On Monday, J. and I drove two valleys east from my father's home, which took us from the Chenango to the Unadilla, and then to the beautiful valley which holds Otsego Lake, from which the north branch of the Susquehanna arises. That's a mouthful of Iroquois names, isn't it? All I can do to convey the beauty of the'se places is to post a few photographs, but this piece of earth is the landscape that's forever imprinted on my mind and soul.
Our first stop was a field not far from my father's. We needed photographs of sheep in fields that looked somewhat like rural England, for a theater poster we're designing. The sheep obliged.
On the way, I wanted to take a photo of this abandoned general store in South Edmeston, NY, one of several tiny villages we passed through on the way -- and home, in recent years, to a thriving yogurt factory that's providing desperately-needed employment in this hard-hit rural area.
Then we continued over the hills to Cooperstown. The town, as usual in the summer, was crawling with tourists, especially on the main street where we parked, not far from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Parents with kids, little league teams in uniforms, nostalgic elders...and a street of historic buildings containing shops selling baseball souvenirs and memorabilia of every variety.
We ate lunch at a small cafe, where there was a pile of magazines on the table. I opened up a copy of The Christian Century, a liberal magazine I used to read, and was pleased to see a poem by Jill Alexander Essbaum...After lunch, J. took off to take some photographs, and I walked down to my favorite landing to gaze out at the lake for a little while. This is the site of Council Rock, a famous meeting place for the Iroquois. No one else was there. I stood and watched the lake, and then walked around the shoreline a short distance. The north branch of the Susquehanna River is the outlet of Otsego Lake, and begins right here as a mere brook.
I thought about my own history in this town, Cooperstown, named for its famous writer, James Fenimore Cooper, who called the lake "Glimmerglass." We came here fairly often when I was a child, to visit the Farmer's Museum or Indian Museum, or have lunch at the Otesaga Hotel. Here's a photo of me there, taken, um, a lot of years ago!
Later, as a naturalist/artist/exhibit coordinator for one of New York State's environmental education centers, I came here to take a summer course given my the New York State Historical Museum, in Fenimore House, and met a man I'd later marry: he was an artist/blacksmith working at the Farmer's Museum. for the next two years I travelled back and forth over these hills very often, deepening my affection for the landscape and Cooperstown itself, and enlarging my familiarity with the trickiest spots on the icy, drifted winter roads. With him I moved to New England; my transplantation there would survive, but our brief marriage did not.
Much more recently, J. and I had spent long days and nights here, in and out of the Cooperstown hospital -- a teaching hospital that's the best in central New York -- during my mother's surgery and final illness. There was a lot going through my head as I looked out at the lake.
But then I climbed back up to street level, and rang the bell at Marly Youmans' house. Within minutes, we were talking like old friends. The reason for the visit was to meet face-to-face, and ostensibly, to talk about Marly's book-length epic poem, "Thaliad," which my press Phoenicia will be publishing at the end of 2011. We got to that after, well, a couple of hours...
Marly, who -- no surprise -- is delightful, intelligent, articulate, funny, and warm, introduced me to her children, and showed me her house (which is very old) and some brand-new books (by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and a group of poets including herself and Dave Bonta -- on the floor in this picture). Clive's original artwork for Marly's book, Val/Orson, hangs in her front hallway.
Jonathan arrived, and after tea and bowls of freshly-picked raspberries with cream (whipping cream!) and sugar - what a treat! - we inscribed and exchanged books (a copy of my biography of Bishop Gene Robinson, and Marly's latest poetry collection, "The Throne of Psyche) and walked to the Episcopal Church, where J. took pictures of the Tiffany windows and Marly told me the history of the building, in which James Fenimore Cooper and his family figured heavily. They're all buried in the churchyard, and commemorated in stained glass.
Then sadly, it was time to leave, for we had further destinations and many miles to go. We gave Marly three ripe Pennsylvania peaches - she's a Southern girl, after all! - and took a few pictures to commemorate the first of what we hope will be many future get-togethers. We liked each other a lot. Can you tell? And although we don't really look that much alike, we sure do in this picture. Kind of uncanny. Thank you, Marly, and thank you, Cooperstown, for being the catalysts for this journey backward and forward!
(Marly has another photo, and some local lore, on her own blog today.)