By Katie Maus Photographs by David Young
As Immanuel Kant put it, “the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt.”
That inexplicable, stomach dropping, terrifying, fantastic feeling that comes along with a sublime experience is something we all search for throughout our lives. Experiences we cannot describe with words aside from “whoa.” Witnessing a tornado up close, like storm-chasers, watching the birth of a child, riding the fastest rollercoaster we can find, jumping out of planes or off of cliffs, things that make our hearts race and our blood pump, our adrenaline skyrocket…these are the things Kant called sublime and, realistically, such experiences are few and far between.
While there may not be too many tornados or huge rollercoasters in the Hudson Valley, some advantages we do have here are the tremendous views of glittering water, magnificent mountains, and colorful forests.
Whether you want to go for a short walk or intense hike, the trails around here have got it covered. Places like Mohonk Mountain in New Paltz have more leisurely options for the more relaxed outing, as well as tough climbing options for the brave and adventurous types. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a place to go for a picnic with the family or discover some new and thrilling heights with your friends; around here, wherever you end up has an almost ethereal view. At the top of Mohonk you can see all the way out to SUNY New Paltz. The Walkway Over the Hudson gives you a slight sense of vertigo, testing your fear of heights, while providing an amazing view of the river and the traffic speeding along the Mid-Hudson Bridge. Mount Beacon, Bannerman’s Island and Overlook have completely unique vibes with their fire towers and old building remains. On a regular day these places are hauntingly beautiful, but go out on a foggy day and Overlook’s ruins can be downright spooky. Nuclear Lake out in Pawling is the perfect place to read or write some sci-fi; not only is the lake stunning, but the history involving a nuclear plant’s explosion definitely gets you thinking.
We have all of these wonderful places at our fingertips, but it takes work to get there. It makes sense for tourists to spend their days hiking to the top of the tallest mountains near the Hudson, but for us that live here, why would we bother? Sure, exercise is a great motivator and the sheer exhilaration of completing an intense hike or long run is fantastic, but I’m getting at something a little different, back to what Kant talks about in his works on the sublime. We strive to experience this sublime, even if we don’t realize it. Sure, it’s nice to look at the Hudson River as I drive over it in my car, but the feeling of walking over it, maybe leaning over the edge and realizing how high up I am, or just how much is going on in the water is different. I may have attended SUNY New Paltz for four years, seen it up close and personal, and been so lost in its little community that it seemed like the whole world. Looking back at that school from a mountain makes me realize how small it really is, how small I really am. The views we see at the tops of mountains when we explore the beautiful valley we call home literally take our breath away. They are awesome in every sense of the word, sometimes so much so that “awesome” is the only word that we can find to describe them. That’s why it is still possible to have a great adventure without ever leaving the area in which we live. The adventure is not where we go, it’s how we get there, who we get there with, and what makes our jaws drop and our words escape us. It’s inspiring and silencing at the same time. So, whether you want to go into the woods to “live deliberately,” as Henry David Thoreau did, with your book and your thoughts and nothing else to disturb you or if you want to go on an adventure with your friends and family to see what you can see, I think you should go. Fall is beautiful in the Hudson Valley, so now is the perfect time to go experience the sublime we are so often far too familiar with to appreciate.
Walks: Nuclear Lake,
Walkway Over the Hudson,
Dover Stone Church
Intense Hikes: Overlook, Mohonk (Lemonsqueeze),
Ratings based on hikethehudsonvalley.com