September 5th, 2007

no face

Shadowlands

We listened to The Great Gatsby on audiobook on the way to upstate NY. Obviously a re-read for me; not only is it one of my father's favorite books, but one of mine, though I suspect for different reasons. But one thing I forgot about it is that it can depress me for days on end. That book is just brutal. So I was a little glum pulling out of tiny little Henderson Harbor, NY, but it passed.

I looked for green docklights all week.

And, as it turns out, a not inappropriate book to begin the trip with. One of the things I learned about the 1000 Islands is that the people who live there are rich on a level that would make a Buchanan blush. It is beautiful, of course it is, with amazingly clear blue-green water and red granite and wild, tangled trees, long, lonely fields with their hay already wrapped up tight for the autumn and desolate rocky beaches boasting broken farmhouses and withered white branches. The sunsets are slow and languid, the stars innumberable. But every one of those islands, no matter how desolate, has a house on it, and we could not escape the cheerful, frantic crush of humans for very long. They came with their huge powerboats, leaving mountainous wakes behind them, they come with their mansions and their private docks, colonizing every inch of the river. We, too, would love to live on an island, in a high tower, and make jams against the winter, but here there is none of the isolation of island living to be found. I doubt many stay through the winter, but still, there is a footprint on every shore.

But they are lovely shores. We wound slowly from Chaumont Bay to Kingston, where I taught justbeast a little about Indian curry (he is an avowed Thai enthusiast) and sat about being equal parts sophisticated and grubby in coffee shops--then to the St. Lawrence, where our first river-night at anchor was near Mudlunta Island.

Now, we are generally lucky people, the Beast and I. But this sort of beggars luck. We spent the night in the lovely little inlet, and the houses facing it were thankfully empty. We also happened to be sleeping next to the only above-water shipwreck on the whole river. That's lucky enough. But we didn't actually know that the pile of burnt planks and nails were a ship. So the universe, not to be ignored, supplied us with an NPC kayaker to wake us up bright and early with his paddling, and announce "Welcome to Lakeside!" "Did you know that is the remains of the Brighton, which Some Rich Guy (an important archetype in these parts) beached to let his kids play on, and then burned when it got to be a hazard? No? Well now you do. Bye."

So I learned to snorkel. In a shipwreck. It was pretty spectacular and I'm totally addicted now. We were spoiled by the clear water, which while cold was no cloudier than the open air. The planks were all molded and burned black and crawling with weeds, lilies, reeds shaped like vertebrae. It's like seeing someone naked, to see a body of water from under the surface. Like being a mermaid for real and true, and justbeast held my hand as we swam along, like a gentleman escorting me to a submarine ball. And he is just so beautiful in the water I can't even begin to say. Merman, vodyanoi!

Our next island was Sugar Island, which was alarmingly perfect. No houses in sight, perfect little bay for the boat, great swimming water. At night, distant homes lit up like pirate enclaves.  We stayed for two days--until campers showed up and brayed and drank beer and fished while staring pointedly in our direction until we left. We also found, as I learned to dive with the snorkel and such, (so many firsts!) an underwater kingdom of golfballs knocked into the water by Some Rich Guys. Nice, monkeys.

Next stop was Alexandria Bay, for supplies and the SIZZLING SCENE promised by the guidebooks. We ate the world's most amazing barbeque--which is really shocking, considering the latitude--I went to the local psychic (always support your local oracle!) who was a small Indian woman who looked entirely the part of Mysterious Other, and then spoke with a thick Brooklyn accent. Awesome. And the SIZZLING SCENE was one nightclub, which that night featured Hotel California, an Eagles tribute band.

Now, I have a terrible secret. I love the Eagles. When I was a kid I listened to them all the time. Shut up. I don't actively queue them up on the playlist anymore, but there was a time, I tell you what. So despite the steep cover, we went. We were the youngest people in the place by at least ten years, though some twenty somethings wandered in to be ironic later on in the evening. I knew every word to every song, and since I was in a strange town, felt no shame about singing along. The older crowd kept laughing to see a girl my age singing songs written long before I was born, but I had no fear. We danced our asses off and had a great time.

And laughed our asses off about the band's work ethic--during ever set break, which were at least 30 minutes long, they made a beeline for the youngest unattached women in the place, and had to be dragged away. When they finally sang their last, they zoomed over to their chosen girls with superhuman speed. It was astonishing. And I have to wonder--what is the quality of groupie play one gets as a member of an Eagles tribute band?

On our way back we had to stay near Mudlunta and our wreck again, as every other nook was taken by Labor Day partyers. It was like cruising for parking at the world's biggest college. But the night was so clear and still that the water reflected the stars perfectly, and the shadows of the trees in the river looked like palms, and the whole thing was oddly tropical.

It was kind of a slim trip for Doing Things, but heavy on quality time and musing and dreaming at the clouds. I read a bunch of books (Part II of this is a book report) and justbeast and I discussed MUDs, magic, rites of passage, love, literature, islands, towers, and a million other things. It's impossible to sum up in a post the quality of floating in a green river side by side, or drinking horrible port on the bow of the boat, talking about impossible lives we intend to live.

And now we recover, and I clean the house, light candles, watch the very first tips of the trees go brown and red outside the window, and try to go back to work and the real world.

I can't wait for autumn. This was a hard, cold summer, and I'm willing to have it end. But there is a long blue river in my mind, and I know what it looks like from within.
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