By Judy Garrison
Walking up High Street, a road known in the past as Union Avenue and Back Street, but which is in reality a curving lane providing a kind of covert link between two portions of our not very long “commercial district”, I thought about how our little Andes is mostly main roads, and that we treasure our few private and quiet paths. People new to our town are often charmed to discover the portion, with a little paved footbridge, a parallel little sister to the vehicle bridge over the stream, where Jim Andrews’ house faces the Edwards’ house, two classic shuttered clapboard homes that I imagine nodding approvingly to each other for more than a century. Curving to the right, the lane grades upward, above and alongside the stream. Between the homes of David and Carolyn Ruff and Frances Finkle, there is an even narrower, easy to miss lane and a steep grade, leading up to the little cemetery. Were it not for the official road sign marking “New Cemetery Road” many newcomers to the area would have no idea of the small treasure of a cemetery at its end. Officially titled the Rural Cemetery, it is far from new but was at one time considered so in relation to the larger Andes cemetery.
When we had a dog to walk, this excursion was a segment of a twice-daily walking route. Since Meatloaf has been gone these 7 years we amble up this path much less frequently. It always promises the open glade of the cemetery with its gentle mountain views as one tramps a bit breathlessly upward, the majestic Norwegian spruces swathing the trail above, offering a kind of loving embrace.
My most recent trip up, on the Monday before Election Day, presented a new, though not unexpected, experience. I was aware that The Cemetery Association had many of these stately trees cut down, both on the near approach to the graveyard, and running alongside its western border further up. The lane itself is presently rutted and muddy, the sheltering trees gone. Stumps displaying their raw cuts and strewn detritus of branches and twigs offer a scene of devastation that one hopes will be cleaned up.
The cycles of the seasons have always provided their changes: the undergrowth of wild mustard and Gill-o’er-the-ground with pop-ups of dandelions and buttercups in spring, followed by tendrils of wild strawberry in June, grass growing up at an ever increasing rate; the tree hydrangeas blooming magnificently and then drying out, the cemetery itself encased and private, offering only the southern view-but what a view it is-of the draped mountains beyond Main Street. Now, with the foliage shrugged off, there is mid-ground on all sides added to the foreground of headstones from families with names we still know: Miller (including stones brought from the drowned valleys), Gladstone, Fletcher, Holmes, Coss. And, of course, the superlative distant view of the mountainous Dingle Hill as background.
On one side we see through the spare trees remaining to the Ballantine Manor and the altered landscape leading up the hill, on the other the vista opens up now all the way to Route 28, our eyes moving past the stumps seemingly held in bondage with the jagged remnants of barbed wire fence, over open pasture. Are the crows crying in protest at the loss of their nests, I wonder? Are the soaring hawks restive at the dearth of landing spots? To the rear the woods are unchanged, save for the snowmobile trails: princess pine still laces the forest floor, mushrooms which favor the woods such as boletes with their hamburger bun caps and amanita muscaria with their rice krispy like speckles on the crown were still seen on a soggy wet morning in September.
The timeless quality is gone, yes, but it is beautiful still, and I am made aware of the particular moment in time that I am inhabiting here. The sunny warmth of the afternoon is receding, and the darkness is coming fast now that the clocks have peeled back an hour. The glorious moon, which was astoundingly and brilliantly full last night, will be rising soon, and election day, which is tomorrow, will bring its own special news, possibly news of important changes.
I muse briefly on death-no way to avoid its consideration in this place-and how some take the afterlife as a surety and others are equally certain that we turn to dust and that is it. Somehow I am suspended in between, neither believing nor disbelieving, aloft in the mystery and unknowingness of life and death, and, oddly, not minding being bereft of certainty.
Descending the lane, opting not to pet the Ruffs friendly dog, since he is on a lead, and I have a memory of scaring a chained pup once, I enjoy the act of returning to village life-the hotel in my direct line of sight at the very moment a Pine Hill Trailways bus whooshes by, just as I re-emerge onto High Street-visibility especially clear with the foliage blown away. The remnants of stone dam pilings just below remind me of the former Armstrong Mill, one of many mills which utilized the indefatigable water power of the Tremperskill. Jim Andrews tells that the mill probably stopped operation around the turn of the last century and the dam was taken out by dynamiting in the late 1930’s when it became so filled in with silt that whenever there was high water it would overflow and run out onto Main Street. I wonder: If there were not DEC restrictions on stream use, would we again be developing water generation projects, this time in our quest for energy efficiency? I take in the rear addition to Hogan’s, imagining that some day his patrons will spill outside overlooking the stream, note the newly graveled area behind Apple Tree and Cassie’s for parking, and make my way home. ~