I was looking at the Hudson River which is less than a thousand feet from my window.
On a clear day there are two duck blinds within my site.
Both my sons are exceptional and they fill my heart with happiness. I emphasize my love for them both so Alex doesn’t read anything into our not inviting him to join us.
We three have good, hard, simple, strong memories of this tiny spot in New Hampshire. A lot of memories for the little amount of time we spent there.
People who have orchards write about them — Jane Brox for one. It would be hard to capture the struggle and resolve of working an orchard and the struggle and release of letting it go better than she has, and I’m not going to try. Rereading her books now, after putting our remaining 2.65 acres with apple trees up for sale, has rekindled memories and given words to many feelings never expressed.
Buying this orchard was really a crazy thing for us to do. My husband Clark had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was feeling good after his bone marrow transplant and wanted to spend his last years working for himself, with me, at home. He wanted a bed and breakfast. We looked at other b&b’s but kept coming back to the first one we visited — Olde Orchard Inn.
I’m not sure what he hoped for at this point in his life, but I like to think he found it.
On move-in day we stepped into the kitchen and the house gave me a warm, firm hug as if it were waiting for us for a long time. That feeling never wavered, even when I was alone in it day after night after day in the coldest of winters, with the snow piled high over my head, and the wind wailing outside the bedrooms windows.
The land took a little longer to get to know, but after our first harvest we knew we had chosen wisely. It was hard work, but there was constant reward. I still wonder about the people who lived and worked there before us and what they left behind. If I believed in spirits or fairy godmothers or guardian angels I might be able to explain it better.
There were two or three innkeeper/owners before us. But before them there were only the Young’s, the Larson’s, the Brown’s, and the Abenaki’s.
White settlers drove the Abenakis from their land around Lake Winnipesaukee in the second half of the 17th Century.
We know that Batchelder Brown bought 50 acres from the colorful General Jonathan Moulton in 1783 for 5 pounds. General Moulton received a large tract of land as a reward for his successes in the American Revolution and sold parcels to Brown and others who served under him. The Browns bought abutting property in 1791 and 1803 and members of their large family lived there for over 150 years. One of the Brown men made bricks from clay by the stream, and built the brick addition when the family outgrew the original center chimney wood structure. Mildred Carter (a Brown through a second marriage) married Peter O. Larson. They bought the home and land from the Browns, planted the orchard, and gave it the name Homestead Farm. They shipped apples all over the country and sold them at a farm stand on Route 25.
The Youngs, who bought the farm from the Larsons in 1968, perhaps like my family, loved the land too much. Kate Young Caley writes beautifully of her love for the farm in her memoir. Unfortunately as I read reviews of her book, this part of her story seems overlooked and unappreciated.
At some point lands were sold off, and houses were built on Orchard Drive. Homestead Farm became Olde Orchard Inn in 1987. I’m not sure of all the owners but one of them, was the town building inspector, and that may account for why the tiny bathrooms in some of the guest rooms and a good deal of the wiring look like they couldn’t have passed code!
We bought the land from the Senners who ran the inn for several years. Grandma Mary, who would ride in the bucket of the large tractor and pick the apples high on the trees, was sad to go.
People with connections to the land would visit. A Brown descendent sat down in the old kitchen and and spent some moments in the past. Two Larson women visited and told me that as children on very cold nights they would sleep on blankets on top of brick ovens behind the central fireplace. These pilgrims would walk the orchard and visit the family cemetery. We all agreed that there was something special about the house and land. Guests would ask me about ghosts and tell me they felt a presence. One couple came back to renew their wedding vows because they felt the orchard a spiritual place.
The 1790 house came with a barn built even earlier, and over 500 trees on twelve acres. We spent our first months there fixing pipes and moving snow and figuring out how to keep warm. But once spring arrived the apple trees exploded with a flowery welcome.
We learned how to care for the orchard by trial and error. We joined Beginner Farmers and went to workshops at the Carroll County Extension. We tried our best to figure out which apple was which, when to prune, how to keep the apples crisp for as long into the winter as we could.
