So here’s what happened. I needed to clear my head and deal with some bullshit. So I took a really long walk. I had some trouble deciding where to walk to and from, then I realized there was sort of no question at all. Skye Farm. I drove up the Northway and parked in the small lot near the exit. It’s probably for people who like fishing or something. I wore a scrub top and blue sweatshirt with one patched sleeve, and soft plum-colored pants with bedazzling around the rear pockets. I carried a bag made of an old rainbow tank top that I packed with a half-full juice bottle, a mostly full package of baby yogurt* bites, a packet of peanut butter, a packet of honey, and my cell phone. I wore the bag as a backpack and strung the car key to the zipper pull on my jacket.
Even though it’s been ages they’ve still never fixed the bridge that was washed out. I doubt they actually intend to, but they can’t be bothered to demolish it either. This bridge connects, or would connect, parallel roads running on either side of the Schroon River. I took the wrong side. In fairness, they should have fixed that stupid bridge. In the first minute or two of walking I accidentally strode past some plant with barbed seeds and dozen or so stuck in my pant leg. I would have left them there, except they were poking my ankle. I stopped at a yard sale with the pretense of shopping in order to pick them off. One of them stabbed my finger deeply. It still hurts occasionally.
When I got to the bridge I toyed with crossing anyway, but it actually looked really well blocked off. And I figured if did mange it and the bridge collapsed under me, I’d look pretty silly dead in the cold river like that. So I turned around and walked back so I could cross next to the Northway like I would have in the first place if I’d remembered the bridge was out.
As I walked I ate baby bites and looked at things along the way. I recognized some of the slightly muddy flowers on my way back later. I’ve never walked the way to Skye Farm from the Northway but it felt kinda more authentic to walk it somehow? Some cars passed me and I wondered how I looked to them. Did my appearance scream, local who’s just out for a stroll? Or woman having a freakin existential crisis and doesn’t know what the frell to do next? Or depressed weirdo who might accidentally on purpose be outside all night to disappointingly warm temperatures and accidentally on purpose not die? None of the vehicles stopped, whatever they thought. I saw some daisies, probably and some leaves that reminded me of nasturtium. I wondered if the walk would be prohibitively long and whether I might have to turn back. After a while I saw the right turn. Skye Farm, and the family camps, this way!
I knew there was still a slightly uphill road the rest of the way there, with the first part extraordinarily uphill. When you make the right turn in a car you sort of feel the car struggle. I started to climb, and felt tired. Then a thing happened in my brain. I don’t know how this works for other people. Maybe you can call it a daydream, or a vision, or a regular thought that’s just stronger than usual. But a thought just appeared there inside my brain. It was a very tiny piece of an episode of Star Trek Next Generation. (I actually didn’t even remember it properly, but I’ll get to that.) The episode itself is called The Perfect Mate. The plot involves a being that remains in stasis until she meets her betrothed, at which time she will love him, becoming interested in all his interests, and adopting whatever personality traits will best complement his. She also has like, crazy pheromones or something, probably meant to help cement her marriage bond, and those can affect people around her. Her marriage is supposed to seal a treaty I think. Anyway, something goes wrong and stasis fails. She wakes up and everyone starts being affected by the pheromones. So naturally they hand her off to Picard, who’s self-control is kinda miles above everyone else’s, and because she’s also going to please and act like anyone close to her, so maybe he can act as a stabilizing influence on her. The ship puts on full speed so they can get her to her betrothed already and she and Picard hang out.
I forget what exactly they do together but he gives her lots of agency and checks that she doesn’t need sanctuary or anything. She’s really composed and self-aware and extra perceptive too. She thanks him. She tells him this is her path and she assures him she’s ready for it and no one is forcing her. And she understands things about him. She sees him trying to help her and appreciates it. Then Picard has to hand her to her husband, in a formal ceremony that resembles a wedding; Picard acting as father of the bride “giving her away”. As they are literally about to start walking down the aisle she starts speaking to him in a hushed, very calm tone that the bonding has already happened. She’s bonded to him. She’ll never bond to anyone else. Picard becomes noticeably upset, which for Picard is like an eyebrow movement and a muted vocal cringe. And she says a line to him. In my memory she says, “I am most like myself when I am with you” which isn’t exactly right. Her line is “I like myself when I’m with him”
The little piece of the scene that happened inside my brain, as I trudged up the first bit of hill after the right turn was her saying “I am most like myself when I am with him.” It was so powerful I stopped walking and had to write it down. On my phone, in notes, I wrote “Picard and Jean Gray”.
I reluctantly started walking again. I really wanted to find a lovely rock to sit on and keep thinking about Picard and Jean, but I was concerned if I lost the sun it would become uncomfortably cold on my return walk. I had to keep moving. I thought then of my memories of Skye Farm. I had no idea if there’d be anyone around at all. On the one hand I figured maybe I’d find Tim Rock in his cabin, sitting on the porch. Perhaps Art Hagy was still around someplace doing off season maintenance. It was also possible I’d be met on my way in by someone new who didn’t know me. I envisioned them asking me who I was and what business I had showing up out of nowhere looking for answers as if they were in the habit of providing them. I saw them telling me I was unscheduled, unwelcome- maybe they would accompany me on a hasty tour of the grounds out of obligation to courtesy, grumbling all the while. I made better time then I thought I would and all at once I could see the cabins and the split between lower and upper camp roads. I had made it.
