Nature Boy (2014Feb03)


Sunday, February 02, 2014                  8:51 PM


Nine minutes left in the third quarter, Broncos would need four straight TDs (with extra points) and keep a lock on Seahawks offense, just to tie the game. I love a comeback, but I don’t see this one working out—so, here I am at the keyboard. I was remembering flashes of time in my past—I was stuck on outdoor scenes, and their attendant emotional effects.


Many times, before I got sick, I’d take long walks—sometimes the walks were so long that I’d be miles away when I realized it was getting dark. I can remember one particular night when David Streeter and I were walking back to Katonah on Rt. 35, and we were just south of the traffic light by John Jay High. There was no moon and the clouds obscured the stars. It was pitch black—it felt like I was walking into a wall—I put my hands out and I realized that only helps indoors.




This presented a dangerous situation—we could be walking in the middle of the highway, for all we knew—and we would only learn that from the lights of an oncoming car. Eventually we just walked blind, stopping to correct every time we felt our feet hit the shoulder’s gravel. Only one car came—it was easy to get to the side of the road in time—but that was the only car. We walked and it seemed to take forever to reach a place with lighting (the traffic light just past the dam). It was the only time that happened—virtually all my life I’ve spent the nighttime on well-lit streets, but that was when I realized that street-lights weren’t a given.DSC_3192_(SMALLER)


But that’s a special case. Mostly I would find myself somewhere remote, the weather would change, and I’d walk back thinking about living without a home, with nowhere to go from the windy, drizzling shoulder of an anonymous-ish numbered route. Sometimes I would look out at the view from John Jay Junior High, gray trees, yellow grass, a slalom of low hills that went forever, still sporting patches of snow in the shaded places.


Westchester is far from the true nature of ‘upstate’—we’re a suburb of the big city—yet the northernmost parts of the county contain small pockets of the ‘upstate’ that reigns just to the north. New York State is amazing—a huge state, tons of farmland and hillside, but the majority of the state’s citizens live in the paltry square-mileage of the Five Boroughs. People seeking colorful autumn vistas will suppose that New England is the place, Vermont, Maine, and all that—but New York State has the highest number of different species of tree than any other state—and our upstate, in the fall, blows away anything those Down-Easterners can summon.


Winter in a woodsy landscape uses a pallet of grays and light browns, so if you enjoy the bitter-sweetness, you may rest assured it won’t change until well into spring. While winter lasts, however, a mere hour in the open can chill a person to the bone. When I would sit on the ground to rest awhile, I could feel the energy just being leached out of my body until I was shivering too profoundly to even walk properly. When the wind blew needles of sleet into my face, I would consider how quickly something could be killed by exposure. I’ve always kinda wished I was chubby, just because it’s so much warmer than scrawny (more comfortable, too, I’ve always supposed). And I eventually got my wish—around my waist, at least.


To be alone in nature, even if walking along a paved road, is a fragile perch. Whenever I get upset about something in our house, I can always stop fretting by reminding myself that it’s heated and sheltered from the wind. Those two qualities, plus discouraging other animals from joining us with solid walls, are such incredibly luxurious possessions. I mean, the electricity, the refrigerator, running water—all those are very, very nice as well. But if I’m out on a winter night, with the wet and the chill and the darkness, I would gladly settle for a heated shed.



Rain, too—especially when it’s cold—rain can make you spend the hours getting home either cursing yourself for being under-dressed, or congratulating yourself for staying dry all the way home. As a kid, I can remember many occasions where I’d go outside without a coat on. I was a kid—that’s my excuse—I didn’t think it mattered. And it doesn’t, really, not for the first five minutes, at least.

I don’t know. I was drawn to the outdoors, to the woods. I wanted to live in a simple shack in the wilderness—it sung to me. But I always reached a point where the temptation of a hot bath and cable TV made me re-assess my love of nature. I compromised by drawing the trees I saw outside my window and spending a lot of time in Pound Ridge Arboretum. But even in fairly developed Katonah, there were still woodsy spots—we lived at 51 Parkway, at the bottom of the hill that the Memorial Park is atop of—and we never walked up there using the streets. We took a path through the woods that covered that hill—and that’s one example of what I always loved about Katonah.


There was the dam road at the end of Jay St.—a beautiful walk, especially when the wind shhhsh-ed through the fir needles, making the tops of the trees sway provocatively—or when, one time after a blizzard, the road became the entrance to the Winter Queen’s Castle, all ice-coated and snow-frosted, arches of fallen trees and large boughs—all gleaming in the next morning’s sunshine. There was the walk to Deer Park (no great trek from my old house), using the old, forgotten street off Jay St. (It had trees growing out of the pavement and most of the asphalt was obscured by the detritus of time.) It wasn’t a big part of the walk, but the surrealism made for a great sense of faraway-ness.


My dad had a rowboat chained to a tree just by the reservoir, behind the old train station’s parking lot. I could row my way nearly to Carmel, reservoir to reservoir. On a blustery day, I’d row like a madman, singing pop tunes at the top of my lungs, with a chop that one doesn’t expect in fresh water causing the boat to roll and slap and yaw. And there were cross-country trails in the woods behind the High School—great for endurance runs or quick stops to smoke weed before the next class. I loved the sense of being a race-car in an all-terrain rally—banking on the turns, jumping the fallen trunks—it was great!





But I suppose best of all was Pound Ridge—the old Pound Ridge, with the fire tower and the big tree in the middle of the giant field. As a teen, I simply could not walk across a big field—I would sprint into it a ways and start running in broad circles—not unlike a dog. It’s really strange to recall those days here in my new world of sitting and lying down, never even walking around the block.



2 responses to “Nature Boy (2014Feb03)

  1. I remember running like a wild horse through a down pour with you In downtown Katonah once. Such an intense release, not unlike the cloud burst itself. Hmmmm happy stuff.

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