The orchard was rather comical. The trees had buzz cuts. Old huge trees were mixed in with newer, younger, smaller hybrids. Some were espaliered but neglected. Others had grown so many suckers and water sprouts they reminded me of banyan trees. We found cherries (the birds always got them before us), pears, and a few peaches scattered throughout. The pears did very well, perhaps because there weren’t enough of them to attract their own pests and diseases. The peaches withered away.
You cannot imagine my delight when I discovered the gorgeous raspberries galore —enough to make the richest raspberry ice cream and still have plenty for muffins and kuchens. I liked them because they practically took care of themselves.
There were special moments. We were picking up drops one autumn afternoon. The sun hit the maples just right, and we sat down and took in the colors, said how lucky we were, and stopped work for the day.
We saw bear curled up under bushes; a baby cub up in the crab apple tree outside our window. Sleeping deer left matted ovals in the grass. Wild turkeys strutted across the field picking up whatever goodies they could find. Fox would jump up and dive into the snow coming up with a snack every time.
Our second year’s harvest was our best. I doubt we had one apple that didn’t have a blemish or a hole, but that didn’t matter to us.
The following winter Clark started to fail quickly. He continued to plow but I did the shoveling. We drove into Boston in early spring to meet Morgan for a Red Sox game, but Clark wound up in Dana Farber. He went home to hospice. The apple blossoms came and went and the grass grew up to my hips. One of my first mornings alone a mourning dove called to me from the top of the barn. A weight lifted off my shoulders and Clark was now free.
Mowing took 18 man hours. When Alex was up, they shared the work, one on the tractor, the other taking the lawnmower up close under the trees. It was my job now and it was when I really started to love the land. I understood why Clark gave up when he no longer could manage the mowing.
It was too easy to stay put, protected and comfortable on this magical land, to be the widow at the old orchard who only went into town to buy cheese at The Olld Country Store, or walked across the street for takeout at the Woodshed. Too easy to create my fantasy of being the crazy lady standing at the door with rifle in hand, dressed in calico and little brown boots, telling the tax collector to get off my property. Too easy to imagine a slim handsome stranger with a cigarette in a pickup driving up and staying on as the live-in handy man.
I put the inn on the market, split off a small piece in the back orchard for myself, and sold the house to a a woman who had spent some time at the house before it was an inn and had felt the pull of the place. She and her husband moved over from England and immediately hung a Union Jack from the flagpole. Batchelder might have shuddered in his grave.
Now these 2.65 acres are on the market. My sons and I are ambivalent. We want to enjoy the land but we live too far away. My neighbor who lives in the former apple storage building is under the spell also. He mows the orchard while he can.
Perhaps someone will buy the property, put up a sweet little home, care for the pears, choose a few apple trees to pamper back to health, steal a few of the raspberry plants from the inn’s property, spend a few years carving out a tree from a behemoth gone wild, and find peace.
But if it doesn’t sell, that’s okay.
Why not dress up and party with the Hudson River Historic Boat and Sailing Society at Rokeby in Barrytown, NY?
As a member of this lively band of sailors, woodworkers, city of Hudson and Hudson River history buffs, and crazy romantics, I invite you to an Edwardian Great Porch and Lawn Party at Rokeby, a privately-owned Hudson River Livingston/Astor estate with a twist. The event is a benefit to fund the purchase of the spars for the restoration of the 1903 Clinton Crane sloop Eleanor.
According to the Historic American Buildings Survey prepared by the National Park Service, Rokeby, originally known as La Bergerie, is 200 years old this year. Ricky Aldrich, Vice President of HRHBrass is our host for the day and Wint Aldrich will be giving tours of the first floor of the mansion. Speaking unofficially for the volunteers and supporters of the Eleanor Project, I will say that we are extremely thankful to them and to Ania Adrich for opening their home for this occasion.
Guests will be able to stroll the grounds which offer beautiful views of the Hudson River and the Catskills. If the sun is out, the afternoon will be magnificent If not, it will just be outstanding! It will be hard not to have a good time.
