To sleep, perchance to dream

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Photo by Dion Ogust

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Shakespeare had it right. But his poetic rumination from Midsummer Night’s Dream doesn’t necessarily apply to contemporary America. That collective “we” known as the American public just isn’t getting enough sleep. Forget about dreams

“I’m an insomniac,” admits SUNY grad student Tongwen Wang. “Maybe not completely. I can sleep sometimes, but rarely, and sometimes not for days.”

Wang’s problems with sleep, which began in puberty, have been exacerbated in college. “It was a bit better in high school because my life was more scheduled, but in college I’m more on my own, with lots of things to do all the time. It’s a broken-up time frame. When I can’t sleep I’ll just lie in bed and read, or watch TV or do something on the computer. The non-sleep affects my mood…I’m always tired, have headaches, and I can’t function well at all.”

Working mother Deborah Engel-DiMauro and her son Ezra, almost seven, never get enough sleep. “Since Ezra was a baby he hasn’t slept well,” she says. “He wouldn’t go down to sleep easily, and he kept waking up every few hours — which is normal, I guess, but it’s continued to this day.”

Engel-DiMauro used to be anxious about the situation when Ezra was small, but now she feels she’s handling it better. But she admits to frustration. “We start of with a routine, but then when the light goes off he comes to our bed [her husband is SUNY professor Salva Engel-DiMauro] to get our attention, crawls into bed with us, and stays awake. Recently, after we brought him back to his bed for the night, we fell asleep and found Ezra on the floor next to our bed.”

Ezra’s side of this tale non-sleep goes something like this: “I don’t sleep well. I’m afraid to be by myself alone in my room. Sometimes things spook me out. I think how I’m maybe created to not sleep well, with so many thoughts always in my head. So many thoughts about everything combining to make spooky things. So I go into my parents’ room, sneak into their bed until mom or dad take me back to my room. I try to sleep and think of good things, but then things spook me out again.” The cycle continues.

Angela Purdy, almost 90 years old, has lots of experience in this realm. Until ten years ago she never slept through the night, waking around two or three in the morning, her head full. “Racing thoughts” is how she describes it. “Thoughts that were uncontrollable, random, and sometimes I felt I would lose my mind they were coming so fast and so strong. But then my husband [Richard] passed away ten years ago and I started to sleep better. He had been not well for a few years and I think the anxiety of that, and what would happen if he did die, caused me great stress. Before that it was worrying about the kids [she has three grown children]. It’s part of being alive, I guess.”

Polls report that one in five Americans get less than six hours sleep on average per night. That’s over 60 million folks, folks! And the hours of sleep keep decreasing as the number of sleepless citizens increases.

“It’s no secret that we live in a 24/7 society,” said Dr. Carl Hunt, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institute of Health. There are many more opportunities to do things other than sleep, he says. The Internet, 24-hour cable TV, e-mail, plus long work shifts.

“And yes, how we live is affecting how we sleep,” concludes Hunt. “Often our sleep deficit is related to too much caffeine, nicotine, alcohol. Often it’s related to work: stress from work, putting in long hours at work, working night -shifts, working on our home computers until the second we go to sleep.”

The effect on our lives is negative. Polls link sleep deficits to poor work performance, driving accidents, relationship problems and mood problems like anger and depression. A growing list of physical health issues has been documented. Heart disease, obesity and diabetes have been linked with chronic sleep loss.

Happy trails to you

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A park ranger at the Vanderbilt Mansion holds up the patch you get if you walk five trails
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A 3.5-mile trail walk was created in 1991 from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home and library in Hyde Park south via River Road to the Vanderbilt Mansion by a partnership among the National Park Service, the town of Hyde Park, Scenic Hudson and the Winnakee Land Trust, plus local branches of the Boy Scouts and the Adirondack Mountain Club. Now, 21 years later, the trail consists of eleven sections of approximately 16.8 miles that run (or walk) from Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill all the way to Norrie Point State Park.

Kathleen Davis, Hyde Park’s recreation director and trails coordinator, is liaison to all the agencies. “It started with a group of Vassar College students involved with the fledgling Hudson Valley Greenway [the proposed trail that will hopefully run from Albany to New York City],” said Davis, “and as we speak we are obtaining easements from The Anderson School, the River Ridge housing development and the Huyler Glen development to connect the remaining spaces. We have secured a $100,000 grant from New York State [Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation] to develop these new trails.”

