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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Beacon Bits - Second Saturday

On what would have been the night of August's Full Moon, "Second Saturday" night in Beacon was still buzzing with energy in spite of the rain that began to fall steadily as small groups of people walked along Main Street from west to east, and east to west, from gallery to gallery, from cup of wine to glass of wine, from conversation to chance meetings to the next visual feast for the eyes. This planned monthly event is part of a round robin of arts in the river towns along the Hudson (Kingston, Hudson, Rhinebeck, Poughkeepsie, Peekskll, etc.); each town rotating and hosting gallery openings and art enthusiasts on 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Saturdays respectively (

Having visited galleries in Soho and Chelsea on opening nights, the feel of excitement and anticipation for viewing innovative creations on paper and canvas in oils, pastels, watercolor, along with collage and assemblages of metal, wood, and plastic sculpture, and for absorbing the artists' accomplishments and final product was very much the same.  A recent (and somewhat controversial) article by Peter Applebome (Williamsburg on the Hudson) alludes to the Williamsburg Brooklyn effect in the Hudson River Valley with young artists moving to greener pastures in search of inspiration and pursuit of art in the river towns.

My explicit intention for this 2nd Saturday was to hear the artist Emily Shiffer speak about her black and white photographic exhibit at Fovea. There was no disappointment in this choice as the attractive, flaxen-haired young woman sporting cowboy boots and a colorful A-line dress reminiscent of the 1950's, with idealistic dreams and sufficient action to support their development, leading to her wild success of being a Fulbright scholar and recipient of other prestigious awards, spoke about her work. Her images, capturing the playfulness and resilience of children living below the poverty line on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota were testimony to her passionate engagement in pursuit of her vocation, her calling, as educator, witness, collaborator, creator, mentor and photographer, as she empowers young people to develop their identity and self-efficacy and enlarge their vision of what is possible as they compose their life goals.

Next, a visit to bau confirmed Beacon's spirit of cooperation, youthful energy and shared space as the two artists (Michael Gaydos and Catherine Welshman) supported each others work by one curating the show for the other; courageously standing together with parallel works of art that mirrored each other in figure drawings and start portraits and caricatures.
The third visit to Marion Royael Gallery climaxed in a high octane showing of diverse artists in distinct styles from abstract expressionism to videography to realism on two scales -- ordinary but iconic city streetscapes like subway entrances and a now-defunct westside diner and larger-than-life fruits, vegetables, and even ladies' brassieres. A conversation with the latter NYC artist, Kathleen Erin Lee, revealed she would continue to show her work in Beacon, having just chosen to sign a contract with the gallery for the coming year. It was rewarding to know there would be multiple opportunities to see her works-in-progress, and perhaps to imagine the possibility of a small purchase.
Some food for thought: In his NYT article, Applebome voiced concerns about the economic feasibility of the river towns. He even quotes the pessimistic outlook of the proprietor of Morphicism gallery, Jay Palefsky (a resident of Garrison), who doesn't buy into the 'hype' about NoBro (the so-called northern suburb of Brooklyn) and doesn't "grasp the optimism" for business because of the failing economy. This is interesting commentary from someone who has a "successful" business in Beacon.

I guess it all depends on how you define success. One can operationalize "success" as the income generated during an evening of gallery openings or the amount of rent that the owner of the building which houses the storefront galleries can generate and even raise higher or the profits gained at the local eateries that stay open later to accommodate the patrons of art and culture, some of whom travel 20-30 miles from neighboring towns, such as Marlborough, across the river. My preference would be to define "success" as the sum total of all the events, gathering places, and opportunities for neighbors to connect over shared interests. This type of success, that is, the product of community participation is not measurable in dollars and cents, but in the enrichment of daily community life. It is this social enterprise that will be profitable for Beacon's long-term development of bringing ideas to fruition so that community building and social networking will enhance the qualify of life for its residents and visitors. The importance of social investment surpasses the more basic capitalistic needs of short term profit. If only big corporations would rediscover this principle, the inverse relationship of exorbitant profit and CEO salaries with low employment would be reversed.