At 4 o’clock Halsey Herreshoff will speak about his racing experiences, the America’s Cup and things dear to sailors. Since 1878, the Herreshoff family has been designing and building select high quality yachts, including the famed Reliance and Westward, the most technologically advanced racing yachts of their time. Halsey is a prolific designer of production and custom yachts. As a sailor, he has been bowman, tactician and navigator, with four successful America’s Cup defenses, and he will have just returned from this year’s race. He is responsible for the development of the Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame in Bristol, R.I.
Hudson River Historic Boat was organized in 2011 to save a very distressed Eleanor. A hard working group of volunteers meet weekly in a warehouse in Hudson, New York to bring her back to her glory so that she can once again sail the Hudson River for the public’s pleasure and education. This event will raise money for Eleanor’s mast, boom and gaff that will be built by the Beetle Boat Shop in Wareham, Mass.
For more information on the Party and to purchase tickets, as well as to learn more about the work on the Eleanor please see our website. If you can’t make be with us on the 31st, but would like to join our group and volunteer your time and/or expertise, please give us a call.
We do have fun.
Two men, one in a salt and pepper beard, both in tan caps, hooded sweatshirts and faded jeans, standing and talking and drinking coffee at the park. One smokes a cigarette. I can’t get a good look at them since my eyes are so bad even with my binoculars, but they could be Louie. They look out at the river, at the house boat, at the island and the causeway and the barge that just passed by going south. They meander about but don’t cover too much ground — down to the water’s edge and back to the fence. Two cars. Did they plan to meet or just bump into each other on the way to work. They spend some time looking up at the sky. I want to make up a story. Oops. One just walked back from the waters edge. I started typing so I missed seeing what he did down there on the rocks. Perhaps he peed. I’d love to catch one of them peeing. But now they’ve taken out fishing gear. They must be the two that were there late afternoon yesterday. Is it striper season already?
They don’t look up at the house. Do they feel as the twenty-something year old me did when I went with a neighbor to visit friends in Brooklyn Heights? We walked along the Promenade and saw people on their decks having drinks and barbecuing and children doing children things. I wondered how it must have felt to live there, in such a singular place, and yet have a parade walking by every day looking up at you living your life. I guess I know now. Sometimes you watch them and sometimes you don’t. And you wonder about them as they do you — or not at all.
Republished with Poetry — because I think that’s what it is.
There wasn’t the excitement and activity that surrounded last year’s ice boat rally at Rokeby in Barrytown, but it was a real treat to look out the window and see four boats scooting around at Cheviot Landing several days this week.
At the opening of the Ice Boat Expo at FDR Library and Museum in January, Wint Aldrich, historian and member of the Aldrich family that hosted last year’s event summed up 2014’s rare ice-boating conditions:
This past February brought the most “exceptional conditions of ice-boating on the Hudson in living memory … 15 miles of practically skate-able ice, 15 inches thick,” Aldrich said. “We have all our fingers crossed that this is going to happen again and again. What a treat it would be.”
John Vargo, former commodore of the Hudson River Yacht Club agreed. “It’s once in a lifetime . . . I”ve never seen this many iceboats together on the Hudson, and I’ve been coming here 70 years.”
Over thirty boats and thousands of spectators gathered on the ice. Some of the ice yachts were over one hundred years old, and two, the Jack Frost and the Rocket, both restored and both about 50 feet tall, sailed with each other for the first time after about a century. Spectators dragged coal stoves down onto the ice and danced around the boats to music from a brass band from Bard College.
The 2015 season started when Lee was walking the dogs down by the river. He met some of the hopeful boaters who had driven up from Newburgh looking for suitable conditions. They came back with friends and boats the next day and we watched them set up and take off. They’ve been back several times. Lee spent time down by the landing filming, and one of the boaters asked him if he wanted to go for a ride.
I would have said yes —
My mother died November first. She was 98 years old, though she looked younger. Yesterday her death became one of the stories Lee tells to people — at dinner, parties, breakfast, or whenever they seem appropriate. This telling was at Crafts People in Spillway, according to Lee, or Hurley, according to their business card.
