Sleepy Hollow and the Death of Summer
In New York, Fall is the season of transformation, where the shadows drape the landscape in pastels, disguising the light in lilac blues, and invitations are extended to your gentle friend Dusk for a spot of tea in the late afternoon. When Fall arrives, the quiet hours of contemplation are no longer nigh, they are here. It is a season of liberation from the dreariness of Summer’s indifferent onslaught, all manner of vileness slipping away back into the drains and tunnels, abandoned to fester alone in the darkness,while we rejoice the coming of a the hallowed season. Oh, summer how we fondly dreamt of you in Winter and later curse the day you were born when the calendar says July and the weather forecast has a week of 90 degree days, endless days of perspiration, frustration, anger, and finally surrender. In Summer, those rays of sun, sociopathic, raging, radiating through all manner of defense, our dreams filled with sweat, our feet restlessly kicking off the covers, we weep from the salt of sweat dripping into our eyes. When a shower stays with you long after you dress, defiling the sanctity of clean clothes and underwear, moistness and rashes curdling below the surface, the deep crevices of crotch developing smells and stinks not unlike blue cheese. When people choose to swim in waters and beaches long polluted, walking through sands of broken beer bottles and cigarette butts, used condoms washing up on the shore, bad mojo, drinking ungodly amounts of booze to stifle the mental anguish of such an assault from deplorable heat, cursing themselves for needing to leave their air-conditioned bedroom, each walk to the bathroom like a walk to through an encroaching jungle, each meal cooked in the kitchen an infernal testimony to the existence of hell. When you start looking at apartments in cities far, far away, fantasizing about packing it all in and getting the hell out, despising the cockroaches, knowing they will survive and we will not, wiping sweat, more beer please, no I am not going to the store, Four flight walk up, keeping on the AC all day, you don’t care about the bill and you cry when the bill comes, it is 6:30am and 80 degrees outside but for some reason your apartment is hotter because you had the dryer running the night before because you had to do laundry because all of your clothes smell like rancid vinegar from sweat, a 21st century sweat. The subways smell like ten million sweaty assholes rubbing their secretions on every foul surface, weird stains on the sidewalk fermenting, sex with strangers, fungus on fruit, rats feasting, pestilence rising up from the grates to punish the citizens of New York City, Zika mosquitoes, mice, rotten garbage on the street, and through it all you never dry off from the fucking shower. Oh the itch of dry humidity-ravaged skin! This is summer in New York.
And yet one day it ends. Some Summers, the ascent into Fall is rapid and without warning. Other years, Summer dies a slow death, replaced by Fall with a slow waltz, or better yet by a graceful matador, drawing out the final breaths with winds from the twist of a swirling cape, exhausting the brutality, then finally laying down the Bull of Summer, displacing its life in the dirt while a city cheers at the artistry. Afternoons of soft golds, mellow greens, and naked trees dapple the avenues and boulevards of the city with a mirthful paintbrush. No, we are not fooled. Winter will come but this is why we cherish the season of Fall. This is why we cheer the death of Summer.
To celebrate this temporary victory, my wife, daughter, and I decided to embrace the Halloween spirit and take a train ride up to Tarrytown and the neighboring village Sleepy Hollow. Riding up the Metro-North was charming and brisk, recommended for anybody not wanting all the trappings attached to renting or owning a car. We arrived in Tarrytown in the late crisp morning. It was a perfect day for a light jacket. The weather was breezy and clear, the Hudson River majestically flowing through the valley, and the trees dazzled in their seasonal colors. We walked around Main Street, delighted by the families and the sense of community, finally deciding to have an early lunch at The Sweet Grass Grill.
