Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Rug of Scarlet and Mustard

It is astoundingly beautiful down on the trail today. All night it rained hard.  A constellation’s worth of red maple leaves and sugar maple leaves and walnut leaves and sycamore leaves and even the strong green leaves off of the northern red oak were severed at the petiole and fell from the branches.  And if the day before there was a Persian rug of scarlet and mustard it has been stitched anew with an entire new set of acrylic thread. 


It probably isn’t the safest thing to do (I am wearing a helmet now, after my inglorious topple-over last Saturday that left my forehead looking like someone had smacked me with a bag of crimson manure ), but I took out my iPhone as I biked beneath the canopy and pulled up the setting that allows you to adjust the filter and took one shot of the trail and then another with the next filter and so on and on as I pedaled along.  Three or four times, I felt gut-punched and forced to pull out the camera once again, in the nave of this cathedral.

Up at the bridge I saw a big eastern cottonwood with not a leaf showing the slightest turn.  I thought I had that tree all figured out when, up my driveway it was the first tree to turn.  “Ahh, a frail southern tree,” I imagined.  But that clearly had nothing to do with why my tree turned and this one has yet to.  There are three or four big silver maples out there on that bridge that hold their color still.  What will they look like when it’s time to finally fall?

And where I’d been enjoying wildflowers in the summer, bringing clipped stalks to my desk to consider, the drama now is all about the canopy falling to the ground.  I picked up thrrty, forty leaves on a walk this afternoon with the Mrs.  They’re now in a glass bowl, on my desk.  The Sumac still on the stem, garish reds and yellows almost too loud, too electric to be believed.   And with so many leaves gone you get a different view at what remains.  By the place where our property abuts the trail, I saw a collection of small trees I didn’t recognize.  They look like birches of some sort.  And even this late in the year there are new things to find:  Andean Alder I was told, for the first time in my searching. 




Wednesday, 09/30/20

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

More Anthemic than Melancholy

It hasn’t rained in a while and I’m glad to see it drizzling out there.  The color.  The muted color in the wet autumn is overwhelming.  When I returned from driving my little one to school, I just stood and stared out from the head of the driveway at this tree and that.  Over by the shed there is a nondescript ash tree that now has big round yellow leaves on display and right beside it is the miraculous red maple with a thousand jewelfish scales, glistening wet, shimmering colors in motion.  Each of the oaks is beginning to change from green in their own way.

A woman who was DJ’ing for WVKR Vassar, was prattling on in an inviting Queens accent about singularly remarkable it was to drive around in the Hudson Valley just now, up to Kingston, over the bridge and off into Colombia County.  “Yes.” I said, driving along through Highland on 44/55.  She told me she was going to adjust her play list and play some music which testified to this and before long she had me near tears playing Billie’s version of “Autumn in New York,” which I turned up full blast as though it were more anthemic than melancholy. 

Over on the window there is a dark paper wasp, inadvertently showing me all of his or her underparts. The critter has been standing there now for about forty minutes.  It doesn’t seem to want to move.  And I was going to write that the Autumn cold was slowing him down but in fact it is unseasonably warm out there.  More likely his body knows that a rather thoroughgoing change is about to happen.  I was trying to find out the lifespan of a dark paper wasp on Wiki but they don’t mention it.  Additional queries suggest they last just about a year.  So presumably he or she, who spent their life a worker, is fixin’-to-die. 


My little one spoke under her breath to her sister.  “I’ll never hear the end of this.”  Her friend was visiting and there, at our dinner table, mentioned her piano practice and the work she does with animals.  My older one gave me the heads up the next morning to be sensitive about the urge to compare her and her friend, and so, at dinner last night I said: “I want to mention how singularly proud I was to see you comport yourself last night with your friend here.  You really shown out.”   She knew instantly it was a set-up. 

