Monday, August 22, 2011

I went to the End of the World (and back again)

Never Done: I went to the End of the World (and back again)

After the Dan Bern show in Piermont, I drove to my college friend Cyndi's house in Poughkeepsie to spend the night and then go to her favorite swimming hole the next day. The plan was to meet Josh's train, have some brunch, meet up with some of her friends, and head up there by 1. The weather report said 80% chance of thunderstorms every hour, but also showed a sunny icon all day long. Cyndi's a pretty optimistic, go-with-the-flow kind of person, and she felt quite sure that we'd catch a break. While we were in the cafe having brunch, the skies opened up and started to dump torrents of rain. I started suggesting all sorts of alternate plans. She kept true to her belief that she thought it would blow over, and that anyhow, the weather is different up on the mountain. I didn't think it was likely -- it felt like we were settled in for a real all-day rain. I wasn't invested in it raining, and in fact I really wanted to go swimming, but I just had a hard time seeing that things could change from what I was seeing. (Metaphor/lesson alert -- having to do with impermanence and intransigence alert -- for the rest of my life.)

And of course, as you suspected, after a while the rain did ease up, and so we headed up to Lake Minnewaska State Park Preserve, to hike in along Peterskill, to a secret (not so secret) and beloved swimming hole called the End of the World.

When we arrived at the gates of the State Park, the warden told us that Lower Falls is closed, and that rangers are clearing people out of there. Cyndi seemed sure that we were headed elsewhere, but she also knew that we weren't really supposed to go to the End of the World. Undeterred, we set off. It's about a 30-minute walk through the woods to get there, along the Peterskill. Gorgeous woods, with spruce, and sassafras, and white pine -- as well as rhododendrons and mountain laurel and sweet fern and blueberries. As we walked, I saw dozens of gorgeous places to go swimming, which built up my anticipation for what might make the End of the World different from these other places. I started thinking it might either be more secluded, or deeper, or just so spectacular that it was going to be obvious. Cyndi kept the mystery alive and just let me speculate (which I love) -- as we worked our way closer and closer to our destination.

When we arrived, it was clear that we were indeed at Lower Falls. Because, well, we had descended to someplace significantly lower than we had been, and also, we were at a big basin falls. It was gorgeous; the sun was out, the air was soft and warm, the water was completely clear and fresh. My first swimming hole of the summer! This is the trade-off of having done the triathlon -- until last week, I didn't get out of the city all summer, and now I intend to get out as often as I can for the rest of the year, and to get into as many clean and fresh bodies of water as possible.

Lying in the pool, chilly and shivery, with the warm sun coming down and the swirl of the water around me, I started singing, "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine." And I did. I felt incredibly fine. The only question was -- is it ethical to go there when it's against the rules? We did no harm, left nothing behind, and were neither the first nor the last people to go there that day. What I think is that the warden has to tell us not to go, and by telling us not to go, he is actually telling us that he knows we are going, and to take good care of it. The arrangement seems to be working -- the falls were pristine.

When we were done, we hiked out and drove back to New Paltz, and just as we got back into town, the rain started to fall again. It made me think about the day Cyndi and I graduated from college. It was dumping a torrential rain all morning, and then cleared up for just the right amount of time for people to walk to the ceremony and for the ceremony itself, and then the skies opened up and everyone ran for cover. On the way to Brooklyn, we drove through the hardest rain I've ever driven though -- it brought visibility down to almost zero. So much rain that I would have pulled off if there would have been a safe place to, but we were on the Taconic with no exits for the hardest rainfall. Instead, I drove on home very slowly, appreciative of Cyndi's confidence in the shifting winds, and in her plans for the day. As we approached Brooklyn, and again as we approached the apartment, I asked Josh if he thought it might stop raining long enough for us to unload the car. He said that he thought it would. I, apparently having learned nothing all day, did not. And wouldn't you know it, just as I pulled up to the curb near our apartment, the rain eased up to just a light sprinkle. And I felt fine.

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