Traveling country back roads in search of depth and meaning...
I was reading an article about meditation this week, a fascinating essay that offers helpful hints in attaining inner peace.
In this story, an ancient Zen master uses images from nature to stress the importance of slowing down your thoughts.
He explains that the mind can be compared to a body of water. When the surface of that water is calm and clear, you can look deeply, perhaps one day even all the way to the bottom.
However, when the water is disturbed, it becomes opaque and distorted … a fact that makes it impossible to see even a few inches past the surface.
It was with these thoughts in mind that I hopped in my car and headed north on Thursday afternoon. Nature has always had the power to soothe after a hectic week in the newsroom.
And, what better destination than Northern Wayne County during the height of autumn? Every turn in the road or bend in the river reveals a scene more beautiful and idyllic than the last.
Perhaps, I thought, I might even find that perfectly smooth body of water in which to peer deep down into the depths of my own swirling psyche.
Want to come with me? There's plenty of room and we've got all afternoon...
On the Road
Heading out of town on 670, I cruise through Bethany and past the old Kilroe Seminary, which is now the Himalayan.
My first stop on this impromptu fall tour is one of my favorites. Just south of Pleasant Mount lies what used to be Hankins Pond.
Sadly, I say “used to be” because nearly all of the water was drained because the dam has been deemed a “hazard.” And, while the view is still magnificent, it's also sad … just a puddle remains of what was once a 90-acre lake.
I park just off the road and wander over to the base of what was once a surging spillway. There, across the highway from a stately old farmhouse, is (in my humble opinion) the coolest feature of the entire site.
Jutting out from the old dam is a built-in staircase.
Thirteen well-weathered field stones protrude from the edifice and you can still climb them all the way to the top.
From this spot, a postcard-worthy vista rolls out beneath you. The basin has already been re-claimed by all sorts of wildflowers, weeds and grasses all gently swaying in the autumn breeze.
It's a perfect spot to just stand quietly and look deeply … and that reminds me of the meditation essay at the beginning of this column...
This dam was built back in the 1830s by the Delaware & Hudson, to be used as part of a feeder system for its canals.
For more than 150 years, it held back thousands of gallons of water.
Evidence of its age can be found just by looking down. There, carved in stone at the top of the staircase are names of folks who've stood in the exact same spot. The biggest and most “ornate” of these is dated 1941, 76 years ago.
I used to bring my own children here when they were little. Together, we'd frolic along the shoreline, climb up and down these stairs, and skip rocks across the surface of the pond.
Today, not far from me, there are two big does nestled down in the tall grass. They watch me on my rocky perch with a mixture of curiosity and disbelief as I close my eyes, empty my mind and let the sun warm my face.
There is still a little bit of water here, so eventually I clamber down the rocks and find a comfortable spot.
There, I lean out over what's now no more than a tiny creek and overgrown puddle. Getting a photo of the reflection I find here isn't easy, but in the end it's definitely worth it.
Not only can I clearly see face on the surface of the water, but I can also make out clouds and the blue skies above. Interestingly, I can simultaneously see all the way to the bottom and all the way to the top!
As the afternoon shadows begin to lengthen and the autumn sun sinks lower in the sky, I hop back in my Kia Sportage and continue my journey.
Next up is a brief stop at Belmont Lake, whose water unfortunately is too active at the moment for any meditative or photographic “reflecting.”
Once again, though, the surrounding scenery is jaw-dropping as fall foliage rushes right up to the shoreline providing a four-fold contrast in color: from water to trees to electric blue sky and cottony white clouds.
The next leg of my trip takes me down a back road to Belmont Corners. From there, I wander through sleepy Pleasant Mount, then across to Lakewood and eventually Rock Lake.
St. Juliana's is among my favorite places in the world. One of my first assignments as a “professional” journalist was to cover the Rock Lake Picnic … and it hardly seemed like work.
I stuffed myself with mouth-watering, homemade food. I made new friends, met a lifelong Dodgers fan who used to attend games at Ebbets Field took several rolls of photos.
Heck, I even danced with Dolores McCusker, original author of the beloved column “Out & About in Pleasant Mount.”
On this particular day, though, all is eerily quiet. I exit my vehicle and take dazzling photos of the white church spire against that brilliant blue sky.
Once again, I pause and reflect … stopping for just a moment or two to reflect … to and look down through the steadily calming surface of my mind at what lies below.
Sadly, all adventures like this one must eventually come to an end. And so, after a last stop at the Red Schoolhouse for sustenance, I head home.
It's been a wonderful, leisurely and introspective afternoon. While I didn't achieve nirvana or even have any life-changing epiphanies, I did succeed in coming away with a pretty good column and a couple of outstanding photos.
Thanks for tagging along and putting up with my mental meanderings, my occasional melancholy and for all the Billy Joel songs I sang along with on Sirius Radio.
Here's hoping that you find the time in your own busy lives to embark on an afternoon adventure sometime soon.
In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend and we'll go “Wandering” again next week!