Tuesday, June 10 2014
location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York
Gretchen dropped Eleanor off at the vet early this morning so she could have that tumor removed from her left haunch. When I took Ramona for her morning walk, I went without the usual firewood gather equipment, though I did bring a camera and managed to take two interesting pictures.
A Green Frog at the bottom of the Valley of the Beasts, at 41.924313N, 74.102011W. (Click to enlarge.)
Some sort of pink slime mold near 41.927346N, 74.103341W. (Click to enlarge.)
The plan today was for Gretchen and I to drive up to Elka Park (near Tannersville) to visit my Charlottesville friends Jessika and Aaron. Aaron's family has a summer cabin in the mountains that is actually a huge Victorian mansion, and Jessika has been eager to show it to us. The problem, of course, was that Eleanor was in surgery today, and we didn't know when she would be getting out or how malignant her tumor was. At some point I drove with Ramona out to Uptown to get some beer and vegan essentials from the Hannaford, and later I went on a firewood salvaging mission close to the house just west of the Farm Road. Though all the wood I've been salvaging this year has typically been dead for many years, this was the first time I'd ever encountered appreciable numbers of termites. Their residence seemed to permeate an inch or so of wood that had been in direct contact with the ground. Back at the woodshed as I split the wood up, it was clear that it was Red Oak and not the more common Chestnut Oak. Red Oak is a lighter oak that doesn't effectively seal up its unused pores the way the white oaks (such as Chestnut Oak) do, and that difference is probably why termites had found it a suitable habitat. Incidentally, I'm not concerned about the risk of bringing termite-infested wood home to burn. If your house doesn't have a suitable habitat for termites (moist wood), then bringing them there is not a danger.
When Gretchen got home from her workplace, the story on Eleanor was that she was still being operated upon and wouldn't be released until maybe 7:00pm. So Gretchen and I decided that Ramona and I should head up to Elka Park on our own and, if Eleanor was okay, she could come later. Before I left, I replaced the bulb on the passenger-side turn signal, which had rusted and was full of water. I didn't want to get pulled over; the Subaru has had an expired inspection sticker since April Fool's Day.
I could drive all the way to Elka Park without using any roads bigger than State Route 212. It required the use of the ever-sketchy Platte Clove Road, which is the most direct route up the Catskill Escarpment from 212. Gretchen and I had driven up and down Platte Clove at least once before, but that eleven years ago and I'd forgotten how marginal it is. For starters, it isn't maintained in the winter at all, and there's a sign well down in the suburban part of West Saugerties that says whether or not it is open. Today that sign said it was closed, but I had no idea how else to go, so I kept driving in hopes the sign was wrong. Happily, it was. (There's a gate they can close, but it was open.) It's crazy how West Saugerties Road just sort of necks down to little more than one lane of rough unmarked pavement and starts climbing a steep incline. That's the eastern beginning of Platte Clove Road. The main thing about Platte Clove is the spectacular gorge into which your car would be flung if you somehow failed to stay on the pavement. It's magisterial in its awesomeness, and Ramona was as excited by it as I was.
Elka Park isn't too far from the escarpment as reached by Platte Clove, and I found my way into the Elka Park Club itself easily. From there, though, everything was a mystery. None of the streets were labeled, and though there were street names on house number signs, their organization was chaotic, with some houses on the same street seeming to have different street names on their signs. Part of the problem was the huge size of the lots and the vast spaces between the houses, all of which were gorgeous 19th Century Victorian mansions. In the middle of the park is a sort of office complete with bar and restaurant and even a pool. The front door was unlocked, though nobody was inside. There was a phone, and I would have just called Aaron & Jessika's mansion had the damn thing let me. But it required an access code. So then I looked around for a handy park map, the sort of thing you can imagine someone at that desk handing out to people. But there were no such maps. In despair, I cracked open one of the beers from the cooler to help keep me company as I proceeded to drive up and down absolutely every street of the park as if my Subaru was a Roomba. Eventually I found a consistent run of addresses all claiming to be on Hill Street, so I followed it up to its end and found the mansion I'd been looking for.
Aaron fixed me a gin & tonic (which seemed appropriately summery despite the clammy chill of the montane environment) and he and Jessika gave me the full tour. The house was a time capsule; it had been built in Victorian times, sold for $1000 fully furnished to Aaron's family in 1957, and remained pretty much unchanged since then. Aaron had spent many summers here since he was too small to remember. Inside, it had that slightly-musty sepia-toned quality that comes from years of air, ultraviolet light, mothballs, and dust on wood and natural fabric. To my eye, it looked far more Victorian than mid-century, indicating that it had been a time capsule even in 1957. Appropriately, the music playing from the stereo was from the 1920s or 1930s, and nothing more modern ever played (or seemed capable of being played). Being a mansion, the place was huge, with something like a dozen separate bedrooms, a parlor, a dining room, another parlor (such houses cannot be said to have "living rooms"), a large kitchen, and even a butler's pantry. The second floor featured an enormous porch, part of which was screened in and all of which had stupendous views of whatever Catskill peaks lay to the northeast.
