People watching

By RICHARD TRAVISS
Posted 11/6/19

People watching in the country is frightfully more diverting than its city counterpart. For in the Catskills, whilst we are exposed to new faces all the time, the old faces—the …

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People watching

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People watching in the country is frightfully more diverting than its city counterpart. For in the Catskills, whilst we are exposed to new faces all the time, the old faces—the “familiarity-breeds-contempt-and-adoration” sort of faces—resonate. We sit back and watch each other change like autumn leaves. We all transition into the deep freeze in much the same way; the still-present smile becomes more ponderous and knowing, resigning.

Resignation is everywhere these days. And by the Delaware River, we know all about that: “Look man, that river is going to flow the same way it’s been flowing, so ain’t no use in trying to change it.” But whatever course it takes, it’s always been calling out to us.

Tin-Pan Alley melody hustlers used to hop a train with a bottle of booze and a sack of city blues to Narrowsburg or Callicoon. They’d rent a room and exchange stories and songs. The Inn. The meeting house culture has been swept away by motorcars, radio, television and agoraphobia. Traveling used to really take time, as life used to. We human beings used to be our only form of entertainment.

Or we would watch the water flow over the rocks. The Far-East knowledge still looms large, vibrant in the countenance of the Itadori Knotweed that has taken our river banks. Robert Moses dancing with Frank Lloyd Wright, “To understand sound, one must understand silence,” “a true musician will spend one year listening to only water.” It’s all there, spelled out for us. Having time though, where is it?

We cling hopelessly to summer—a summer we have no time for. Summer yells at us, “Outside. Really, I mean it, you’re actually inside? That makes no sense, but whatever.” There’s an incredible sarcasm to nature around these parts. The cynicism of the grand meritocracy to the south trickles up to us, “I don’t know, but there’s about fourscore and seven eagles flying in the sky right now; noble kingfishers harassing their every flit; the sun is high, the breeze is calm, but whatever: point your mobile beacon to the sky, send that emoji. It’s your day.”

The freedom is ours; the freedom to remain captive, likewise. The advent of streaming video has given us the ability to fully engage our senses of sight, hearing and touch. Nature still has a lock on the other three senses: those next-level senses, the ones that fully engross us without regard to our thoughts on the matter.

As it comes time to go calendar shopping, it’s a given: we are to see less of each other. Firewood in our noses and splinters in our hands—it is time to get busy. Plowing, lots to plow through. There wasn’t so much snow last winter, “So Bob, what will you do with this grand chime of insularity that dings daily in our hearts and chattering teeth?” Write the great American novel? Novella (they’re shorter)? Find a nice little walk-up on the piano and re-invent the blues?

It’s cold. “Miracle on 34th Street” is on. Natalie Wood. “Forty-three is so young. She didn’t even get to really experience life.” A phone call from a neighbor, “I can’t see myself going out today man, it’s just too cold. A dance? In Callicoon? I mean, it would warm the bones for sure, but I can’t leave the fire.” The covenants we make with the hearth. Do not let that last little ember flame out. Soon it will be June, heads filled with fresh ideas and new perspectives, ready to swing into a summer that this time, we will fully appreciate.

Richard Traviss is a musician and activist who lives alongside the Delaware River.

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