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Back To The Garden 2006-2012

Written & Narrated By Washington State Writer Dov Rose


Chapter Six,  “Back to the Garden, 2006-2012”

Looking back at it all from the distance of 15 years, it is difficult to say why, exactly, we chose Woodstock as our  home for about 7 full years at the commencement of our marriage.  Certainly its lovely views of the mountains, lakes, and forests of the Catskills played a role in our decision. So, too, was the prospect of living among many artists and artisans who might serve as inspiration for our many forays into that work. 

Finally, there was the reputation of the town, undeserved in the view of those of us who’d observed it from the time of our childhood in the 1950s – but forever linked in the public mind with the music festival of August 1969, which was booted out of the rather haughty village for the strong probability it would be open to thousands of “hooligans” and “riff-raff” including part time residents such as Bob Dylan and the Band. 

But Woodstock’s history shows that its merchants and “town fathers” (and mothers) were nothing if not adaptable.   Each opening up of culture and morality met with stiff resistance at first – until the arbiters of those qualities figured out that they could make money hand over fist by joining, rather than fighting, the “rebels.”

And so a visit to Woodstock in the first decade of the 21st Century would reveal a town obsessed with a past it mostly never had: huge photos of the Two Bobs (Dylan and Marley), shops filled with the sort of memorabilia available at first ONLY in Bethel, the place 55 milesWSW where in 1969 Michael Lang paid S10, 000 to a dairy farmernamed Max Yasgur for the use of the farm for 3 days of “peace, love, and music.”  In short, the ever-hungry Woodstock decided to eat the legacy of Yasgur’s Farm (and Joni Mitchell’s anthem) and produce a cultural stew which was   in hordes of folks who were either too young to have gone to the festival or else children of working class parents who would sooner have died than let their children associate with those “unAmerican freaks.”

But though we observed these changes, they did not influence our choice of Woodstock as home.  As I have written elsewhere (see Forward to my book WOODSTOCK UNVEILED), a complex series of personal and family ties joined us to the region, which was historically walled off at a good distance from the Sullivan County land known as the “Jewish Alps,” the country of long weekends and “seasons,” of bagels and lox, of “tummlers” (energetic and noisy Jewish comedians), and of many an aspiring stage personality.  That it had earlier been the country of communist settlements did not hurt the connection with our family.  But on a much more primitive level it was the special focus of our collective memory, on the latitude of freedom and the longitude of history.

So here, as the Jew-hater Henry James might say, we were, rolling into town with the rest of the “chariots of Israel” on a Thursday night, and most weeks rolling out with them at midday Sunday for the crowded ride back to Manhattan or Brooklyn or Long Island for the workweek.

In an oddly perverse sort of way, Woodstock by the 1990s had become a “bedroom suburb” of New York City (and, in an even more perverse sense, of Boston), the “bedroom” generally used from Thursday through Saturday (or sometimes Sunday) nights.   This short-term residency assured several outcomes: (1) the need for house security from Sunday night through Thursday; (2) the perceived need for wall-to-wall commerce on weekends, which led to expanded shop hours then as well as longer flea market times; (3) the conversion from part to full time residency from 30 May through Labor Day weekend; (4) a whole cadre of people biding their time until retirement and full time in Woodstock.  It was a kind of Leibnizian clock started by whatever deity had ruled the Catskills in its 200 year history of settlement and “hospitality.”  The clock could be and was retuned for the various phases of “Woodstockization” which by now were as regular as the mountain rains.  By its perverse logic, the alarm going off for full time summer residency eventually triggered the loud alert for retirement and full time leisure (or work) up in the Colony of the Arts.

Even during our first “commutation” phase, Amber became an instant star both in the village shops – Daphne Cash’s emporium, fragrant with incense and potpourri and filled to overflowing with gemstones at every level of development from raw ore to giant polished stone to small and delicate bracelets and rings—

Ghala’s more sparsely furnished Tibetan store with its shields of turquoise and hematite, its lotus flowers in stone fountains, and its Buddhist wall hangings and prayer flags – “Tiny”s two facing shops with spectacularly glimmering and highly exotic women’s clothes.  At each of these and more, the proprietor greeted Amber with open arms, knowing not only that this stunning woman would buy – if not today then tomorrow – but that her beauty and wit would “draw” other women and men inside where they, too, would study and purchase the products.