Tuesday, 09/29/20

You, Slayer of Worlds

Nephew over.  Good to have him.  It’s different hanging out with dudes.  Haven’t had much dude time in a while.  He came while I was on a call and played a game of Parchese with my wife and my older one, his cousin.  By the time I came out he was on his phone and I asked him to show me the game he was playing.  It was one where in you, slayer of worlds, manipulated the spinning planet of your choice, yes, I see that’s earth, and then chose the manner in which you’d like to destroy it.  I chose something that looked like it had tentacles.  It zoomed up, pondered the pitiful planet and waving its arms, it drilled a hole through earth and killed a third of the population.  There were approximately ten different such ways to destroy the planet and we proceeded to try a few more.


Next we played Battleship.  The box was empty, but I found the cases with the ships and the pegs and the grids there in the drawer.  Presumably there is a manner in which to calculate probability, which would rightly have you place your grey plastic piece here, rather than, say, there.  I did my best to be deceptive.  My nephew was in the unenviable position of having an aircraft carrier as the last member of his flotilla to remain.  I had a svelte little sub.  Aircraft carriers are tough to hide and I sunk it.


I couldn’t resist.  He didn’t resist.  And soon we were watching The Who, and Hendrix and the Small Faces on Youtube.  He politely humored my urge to rock.  He wanted to show me clips that involved The Beatles on “Family Guy.”  Scouse accents haven’t come far since the days of the “Yellow Submarine”  cartoon.  You’d think these voices-for-hire would at least practice a bit before attempting something of that importance. 


Ahh, but we should get some exercise.  And soon we were pedaling along what only last week was the rail trail but by today was a Persian carpet of fallen yellow, burgundy and claret leaves that had just begun to fall in earnest.  We turned back on Broadhead Avenue and I narrated the tale about the poor individual who’d been dragged along Main St., stuck under a truck.  Returning asked why it was that all the storm troopers in the Star Wars movies all had the same voice.  I could hear it, immediately in my mind and it seemed a worthy truism. 

We still had a bit of time, before his mom would arrive and he was willing to let me read him some of the Orwell, I’d gotten him last month.  It’s been thirty-five years or more since I cracked open “Down and Out in Paris and London” but Orwell writes so well, and we immediately care.  He talks about not eating, referencing that some people do it for health.  He was on a third day without food and it was insufferable.  I can recall a time without money, traveling, when I went for just a day or so and it was involuntary, it was indeed miserable.  And before long, my nephew was asking good questions about the plot and the details and I wondered if he might night continue to read the tale on his own.




Monday, 09/28/20

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Red, Shawls of Ochre


I wish I could invite you to gaze out with me now at this yard before me.  Thoughtful hands, decades before my own had been at work here.  For the first fall I realize the distinct autumn grandeur of vines.  My goodness.  The Virginia creepers, and the grapes and yes, the poison ivy all light up the trees with ropes of red, shawls of ochre.  Straight ahead there is a juniper tree that is strictly green.  I see the thick poison ivy vine I’d cut in the spring still hanging where it had wanted to reach the ground.  Removing poison ivy is good. Or is it?  I feel like I’d needlessly unplugged a string of Christmas tree lights. 


There’s a red maple off to the right that is beginning to turn, wildly.  The two sugar maples to the left seem to move more consistently from green to yellow.  The big Northern Red Oak and Southern red oak that form a crest of green.  They take their time.  Earlier in the year, I’d thought about taking certain trees down in order to enhance a view, but it is hard to imagine imposing one’s will on this Cezanne-like panorama.  It takes time to get to know a place, doesn’t it?

The little one has a friend coming over today.  This young lady is a year older than her.  She drives.  Still Chinese in their habits neither of my girls have bothered to get a license yet.  I’m in no rush to see them driving, I’ll confess.  A right-of-passage that was always irrelevant in China.  I don’t suppose it will be more than five years or so before no one will drive much of anywhere.  You’ll need to go out to a driving track to drive-your-own-car.   Automated vehicles will take us about swiftly, safely and we’ll wonder how we ever put up with such random danger in our daily lives.  But for today, they may go out for a ride.  And that is fine.  I think.  And I will worry. 

