It was a reconnaissance trip to make sure I could actually locate the trailhead. Had I located the intended trailhead, I would not have seen this. I call this 'Squashed Hudson' because panoramic photographs squash shit. Why I felt the need to start the shot just to the right of a 'shit your pants' sheer drop, followed by an 'all the way to my backpack over there on that rock' scan...
It's just 180 degrees, I don't think I could have pulled off the 360 without standing up and I really did not want to stand up. I have the stomach for exactly one good look over the edge.
Each time I look at this photograph, I have to remind myself that I did not take it into Affinity for a bit of dramatic modification. This is what it was a little less than 24 hours ago. With an iPhone XR. Go figure. I've seen a bunch of other shots of almost exactly the same view and angle and none of them have anywhere near the refracted light in the sky and on the water.
The day started out miserable and rainy and was meant to stay that way until this morning. I only know a little about weather. I don't know about light and atmospheric changes, but I'm going to guess the dramatic shift that occurred between about 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM gave me that 4 PM view.
Or, it was the guy slightly off trail who passed me on the way up. 'On trail' was a double hand, push off with your feet and find a toe hold scramble. 'Off trail' looked like it might need rope. He walked right up that mountain as if he and gravity had a unique agreement.
There are two signs about twenty feet in, after you've climbed the tree root steps and come to the first landing. They looked new, as in this season, new, one on each side of the trail. Two big, shiny, white signs. I saw them just about at the top of the root steps. I blinked a couple times.
Graffiti, as it turns out, is fucking everywhere on at least the first tenth of a mile of the Breakneck Ridge Loop. This wasn't graffiti, it was white hot fury. I couldn't tell exactly what was covered up because the white spray paint screamed. Somebody took a can of white paint and emptied it onto the first part of each sign. Violent back and forth spray eliminating a few very relevant words.
The sign used to read something about the State of New York having purchased the land that became the Hudson Highlands State Park. I swear I read the words New York City but that doesn't make sense and everything I've found clearly indicates that the purchase was made by the State of New York, not the five boroughs to the South. But that's what was mostly wiped out, that the land belonged to New York.
To the right of the wipe out was one word, the same on both signs.
The First People.
This isn't going to be a lesson in Native American History, but, maybe you should do some research. I did some research in an effort to explain, as respectfully as possible, what I saw and felt. What I read just made me angry, and sad, and somehow betrayed.
This is what I do know. I know the First People were here for approximately 12,000 years before we got here. I know that we did a pretty good job of wiping them out in just a couple hundred years. If I'm not mistaken, the weapon of choice was disease. I have read that approximately 1,500 are in Wisconsin (what?!).
I read this:
"Waiting for them were comfortable homes, a log meeting house, general store and gristmill."
That statement is pulled from context describing the first reservation, in New Jersey in 1758. My first thought was this:
(significantly paraphrased - 5th grade history text in the South)
'...and all the slaves and and all the slave children led happy lives and smiled all the time...happy to be slaves'
Someday I'll find the damn source and publish it in its entirety. For now, it's just to make a point.
The First People.
At the root, these are the things we need to understand:
- They were here before us
- 12,000 years is bigger than your brain can handle, but I'm pretty sure they've got a good grasp on what it means
- We killed them. Epically
- We drove them out and made up some pretty interesting stories about it
- We think they're gone
- They're still here
Reading the word, Lenape, on a New York State preserve sign, proudly proclaiming ownership, was a gut punch. At the trailhead, I noted some of the points of interest on the loop. The thing that stuck was 'ruins'. When I read 'Lenape', I immediately associated 'ruins'.
I was wrong. What's up there are the remains of some big ass mansion which was burned up in 1958. I'm really not clear how we justify applying the term 'ruin' to a big ass mansion that burned up 62 years ago. Those aren't ruins, it's the abandoned carcass of somebody with more money than sense. Well, OK, I suppose we could make the argument that the big ass mansion is ruined.
The diamond merchant who built the house at the start of the twentieth century, plopped it right on top of 650 acres of Lenape land.
I don't know when the last Lenape walked off that land. The history of the Lenape Tribe is without closure. We can read about what happened to them in the 17th century and there are references to the Revolutionary War, but almost nothing substantial past the 18th century. In that two hundred year gap we know that five Lenape tribes are recognized in three states, none of which are anywhere near the Hudson River. We know they migrated, but we don't know when the last of the Lenapes left the mountains and closed the doors forever.
Frankly, I don't think they did. Not all of them. I think they vanished into the forest and that looks however it looks. I think some came back, but I don't think they found it empty, metaphorically speaking.
Those we failed to kill, we drove off. Those we failed to drive off, turned the lights down low.
And so the young man who walked his own ridge, with little regard for trail markers, moved past me as if I wasn't there at all. I don't know what he looked like, but I sure do know how he moved. I watched him climb the pass and turn the corner, and I followed. When I reached the first outcrop I was unwilling attempt without a rope, I dropped down from the precipice and looked off to my right.
The light was biblical. The photograph at the top can't touch what I saw from the trail that does not belong to me.
I processed the fact of the light first, which was immediately followed by the fact of the 300 foot drop no more than five feet off my right shoulder.
This mountain doesn't belong to me.