When we walked into the first building — Jewelry, Lamps and Toys — the man sitting at the door, the owner, recognized Lee. We wandered a bit about until we were in different places. I was kneeling at a counter with barrettes and hair ribbons, sticks and such, hoping to find just the thing for my niece for Chanukah, when from the other side of the aisle came the words: “She had a big breakfast, and lay down for a nap, and . . . .”
He may have already told the story to Derrick or Eric or others of his men buddies separate from our life together, but this was the first I heard him tell it and it shook me a bit.
Only those few words. I quickly moved into the little room at the back which held the toys, in order to avoid hearing more. If it becomes part of his repertoire, it may acquire embellishments, and I’m looking forward to them.
But this telling was, like her death, quiet, peaceful, simple. I wasn’t at her death and will never know if she died as peacefully as the woman who sat with her told me. She said it was beautiful and the way she said it and looked at me and cried, there is no reason not to believe her.
I would have liked to have been with her.
She was in her own world these past few years or so. For the most part they seemed comfortable, content, healthy years, although I have no idea at all of what was going on in her mind. Did she know that she was and yet was not the woman she used to be? that she was unable to communicate? that she no longer could walk? that her sister had died? that her grandson got married? that people still loved her? Did she really just exist in the moment and did that moment ever seem much too long or meaningless? What did she do in-between those moments?
Did she recognize me as her daughter, did she recognize me as someone who came to visit every now and then, did she miss me when I wasn’t there? Did I disappoint her by not doing whatever she might have wanted me to do, or not saying whatever she wanted me to say? Did she want?
My presence during these later years may have had no impact on her happiness. My presence at her death may have been the same. Her last thoughts may have been of those who died before her — her mother, father, husband, or maybe no thoughts, only a longing to be finally free of the confines of her wheelchair and her own mind, or maybe no longing but just a blissful nothingness.
Is it a gift to be present at death? My husband Clark told me of how he held his father’s hand and felt his spirit pass on to him as he died. I wanted so much to give Clark the chance to be on the giving end when he died but I made a mistake and I’ve never forgiven myself. The night of his death was a nightmare that still continues to haunt me, all the layers of which I have yet to explore.
Perhaps being at the side of my mom when she died would have helped me.
It’s been written that
“when Mister Death come, the living couldn’t see him, and wept and wailed,
but the folks that was dyin’ rose up to greet him, and smiled at him on their way,
like they knew him for a friend.”
I like to think that is true, but its simplicity makes me cringe when I think of those who lose loved ones, especially young loved ones, to accidents, gun shots, cancer. Who gives a shit about this Mister Death coming and taking our innocents away?
“Well son,” said granny, “here’s another question she asks of you. Why did you take away her baby sister from the cradle?”
Then Death twisted and turned in his sleep again. “She was sick,” he said, “She was full of pain. I took her so she need never cry again.”
Life, death — it’s all a burden and a blessing.
Mr. Death and the Redheaded Woman, by Helen Eustis, with illustrations by Reinhard Michl. A Star & Elephant Book published by Green Tiger Press, 1983, originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, February 11, 1950 under the title “The Rider on the Pale Horse.”
Dread descended upon me as Lee and I were driving home from an evening out.
This was my fourth return to my house for the day. The earlier three times Brino, the current doggie love-of-my-life, bounced down from his lookout on the spiral stairs to meet me at the door and bark his greeting. He looks so cute sitting at the window where he can smell, hear, or see someone approaching..
As is his custom, Brino barked unrestrainedly, expressing his joy and love, until he had circled Lee once or twice and then run out the door to greet me, all the time circling in a frenzy, circling back to circle Lee, and then circling around me and in front of me and wherever space allowed. I sat down on the bench and started to pet him and told him what a good dog he was. He quieted down, trying to be a good dog, trying so hard to please me by not barking because he has learned that it turns me into a crazy woman. His face and body showed that he was really sorry that he forgot. Strange strangled sounds emerged from deep in his throat. He looked pleadingly up at me, gurgling and croaking, his eyes saying “Love me, don’t leave me, love me, stay with me, love me, don’t go away again.” Even though it’s amusing, it’s hard to take. It’s exhausting for me. It’s exhilarating for him. He’s so happy we are home. He’s so cute.
