Like all good things, the land of cheese and syrup had to come to an end. The cool weather clung to the Vermontian hills as we rolled on and the valleys of upstate New york met us with bright sunlight and warmer air. Entering New York through the rural upstate regions was like starting a book by opening up to the index. There was no sign of the New York that is brought to mind with images of Sex and the City, the Beastie Boys, Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal loving the Mets. The weather was changing quickly and by the afternoon we were finally starting to see signs of life, that is if you refer to technology, pollution and traffic as life, disregarding the inherent contradiction of it all. The tri-city area of Troy, Albany, and Schenectady met us with a slap in the face of a warm, humid hand and mile upon mile of traffic congested streets. There seems to be a trend in our trip of approaching metropolitan areas during the peak of rush hour, leaving us only with the bitter taste of a fossil fuel spewing haze and the increasing desire to settle in the remote hinterlands of the country.
In full disclosure, once or twice me might have hoped for a vehicle with air conditioning. But there was nothing we could do about it now except navigate the open spaces between bumpers like a rickshaw driver in the streets of Calcutta (or Kolkatta if you’re more contemporary). Eventually we found our way out of city limits and onto the cold and impersonal expanse of the interstate. We were reunited with the 18-wheel semis and wide-load house movers, the behemoth motor homes and weekend warrior boat trailers. In case our confidence had become too overinflated we were reminded of how small and powerless we were in the presence of these monsters.
The finger lakes approached and with it the town of Syracuse. Night fell. We were tired and Eliot had had enough. The crying began. We pulled off the highway and wound up and over the steep Syracuse streets, desperately searching for a wi-fi hotspot to locate a place to sleep. Eventually we settled on the more primitive but much more reliable of gps devices, another human being. There was a Wal-Mart down the road a bit, and it was there we would spend the night. It was days like this that remind us of the toll the road can take on a person.
The next morning we continued west until Seneca lake. Descending south we skirted the eastern edge and landed at the very tip at Watkins Glen State Park. Home to the beautiful narrow gorge of Watkins Glen, where layers of rock jut out from the wall and waterfalls cut staircases into the earth. We claimed a spot at the campsite up the road and came back down to the entrance to the gorge, where we would begin our hike. It was a hot day, let me start by saying that. It was hot and despite the relatively short drive already I was pretty tired. Let me also start by apologizing to my eternally gracious and patient wife for putting up with (as well as she could) my grouchy and unpleasant demeanor. Combine my state of mind with a child learning to walk who insists on surmounting slick, sharp steps of stone, himself, and you may, indeed, have a day that turns out to be less enjoyable than you hoped. The heat and my character flaws aside, it was truly a beautiful place. There is nothing that can diminish the wonder of nature in a soul when she’s in her full glory. The mind, the heart, the attention span folds at the presence of such beauty and hesitates in its distractions to acknowledge without contest that there, beauty be.
We made it, somehow by the grace of God, to the top of the gorge, with Eliot screaming in our ears as I ran him up the last few steps to our finish line where there was a playground, a bathroom, a store and (most importantly) a shuttle stop, because there was absolutely no way I was going to repeat that hike while wrangling our son who was getting more and more tired (see:clumsy and uncoordinated) yet who continued to insist on not being carried. Relief was only temporary, though, because, thanks to a friendly Rabbi who had just completed the same hike and was probably enjoying an enriching spiritual experience, we heard that the shuttle would not run today. I would like to apologize to that same rabbi for my grouchy and unpleasant demeanor.
I might have had a mental break at that point. I don’t remember much after blacking out and waking up with turkey feathers in my hair, ice cream in my shoe and a face tattoo of Chinese characters the meaning of which I will never know.
With little other option we made our way back to the gorge, descending step after step, taking turns holding our son’s hands, keeping him from spilling over the low retaining wall, and alternatively taking slow deep breaths and repeating to ourselves “it will all be over soon, it will all be over soon.”
Later at camp we found a swimming pool and Jamie and Eli went for a much deserved dip while I sat down and took deep cleansing breaths. Later, after showers, while dinner heated up on Captain Kiwi’s stove Jamie hung the hammock between two trees and Eli pulled out his trucks and played in the dirt. The daylight faded into the pine needles and our little family settled down for another night beneath the stars. Showers, food and a swing in the hammock. It’s amazing what the little things can do for one’s state of mind.