North & South America

The Catskills

The Catskills

The end of summer makes me think of how it began. The first bit of warm weather is just as memorable as the last, sort of like parentheses in the sentence of a colder climate. Just taking a drive to mark the beginning and the end is a way to notice the changes before you. The first time we got in the car to see where we wound up, that seems an appropriate beginning.

An April in central New York can yield mild days, but colder nights. Usually, the cold makes the days seem all that much milder. In September, 55 degrees for a high sounds cold. In the early spring, it seems like a heat wave. It is an inspiration to forget about all the winter cleanup and take off to anywhere, cabin fever being a vigorous motivation.

The sun shining, we got in the car and headed out, feeling like we were cutting class in high school. We passed by farms and forests that were in the last stages of winter slumber. The slight edge light had over night in the balance of the day was just waking up the nature around it. Everything we passed by seemed like it was waking up, as we headed decided towards the northern Catskills in Delaware County. Either life knew that it was early spring, or it knew it was Friday. There were people sleepwalking by, cars everywhere. Time to put away the winter boots and take out happy hour.

Up and down the hills and bends of the Catskills we drove. We drove through Andes, a town that used to be a village, until the town residents decided that being a village was too antiquated and voted themselves to be a town. Sometimes, you hear of Latin music festivals. I think I heard of some Peruvian festival going on here at some point, but I don’t quite remember. Suffice it to say that Andes is more a name like Rome or Naples, and nothing to do with the ethnicity of the town/ village.

When we drove there, several things happened. A car passed us in a two-laned road while we traveled at the speed limit. A state trooper, who had been posted in a speed trap, witness the incident, and immediately turned around to confront this encounter. He passed us and pulled over the guy who passed us, waving us by as he issued the ticket. Once we reached the village, we almost got cut off by a pickup truck that had been parked on the main road. It was if he hadn’t even seen us. The building he’d been in front of was a bar. I wonder if there was a connection there. A fortysomething year old man with a goatee walked with two middle-school aged children down the road. I wonder if he was going to the bar, too. It seemed like the big event, judging by all the people parked by it.

We passed through towns like Roxbury and Grand Gorge, towns that were in a dyslexic interlude between ski tourists and summer people. Even though the weather was mild, the streets were empty, as though the tourists melted with the last bit of snow. A random drive through a town probably won’t yield a very accurate observation. But to me, it looked like the residents were too busy cleaning up between guests to hang out and smell the spring air, roses or whatever quaint charm that sounded like a good greeting card. So much for the simple country life.

On Route 30, when you pass through Roxbury, there are two things you see. The Elmhurst dairy plant towers over everything in its path as you pass by. It seems out of place next to all the smaller shops that surround it. The facility took me by surprise, even though I knew that the dairy plant was in this town somewhere. And parallel to the road were two things: a railroad track, and what looked like a groomed trail. The trail was much wider than the typical hiking trail, and seemed to have several access points along the way, but I couldn’t figure out what the name of it was, where it was, or how long it was.

A traffic accident in the latter part of Roxbury caused a jam of vehicles to line up for what seemed a mile long. Firemen attempted to regulate everyone, but couldn’t prevent people from making U-turns far down the line. We were near the beginning, but all we could see was flares, no accident. Half hour passing, we nearly turned around ourselves, but finally we were allowed through. An eighteen-wheeler had gotten its right-handed tires stuck in a ditch, an easy thing to do on upstate roads.

The hills took us back home again, riding us up and down in an automotive roller coaster. Hairpin turns prevented you from being lulled into complacency. At times, you nearly made a ninety-degree turn with the upcoming of each little hamlet. These were the kind of roads that made you pay attention to the road, or else you the driver would pay in other ways. As a passenger or a driver, you felt adrenaline at their pitch, even if you were just out for a casual ride and were on your way home.

Later that night, a cold snap came. The temperatures dropped to 21 degrees. A hard freeze threatened the embryonic spring growth. Its bite made it seem like the previous day with its fresh breeze hadn’t happened. But I knew the cold was only an illusion that tried its best to trick you. I knew the April blasts of ice melted in the butter soft light of day. It was just the typical argument of a bitter winter not wanting to leave, and a quiet spring gently shooing it away. Remembering the warm breath of spring while driving with open windows was a sign of a new season. With the onset of winter looming, it is a reminder that after a hot summer, comes fall. And after a cold winter, the cycle of life begins again.

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