By Suzanne Kashuba
I take a deep, cleansing breath and gaze at the stunning scenery before me.
The memory is captured in my heart and cherished with a passion.
This year, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying guided walks in an impressive collection of state parks not too far from home.
New York State’s Niagara Region has 18 parks and each offers a unique experience. I’ve explored remarkable places from Fort Niagara to Knox Farm, with the roaring Niagara in between.
Our guides are knowledgeable, personable and enthusiastic – in short, good ambassadors for our natural gems. They are mostly environmental educators – employees of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Offered at no cost, the walks are typically leisurely. They are scheduled throughout the seasons, day and night. Some are timed to take advantage of natural events such as full moons, solstices or meteor showers. Others occur on holidays, such as the Gobble Walk on Thanksgiving and First Day Hikes on New Year’s Day. It’s a chance to celebrate nature and an incentive to get outdoors and be active.
All the walks are kid- and family-friendly. Some are geared to birders and a few, such as Wags and Whirlpools, welcome dogs on the adventure.
All kinds of people join in – kids, scouts, moms and a grandpa who is a devoted regular.
Nature itself is our entertainment – and our inspiration. We’ve seen deer frolic and tree bats swoop, fuzzy caterpillars curl up in a hand and hawks soar with a confident majesty.
Along the way, we learn all kinds of fun facts, as the program brochure promises. How did fruit trees come to grow along the Niagara Gorge? Are there beavers on Beaver Island? Why does ragweed have a bad rap? What animal deserves a memorial plaque on Goat Island? Why did Europeans want poison ivy growing in their gardens?
We hear stories of the past – from the cataclysmic geologic events that shaped our landscape to the exploits of daredevils.
Each quarter, I look forward to receiving the new program schedule so I can mark my calendar for the next few months.
I’m looking forward to walking in the Niagara Gorge in November when the water level is low and attempting to snowshoe on Beaver Island this winter.
My walks have certainly enriched my appreciation for the abundance of natural treasures we have within an easy drive.
Although I try to capture images with my phone’s camera, the experience is much more than what appears in a photo. Each sense is engaged and certain moments stay with me.
I’ve watched the rich afterglow of a sunset over Lake Ontario while a grand hunter’s moon gleamed in the same sky.
I’ve admired massive rock cliffs formed eons ago with pre-ice age fossils embedded.
I’ve rubbed the bark on a century-old great white oak and listened to the rhythmic call of a katydid.
But mostly, I quiet my thoughts and savor my good fortune. I let go of the swirl and the rush and tomorrow.
I stand tall, focus on the vista ahead and put one foot in front of another.
And I realize how grateful I am to be able to do just that.
Suzanne Kashuba, of Amherst, enjoys nature’s abundance in every season of the year.