I decided to climb Cole’s Hill, as I used to do every summer day when I was a kid. This hill was not particularly special, other than two very old trees that were at the top.
So far, Cole’s Hill had never been razed for development like the other parcels of land near it. Like Old Farmer Brown’s land for example. Farmer Brown had never hesitated to fill some young whippersnapper’s backside with rock salt for crossing his land… yet I remember that his land had been the first to go under the axe and then the bulldozer.
That cantankerous old man had little say in the matter. A few years of poor crops and competition from the commercial farms out west had put him too deep into debt. To his rue, and my memory, the Olde Farmer’s Vale Markets were erected about 20 years ago, and around it had grown an ugly, small, and uniform village of covenant communities. It had a "A&P" supermarket, an arcade, a bank, and the first movie rental place that I can recall - all done in a horrid faux-Colonial style.
Olde Farmer’s Vale became the first of so many "wealthy man’s ghettos", if you will. Like almost all ghettos, it was a collection of unaesthetic homes, a cramming-in of as many oversized houses onto as many tiny plots of land as was allowed by modern engineering and shoddy building codes enacted by corrupt or ignorant urban planners.
Today, I parked my car over in "Section H", just in case I got lost in the swarm of SUVs that had borne many soccer moms and little-league dads to that icon of Chinese manufacturing prowess and American mercantilism - Walmart. Supersized shopping carts pushed by straining, sweaty supersized people whose gigantic, greasy, gelatinous buttocks were stretching ever-so-tautly against spandex shorts or nylon jogging pants… like sheep, they were otherwise contentedly feeding and worshipping at the Temple of the Big Box Store.
What a crude thought… here I was, thinking about these morbidly obese men and women, who were a crude imitation of a sausage exploding forth from its casings after fouling in the day’s heat.
A crude thought indeed, at the center of this asphalt sea, imported fresh from the House of Sa’ud for just $79.99 per barrel. Plus tax.
Feeling briefly like one of my pioneer ancestors, I made my way to the outer edge of the parking lot and like a couch-vaulting celebrity, I passed over the protective steel girder. It was the last line between civilization and the frontier… before my climb up Cole’s Hill.
Indeed, now I would find companionship not with SUVs, but with the few sumac trees and scrub brush along the path - Snake Trail.
I used to have to hike about two miles from my old house to get to this spot, down the aptly nick-named Snake Trail. It was actually called Miller’s Road, and had been a vibrant causeway, itself a throbbing artery of colonial era, mule or ox-drawn commerce between the farm lands of southwestern New York and the Capital at "King’s Towne", long ago. By the time I moved here as a child, this dusty trail was long forgotten and grown over - reduced to a footpath trod only by curious young boys in search of adventures. And snakes.
That road was now also a dwelling place of skunks, and badgers and field mice; and the Capital had been moved from Kingston to Albany nearly two centuries ago.
There had been a broken footbridge over Miller’s Creek, next to the stony ruined foundation of what presumably had been a Miller’s House. That house may have been home to some missionary, or miller, or possibly groups of soldiers during either the Revolution or the French & Indian Wars. There was even a gigantic, round stone - a mill stone - that now was enshrined at the local shopping mecca: The Millbrook Mall. That mill stone now lived on as a backfrop for the derelict men who for a pittance donned seasonally correct commercial holiday costumes to entice parents into buying ever more useless but entertaining junk for thier spoiled, bratty children.
Who knew what stories those rocks would tell if they were given voices… to me and a few friends, they had only been the Fortress of the Martian Space Pirates - forever assaulted by the forces of Buck Rogers and the Earth Defense Directorate. Later, they would be a place to hang out and smoke weed and get drunk with six-packs of Pabst or Genesee, or bring a date for some fooling around.
Miller’s House is no longer there… on that property now sits a pert little split-level house: 1672 Minnow Street, at the "Estates at Fisherman’s Run"… one of four "exciting and bold" designs. Available in your favorite bland pallette of three colors - courtesy of Agincourt Homes, Inc.
Fisherman’s Run has a rather tacky and oversized sign at the single entrance to the subdivision - it shows a silhouette of a grizzled captain on the forward part of an old triple-masted fishing sloop. Ironically, the nearest body of water that could support such a big fishing sloop is a good 100 miles away in the ocean.
I did mention the two trees, no?
