Finding Salamanders and Relaxing in the Black Forest

13 Jul

One of my favorite activities during my summers in the Catskills was finding salamanders. I loved those little orange lizards that lived in the moss hidden in the forest of the Catskills. I have not seen any for years, but they were plentiful when I was a child.

My parents encouraged my interest in nature, so much so that my Dad built a terrarium outside of our bungalow. It was about three feet by four feet, built with wood and chicken wire, right underneath our kitchen window. My brother and I spent a lot of time catching toads, frogs and salamanders to put into our terrarium, but the rule was that they had to be return to the woods when the summer came to an end.

My sister, me, and my brother facing our bungalow. Behind us you can see Kauneonga Lake. About 1962.

My sister, me, and my brother facing our bungalow. Behind us you can see Kauneonga Lake. About 1962.

While my brother went for the frogs and toads, my favorite creature to find was the salamander. I would search in the moss along trails in the woods. They were difficult to find because they could change colors like a chameleon and match the plants that surrounded them. But usually they were a dull orange color.

Then I would take the moss and the salamander back to our terrarium to become part of our nature center. At night, when the windows were open, we could hear the sounds of the frogs coming from the terrarium. It drove my Mom crazy, but she did not complain too much. She knew that I loved to spend hours watching the lizards residing there.

When I was not searching for my lizards, my friend, Vicki, and I would often go on walks to what we called, the “Black Forest.” This was an area of the woods behind my Grandparent’s bungalow colony that was all pine trees. Vicki and I loved to go there and play imagination games.

Because of the denseness of the trees, there was not a lot of sunshine filtering through the woods, and the ground was covered with pine needles, so not many plants grew. It was a mystical place. So silent, with the shadows of the trees dancing on the pine needles, it was the perfect place for a picnic and imagining. It was so quiet, we were able to hear people coming down the trail and hide before they arrived. It was our private place and we did not want to share it when we were there.

To get to the forest we had to walk past the blueberry patch, past the last bungalow in the row, to a place far away from the parents and the swings. We entered the forest near a large growth of ferns and moss. It was here that I could often find salamanders. But that I could do on the way home, not when we were going into the woods.

After we entered the treed area, we would walk along a path that had been created by years of children walking to the “black forest.” I do not know who was the first one to go there. But there were many boys who were much older than Vicki and I. So I assume one of them taught us the way. I just know that traveling along that path and walking back to the pine forest was an important part of our summer adventures.

Most of the walk was through regular woods, but then we would come upon it — the area where only pine trees grow. In that one special place we would lie upon the bed of pine needles and dream. The mounds of pine needles were so comfortable. We share our inner thoughts and secrets. When we were there, we were away from all the boys: our brothers and all my boy cousins. It was a wonderful escape.

Sometimes some of the boys would go with us. But the atmosphere changed when the boys came. Honestly, I liked it best when Vicki and I went by ourselves.

When I look at maps now and satellite images, and I see how far we wandered into the woods, I wonder what our parents would have thought if they knew how far we actually went? It was a different time, but we did get in trouble sometimes. And there was no way to reach our parents, we just figured it out ourselves.

One time we walked out of the pine forest area into some fields. A man came running after us and told us to stay off his property. That was scary. Usually we did not see anyone there. The woods were large. But in reality we knew that if we kept walking, on the other side were those fields and other private property and then Horseshoe Lake Road. We could not get lost. I think I actually walked that way once. But after the man scared us away, we almost always went back through the woods to the bungalow colony.

We had wonderful times wandering on our own. Having picnics that we packed ourselves. Filling our minds with memories that can never be erased. I close my eyes and I can smell the pine needles, their sharp fresh scent. I can feel the crush of my body on the mounds of needles as I looked up to the sky shimmering through the branches. I am back in the ‘black forest’ planning my next acquisition of a salamander and just having a wonderful day with my best friend.

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4 Responses to “Finding Salamanders and Relaxing in the Black Forest”

  1. I also remember the orange salamanders that came out after the rain in my grandfather’s farm in the Catskills. My cousin and I would take pails and go after them in the woods. Later we would let them go.

    • zicharon June 10, 2015 at 3:02 pm #

      I have not seen any for years. But they always bring back happy memories.

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