This process of locally-acquired fame continued on a much larger and more dramatic scale at the weekly Flea Market, held on every available inch of a small meadow that reached nearly to the back doors of about 20-25 shops on the main street, Mill Hill Road, which made a right-angled left turn across from the Village Green and continued for about a mile west, as Tinker Street.  Mower’s Market, named not after those who cut its grass every week but after the woman, Janine Mower, once the village mayor and still its most prominent personality, who owned the plot of land and rented out spots on which a seller could park his car or truck, set up a tent and tables for jewelry, clothing, food, even musical instruments and spend a long day (dawn nearly to dusk) hawking stuff, loudly or gently, with the prospect  of the unsold half or two-thirds needing to be folded, packed, wrapped, and reloaded looming on the nightly horizon.

As soon as we would enter the market, usually through an alley not far from where Mill Hill Road became Tinker Street, voices would begin to call out, in English mostly but occasionally in Spanish or Chinese, to “Amber” or “Miss Rose” or even “Dr. Rose.”  Of course, the owners of these voices would invariably have been saving her choicest goods, his rarest mineral treasures or exotic clothes, for her, the queen.   One fellow with a libido stronger than his short term memory asked me at least four times in two weeks “Do you know that your wife is an incredibly beautiful woman?”  At first I just nodded “thanks” but I finally told him, “Y’know, the first 2 or 3 times, that’s nice to hear.  The next 500, not so much!”  (His girlfriend, not bad-looking herself, told me she was ready to break up with him based on his constant attentions to other women.  When I saw her a few years later, she had done so, whereupon he died, clearing up any confusion on that score.   She had a new husband in tow and her small tent had expanded with a full range of clothing and jewelry.)

Eventually we settled down in friendships with just a few of the many merchants.  Tammy, a local merchant of gemstones and jewelry supplies, had lovely green eyes but an overall look of poverty and deprivation.  Luckily for her, she had a day job, plus a dad in the Southwest (Arizona I believe).  While she had a hardworking male market partner, she was not so lucky in her choice of personal partners.   For me, the background music subliminally playing at her gem tables was “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s off to work we go,”  while that at her dusty home and front yard, with her man lounging about, whittling or smoking a joint, was “Summertime’ and the livin’ is easy…” probably as sung by Janis Joplin.   Only one of many grasshopper/ant love affairs in Greater Woodstock!   Tammy became a lifeline later, when Amber opened up an online Etsy store of her homemade jewelry.

Then there was Danny, a white-haired Cuban émigré of doubtful repute and doubtless flattery.  “Oh, Doctor Rose, how lovely you are today Dr. Rose!  And I have saved apart several rings created expressly for you, Dr. Rose!  Please do me the honor of trying them on!”  I can only recall one occasion on which she bought a ring of his,and she complained later that it had tarnished her finger.  Of course Danny did not have any tarnish remover on hand, but of course, he haughtily assured her, he would have it tomorrow.

Finally there was Barbara Walters.  NO, not THAT one!  Henry Kissinger has nothing to worry about.  His old date is still available as long as her husband and his wife agree.  OUR Barbara Walters was a somewhat obese woman of considerable charm and considerable stock of bracelets, rings, and especially necklaces.  She had a short temper usually reserved for  annoying, disruptive, or downright larcenous hangers-on, but she once yelled at us for chatting with another NYC-born potential buyer whom, she insisted, we had scared away.

But, those episodes aside, she could be a good friend and even confidante to Amber.   Her husband, Roger, somewhat smaller, overall, than she, had been a water supply manager as well as a bank employee, and he was always predicting coming disasters in each of these two areas of concern.   He lived to see the financial disaster most thought impossible, the collapse of 2008-2009, followed by the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, but blessedly not that of Donald Trump.  His widow acquired boyfriends in two adjoining states, Texas and Oklahoma, but continues to return to Woodstock to sell jewelry.

Once, as a Bard College senior interested in going to grad school at Cornell, I joined a carload of friends in a two or three day expedition to Ithaca and back to Annandale.  I know it was late winter, as on every cliff face the icicles were long, green, and semi-permanent.  Often we hit snow squalls or other weather events which slowed traffic to a crawl.  Ostensibly just 3 hours, the one-way trip settled into something more like 5.  Wearisome.  But we finally arrived.  Don’t recall where we stayed but it was as likely to be a student lounge as a dormitory suite whose inhabitants were gone for a long weekend.