The story on Elka Park itself was that it was founded as Catskill retreat by wealthy German businessmen from New York City back in Victorian times and has, at various times in the past, gone through good times and bad. Of late (based on the wave of renovations and restorations) it seems to be entering another good phase (perhaps due to the continued triumph of the "One Percenters" under current tax policy), though Greene County itself is generally considered a desperate backwater.
Jessika wanted me to see some of the interesting things on Elka Park grounds, so we all went for a hike through the nearby woods, emerging into a clearing at the base of a surprisingly-tall stone tower (42.15777N, 74.159276W). It must have been at least 80 feet tall. Aaron produced a key and now we could climb the spiral staircase within. Around and around we went, occasionally arriving at an open window at the side. Ramona liked to lean out those windows and look down, which would be terrifying if I didn't have so much faith in her basic doggy common sense. There was the faint odor of urine during the entire climb, and pretty soon I found out why. First, though, there was the final eight feet to climb up to the observation deck, and that involved a metal ladder that was more like a step ladder than a flight of stairs. Ramona was nervous, but with proper encouragement, she climbed it, as did little Edgar (the other Ramona, who is a Boston Terrier, had decided to stay back at the mansion for some reason). The view was 360s and stunning in all directions. But we'd been drinking beer and continued to do so, and before long I had a raging desire to piss. Jessika thought I could just do it through the railing, but Aaron (who has to live with the consequences of our misbehavior) nixed the idea. If needed to piss, I was going to have to do it on the ground. Ramona might have been reticient-but-willing to climb that ladder, but there was no way to convince her to go down it. So I had to carry her, something she was surprisingly calm about considering the inherent scariness. It's a long way down a circular run of tower steps when you have a full bladder, and it would have been an easy thing to just add to the slight piss smell in there, but I held it all the way down to the bottom. Incidentally, both Ramona and Edgar had more trouble going down those stairs than going up. There was a part where suddenly the natural light disappeared and you were left to descend into a pool of blackness. Neither of them wanted to do that, though Ramona followed me when I led the way.
Another interesting structure Jessika showed me was a stone bridge across a small creek. It had been built as a single Roman-style arch and had, until recently, included a wooden form to support the arch until the mortar between the stones had cured.
Back at the mansion, the average level of intoxication ramped up. At some point I thought I should call Gretchen to find out what the deal was with Eleanor was. Cellphone service in Elka Park is only good enough to send and receive text messages, but there was a land line. For some reason, though, I couldn't get through to the land line back at home. So I called Gretchen's cellphone. When I got through, she was wondering why the fuck I hadn't called earlier. It seems the tumor on Eleanor's haunch had indeed turned out to be cancerous and there was even a risk that it might have managed to spread to other parts of her body. The tumor had been sent to a lab to see just how malignant it is. Gretchen was taking the news kind of hard, though apparently Eleanor herself is in good spirits despite having had a huge chunk of skin removed. It wasn't good news for me, but the doom it injected into my life was both statistical and completely outside my ability to affect. So it was an easy thing for me to compartmentalize in a way that allowed me to continue my enjoyment of the evening.
Eventually we prepared a dinner based on rice and lentils Jessika cooked in the rice cooker. We added some leftover chili and some mushrooms and onions I sauteed up in a gargantuan amount of oil. The antique stove had one section that was wood fired and another part that burned gas, and so I was able to toast whole wheat tortillas on the open gas flame. The resulting burritos were better than I expected, though they could have benefited from jalapeño peppers. I'd neglected to bring any dog food at all for Ramona, so I opened a can of beans and gave her that. She fucking loves beans, so she was delighted.
At some point, Jessika mentioned that she and Aaron had been taking dance classes so they could to the Lindy Hop (which would have been compatible with the music then playing on the stereo). Jessika said that well-established dances from the past made it easier for just anyone to dance, since (given the pre-arranged choreography) there was no performance anxiety. By contrast, modern people with their modern music are all making up their dance moves as they go along, and even if your moves aren't stupid, it's easy to think they are and then lose (or never develop) interest in dancing at all. There have been some exceptions, of course: line dancing in country music and the Macarena, which might well have been the last dance designed for American pop music (though only for one particular song).
Meanwhile Aaron had started a fire in the fireplace to help drive out the damp montane chill that was a bit unseasonable even given the 2300 feet of elevation.
Ramona and I slept upstairs in one of the many available rooms.
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