I believe activities such as Second Saturday will enhance the staying power and resilience for the pioneer entrepreneurs who are laying the groundwork for a sustainable, social environment that will survive the recession and thrive once the economy recovers. We just need to keep showing up to provide the encouragement and social support needed to endure the current challenges. It will just take some faith ....and....a keep it all going strong.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beacon Bits - Morning Musings

Morning walks along the quiet, private roads off the beaten path of Beacon have become a routine to look forward to each day. With Mt. Beacon to the east with the rising sun at the summit, peaking behind the cell phone towers, my eyes are wide open for spotting the diverse wildlife that I encounter. To date, I've seen migrating snapping turtles, a fox and her pups, deer and their fawns, two bucks, a "convention" of goldfinches, a blue heron, and a rare sighting of a bluebird. I usually regret that I don't have my camera in hand, but relieved that I can continue walking without losing my brisk pace.
The cooler morning air, crisp after a cold front moves through, is very satisfying during the dog days of August. But the wonder of mist and fog felt particularly joyful after several intense thunderstorms over the course of several evenings. I have seen Mt. Beacon shrouded in a lace curtain, blowing gently with the southerly air current. The stillness and usual quiet that accompanies this time when most of the human wildlife is still asleep sounds even more intense to the ear of the heart. Even a doe seemed mesmerized as she listened to my voice wishing her good monring and asking her not to run. But the chance sighting of a buck in the distance on the Craig House property was the reward for this day's early outing. I had seen him once before, but this time, the antler framed by the gray fog seemed to merge in the distance with the nearby branches of a tree; his strength and venerable stance as he stood watch was softened so that he appeared to be approachable. He watched as I continued my walk;  I wondered how large his territory is and how many of the fawns I'd spotted were his.

I recalled easily how I get so upset when I see the road kill along 9D -- a fawn here, a fox pup there, a doe - always a doe. I wonder what family member went missing and whose loss it was, With a small family and everpresent or looming loss, I sense my strong connection to the natural aspects of this very small and private community. I believe the wildlife are my neighbors as well and form part of the constant companionship that I sought after in Beacon.

Some food for thought: Celtic spirituality refers to the 'thin places' where heaven and earth meet and time and space are transcended. The morning mist and encounters with Mother Nature facilitate reflections of the spiritual side of life; that aspect of the self which seeks balance and harmony is dominant during my morning journey of a thousand steps. It's a warm and wonderful feeling to appreciate that this thin place can be found so close to my front door in the Hudson Highlands, ready and able to welcome me home to myself as I begin each new day.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Beacon Bits - To the Mountaintop

I did it! I finally got to hike with the Mt. Beacon Incline Railway Restoration Society (MBIRRS) on its monthly guided "tour" of the trail up to the top of the mountain. The heat and humidity of late July didn't quite catch up with us because of the shaded trails during the ascent. But the midday sun accompanied the amazing vista at the summit -- and oh, what a view! The group of hikers were congenial, the trail leaders (Kristi, Sandy, Frank and Ali) were knowledgeable and the surprise for the day was that a New York Times reporter Amanda Petrusich and photographer  Kelly Shimoda were hiking with us to interview Mayor Steve Gold of Beacon and Mike Colarusso of MBIRRS for their article for an upcoming Travel/Metropolitan section about day trip destinations close to the city. So one could say that I'm scooping the story since it won't be published until later in August, but I'll leave the history of Mt. Beacon and the plans for the return of the railway to the competent journalists and focus on telling the story about my hike in a more personal way.