A few steps more and I could hear squealing laughter. At the base of the big hill, four teenagers played a running game. An adult sat smiling nearby. I approached and she continued to smile.
“Hello. What’s happening here today?” I asked her.
“Youth group retreat,” she answered me.
I said, “I’m going to wander just a bit. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” she said, still smiling.
This is essentially, the magic of Skye Farm. You show up, people welcome you. It felt like it always felt. Another day perhaps I’d have been met with some resistance. Impossible to know. But for this day, I was welcome.
I wandered behind the dining hall to the waterfront. There I found a piece of charcoal and scratched the words “Tracey visited” into the side of a wooden bench. I walked around and saw the old things in their places; the chapel by the waterfront, the little hut with the lifeguard stuff, the mugs, the freakin mugs still on the mug rack, just like always. Yet so quiet without the campers and counselors calling to one another. I walked slowly up the big hill, looking for signs of life. Kessler Hall stood just as ever.
I stopped in the bathroom across from a basketball court where Bachelor Hall used to be. Something different! How unusual. I had to turn on the bathroom light. I remembered to turn it back off when I was done. I hoped no one would begrudge me a little electricity and some toilet paper.
I wasn’t sure what to do next. I turned on data so Dan could detect my location and would know my whereabouts just in case of random emergency. I ate most of the peanut butter. Then I told Dan I was ok and turned data off. I knew there was one more place I should achieve before leaving: The Castle.
The Castle is the shell of a building once intended as a center for treating alcoholism. It’s perched high on a hill which must have once boasted a majestic view though it is now overgrown. The center never reached fruition and the building fell into disrepair, eventually catching fire, possibly due to trespassers who as the rumor goes, quite ironically partied there drunkenly. The stone parts are all that’s left. Technically The Castle is not on Skye Farm property, but the camp was always given leave to have hikes there. I used to frequently hike it alone on my day off.
The trailhead is near some cabins that looked like they were being winterized and another bathroom. I took the path and began walking. The trail runs through woods of straight and often slender tall trees: birch and evergreen, maybe some other kinds. Trees are not my speciality. The dirt beneath my feet reminded me of countless walks with Joe. I wondered if I’d see those little teeter totter lizards he calls efts. There were none.
At one point a tree lay across the path. I wondered aloud how long it had been down and made a mental note to leave a message with maintenance, if the message box remained. Then all at once, there was The Whale Rock. I’d totally forgotten about The Whale Rock right up until the moment of seeing it. I think I said it aloud “The Whale Rock!” I was so astonished.
It’s not that The Whale Rock looks so much like a whale. But there is something undeniably whale about it. It’s not round enough to look planet-like, nor evenly broad enough to be a loaf of bread, nor pointy enough to resemble an oversized teardrop. It lacks a characteristic whale tail. But somehow when you look at it you just go, yup whale. After that I knew I was very close. The whale rock is the place we always stopped to remind campers that the ascent would be steep and to avoid horseplay, and remind them the hill had a very sharp dropoff they’d want to clown around near, but to please not. In my experience no one ever gave any counselor problems.
The hill slopes sharply and I used quick steps to get up. Then, there I was, The Castle before me. I went to the place we always told stories and sat. I finished my peanut butter and the packet of honey. I texted Steve briefly to thank him for some amusing texts he’d sent earlier. I sat and thought some things but mostly just breathed. Then I began descending.
On the path back down I remembered times that I had not quite fit with others and perplexed them. Although the best people just cared about me still, even in their confusion. This thought seemed important enough to record so I wrote “I’ve always had a very weird brain”.
I easily walked the remaining steps back to camp. Everything was now familiar and easy to walk because my brain was comfortable seeing it for a second time. I passed the cabin a favorite director of mine had once stayed in with her twins. I walked down the “erosion prevention devices” Nick M always insisted were not steps.
I returned to the area I saw the teens before. They had gone. I sat down and ate more yogurt bites and resumed a conversation with an online friend through Twitter, but my battery was getting low. To conserve it I turned data off again. I walked back to the car, down the steep area of road, past the muddy flowers and the closed bridge. I took a moment to stop by the river and noticed my feet hurt. I was ready to go home.
But how does the story end? Why did I do all this? To see if I could. And what changed because of this? Well, maybe nothing. Maybe that’s a suck ending if you like good endings. But I have a walk I took and it’s forever now because I’ve written it down. I decided to do it and it was what I wanted. It was an all me thing, and those can be ok.
*just wondering does anyone use the spelling yoghurt? It’s vaguely bothersome yet somehow I’m also drawn to it.