Come the first morning, after an early pancake breakfast at their ”Commons,” gourmet relative to the grim one at Bard, I slipped away to an open classroom to hear one of the chief professors of American Literature, in fact a superstar of the day.  As it happened, he was that very morning lecturing on Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” and expatiating on the theory of “wave motion” so often used to describe Emerson’s paragraph construction.

As was so often the case in the 1960s, students took the merely theoretical as descriptive and definitive,  the playful as gospel.  I certainly did, and I came away from that morning and that classroom not only more determined than ever to attend Cornell’s graduate English program but also to apply “the law of threes,” surfer corollary, to everything in sight.  Notable uplift on the third wave, towering climax on the ninth.

In Woodstock,  43 years later, Enrique was OUR ninth wave, our Emersonian zenith, followed inevitably by a nadir.  The son of a Mexican diplomat, he had grown up in Queens, served in the Army in Germany, married at least once, and morphed into a late Beatnik poet with a penchant for well-built young women and “free affection,” his looser variant on “free love,” one which promised even LESS commitment.  Given that self-representation,  I was a bit unsettled when, at a counseling conference in a local motel, he was drawn to my famously-spectacular wife.  But almost as quickly as his name came up, she linked it to his support for attention to those who needed to speak, not to wolf-whistles and ocular undressing of other people’s wives.  About two months after the conference, we attended a lecture, up in what was usually a meditation room In town.  Enrique was the only speaker and the topic was Ancient America, the focus, caves of the Hudson Valley allegedly constructed in the astronomical and astrological fashion of such monuments as Stonehenge, Tulum, and Macchu Picchu.

While Enrique was up front with his slide projector and mic, the two of us sat near his female companion in a row of folding chairs.  Ellen was a rather anxious and testy woman of our age range, that is, somewhere around 60, who likely would have been attractive had it not been for being cloaked in “agita” and snappish to the point of venom.   How she got to that point after being drawn to Enrique, we were shortly to learn.

It was coming on Christmas in our fourth year of marriage and of residence in Woodstock.  Since April, 2008, we had officially lived full-time in our home overlooking the Village, though I had begun to stay overnight on Long Island Monday and Wednesday nights while Amber lived in our mountain home.  By Christmas, we had enrolled in a group expedition to Poland, to arrive on 24 January and leave on 30 January.   The main objective was to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau on the day of its liberation by the Soviet Army, 27 January 1945.  During the weeks of runup to that trip, we invited Enrique over for lunch and a “reading,” which in his case meant a session of reading aloud from one’ own work or that of another writer.  He chose Julio Cortazar’s mindblowing novel Hopscotch (Rayuela) and I can see him now, his rather portly, solid body filling a rocking chair overlooking “our” woods as he spoke through his heavy beard Cortazar’s bizarre yet somehow erotic passages in English and Spanish.  He departed graciously, reminding us to bring back copious notes and/or creative poetry and prose about the camps and life in contemporary Poland.

The morning after our return, 31 January 2010, I set off for Oswego to pick up our Sheltie dog, Love.  It was about a ten hour round trip.  As soon as we climbed Overlook and pulled into our snowy driveway, Love ran excitedly into our living room and leaped up on Amber, who had been writing feverishly on white notebook paper.  A line had been haunting her, she said, since the return air trip from Krakow: “I am the Bride of Auschwitz.”  I didn’t grasp it at the time, but this would prove to be one of the half-dozen recurring lines of our marriage, perhaps the greatest and most telling one.

By the end of February, the one line had burgeoned into a one-act play with four scenes, and by summer we had performed it twice in Indiana and once right home in Woodstock.  And several times at Enrique’s small house near the creek in Saugerties.  We cannot rehearse, cannot even glance at a copy of the play without seeing his face.   When we first performed it, we could not have imagined how quickly our close friendship with Enrique would go up in smoke.

As spring turned towards summer, we began to see a great deal of our friend, always after a performance of the play and often at random times.   Though neither of us drinks alcohol very much, we made an exception for exactly the wrong reason: to “socially” support a man who drank to excess.   Nor was our friendship limited to us as a couple.  While Amber was working, by summer I was not.  In the short space of a month and a half, I got together with Enrique at least three times at cafes or parks.  Each time I tried unsuccessfully to describe the complex and intense nature of my love for Amber.  While he was a good listener, I could tell on some level that my story was irritating to him.  For all his social work training, he remained the essence of machismo, seeing women in closed categories – essentially, as madonnas or whores by other, sociologically-correct names.  He could not see the issue in attempting to live a working daily life in the world while living with an intensely erotic, creative woman. While I was tempted to put him in touch with his late countryman Diego Rivera, I held my tongue out of respect for his being willing to listen.

