Process 2: The Five Sighted Men and the River that Runs Through Hills Like White Elephants

The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.

Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

My temptation is always to write too much.

Hemingway to Maxwell Perkins, 1940

Writing about the view of the Hudson River and the Catskills from my window has been a struggle.  There is so much to say, so many stories attached to the view and so much history to my feelings about it.

I remember a story telling workshop led by Jay O’Callahan.  He had each of us talk about some object in our childhood home.  He wanted us to describe it using details.  We could talk about how it looked, or what we used it for, or if we liked it, or what it meant to one family member, anything – but fill it with details.  And that’s how I started writing about the view.  My mind was exploding with ideas, the content grew but I needed to keep from trying to squeeze a book into a brief essay.

Finally I remembered Hemingway and his iceberg theory.  I didn’t have to tell it all.  I could just know it and it would be there.

*

Since I have a view of the Hudson River and the Catskills from my home, when I think of the Hudson River I see my view.   I’m very close to the water.  I went out and counted 70 paces from the back of my house to the river, if I could walk it like the crow flies.  It’s down 14 steps, across a narrow piece of CSX land, thru the lilacs, across a trench where some have said CSX has an overflow pipe to keep the river off the tracks during storms and high tides (I haven’t found any such evidence), over a northbound and a southbound set of rails, through a mess of sumac to the river.

It’s not an idyllic view and conversation ceases as the train goes by.  Although only one unhappy person, who never seemed to want to see anyone else be happy, has actually told me that my house was a very, very bad purchase, mostly because of its location, I am sure there are many others who probably would feel the same way.  I think the realtor who showed me the house was very surprised that I brushed off the train with a wave of the hand.

There are ten windows across the river side of the second floor of my house and they offer ten different pictures.  I delight in each one. Starting from the north, I look up the river and never really see anything, but I keep hoping something will come into view.  From the second window I see the cement plant, which could be worse, and which I think of as a castle lit up at night.

The next picture is of the hamlet directly across from mine.  I have driven over several times, and I sit on a bench put up by someone and peer back at my house, which looks a bit industrial itself.  At night I can see the lights of cars coming down the hill and imagine mothers and fathers coming home for dinner with their children.

When I hear the whistle of the freight train across the river, I look out the fourth window to the one spot where I can actually see the cars going by.

The next window gives a straight on view of the little island with two trees – the old Cheviot dock and an in-your-face telephone pole. I forgot to mention the telephone wires that I usually photoshop out of the view on the computer, and when I’m not focusing on the birds on the wire – out of my mind also.

In the winter there’s a blinking green buoy seen from the next window, and it is joined by a red one in the warm weather.

I’ve got tracks, telephone poles, and a cement factory, and a public launch parking area.  But it’s a wonderful view – not a complete 180 degrees, but close.  In addition to the island, there’s Round Top and Kaaterskill Pass.  Actually it is Kaaterskill Clove Pass.   There are beautiful sunsets and even more beautiful, the reflection of the sunrise in the morning.

I can watch the ripples, sometimes waves of the water and wonder about the currents.  Much has been written about the Muhhekunnetuk – the river that flows both ways, and has two spellings and has two pronunciations.

The pictures change by the minute.  I sometimes see geese with their heads under their wings taking a rest as they hitch a ride on a chunk of ice. I first hear the throbbing and then see the lego barges of red, white, blue and yellow floating by.  I see glorious cloud formations and mist and sometimes the fog comes in so thick I see nothing.  Every now and then the rays coming from the clouds are so outstanding and brilliant that I really believe there must be a God.

*

I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I’ve got to constantly remind myself about that, rather than create posts with titles like the above.

The only time I had even a little bit of hesitancy about my view was when I first visited Olana, Frederick Church’s home.    That story is still in my well.

Morning Report from Cheviot

This should have been an evening report from Sunday (today is Tuesday) but I had a lot going on this weekend.  I also wanted to spend some time trying to find out what was really going on with the tides in the Hudson River.  Sunday the tide went out further than the newbies in Cheviot, a river hamlet in Germantown, NY, have ever noticed before.

There is an island off Cheviot Landing, where back in the day, barges used to stop to load up with produce to feed New York City.  Portions of a strip of land that used to be the causeway to the island pop out of the river when the tide goes down.  The causeway creates an ice dam in the winter, and a field of green that stretches north beyond where I can see in the summer.  I used to think the green was algae, but this year I could see it was plants – perhaps the invasive water chestnut?  The water is shallow on the north side of the causeway and I’ve watched many a canoe become grounded.  Just as I was surprised when I watched my dog walk out into the Hudson, I’ve watch many a surprised canoeist realize he can get out of the canoe, walk in the river, and drag his boat to higher water. Sunday the tide was very low.  The water dropped even more than is shown in the picture below, until I could see exactly where the chanels were to guide my canoe to get through or around the causeway.