I came to the hike only partially prepared with well-worn hiking boots, long socks, sunscreen, two bottles of water, raisins, backpack, hat and sunglasses. I had the sense that I would need a walking stick but had not previously purchased one at Mountain Tops in preparation. So I had a gnawing feeling that it could be my fatal flaw, especially when I saw that everyone except the photographer and a young athletic male had one in hand; Amanda got a loaner from the Mayor and there was one gentleman impeccably outfitted as per EMS for the hike who actually had two! In the parking lot, where the group assembled, I saw a table of t-shirts, shopping bags and caps for sale and mentioned how walking sticks might be a popular item to have available; it could even be a local craftsperson's handmade product for a homegrown touch. (Perhaps an idea for a Beacon cottage industry to supply hikers for the abundant, surrounding trails.) So I settled on purchasing a cap because my sunhat seemed to be less suitable for the occasion and it felt like another way of supporting MBIRRS in addition to my annual membership. When I mentioned my concern about the absence of a walking stick, I was reassured that sometimes one could find a suitable branch in the nearby wooded area or even find one that a hiker had left by the trail head. You can imagine my relief when that was exactly what happened; a suitable size stick  just right for my height was waiting for me right before the arduous climb up the steps that connect to the actual trail, a remnant of a ski trail from the Dutchess Ski Area that occupied this mountain for a decade in the 60's and 70's.

I remembered my encounter on my one and only trip to this ski area when I was in high school and came up from Brooklyn for a day of skiing in 1970 or 1971. The chairlift whipped around so quickly and I held on so tightly because of a precarious slope leading away from the landing that my hand came out of the down mitten; the distal joint of my left thumb was dislocated and it was perpendicular to the base. It was quickly corrected by the ski  patrol who popped it back into its socket. Ouch! I still remember that awful pain and my own first aid that doctored my thumb back to its full range of motion. Here I was, back on that mountain, climbing up where I had skied down; who would have ever guessed that forty years later, this hike would bring me back to this memory. I felt relieved that my right hand, tightly grasping the walking stick, would not succomb to a similar accident; unless of course, I slipped and fell on the gravel and rocks during the last steps of the ascent or during the descent, which somehow scared me more because of recent recurrent episodes of vertigo. But these thoughts were far from my mind as I chatted with new acquaintances, spoke to the Mayor about my hopes of having Beacon become a sister city with Bergen, Norway (because of the geography and the funicular connection), experienced the awesome sights of the 'river that runs both ways' -- the Shawgunks, Storm King Mountain, the surrounding towns and counties of the Hudson Highlands -- and saw why Continental armies used the mountain for fires to signal each other from Albany to New York City during the Revolutionary War.

Some food for thought: A mountain stands still in time, but only we can traverse its paths as we reflect on the past and move into the future. After this hike, I felt assured that the future of Mt. Beacon will reach its pinnacle as the MBIRRS pursues the re-development and building of the railway with the intended amenities for hikers and travelers (a restaurant, museum, viewing platform, all built for sustainability using Platinum LEEDS standards). Some people may think it will not match Mt. Beacon's heyday of the early 1900's with its casino, hotel and other entertainments for New Yorker's who could travel to and from the city for $1.00. However, some will acknowledge that the new railway will surpass the previous one by meeting the American Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations, which will enable individuals to overcome the handicaps and obstacles that able-bodied people can surmount by simply using a walking stick to climb to the top of this historical and majestic mountaintop, in order to experience together with other sojourners, a shared perspective  when viewing this beautiful, ageless and expansive horizon in the Hudson Valley.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beacon Bits - Rainbows