Cloudy outside, and warm.  But it’s the end of September and nothing can hold this autumnal pull.  Weather report for my town says sun all day.  May get warmer.  But if you were looking at these leaves, you’d be thinking of lighting a fire and swinging a scarf around your neck.  My stepdad has told me to keep an eye out or migratory birds who’ll now be making their way through, flying south.  How I missed the seasons when we lived in places that had none. 



Sunday, 10/27/20

Eh. Let Them Wonder


Biking is different from walking.  One can move faster.   Biking is also not motorcycling.  One doesn’t move that fast.  I bike just about every day, plain as I walk around.  And every day I bike down the hill and walk the bike through the woods out to the rail trail.  Not long ago I accelerated going down the hills in playful pursuit of a groundhog who was making for the woods and I couldn’t stop fast enough for the turn and hit the ground hard.  Today I was going much slower but caught a root where I usually dismount and fell over in stages.  Stage one was the falling down part.  My knees took that in.  But they didn’t stop me and I was conscious of my head continuing to hurtle toward the ground and towards phase two which ended in a thud.  My forehead met the dirt. 


Blessings to be counted.  If that landing pad had been a stump or concrete or a rock, I may have knocked myself out or worse.  As it was, I saw some stars but quickly realized I was alright.  Physically, I’d be fine.  But as I wiped my forehead and took notice of the blood, I considered my aesthetic makeup with the selfie feature of the phone.  I looked orible, and I debated for a while whether to admit defeat and clean my ass up, or do the daily run like I’d wanted to, albeit, looking like I’d somehow angered George Foreman.   Eh.  Let them wonder.  I wiped myself off and headed out undeterred.   


A month or more back in the heat of summer, I’d pedaled off the trail to the right after the Wallkill Bridge, on Springtown Road and saw that the folks there at the Coppersea Distillery were advertising whiskey slushies which seemed like a stroke of marketing genius there on that hot day and I biked right over and started asking about what they had when I realized I hadn’t brought my wallet.  I vowed to return and today I did.  But as I coasted up to open barn store front, they have on the road I kept on going.  People!  There was a line.  No. I didn’t want to idle among people looking this way.

Ahh, but the back, if memory serves . . . yes.  They have the bar-like service with the slushies in the back.  No one is in line.  They had two different types and I chose the sour one.  I tried to draw a disarming reference to my mangled forehead, but she kept on upbeat and oblivious.  It was phenomenally delicious, as I’d suspected and, spying a bathroom sign I went in to take stock of myself.  Oh dear.  Soap water stings.  It won’t do to pull my hair down over the front, the lacerations a bit broad for that.  And all the while I have playing, fairly loudly out of my phone in my pocket the circular wonder of Terry Riley’s 1968 drone: “In C.”

Biking has its own velocity.  The velocity I fell at today was single digits per hour on to packed dirt.  I’m mortal.  I’ll be getting a helmet.  At home I tell my wife I got in a fight with a guy who said bad things about the Chinese.  “I had to flatten him.  But he got a good shot in before I did.”  She believed me for a moment and wondered if the cops were coming.  The younger one, listening upstairs told me later she’d been lured in for just a moment or two herself. 




Saturday, 09/26/20

Leaves of Impossible Green

I’ve been searching on-line for the “Stone Forest” in Minnewaska and was directed to articles comparing Minnewaska to the famous Stone Forest in Yunnan.  I don’t know why mind decided that was the name.  Checking the email from my father I’ve managed to discern that we went for a hike this morning at the “Lost City.”  Certainly, it was a lost city, made of stone up in the forest.  And it was remarkable hike up.


