abandoned like skeletons Thursday, September 25 2003
Noah the Cat continues to exist like Schrödinger's cat, in a completely unknown state of either life or death. Every time I come home from any absence, I look around to see if he's returned, but each time the chance grows smaller. It's terribly sad to think about, so I try not to. I try not to think of his plaintive face begging for affection, especially given how horrible his death might have been if a coyote or a Barred Owl got him.
I was out on the Stick Trail twice today, working on elaborating the part of the trail within the State Park by aligning sticks on both sides of the trail. I define the initial trajectory of the trail with a single line of sticks, but I never consider the trail complete until there is a continuous line of sticks on both sides, like the rails in a railroad. [Writing that, I pictured Noah balancing on the sticks like an endless balance beam. That's the way he used to walk the Stick Trail.]
I also elaborated a trail that passes from the Stick Trail to the Chamomile Headwaters Trail via the 769 foot elevation summit (a landform I've begun referring to as "Funky Pond Summit"). The pond on this ridge is very responsive to rain. It had dried out to a mudflat until the hurricane remnants passed through.
At the end of the second outing, on my way back from the farthest reaches of the Stick Trail, I decided to cut through the woods directly, defying all trails and using the shortest possible route. This lead me up over a forested hill directly across a ravine from our uphill neighbor's farmhouse. On the way, I came across several ancient manmade structures. The first of these was only a couple dozen feet northeast of the terminus of the Stick Trail. It was an elegant little spring dug into the side of the hill and neatly lined with native stone. Being only a quarter mile from the farmhouse, perhaps at one time it had served as the farm's water supply.
Farther up the hill, I encountered a stone wall doggedly marking a straight map line despite the steeply rolling terrain. After crossing this, I came upon dozens of rock piles, all of them very neat and somehow taller than they were wide. Evidently someone in the ancient past had been determined to purge the landscape of its many cobblestones, probably so that there would then be soil available for agricultural purposes. Perhaps they were successful and managed to maintain a farm for generations. Certainly the work required to build the farm's many stone walls must have taken years, even with a dozen kids and barracks of slaves. (There were slaves in this area until 1827.)
It's oddly depressing to behold a forest full of long-abandoned human projects, the sweat and toil of generations, whole lives worth of effort, abandoned like skeletons in the desert. And also unknown. If I hadn't stumbled upon these stoneworks myself, perhaps only a few stray hunters would know about them, and such people probably wouldn't spend much time pondering their significance.
The last human artifact I found was a second small bluestone mine for the farm. Such mines consist of a rectangular hole in the ground - maybe four by eight feet in size and perhaps two feet deep. Around this hole there's always a certain mined and abandoned bluestone stacked up. When one considers how much bluestone goes into Catskill-area homesites - just paving the walkways and forming the chimneys and walls - it seems every home needs its own bluestone mine.
Further on, I found myself on the shore of a substantial pond in the region marked on the topographic map by a single "tuft of reeds" icon. It was like the Everglades, with trees wading out into the water on stilts and knees. I'd known that there was a swamp back here, but I had no idea it featured so much standing water, enough for a whole family of alligators (if only it was in South Carolina).
The Stick Trail is in red.
The route through the forest of ancient human artifacts is in brown.
Hunting structures are black Xs.
Canary Falls represented with a black F.
Bluestone mines are black $s.
Contour elevations in feet above sea level.
The grid is in kilometers.
Dotted black lines indicate State Park ownership lines.
(Note: some lines have changed since earlier maps
to reflect more accurate routing information.)
This evening Gretchen and I had dinner at the Rosendale Café with Rich and Lily, a couple Gretchen met at the recent Catskill Animal Sanctuary shindig. All we really knew about them was that, like us, this couple had moved up here from New York City and they are into animal rights. One of the first new things we learned about them was that they aren't into sharing their food. Luckily, their objection to this ritual came long before any food came to our table (and we found out the uncomfortable way). This revelation delighted me, because Gretchen has always regarded my aversion to food sharing as some sort of unacceptable pathology, not as a normal policing of personal boundaries (the way I view it).
When I was growing up, the protocols regarding food were, I eventually learned, rather different from the ones in society at large. In my family, no one ever drank directly out of the milk carton or ever volunteered to have someone else try whatever it was they were eating or drinking. There was a revulsion to doing these things, because they violated principles designed (it seemed) to prevent contamination. We didn't even do these things when we thought no one was looking.
Later, though, when I was in college, I quickly adapted to a new world where people freely shared everything, including their diseases. Since this more or less coincided with the beginning of my sex life, it seemed to be part of a more general dissolution of my personal boundaries.
Still, old habits die hard. Food that other people have been eating continues to revolt me, and my issues with trying other people's drinks extend beyond a simple concern about "backwash." I do not appreciate other forks coming at my plate by people seeking to "taste" what I'm having, I don't care if it is Gretchen. One of the main advantages of ordering meat when I'm at a restaurant is that I don't have to worry about Gretchen tasting my food. Interestingly, this issue for some reason doesn't qualify as one about which we can simply agree to disagree. It's one where I feel as that there's an expectation that I change. But for me, it makes as little sense as me expecting Gretchen to start liking eggplant. It ain't gonna happen. Sure, I can share food on occasion, but I will never stop being somewhat revolted by the process.
So back to Rich and Lily - they were very straightforward with their agreement that sharing food - and particularly sharing drink - was beyond the pale, and only forgivable if done between members of a couple.
Most of our dinner conversation was about animal rights issues, particularly Gretchen's idea of starting some sort of grant-making foundation, perhaps funded with a bathroom-reading book idea she had on the drive over. (This idea began when she heard the band name "Moby Grape" on WKZE and asked me who they were, and - as usual when it comes to whiteboy pop musicians - I had a ready answer.)
Lily is an artist of some sort - and a well connected one, because she said she could probably get well-known artists to donate works for an auction to benefit any nascent animal rights foundation. On hearing that I also paint pictures, Lily wanted to know what sort of pictures I painted, but all I'd tell her is "little guys."
All of us except Lily ordered the tempeh reuben, since we were mostly reluctant to experiment with any of the other options. (Word on the street has it that the tempeh reuben is the only food you can count on being excellent at the Rosendale Caf´.)
Lily is an art professor down in New Jersey a couple days each week and recently experienced some bad interpersonal politics that has been keeping her up at night. The fact that she hadn't slept in two days had probably taken some of the wind out of her sails, but since I'd never seen her any other way, she seemed well within the bounds of normal to me. But it's not like we painted Rosendale red or anything.
Later in the parking lot Lily was telling us about an incident where her father sent her to a Yeshiva as punishment for some crime involving a boyfriend, and how the experience turned her forever against religion and all its trappings. She practically put her fingers in her ears and began humming at the mention of the term "Bar Mitzvah."