Hudson River cruise
Tuesday, July 29 2003
For the past couple of days Gretchen has been espousing a personal philosophy about summertime. She aims to spend as much of her summer as possible doing warm-weather activities: swimming in lakes, picking fruit on farms, riding around in boats, things like that. This is in compensation for all the years in Brooklyn, where the attainment of a genuine summer experience wasn't easy.
My view of summer hasn't been changed much by the years I spent living in major cities. I'm never one to take full advantage of my surroundings, be they spatial or temporal. During the year I lived only three blocks from the beach in San Diego, I ventured into the water less than a half dozen times. Indeed, I've surprised myself by the amount of time I've spent in the adjacent forest since the end of winter.
Today I participated in several of Gretchen's summetime activities. First we went to visit our downhill neighbors' and take advantage of their pool. I was there partly to work on the neighbors' computer, whose modem was evidently fried in a recent electrical storm. I'd brought a modem, but somehow I'd grabbed a CD installation for some other modem. The problem with cheap, generic computer components is that they're now so generic and poorly labeled that once the driver software gets separated from the component, it becomes impossible to discern that there ever was any sort of logical connection between them. I don't know why these obscure Chinese factories that make this stuff can't come up with some brand names for the things they load into those slow boats of theirs.
While Gretchen was swimming and I was occupied with the computer stuff, Sally was briefly unsupervised. She was so excited by Gretchen's splashing around that she destroyed a couple of things on the shoreline and had to be banned from the pool area. One would normally expect Eleanor the puppy to be the one most likely to misbehave, but Sally has a much more deeply-ingrained disposition to defy authority.
Aside from my unusually high body density (which makes it difficult for me to float), my biggest problem with swimming is my inability to keep water out of my nose. This is a basic skill most swimmers learn in childhood, but I've never had much experience attempting to swim. And once water goes up my nose, the resulting misery is enough to ruin my experience and send me back to dry land.
Next Gretchen and I went to the Rondout to embark upon a short nautical adventure aboard the Rip Van Winkle, a 125 foot long cruise ship that makes a loop down around Esopus Island in the Hudson River. We had a pair of tickets we'd won in the silent auction benefitting a Project Cat.
They really managed to pack a lot of people onto the boat. I don't think there were actually enough seats to accommodate everyone, but that was okay because plenty of people were happy to stand aft and watch the Catskills recede in our wake. There was a snackbar on the boat, and Gretchen was excited because they offered vegetarian hamburgers. She went and bought us some, along with some nachos chips with cheese and a beer for me. The only thing one can count on from such snackbars is the beer. The "burgers" were utterly flavorless, and the bland molten yellow substance that made our "nachos" different from a box of semi-stale corn chips was horrifying. I don't like to throw my gustatory refinement around too much, but I just don't put stuff like that in my mouth.
There were some speakers mounted both stern and aft and a guide with a microphone told us various salient facts about things as we motored past. The Hudson, we were told, is actually a tidal estuary extending all the way to Troy, New York, but the water is fresh north of Newburgh. Our attention was drawn to numerous mansions on either side of the river, including the ruins of Wyndclyffe, a building about which the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses" had been first applied. The building and its couple acres of remaining grounds are apparently for sale for only $250,000.
As I become increasingly acquainted with the Hudson, I'm realizing that for a large fraction of America's history, the Hudson was the closest thing this country had to an axis of wealth. Those days are over, and thankfully so. Now we can just enjoy the splendor that wealth left behind without being besieged by its continuation. I've never lived in a region with less ongoing urban sprawl.
The Rip Van Winkle staff operated a cunning swindle involving photography. They took pictures of everyone as they boarded the boat, and then feverishly developed all the pictures while we were out on the water. Once we landed, they had a booth displaying and offering the pictures for sale. Who but a heartless ogre would refuse to purchase a picture of their kid or loved one? Gretchen and I were curious to see our picture, but we proved heartless enough to just keep walking.
This evening, Gretchen and I took Sally and Eleanor to the Fording Place crossing of Esopus Creek for a little riparian canine fun. We stopped on the way at Gill's produce stand on Hurley Mountain Road. Gretchen has a new-found dislike for Gill's operation after she saw the cramped barracks-style housing provided to its nomadic Mexican workforce, but the vegetable stand was on our way and we were in desperate need of vegetables.
The creek at the Fording Place crossing is either disgusting with algæ or too shallow for swimming, but it makes a good setting for hillbilly farmboy wading. The bed of the creek seems to be comprised almost entirely of slippery cobblestones ranging from fist-sized to watermelonesque. I found an abandoned PetSmart frisbee to toss back and forth with Gretchen. As a demonstration of its street-cred with dogs, it had tooth marks in it, but neither of our dogs were interested. They were mostly snuffling around on the shoreline, though both humored us by swimming briefly.
After we'd waded a little, Gretchen led me down a trail through the creekside forest to a nearby cornfield where we looked to see if the corn was ripe enough for us to steal some ears. We bit into a nascent cob and decided it still needed a week or two.
I satisfied myself by assembling a bouquet of wildflowers as an impermanent gift for Gretchen. I've never been sure why, but chicks go nuts about flowers that have been severed from their roots. For me, the floral diversity of a particular setting can easily translate into an invitation to collect, a strong motivation I can even marshal to overcome the depressing futility of the resulting collection.
For dinner Gretchen prepared a meal that consisted almost entirely of vegetables from the Esopus Valley: stuffed Esopus tomatoes (containing non-Esopus rice and non-Esopus fake ground beef), delicious Esopus mosaic sweet corn, and a cole slaw containing both Esopus carrots and Esopus cabbage.
This ticket window wasn't exactly a model of efficiency.
Note the newsprint American flag, probably dating from September 2001.
People preparing to board the Rip Van Winkle for the Hudson River cruise.
One of many rotting buildings on the lower Rondout Creek shoreline.
An abandoned crane from the early 20th Century in a pile of similar iron scrap
abandoned on the Rondout Creek Shoreline near the Hudson River.
The somewhat dilapidated Esopus lighthouse in the Hudson River
(nowhere near the mouth of Esopus Creek, which is up in Saugerties).
In the distance on the horizon you can faintly see the Catskills.
Me at Fording Place in Esopus Creek.
Me and Eleanor at Fording Place in Esopus Creek.
Eleanor at Fording Place in Esopus Creek.
Eleanor at Fording Place in Esopus Creek.
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