Once again it’s been too long since I’ve made a proper post. However, at last I’ve a spot of time with a couple of tales to tell with adequate cell coverage.
After slogging through Rocksyvania, New Jersey, and entering New York State without notable incident I at last came to the point where I could call on one last acquaintance from my old college days in North Carolina. Upon reaching the South side of the Hudson River at Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park I designed for a short rest and a grand reunion with an old chum of former days. John Calvin Patterson prescribed himself essentially the same curriculum as myself from 1971 to 75 at Catawba College in Salisbury, NC. At the time we were both rudderless sloops on a sea of destiny, but we both had a love of the natural world. I was obsessed with having a name for each living organism and a category to place it in. John was much the same. Consequently, we became fast friends while trying to assail academia. The peripheral requirements of mathematics, proper spelling, and library science were an anathema to both of us as we sought communion with nature. Upon graduation, John drifted to a job reclaiming silver from X-Ray plates and other metal reclamation. I most fortunately pursued graduate work back home at Acadia University in the classification of mushrooms. It seemed important at the time. Through marriage, John ultimately wound up owning a funeral business while I wound up flogging bloody microscopes. That’s the destiny of “rudderless sloops”. Potential young lovers of the Natural World take heed.
I had forewarned John of my possible arrival somewhere around late May or early June in a Christmas card. So, he was vaguely aware of my impending arrival. A phone call brought him to my location within 15 minutes, and back to his home shortly thereafter. Supper was a grand affair with Greek Salad and pasta to cater to my need for fresh greenery and carbohydrate loading. The company was most agreeable with John’s wife and his son Even and his wife.
After helping with the cleanup we retired to the man cave in his basement. Madeira and Dominican Cigars set the stage for a long night of reminiscences. A through review of old college days ensued with almost unanimous agreement on what professors and fellow students we liked and didn’t like. We also agreed that “rudderless sloops” should be given a shoe in the arse before going to college.
Long after the cigars were extinguished and the Madeira mostly gone, John asked if I’d care to be serenaded with the didgeridoo his son gifted to him from Austrailia. Never shy for a novel experience I begged him please. He complied to the best of his ability. Apparently, the trick of playing the “didge” properly is to swallow enough air so that it can be regurgitated under a constant pressure as one continues to gasp. As you might imagine, it’s much easier to describe than accomplish. He made a fabulous effort and I was suitably impressed. However, I fell short of being transported to the desert twilight of the Australian Out-Back. John said he could do better if his lips were only a little larger and more flaccid.
Finally, in the wee hours I sternly admonished him against any ideas he might be entertaining about hiking the Appalachain Trail. It’s physical tortures, deprivations, and trials just aren’t worth an occasional sideways glance at a pristine mountain view. Commiseration on challenges endured with fellow hikers provide the only levity; and that, with strangers one third your age. A long walk in the woods might provide benefit, but I’m realizing the benefits wane considerably.
After a long sleep-in I awoke to a bounteous brunch of copious coffee, steak, and eggs. Desert was the dismal prospect of being set back on the trail. So, after a short sweet interlude, and some resupply at the local grocery, I was duly set off at the Bear Mountain Bridge where I continue my self imposed toils. I can’t thank John enough for his generosity of time and gracious accommodation. It’s a good thing to stay in touch with old friends.
Once across the Hudson I walked the six miles to my next spiritual encounter at the “Graymoor Spiritual Life Centre”. It’s a large campus of convents, priories, chapels, and cemeteries run by the Franciscan Order. St. Francis of Assisi could never have imagined his holy influence on continent yet undiscovered. Apparently unassailed by scandal or diminishing numbers of the faithful the Franciscan Order’s resources are immense. AT hikers are encouraged to camp at the large ball field on the western perimeter of the campus. There are privies, a roofed cooking area, and an outdoor shower so cold all but the Holy Ghost shriek in discomfort. I hastily set up my tent behind the backstop of the baseball diamond and cooked my staple supper of powdered mash potatoes, tuna, and butter. A few other hikers straggled in before nightfall and we tried to catch up on trail news as we ate. As darkness fell we all turned in for a peaceful sleep. Awakening the next morning I was curious to find out the extent of the Franciscan holdings I was camped on before starting off. The statuary and buildings deserved a review. So after a quick breakfast of coffee and oats I took myself on a self guided tour. Perhaps not surprisingly there was a bakery, bookstore, and an antique shop artfully blended into the ecclesiastical setting. Our Lady of the Atonement Retreat House was a standout. The gymnasium doubled as a bingo hall. Concluding my tour and wishing to make haste up the trail I headed back to the ball field to pack up my tent and gear.
Getting close to the ball field I was startled to hear the raucous roar of a massive crowd. Upon getting closer my worst fears were realized. The field was covered with what seemed to be a mass of hundreds of shouting half naked male maniacs. Some were throwing footballs, some kicking soccer balls, and still others trying to play baseball in the middle of it all. All present seemed to be hollering at the top of their lungs. There was not an authoritative brown robed Friar anywhere in sight. All was just a violent sea of unleashed testosterone, and my tent was right in the middle of it all. After managing to gain the attention of a spindly tattooed rat of a fellow I asked what the occasion was. He said “It’s our free time Man!” Still perplexed I asked who all these people were and why they should chance to descend here at this time of day. He impatiently sputtered that they were all reforming drug addicts under the care of the Franciscans , and this was there free time. Then added “You got a problem wit dat!” I said no of course, but I did have the problem of extracting my belongings from the midst of a demented mass of deranged dopers. I chanced one more query as to how long the furious “Free Time” pageant might be expected to continue? “Till 4:30 Man!”
It was then afternoon and not wanting to waste a day of hiking I determined to secret myself in the woods and work my way round as close to my tent as possible. Then when there seemed to be an opportunity, with as few dopers close to my tent as possible, I would leap from the bush, grab everything and scurry back into the bush again. Besides a soccer ball bouncing off my back the plan worked reasonably well. Miraculously nothing seemed to have been stomped on. They were so intent on madly running about and shouting that they hardly took any notice of me. Once packed up and on the trail again I determined to not daly about in the morning anymore. One can never guess what the trail has in store. I had mistakenly assumed that the Franciscans occupied themselves with endeavours purely theological. How wrong a fellow can be. Apparently, the state of New York pays the Abbey well for the goodly service of reforming drug addicts. It’s the Graymoor Spiritual Life Centre’s major source of income I learned from a local fellow walking his dog. My last image of the urbane Graymoor Abbey grounds was a large wooden sign creaking in the wind stating “The Friars and Sisters invite you to experience the miracle of the Holy Mountain”. I considered myself lucky to escape unscathed.
Now it’s back to the rocks, trees, bryophytes, and the occasional millipede that rule my life on the Appalachain Trail.
Till my next encounter with the sublime,
Light Heart – Easy Pace