The river was so low that one could walk along a muddy edge of the east shore – and one of my neighbors did.  She and I have been looking on-line for some mention of this unusual tide, but even this morning I have found nothing.

We’ve read about supertides, king’s tides, and proxigean spring (not necessarily in the spring) tides.  A proxigean spring tide is defined by Deal Beach Sea Fishing as

        . . . a rare, extreme form of spring tide which occurs once every 1½ years or so when the moon is new (between the earth and sun) and at its proxigee, being the point of the moon’s elliptical orbit that is closest to the earth and 92.7% of its average distance. This produces a 25% increase in the tide

Could our phenomenon have been the down side of proxigean springtide?  The site lists the proxigean springtides up until 2023, but February 26, 2012 wasn’t there.  Poking around more I discovered why.  This Deal Beach isn’t in New Jersey – the hip beach for college students where my sister hung out in the sixties — but is in Kent on the English Channel. It looks like a delightful town to visit.

Poking further on the web I found SeaAndSkyNY, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in weather and waters of NYC. There is a post about a king tide in October 2011. It advises beachcombers of a great chance to go foraging on the mudflats during the extremely low tides during a king tide.

Looking to discover if our phenomenon could have been a “king tide” I found in several places that the term, used especially in Australia, doesn’t have any scientific meaning, but is used to refer to an extremely high tide.

It seems strange to me that this very low tide, has not been reported on the web.  Those of us in Cheviot, who were fortunate enough to have witnessed it, are still talking about it.

As I look out my window right now – just about noon – the causeway is partially exposed, perhaps a little more than usual.  There are white sea birds sitting on it.  I hesitate to identify them as gulls or terns.

Could someone please let us know a little bit more about our Sunday at the Landing?

Living on the Tracks

If you’ve ever taken the train from New York City to Montreal you’ve passed a small cluster of houses midway between Rhinecliff and Hudson stations.  No one living there actually likes being on the tracks, yet no one would leave because of them.  Of course, having the Hudson River on the other side of the tracks does help.

Twice an hour most of the day, a train will go by, heralded by two long, one short, one long blasts of an air horn operated by a pushbutton or floor pedal.  The horn is hard to handle if you aren’t feeling well or have a headache, but otherwise, just a small interruption in a conversation.   Most residents report that they really don’t hear it most of the time.

Legislation passed in 1994 mandating soundings at public grade crossings.  There is a crossing to a small boat landing and picnic area across the tracks from this hamlet and hence the horn.  There is a crossing gate, the view both north and south is clear so that you can see the headlight of the train approaching, and there are only a handful of people who cross those tracks by car or foot every day, and most of them are regulars very aware of the danger.  It seems to me highly probable that the tracks are more dangerous up or down the track where people fish, walk their dogs, swim, or just seek privacy, and there is no gate for warning.  But there are no horns up and down the tracks.

Several years ago a group of residents of the hamlet initiated a movement to have the horn silenced — which has been done in numerous communities following a process initiated by the Federal Railroad Administration in 2005.  This FRA regulation states that certain intersections do not necessitate the sounding of horns.  Residents who lived inland from the trains did not agree – the sound of train whistles in the distance has a charm not appreciated by those who live less than 500 feet from the train.  The town voted to keep the whistle.

Nighttime brings a few freight trains, and they rumble along with no lights.  They do shake the house a little, but that can be comforting and after a bit of time they don’t interrupt sleep.  A newcomer to the area or an overnight guest might be rudely jolted from a dream.  It is important not to curse, and not to worry about falling back to sleep, and not to wait for the next one to come by.

The train has become a big part of both my real and fantasy life.  I imagine living in a model train landscape, in one of the little houses perched on a hill. At one end of the table are farms, at the other a few factories, in the middle a small town with a post office, school, and houses of all sizes and shapes. A little child comes and turns on the train and makes sure everything is in place and working. The trains go round and round.  I imagine walking down the steps of my house to the tracks and flagging down the train to go to go for a coffee up in Hudson. I think about the lonely late night passenger train and how it passes by at 12:37 even if there are no passengers on board.  I guess what is in those freight cars. It’s a great escape during those moments when the real world gets too scary, or it’s a picture book in process.

I fantasize about the engineer, pulling that cord, with his head looking out the window, and the steam pouring out of the whistle.  I make up a story — perhaps the short happy toot is a signal to a friend who lives in town, or a thank you to the couple that used to moon the trains from their hot tub.  Perhaps the longer shrill blasts of reality are a retaliatory response to a hamlet that sought to silence it.

Hurricane Irene and the rising of the river silenced the trains for a few days last year.  It re-confirmed the serenity of living close to and in touch with the Hudson.  Horn be damned.  I will enjoy what I have without complaining about the noise or worrying about what a high speed train corridor might mean.

Thank you to all who have posted information on trains and whistles on-line.  I hope I have used your sites in a way that pleases you.