A soundtrack is here!
I step out of a gas station in Palenville after drawing cash from the ATM and there’s a man with his German Shepherd standing next to my car. “You’re not from around here,” he says. My clothes give me away, maybe, or the Georgia plates on my rental, or the size of this town. All of these things.
I live in Brooklyn, I say.
“What part of Brooklyn?”
Williamsburg, I say into the eyes that are the color of deep blue sky and also his beanie. He introduces himself as Michael, he’s a lawyer. He lived in Manhattan for forty years, started coming up with his wife to get away from the city. After some time, they found themselves just leaving their weekend bag in the hallway of their Ninth Street apartment.
“That’s when we knew we had to move,” he says. “Where are you staying?”
In my friend’s yurt.
He asks me what I have planned for the day and I tell him I haven’t decided yet and he reads my future.
“You like Hiking? You’re going to keep going down this road and you’ll get to a town called Haines Falls. You’ll see a sign for North/South Lake, and you’re going to make a right and drive two miles in and there’s good hiking over there. You know Kaaterskill Falls?”
My friend mentioned it, I say.
“Before you get to Haines Falls you’re going to hit this horseshoe turn. It really looks like a horseshoe. On your right you’ll pass the trailhead for Kaaterskill Falls. That’s the tallest waterfall in the state of New York. Even taller than Niagara Falls. At the end of the horseshoe there’s a parking area. You’re going to park there and then walk back around the horseshoe and it’s a half-mile hike to the first level of the waterfall. Where are you having lunch?”
I was planning to just drive to Tannersville, I point down the road.
“There’s not much there. It’s a ski town. If you want good food go to Hudson. Lots of restaurants in Hudson. Or Catskill. Woodstock’s a little closer, but if you want great food, go to Hudson or Catskill. How many days are you staying?”
Just a couple more, I say. He reaches into his pocket and hands me his business card.
“Next time you’re in town, I’d like to invite you to my home for a glass of wine. Just send me an email, I’ll know who you are.”
I go to Kaaterskill Falls that afternoon. Park at the lot at the end of the horseshoe and do the rocky uphill fifteen-minute hike. There a family of four who get to the trailhead a few minutes after I do, and when I reach the falls and sit and listen to the water I hear the family coming up from behind. They park themselves by the water and open up a tupperware of sandwiches and offer me one which I politely decline because I’m still full from lunch. I attempt to climb higher past the warning signs toward the falls, but the ground is steep and the rocks exceptionally mossy. The family starts walking back and I do too, and I catch up with them at the horseshoe and spend fifteen minutes talking to the dad. His name is Rich, he’s Irish, a former firefighter with no eyebrows and a lingering cough. His wife is Korean, they have a boy and a girl and are from Long Island. Rich is a devout Christian, was raised Catholic but couldn’t square what he was taught with his experiences as a youth. “You have to come into it on your own,” he says. He rediscovered religion as an adult, now takes offense to the denominations that preach exclusionism. “It gives the rest of us a bad name,” he says. He talks about coincidences and books to study and in the meantime his wife and kids sit patiently nearby, like this is something he does often. “I’ll let you go,” he says. “I can keep talking forever.”
I have dinner in Hudson. It’s a Wednesday night and the only restaurant open is a fancyish New American spot with maybe a dozen people inside, a mix of older locals wearing cardigans and younger locals wearing cardigans. I sit at the bar. There’s indie rock playing softly through the speakers and I later guess it streams from the phone of the bartender, a tall lithe girl named Alex who comes out from the back and hands me a menu. She takes my order for roast chicken and I mention my surprise that everything else on the street is closed. “Where do you live?” she asks. Brooklyn. “What part of Brooklyn?” Williamsburg. “What part of Williamsburg?”
Turns out she grew up in the city and lived in Williamsburg too, on Havermeyer Street, a year before I moved to New York, back when Williamsburg didn’t yet have its global hipster brand and she was paying almost a third of what I pay now for a room in a 3BR.
We have the kind of stop and go conversation you have with bartenders. She talks about rents in Hudson and the trend pieces that have appeared in the Times, then disappears into the kitchen and comes out with to-go boxes in a kraft paper bag. She’d lived her whole life in the city, and one summer on a whim she decided to work on an organic farm and fell in love with the Hudson Valley. Stayed on the farm for two years. “I had no idea this area was so idyllic,” she says and breaks off to measure parts to a cocktail that also involves sprigs of fresh basil.
I ask her if she’d ever buy a plot of her own and start a farm and it’s a clear no. She’s precise with her words, equates running an organic farm to maintaining a living spreadsheet. She talks about how Hudson is a strange little place, how the downtown’s only a mile and a half square and can be radically different from block to block and a guy comes in the restaurant and she hands him the kraft paper bag. She mentions local preservationists and names the architectural styles of the houses on the main street. “But just the next street up is low-income housing,” she says and disappears into the kitchen again.
She comes back with my chicken which lies on a bed of roasted snap peas, carrots, and braised pears. I dig in and tell her I’m staying in a yurt thirty minutes away on the other side of the river. “If I were to buy, I’d buy on that side. It’s closer to nature, the land’s a lot cheaper, and you could put up a yurt or whatever you wanted,” she says and shows a new group of diners to their table.
We talk about visiting other states and she tells me I should go to Vermont. I tell her she should drive around in New Mexico. I finish my meal and she clears my plate and it’s not even nine o’clock and there’s just me and the other party left.
I sign for the check. And when I go she says, “Good seeing you,” like we’re old friends catching up after months apart.
See you around, I say, like I know I’ll be back.