It was a beautiful day, and Jim said it was the right time for another adventure, this time our seasonal ride out to Camp Brule. So come along with us.
Was it first a deer path that turned later into an Indian path, this road winding its way up one side of the mountain and down the other? For most of the year, the thick forest on both sides keep the road hidden from the sky, and ice-covered through the late spring. But today I see it as a path through the mountains to adventure where every turn will reveal something new. Perhaps a five hundred foot drop-off or a valley shared by three farms, their pastures, wheat, and hay fields like quilt patches, or surely we’ll see the vineyard facing the sun and looking like it has lost its way to Tuscany.
Ridges undulate from this side of the valley – one, two, three, I count six mountain ridges playing peek-a-boo stretching across the southern horizon. Another day to explore them. Today we drive west on Sugar Hollow Road starting in Wyoming County, up on side of the mountain, down another, and I rejoice at farms still working as I see angus for beef and Holstein, Guernsey and Jersey for milk out in the pastures along the road.
Still, I find myself growing melancholy at the abandoned stone foundations that once supported too many other barns. A silo without its cap, without its barn, catches my eye, and I think of it as a sort of tombstone, a memorial to the planting and harvesting, the dreams and heartbreak that left it here. The hands that built it are long gone, but I will not forget those who fed us from these farms, so we could choose our own different path.
We drive from dark shade to light when a break in the thickets along the road opens up to sunshine. I cannot see quick enough to catch a bear or a deer looking back at me though I know they are in there hiding from me. But I am just fast enough to watch one red leaf, edges curled, ride the breezes in wide circles and coming to light in the left lane. Then it disappears into the pasture spun about by the wind from our passing car.
Somehow it seems important to document this one red leaf, falling alone – maybe before the rest, or after the rest fall from its tree. Even a leaf should not be left alone and forgotten, or am I conflating it with the people who die alone – in a hospital bed, at home, the last of a generation, or one caught in the killing fields of a mall, a concert, or a street in some big city and separated from those who loved him or her. I don’t know, but today I write one red leaf to be remembered while I forget others.
Our passage traces a thin line between two mountain chains, and from time-to-time, it widens a bit to make room for a lawn wrapped around a lonely house or two. Then it narrows again to make space only a hunting cabin deep. We leave the cabins behind us and the mountains call me to the Artist’s work, daubed here with ocher, gold and lemon, there with crimson and burnt sienna over nearly a dozen shades of green. Queen Anne’s lace, wild mustard, milk weed, wild blue phlox, white aster, and purple gentian dance in the sun as if calling out, “Choose me, choose me for your wreath or vase,” and
I do, tucking in wild ferns and prickery burdock for contrast, arranging it gently in the back seat for later.
We pass through villages where the houses are strung out like neighbors needing a lot of personal space. But perhaps, I think, glad of the light cast on the snow between their houses in winter when no road will take them away quickly enough to get some milk and bread or cough syrup for a sick child. Then neighbors do what neighbors do, even in the winter.
A pasture leads to a barn on the right side of the road, and I see what I know to be a sap house, a chicken coop, and a corn crib arranged between the barn and the house. A callico and two grey cats stretch out, sunning themselves outside the barn, and for a moment I yearn to join them. But the road curves away and reveals a wimsey:cornfields cut, chopped for the cows’ winter dinner, but for one stalk, fiercely waving its tassels as if to say, “Don’t forget me.”
The fields close up ranks, and the valley narrows with mountains like thrust-up teepees jammed in together wearing green coverlets with only a silver thread of water twisting this way and that at their base, like a ribbon holding them in place.
And suddenly I am overtaken once again with love for the land and would tell the farmers, the country men and women who live here that I understand why they stay. But I know too the reality that they would think me silly to say such a thing. They would never put it that way. They don’t talk of love for the land. They just do it – working it out on their feet with tired muscles and sometimes with anxious hearts, just not with words.
And that’s OK.