We were nearing the end of our week of travel, carefully orchestrated to include a family reunion (Wayne), a day of hiking and scenic views at the Delaware Water Gap,

a visit to the Icon Museum in Clinton, MA,

and visits with multiple friends. The last stop in our trip was still coming up—Brooklyn for a 50th birthday celebration for our oldest. However, we had one spare day that dangled unplanned until the very last minute. While I visited with a friend from seminary days, Wayne quietly researched and chose a place for our final night, based on there being a walking trail near the motel. When he told me about it, I was somewhat skeptical. More than once his hopefulness had created an alluring place that turned out to be much less in reality. Would this one be any different?

Our “spare day” came, and we set off for Ardsley, New York, a place I had never heard of, not far from the Bronx, and the site of this unknown trail. We arrived late afternoon and checked into our motel. On my personal scale, I ranked it “adequate,” not great. Would the trail be any better? We took just enough time to note where the trail was before going to dinner. It truly did run just behind our motel—that much was accurate. Also, it looked like a genuine trail, not just a ten-minute circuit through some small park. After an early dinner, we set off to explore the promised trail.

The trail was paved and easily wide enough for two-way pedestrian and bike traffic. A stream ran along one side. We met bikers, couples with strollers, and clusters of friends, out enjoying the evening. It was better than I had imagined, much better, surrounded as it was with a clear-skied, gently warm spring evening.

Before long I spotted a butterfly box just off the trail,

and then a little farther along a whimsical bird house,

then more butterfly boxes and bird houses, each unique, made with imagination.

I paused to identify plants growing along the way, some of them invasive weeds but others native wildflowers.

True, the highway was in sight every so often, and there were industrial buildings barely hidden by trees at other points. We weren’t in some pristine Eden, but it was a real trail and more than met our expectations.

As we approached a trail-side bench facing the stream, a man stood up and greeted us. I don’t remember his initial comment, but we found out right away that he was a volunteer who helped to maintain the trail This was his retirement “job.” He had built all the bird houses and butterfly boxes we had seen. With help from others, he had installed the benches along the trail. painted designs on them, and cleared the bank in from of each bench, so people could see the stream as they sat to rest.

He had planted milkweed and cone flowers for the butterflies.

When I commented on the creativity of the bird houses, he told us that in the winter he makes new bird houses to replace dilapidated ones,

and in the summer, he keeps things trimmed. He exuded enthusiasm and love for his work without a hint of bragging. It was hard not to become as excited as he was by his projects. He said he spends time along the trail every day.

Wayne asked about the trail, and he told us that it is part of the Empire State Trail, beginning in the Bronx, going north to follow the Erie Canal to Buffalo, and to the Canadian border. The section of the trail we were on was named the South County Trailway.

I sometimes feel overwhelmed by extroverted people, but this man drew me in. He inquired where we were from, wondered if we had noticed certain things along the path, and hoped we were finding our walk enjoyable. We said goodbye and continued on our way, noting with renewed interest the bird houses and butterfly boxes. I paid more attention to the flowers painted on the benches since I now knew who the painter was. I could see the way they reflected his joy in what he did.

As we retraced our steps, we met the volunteer again. He observed me looking at a flower-painted rock near the trail, and he commented that he paints small rocks too, just for fun and invites people to take one if they see one they like. I chose one to take to my granddaughter in Brooklyn.

I felt expansive, full of life and joy. If this man and his generosity touched me deeply, it must have done so for many others, including those who didn’t even know the source of the bright and playful works of art they passed. Or perhaps they sat and enjoyed the stream flowing by, not realizing that someone had to have created the resting place or kept the bank trimmed.  

Back at our room, still feeling expansive, I took my book and headed outside again. It was nearing twilight and would soon be too dark to read, so I chose the nearby gazebo in a grassy lawn at the end of our building. As I headed across the grass toward the gazebo, I heard voice behind me calling, “Mame, Mame!” I turned around to see a uniformed woman sitting in a car. “You can’t go in there,” she said. “That is private property.” It felt like someone had turned off a light or punched a hole in my happiness. It was gone, replaced by anger and indignation. No one was on that lawn, and surely me, an oldish woman with a book, was not about to cause any harm. The woman who called to me, I realized, had been sitting there an hour earlier when we left for our walk. She seemed then to want to be sure that we used the correct path. I had assumed she was being helpful, but I now realized she had been sitting there all evening, presumably to keep people off of the private property.

(The motel posted this picture on their website as if the gazebo were available to guests. The walking trail is visible at the back edge of the grass.)

I went back to our room, rolled the desk chair outside and sat facing the uninspired parking lot. I tried to read, but my mind kept coming back to the generosity of the trail volunteer, eagerly creating a welcoming space for people and wildlife in a space that wasn’t his, contrasted to the property owner whose little, much less interesting grassy plot was clutched vigilantly enough to require hiring someone to protect it.

I want to remember this contrast when I am tempted to hold “what is mine” closely, protecting it, keeping it just for myself, even when I’m not using it. I want to remember that generosity can make another’s heart sing, and that clutching possessively can close down another’s joy. I want to remember too, how my attitude impacts me. I can be like the up-tight guard, spending a beautiful evening sitting in a car, in a drab parking lot, saying no to everyone or like the volunteer focused on ways to say yes to others, to invite others into beauty, expansiveness, and joy.

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  1. Paulson on June 3, 2024 at 8:43 pm

    An inspirational post. Thanks Kathy.

    • kathiekurtz on June 3, 2024 at 9:54 pm

      It is rare in my experience to have two such contrasting experiences in such close succession.

  2. Eunice Wenger on June 4, 2024 at 6:24 am

    Such contrasting attitudes. May we give freely of ourselves. Thanks, Kathy.

    • kathiekurtz on June 4, 2024 at 11:07 am

      Yes! It is hard to remember that sometimes. I hope to hold this experience in my mind.

  3. Donna Birkhart on June 4, 2024 at 1:29 pm

    Sometimes it is the “empty” day that fills one’s heart with unexpected blessing and insight…As you have done for me this warm June afternoon.

    • kathiekurtz on June 4, 2024 at 2:06 pm

      It did not escape me that our evening walk was the most unplanned part of our carefully choreographed trip. Sometimes those unscheduled times fall flat, but this wasn’t one of those.

  4. Pat Martin on June 4, 2024 at 2:28 pm

    What a good reminder of the blessings that generosity can bring.

    • kathiekurtz on June 6, 2024 at 9:14 pm

      Yes, it’s an experience I want to remember forever.

  5. Nancy Lee on June 4, 2024 at 11:17 pm

    Thank you, Kathie, for sharing these two opposite experiences!

    • kathiekurtz on June 6, 2024 at 9:13 pm

      Thanks, for your comment, Nancy! I still feel joyful thinking of the volunteer and find that I don’t really think much of the nay-sayer.

  6. Goldie Fretz on June 6, 2024 at 6:33 pm

    Kathy, thanks for sharing this inspiring part of your trip. The “butterfly and bird man” was just a light of joy for whoever he met! That is how I want to be when I grow up!

    • kathiekurtz on June 6, 2024 at 9:12 pm

      I won’t argue with you about whether you are grown up, but you are a light of joy as you are, and probably have always been!

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