I carried a bench frame on my back up the Paumanok Path in order to set up another place for visitors to sit. Manorville Hills County Park is “primitive.” There are no refuse cans, bathrooms, or places to sit. There is a parking lot, signage, and a bulletin board. There are ticks. With places to sit, walkers can avoid sitting where there may be ticks.

I managed another good weather day. The past three hikes have been sandwiched by cold, rainy, windy weather. Somehow, I have avoided that. My destination was twofold: place the bench on Sperry Hill, and photograph the boulder vandalism.

From the parking lot, I hiked into what I call the “epicenter” of the park.  It is a departure from the rest of the area which is hilly Pine Barrens. There is a small charming, sun drenched meadow, a dark white pine plantation, and a hub of trail directions.

The paved road to Sperry Hill is a slight incline through the forest. The oak forest had yet to leaf out so sunlight reached the forest floor. This is the opportunity for small, delicate spring wildflowers to bloom before sunlight fades. I heard a hammering hairy woodpecker casting out sounds for a perspective mate. I saw one lone bee. The delightful tickling sounds of a few birds broke what I’d call “silence”(Which has a different meaning on Long Island)?

Afoot and lighthearted, I lugged the cross buck bench base uphill step by step. I designed and built this frame specifically for the two Norway spruce tree halves that can be placed between the forks on the base to make a seat for two. I already have installed one bench in the White Pine plantation.

The unutterable quiet and windless morning has imbibed me with long peaceable moments. I was alone and isolated from the outside world. My reaction to this was a deep calm and happiness.

Having set the bench base in place, I set off to photograph the large glacial erratic on the Paumanok Path. I returned to the trail at the bottom of the hill and hiked about a half hour back uphill to the boulder. I saw this boulder four days ago with no camera. I intended to take pictures and send them to the Suffolk County Parks Department to report the vandalism. I had driven 35 miles from Babylon to do this. I am so incensed that I must do something.

I’ve encountered this boulder several times so much so that I consider it a “friend.” It is always a pleasant surprise, in fact, for me, something extraordinary. It has been sitting here for 10,000 years, slowly accumulating a gray patina from weathering. It has a large crack from a lightning bolt. It has character like the face of a very old person. It speaks to me saying…”Come to me, I am an oasis in the desert of pitch pine trees, atop a hill. Admire me.”

In 15 to 20 minutes, someone changed all that with a spray bottle of blue paint.  They were bold enough to add their initials “MS. Who are you MS? Why? Tell my why? They not only desecrated the boulder, but the surrounding forest as well. The boulder is a solid, eternal message and it has been obliterated. It will never be the same. If it is cleaned, the patina will go with it. This one act has altered my sense of place where I was safe from this. I love to come to these hills, and after decades of hiking in several other places, this is the only place left for me. And now this too has gone! The outside world has crept into my slice of paradise and destroyed it.

As I walked down hill to return to my car, the trail alternated from straight ridge to gully. Along the edges of the gully, I saw tiny, flat leaves from a plant called trailing arbutus. The leaves hug the ground. The unopened flower buds spoke to me. These humble plants revived my feelings. Called “May Pinks”, their flowers are among the strongest, and sweetest smelling of any of the ephemerals. I’ll never walk past this boulder again. I am now suspicious that all the other glacial erratic in this park are at risk. I must do something.

Tom Stock

Tom Stock has been involved in the Long Island environmental and outdoor education community for decades.

He has published two books; THE NISSEQUOGUE RIVER: A JOURNEY and HIDDEN AGENDA; A POETRY JOURNEY.He has also published many essays and poems in such journals as the Long Island Forum and The Long Islander.

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