Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Woodstock . . . and the Woodstock Nation

I was born in Brooklyn in the last half of the 1950’s, too late to understand the 1969 Woodstock concert at the time. A few years later, when it began to make sense, I became a regular visitor, and now I bring my wife and 8 year old son along. I’ve been back to Brooklyn, but it isn’t there anymore (at least, not the way I remember it); on the other hand, Woodstock is as sweet today as it is in my memory.

This place has a special vibe that resonates in me. The smell of scented candles in the stores, the taste of stone ground pancakes eaten on a patio beside a brook that glitters between the leaf shade, the artistic and organic sensibility you find here, and the ubiquitous magical touches define cool in my book. Today, the town is more upscale—and less funky—but it’s still a sacred place to me, and it’s not like anywhere else, either. The historic concert took place somewhere else, but this is the center.

As a younger man, I ambled along Tinker Street on a crisp autumn day in the morning sun with the whole day ahead of me and my whole life, too. The chill was backing off and a few early risers like me were opening their shops, buying fresh bread, and sipping herbal teas with honey. I chatted with the woman who owns the candle shop while she lit the one that has burned every day since that August weekend. Like a candelabra cactus from a dream, it stands taller than me and drips fragrant colors, encasing the mementoes, trinkets, and shrines that have been added along the way to commemorate events and celebrate the lives of people who have passed. It is a time capsule, or a core sample, back into near history—my history.

The countryside is lush in summer. Just up from town on MacDaniel Road is the Magic Meadow, filled with flowers and light. From a trailhead that is at the base of Overlook Mountain and across from the Tibetan Buddhist temple, I’ve hiked up to the ruins of a mountain house that burned down first in 1875 and then again in 1923. The walk to the top is steep, but the view of the Hudson Valley is sublime. Back in town, the farmers’ market, tea shop, cafes, galleries, bookstores, and boutiques provide everything one might need, or wish for.

The cottage we always rent is on the millstream, and it’s an easy stroll into town. The stream has shallow pools populated with tiny fish you can pet if you are gentle and move slowly. Early each morning, a young couple bakes fresh pastries for the people who are staying in the cottages. Time slows down for me there.

Years ago, I was walking through the countryside as the trees’ long shadows became overwhelmed by dusk. I spied a young couple and their friend leaving an old country house and they were carrying chairs. Then, they brought out a card table, a pitcher of lemonade, and their instruments: two guitars and a flute. She wore a long summer dress that caught the breeze. The friends chatted in low tones, chuckling after a bird called out to them. I watched as they set up in the front yard with only yellow lamplight from the house to see by. I edged closer and listened to them play their music, wishing I lived there too. I stayed there a long time, listening. I am still wistful about that.

Woodstock is one of the things I miss about New York because it is a milestone on the one true path. I have veered, somewhat, from my own path as I acquired other commitments, and it is sometimes difficult to reconcile such things, but it is not so difficult to explain how the heart knows when it is home.

The ideals responsible for the 1969 concert’s success as a peaceful statement and joyful expression have their roots in the shadow of Overlook, a mountain sacred to the Iroquois, just west of the Hudson River in upstate New York. The spirit that transcends place but is present there in abundance is a touchstone for many of us and we know who we are—we are the Woodstock Nation.

~Danny Ramirez

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