Fall nostalgia

hits everyone. At least it does me.

So back we go  through the just-reddening woods to the happy place of 35 years ago: a cabin in an artist colony. The place was founded in 1902 beneath Overlook Mountain, in Woodstock, by wealthy Brit Ralph Whitehead and his wife Jane Byrd McCall of the Philadelphia McCalls.

Whitehead designed the 40 or so buildings on 1,200 acres of oak, white pine and hemlock as an arts and crafts utopia. Every building has a hue of Pantone-Byrdcliffe-Brown, and to some degree replicates a  mix of the two design styles Western Stick and Alpine chalet. Some of the structures were roomy.

Ours was tiny.

It was the summer after we were married. We were Writers; this was our retreat from the real world of New York City.

I pulled a table and straightback chair onto the screened-in porch to make a summer study. Fooling around with his new gold ring, Gil dropped it through a crack in the uneven floor boards and had to crawl under to get it. This must be good luck!

The tub was fully seven feet long, taking up most of the space in the bathroom. All the cabins had them. Whitehead installed modern plumbing, opining that there was much value in “the use of the tub.” Baths all around! But Whitehead was a stuffy old coot who believed in the very important aesthetics of pottery and furniture. To tweak him, artists not at Byrdcliffe began to shave shapes on their scalps, smear paint on their clothing and refer to the famous artist colony as Bored-Stiff.

Artists that we were, we spent out time chucking champagne corks over the roof, roasting a whole pig for Bastille Day and impaling its head as a garden ornament a la Lord of the Flies.

In my summer study I wrote poems combining my aging (turning 30) with the call of the mockingbird. Trying hard to be grown up. The lilacs formed a magical mound along the road.

One night the Fugs performed a reunion concert in the barn. (“Do you like boobs a lot?” delivered with gusto.)

Even the water was perfect. It came out icy cold from a hose fed by a spring house above.

A chestnut oak guards the remains.

Thinking about the past, we headed up the road to the property Dylan occupied at Byrdcliffe.

Was he home back then when we would sneak in to go night swimming in the grotto below his house?

The water still shines, and a worker was manicuring the grounds with a leaf blower. (Woody Guthrie: As I went walking I saw a sign there and the sign it said No Trespassing/But on the other side it didn’t say nothing. That side was made for you and me.)

Making our way through Woodstock, we stopped at the town cemetery.

Was Rick Danko your favorite member of The Band, too?

I wonder where he was when we were playing house at Evening Star, a time long ago that has a sparkling immediacy.

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Filed under Jean Zimmerman

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