Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Catskill Camping

Eight years ago today, my husband and I were watching stars in the night sky, listening to the sounds of a creek flowing through the Woodland Valley Campground in Phoenicia, NY. Woodland Valley is a beautiful site in the Catskills, at the foot of Slide Mountain, which is the range's highest peak. In our tent, we curled close together. We needed beauty, badly. Just four days earlier, our sense of normalcy was shattered, permanently, along with our sense of peace and protection, of safety and justice. A half-day previous, we'd met my father in Grand Central Station, and caught a train with him up to Connecticut. He'd been in the city for a meeting; we were heading out to borrow a car and escape to the mountains. It was the first time I'd seen either of my parents since the 9/11 attacks, and something in me cracked wide open when I saw my father's solid presence standing at the terminal's info booth, waiting. I hadn't realized how much I was feeling the shock and hurt; I thought I'd been doing a great job of holding it all together, and I guess I had—I even fooled myself—but I melted into tears when we hugged. He was the symbol of security to me (a heavy burden to assign a human), and a symbol also of continuity, of things-being-as-they-always-were. But as we stood there, embracing and then looking up at the boards to find our train's track, something else happened: a group of perhaps half a dozen firefighters came through the terminal, and every person in that great hall began to applaud them. We boarded our train, happy to be leaving the city. Once we saw my father home and borrowed a car from my parents, my husband and I drove on, in relative silence, heading across the Tappan Zee bridge where we could not tear our eyes from the smoky, gaping hole of the skyline seen down the Hudson. We arrived at Woodland Valley to find a nearly deserted campground. It was already late in the season. The time we spent there, a couple of nights only, was an escapist paradise. We hiked the Slide-Wittenberg trail to where the sun kissed the rocks and warmed the earth. We made love there—the desperate kind of act that tries to nullify death as it provides its corporeal comfort and release. We ate homemade quiche and peeled back the skin of oranges; we drank water, crossed a stream bed, picked our way across uneven ground. We've been back several times since, and it's always a beautiful visit. Our son has come to enjoy the place, also: the stars he doesn't get to see in the city, the ritual of a campfire, of s'mores and sleeping three to a tiny tent; he looks forward to completing the "Junior Naturalist" workbooks each year and earning patches as badges of honor. The place, for me, is always a reminder of the healing power of the natural world—for although we were not completely healed in that September visit, the healing process did begin in greenery there, in the Catskills, at the campground I will always think of as "ours."

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