As the city that never sleeps was still in bed, I rose early last Saturday morning, much earlier than any twenty-year-old would ever rise, and set off to the train station on a mission. My task at hand: climb a mountain for my American Literature class. While the prompt was somewhat ambiguous, merely asking students to “go on a nature walk for at least one hour”, something as simple as walking around Central Park did not appeal to me. I decided to step it up a notch and take a four hour hike/climb up Bull Hill (aka Mt. Taurus) which borders the town of Cold Spring. So, with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden in hand and my hiking partner by my side, we began our journey with an hour and ten minute train ride on the Metro North.
Before I even reached my destination and began my nature “walk”, Thoreau’s writing spoke to me. Walden is a nonfiction reflection of Thoreau’s experiences with solitary life in the wilderness, and in the chapter “Sounds”, Thoreau talks about industrialization and the imposing presence of trains in the wilderness. He says “I hear the iron horse make the hills echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the earth with his feet, and breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils” (121). His melding of nature and industry to create his “iron horse” struck me; two concepts we often believe are separate become one. With man continually expanding and imposing his industrialization on nature, the two learn to coincide, and cannot separate from one another. Completely dividing nature from industry is impossible, and this sentiment carried over once I reached Cold Spring.
Stepping off that “iron horse”, it was a mile walk through the small town to reach the base of the mountain. Finally, at around 11:30, the entrance to the trail was in sight and my adventure was about to begin. But to my dismay, loud clanging noises filled the air; the town was expanding the parking lot surrounding the trail entrance, so there was construction equipment in use everywhere. It reminded me of the train sounds that Thoreau described and how they filled his wilderness. Industrialization was everywhere, and it seemed that the mechanical sounds of the city were inescapable. But thankfully, these obtrusive noises were dulled and eventually silenced as I traveled further into the forest.
Though the screeching noise of the construction had vanished, so had all other noises, and I was overwhelmed by an abundance of silence, filled only by the leaves crunching underfoot. Nothing, not even a single chirp of a bird. I compared this utter silence to the “silence” I am accustomed to in Manhattan, where even in the dead of night there is some hum of activity. But with this silence, I became aware of how loud I was: my footsteps, my conversation with my partner, even my breathing. The silence of the forest amplified my everyday noises.
Nature had quite a psychological effect on me, and the feeling was mutual; even with all of the attempts at preservation, humans were leaving a very physical effect on the forest around them. Besides the trash, which was abundant (which my partner brought bags so we could clean up the trail as we went, reminding me of my first blog post), our presence alone disturbs the wilderness. Thoreau writes “They who come rarely to the woods take some little piece of the forest into their hands” (136). He goes on to describe the traces people leave, through footprints, disturbing plants, or crushing leaves. So while this trail was created for people to use for access to nature, what right do we really have to disturb nature this way?