Arkwright Park Part I

Thomas Schwartz
Arkwright Park is one of the best kept secrets among SUNY Fredonia students. The park consists of a pay campground, complete with stocked fishing pond, running water and lean-tos for your average camperís comfort. About a hundred meters away from the campground is a gravel road. The houses and cornfields end and the forest begins and the gravel road takes a bend, but if you continue to go straight and do not take the curve, you will find yourself on a one lane dirt road. The road that may be dusty, muddy, or snowy, but is always covered on each side by rich evergreens whose thick canopy holds precipitation for hours after it stops. The trees welcome any visitor into a vast web of trails that connect to form the entryway into the thick groves inside Arkwright. The beginning of the trail seems to have been placed at a completely arbitrary spot on the dirt road. 
I take one step into the forest and leave my cares with my car along the road; I trek carefully along the trail, eyes wide open, ears tensed to pick up the sound of any bird that might be calling for a mate. The desire to get as far away from the road as possible hits me almost immediately, and I start to pick up my pace, knowing that the richness of Arkwright lies not in the oak and pine groves near the road, but further in once the terrain gets steeper, rockier, and much wetter. Unbeknownst to most of Fredoniaís finest is that the creek that flows downtown, under their beloved Main Street, the Canadaway, is rich with waterfalls, deep gorges, and beautiful spots to swim or jump in. Arkwright Park, a mere ten minutes away from the Main Street Bridge is the site of two of those major waterfalls and nearly all the gorge that one person can handle.
Growing out of a log I see a cluster of nearly thirty deep orange mushrooms about an inch tall with domed caps a half inch wide. Their musty aroma reminds me of their function in nature. Mushrooms and other fungi are decomposers. They grow out of dead logs or roots of old trees and replace vital nutrients into the soil. They look so insignificant sitting on a dead log, but after the kind of contemplation that can bring me out of a full bee-line towards the creek bed, I walk away with a new fascination with the intricacies of the forest ecosystem. The anticipation for aquatic release is forefront in my mind and I take the steady decline that leads to a steep cliff, with a rope attached, and a flourishing creek-bed below. I try to overcome the urge to curl up in a ball and roll down the sloped embankment which would undoubtedly result in injury. I take the rope and hand over hand I lean out against the air, both hands tight on the rope as I belay down the cliff to the water. 
Easily passing through the barrier of trees, I step into the water of the stream, the icy water coursing its way through the crevices of my toes. With each passing step I notice what feels like the water warming up, but I know that itís my feet cooling to the temperature of the water. The water will not change water because one warm blooded creature set its flesh in it. Upstream the riverís banks begin to grow. The stream bed stays level, but the banks soon reach twenty-five meters tall at the top. The stream carved its meandering course through a twenty-five meter mountain nearly the size of some of the trees that line the river bed on the more Southern bank. I walk in through this tunnel of shale and slate, and right near the point where the banks are the highest a smaller, roofless tunnel creeps in from the bank with a separate creek flowing out from its reaches. Feeling the need to explore everything about this river I climb into the small tunnel, thanking myself for wearing waterproof sandals and short pants as I walk through deep pools and up around the bend where a slight trickle of water falls about five meters down into a pool. The erosion is most apparent in this place as I can see divots and crevices exactly where the water is falling; where the water has been falling for countless eons. The small waterfall is un-climbable and the banks are much too steep and crumbly to pass, so I turn around and continue up the main river. Around the next bend the banks rise back up to mammoth heights and the pine trees growing from the ground, elevated far above me, grow to almost twice the height of the banks alone. I feel dwarfed in comparison to nature in so many ways. 
Arkwright Park would continue to exist and thrive beyond its wildest aspirations had human feet never walked upon it. The trees would have grown just as tall, the river would have cut just as deep in the rock and the birds would sing just as (if not more) sweetly. But why do these phenomena exist? It is believed that humans are the only life forms on this planet capable of aesthetic enjoyment. Do the animals see the way that erosion has cut through the rock and soil? They donít notice the fossils of ancient brachiopods the same way that humans do. They canít sit still and objectively enjoy the sounds of nature because theyíre usually preoccupied with more important life functions. Humankind has created something called leisure and some of the happiest people on earth try to spend as much time pursuing it as possible. It ranges from a walk in the park for some to killing ants with a magnifying glass with others. Leisure is what keeps humans happy.
Around yet another of the Canadaway creekís constant meanderings lies a sight that hangs in the vision for days to come, one that might come close to mesmerizing certain more intelligent beasts: an enormous horseshoe shaped waterfall pouring sweet, clear water over its peak into a deep basin perfect for swimming. This is a naturalist/swimmerís dream. The shale embankment is solid enough so that you can climb onto it and the water is deep enough to dive into. I take a few practice feet-first jumps and test where the water is deep enough before climbing and performing a deep straight dive into the water. This is where I feel more at home than my house. I swim hard against the current towards the waterfall as it tries to push me back. After giving up on the swim and letting the force of the falls bring me back to calmer water, I go all out. I swim with all my might and all my stamina until, exhausted, I manage to grab hold of the rocky wall behind the falls. I pull myself under the falling water and pull myself up into a crevice that lies behind the falling water. Iím sure that I am just a beige blur to anyone looking at the waterfall with me behind it. Iíve found a true refuge, water to my front and cave walls to each side. I make a mental note to bring a waterproof writing utensil next time I come here to take part in the act as old as humanity itself, cave drawing. Here I sit for an unknown stretch of time. 
To me, and some others that are worried about what humanityís influence is doing to the earthís current ecosystem, this is the epitome of leisure. I could take a day off and spend it at Arkwright or any other wilderness preserve, but unfortunately humanityís concept of leisure often involves the destruction of forests like this. To make a television you need plastic, and to make plastic we need oil and other natural resources. The lazier aspects of human leisure are destroying the beautiful aspects of human leisure, and this follows for not only leisure but work. Human progress has always depended on creating a newer, better product and marketing it to the population, but how can we improve on what nature and evolution have spent four billion years to perfect. Humankind has stepped outside of the ecosystem in an attempt to become above nature but we are also animals. Everything from our intellect to our opposable thumbs is only a natural response to the conditions of the ecosystem, and we are still completely dependent on it. Without the natural resources we have come to take for granted, we may die out the same way that millions of other species of animals have become extinct unless we preserve the land that we live on. Nature deserves our love, our respect, and, as we may see someday, our submission.