The Winnakee Land Trust holds the trail easements across private lands that allow access, and also owns a 100-acre park as part of the trails system. “We work with the town committees and the others to negotiate with landowners and hope to get their approval,” said land trust director Lucy Hayden. “We call it a walkabout, and our aim is to connect every trail in Dutchess County. It’s our 50-year plan, and we keep plugging away at it.”

The walkabout project promotes healthy physical activity such as walking on the trails, which offer dramatic faraway views of the Hudson River and the Catskills, or close-up ones of woodland pools and ponds, streams, waterfalls and picturesque rocky outcroppings, deep woodlands, historic forest plantations, plus carefully maintained ornamental gardens. One can retrace the footsteps of visiting world leaders or Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers in the 1930s or free and enslaved African-Americans who lived here in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Those who walk five Hyde Park trails in one year earn a specially designed free sew-on patch. Walk all eleven trails and earn all five patches issued. The walkabout, which begins every year during Earth Day celebrations, is co-sponsored by the Dutchess County health department.

Instead of walking, you can, as retired IBM planner Bill Ring and his friend Raphael Notin do, run the whole route. In the fall of 2010, Ring and Notin were working with the Winnakee Land Trust mapping trails from Val-Kill to Norrie Point. Ring, who is on the trails committee and is liaison to the town recreation department, remembers the time well. “It was just a beautiful day,” he recalled. “The leaves were down, and everything was so crystal-clear.”

Notin confessed that the project had started as a joke. “We were both amateur runners and we talked about jogging it together,” he said, “but never got to it until I jokingly threw the idea of running all the trails in one go.” That go began at Val-Kill at 9:30 a.m. up and down the narrow trail to FDR’s Top Cottage and around Eleanor’s Walk. Then it passed from Route 9G to Route 9 on the Roosevelt Farm Lane trail. “We ran through the FDR National Historic Site, running through tall forests, meandering along wider sections, looping around vernal pools and magnificent rock ledges,” Notin said. “We then ran northward to the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site and found the clayish sandy trails on which Bill used to run barefoot.” There they could loop down right along the banks of the Hudson River and catch glimpses of other estates.

With seven trails down and four to go, the duo was joined by their friend Chris at the Winnakee Nature Preserve. Then it was through Hackett Hill Park and Pinewoods Park. Nine down, two to go.

“Bill wouldn’t stop,” said Notin. “My knee started to hurt. And Chris had a bad cold. We paused and drove north to find the last two trails at Mills Mansion-Norrie Point, dreaming of the day when we will be able to run a continuous trail between Vanderbilt and Norrie Point. From then on, Chris took the lead and pulled us northward on the White Trail, flirting with the Hudson, then back south toward our finish at the Norrie Point Education Center.”

A native of France, Notin had learned a lot about American history and the national and international significance of the sites and woods they visited. He glimpsed a grandeur in the experience. “Running along with my great and humble friend Bill, I contemplated the idea that the Hyde Park trail system is to Dutchess County what the Freedom Trail is to Boston,” he said. “Both trail systems link sites that helped create the American spirit. In times of great trouble, and opportunity for this country, FDR, Eleanor and a host of others found refuge, resource and inspiration in these woods.”

The first Dutchess County Regional Trails Conference, sponsored by the Winnakee Land Trust and made possible by a grant from the Hudson River Valley Greenway, was held over Earth Day weekend at the Marist College Cornell Boathouse. The conference brought together towns, villages and trail groups from across the county to learn from each other, share resources and help envision the kinds of trails and connections that would result in a truly regional system of trails. The presentations at the conference focused on the practical aspects of funding, trail-building and working in partnerships. Smaller break-out sessions mapped out and discussed potential connections and destinations, given the existing ownership land-use patterns.

You can visit Hyde Park Trails online at: www.hydeparkny.us/recreation/trails. Winnakee Land Trust is at: www.Winnakeeland.org. And the National Park Service rivers and trails program can be accessed at: www.nps.gov/rtca.