Where is Henry? Who is he? Why is a topographic feature in the middle of the Quogue 1959 USGS Quadrangle labeled Henry’s Hollow? Friend John Burnley and I decided to find out. Both of us visited the area 20years ago. This was an opportunity to visit a new open space area. That map showed Henry Hollow south of Sunrise Highway, North of Montauk Highway, east of Spinny Road, and west of Bellows Road. March 8th started out cloudy and ended sunny. It was a warm day, perfect for a hike.
We met at the Sunrise Highway overpass on Bellows Road. The trail head was across the street. The Pine Barrens in this area is hilly and part of the much larger Ronkonkoma Moraine; these hills are less steep compared to Manorville Hills. The trail led parallel to Sunrise Highway. ATV’s have built annoying sine waves. Hikers find that they are constantly going up and down. When the tires spin, sand rooster tails behind, piles up and with repetitive passes, little hills and troughs develop. I felt a rhythm of balance and unbalance which slowed me down.
I recalled my hike here 20 years ago. I looked at an old Haagstrom Map and found a doubIe–dashed wood road. I parked on Montauk highway just west of Hampton Bays, and found the path straight up the hill. Landowners often cut wood roads at their boundaries and nail POSTED signs to trees along the edges. I hiked up the hill and discovered three shacks about half way up. I thought squatters. The shacks were abandoned. One had a battery for an electric light. I reached the top and found a beautiful little kettle depression which wide spaced pitch pine trees and tall brown grass covering the forest floor. I thought that I had found Henry’s Hollow. I was wrong. The hollow is a shallow valley. On the USGS map, the hollow looks like a very long kettle hole that was modified by outwash water from melting glacial water.
Within a few minutes to traversing a trail that paralleled and was close to Sunrise Highway, John and I found three perpendicular trails heading down hill. My suspicion is that this forest is riddled with ATV tracks. We kept heading west until we came to an abandoned overpass. A small circular plastic red blaze read “Bay to Bay Footpath, Southampton, N.Y. the path passes under the bridge and into Sears Bellows County Park, and makes its way to Flanders Bay.
We stopped so John could take out three aerial photographs of the area. Right in the middle of this forest, the streets of a development are evident. It looked like we were closing in on this, right were Henry’s Hollow is supposed to be. Then we spotted a large solitary house; then another; and another. Henry’s Hollow is still hollow, but not filled with continuous forest. We were encountered a major fragmented upper class development. These were expensive high end McMansions. We were very disappointed. I expected a dramatic, dark valley. This hollow is only 50 feet deep.We bush whacked to the street. John read a sign…”1 ½ acre estates” The romance and mystique of a hollow was gone. The forest was cut down and in its place lawns, curbs, fire hydrants, non native shrubs, and triple dormered that could serve as small community colleges.
We decided to bound back into the forest. I thought I heard Henry moaning, or was it the wind? I swear I heard him angrily complain of how developers bought his namesake and turned it into private mini estates. Out of his hollow, a sad, sigh – his beautiful forest transformed into the hands of the rich and powerful. This disruption changed the tone for John and me. I visualized Henry walking up his little valley and finding humble tiny wintergreen plants with red berries as we did.
John spotted their waxy, green leaves with small red fruits. It was like Christmas in a drab brown forest. I crouched and picked some berries. “Taste one” John recommended. I crushed the pink pulp and tasted natures’ breath freshener. Colonists made tea from wintergreen plants and nicknamed them “tea berries.”Merry Christmas Henry.”
We headed west not knowing exactly where we were. With no clouds, no shadows, and therefore no way to determine which way was south. Both of us had no compass. However, we did find trails that headed off to the left and downhill. “We’ll come to the LIRR tracks.” Along the way, we found posted signs. “This is probably private property which might become a large golf course.” John said that actor Alec Baldwin is a leading opponent of preserving this large rectangular lot. I’m with him 100%.
I decided to tear down a posted sign. One such sign was actually three. I tore one off, John tore one, crushed it and stomped it into the brush. I folded mine, pocketed it and saw an opportunity for a collage.
We encountered small lichen covered boulders, but not as large as the ones in Manorville Hills. Every time I discover a gray boulder I imagine the mile high glacier that visited Long Island having picked up rocks as it flowed through Connecticut valleys and dropped them here.
We passed the East Quogue Trailer Park and found the railroad bed. We now had sunshine and headed east on the rail bed. After about a mile, we came to an overpass and decided abandon the railroad. This overpass led into the Henry’s Hollow development. We encountered those red circular Bay to Bay blazed and decided to follow them. We reached a dead-end street and found the trail that we knew would surely lead us back to our cars.
We encountered major chain-sawed tree cutting. The county is trying to curtail the southern pine beetle that is killing pitch pine trees. Flattened trees covered large areas like pickup sticks. There were big trunks that crossed the trail. Acres and acres of dead trees have to be cut down to stop the spread of this beetle.
We found benches to take a break. An eagle scout project no doubt. They are nicer than the benches We’ve set up in the Manorville Hills. As we neared the end of our hike, we passed the headwaters of Tiana Creek. An impounded pond is almost dry, at least two feet lower. Our water table has dropped significantly due to a severe drought on Long Island. John has been studying a turtle habitat for fifty years and due to the fact that the water is gone, so are the turtles. We were face to face with climate change.
We walked for 4 ½ hours and at a 30 minute mile pace, estimated that we walked about 8 miles. It is always discouraging for naturalists such as ourselves when our hope to discover a place with a human name is gone. However, we are companions, we are outdoors, and we are free. I think Henry would at least thank us for trying to find him A