In the age of COVID, it’s impossible to plan trips to faraway places. But all is not lost. For those who crave adventure, go check out one of Long Island’s many state parks. That’s exactly what I did.
I recalled hearing about the Connetquot River State Park Preserve in Oakdale when I was in grad school and so this weekend I ventured out to find it. The preserve is a mere 30-minute trip eastward from mid-Nassau County and before you know it, we were parked (free of charge) and off we went down the 3.5-mile Red Trail. The Connetquot preserve is a 3,473-acre sanctuary with a lake, a river and plenty of wildlife, including eagles, osprey, swans, geese and all manner of trees and trails.
We walked past an impressive Colonial Revival style clubhouse, which was designed by Bradford Gilbert and once housed the Southside Sportsman Club. This club was established in 1870 and catered to the wealthy of Long island, including the Vanderbilts, William Bayard Cutting and Ulysses S. Grant. The preserve was established to protect and preserve game birds and fish and to provide a social outlet for the rich and famous. The club has since been disbanded but all the buildings on the grounds are now part of the National Register of Historic Places.
The Red Trail runs along the side of the lake and then up along a gentle stream with swans gliding about. It was sunny and 45 degrees, yet there was virtually no one there but us and I began to understand what it must be like to be a Vanderbilt, all alone on my estate, communing with nature.
As expected there were plenty of signs on Red Trail with the map of the trail to keep us oriented. The very first one we came across showed exactly where we were and exactly how much farther we would have to go to get to the end. I felt that after a full 10 minutes we ought to have been about halfway home, but to my great surprise it seemed to indicate that we had hardly made any progress at all and had more than 3 miles to go!
This alarmed me quite a bit and got me thinking of something about the differences between those people who always finish what they begin and those who quit things fast. Clearly this is the primary difference between those who win in life and those who lose. Some people seem to have great focus, will power and pain tolerance and keep their eye on the prize. Yet others seem to quit things rather quickly due to laziness, fear, exhaustion or a failure to believe.
And with this thought in the very front of my cerebrum, or is it cerebellum, I hesitated to suggest to my trusted companion that we might want to turn around and head back, having already gone so very far. I recognized that if I suggested we turn around, I would be putting myself in the category of a lowly”quitter” and not a powerful and praiseworthy “finisher.” What to do? I decided to bide my time.
As we got to mile two, I spotted my chance. The trail seemed to lead off in three directions, the one to the right led to the lake. The one straight ahead was probably Red Trail. The road to the right seemed to head back to the parking lot and was kind of ugly. I seized on this opportunity tout de suite, ignoring the very real possibility that I was about to become a “Quitter” not a “Finisher.” I wondered aloud: “Which way do you think we should go?”
Of course, my partner is no fool and knows me like a book and sensed immediately that I was quitting this game of walking. She asked, “What do you want to do? You choose.” This threw me off for a moment and I walked backwards toward the ugly easy road back home all the while saying, “It’s hard to know which way to go. We have three choices.”
In truth, it wasn’t hard to know which way to go. If you tend to take the easy way out, you go down the ugly road home with your head held down. If you are stronger, focused, pain tolerant and have will power, you keep walking along the Red Trail with your head held high.
As I often say to my patients, you can’t escape your nature until you figure out what’s driving it. In this case, I had a vague feeling of what my “never say win” attitude was about. It wasn’t laziness, fear, exhaustion or a failure to believe. It all goes back to those weekend touch football games as a young teen. My friend and I had to play against my older, faster, smarter brother and his friend, who was also older, faster and smarter. My friend and I were soon labeled “The Sore Losers” while my brother chose to label his team “The Good Guys.”
All those lost football games during those fragile years as a young teen seemed to have instilled in me this “never say win” attitude which may explain why I chose the easy road home, slinking along with my head down pre-consciously muttering comments like “Yep, I lost again.”
I do take consolation in the fact that I did not give up on my dissertation and I do not give up on my patients. And consolation in the fact that one can still learn all sorts of things just by taking a walk along a trail at a place called Connetquot River State park Preserve. Let’s call this my Red Trail experience. Go do it yourself and see what you can learn.