Rimmed in Life

“The mountains were his masters. They rimmed in life.
They were the cup of reality, beyond growth, beyond struggle and death.
They were his absolute unity in the midst of eternal change.”

― Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel


I travel ninety minutes from northern New Jersey into the Catskills to participate in an extraordinary writing workshop.

At the close of each session, I avoid the long drive, at first. I always want to continue the conversations with my classmates about children and elderly parents, old boyfriends, and ways to prepare chicken for tomorrow night’s meal. Eventually, though, I open the car door and settle into the driver’s seat. I buckle my seatbelt, check my mirrors, and head south.

I’ve marveled at the change of seasons at each occasion along the journey since last spring. I notice the play of light while I drive. I sing out loud — and quite poorly — to the classic rock station, while mentally caressing the beaded strings of sentences that my talented classmates have crafted and shared. Their words persistently wind their way through my thoughts, while Ulster County offers me the best of its natural visual theater.

At certain turns in the road, a curve of the Catskill mountain range reveals itself — seated silently, almost meditative, atop the horizon. The sight gladdens me.

Last week, I drove home from upstate New York in darkness, save for the synthetic daylight industrial lamps, placed near construction sites at odd intervals along the highway. It will be like this for several months now, I realize. In the early fall, before the turn of clock hands returned us to stubborn, unflagging darkness, the mountains’ technicolor dreamcoats of foliage blanketed their surfaces. As autumn has progressed, and as the window of sunshine has shortened, their covering has darkened to gray, and now, to inky, hulking black. Yet the mountains are still visible.

I am comforted by their company along the night drive, and by the simple fact of their identity, no matter how the seasonal shift attempts to betray their existence. I see them. I know them. I sense them.

These mountains encircle me like older brothers, gentle fathers, and treasured ancestors. They are always familiar. The range is a sight line I knew as a small child, when my parents and I traveled from Queens on weekends — to grill hibachi burgers or walk near streams at state parks, and to feed the llamas at the Catskill Game Farm.

I hope that they will be of comfort to my children someday, when their father and I are no longer with them, or of this life. When, upon first sight of the rounded peaks, my daughter and son will viscerally recall the safety and pleasure of being small and adored in the back seat of the family car, as we traveled to our weekend house in Woodstock. The rhythmic blur of the Catskills’ prominence will hang at their shoulder while they travel, as they remember days and weeks spent there, and understand why we wanted something to call our own in this small, magical part of the world.

Mountains are still mountains, even in the anonymous cloak of darkness. They stand watch. They remain. They don’t argue. They don’t slack off. They don’t move out of the area for warmer weather and cheaper mortgages. They don’t disappoint. They don’t leave.

They don’t fail us.

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