After a few nights in New York and New Jersey, I returned to New Hampshire to reflect on the differences. I’d hiked in pristine woodland next to gorgeous streams, the kind of stuff you see regularly in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I’d stayed in a beautiful resort surrounded by hills. I’d eaten at a vineyard next to a lovely river. I’d visited New York City itself, deep in the heart of it. And capped my visit to the city with a trip to Liberty Park in New Jersey with its striking Upper Bay view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
It was all beautiful. The days and nights were lovely. The people were generous and friendly. You learn to love the spirit and energy and vibrancy of the place and miss it when you’re away from it. And yet I’ve never gotten used to the ambient noise.
The Metropolitan New York region has a relentless buzz that stays around you all the time. If you live there you likely don’t even know it exists, but when you’re a country mouse coming to the big city regularly you pick right up on it. The automobile traffic, the air brakes on trucks, the train whistles, the sharp roar of planes and helicopters flying overhead, the steady rumble of ships on the Hudson River and the constant beeps and thumps and shouts of close proximity that collectively create a soundtrack of urban living. This soundtrack bleeds for miles up the Hudson River, far out into the Atlantic on Long Island and deep into the hills of New Jersey and Connecticut. It begins with the roar of the city and fades to the sound of sprawl.
Hiking the amazing Harriman State Park next to a pristine river, you’d think the white noise would drown it all away. But reach a bit of elevation and you hear the traffic informing you that you must go even deeper into the green splashes that surround the map of New York City. Even Harriman, as big a green space as it is, has roads full of commuters cutting through it, like Central Park in the hills of the Hudson River Valley. Those roads surely serve, but they also detract if you let them. Don’t let them.
For it’s all so very beautiful. Even the ambient noise, that guarantees no escape from the world, fades just enough when you focus on what they’ve protected from the sprawl. This is a place that offers the advantages and disadvantages of one of the greatest cities in the world, the constant beat of progress and growth and rising to the occasion that New York is famous for. But within an hour are these places like Harriman where you might immerse yourself in nature, so long as you accept the soundtrack playing way in the background and focus on the wind in the trees and the water finding its way through ancient boulder fields.
The farther away you get from the ambient noise of New York the more faint it is. Somewhere along that spectrum of noise we reach a place where we feel the ambiance most vividly. Life isn’t about escaping from the world, but finding our place in it.