Waking Van Winkle | Community Notebook | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

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There is only one other car here, and, although the center is closed, its doors are open. The car belongs to Mark Batista, owner of Batista Tiles in East Greenbush. He doesn’t live in Greene County. He doesn’t know anything about Greene County. He tells me this politely, seemingly not flustered that I have interrupted his work in the building. There is an alluring scar above his left eye, and I want to ask him about it. Instead, I point to the floor.

“Nice tiles,” I say, although there are no tiles down yet, only their foundation.

When the RAV4 finds Peace Village Learning and Retreat Center, I am impressed by its intuitive spiritual prowess. I go inside and meet Sandra. She wears a white sari and a pin on her white cardigan that reads “Om Shanti.” From Edmonton, Canada, originally, Sandra was a manager in a public accounting firm until five years ago, when she retired and came to live the teachings of raja yoga meditation. I ask her if she enjoys the area.

“Yes,” Sandra says, eyes round with sincerity. “It is so pure and pristine. It attracts people who are pure and pristine.”

As I leave Peace Village and am pulled toward Tannersville, past the Snowed Inn and Grateful Bed, toward the lumbering Hunter Mountain ahead, I wonder if I am being pulled toward a deeper sense of purity. I wonder if I will find my heart more pristine when I finish my Greene County journey, my slate cleaned as if I had slept for 20 years and returned to a world free of conflict and foes. I decide it is possible, and when I see Village Candle, Pottery & Gifts in Tannersville, it seems a stupendous idea to go inside and buy a candle so that I might later light it in honor of my January afternoon epiphany. I leave the store with a soy-wax candle that supposedly smells like Kaaterskill Falls. Like purity itself.

Driving through the town of Hunter, I go by the Washington Irving Inn, where tea is served every Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 5pm, and I wave at my ancestor’s name as I continue on 23A. When I see flags whipping in the frigid air—representing the United States and New York, Sweden and Italy and Canada, Brazil and Britain and Germany—I steer down the drive they line toward the famous Hunter Mountain ski resort.

The main building is cavernous and loud. On the wall, a poster asks what kind of skier I am. Am I cautious and slow? Am I average, preferring a variety of speeds? Or am I aggressive, craving speed and steep slopes? Although I have never strapped skis to my feet, I decide that I am aggressive.

I walk boldly behind the counter where skis and bindings are rented and fixed, and I introduce myself with aggressive friendliness to a man whose name tag reads “Chuck.” My poet ghosts may have vanished miles back, but my purpose feels stronger than ever, and now I have purity on my side. Chuck has worked at Hunter Mountain for 10 years, and he serves as a volunteer with the Hunter Fire Department. He is a decent man then. He will want to help me locate a vision.

“What is it about Greene County?” I ask him. “What makes it special?”

“We all work together,” he tells me. “Also, it’s the bears. They’re everywhere.”

Passing the Rip Van Winkle Service Station in Catskill is a good omen. I have strayed from the legendary drunkard’s trail, but he is with me in spirit. I watch for Chuck’s bears as I wander down Main Street in Catskill, but I am too hungry to look for long. I step inside Retriever Roasters, order tea and a croissant, sit beside a thin man in green-striped pants and a sweatshirt that demands “WHY?” in white letters.

“You look like a rock star,” I say, finding the courage I lacked earlier when I wanted to asked the tile man about the scar above his left eye.

“He is,” says a woman nearby, fresh-faced and sarcastic. “He’s the drummer for the Turtles.”

“Well, Turtle,” I say. “Where should I go to find my vision?”

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