to Twenty Ninth Pond
Sunday, July 26 2015
location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York
Our housesitter Aspen arrived exactly when she said she would, at 9:30am. I'd just finished vacuuming all the dirt and sand out of the back of the Subaru and was loading in supplies. (We would have been taking the Prius, but the woman renting the cabin had warned us we'd need a vehicle with high clearance for the rough driveway we'd be driving on.) Aspen was either a hippie or a member of a conservative religious sect; she had unstyled hair and wore a skirt with partially-visible short-legged tights underneath. She was college-age and fairly no-nonsense, though she laughed nervously when given an excuse. She seemed responsible and highly unlikely to be the sort who would take advantage of the kindness of strangers. Gretchen showed her around and introduced the cats she would be tending. We'd decided not to take Celeste (aka "the Baby") because we figured she'd be happier at home and that if we took her Oscar would miss her terribly.
Eventually we'd loaded our car, a load that included the dogs but not the kayaks (since there would be a canoe and a kayak at the cabin). As a form of smalltalk, on the way out of the door, I gestured to a mushroom fieldguide and suggested Aspen collect mushrooms during her stay. Being ever practical and not given to witty retorts, she replied that that would be dangerous and she would be doing no such thing. "Yeah, I took a course on fungi in college," I conceded. Usually owning up to a college class is not something people utter in defeat.
As always, we stopped along the way in the commercial zone near the airport just north of Albany to buy groceries. In the past we used to go to Trader Joe's, but for the past year or so there has been a Whole Foods as well, and that was the only place we went today. We made the mistake of shopping on an empty stomach, and though we didn't even fill a shopping cart, we somehow blew $300 on provisions for the week.
Our destination was the township of Minerva, which is an hour and twenty minutes north of Albany. Somewhere during the drive northward (as we listened to a Sound Opinions podcast), I was alarmed to see two red lights on my dashboard coming winking on and off simultaneously. They were the brake light and the battery light. Since they're unrelated systems and always blinked together, I immediately knew that what I was seeing was some sort of general electrical problem. Not being able to diagnose the situation further, I asked Gretchen to google those symptoms on her smartphone. Within a few minutes she'd found what sounded like a definitive diagnosis: there was a problem with the alternator. Either the new one I'd just installed was failing (it's not uncommon for new things to fail quickly) or its connector had worked itself loose. I was hoping for the latter, which fit nicely with the evidence: the lights were more likely to change state when I hit small bumps on the road.
Partly due to a weak and temperamental cellphone signal, there was some navigational confusion in and around Minerva as we stopped first at a campground on Lake Minerva to fill up our five gallon water jug and then as we followed the directions to the unmarked driveway from Route 28N. As for that driveway, it became obvious very quickly why Gretchen had been told to bring a high-clearance vehicle. The driveway consisted of two fairly-deep ruts worn by wheels separated by an impossibly-high ridge that was often tall enough to reach up and strike the various rusty organs hanging from the Subaru's undercarriage. One particular strike was so loud and violent that I stopped the car to check if the car had broken something important or started bleeding.
When we arrived at the end of the driveway, the cabin was surprisingly large. The woman who owns and maintains it was still there cleaning and such because her renter for the past week had been slow in departing. While I brought a few bags in, she gave me a very quick rundown on the place. The cabin looked considerably older than other lakeside cabins, so I'd asked how old it was, and she explained that it was built in something like 1911 and that it had once belonged to the Bader family, cousins of none other than Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and indeed this future possibility for justice in America had vacationed at this cabin on multiple occasions. The cabin had the nostalgia-eliciting smell of old closets and ten thousand fireplace-warmed evenings. Unlike the MDF and Beaver Board of other cabins, this one featured plaster walls, richly-patinaed wooden moulding, and a massive granite fireplace. In the living room was an old pedal-pump pipe organ. "Is that an organ?" I asked, even though I knew it was. "Yes, it came with the house," the cabin-owner explained. It was just one of many clever pre-electrical gadgets I would end up finding in this cabin.
The lake itself was small but gorgeous, blocked from view from the cabin by a few too many evergreen trees. At slightly under a quarter mile at its longest dimension, it was a bit small to be described as a lake; its name on maps is "Twenty Ninth Pond." Our cabin was the only one on the pond. Most of its shoreline was owned by the State of New York.
The cabin owner didn't stay long. Once she was gone and we'd finally acclimated to how much better this cabin was than any other we'd stayed at, Gretchen went for a swim off the dock.
Meanwhile, I was feeling like an old man, something I felt especially strongly when attempting to walk from the dock up to the house. Remember, just yesterday I'd managed to carry 132 pounds of wood home on my back from a third of a mile away without taking a single rest. I suspect the problem was that it was now after 3:00pm and I'd only had a single cup of tea. My body has come to depend on more caffeine than that. But even drinking tea didn't help much, probably because I had started too late in the day. In an effort to conserve potable water (all we had was the five gallon jug from Lake Minerva), I made my tea with tapwater (which the cabin pulls directly from the pond), though I boiled it for a couple additional minutes to kill any potential pathogens.
Tonight we had a simple dinner centered around a vegan "meat" pizza we'd bought at Whole Foods. The meat looked a bit like dog food, which subtracted noticeably from its flavor (pretty good).
Later I set up my computer and monitor in the living room and proceeded to watch the first three episodes of season two of Rectify (which Gretchen recently finished watching). It's moody and slow, with a great soundtrack that seems to layer everything in either existential dread or the sublime, making humanity and all of its ordinariness seem, on some level at least, profound. I don't know if it's the sort of thing I would watch if I had an internet connection and wasn't feeling a little run down from lack of caffeine (followed by a Little Sumpin' Sumpin' and a glass full of gin & juice), but it was the perfect way to spend this particular evening.
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