Again, up on the Shawangunk Plateau, I noticed what was different.  There are, of course hemlock that once commanded the ridge with mighty old growth.  Sugar maple and red maple just like we have in our yard but further along in their race to full flush claret then litter brown.  But up at the top of the yellow trail that morning we saw many striped maple as well.  Their leaves are three times the size and they don’t reach out so wide.   The oaks are different up there too.  Squat round oak leaves of impossible green that I’m told are from a bear oak tree and saw tooth leaves that are somehow still characteristically oak-like called the chestnut oak.  And all along the rocky shelf, growing low to the ground were mountain laurel which look, to me, like rhododendron and huckleberries, which the locals used to make extra money from by picking and selling them in the summer.

One assumes it is a state-park no-no, to dig up a sapling and take it out with you.  My father insisted that nobody would care.  Perhaps I’ll bring a trowel and some plastic bags and backpack and give it a shot next time.  Not sure how they’d feel about being down here in the valley, beneath the cliff face, but we could clear out some space, so the locals don’t crowd out the sun and slowly create a showcase off all the different trees that grow, locally. 

Later after getting our groceries and some sour grape juice, the girls and I were heading back home.  It was my turn now, you see.  The little one had been playing songs from the first BTS album on our ride over.  I thought to play “Hey Bulldog.”  I don’t know why.  Soon I was drawing everyone’s attention to Paul’s bass playing which is fluid and hearty like tropical fruit and then, later I wanted them to hear when John yells, “Quiet!, Quiet!”  I suggested that this was indicative of the fact that John was in charge of things.  By the time I asked them to guess who was singing “All Too Much” as the feedback announced the next glorious tune, it was indeed all too much and they made clear they’d had enough.   I’d been infected though and decided Steve Hillage’s version would be just the thing to make the dinner to when we got home. 

Friday, 11/25/20

And, Do Not Touch


My gal doesn’t like snakes.  A phobia that seems to have stemmed from an incident back in coastal Shandong.  A wee-girl, she was caught by surprise when some local delinquent threw a snake at her.  The countryside, she described to me with a sour face, where you could see piles of snakes, all writhing together just outside the village.  The poor village, which has since then had a hulking chemical factory built up next door.  No one has to worry about snakes or much of any other wildlife now. 


I have always been fascinated by snakes.  From as early as I can remember, I’d wanted to catch frogs, and turtles and certainly snakes, if I could.  Birds, and rabbits and deer were of no particular interest.  But reptiles, were exceedingly cool.  In the time that I’ve been back in this area, a year or so now, I have only really seen one garter snake, out by the bridge over the stream, on Huguenot Street, near Garvan’s.  But then I haven’t been hunting them out.

Today I got a wechat call from my wife.  (Fuck-off Donald, the app still works, for now.)  “Can you come down here?  There’s a snake.”  I was in the middle of five things and I dropped them all, grabbed my phone and headed out to the pile of gravel and bricks we’d inherited here and which she’d been dismantling.  First question, of course: “How big was it?”  I’m brave to a point.  She suggested something a little over a foot in length.  “What were the colors?”  “Black.”  Hmm.  “It wasn’t black and yellow?”  She shook her head, disgusted to even think of it.  I was intrigued as it didn’t sound like a garter snake.

Fifty-eight bricks or so later, I saw the smokey grey ribbon, between two paving stones.  Colder than summer, he seemed a bit sluggish as he moved to find new shelter.  My wife presented me with a challenge: “Move it!” And “Do not touch it!” in the same exhalation.  First, I used my app to identify that this was a ringneck snake, with a telltale yellow ribbon circling his
round (read, non-venomous) head and a pale, yellow underbelly.  I attempted to coax him on to a spade, but eventually gave up and just picked him up, right behind the head and gently escorted him off to the pile of rocks on the edge of our property.  Later (yes, after thoroughly washing my hands, my dear,) I learned he was nocturnal and we’d obviously disturbed his sleep.  Oh, if I could have only presented that culebra to my eleven- year-old self.  That would have been a grand gift, across time.

Thursday, 09/24/20