The drive from East Randolph to New Paltz was, I think, one of my favourite legs of the trip. It’s not often you get the chance to use the word ‘verdant’ and not come across like something of a tool, but verdant is the word to describe the woods that line the roads as you hook out east over peaceful highways that, more often than not, you have to yourself.
You could get lost out here, and be happy for doing so.
It’s country that feels friendly to me; maybe this is just my own presuppositions and prejudices talking, or maybe it’s fond dreams and memories of unreal constructions overlapping. Upstate New York is the heart of Yankee territory, as far as I know. This is the North, man. This is where the good guys come from. Right? This is, as Don Mitchell told us, Mark Twain territory. This is Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer stuff; this is easy adventures under trees and off the beaten track. This is quiet, sunny, America, with dapples of light and shade under the branches. This is small, picturesque towns and Main Street. This is the kind of landscape I think of when I think of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the kind of landscape that I wanted to find somewhere on this trip.
I could spend more time in New York State. I really could. We drove through, easily, unhurried, and I looked out of my window and thought that to go camping out here with someone you loved would be a wonderful thing.
As long as the Wendigo didn’t skin you alive, of course.
So we drove under the sun, along highways and past small towns. We crested hills and saw forests that extended out as far as we could see. We made stops that took us off the roadways and onto lazy side streets, that plunged us into the deep cold shade of the mountains, and took us by cemeteries that slumped and staggered down the sides of embankments. This was the one of the images of America that I grew up with, the green, undisturbed, sleepy America.
It was getting to late afternoon as we hit the last leg towards New Paltz and the Olears and Lenore, and the light started to turn ever so slightly flat and dim, just enough to know that twilight was coming on.
What to say about the Olears?
They fit this place. And it fits them.The relaxation here, the depth out here, the charm of this place… this is Greg and Steph. Relaxed, charming, thoughtful people. They laugh easily, and readily. And Steph makes a badass mojito.
We got in and unloaded our bags, and took up residence on the front porch. Lenore had come up earlier from New York that day, and sat with Dom, Greg and Steph’s son, and played Imaginary Animals.
‘Have you ever seen a Bad Luck Bird?’ she asked.
Dom considered, then shook his head, in the unrestrained way that children do.
I forget the shape of a Bad Luck Bird, precisely. As far as I can remember, it doesn’t have a head, and it has multiple sets of wings, so it can never eat, and when it tries to fly, it just stays in place.
Discussion of Bad Luck Birds turned to the inflation of the Kiwi toy that Zara had brought for Dom, and then to steak, wine, and mojitos.
And then, once night had fallen, it was a return to the porch, where Greg and I, as we had promised each other, lit up cigars. We sat, and smoked, and perfectly, the simplicity of the woods around us made a backdrop for the simplicity of sitting, and talking, and drinking, and smoking, with friends.
Spots of light began to flicker on and off in the garden, and I realised with some wonder that I was seeing my first fireflies. We watched them swoop in the darkness of the front yard, mirrored above by the brilliance of the stars in the night sky above.
A night spent with friends in the woods of New York State?
There are so many worse ways to spend your time.
Accidentally letting out the cat, for instance, who has been shut in the garage for the night and who yowls unmercifully as he slips your grasp. Or muttering ‘FuckfuckfuckIcan’tbelieveIletthecatout,’ is another.
Fortunately, the poor chump was trusting enough to go running right back to my arms as soon as I held my hand out to him.
The next morning saw us pack, eat breakfast in town, and get ready to head to New York. But before we left, we needed one reminder for all time of all the fun we’d had staying with the Olears.