Fast forward to Fourth of July weekend, which in vacation-obsessed Woodstock meant near-chaos in the visitor-clogged streets.  Our first three days were filled with preparations for and then actual staging of a “yard sale,” probably the highest-altitude one in the area.  By Sunday afternoon we were”done” except for a late-riding couple who paid for and snapped up our books and bookcases.  Still, about 80% of our “stock” remained, so we rather dejectedly lay out in the sunrays, mulling over the uses or uselessness of garage sales in general.

About an hour in, the phone rang.  It was Enrique inviting us on an expedition the next day, Monday.  This proved to be a delightful journey from Saugerties up the Valley to Catskill via the park near the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.  Catskill itself featured an exhibit of some 50 assorted horses of varied breed, construction (metal, cloth, wood, etc), and position, up and down the main street.  We had dinner in a nearby café, accompanied by frozen Margaritas.  On the way out, Enrique received a call re: the need for an intervention.  There had been an horrific crash on the river with several dead, and the survivors might require a counselor who spoke Spanish.

Amazingly, he was able to fulfill that duty by phone (though I think there was a follow-up the next day), so when we rolled into his driveway in Saugerties, our attention was focussed upon one another.  He trotted out a number of objets d’art and assorted household implements, saying “I want you to have these…in fact I want you to have everything!  You are my only friends, and I am hereby writing you two into my will.  Everything you see here except (and he pointed to one or two objects) is YOURS, no questions asked and no strings attached!”

We were speechless until Amber, better trained than I for such occasioned, made a lovely if not flowery reply.  We were satisfied, almost flying, on the dark drive home.

The next day being a Tuesday, Amber had many hours of work as a social worker attached to the Oncology Support program of Benedictine Hospital in Kingston.  At some point, the VA Hospital of Albany called to tell her she had an interview there the following morning.   Before I could call her, Enrique called me to remind me that he and I were going to meet then.  Not only did he have no trouble rescheduling, but he passed on advice to Amber:  wear the national colors! Wear a blue suit, a white blouse, and red lipstick.

So by the time I reached her, the message was fully loaded.  As she had all three elements of the formula, she had little need to run around once she got home.  Instead she spent several hours typing out questions likely to be asked, alongside answers from her experience and memory.  These she pasted in a hard olive green folder I had purloined from an Italian hotel and given her recently.

The message of the next day, Wednesday, was HEAT.  Besides being the title of one of my most erotic poems, along with the collection containing it, it was actually the hottest day on record for that date in July for the Hudson Valley and the city of Albany.  When we arrived at the VA parking lot, Amber stepped out of the car, put on her Oxford blouse over her “shell,” and tucked the blouse into her skirt.  This last gesture attracted a swarm of cars and motorbikes, and so we were sped to the hospital

entrance, where in the shade a group of some six ex-soldiers bowed to her and opened the door into the air-conditioned building.  An hour and a half later the interview ended with a “we’ll call you” spoken by a rather sour-faced female officer.

Once back in our car, we stripped down to as little clothing as possible, turned up the AC, and sped downriver to the Saugerties/Rte 212 exit.   By this time it was late afternoon in our non-air- conditioned house, and we decided to go out for dinner and a movie.   I dutifully called Enrique to let him know about the change in our plans.  After the film ended we drove slowly up the cooling mountain, turned on our house lights, and upon entering checked our email on the computer.

What awaited us was a veritable BLAST.  Enrique had responded ANGRILY, saying he had told us many times never to leave a phone message.   He informed Amber that he no longer had any need for a connection with either of us, as he “had enough of us in his bloodstream to last a lifetime!”  The coup de grace came at the end, when he added that he was almost “sick” of hearing my “constant talking” which almost drove him mad.

With Enrique, half our reason for choosing Woodstock had died.  (The actual man died a year later, of advanced lung cancer,)  What succeeded it in the next three years was a tamer and less personal version of this predictable narrative.

Out West where we live now, there is a village sometimes called “the Woodstock of the Northwest.”  Its most popular bumper sticker reads ‘WE’RE ALL HERE BECAUSE WE’RE NOT ALL THERE.”  At least Port Townsend is more honest than “the Woodstock of Woodstock.”



Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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