A little history —
The foster mom who had “Spike” before he came home with me in January and turned into “Brino,” wrote in his online profile that he would sing and dance for you. That sounds cute, doesn’t it? She said he would pick up each foot and point it. He does do that and looks like a little ballerina. So cute. She also said he yipped with glee to see her. After having one disappointment after another trying to adopt a dog I was desperate, and a little yipping was not going to deter me.
Surely Lee and I could break him of this unappealing small dog behavior that he had most likely picked up from those mini poodles and things he somehow got mixed up with and was fostering with. K, his foster mom, had twenty-one dogs at her home. Spike, a twenty-five pound Pomeranian mix or whatever he is, was the big guy at this mostly mini dog rescue (hereafter called TMMDR). The last time I checked, the largest dog available at TMMDR was a 19-pound Pekingese, Miss Becky, unless you count the bonded pair Kaylee and Mikki, two shih tzus who together weigh 26 pounds.
Most of the dogs at K’s slept on the lower bunk of a trundle, but a favorite few got to sleep up on her bed. Spike wasn’t one of the favored. My grand delusion was that K, with twenty foo-foo dogs — as my family disparagingly labeled any dog that was too cute for words, yippy and spoiled to boot, that resembled a chew toy for one of our 100 pound labs — just didn’t have the time to retrain Spike herself.
Spike had been on my short list for a few months, but never at the top. My heart ached over a few dogs already during the search, and my life was stuck in a deep loneliness without a furry companion. My days were spent scanning adoptable dogs on petfinder.com, scouting local kennels, completing applications, studying breed characteristics and temperaments, and feeling sorry for myself.
Spike filled most of my requirements. He was older, small enough to fit on my lap, large enough to walk with the big dogs, and not a constant shedder. He was house trained, neutered, and had no allergies or health issues. He got along with the twenty little dogs at K’s, K’s grandchildren, and cats, and he didn’t cause mayhem when left alone in the house.
Spike got low grades on my barking and yipping requirements, his adoption fee was pretty high, and his foster home was too far for me to visit him ahead of time. But he was cute. I decided to apply for him.
TMMDR seemed keen on having found someone to take him.
Petfinder is the most popular site for finding your pet soulmate, It is similar to dating sites, and just as humbling and depressing. Each pet has a profile. People read profiles and pick a pet. One difference is that prospective adopters or rescuers don’t have profiles.
Each rescue organization requires a separate application, and some won’t even answer a “Is Buddy-boy” still available?” inquiry until they have received and reviewed your application. That could take a week or more.
So I filled out yet another application form, answering questions such as: size of yard, height of fence, dog experience, disciplinary strategies, training plans, hours away from home, name of groomer, other people and pets in the home. Did I ever return a dog or put one down? and why? Who would take care of the dog if I went on vacation or died? How often do people, children, dogs visit? Most wanted to call the vet, some wanted to call neighbors, a lot wanted to make a home visit. I felt terribly guilty inflicting unnecessary intrusions into my vet’s day at her clinic.
The application process is a bit overkill. These are dogs looking for new homes. We treat abused children coming across the border and our mentally ill and homeless with less concern.
Petfinder claims to list over 340,000 adoptable pets in over 13,000 adoption centers and shelters. Surely the web designer could streamline the adoption process by setting up a questionnaire for each prospective pet owner to compose a profile. That’s what dating sites do. If the system works for finding a husband or wife it should be good enough for finding a pet.
The adopter profiles could be secure so that only rescue organizations approached by the prospective adopter could see them. Individual rescue organizations could have the option to add a question or two if they deem it necessary. A single secured recommendation from the veterinarian could also be posted online. Harvard and Yale do it. More than 500 colleges choose freshman with a Common Application. Why can’t doggie angels have faith that a common application will work for them also?
Some rescue agencies just don’t respond. They put up barriers. Do they like to play god, are they scams, or they are just incompetent? Many are staffed by unpaid volunteers, but I’m an unpaid volunteer and consider myself competent.
