Three Days In Woodstock

Catskill Mountains

I’ve always loved running in the rain.

When I find myself inside a particularly robust storm, my arms and legs feel connected to the dense anvils of cold dust and flaming vapor that transform the skies into a heavenly spout. The basic algebra of my exertions acquaint themselves with a canvas straight out of Caravaggio’s brilliant mind and things go sublime.

The town of Woodstock is a roaming notch that slinks along the unshod terrain of the Catskill Mountains, like a draft that tickles a giant’s toes. The town was born to water and sun. It is a graceful plunge of pluck and spirit, music and rhyme. And by Tuesday morning, the feeling it engendered was quickly making us forget the other possible locales we’d tossed around previously.

Deer on Trail

For breakfast, Q and me had feasted on a sensational frittata she cooked up. Take it from me, when a girl who loves all things garden and Tuscany offers up this dish? You let her take the wheel. We talked about blogging and music and we engaged in a long standing debate as to our respective dialects. She finds my syntax to be mostly charming, but for a certain postwar (Revolutionary War . . that is) grammatical affectation. Whereas yours truly has ditched the “u” in honor of our founding fathers who kicked British ass, Q and her peeps north of the border still play by the King’s rules.

We bandied topics as we ate, revisiting our difference of opinion as to the letter “u” time and again. Throughout breakfast, to our car ride into town, to our sharp left onto Comeau Drive to a hiking trail that sits mere minutes off the main drag. No topic of conversation could chase this matter away for very long.

Stream 1

Our hike consisted of two main trails. The first trail was mostly flat with little mystery to it, and to make matters even less thrilling . . it was clearly marked. Clearly marked trails are just the slightest bit redundant when it comes to community parks. I mean, why mark them at all when you have chatterbox cell phone users and packs of moms and babies traipsing around? We were more likely to get lost in a local mall than on a trail whose ‘wilderness’ possessed a strong signal and Birkenstock prints. The real excitement came whilst exiting the trail, when Q snapped a family of deer streaking across the meadow.

The second trail provided a more worthwhile conversation for our feet and allowed us the trespass of some hilly terrain. Just like that, we’d removed ourselves from the madding crowd of cellphones and brand packs; replaced by the tranquil hum of nature’s gospel spell. The trail snaked around to a stream whose flow was a mesmerizing gallop. A brisk current strummed its timeless melody, and we skipped across rocks like schoolkids, just to be closer to that wonderful sound.

Stream 2

Of course, Q was the rule breaker who defied the “No Trespassing” sign and moved across rocks until she had gained the middle of the stream. I toed the line and searched for signs of fish bubbles along the banks. She claimed eminent domain as per her photography, and I wasn’t about to argue. Not when the letter “u” was still open for debate.

No Trespassing

By the time we arrived back at the cottage, the early afternoon had grown dusk-like. As I changed into my running gear, the skies opened up. Perfect.

I took to the road in search of a running path, and I found one about a quarter mile down the road. I turned right onto a service road that wound up and around into a labyrinth of warehouses and manufacturing plants whose sparse signage left my mind spinning with all manner of science fiction scenarios. And just when I was ready to investigate further, the first thunderclap jolted me back to my senses.

Forest

And that’s when I realized I was more than a mile from the cottage and a stone cold bulls-eye for anything Mother Nature wanted to throw my way. I calmly headed back, concentrating on the morning I had shared with Q; thinking back on our conversations and the lively mood that carried us.

The rain provided crystalline slashes across the landscape and by the time I arrived back at the entrance to the service road, I was soaked through. Having navigated my way through the relentless thicket, I felt duly inspired to loose one final mystery before my return, so I headed further down until I reached the next road. It wasn’t long before I was second guessing myself, as another thunder clap seemed to stop just short of my back pocket.

Mountain Range

I headed back, jumping small puddles and giving myself to the wading ponds that could not be avoided. I felt the density of those hovering clouds in my pores and it almost made me forget the lightning snaps, which had become more persistent now. I traversed the last quarter mile at a steady pace, and just as I was approaching the entrance to our cottage, I saw them.

A family of deer stood about twenty five yards off to my right. I stopped in my tracks and the five of us just stared at each other. We spoke not a word, and yet, we said a million different things. And in that moment, in the middle of that caterwaul of fire and rain, the universe was having its way.

Boldly.

The Journey Of A Million Dreams (Pt.3)

I find my rhythm on a straightaway, digging through a boot deep snow that absorbs my footprints in eclipsing spirals of steam. It’s temporary, the evidence of my trespass into these woods; a metaphor for the life we live. Footprints which will collapse into forever before too long, but meaningful ones in the moment.

The moment. This hike is one long draw of ’em.

I glean my understandings from the visceral testimonies accorded me out here. A jagged wall of rocks, loosed from the ground by a beckoning ridge whose clench of earth provides the rocks with a mighty presence. There is a gathering of small trees that almost forms a perfect circle, as if the seeds of one mother who endeavored to leave her artistic invention for those who happen along this stretch. There is a clearing, it is maybe fifty yards wide. I step to the edge and look down on a one way ticket tumble that is a couple hundred yards deep and thick with trees and rocks. The view from here is a tapestry of what forever must look like.

That boiling caterwaul of a world is a million miles away from this sovereign shallow of beasts and pines and equine songs. The trees surround, embrace and speak to me. Their welcome is a tenuous one, yet earnest. They promise me nothing, they give me everything- the paradox of Mother Nature. The mosaic of their mighty branches rises triumphantly . . like children raised by the sun, whose veins bleed an eternal bath; whose pleading roots beg for mercy from the depths; whose breaths are a million screaming prayers; whose life has been prophesied from old books, scavenged from the particles of God and nurtured from the womb of miraculous ascents. Its deliverance is a savagely beautiful iteration.

