Beyond Main Street

For the last 7 years, I have been giving historical walking tours of my home village--Woodstock, Vermont. I try with each walk to turn this seemingly tidy and wholly unmysterious place upside down and inside out, to create perceptual surprises. That is what I would wish for this blogwalk to do as well. Thanks for joining me.

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hoboing Along

The hoboing goes splendidly. Yesterday evening was so lovely that I decide to walk on from Bowdoin Park, through the happy hamlet of New Hamburg, where the porch sitters looked particularly serene

and was thrilled when I got my first glance of the Hudson Highlands -- Storm King away off to the south -- and delighted by this little optical trick of the setting sun cast across the big puddles along the railroad tracks:

those little vertical shadows across my midsection are the upside-down reflection of my legs, and as I was walking I got to watch my legs walking both right-side-up and upside-down. Such ephemeral surprises are among this long walk's greatest graces. Just after I took this photo, the nice soft alluvium along the RR turned to foot-rupturing crushed stone, and, seeing an open hillside and what appeared to be a road, I cut cross lots. . . and a couple of minutes later, a pair of DEP (NY's Dept of Environmental Protection -- fully armed) cops pulled in front of me, lights flashing, and jumped out. They asked for ID, waited for the dispatcher to get back with info about whether I was a terrorist, and then released me when they got word I was only wanted in a single small rural state for ringing bells. As I headed for the HUGE gate, unsure exactly what sensitive government installation I'd trespassed upon, I was met by the gatehouse guard Phil, who somewhat awkwardly asked me to sign out on his clipboard, even though I hadn't signed in.

When I told Phil what I was up to, he very eagerly asked me: "Which way does Lake George drain -- into the Hudson or Lake Champlain? When I told him that it came into Lake Champlain via the La Chute River, he then, with a big, sweet, can-you-top-this?! look, asked: "Do you know why most rivers in the northern hemisphere drain south, and most in the southern hemisphere drain north?" "Coriolis effect?" I guessed. "No, the bulge at the equator. . ." and then he gave me a mini-geography lesson. All this hospitality from the guy who was in charge of keeping me out of the joint relaxed me, especially because as we were talking, the DEP cops went out the gate. "What is this place, anyway, that there is so much security?" Phil glanced over his shoulder both ways, then said he guessed he could tell me, since it wasn't any secret. "This is where the Croton Aqueduct comes back up after tunneling under the Hudson." He pointed to a little vent pipe coming out of the grass at a little distance (you can just barely see it above and to the right of my mando on my back in this photo)

Phil proceeded to tell me the whole history of New York City's water supply, and then invited me in to his heavily fortified gatehouse to show me some historic photos:

I felt so gratified to think of such a well-informed gatehouse guard protecting my destination city's water supply. Thanks Phil for the great lesson!

Lingering so long with Phil meant that I wouldn't make it to Beacon by nightfall, and as the last light -- and the first fireflies of my walk! -- faded, I passed a darkened house for sale, with a big wrap-around porch. I tried the door, and it was open, and so I pitched my sleeping bag out back on the screen porch. There was a nice swimming pool out back, so this morning at 4:30 AM I got a little pre-walk swim in too!

Oh my! The sun has come out here in Beacon, and a red-tail hawk is being mobbed by a pair of crows. Oh, leave the poor fellow alone! There has been so much rain this past month, that it seems that absolutely all creatures great & small should live and let live for awhile. "I hereby declare a moratorium on all animal behaviors outside cooperation and compassion . . ."

Maybe I could get the Hudson Valley's most celebrated and beloved citizen, Pete Seeger, to make this decree. Last week Pete was declared "Honorary Beacon Citizen." When my friend Mickey De Nicola saw Pete at the Clearwater Festival on Sunday, she asked him if he planned to come to "Maps & Dreams" at the Howland Center tonight, he opened up his day planner, and she said the only thing written in for Wednesday was: "KEVIN DANN". I called yesterday and Pete's wife Toshi said she'd pass my invitation on to him, so there's a chance I'll get to sing "If I Had a Hammer" with him. I can still recall singing this in the 6th grade talent show in 1968, wearing plastic love beads and a funky scarf.

Well, I guess some things never change. (That's Dick Tracy, ex-mayor of Hudson, giving me the key to the city. . . )

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