Mid- October, forests of leaves are beginning to change color, when my brother and I met in Stamford, Conneticut to revisit our lives 40 years past. On the first evening we met up with Alice Carter. A horse and mini dacshund lover/trainer and daughter of Sue and Fred Carter, my mom – Spencer’s friends, banker and estate trustee. We -McLeans are thankful and appreciative of all that the Carters did for our family and thus it was great to reconnect with Alice 40 years later. The first evening Alice laid the ground of what to expect the following day’s visit to Bedford (NY) and beyond. She and Hoot reminised, recalled names and faces and updated us on North Salem Hunt Country. In typical “Craig” fashion, I fell asleep. My horsey saturation point matured at a young age.
The following morning we had a 10 AM appointment with Charolotte Kooyman – BRLA maintenance coordinator volunteer who also happens to live in a “new ” house below our former Hook Road ” homestead” – Stirrup Cup Farm. BRLA stands for the Bedford Riding Lanes Association which is a network of trails crossing and looping through mostly private lands. The now non-profit association manages well over a 100 miles of trails. My mom -Spencer, held the same position as Charlotte 40 years past and my life roots developed and grew along these trails. Revisiting the BRLA trails around our homestead was the focus of our visit.
My intention for the visit was to scope out a potential 40 year, retrospective photographic portfolio project. Since my early years, the natural environment has been and is the focus of my life’s work. As a young child, Spencer put me on horseback and took me on her daily rides. My memories were that of boredom as mom and lady friends rode ahead, dragged me along, chatting about this and that. Thus at the time, I did not know what was happening as I bonded to the natural world. My live as a child was all about the woods, streams and trails. Since moving to Colorado, growing up, I earned a masters degree in ecology, have taught outdoor/ environmental education, was a field biologist and now a fine art contemplative, nature photographer. About a year ago, I began reflecting upon my early childhood influences, horse trails, Lee’s Pond and St Matthews Glebe land. I started talking to my brother , interest grew and here we are in Bedford
Here we are at our first photo stop, parked at the intersection of Hook Road and route 22, the location of the historic Bedford Oak Tree. The surrounding meadow and golf course across the street appeared more overgrown but the Beddford Oak looked the same, situated behind a green wooden gate and bordered by stonewalls. The branches sprawl and extend like spider legs reaching out in space. The trunk is moss covered, and knotted with warty growths. The tree exudes age, wisdom and earned respect; and in this wealthy provencial suburb of Manhatten, there is another non-profit association that supports the elder care needs of this amazing tree – the Bedford Oak Foundation. After a brief moment of admiration and photographs, we continued up the still dirt Hook Road. We passed the Pattersons, Reimers, Lees, Davidson, Cunningham, Gwynne, Nicely, Gaul, Ewing/George, Mitchell, Winnokur, Snake Ladys house, Alperts, Saunders, Holiday, McLean and finally reached the gated Kooyman home, a stone’s throw from the river of my childhood memories.Charlotte is a lovely gracious woman who was excited to meet us, serve us coffee and be our tour guide for the morning.
I shared a collection of old photos from the family scrap albums and gave her a book about Spencer and her life on horseback that my sister Cynthia wrote after mom died in 2005. We began the tour walking up past the old “homestead”. The area looked significantly different. The barn and garage were still in tact. The house looks much nicer as to the yard/grounds. Everything was manicured. The split rail fencing was replaced with white plastic fencing and our horse pastures were mostly lawn. The hillside down to Charlotte’s house was terraced and much of the vegetation near the creek was removed giving way to river views from Charlotte’s living room. No horses lived on the property. The driveway was paved and new, square edged stonewalls replaced most of the previous hand-stacked stone walls. Yet, it was the stonewalls that gave me my bearings. The homestead land looked much smaller, everything was much more dense and compact. From the intersection of our old driveway and road extension to Charlotte’s we accessed the BRLA that paralleled our propertyline and a stonewall. The trail was wide leaf covered, the woods were drastically different. 40 years ago, the woods were a mix of pine and hemlock. The understory was mostly needle duff and easy to navigate cross country. The woods and creek were my playground, a place to make forts, swing on vines, raft the rapids, discover and explore with my imagination. The woods were a short cut to school, to friends houses and town. My childhood was all about the woods, a place that nurtured my soul and spirit.
It is now January 2015, three months later and I keep thinking about the visit to my childhood woods. They were different. The coniferous trees were gone and replaced by weedy brambles and impenetrable thorns. Everything was overgrown or gentrified with manicured lawns, gates, rock walls, fortresses and no trespassing signs. The church lands were posted with ” hike in pairs”, it was no longer safe to walk the woods alone. Ticks and lyme disease are a hinderance too. Nature was no longer a place for children to play. It is a dangerous, unstructured, unaccountable place for children. The woods were dead and my childhood memories of joy, adventure, creativity, exploration and free form play is a thing of the past. I am dated, old fashioned and an advocate for nature.
Communities need places and organizations like the BRLA trails. People need to be in nature. Nature and the out of doors are healing. We need need sunshine and connection . The modern world is forgetting and in this (hopefully short lived) amnesia we are creating havoc on the planet and to ourselves. We need places like the chapel in the woods, the st. matthew glebe land, the national forests, wilderness, and free flowing rivers to nurture our birthrights of love, creativity, imagination, body awareness, emotions and intellect. We think we can solve our problems with intellectual reasoning and science. Much of which we can, but we need to reconnect and drop into our hearts. We need to learn to listen deeply and pay attention to our internal knowing. Nature is our guide and we need to come home and give her thanks. Life will be better when we reconnect and nourish ourselves and nature.