Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Then more: a scene change. I am young. I was with Uncle Robeson, father and Homer, on one of our rare, joint Vandemark masculine adventures. We were standing on a high promontory overlooking a bend in the Hudson River. To our backs was the lush summer verdure of the east slope of the Catskills. If I chose to, at that moment, I could have spun around and gazed at the mountains, which I dearly wanted to, rather than looking at that dull stretch of river.

But Uncle had dragged us up to that promontory for a historical lesson. He was trying, by both words and sweeping gestures, by creating imaginary lines of demarcation with a walking stick, to show us the boundaries of the supposed old patroonship of the Vandemark clan. It’s a curious land that surrounded us: rounded lush mountains, steep craggy rocks sopped with moisture and fringed with moss, ferns clumped, clustered around black apertures concealing small caves and crevices.

I took a step back from Homer, Father and Uncle. The small knotty hill was bordered by a wall of deciduous trees; the low hanging leaves were drenched with water from a recent shower. I stepped through the veil of moisture. I was wet from tip to toe; the leaves brushed my torso, my loins, and I felt a marvelous shudder of absolute release, as if my body, on contact with wet wondrous moisture had released a hidden packet of energy.

The leaves of a silver maple shifted into vision: its pointed speared tips contained a single drop of shinning fluid – thick, sweet, with the texture of honey. The underside was a dusty white, powdery, dry, the veins a deeper blue-green ridged and ringed with a pale halo. And it was not a single leaf but a multitude --- a thousand shimmering in the wind, dripping, drooping, pulsing over my head --- the black trunks negative patches in the sway of candied lime green.

And then me! I could have stood there a moment or an eternity, but I had to continue, the blood was warm and demanded motion; and eyes were liquid, even when encased in a film of gel, and bones were solid, statuesque, but required a jangle of forward momentum, a step or a leap.

Take a step deeper: move into hyper focus: here is a black ant perched precariously on the end-most leaf of a fern; his tri-bulbed body reaching out in the air, front legs grasping skyward for an alternate perch. Langley Vandemark fingers, massive digits, facilitated his endeavor and pinches him with surprising delicacy: he is on a stripped, nubby twig now, a twig that arches downward into the ripe litter of brush, that was his primary goal. I have provided the necessary link in an incomplete chain. He is saved.

Focus out again: separate some more strands from the dense visual clutter: a creeping vine has sent out a tendril from its thick mat of spiky lozenge green shoots. The arm graces outward, hopeful of a perch on a neighboring elm; it dangles in the air, an expectant dendrite in mid-pose, until sweet Langley paws, massive but deft, guide them lateral wise to an innocent elm twig.

Langley as a boy yet Langley already larger than life. My path in this mythological woodland home, an ancestral lie by repeated usage, is a testimony to the adage that repetition creates its own verisimilitude.

Truth is a worn groove created by our very wake. My presence creates a tangle of signification in the world, in this woodland. A projection of mind and body so entwined they form one shadow. A union of world with Langley that the very leaves seem to flicker not from the flowing moist Catskill air trapped in gorges and canyons but from my gliding bulk.

I reached a small meadow. It slanted downward to a rocky crag; the crag formed one of those ubiquitous Catskill rock outcroppings, a broken, jagged, hideous pile of stone thrust haphazardly skyward.

Overhead was motion and light: a crack and peel. The late summer sky milky haze was ripped in half by a streak of lightening, and then, following hard upon, a rumble of thunder.

The landscape became confused, distorted. The distant hills suddenly were distinct, while close objects slid out of focus. A steady warm rain beat incessantly down; another peel, another flash of lightening, a distant twinkle, a rattle, and knocking as if pins were falling.

I, Langley Vandemark, in sound mind and body rounded the bulk of the black rock. In a notch on the blind side of the jumble the sound of thunder was deafening, the light flashes came in blinding, rapid pulses… stepping back a moment I saw the first and only legitimate vision in my entire life:

A tight knot of small gnarled men stood stooped around bowling pins and miniature, pearl bright bowling balls. They wore seventeenth century pantaloons, doublets, peaked caps with ornate and drooping feathers, small shinning swords, kid gloves tucked rakishly into fantastically wide rawhide belts.

I knew instantly who these trolls were: the shrunken gnomic likenesses of Hendrik Hudson’s crew. They had set the old man adrift in the Hudson Bay after a bloodless mutiny and as a Sleepy Hollow type punishment were turned to worm-elf-men, doomed forever to play repeated games of spirited nine-pins in the moist peaks of the Catskill Mountains. The thunder was the rattle of the pins; the flashes of light, the friction of the collision. Their eyes were pointed pin pricks of bright yellow, with their ears sloped backward toward the base of their tight skulls. They did not notice me, or if they did they seemed disinclined to care. They were intent on playing their game. Occasionally a score keeping argument would erupt, but I couldn’t hear their words, which was a garbled elfin dialect of stutters and clicks. Only once did one of the creatures look at me. He shot me a glare of recognition and uncanny precognition but nothing tangible. It was a look that I gave meaning to in retrospect.

As a vision they were stubbornly resistant: they did not shimmer or waver; they held firm static control; vertical and horizontal lines were unfaltering and clear. Finally I had to walk away. As visions go, they seemed more real than even my hulking flesh and bone.

Pull out again. Clare and I are underneath my black umbrella. Lunch time is over, but we dawdle near shop windows looking at towels, kitchenette sets, toiletries, domestic utensils that sit primly atop lace doilies, separated from us by a thin partition of retail glass. I pull her to me sideways by her slim tapered waist. She bumps against me, and leans her tussled head into by broad built collarbone, taut as a drawn bow.

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