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Life During Wartime, Part 12

May 11, 2020

I am very lucky. I feel I have to say that, right off the bat.

 

When the weather is nice, I spend at least an hour walking around my property. The parcel is 37 ½ acres, bought over forty two years ago, on a hillside in a very rural area of the Hudson Valley. Usually I will walk a route across part of the land, either from my house to the top of the hill or down to the pond at the lowest part of the property. Rarely will I do both at once, as the slope is the equivalent of 15 on a treadmill, and I’m not interested in exerting myself that hard over a long duration.

 

These walks are relatively new for me. Three months after moving back here from 38 years of full time living in California, I developed a tick disease which landed me in the hospital. Since that attack nearly two years ago, I have mostly limited my outdoor trips to walks up and down the driveway with my dog. Mind you, the driveway is a third of a mile long, and several of those treks each day add up the steps, making me feel like I’m doing a workout, even if the reality doesn’t really bear that out. Afraid of encountering more ticks I’d stayed off of the rest of the property, as it’s composed mostly of the thick clumps of grass, even in the areas that have been mowed, and are great hiding places for those nasty nippers.

 

Necessity forced me to rethink my routine. Feeling the need to exercise and cut off from my thrice weekly trips to the gym, I decided it was time to brave nature and walk on the paths my husband had created around the land over the years. Dressing in long pants, socks and boots gives me, perhaps, a false sense of security against being attacked by my dangerous nemesis, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. When the weather warms up and it’s too hot for that attire, I’ll have to reevaluate this plan but at least for now, so far so good.

 

The acreage was all nature when we first encountered it. We bought it from a man who bought it from the farmer who sold it after his family and others had had the land in crops since the days of Livingston. Ten acres were planted in hay, twelve acres in corn and the rest was dotted with a combination of black hickory, white beech, red maple, oak and the ever present cedar trees. All the man made additions were ours, starting with the driveway, poles for electricity and phone and, much much later, the house, garage building and storage sheds.

 

The hay and corn fields are long gone. For the first two years we owned the property, we’d continued the contract a man I knew only as The Corn King had had with the previous owner. He went away, followed for two more years by the beefalo rancher who lived down our road. Since he went out of business, the land has lain fallow. Each summer my husband mows the remnants of the hay field with our ancient tractor, which seems to break down every other time he takes it out. His efforts are worth it. From the vantage point of our deck, his work makes the gently hilly expanse look like a lovely lawn. For nearly a decade we have rented part of what was the corn field to a pheasant farmer. The pens are fortunately far enough way to deaden the bird crows, which can be quite loud and annoying. The pheasants won’t be arriving till early summer and the quiet is very welcome now. The rest of that land is a weedy mess and we’ve talked about cleaning it up but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

 

Lately my favorite walk goes along a path from the house up across the side of the hill to the top of the property. Up there is a panoramic view of nearby hills and ponds with the outline of the Taconic Ridge visible in the far distance. When we first bought the land I was able to turn around and see the Catskills out to the west. Since then the trees have grown tall enough to block that view, although a peek a boo version of it is accessible in the winter.

 

The other day while walking this path with my husband, Straw, we got to talking about an outcropping of shale we saw on the side of the hill. In truth the entire hill is made of shale covered with a thin layer of dirt and dead oak tree leaves. In the area under discussion, the shale is exposed and we wondered if there were a way to clean up the area and make it more visually pleasing. I added there was another shale outcropping at the bottom of the property that might want to be looked at as well. Straw disagreed, saying it was a moot point; he believed the rock mass in question was on the piece of property we sold over a decade ago. I let the matter slide as we continued our walk.

 

Today I decided to see if I was right. I hadn’t walked on that part of the property in years. That path led to the road that went to the stream we used to own at the bottom of the hill. I used to love taking that trip and gaze admiringly at the seasonal waterfalls that drained into the rock filled creek. But I hadn’t wanted to go down there since we sold it and this day was no different.

 

It was easy to figure out the way down the hill from our house. I started off down a road Straw had bulldozed and still uses for his four-wheeler. It curved into a path that followed the property line and was easily distinguished by the line of Posted signs put up by my neighbors. As my feet rustled through the leaves that survived the winter I looked to my right and saw the shale I had remembered. It was on our side of the property and almost looked like gray steps up to the top of this side of the hill.

