Looking at the map of the park, I immediately noticed "Cedar Ridge Overlook" with a symbol of a pair of binoculars next to it. The key to the map said that this signaled a scenic view. I had driven by this state park regularly since moving to Connecticut in 2003. When I didn't want to drive the busy route over the mountain between home and campus, I would take the easier drive around the north end of it, going right by the park's entrance. Seeing that the park had a scenic overlook confused me. Sure, the area had beautiful trees of all types that made it clear why people would pay to tour New England just to look at leaves each fall. But what was this spot overlooking? The northwest suburbs of Hartford are home to some affluent towns and a few less affluent ones, but we are not talking about mountain ranges or distinctive peaks and valleys. Heublein Tower on the south side of Route 185 was the landmark people would visit, a one thousand-foot high stone building in the shape of a lighthouse that really does offer 360-degree views of central Connecticut. I never heard anything about the park on the north side. I just knew it was there from driving by it so often.
But I wanted to spend part of the summer exploring the area that had truly become my home, so I drove to Penwood State Park on Tuesday, June 8, and parked in the little lot I had seen but never been in. With a map, my camera, a roast beef sandwich, my cell phone, a bottle of water, and a green-and-white striped hand towel in my backpack, I started out on the dirt trail north of the parking lot. Soon, I could see nothing but nature around me. Trees surrounded me, most rising several feet above my head but almost as many stretched across the ground in various stages of decomposition. The shade was nice since it was just hot enough to sweat with little wind for comfort.
The dirt path began to rise quickly. At other parks, pathways were covered with small stones or lined with rocks or fallen trees, but this path was just tramped down dirt, smooth but nondescript. I knew to follow the small, yellow spots of spray paint on trees every fifty feet or so, and those spots started marking several curves. The rise of the path was always there, sometimes gentle but sometimes steep. I would have to slow down, or I would end up feeling my heartbeat more intensely, and I was not an experienced enough hiker to judge how far I would have to walk. The map had a key that said each half-inch equaled a half-mile, and one-way trip to the overlook was over a couple of inches long if not a solid three. The path narrowed. At my left, the trees slowly thinned, but the ones near me were thick enough to shield my vision from being able to see anything in the distance.
As the path rose, the wind increased. A few times, I would stop, close my eyes, a turn my head to the sky, feeling the wind blow over me. Rustling leaves were all I could hear. No birds chirped, and the highway was far enough behind me that it disappeared from my eyes, ears, and mind. At one point, the path took a little turn the left, and the tree line ended. I was on the edge of the mountain. I stopped and looked over the ledge. There was nothing to see except a steep, almost ninety-degree drop. "Fuck," I said, barely above a whisper. My stomach dropped a little, but I just moved closer to the right side of the narrow path. Within five minutes, I was there.
Cedar Ridge Overlook was a patch of grass about the size of my home office, which was only around fifteen feet square. The wind reached its peak, blowing much harder than I ever would have thought possible when I had entered the park. Ahead of me was pretty much nothing but green. I knew the town of Granby was to my far right, Simsbury in front of me, and Avon to the left, but all I saw was green, at least in the bottom half of my vision. Cumulus clouds filled the top half with smatterings of blue here and there. Mostly, though, I just saw clouds merged into one large group just like the trees. Small groupings of buildings dotted the landscape, but I mostly saw green and white. I threw my backpack to the side and sat down.
I admit it. I was a bit stunned. Such a spot existed so close to my work, home, and daily life? I stared for a few minutes at a clump of green to the bottom left, and then I would turn my head to the group of clouds in the center of my vision. Then, I'd look at a cluster of white dots--homes, I thought--to the side. This is what I did for over an hour, stared here and there and back again. At times, I think I smiled or at least felt like I did. With the wind blowing so steadily and no other moving images or sounds around me, my slow breaths were all that marked the passage of time, but even the rhythm of my breathing had no beginning or end, just like the trees, just like the clouds. It was certainly an overlook, place where I could see nothing and everything all at once.