The woods possess no conceit, they simply are. The overcast morning works in concert with the highest reaching trees to produce an oddly serene dynamic; making me feel like an insect crawling along the bottom of a saucer covered in pin pricked wax paper. I am small to the great big everything. The wind is a perpetual blanket of mayhem, reminding me of the lessons I have not yet learned.

These woods have been shrunken down to the size of my wishes. These woods have been magnified infinitesimally to the size of my dreams. These woods are my proverbs . . pleading miracles that absorb everything within their reach.

I drink in the scotch of this union, smiling. My heart is beating steadily; excited by the honest work, the handsome scenery and the answers to all the secrets that really matter. These secrets are spoken in the language of moments. The greatest of all possible gifts is the one I borrowed for the space of three hours time, in woods so deep and dark and lovely. This gift is such a simple thing that we oftentimes never-mind its value. But this gift . . it’s the only gift we are ever going to need.

It’s the chance.

 

 

 

The Journey of a Million Dreams . . . (Pt.2)

This is the second installment of a three part series documenting a recent hike I took along the Appalachian Trail. It was a simple hike whose lessons spoke to me. 

As I trekked along the snow laden trail, my thoughts turned to the obligations of this age we live in. Efficacy is the watermark of this information age, where intellectualism has replaced the romance of philosophical pursuits. A white picket fence existence has been replaced with house flipping, malls have been supplanted by Amazon and writing the great American novel has turned into a need to brand oneself.

Of course, this is all relative. We are creatures of the age we grow up inside of; vulnerable to the whims and the worries, the hopes and the fears . . . just like all the generations that came before us. We oblige. And we do so out of this need to not get left behind.

The great thing is, a hike is still a hike. Venture a couple miles off the beaten path and you are walking inside a timelessness that does not give a fig about contemporaneous illusions. A hike is where Zeitgeist goes to chill. That’s because nature has no reason to play chess with the screaming expletives, it simply exists. It just is. 

Hiking is a union of simplicity and sanctity. The every day complications go small. A hike lets you in on the truths that no living soul can touch. There is a genuine sincerity in the way your steps piece together . . in the measure of your breaths . . in the silence that is busy planting you into its wake. This is where you find hope . . in the silence.

The trail I chose consisted of myriad personalities, each posing a unique challenge. There were the rock strewn slopes that possessed varying degrees of difficulty, depending on their angular disposition. The physical exertion of uphill climbs tested muscles whose utility is rarely called upon in my daily activities. The descents demanded my utmost concentration; I slinked nimbly through each focused step whilst actualizing the next once planted. There was no respite when the trail went flat, thanks to the snow covered paths. I navigated the asymmetrical configurations by marching sideways rather than straight on, lessening the heft with slashes rather than shovels.

I came across a fallen tree, its one branch extended into my path so I had to step over it. The pulpy entrails were bright and flaky and it didn’t seem possible that something so robust could go on living inside of a dead husk. I imagined what the trail looked like in summer. Pine thistles raining down silently, forming sad fragrant ponds inside the grass and dirt. Random leaves still thick with sap, getting lost inside a hard summer wind. And the brilliant facade of this fallen tree; one minute pretending like it had forever to look forward to, and inside the next, the truth of the matter was laying in front of me.

It was as if I had been dropped inside a crater whose world spoke a foreign language. A language whose unapologetic hum of mysterious appraisals behaved very much like cosmic scaffolding; to the time would come the knowledge and to that knowledge would come its time.

 

 

The journey of a million dreams begins with a simple wish (Pt. 1)

This is the first installment of a three part series documenting a recent hike I took along the Appalachian Trail. It was a simple three hour trek that reacquainted me with the Zen of simple moments. 

I was getting close.

The main square of Bethel, Pennsylvania lies at the foot of the Blue Mountain range. If you speed when passing through the town, you’re already somewhere else. I made a left hand turn and lost it in my rear view as I began my ascent. I would be hiking at an elevation that snakes up to a peak of just over 1,400 feet- modest stuff for the Trail when you consider the Great Smoky Mountains reach almost five times that height. Still, when you drive up to the 501 Shelter, you understand this isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Your ears pop and you experience a few white knuckle moments when you peer out through the clearings; naturally hewn apertures of rolling valleys that look as if they were painted by Cezanne from his seat on the moon. My eyes feasted on the sights as if a little boy peering out from the missing pickets of a fence. The scale of it pinched at my nervous system and made my insides squeal.

There are 2,179 miles worth of trek along the Appalachian Trail. Each step a possibility, each yard a different challenge, each mile a humbling truth. I have hiked it scores of times, from different places and heights; in all kinds of weather and with every single one of my prevailing thoughts being the same: If the world ends now, I’m good.

After parking, I walked across the two lane road and navigated a gradual slope that served as a barrier; protecting the ancient silence from the hum of everyday living. I stood inside the quiet and I let the surroundings drink me in. I proceeded through my checklist- two sets of gloves, a couple packs of hand and feet warmers and my cap. The air was damp and chilly and the forecast was calling for a chance of rain, so everything I packed and wore was waterproof- it’s my inner Boy Scout that comes out to play, even on simple hikes such as this one.

There were several inches of snow on the ground and my footsteps spoke a foreign language as a result of this. The accent of this delightful sounding language would change according to the specific trudge- an elongated grunt through the deep plunges, a whimsical snort on the quick trespasses. I had miles to go, and a smile on my face as my breath formed miniature cumulus clouds when it collided with the densely packed winter air.

Jack Kerouac believed the mountains to be timeless fascinations, what with all the patience that was tucked inside their belly. Hundreds of thousands of years worth of sitting there, watching the world grow up. This is why a good hike in the mountains will provide you with an education.

As an earnest pupil, I would abide.