During the advent of a fresh new day, we enter the Undercliff-Overcliff Carriageway loop and reverse its normally anticlockwise circumambulation from Undercliff, and head north on Overcliff Carriageway to start the circuit. Early in the morning, Overlook Carriageway projects a damp atmosphere simply by virtue of lying in The Trapps shadow— but the feeling is even more saturated this morning due to the previous night’s rain. Setting out upon a damp carriageway stifles the expected crunching sound of shale underfoot. Nonetheless, beneath the pebbled surface, a thin green-brown film of mud denies the ‘splat’ that human steps would squeeze forth from a thoroughly soaked trail. After an initially compliant rebound from boot and body, the ground sends back a compromised squooosh. Not far into the journey, boulders creep up next to the carriageway, glowing silently with green moss attached to cyan masses. The carriageway quickly sets up a series of curves that are lined with moss before transitioning into a mixed forest of oaks, birch, maple and pine, supported by a pocket of more abundant soil. As the curve continues to sweep in slight decent, ferns take over the job of introducing other members such as hemlock, hickory and ash to the forest. With the misty shadows of dawn, the ferns appear appropriately Jurassic, while the smell of dampness enables the air to impart a light touch to the passing traveler. As the trail rises again slightly, the eastern side of The Trapps reinserts a scrub forest of smaller trees, which gives way to the skeleton forms of pitch pine and mountain laurel that have been stripped bare from a recent burn. In the oddness, sun rays begin to filter through the moist air, tracing their path with a hovering set of curtains. Jewel-like and delicately coated with shimmering dew, each silky curtain is lined by the same spirited aura that has inspired myth, art, and poetry from the moment that humankind emerged from similar shadows to that which the curtains now disperse. The feeling is that of reverence, but as elsewhere in the Gunks, the landscape never fully retreats into the hidden depths of mystery. Spirituality often overlies this terrain like a blanket, but though never disclosed or representing the literal, it is also, ironically, never ambiguous. Even when the Gunks don their damp shroud of mystery, they present their form with a refined clarity. Nor does that clarity, later in the day, abandon itself to a mere background for action. It is precisely that clarity that is the Gunks’ magic— ever poking and prodding us to complete its unique perception. In time, the carriageway transitions into an open and dry air, revealing the blue-gray color of its pebbled surface. With this dry topping, our steps begin to crunch and vocalize loudly, so that now those very same steps abruptly disclose us to be in the arena of overt-consciousness.
We have emerged— or at least half-emerged— into overt existence once again. We have been abruptly relegated to a solo traveler; an independent being— for the echo of a self has displaced us from greater immersion in nature’s bosom. We now begin to walk at a full body’s length from both nature and ourselves. Before, while still saturated, there was not clearly an and for which to embody the two poles of separation between natural existence and ourselves. There was only nature. The self is the ultimate outsider, for it is not the measure of, but the means of separation.
Despite the subtle knock on self’s door bidding us ever outward, we remain half-immersed as the carriageway begins to diminish its wiggles and settle into a long straight span. With the addition of distance, a gesture of movement can be seen ahead on the trail. Another body appears to inhabit the same misty morning at the other end of the straight span. The distance, though quite long, is both shortened and extended through an abrupt transformation. The seamless duration that included portions of the trail that had already been traversed was broken into discrete spaces of co-inhabitance through awareness of another human. Burning now from two ends, the space shortened at twice the speed of our traverse, but the other’s presence stretched the immediate distance through a lingering anticipation. Time became objectified into space, and the space asserted its own measure of time. Rapidly, the gesture of movement became more and more clearly articulated until its bearing revealed an identifiable subject, still many meters away. It was a middle-aged man engaged in morning exercise. His gait was deliberate and concentrated — as required of a solo traveler. Familiarity with his route is evident in his countenance, for the greeting of another this early in the morning elicits little surprise— only a courteous re-engagement of his exercising form. He is not running, but walking very fast. Though it is late spring and he utilizes no poles, he moves with the discipline of a cross-country skier. There is little reason to cast his head about as the form of his gait requires eyes fixed straight into the space ahead— principally because the carriageway has increased his discipline due to its persistent stretch. And when the time arrives, outside of a courteous acknowledgement during the passage, nothing is called for but the continuation of his uninterrupted pace. There is little doubt that this loop is a consistent routine in this man’s morning repertoire, but still there remains something immersed about him. Instead of inhabiting the environment, he appears to wear it like outdoor gear. The carriageway continues its parallel line below the main axis of the ridge. Until recently, the trail has offered periodic west facing portals through the trees to the valley below, but as the carriageway courses straight and long, there suddenly appears on the left a broad open field of white rock sloping downward, with scattered pitch pines reverently facing Clove Valley. In the depths of the valley a few lonely buildings exhale little puffs of smoke into the misty morning air. Above them, the ridgeline and forest reveal a horizontal patchwork from outcroppings that present their pixelated swatches intermittently against the backdrop of the trees— like digital artifacts disrupting the image of the forest. The white artifacts reveal the characteristic style of Shawangunk conglomerate, so they have long been raised from obscurity into the realm of identity. Dickie Barre, Lost City, Ronde Barre, and Rock Hill can all be spied from this broad window, although the former are better viewed from atop Near Trapps ridge. Closer at hand, the white rock that flows down to the Coxing Kill on the west side of the trail continues its slope upward toward The Trapps ridgeline on the opposite side of the trail. Upon the slope, the nearly white rock and strong morning light behind a cluster of hanging branches and pines silhouette their gestures as they line the carriageway. It is quite appropriate that jet-black ravens scratch their mocking caw harshly into the morning air at this moment— invoking anew the sense of a solo journey, along with the immersion that it brings.