Esopus Meadows Preserve is exactly 7.3 miles from my house. River Road marks the entrance, curving along the edge of the Hudson like an asphalt snake. At first, there are only glimpses of the river, but that’s enough for me to feel the knot of tension in my back start to loosen as my SUV glides toward the spot where the egrets nest.
It’s the first time I’m going there at dusk and I’m hoping to get the place to myself. I can be selfish. I have been selfish, fervently praying that there are no cars or people, no one to witness my slow journey to Overlook, the tiny hill that offers a perfect view of the river.
There is a lighthouse here, sturdy and weather worn. Today, I see it light up for the first time.
There’s one car in the parking lot when I arrive and I curse under my breath, then decide it’s no big deal. They were here first. I’m the one ruining their solitude.
There are no egrets, but that’s okay. It’s enough that the silence has a chance to expand around me, quieting my mind. I can feel myself uncoiling like the road that led me here.
I keep coming back to this place, even in winter, even when it rains, but I’ve never been here this late, picking my way along the path as the light fades. I’m nervous in the almost-dark, hoping for some solace.
I can hear an Eastern Phoebe and the familiar trill of a cardinal, but I only see one bird — a Blue Jay perched on an old fence, scrutinizing me. I saw a juvenile bald eagle once, hunting for fish, its wings skimming the water as I made my way to the small, rocky beach.
I come for the promise of birds and because sometimes it’s the first deep breath I take all day — all week — even when there are no egrets. I make my way to Overlook, but there are people there, two girls, impossibly young. I wonder if they are graduates about to start a new adventure.
Today, there is a dog named Belle. She’s off her leash. She bounds up to me and shakes the river from her fur. I let her press her nose against my palm, feeling myself relax a fraction more. The girls are horrified, but I tell them it’s fine. They yell at Belle anyway and she tucks her tail between her legs.
I leave the trail, scramble down to the river, and settle on the wet packed sand. I look up at the pinking sky wishing an egret or heron would fly by. I hope Belle will swim to me and settle at my feet. Then the girls leave. I hear their voices disappear, light with laughter. The sky changes, blushing deeply.
My camera never catches the sunset the way it really looks, but that’s okay. It feels like a secret between me and the clouds. Here’s the best I could do.