Topophilia

Have you ever fallen in love with a place? I recall when I first moved to this area. It was my college orientation at SUNY New Paltz, and a bunch of new friends all drove up to the scenic hairpin turn at night, which is on the eastern facing side of the Shawangunk Mountain range. We were sprawled out on the hoods of our cars looking at the clear violet sky and soon shooting stars started flying, and kept on going, so much so, that we were all pointing excitedly in the sky, “Did you see that one? That one over there!” I now know that we were seeing the Perseids, and a bit of research says that August 1987 was a special year for them. I didn’t know any of that, as I watched the sky light up. They were the first shooting stars I had ever seen, watching them on a cliff overlooking the place I would soon call home.

I was thinking of this night as I drove up to the Shawangunks yesterday, all these years later. Those were pivotal days for me, and I’m still entranced by these mountains. When I get a chance I make sure to visit them. This day, I was pulled there by the sun in the sky, the mildness in the forecast, and the impending snow and ice we are slated to receive this weekend. It was the right decision. All the ice and snow had melted off, which surprised me—I expected to find at least some remains. I had worn my boots in preparation of it. Ends up I could have worn my hiking sneakers.

Walking up the trail, the mountain laurels looked green and glossy, and a good portion of the sweetfern leaves, though changed to their deep maroon, had not entirely fallen. The top of the hill is a warm place, flat rocks and blueberry bushes soak up the sun. It was much milder than expected on this sunny side of the mountain, but as I climbed over to the north western facing cliff I noticed the ground, still in shadow, was covered in thin outlines of frost. Out in the distance the Catskills loomed, hazy and pale blue.

The rocks are smooth at this view point, and a thin sheen of water easily turns to invisible ice. I navigated by holding onto the pitch pine trees anchored to the rock. Two hikers died recently in the area due to icy conditions, so you can’t be too careful. It gave me the opportunity to study the pitch pine cones, most of which are old and dry, but I found a few new ones to appreciate–their structure is so solid. Taking the descent quickly but carefully, I reached the stream that is nestled deep between two steep sides of cliff, water running over the golden rocks. A favorite pastime is standing on the pedestrian bridge watching the water rush by. You could squint and pretend it was early spring, the mountain laurels and rhododendrons were so green.

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I was drawn to the side of a calm, clear pool sheltered by a gnarled cove of thick green rhododendrons that leaned over the water protectively. In the clear pool there were so many mysteries—clinging to the side of the submerged rock there were what looked to be clusters of hemlock needles, but they had a stripe of red, and it made me think they were some kind of insect egg. Down a little lower was one lone, strangely large, tadpole looking creature that seemed to just be hovering in one spot. It seemed to be watching me. Soon it wiggled away under a rock. Who are these creatures?

The last leg of the walk takes you straight back up the steep hill you just climbed down. I took a break at a spot that in summer is too grown over with grasses to appreciate. It was all tamped down and frosty, and I walked out to the edge, catching another small glance of the Catskills. I’m not sure why I love it here so much–I can certainly point to the rolling mountains, their sparkling white conglomerate, the mosses and trees and the overall feeling I get from it of calm and reassurance, but really: why do we like anything? Why do certain things speak to us and not others?

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Notes:

I am a big fan of Noah Kalina’s work and his project Everyday, which just hit the twenty year mark. It’s beautiful and haunting, and it would be remiss to not applaud the supporting role of the music by Carly Comando. There’s no wonder why it has caught the attention of so many people. Initially you are enrapt by the passage of time, but there’s so much more going on. I really appreciate the long-term work involved with this project–it’s meticulous, intricate and devotional, yielding more intensity as the years go by. I also recommend signing up for his newsletter, always interesting and generous.

Exciting news from our backyard on the American Chestnut! This is an amazing project, and I truly hope that one day we can have the American Chestnut back. I think I will write in and see if I can get one of the “mother nuts,” which is my new favorite phrase.

I just recently found this treasure trove of reports by theMohonk Preserve collected on Medium. I am looking forward to reading them over the winter!

2 Comments

  1. love all of this, as usual. Carly comando’s music is great. And I am going to read some of those mohonk dispatches. Let’s go for a walk soon?

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