by Libby Cook
The early morning sky is a cool, pale gray in anticipation of yet another snowstorm as my roommate Emily and I prepare to leave. Our school workload has started to pick up as we wrap up the third week of our final semester at Ithaca College. This morning is a rare moment of free time we’ve decided to capitalize on. We escape the city limits to Buttermilk Falls State Park just as Friday morning traffic begins its chaotic routine.
Just southwest of Ithaca, the 811-acre park preserves gorge trails, wetlands and forests that extend from the city line to Lake Treman. Emily and I navigate the winding park road until we decide on a hiking trail to try in the lower park. The Larch Meadow trail, which begins next to the park’s sports fields, is the perfect short and simple walking trail to ease our stress.
Though we are the only hikers on the trail, our snowy footprints join those of whitetail deer and wild hares, who appear to have been darting in and out of trees and brush piles just before our arrival. As the trail begins to move away from the park road, the city noise becomes a faint buzz, and we take in the tranquility of the woods anticipating snowfall. The wildlife here seems to be preparing for the weather as well because half-way into the one-mile hike, we’ve only seen a few geese fly overhead. Further along, a whitetail doe flicks her tail at us as she grazes near the soggy banks of the marsh to the left of the trail. Emily and I pause to watch, but she turns away and hides behind a clot of knotted, twisted, fallen trees, stripped of their leaves and bark. Emily and I continue on as snow begins to fall delicately and dapples the thin stream that snakes its way back and forth under the path.
As the trail begins to loop back around, the woods open up, exposing the wetlands, which stretch to Cayuga Lake. Winter has transformed the marsh into a rink of ice and mossy weeds. The trail narrows to a single-file path, and the walkable, packed snow of the woods trail becomes deeper and more challenging to travel through. Emily and I can’t help but laugh as our feet slip into deep pockets of snow every few steps, sending our arms flailing to regain balance.
I didn’t even realize how quiet we were beforehand. The serenity of the silent woods was the perfect anecdote to the loud downtown days and nights we’d soon get back to. After over an hour walking the loop, we returned to reality as we reached the tree line on the back half of the ballfields. Just a moment later, we were back in the city, feeling refreshed for another week of virtual classes and planning our next free-time outing.