Yesterday was a strange day. After the morning rain gave way to a clear sky, I decided that I needed to clear my head and take a long, quiet drive. I chose to head north on Route 59. I drove parallel to Route 17 and passed Hillburn. There are mountains on either side of the road. Aside from the scattered storefronts and businesses in the passing towns, the scene is overcome by the vastness of tall evergreens and tall trees with empty branches that point upwards like tall brown arms, reaching for the heavens beneath a softly golden shade of sunlight. As for now, the trees are beginning to bud for the season. Soon enough the hills and mountainsides will be green again. More importantly; warmer days are on the way.
I love drives like this. There is no need for the radio to drown the silence. My mind quietly consumes the views around me. I am aware of myself and aware of my surroundings — yet my body is in a strange form of automatic pilot. I am not thinking about the flow of traffic or the occasional traffic lights that sporadically interfere with the open road. Instead, I am thinking how wonderful it would be to see the southern tip of Italy during the month of June.
Driving along at a speed that I seldom check, I hear the sound of wind rushing passed my car. I can hear the sound of the tires moving over the pavement or skipping across bumps on a mostly empty highway. Lost in thought, I can hear a slight tone — or soft, steady ring that chimes in my ear.
I am no stranger to these parts. I have been on roads like this before. I have passed through upstate, mountain towns. I have seen farms with large barns and opened fields with cattle and sheep. I have seen old abandoned railroad tracks that run across rusted steel bridges. After the bridge, the tracks lead down a gravel path that splits through a clearing of trees and heads off in a direction that only my imagination can travel.
I was much different the last time I took a drive like this. I was much younger then. The world was a much different place and above all, I was a different person. I never saw the big picture. Back then, I never thought life extended passed the age of 20. And after 20, I never contemplated a life passed 30. Here I am now — decades beyond my young and limited imagination. Here I am — three years passed the 40 mark, considering the definition of life as I understand it and how different my definition will be if I make it passed the age of 50.
As I drove into Sloatsburg, I turned right on Seven Lakes Drive. I went over a small bridge with a steadily moving stream below it. I passed through the quiet town. I passed a local tavern, which was beginning to look busy with an after work crowd.
Driving slowly, I watched a few men in the parking lot. Pleased to see each other, they greeted one another with a smiling handshake before walking up to the door as a group.
I noticed the tavern. I noticed the blue-stone gravel in the parking lot and the seemingly vintage feeling of a place that remained somewhat timelessly preserved. The tavern’s ability to withstand time and all its changes while remaining no different than it was is truly amazing to me.
Driving along, passing the final homes that border the edge of town, I made my way beyond the sign for Harriman State Park. After the sign, there are nothing but tall trees and the gradual climb, leading upwards and bringing me to a higher altitude.
I passed the lakes. I passed Lake Sebago and the small boat launch. I decided to pull over and park for a while. I chose to step out and smell the mountain air. I brought my fishing rod and a few lures in case this chance arrived.
And it did. Standing in front of a large quiet lake, I cast a small lure out into the rippled surface. The wind was still too heavy to stand against it. Perhaps the spot I chose was not good. Or, perhaps the water was too cold and my choice of lure is not what the lurking fish below were looking for.
Rather than stand on the rocks, casting my fishing lure into a strong wind as Canadian geese paddle their way passed me; I decided to get back in the car and continue my drive. I went back onto Seven Lakes Drive and passed the old St John’s Church. I took a spin passed Lake Welch, which was beautifully empty. A small island of mountain rock poked upward from the center of the body of water. I noticed a man and his wife — each of them paddling along in their own kayak. Both kayaks were red. Both the man and wife were in matching blue jackets with matching red life preservers. Both man and wife swung their paddles at the same speed and both wore matching red helmets with dark, matching black sunglasses.
The day was beautiful and warm. However, the day was not so warm that one could be on the lake without wearing the proper clothing. Joggers wore jackets and bicyclists were covered as well. I continued to drive along unfamiliar roads heading down the mountain and weaving through twisting and turning streets that lead me to a large, circular turnaround.
I passed more of the lakes and headed back around towards Lake Kanauwake. It was there when I saw a man and his son, sitting together, rowing in a large raft. Behind them the evening sun began to lower into the distance. There was a mountain in the background behind them. It was beautiful.
I turned at another road and watched a fawn make her way across the street. The fawn was beautiful too. So was the red-tailed hawk on the roadside. I saw my first turkey of the year.
I began thinking about the last time I was up in a place like this. I remembered a song that played on the radio at the time. “Been around the world and I, I, I, I. . . I can’t find my baby. I don’t know where, I don’t know why—why he’s gone away.”
I thought about the simple stupid aspects of young love.
I thought about when love was a word used by guys like me to get to the next level with a girl.
Then I thought about how girls of whom without the words to express themselves would record songs on cassette tapes. Then they would send the cassette tapes out to the boys who they thought they loved.
In truth—I only received one of those tapes. If I remember correctly, the tape was a recording of a song by Gloria Estefan.
What I remember most of that song were the words,
“Anything for you though you’re not here.”
I remember the chorus as well.
“I can pretend each time I see you
That I don’t care and I don’t need you
And though you’ll never see me cryin’
You know inside, I feel like dyin’”
As the sun fell deeper behind the mountain, I decided to make my way home. I drove by the ravine and passed the overlook where exceptionally tall trees sink along the sides of the rocky slope.
It is beautiful here, Mom.
This is the most beautiful place I have ever seen — and though it is not the first time I’ve been here, I can say there is no other place like it on earth.
Anyway, it was a long day Mom. There is so much happening. Much of it is good and many things are unfair.
I’ve been wanting to talk to you about these heavy layers of guilt that won’t seem to go away. I think it might be time that I let this go. I haven’t slept much since you’ve gone. Some of the dreams I have shake me at night. Some of them wake me and then I find it hard to fall back to sleep.
I miss you.
You once told me it isn’t easy being a Mother. You told me, “Mother’s worry about their children from the day they’re born until the day they die.”
Well Mom, it isn’t easy being a son either. We may not worry as much. That’s only because somewhere in our childish minds — we somehow believe that Moms never die (until they do).
Sleep well Mom.
I’ll write to you again soon.