Not far beyond the Scribe, before rounding the local apex of the ridge, just above the conglomerate formations that have cropped out of the earth to navigate the ridgeline trail, glimpses of open forest solicit your attention. At first you respond with only a series of unconscious glances, but a spacious presence has been gathering with your approach. It reaches a sufficient threshold to halt your trajectory at precisely the moment that you pass an informal opening into a mixed forest of tall trees. From the trail, it is not the trees themselves that provide the calling, but the spaces that intervene between straight, slender trunks, viewed from the distance of nondescript existence. The space is occupied with the growing luminance of dawn. New shoots and expansive ferns will later be revealed as the worthy recipients of the fertile soil at the base of the open space, but initially it is simply the presence of an intriguing openness that invites your body. Moving off trail, you follow the invitation, dropping down a couple of meters, and rapidly transition into a mixed forest of widely spaced trees. Completely burned stumps are scattered on the ground near patches of exposed earth. Tall crispy remnants of sacrificed trees rise out of lush ferns, along with many charred trunks. Spared, but now sparse oaks and other hardwood species provide testament to the direction and intensity of the burn at their base. The evidence suggests that a wide expanse of herbaceous shrubs provided rapid kindling in this region, but fortunately for the survivors, the fire efficiently burned the debris in a burst too quick to ignite the mature trees. Many of their neighbors were not so lucky, thus reinforcing the transitory beauty of the open expanse that is now so newly revealed. Here, as elsewhere, life is active in its own burst, rebuilding its many-tiered and intertwined dimensions— but the feeling, strangely, and very powerfully, is one of static peace. It is the combination of straight forms in sparse numbers and intervening spatial depth that provides the stasis, which in turn relaxes the senses into a calm acquisition of the territory. But the depth, though peaceful, is filled with grace and enticing beauty. It is not a stationary external witness that is solicited by the aesthetic character of the place; it is, instead, a meandering occupation that is enticed. It is very easy to drift off into the expanse of ferns and trees— and indeed, there are abundant features in the landscape to move the body in every direction. But movement remains gently and calmly enticed, not energetically incited by the strange and spectacular, as is the case only a few meters up on the ridge. Wrapped in this stasis, it is all the more appropriate that the dawn discloses one of its most profound and secret subtleties here. Just before the sunlight reaches forth with streaming feelers, a pervasive and delicate mist rapidly congeals. The mysterious mist enters, and then dissipates within minutes. The temporary apparition is nothing short of sacred, as depth gains a new progenitor during its appearance. You look and feel, and in the same breath you utter outload, and to absolutely no one, your professed emotion. The emotive utterance and the unspoken beauty catch you off guard, simultaneously snapping you back into everyday thoughts. These momentarily taint the experience, because you know that there is no way to convey such a feeling: the expression that was outwardly proclaimed but addressed to no one. Somehow, even out here where not a soul resides, the self-chatter of thought makes it mandatory that a retrospective misapplication be now invoked in order to justify the utterance. By rehearsal, as if an antagonistic dialogue ensued addressing those who might take literally such utterances, a defense is marshaled. Distance now intervenes. Thought has congealed and the everyday witness has arisen.
But the pull of the mysterious atmosphere is still too great a gathering, even for thought. You enter again, and allow yourself to be swallowed. Following the allure, you wade knee-deep into the expansive ferns before determining that a plan of navigation through the turbulent growth is required. Like white water rafting upon a makeshift raft of burnt trunks, you ride tentatively into deeper waters, your raft splitting apart in the journey, providing additional fodder for the roiling abundance. All the while the land throws up islands of forest and rock above the sea of ferns. Mindfulness is not simply a methodology to partake of here. It is a clear and bold environment in which you now swim.
Painted rocks catch your attention even before the strokes are followed back to the sun, now clearly visible amidst the base of distant trees. Streaming long, the long streamers target sparse, slender trees at their base, just above their dirty knees, marking the height of the burn. For many trees, a black stocking gives way to sun-painted artistry before transitioning to rough textured bark that has been enhanced by speckled lichen. The trunks rise straight to pierce the treetops, now bottom-lit by the sun’s yellow glow. Abundant leaves sway in the light, but only half of the tree’s crown glitters in gold. The other half, ironically, has now the more potent capacity to draw sight— pointing, by the suggestion of graceful movement, to the unlit and mysterious expanses that are still hidden from full disclosure.
The sun-sourced graffiti provides reminder that time is not static. Paying heed, you move back toward the ridge trail. After all, you are here to see the burned landscape during the day’s first light. The trail turns toward massive sloping platforms of exposed conglomerate rock— but you already know the Gunks, you know that there cannot be another rock more alive and present to experience than Shawangunk conglomerate. After only two months of recovery, you want to know what the heart of the burn zone will look like. In one great expanse offering fully round views, you are provided the answer. The offer is dizzying. You turn round in every direction without stability, not because the view is open to sky-level views as if at the apex of a great mountain, but because strange features exist in each of the four quarters of your body-centered compass. Looking north, Sam’s Point is to your right, while a heavy bedding of morning fog blankets the slowly stirring town of Ellenville to the left. Rolling mountains move forward to greet you from the distance. Despite the temporary openness that allows for a greater presentation of distant views— views that will not be available very shortly as vegetative growth matures— it is still the local environment that presents the distant features as part of its interiority. Distance is only another robust feature quite at hand. But it is still the local environment which calls forth the greatest participation from you, as you engage in a sense-based dialogue through proximity. Yours is a perceiving body, and you lend to the space the silence of your sense apparatus until it is now your space, the space that you inhabit. Even through these mundane objects and the space they occupy, you have friends, acquaintances, oddities and curiosities to attend to in your space. You have confrontations, expectations, indications and even reincarnations to address. But you must commit. You must anchor yourself into a single perceptual momentum and a single vantage amidst a compilation of dizzying choices. And you do so unconsciously at every moment. You can, as usually happens, succumb to the nondescript— to the functional and only partially manifest, as you necessarily do when movement is a priority. But you are here to see, in the deeper sense of the term, so you do commit, consciously. This, after all, is an aesthetic experience, so you are only asked to receive. Yet beneath your attentiveness, mysterious processes actively engage in dialogue.
You had intuited the possibility for an aesthetic experience, but it delivered beyond expectation because the weight of reality smashed to pieces the flimsy content of imagination and forethought. Now that weight bears your own being at its gravitational core. The rock, with its subtle hues and glistening presence in the morning light, has organized its fractured form to uphold you, in the manner that is similar to the way that one of Braque’s early cubist works hovers just in front and just behind the canvas at the very same time, until you anchor it into the palpable and gritty physicality of a real surface. Its materiality and thing-like quality prevails, and that is precisely its magic, beyond anything that an ideal or representation can muster. Seeking that quality, you feel your way to the appropriate locales: spaces that achieve a cohesive unity of 'place' despite being a transitional mix of proximal and distal forms. It is all proximal during the aesthetic, all of it intimate. Even the distant mountains are drawn into this interiority. And you know, as you always have, that images of such moments are but journalistic reminders, and never momentary "captures" as the photographers like to say. But that is the subject of another essay.