When I start out, I will be following Herbert Welsh’s footsteps pretty carefully, traveling the public roads. But I will walk a few miles across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on the famous Appalachian Trail. This woods trail was only a gleam in Benton MacKaye’s eye in 1915: he didn’t propose “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning” until 1921. MacKaye’s essay reveals the frankly socialist ambitions of the Trail. I would like to recover some of the spirit of that original Appalachian Trail, “something neither urban nor rural,” as its founder imagined it, not “ a return to the plights of our Paleolithic ancestors,” but “the strength of progress without its puniness.”
I want to explore this wilder route, which was being marked through the mountains in the very years that Welsh’s was walking a parallel way. Its founders imagined a “reconstituted wilderness,” but I will not be taking a wilderness trek. The geography of the Jersey Highlands, the Catskills, the Croton Reservoir–and throughout my walk–echoes the twinned themes of protection and predation. It is an uncanny landscape.
As I cross the Hudson River into New York State, I will be wandering the haunts of Sleepy Hollow, that strange, foreboding land where Washington Irving perfected the American ghost story. It is also where many quaint and curious events befell my family, when my parents started their family here.