THIS SIDE UP

Sleeping Lion isn't getting much rest

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 9/10/20

The mountain. It has a name - Mount Wellington, but commonly known as the Sleeping Lion - although its rolling features sculpted by the glaciers make it more of a big hill than a mountain. What rock out-croppings she has are near the crest and hidden by

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THIS SIDE UP

Sleeping Lion isn't getting much rest

Posted

The mountain.

It has a name – Mount Wellington, but commonly known as the Sleeping Lion – although its rolling features sculpted by the glaciers make it more of a big hill than a mountain. What rock out-croppings she has are near the crest and hidden by the tall pines, oaks and ash that clothe her flanks. In summer she is like a green pillow beside Lake Otsego. In fall the green is splashed with reds and golden yellows.

The Lion has always been there. As a boy, I thought of her as a kingdom where the crows gathered and screamed in the morning mist; where the deer, their white tails flickering, retreated into the mysterious black of the forest; and as a place to explore at least once a summer when we would set off through the woods for the top. There was no path, but there was little underbrush under the high canopy. The challenge was skirting the fallen giants, victims of storms or just age, that lay in various stages of decay across the forest floor. We would follow deer trails. The summit is anti-climactic. Through the rising trees one can see a sliver of lake below, but there’s no commanding view from the Lion.

From the summit you can pick up the trail from the state park and descend.

This weekend I was back to visit the Lion with Ollie as company. He knows the dirt road to the park and he’s taken the park trail to the top. It’s frequently a walk of him tugging ahead on the long leash with his straining interrupted by prolonged sniffing of whatever scent he’s found.

Ollie was no different Saturday. We set off before sunrise on the road leading to the park. I encountered Paul, who was from Maine and staying with a friend down the road. He was new to the area and welcomed details on where he could connect with the mountain trail. He wasn’t wearing a mask, nor was I, so we kept our distance and went separate directions. Ahead I saw a yellow light and concluded it was the rising sun cutting through the woods and glinting off the window of the last house before entering the state park. Nearer and elevated on a gatepost was a tiny blinking red light. As I reached the open gate with its sign “service entrance only,” I realized the light was part of a camera recording me. What I had taken as reflecting sunlight was a streetlight.

At first the invasion of technology didn’t compute. No vehicles could travel beyond these two houses. The park was ahead, and the nearest parking lot was almost a mile away. What could they be afraid of?

I walked on, Ollie pulling the lead. Recently installed bike trails that descended from the Lion were wider and looked to be more heavily used than I remember from this spring. The service road also looked to be well traveled. Horses had passed this way. Ollie probably knew that, but his interest was fixated on the deer. A couple jumped clear of the path and shot into the woods. Ollie pulled harder. He howled.

The locals had talked about the increase in traffic since the pandemic, how owners of summer homes had taken in relatives to escape the city and to work and tune into school from upstate New York. Rather than take the well-marked park trail up the Lion, I decided to walk around her. It’s a six-mile trek over fairly level terrain with the forest on one side and fields of corn and grazing cattle on the other. That is until the road climbs steeply over the rise adjoining the Sleeping Lion to drop just as fast. Ollie stuck to the drainage ditch, happily sniffing as he pulled ahead. Among the grass and wildflowers, I noticed discarded cans and cups. Never had I seen them before. These were more signs that the back woods are no longer the back woods.

Yet on a Labor Day Saturday morning we were on our own. Apart from encountering Paul when I started off and a car that passed me – the driver waved – it was just Ollie and me for all of six miles.

I have an idea who set up the video camera and I wonder what he might possibly do with all that footage. There must be a lot of shots of cars coming and going plus UPS and FedEx delivery trucks that have become frequent visitors during the pandemic. No doubt there are pictures of joggers, bicyclists, walkers, plenty of deer, perhaps the black bear that has been seen on the mountain and Ollie taking a pee on the post with the camera.

I wonder if Paul is on the Saturday morning video and I wonder if he was able to find the maintain trail from my description. I was glad to share a moment talking and for him to explore the Lion, albeit she hasn’t gotten much sleep lately.

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