Our lunch was delicious. The food was rustic American, healthy, and inventive. Boni, my wife, ordered a Quinoa, Sweet Potato, and Kale Burger with maple mustard aioli. I had the Mac and Cheese with mushrooms, bacon, and panko breadcrumbs. We shared a soup to start and let me tell you, this is a recipe I am going to try at home. It was a butternut and apple soup garnished with crispy kale and walnuts. I think the biggest fan of the food was my daughter Amara. She literally licked the plates clean. The beer selection was eclectic (I went with the Delirium Tremens) and the orange juice was fresh squeezed. My only regret is not staying the weekend and trying their dinner and brunch menu. After lunch we decided to take a walk up to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
The landscape of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow is steeped in history and myth, not to mention hills and trees. No one can forget the story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horsemen and the physical environment the story inhabits. One can imagination foggy nights, sitting at a desk lit by candlelight, the imagination making shapes and sounds out of the stillness of the dark, Washington Irving penning tales which would become legend. Red oaks and birch trees, long standing for hundreds of years, inspired much of the scenery, the landscape a character of its own. But these tales were not forbidding to us visitors. On the contrary, they became part of the imaginative shaping of our visit on that Fall day.
Walking up one of the rolling hills we saw below us a structure we had not anticipated. We set off down a little wooded path and came to Philipsburg Manor. Perched in a pastoral setting , it was like going back to Colonial New York. There were visitors roaming the grounds, taking in the experience of life on a once thriving trading and farming center owned by a rich Dutch family. We also learned that much of the labor was done by African slaves. This profound fact took the romantic notion out of the visit. But history is not something to shy away from and the more honest one is about their country’s history (or their own personal history for that matter) the better one understands how things became the way they are. Truth and honesty are the only way to move forward and, for us, it was time to move forward with our journey.
We came to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery at midafternoon. The sky had become cloudy and the wind had moments of frenzy. On the ground, leaves were swirling and in the trees bare branches were shaking like ancient fingers of the old. Once through the iron gates, the immensity of the cemetery was breathtaking. Green cascades of hills and shades of foliage and red oaks lived amongst the deceased. People in the distance somberly reflecting on life, lost amongst the tombstones, like us, were tourists of sacred ground. Looking around we were mesmerized by some of the tombs of the dead. Some were ostentatious and flamboyant, larger than some studio apartments in NYC. Other stones were humble, simply etched and leaving much to the imagination as to who was lying in the ground below. The great trees were the guardians of the spirits and protected the sanctity of the dead.
At a cemetery I am always saddened by the tombstones of the young children who left this earth after a very few short years, and I am thankful for the days I have with my beloved child. Many of the names on the tombstones, Dutch, English, some German, reflected the history of those who sculpted the culture and the history of the area. Some of these people left their native lands to start a new life in the United States, their immigrant experience adding to the texture of our society. Then I thought of the slaves of Phillipsburg and wondered where they were buried. Not here at Sleepy Hollow, I supposed. Then we came to a simple grave. The headstone was a pillar in the shape of a cross. The name read “Andrew Carnegie.” As Paul Conradt of Mentalfloss.com said, “For a guy worth about 310 Billion dollars, his grave is pretty modest.” I don’t know much about Carnegie other than his riches, the Hall bearing his name, and I remember learning about his philanthropy. His politics and tastes are unknown to me. But one thing is obvious, his vanity was not on display at his resting place. There is something to respect about that. I am not sure I would have had as much restraint had I been laying in his coffin.
We left the cemetery as Dusk had befallen the quaint village of Sleepy Hollow and it was apparent that Summer had expired for the year, its rebirth far down the road. These old towns, with rich history and legend, lying just north up the Hudson River, provided a day of contemplation and adventure. We had about thirty minutes before our train was to arrive and take us back to Manhattan and we stood on the riverfront. The wind was beginning to subside and in the break of clouds we could see the old moon, bright and constant. Walking back to the train station, the darkness of the hills and the jagged trees in silhouette, I thought that perhaps some of these trees had been standing for over two hundred years. This means that perhaps on a chilly Fall night Washington Irving may have walked past this very place and thought to himself in a sordid way, after he had a few pints at the local, “I think I may have an idea for a story.” Then perhaps he went back to his house, lit a candle, dipped his pen in a inkwell, and began a story that would define a village for centuries to come.