Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Spring - Rain, Ticks, and Poison Ivy

We are resurrecting our small raised bed garden and generally reclaiming this half-acre woodland that is our corner lot.  Most of it is in fact woods: maple, locust and black cherry; the latter is the dominant tree.  Black cherries are tall straight trees that I'm told make great furniture wood.  An arborist friend also called them "self pruning."  Think on that for a second and you will get the picture.  Limbs, sometimes very large limbs, regularly depart from the trunk; only once (knock wood) has a large one actually hit the house, leaving a substantial gouge in the frame of a window behind which Carol sat reading.

Locust are more tenacious with their limbs but ours are mostly very old and thus subject to similar discharges.  a couple of decades ago, a large locust limb landed (say that three times fast) on the hood of Carol's Mazda 626 as we were leaving our property for an ice cream run into the village.  I removed it and we continued our drive to Stewart's Ice Cream shop, got our treat, then dropped the car a few doors away at Smitty's Body Shop and walked home.  At some point Carol mentioned that, had we been a half-second earlier at that spot, the limb would have fallen through the open moon roof.

What does all this have to do with the title?  Not a thing, but it got me thinking about how seconds and inches can change our lives.  That got me thinking about how often I hear grumblings about: too much rain, too many bugs, noxious weeds, etc.  Some of us can find fault with nature in any of it's variations, maybe wishing for some odd utopia, a Camelot perhaps.  It has been raining a lot for June, so much so that I don't think we've seen two clear days strung together.  I know that come the dry hot summer, we will be wishing for rain and griping about the heat.

In the course of our property reclamation project we attacked the weed bed in the rock and gravel area bordering the finished part of our basement, a place Carol christened "The Moat."  It was overgrown with weeds that had taken root through the gravel because of last year's neglect.  I worked in the moat while Carol cleared weeds from the border rock wall.  We located several stands of poison ivy during the operation, prompting Carol to employ herbicide; this is the only foliage that ever receives such treatment on our property.  Anyway, a couple of days later a few small eruptions appeared on my left  arm, not too bad at all.  Add to that a tenacious wood tick feeding on my right hamstring and the spring triad is complete.

Anyway, summer is only a day away, officially.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Remembering My Hometown

Where is my hometown?  To me it's not the place I was born - New York City; or the place I’ve lived the longest - New Paltz; it’s the place I see, hear, feel when the word hometown is spoken - Gilbertsville. I spent most of my fifth grade year and all of high school there, all tolled less than five of my seventy-one years, but I still consider it home.

In his book, The Nine Nations of North America, Joel Garreau restructured the boundaries of the continent into logical nations, areas that shared a common interest and culture. I mention this only because upstate New York was, in my opinion, miscast. He made it part of The Foundry, the industrialized area of the continent, when it in fact the bulk of it fits much more into his demarcation  of New England: a land of small farms and no economic future.  My hometown is there.

The village has a population somewhere between three-fifty and four hundred, and has had for the last 150 years or so when, as legend has it, it opted out of being a railroad stop and the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western routed through Oneonta instead.

Commercial Avenue, the village's Main Street, is about the length of a football field. The western end T’s at Marion Avenue (state route 51 on New York maps). At the opposite goal line, it forks to either side of a civil war monument to become Bloom Street on the left and Spring Street on the right. Across Marion is Overlook Park, a tiered hillside with low stone walls and polished granite benches, fronted by a large concrete fountain that has never in my memory contained anything but leaves. The “commercial” part of Commercial Avenue consists mainly of a two-story Tudor style building, housing a dry goods store and a supermarket of sorts. There are actually three storefronts in the building but the market occupies two of them now. When I lived there in the fifties, the center store was a druggist/soda fountain and the other was a Victory Market. Across the street is a two-story derelict that once housed the town’s weekly newspaper, the Otsego Journal. Its uneven typeset and totally unrecognizable photos provided our tiny village with local news and gossip. Whenever I’d come home for a visit from college or later the US Air Force, the newspaper published an itinerary of my stay with details that would today be considered a gross invasion of privacy.

 The Marion Avenue end of Commercial sports the two claims-to-fame in this small village: The Majors Inn – a massive Tudor building that dwarfs anything else in town; and across the street, the Gilbertsville Post Office – featured once in the New York Times as the smallest post office in the state. For most of my time in town, the Inn was unoccupied. During my senior year someone with more money than sense tried to open it as a restaurant. I worked there with my friend and classmate, Dick Foster, cleaning the place up. One of my jobs entailed freeing a service for two hundred from twenty years of dust and rodent droppings.

When I went off to college on Long Island, I'd call my girlfriend, by then a high school senior, at least one evening a week.  The call had to go through the Gilbertsville operator, often as not Dick Foster.  If Marnie wasn't home he usually knew where in town she was and either connected me to that house.

 That description was a bit of a tangent I admit, but the place lives in my heart and memory and I wanted to share that.  Hometowns – I’ve asked folks over the years, “What’s your hometown?” and after they answer, I follow up with “Is that where you were born?” Sometimes the answer is “No.”

Where is your hometown, your heart?