Finally the application was in and accepted, the home inspection went fine, and all we had to do was sign the contract. There were off-putting clauses in the contract, such as —
“The adopter hereby declares that no representations about the nature of the adopted dog . . . have induced the adopter to sign this contract.”
What else would have induced me to choose this dog and sign the contract? All I had were his cute pictures, the profile, a few conversations and emails. We hadn’t even met yet, and they were also asking for pre-payment.
Obviously I had more trust in TMMDR than they had in me.
The contract goes on to dictate what kind of collar he should wear and couldn’t wear, where he should be allowed in my home and outside my home. It threatens to take action to retrieve the dog should I give him to my children or my best friend.
Tuck – my doggie-love before Brino – would have been a very miserable dog if he had to abide by certain rules. How about this one?
This dog will not be kept outdoors during the adopter’s working hours, or at any other time left alone outdoors while the adopter is not at home.
Tuck was happiest in the fenced-in area behind the house where he could look out over the river. He showed his displeasure by being extremely destructive if left inside alone. Tuck’s foster mom warned me, but I had to find out for myself.
Another rule in the contract stated that the dog had to be protected from the elements. Tuck loved the snow, the cold, sleet, rain, the wind, the outdoors. He slept on the deck at night. He never went into the shelter we built for him He was constantly on alert, listening, watching. Even the owner of the kennel where Lee’s dog, Uncle Jack, and Tuck stayed finally gave in. At first he thought it imperative that Tuck stay indoors with the pack, but finally he let him sleep outdoors.
Tuck, by the way, rarely barked, and if he did, whoa — it was scary. He looked like a wolf. Nobody ever called Tuck “cute.”
Perhaps rescue agencies don’t know what is best for all their dogs and their new owners. Perhaps they should have a little humility and allow adopted dogs and their owners to find their own way. The contract includes threats of recall, attorney fees, and fines. It is as if TMMDR doesn’t want to relinquish ownership of their dogs. In paragraph one it states that the “donation” is not a fee or sale price.
It’s a very invasive contract. TMMDR can visit my home anytime, call my vet for information anytime, demands that I notify them if I move and if Spike/Brino dies.
But I signed the contract, just like I sign my life away over and over – when I open a bank account, or get insurance, or go to the doctor, or buy a cell phone, or download software, or now, adopt a dog.
I do love my Brino. Except for the fact that I later learned that TMMDR kept the entire fee, including the extra $50 I paid to “help defray the cost” of getting my dog to me, and did not give any of it to K, I do appreciate their efficiency and the work that the organization does. K feeds 21 dogs and gets them their shots and meds. She brought Spike to a groomer so that he’d be cute as could be when I picked him up, drove to meet me half way for the pick-up, and definitely deserved a big chunk of that fee. K and other foster moms and the transport volunteers who ferry the dogs around have very big hearts.
It’s been a few days since the dread and it has slowly dissipated. Brino was able to come along with me on most of my errands since that night so he hasn’t been overwhelming at the door. Everyone he meets on my travels thinks he is so cute.
He is lying by my desk on the tower deck as I write. He’s been a good little boy today, not barking too much, settling down quickly. He trotted gaily by my side on our walk with Lee and Uncle Jack – on the leash and off, he took a dunk in the stream and shook himself off before he came near. He sticks close, doesn’t bolt as all my other dogs did whenever they had the chance. It feels good.
Who knows what goes on in Brino’s cute little head? When I wrote to K to report on how he was doing, she twice asked me, “Is he still behaving like a gentleman?”
“Ooohhh,” I thought. “He’s got an ungentlemanly side???”
He has antagonized some, but not all, of the neighbor dogs, mostly the pit bull next door, and the Caine Corso who usually is very sweet but always very large. Wikipedia, although not necessarily the preferred source for information on such a grand beast, says it best: “Ideally the Cane Corso should be indifferent when approached and should only react in a protective manner when a real threat is present.” That’s what I keep telling Mina, since Brino is certainly not anything resembling a real threat. After getting bit on the bum by the pit bull (totally not the neighbor’s fault and no hard feelings) Brino has been much less feisty.
He’s lucky he’s cute.