Now living on the west shore of the Hudson, I thought my chances of seeing an early evening summer rainbow after a late afternoon thundershower was mighty slim. I was grateful to know I'd still be driving up on the west side of the river from work in the evening when it might still be possible to catch a glimpse of a multi-colored arc over the Hudson -- a wonderfully renewing and inspiring sight for one who wants to remain hopeful in the midst of life's trials and tribulations. So much to my delight, when leaving Common Ground farm, the rain mist had begun to fall while I was still cutting my share of zinnias in the u-pick field and the sky was brightening in the west with rays of sunlight streaming across the field. I held my breath and waited and slowly returned to the car because I thought I'd receive the rainbow gift I was longing for after a difficulty week of family illness, work stress and news of the massacre in Norway. No rainbow in sight, I began to drive south on 9D, all the while, looking east in anticipation of an emerging prism in the sky. As I approached the Newburgh-Beacon bridge, I began to see the refracted light slowly emerging against the dark clouds through the gentle falling rain. It began to brighten. As I turned left onto Main Street, it became translucent as I passed Poppy's and Homespun. I could see in the distance that the arc began close to the ground in the parking lot of Scenic Hudson's Mt. Beacon Park and then transversed back over the very top of Mt. Beacon itself. I was so excited, I rolled down my car window and called to some people in the street to look up towards the eastern sky. It reminded me of my reputation as the 'rainbow whisperer' when I traveled to Scotland in 2003 and would call out to my fellow Celtic sojourners that a rainbow was getting ready to appear. (See Celtic Journeys for more information about travel to England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland.)

Some food for thought: Knowing when a rainbow might appear, being totally alert to that possibility, is a Zen moment, a gift of mindfulness, a touch of grace. We all need to make the time to search the horizon for the chance to see a rainbow and to remain hopeful when our expectations are not always met. The odds are that the occasional reward of a rainbow sighting will be transformative and magical each and every time, if only we connect to the present moment.

Rainbow Ratatouille
2 small white onions
2 small summer squash (yellow, green)
2 small eggplant (white, purple)
2 small ripe tomatoes
1-1/2 cups, organic, cooked garbanzo beans
garlic, basil, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar
Place olive oil in a pan, add chopped vegetables and cook until translucent.  
Add beans and seasoning to taste.
When fully cooked, add several teaspoons of balsamic vinegar before a final stir.
Makes 2-1/2 to 3 cups.

Author's Note: I've sighted two more rainbows over Mt. Beacon in the last week; what wonder and delight!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Beacon Bits -- Peas to Ponder

Another week has come and gone and it's time again for my weekly pick-up of my Common Ground Farm share. There is such a sense of ownership as a member of a community supported agriculture farm (CSA). The time for 'u-pick' is quite enjoyable at the end of a workday as it allows you to gather your thoughts as you harvest some basil, string beans, peas and flowers for drying, while walking in a vast field of sunshine along the horizon.

I've noted the progression of peas over the last six weeks. First, the tender shoots and flowers were distributed in a tight bunch and so I placed them in a vase as if they were a bouquet. I wasn't sure how to use them but I heard they were great tossed into a salad bowl. The next week, the peas were identical to Chinese pea pods, great for a quick stir fry. The next two weeks they were snap peas and required the string along the outer edge to be removed before cooking so you don't choke, a most unpleasant feeling while eating this explosive vegetable. Then the following week the snap peas matured into 'Green Giant Le Seur French peas', small and delicate, taking a lot of effort to unearth a modest handful of tiny morsels from the pod, just enough to dress up some sauteed zucchini squash and sweeten the mix. Then, for the last week, we could pick all the peas we wanted. While most were bulging and looking quite plump, suggesting full sized peas to uncover, the outer skin was marred and drying out. I scanned the vines like I was playing a visual  search game and used the mottled appearance to locate each pod. As I gave a tug to unleash each one, I anticipated these would be the most pea-like and very satisfying to eat, so I was motivated to pick at least a quart's worth.

Some food for thought: As I picked that last harvest of peas, I pondered the journey from beginning to end. The cycle of the ripening peas reminded me of the life stages of a woman - from the virginal and maiden-like tenderness, to the developing identity and transition into the essence of feminity, to the maturity and being-ness of womanhood. As a midlife woman, I connected to the stage where the exterior surfaces were showing the wear and tear of growing older, but with its inner world revealing one's authenticity, fully ripened for the tasting. I realized just like the many peas that may have been overlooked because they didn't look so great, there was a tendency to make the maturing woman invisible. But for those who appreciate the weathering, the rewards of ripeness can be claimed from within and the harvest can be most sweet.

