, but somehow every primitive part of my body deems it to be cleaner and better than what I’m used to. This feels necessary.

The guys return from skiing shortly after we return from our hike. They are excited and have stories to share. One of my friends animatedly informs me that my husband took a fall that landed him in the trees. The physical evidence is right before me in his busted toe. On the other hand, our trek through the park has no gripping climax. Rather, it was smooth, meditative and yet transitional. Although we entered the park peacefully and exited the same way, something now seems different. Maybe it was just the endorphins mixed with the feeling of filling my lungs with that chilly Mountain-River air or maybe it was the reminder of the brave men and women who helped found this country. Whatever it was, I feel more prepared to face the week ahead of me than I have felt in months. We didn’t do anything extravagant, but I feel recharged. Winter’s desiccation now seems like a distant memory left behind with the arrival of my early spring. Nothing monumental took place, but I sense a new perspective blanketing my brain and informing my synapses as they fire. And really, that’s the core reason why so many of us travel in the first place: because when the scenery changes, so does our view.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

Photos: Space Shuttle Enterprise’s Epic Final Journey

Seeing NASA’s Space Shuttle Program come to a conclusion has been tough on space travel geeks. Luckily, over the past few months, NASA has given us a few final treats as the shuttles make their way to their new museum homes.

The journey of Space Shuttle Enterprise has been particularly epic because of its barge trip on the Hudson River this week. In order for Enterprise to get to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, located on New York City‘s Hell’s Kitchen waterfront, it had to sail down the river past some of the city’s major landmarks. In case you missed it, here are some photos of that most unusual barge journey past the Statue of Liberty, the new Freedom Tower being built at the World Trade Center site and the buildings of lower Manhattan.


Revolutionary War battlefield of Saratoga to be excavated

One of the most important battlefields of the Revolutionary War is going to be excavated by archaeologists ahead of an EPA cleanup.

Back in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, General Electric dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River near Saratoga, New York. The dumping was banned in 1977 due to risks to public health, and the EPA has ordered GE to dredge up the affected silt from the river. Dredging destroys archaeological sites, though, and has already damaged Fort Edward, a British fort in the area dating to the mid 18th century. Archaeologists are working to excavate the stretch of river near Saratoga before the dredgers arrive.

Saratoga was on the frontier for much of the 18th century and played a large part in the French and Indian Wars (1755-1763) and the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). During the two battles of Saratoga in September and October of 1777, the American army stopped the British advance down the Hudson River Valley, then surrounded them and forced them to surrender. It was a major victory that led to the French coming into the war on the American side. French help was one of the deciding factors in an ultimate American victory, and the creation of the United States.

The Saratoga National Historical Park 9 miles south of Saratoga, New York, includes the battlefield, a visitor center, the restored country house of American General Philip Schuyler, a monument, and Victory Woods where the British surrendered on October 17, 1777.

Archaeologists hope to find artifacts from both wars and are currently looking for a British army camp.

[Image courtesy U.S. government]

New Jersey; Amtrak announce plans for “Gateway Project” to replace failed Hudson River commuter tunnel

New Jersey‘s two senators and Amtrak executives announced plans yesterday for the “Gateway Project,” an alternative to the Hudson River commuter-train tunnel scrapped by Gov. Chris Christie last October.

Largely following the same footprint as the previously-proposed tunnel, the plan includes an expanded Penn Station and an additional 11 NJ Transit trains per hour – from 22 to 33 – as well as eight more Amtrak trains. The hope is to have the tunnel built within a decade.

The Wall Street Journal states that Gateway would be less beneficial to commuters than the canceled Access to the Region’s Core, or ARC, project, because its primary goal is to speed long-distance trains between New York and destinations like Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

[Flickr via Nesster]

The cost could be upwards of $13.5 billion, but Amtrak officials say they believe the tunnel fits in well with President Obama’s vision for infrastructure improvements in America and high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C.

Amtrak plans to ask the government to fund a $50 million study on the plan this week. Funding for the remainder of the project has yet to be determined, but it is predicted that Amtrak will fund at least part of it.

