hope for a Hurley demographic
Monday, May 30 2005
Gretchen and I took the dogs for a bicycle-assisted ride along the Esopus in one of the fields belonging to the Gill Family's massive corn farm. The Gills are among the dwindling Republican elite of Hurley, watching helplessly as their demographic is diluted by folks like us fleeing New York City. One of the things the Gills are trying to do to save the township is to convert a patch of their property into a massive 600-house gated community. Perhaps the Gills hold out the hope that the sort who would want to live in a gated community in a township where people don't even lock their doors will be the sort who can be counted on to vote Republican, at least whenever the color coded threat level is pumped up to orange.
With fields as enormous as the Gills', policing them is impossible and they're effectively public open space for anyone ballsy enough to use them. What's more, there are probably so many people who have been told they can recreate in the fields "any time" that our presence, particularly in truck form, wouldn't even raise suspicions. So I parked the truck in a clearly visible place on the dirt cornfield road heading south from Wynkoop. I felt so comfortable leaving it there that I even left the keys in the ignition. From there we biked southward down the road as it wound upstream along the forested banks and oxbows of the Esopus. The scenery here is absolutely stunning in a way that is very difficult to find anywhere else in the East: big blue skies framed by steep lush green hills above vast empty fields. At this time of year the corn was only an inch or two high.
We continued onward in the vain hope of getting to a place from which we could look up to the top of the western escarpment and see our house, our own little piece of heaven in McMansion form, but at this time of year it was completely hidden in foliage. Gretchen had brought a little picnic of hummus and cranberry juice spiked with gin, but the atmosphere of one particularly pleasant spot along the Esopus was ruined by the sound of a lawnmower on its eastern shore - which is the suburban Hurley community of Riverside Park. The Esopus there had exposed some impressive ledges of bedrock that dip visibly towards the west. This is the last evidence of the Appalachian Valley and Ridge Province before it gets buried beneath the Allegheny Plateau, which is already in full display in our backyard only two miles to the west. It's interesting to think that a geologically homologous place to this one in my childhood latitude of Virginia is in remote Highland County, which I crossed with difficulty several times by bicycle (as part of a larger bike ride from Oberlin, Ohio to Staunton, Virginia).
In the end we decided to have our picnic on the north side of Wynkoop in a place probably owned by the Town of Hurley. As we were returning to our truck, a couple of teenagers rolled up with their mountain bikes in tow. They were friendly as we greeted them, but then they vanished into the brush surrounding the muddy lowlands. Going to a place like this and smoking pot is the most fun two straight teenage boys can possibly have together.
This evening Gretchen and I went to Upstate Films in Rhinebeck with our photographer friends from Eagle's Nest to see the movie Mad Hot Ballroom, a documentary about ballroom dancing classes given in various elementary schools throughout New York City. Evidently someone in the school system had the idea that teaching 80 year old rituals to ten year olds would mold them into better people. If this movie is to be believed, that idea was correct. I wouldn't expect to be so moved by watching children master such a quaint and arbitrary form of expression, but I was. I think it had something to do with the fact that, as the children danced, they were engaged in stereotyped intimacy (usually across obvious racial boundaries), and in order to master the dances, this intimacy had to be internalized and in some sense made real. The process seemed to transform the children, making them more sensitive, aware, and engaged. They gradually shed the tough emotional callouses resulting from their rough neighborhoods and weak familial structures and were transformed into charming little ladies and gentleman. It's not normally be in my nature to be enchanted by a metamorphosis catalyzed by something so absurd, but it was all so authentic I couldn't help myself.
Later, back at the Eagles Nests' house, the Eagles Nests regaled us with a number of tales that started getting interesting when the subject turned to professional photography. As professionals who still do their work exclusively with film, they're resigned to the fact that eventually digital technology will surpass film and they'll have to make the switch in order to stay competitive. They're concerned, though, about what the change will do to the many techniques they've developed over a lifetime of work. I mean, these guys are the real deal. They're the ones who took the picture of Mount McKinley that you see on the eighty cent stamp. But that's sort of a sore point with them though because of the lazy job that National Geographic did in licensing their image to the US Postal Service. Believe it or not, the Eagles Nests received a one-time lump sum of $400 for that photo, and that's for an image that has found its way to mass-marketed teeshirts and coffee mugs as well as stamps.
As we were heading home, Ms. Eagles Nest set off to do her neighborly duty, tending to their neighbor Muriel, a 94 year old woman who, having had a stroke, is in the process of dying at home. Muriel is a member of a tiny Hurley demographic: elderly liberals. She'd moved to Eagle's Nest back in 1945 with her husband, who'd made a minor fortune perfecting a lens manufacturing process for the nascent American space effort. Now Muriel dies alone with five or six cats, whom I met when I did some plumbing work for her back in the early fall. Muriel doesn't have any heirs, so she is leaving her hundred plus acres (complete with a dilapidated astronomical observatory) to SUNY New Paltz. Originally her will allowed the land to be subdivided into ten acre plots, but our photographer friends convinced her to change the will and place a conservation easement on the land to keep it whole. (I honestly don't know why everyone doesn't do this with their land, particularly those who care about the environment or their neighbors and lack heirs.)
While Muriel's easement might protect the upper part of Eagle's Nest, further down the hill somebody recently erected a prefab McMansion with tapioca vinyl siding. Its cheap ostentatiousness clashes horribly with all the wonderfully humble and quirky houses of Eagle's Nest and thus it comes as no surprise that the people who will be living in it are Christian Republicans who have already reproduced. Maybe there's hope for that Hurley demographic after all.
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