"Worth the Wait"
1/2 cup mature peas
1 small bunch field lettuce, shredded
3 scallions, chopped
Wilt all ingredients together in a pan with 1 tsp. canola oil.
When cooked, add 2 oz. feta cheese and 1/4 cup walnuts into the warm pan.
Serve in a toasted pita pocket, or make a wrap using a whole wheat tortilla.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beacon Bits - Beacon's Best Burger

I was having recurrent urges for a Poppy's burger for the last month on two separate occasions. I even planned to take guests visiting from Norway and a cousin from Pennsylvania, but realized too late that it was Monday and Poppy's is closed (on Tuesday as well.) I finally got my Poppy's burger and fries last week and had a conversation with Paul Yeaple, the owner, about his choice to be closed on Mondays, a day that I imagined would be great for business, especially in the summer when visitors on holiday are stopping in Beacon. He explained that with two children under the age of two at home, his priority was to have time with family and not become a workaholic, absent father, reminiscent of his own hard-working dad. How could I argue with that? It was just another reason to admire Paul's business practices and personal ethics.
I first learned of Poppy's from a Hudson Valley magazine article in 2009 citing 'the best of' in Dutchess county. I had been making weekly visits during the year before I moved to Beacon and made it a point to find Poppy's. With my first bite of the organic, grass-fed beef surrounded by a soft bun with the crispiest fries served in a brown paper bag, I was hooked. For someone who has only eaten 1 or 2 burgers a year for the last 35 years, the fact that I've now averaged 1 burger a month, totaling at least 10-to-date, it's truly a very big compliment for the chef. Paul says I must be like a 'burger-meter'; if the burgers aren't good, I can live without them and pass them by, but if they're like his, I'll channel my inner Burger Queen and become a frequent flyer!

Paul was pleased to tell me he now offers local New York beer (e.g., Red Tail, Saratoga, Phin and Matt's), a hallmark of supporting locally grown products. Wine is one the way as well. Paul knows what his customers want and it's also a way of compensating for his family time off if the tabs grow a bit fatter because there are more choices for beverages to drink with the variety of burger specialties that are offered.

Last spring, in between Poppy's visits, I watched the Food Network channel on cable TV and caught an episode of Chopped and there was Paul creating a full course meal with the eclectic list of ingredients given as a challenge. He won; his crowning achievement was a zucchini sorbet while slicing his hand open because he was moving so fast. I was so excited that the 'home team' won, I couldn't wait to rush in and congratulate Paul, only to find out the show was a re-run. A bit humiliated for not knowing the good news was old news, I was still thrilled to see his culinary talents rise to the top. Seeing his creativity and skill come to life only made me appreciate his concept of running a restaurant with a simple menu and niche market congruent with the slow food movement.

Some food for thought: Sitting alone in Poppy's at a modest metal frame table, I saw the face of Beacon -- the hard working entrepreneur, a dad and his son using the pinball machine while waiting for take-out supper, two other local merchant's picking up a meal as they gave a pitch to sign a petition to allow Beacon to close Main Street to host a car show, two young teenagers looking for a summer job, and a college student home for the summer working the counter and taking orders. This scene repeats itself in various permutations, including visitors from out of town ambling up Main Street after touring Dia Beacon and multi-generational families dining together on a weekend night. Poppy's is a place to graze, live in the moment and feel the heartbeat of Main Street. Customers listen and talk to each other casually; Paul's affability is notable as he chats with each individual and doesn't miss a beat in recalling his last conversation with the local Beaconites.

I look forward to the day when Poppy's is open on Mondays because Paul can have his children in tow. I also would feel less guilty about increased visits (could I be thinking once a week?) if Paul would offer some local organic salads or cooked greens as an accompaniment to the best burger in town. Two wishes for an otherwise extremely well-fed and sated customer. Too bad it's Monday, I'll have to wait to tell Paul what I think -- a good excuse to visit Poppy's sooner than I planned, along with all the other new and repeat customers reacting to yet another rave review in Hudson Valley magazine's "Burger Bonanza" issue (August 2011.)

Written July 25, 2011