Amtrak had intended to build another tunnel to improve capacity in the nation’s most congested rail corridor, but not until 2040. In a best case scenario, this project could be completed by around 2020.

Along with the Gateway project would be a plan to raise and replace the century-old train Portal Bridge between Kearny and Secaucus over the Hackensack River.

Top 10 ways Hollywood could make Sully’s movie more kickass

As you’ve surely heard, Hudson River hero Captain Sully has been awarded the ultimate American prize: a movie deal. You know how sometimes people ask you “who would you want to play you in a movie?” Well, Sully is full-on asking himself that question for real.

We were discussing the movie and came up with one irrefutable problem: landing a plane in the Hudson River, while certainly impressive, does not a 90-minute film make. In fact, our resident pilot Kent Wien published a hilarious story just last month on what is surely the crux of the plot: avoiding the birds. Trying, then failing to avoid birds doesn’t really sound like a feature-length story, does it? Kent’s idea was to try and film it from the birds’ perspective, “Sort of like Jonathan Livingston Seagull but with a tragic ending.”

That would work, but it doesn’t make a hero out of Sully, and that is surely the point. We have faith that the masterminds in Hollywood can make a whopping three hours out of it if they put their hearts into it.

In case they have any trouble, though, here are some ideas.

Top 10 ways Hollywood could make Sully’s movie more kickass:

1. An epic bloody bird bonanza.

The moment the birds hit the engine is key. We’d like to see this achieved on a billion-YouTube-hits, Texas Chainsaw Massacre level. You know what would make it even better? Two words: 3. D.

2. Aerosmith.

This will be a hero movie, and every hero movie needs a power ballad. Perhaps Aerosmith could simultaneously release a music video of themselves headbanging and playing the song spliced with clips of the aforementioned bloody bird bonanza. Suggested title: What Goes Up Must Come Down.3. Emotional foreshadowing from friends and family.

Foreshadowing is essential to this genre of film, and pretty much all dialogue leading up the disaster should have enormously foreboding ramifications. We’re talking teenagers yelling “I never want to see you again!” and wives saying “I still get nervous every time you fly. Every time.” Bonus points if they have a pet bird that won’t shut the hell up.

4. Birds. Everywhere.

Another important foreshadowing element is the presence of birds in everyday life. Not only should there be a pet bird in Captain Sully’s home, but we’d like to see at least one avian actor in every shot. In the best case scenario, the birds would all be looking at him, all the time, Hitchcock-style.

5. Teaser in-flight malfunctions.

The flight is doomed from the start and everyone knows it, so there should be plenty of nefarious bumps and turbulence-related accidents leading up to the actual bird massacre.

6. The moment someone realizes the plane’s going down and gravely says “It’s birds.”

Picture this: no one can figure out what the problem is until a flight attendant sees blood spattered on the windows toward the rear of the plane. She walks briskly to the cockpit and bursts through the door. “Captain Sully,” she says, with the weight of the world in her eyes, “It’s birds.” Did this really happen? Definitely not. Does it matter? Definitely not.

7. Samuel L. Jackson rescues the hell out of everybody.

Truth: the plane landed in the water and a ferry going by helped the passengers to safety. Obviously, the main ferry passenger leading this effort should be played by Samuel L. Jackson, who specializes in ridiculous airplane films. If he’s busy, they should get Leonardo DiCaprio, who should at some point reach his hand out to a frightened woman and say, “Do you trust me?”

8. An arguing couple on the flight falls back in love.

To illustrate the point that all arguments seem petty in the face of danger, there should be a loud, arguing couple on the flight. By the time they are being ferried to safety, they should definitely be making out. This is Screenwriting 101.

9. The plane explodes.

In true blockbuster fashion, the story must end with a bang. We see this being best achieved by the plane exploding, preferably seconds after the final passenger disembarks — with her baby.

10. The hint of a sequel.

What? A sequel? That’s right. All good movies hint at a sequel*. Hudson River 2: The Reckoning (or whatever it’s called) should be hinted at by the glint in the eye of a nearby bird who just watched his broheim slaughtered. Can they get the bird to cry a tear? We hope so.


[Photo by Sebastian Derungs – Pool/Getty Images.]