Sunday, December 3 2006
I came along when Gretchen walked the dogs in the forest this morning and I lead her out to the place where the line of cliffs pass through the new property and then down to its southeastern tip. We came back along a bike trail used by the brother of the guy who sold us our house.
We'd assumed deer season was over because we hadn't seen cars parked at the bus turnaround in a few days. But there on the Stick Trail, a little north of where it intersects with the Chamomile Headwaters Trail, we saw a hunter in blaze orange. Just to avoid having to deal with him, we elected to bypass the Main Line of the Stick Trail come home on the Chamomile Headwaters Trail. We didn't make it far on that trajectory before the hunter called out after us, "Hey! Do you know this is private land?" "Yeah, I know," I hollered back. "Well I'm the owner so get your dogs and get out of here!" he continued. This could mean only one thing, that this was JR, the infamously-crusty owner of most of the private land through which the Stick Trail system passes. "Are you JR?" Gretchen hollered. The man replied in the affirmative. So, after we'd approached each other, Gretchen explained that our property abutted his, that we lived in the red house on Dug Hill Road, that we'd heard about him for years, and it was good to finally meet. By now JR's gruffness had lifted and he launched into a series of tales about the history of people trespassing on his land to hunt, and all the different ways he's run them off. Some had built hunting structures from sheets of bluestone, others had, upon being confronted, claimed to be him. Still others had systematically torn down his No Trespassing signs. Most of the people he'd run off had been drunk, even at nine in the morning. As an indication of his bias, whenever JR mentioned a hunter doing something either really stupid or really brassy, he invariably added that the hunter was "from New York City."
For whatever reason there aren't anywhere near as many hunters in these woods now as there were back in the day, when, according to JR, "We used to get into fights and be shooting at each other." Gretchen asked about the two coyotes we'd seen arranged along the trail last year, and JR didn't know anything about it. But he failed the test that this question was designed to be, showing no sympathy for the coyotes and not expressing any horror that anyone would arrange them along the trail in such a macabre way. JR explained, "People do strange things back here. Like for awhile now someone has been stacking rocks. I saw that and I said to myself, 'There's another one!'" Gretchen almost gave me away as the culprit but then caught herself. A guy with JR's mindset will gladly take advantage of the advances provided by creative minds, but he was never going to understand them. Strangely, he made no mention of the sticks marking the edges of the trails passing through his property. In the end JR gave us permission to walk through his land, but on our walk back from the encounter we felt as if we were aswarm with Deliverance cooties.
Later in the afternoon Gretchen and I went on a shopping run to Hannaford, and on the way back we drove back along the dirt road at the edge of the Esopus in that vast corn field just to the northwest of Old Hurley. The land is private land and in addition to its agricultural uses, in this time of year it belongs to a hunters' club. Some large government organization (either the Town or perhaps the Village of Hurley) uses the wooded banks of the Esopus to dispose of biodegradable suburban waste. This mostly takes the form of leaves, which are in such great piles that I worry about the leaching tannins affecting the biology of both the Creek and the Hudson beyond. We'd come for a different biodegradable, wood. Felled trees chopped into human-liftable pieces have also been deposited along the edge of the creek, and we managed to load our Honda Civic hatchback with enough of them to cause its suspension to act in an unfamiliar fashion. Getting to the Esopus and back was not easy; there were plenty of car-swallowing puddles that had to be either forded or bypassed, usually at high speed to avoid the possibility of being stuck in the middle. It would have been embarrassing to get stuck back there and be discovered by whoever it is who enforces the trespassing rules.
This evening Gretchen and I went out to dinner with Penny and David at The Peekamoose, which was in the heart of the Catskills, a 40 minute drive out to the west on Route 28. (David drove us there in his Land Rover, and he tends to drive like a little old man.) Our experience there was okay, though not exceptional. Our French waitress kept joking with us in a vaguely sadistic way, making a stern face as she answered our requests with statements like "No, that is impossible" before relenting with a sly smile. It was a more extreme and inconveniently-placed version Gretchen's humor, and its effect was to browbeat us and make us uncomfortable.
Temperatures were as warm as 70 degrees on December 1st but by today they'd dropped into the 30s. A sheet of ice formed on the water in our wheel barrow, which a cat stepped on, melting-in these footprints.
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