It’s an extraordinary experience to go back 50 years in time and visit the place where you spent your adolescence. I was speaking to the American College of Health Care Administrators, the people who run long-term care and assisted-living facilities. The meeting was held in a Catskill Mountains resort in upstate New York.
The Catskills are the heart of the “Borscht Belt,” the legendary launching place of comics and entertainers, where Patrick Swayze dazzled Jennifer Gray in Dirty Dancing. I started working there when I was15 as a chambermaid assistant delivering sheets and cleaning toilets. The next year, I was promoted to busboy and the year after, a waiter. In these mountains, I became captivated by the woods, learned how to stream fish, hunt rabbits, and I discovered love.
I’m here again in the last weekend in April and the woods are alive with the sound of music. The birds are chirping, buds blossoming, butterflies darting, the streams are full and the trout are rising. Again, I feel the magic of these woods envelope me. When I take a break, I sit down on a thick carpet of fallen maple leaves, and I am reminded that it might be spring in the air, but it’s autumn on the ground. The last time I was here, my adolescent hormones were raging; now, the urgency comes from my prostate’s calling, but still I feel the power of these woods, the wonder and the peace that comes over me.
When my leaf falls, I’d like it to rest in a place like this. Don’t box me in the ground by the roadside, just sprinkle me here, or some other place of wonder that gave me peace and healed my divided soul. Have my relatives sit and smell the flowers, listen to the waters, feel the caress of a butterfly’s wings, and let me sit by their side and see it again.
I thank you god for this most amazing day.
For the leaping greenly spirits of trees
And a blue true dream of sky
and for everything which is natural
which is infinite
which is yes.
— e.e. cummings