 

Curious to see what the rest of this area looked like, I continued down the path headed toward the pond. The roadway was still walkable even though it hadn’t been tended to in years. My neighbors also made sure I knew where these boundaries were. There now were pink ribbons and blue paint on the row of hickories to the right of the path. Thick brush that needed to be mowed was on the left with enough room left in the middle for an easy walk.  The analog rat-a- tat of a woodpecker in one of the trees in front of me drowned out the sounds of the softer birds that served as gentle white noise up to that point. If the woodpecker wanted to be heard, he certain got my attention.

 

This was the only animal I was aware of. The herd of deer that usually sauntered into the field for their daily afternoon meal wouldn’t be coming around for a few more hours. The quartet of wild turkeys that came the day before had moved on to new territory, as did the rabbits, chipmunks, snakes woodchucks and mice that lived in the area but were hiding for now.

 

As I came to a point where the path I was on crossed with another road we had once put in that led down to the stream, the trail was blocked with several fallen trees. They were small enough to walk over and as I got closer I thought about what Straw might do when he came down here with the tractor. These limbs would have to be moved, so in an act of selfless devotion, I lifted up the trees and moved them off to the side. I chalked it up as good upper body exercise.

 

I continued down to the bottom of the property to our pond. It’s always been a small body of water where you’d have to look closely to see tiny tadpoles and microscopic fish hiding under the water line. It amazed me that life could flourish there but it does, and every time I walk there I check to see what lifeforms I could find. Once we found the shell of a giant turtle, though I’ve never seen a live one living in there. This time there was little movement, although I caught a brief glance at something diving under the algae that lined the pond.

 

On my way back to the house I found a palm sized rock of white quartz. In our first years as property owners we collected quite a bit of this rock. We thought we’d use it to build a fireplace or find some other decorative use. We never got around to that, although for a while we did have large rocks lining our driveway and now use them as a functional if not-as-highly- aesthetic-as-I’d-like firepit.

 

I picked up the rock and put it in my jacket pocket. I wondered what I could do with, maybe make jewelry or something functional like a paperweight. Maybe I’d Goggle it when I got back inside. I never had time to consider projects like this, but strange as it is, I have the time now if I choose to use it that way.

 

When neared the house, I briefly sat down in one of the Adirondack chairs that face the southern view. I closed my eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. When I released it I opened my eyes to get a new appreciation of what lay before me. The sun cast shadows on my neighbor’s field to the left. We used to call it the baseball field because for years the top part was planted in hay and the lower field in corn which made for its distinctive look. The hay’s been gone for several years and in a few months the scraggy green growth will be replaced by neat rows of corn. In the distance stood Stissing Mountain, starting to take on its own new coat of seasonal color.

 

I felt happy. I’ve loved taking in this view for over four decades and felt a double dose of appreciation for the decision Straw and I made to buy this property. I’ve lived in nicer houses and in more diverse locations and yet this place has kept its magical allure. We’d taken our time finding it, refusing to settle for anything less than land that spoke to us and our little piece of paradise has never disappointed. I’d even convinced myself that Stissing Mountain possesses magical qualities, a feeling that was justified by a guest a number of years ago who pointed out a cross that’s visible on its eastern edge, just below the summit.

 

I’m so lucky to be here now, the perfect spot to serve as a refuge against the current cruelty being unleased on the world. It’s a bittersweet feeling as it’s tinged with a degree of survivor’s guilt. I am well aware of the collective heartache of loss that’s brought home to me by the images of pain I see on TV every night. John Prine died several days ago and I’m still feeling his passing, which hit me harder than the news of all the other famous people who have succumbed to the virus, although I’m not entirely sure why. I know how grateful I am that I don’t personally known anyone who’s been stricken, and I pray that this holds true for the duration. I have some friends who’ve experienced the loss of friends and I’m sure there are plenty of people in a ten mile radius of me who are suffering now and my heart aches for them. Gratitude and grief all wrapped into one.

 

For now, there’s nothing left for me to do than sit in acceptance enjoying the beautiful day. I’ll leave tomorrow for tomorrow.

 



 

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