Catskills, Childhood, Claverack, Columbia County NY, Connection, Early Childhood Memory, Life Story, Seasons, Taconics
The difficulties for a child moving to a new place were made worse by the smallness of the village, and the distance that our house was from it. Outsiders were not warmly greeted in the little town of Claverack, nor were they readily accepted. Four hundred years of history kept the townsfolk both proud and aloof. We were not “church-going folk” so we were not included in the social structure of the town. There wasn’t any focal point like the beach to draw everyone together. I didn’t see any other kids for a long time.
I took solace in the beautiful open fields and quiet woods surrounding our new home. I would walk for hours, finding peace in the solitude. I spent a lot of time climbing to the top of the big hill beside the house. It was a long climb, but once done, the view was beautiful. With the hills of the Taconics directly behind me, I would gaze out across the Hudson River Valley and beyond to the Catskills standing in their blue haze. They had a quiet majesty and peacefulness. I felt the rhythm and sacredness in the land. Steeped in history, the land remembered the travelers across it. If I held my eyes just right, I could almost see them, just as I had the Native Peoples living along the shore of Lake Michigan. Looking to the bottom of the hill, our house stood dwarfed like a doll house. It showed white against the deep green of the rolling meadow that surrounded it. I could see the stream that ran farther down the slope behind the house. I could follow its path by looking at the way the trees grew. It wound around a little as it worked its way down from the mill-pond located at the base of the hill. The mill building was large and red, and sat beside the pond, watching silently as the water spilled over the dam. It was that old mill that gave us our address, for ours was one of three houses on Red Mill Hill. The other houses were farther up from our house, and on the other side of the road. The configuration of the hill was such that, even from the highest point where I kept my vigils, I couldn’t see either of them.
As I roamed the countryside, I got used to the smell of rich earth, so different to walk on than sand. Everywhere there were grasses and wildflowers. I loved how green everything was. My mother had planted a garden behind the back patio of the house back in Long Beach. It was a testament to growth, vivid colors against the backdrop of white-beige sand. It was in a large contained area of imported dirt. There had been tulips, irises, and roses, and a lilac tree near the house. I would sit under that tree for long periods of time, letting the fragrance overwhelm me. But on the Eastern hillsides, all those same colors and fragrances just appeared from the earth’s wildness. The blossoms were tiny; but, the stems were sturdy and tall, allowing the colors to be seen above the tall grasses.
The summer days were hot and humid and I missed the water! We weren’t allowed to swim in the algae-covered mill-pond. The stream was nice to follow, or to sit and watch as it glided by, but it wasn’t deep enough for swimming. For me, that was the hardest part of having moved. I wanted to be able to get into the water, to buck the waves as I swam, and to seek a resting place on a sand-bar while the water washed over me, cooling my body down as I hid from the heat of the summer days beneath its surface.