Before our family trip to Woodstock got fully underway, its theme began to assert itself. Tom made a wrong turn and we were in the curiously quiet Sunday city that is Hartford. We parked by the Wadsworth Atheneum with a new mission: the first visit to the Mortensen Riverfront Plaza. We took many steps down to the start of the sculpture walk featuring Lincoln’s life. Not far from where Harriet Beecher Stowe lived in her later years, here was a sculpture of Lincoln and Stowe meeting, captioned with the famous quote in which he attributed the start of the Civil War to this “little woman.” Beyond them the Connecticut River flowed, an occurrence that long preceded, and long moves past, the war that divided our nation.
Walking along it, we watched young women crewing in their long boats. They pushed the water aside with the force of one. Birds flitted into and out of the abundant greenery that grew along the path. I leaned down to snap photos of 2 kinds of purple flowers and then leaned back to wonder at the high-water marks marked on a pillar, thinking about my mom at 10 after the big hurricane in 1938, watching with amazement as sail boats traveled down her suburban street. Gavin jumped down to an outsized stump at the edge that must have seen at least a century of waterfront history. Tom spotted a miniature field of tiny bird’s nest fungi, which look exactly as they sound, complete with “eggs” that are balls of spores. When raindrops strike the spores they shoot into the air and germination can begin.
As we were en route, my sister Linda sent me a link to a short film called Sing the Water Song. In describing their vision for the project, the film makers start with the phrase “water is life.” They share their dream of millions of women (Keepers of Water in Native American traditions) around the world learning to sing the Algonquin Water Song in solidarity with the threatened water we continue to witness. (Standing Rock is just one of countless examples). The song is described by a Native elder as lullaby-like, paying loving tribute to water as the lifeblood of Mother Earth (lyrics are phonetic):
Nee bee wah bow
En die en
Aah key mis kquee
Nee bee wah bow
Hey ya hey ya hey ya hey
Hey ya hey ya hey ya ho
About an hour from Woodstock, we stopped at an antique store and peered down the hill at the creek running beside it, wondering who had placed so many odd-shaped, fist-sized stones on a particular rock. The license plate next to ours said “1-River,” which alluded to one of Gavin’s favorite books, One River, which follows the fascinating work of 2 Amazon explorers.
When we got to Woodstock, we walked around town and paused along the bridges to admire the stream coursing below. On our first full day, we were privileged to visit with local mushroom expert John Michelotti at Catskill Fungi. We walked together through light rain and admired his logs as well as his life, which centers on fungi and has led him to many good things. On the way back from his place in Big Indian, we stopped to read a commemorative plaque beside the start of the Catskill Aqueduct. On the way here we had stopped at Oblong Books in Millerton and I treated myself to Lapham’s Quarterly (on the theme of, you guessed it, water!). As I read it that afternoon I came across a piece on Manhattan’s water sources, and it recounted how 9 villages near Woodstock were obliterated as the dams were created and water was collected in Shokan when constructing the aqueduct. At least 10% of the “sandhogs” who dug the tunnel suffered injuries and deaths. (Shades of Standing Rock: the Quarterly article included a 1913 account of deaths among Native and African Americans, overlooked by most as these were “inconspicuous” people.)
It poured that afternoon and Gavin swam in the rain. In the morning, we walked through puddles on the trails at The Comeau Property in town. The creek was running high, fed by the buckets of rain the prior day. Slugs and mushrooms were relishing the moisture, brightening the dim woods with their colorful presences. Back at our temporary home, I strolled beside our borrowed salt water pool and found tiny snails dotting the undersides of big leaves and clinging to blades of grass. Under one particular leaf a small spider had woven a rather flat web. He stood beside it, looking ready to defend his work.
For me, I guess not surprisingly, the best parts of the trip have involved noticing creatures (including plants) out in nature. I keep being reminded of water—how it links us, how we need to protect it. I looked back at an old diary entry on the same date as yesterday, when Gavin was just 6, and found this small start of a poem. I love how, so many years later, we are still treasuring the creatures we meet along the way, still conscious of the dew:
All along this morning walk
There were little beings,
especially funnel spiders
and slugs, who seem to like
the dewy days best.