far too much writing, far too many photos

During my fourth year of life, my parents bought land on the Hudson River, thirty minutes north of Albany, New York. About halfway between New York City and the Canadian border. At that time, out in the middle of nowhere. Two acres of woods, with more of the same on two sides of our parcel — a barrier of thickly overgrown land to the north, maybe 100 feet across, that extended from the river all the way up to the two-lane that formed the western boundary of our land; to the south a small section of wooded terrain extended out to a point (called The Point) marking our side of an inlet that narrowed, becoming a creek, bisecting the property from north to south. On the far side of the creek: marshlands, then more woods, spreading uphill to the road. The river provided the eastern property line.

Felt like a lot of land, and probably was for us in those times. No electricity, no plumbing. Drinking water came from a well by means of a hand-pump. A radical change from the life I’d had known up to then, in our small house in the ‘burbs on Long Island.

That first summer my father and two brothers — both brothers substantially older than me — built a small cabin that became the center of what passed for indoor life during our annual ten or eleven week stay. Soon after that, the family picked up a small powerboat, I gradually became accustomed to river life.

Though the Hudson at that particular point is nowhere near the gigantic expanse it becomes down near Nyack and Tarrytown, it is still undeniably a major river — wide, deep, funnelling a huge amount of water through the valley. More than a river: a presence, a force of nature.

The section we lived on was the first length of the so-called Champlain Barge Canal. About a mile south of us lay falls where the river widened, where a lock had been built on the near side, flood gates erected on the other side, a spillway stretching between the two, water pouring over it into a sizeable natural basin of whitewater and islands before collecting itself into a proper river again, winding south toward Troy and Albany.

A half mile north of us on the other side of the river lived a man I only remember being called Yaybo, a character with a friendly, weathered face in his 50’s or 60’s — inconceivably old to me at that time. He had a plot of land with trees, a ramshackle house, no neighbors that I remember, a fine view of the river, and he passed the warm seasons in a teepee.

He had worked on the dredging of the channel and seemed well known to area folk. Frequently, when tugboats with barges went by they’d sound their airhorns — if he was there he’d emerge from the teepee, returning the greeting with a long, relaxed wave of an extended arm. I don’t know if he was actually of Native American extraction — might be he was or it might be he was just a colorful, eccentric individual with an affinity for the Indian image — but when locals went by in powerboats, they would often call out a greeting in a way that sounds unbelievably hokey now — cupping hands around mouth to make a kind of stereotypical Indian call, going “Woo-woo-woo-woo-Yay-bo!” I remember him being well-liked, with no disparaging tones to these salutes. I remember seeing him emerge from his teepee to stand and wave. And I remember the sense of disappointment the times we would pass by and receive no response to our call.

I also remember a few times out in the boat with my father or one of my brothers when we stopped to visit. Protocol dictated that visitors call out a greeting some distance from shore — if Yaybo appeared in response, we’d then head in to his landing, my father or brother exchanging hellos and joking inquiries with him re: health and life before pulling in, tying the boat up. I don’t remember him ever refusing a visit.

In my memories, he lived a simple life, having little in terms of property or amenities. And although we also lived a simple life compared to our existence down on Long Island, he had far less in the way of possessions, his lifestyle appearing, to my unworldly eyes, spartan, unadorned in a way that seemed alien. So that I always felt a bit like a fish out of water during stopovers. He was always friendly, always warm, a genuinely likeable person, yet I don’t think I ever managed to feel truly at ease with him, and I’m not sure I ever provided him much in the way of conversational entreĆ©.

Inside the teepee, I remember a kettle suspended over a fire from a wooden tripod, in which beans usually simmered. He offered me a taste one time, the plat du jour being navy beans. I think I politely, timidly refused, which simply exasperates me now. What the hell was I so nervous about? You just don’t meet amazing people like that every day — this man was probably a walking repository of wonderful stories and experiences, and for whatever reasons I couldn’t come out of my little shell to hook up with him.

Ah, well.

Yaybo. An interesting person.


Went out a short time ago to pick up boots I’d left at a shop two or three blocks from here for repairs. I have, for the last few years, had a thing for pointy black boots with little metal doodads on either side of the pointy toe. I adore those buggers and have more than one pair — two pair of out-and-out cowboy boots, one pair not quite so pointed, looking more like rocker’s boots. Love ‘em. But I’ve been doing this pointy-boot thing for a while and have recently been getting the feeling that they identify me a bit too clearly as an American here, if you get my drift. So I’ve debated picking up some different footwear, and on this last outing began taking a look at some of the footwear shops that abound in this barrio.

And they do abound, especially a block or two south of here, on a street that’s positively filthy with chichi footwear/handbag tiendas.

Most of the shoes on display in these joints are for women, three or four stock footwear for the other gender. I spent some time peering in windows, moving in and out of shops, and after getting an idea of the wares currently in stock I have to say: there is a poopload of ugly footwear being foisted off on the shoe-buying public at this time. (Has that always been the case and I’m only noticing now?)

In particular, there is a certain look for men’s footwear here that I can only call a variation on clown shoes, featuring a bizarre enlarging of the shoe’s front, a widening and splaying of the sole, in some cases actually curling the front of the sole up, suggesting genuine reproductions of vintage clown footgear. I couldn’t imagine wearing them. But to each their own. People buy ‘em here.

All kinds of unkind things are being done with shoes here, including the vending of what look essentially like platform sneakers. Kind of a mutated descendant of moonboots. Sneakers — with big, thick, built-up soles. Lordy.

I found nothing that called out to me on this trip. The search will continue.

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