Ah, the trees. They had always been there for me. One was a mighty oak, that to my childish eyes, had once soared unto the heavens. In its mighty branches dwelled every bird and furry creature and crawling bug. The other was a maple tree - somewhat weaker in comparison, yet also stately. It was just as old… and majestic in its own right. Like an elder couple, they watched the valley below, and had sheltered many from the cold, harsh nor’easter winds that scourged the valley.
Perhaps they had borne witness to Washington’s Continental Army when it had encamped in the valley below, shortly before it disbanded after Cornwallis’ surrender. They were high enough on the hill to avoid being slaughtered for either firewood or timber, and had suffered no ill damage from nature, save for evidence of a lightning strike to the oak. Yet it had created a lovely bifurcation that became home to various families of birds.
I made my way up the dusty, winding path… how bare it seemed. I looked around expecting to see some of the younger stands of trees, but they had been torn down.
A tinge of sadness mixed with panic hit my heart - small neon flags and wooden stakes with ropes marked off a last area to be razed. My steps quickened… stake upon stake, neon flag upon neon flag… where were the green, wooden arms that had greeted me during my young summer days?
I gazed skyward, but my covering of green was not to be found.
The Elder Couple of trees had at least three offspring that I know of - the eldest was straight and tall, and had saplings of its own. It was not in any way a very different tree, being quite normal and ordinary.
The second had not grown straight at all; it had curved and branch every which way, like a bramble, mixing its branches with every wild thing. It was slowly dying though, of an incurable disease it had gotten years ago… it’s bark was still healthy, but it lived in fear that it would rot and wither away in a few short years. Late in its life, it finally found companionship with a moss that grew on its bark; it helped keep some of the noxious insects and worms away.
The third and last sapling, is somewhere between the first two young trees. Its branches are still growing, and searching for answers, yearning to know the sky as its siblings and parents have. It was green in places and still bends somewhat in the wind, but shows signs of thickening with age about its trunk. In its shorter time, it had imitated both of its elder sapling brothers in thier manners. It had courted many men and women, younger and older, under its branches.
But what of the end of the old path?
What of the two covering trees? No more would the many leaves and branches of the Elder Couple cover me… only tears covered my eyes.
I wept when I saw the trees… the oak had but a few remaining leaves, but much of it had been eaten away. The bark of the oak was mottled and gray. Panicking still, I looked for the maple… it was no more.
Fallen to the ground, rotted from within by some sort of wasting disease, was the withered, dried out trunk of the maple tree. Much of it had been eaten by the disease, branches had been sawn off - what was useable was stacked in log piles and marked for imminent transport offsite. A bulldozer sat downslope, slumbering in its diesel dreams until its master would wake it early tomorrow morning. Perhaps it would have the task of loading the logs onto whatever transport awaited them.
I turned again toward the aging, nearly barren oak tree… I then wept for the fate that I knew would befall my oak tree.
The Oak! How strong it once was! Long ago, many had tried to lay an axe against it.
But it had stood.
The Oak! How tall it once was! The Fury of the Storm would discipline it with thunder and lightning.
But instead, it grew a fork of mighty branches that once gave a family of robins a home.
The Oak - How broad it had been!
The pink swatch of spray paint near its roots marked the path of its fate. The deisel giant parked downslope would slumber until Monday morning, which would mark the end of days for that mighty oak.
I looked down at the oxygen tube in Mom’s nose as she finally fell into a slumber. The tank near her bed read at three-quarters full. I adjusted the tube so that she wouldn’t displace it when she eventually rolled over. She had a peaceful look on her face.
After many semi-coherent ramblings about her sister, even referring to her third son as her sister… repeatedly, to my consternation… don’t forget the petunias either! And she lamented miserably, crying over why Dad no longer visited her.
She would not sleep for long, because the large tumors inside her lungs, liver and her deep parts had grown through her back and around her sides… she could no longer sit or rest for any length of time. But for now, she had a brief respite.
The morphine slowly dripped into the register, and I glanced at my watch. It was time to leave.
I had to go visit Dad. He was also in hospital, he suffered another stroke again - it was a factor of his continued worrying for Mom, but for some time now he had been unable to care for her at home. He had not been able to see from his right eye, and thus, was unable to safely drive.
Though the two Elder Trees have taken care of me, sheltered and protected me… and given me much counsel over my short life, why do I have such a hard time finding tears? It was not for thier lack of love.