Heartstock, Part 1

I had a series of heart encounters on September 10 and 11, 2017 in connection with a pilgrimage I made to the site of the original Woodstock festival. There’s so much to share that I’m breaking the narrative into 3 parts. Here’s the first. It’s long and I hope you find it worth the time it takes to read. Enjoy!

Setting the Stage: A Long, Long Neck Ago
The whole story starts, as all good stories do, with a giraffe.

I’d become a fan of internet sensation April the Giraffe in February of this year. Watching her and her baby daddy Oliver on a webcam during April’s final months of pregnancy helped me get through the final months of a long-term contract job that I was unhappy about having to leave.

When April gave birth on April 15 my gentleman friend and I were on a long weekend getaway, attending a relationship conference in Denver. The “she’s giving birth right now!” text I’d signed up for came around dawn and we huddled together in bed watching on my iPad as Tajiri came into the world. So it felt right to visit the new giraffe family on a future getaway.

April and me
More April in an upcoming story.

Accordingly, July found us spending a weekend in Binghamton, NY, the closest big town to April’s home, Animal Adventure Park. Details of that park visit aren’t directly relevant to this story although a few hearts were given. They’ll be recounted in a future post.

The part that is relevant is that on the afternoon following our giraffe visit we were chilling in our hotel room, thinking about what else was nearby that we might visit before dinner. On a whim I asked how far away Bethel, NY was. The original Woodstock festival was held there. I’ve long been fascinated by the event, even though I was only 8 years old when it happened. If we were within easy driving distance it would be a nice add-on to the trip.

It turned out that Bethel was about 90 minutes away from Binghamton. It was already late enough in the day that we’d miss the chance to visit the site’s museum, plus there was a concert on the grounds that night, adding the possibility of traffic annoyances. My companion was still game to go, knowing that this was something I was keen on seeing, but the timing and energy didn’t feel right to me. I passed on the side trip to Bethel. I’d get there another time when I had more time.

Time Is on My Side
That time came quicker than expected. In September I staffed a Woman Within weekend in Western Massachusetts. My staffing commitment required me to remain onsite through Sunday afternoon. Rather than driving the 8 hours back to DC Sunday night when I’d already be physically and emotionally drained, I planned to drive a few hours, spend the night in a hotel, then complete my homeward journey Monday.

When Google Maps told me that Bethel was not only 2 1/2 hours away from the weekend site but also more or less on the road back to DC anyway I booked a hotel nearby, in the Catskills town of Liberty, NY, the former home of Grossinger’s resort. I planned to hit the Woodstock site and museum first thing Monday morning.

Visiting the site of a festival that celebrated 3 days of peace, love, and music would be a perfect way to cap off a Woman Within weekend that involves 3 days of healing, love, and support.

I had NO idea what was in store for me. None.

An Offbeat Meeting Off the Beaten Path
I left the weekend retreat site Sunday at 4:15pm, tired but exhilarated. I drove west out of Massachusetts and into New York, basking in the glow of a weekend full of healing and a renewed sense of belonging. As I turned south on the Taconic State Parkway my thoughts turned from the weekend’s spiritual journey to the evening’s physical journey.

In the spirit of my impending visit to the Woodstock site in Bethel I thought it’d be cool to drive through the town of Woodstock. The festival was named after it and I knew it to be a center for the arts. Then I remembered that Big Pink, the house where Bob Dylan and The Band had recorded in the late 60s, was near Woodstock. Serendipity. Why not do a drive-by? I reprogrammed the GPS and exited the Taconic to backtrack a ways, crossing the Hudson on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Then I took the New York State Thruway to the Saugerties exit, stopping to top off the gas tank and double-check the GPS settings.

To my surprise, the pink house I thought I knew so well from pictures and legend isn’t on an easily accessible village street as I’d always imagined. In reality it’s tucked away so far up in the hills that my GPS got confused, directing me to “continue straight” through dead-ends and turn onto the same sparsely populated narrow roads I’d just come from. I started to feel like the Blair Witch Project film crew, certain I was going around in circles, not to mention getting nervous about losing daylight in a remote area, guided by a disoriented GPS. Then I saw the turnoff for the street I sought.

Only it wasn’t a street. It was a gravelly lane, curvy and semi-steep, very narrow. “Your destination is on the right!” the GPS announced triumphantly. I looked to the right and saw at a glance both the familiar pink facade of the house I’d come to see and a large “No Trespassing” sign. The sign was on a gate that was currently open but looked like when it was closed would block off the entire lane, which appeared to dead-end just beyond Big Pink, a fact my befuddled GPS hadn’t mentioned. Not wishing to harsh my weekend glow with a confrontation with an angry homeowner or a possible arrest, I took a very quick picture from inside the car then focused on backing out.

The only spot with enough room to turn around was the driveway of the house across the lane and back down a little from Big Pink in the direction I’d come from. I didn’t want to draw the attention of whoever lived there. While I was sure their driveway saw a lot of Big Pink turnaround traffic I was embarrassed all the same that my fangirldom had led me to encroach on someone’s private property.

I maneuvered into the driveway as far as I dared and was about to back out when a gray-bearded man with kindly eyes and a rangy build got out of the van parked in front of me. I was tempted to just flee the scene but I felt I owed it to this man to acknowledge my trespass. Accountability is something we talk about on a Woman Within weekend. I rolled down my window as he approached my car. I thoroughly expected to be yelled at. Instead he asked kindly, “Are you looking for Big Pink?”

“Yes. I just saw it and took a quick picture. I’m leaving now. I’ll be out of your way in just a minute.”

“Come on. I’ll walk you up there and take your picture in front of the house if you want.”

This man was the only human I’d seen since the gas station in Saugerties. Famous house or no, we were in the middle of nowhere late on a Sunday afternoon. No one who cared about me knew where I was. I hadn’t even known I’d be there until a half-hour earlier. Kindly as he looked, this man was a stranger, an unknown quantity. Big Pink showed no signs of life. No other houses were within screaming distance. I trusted my gut instinct to inform my next move.

“That would be great! Thanks.” I turned off my engine and reached over into the tote bag on the passenger seat to grab a glass heart. I couldn’t extricate one easily so I grabbed the entire mesh bag full of them so as not to keep my host waiting.

As we walked the lane back toward Big Pink the man explained he’d been on his phone when he saw me drive by, otherwise he’d’ve signaled for me to park in his driveway to save me having to back up. I in turn explained how I happened to happen by, including mention that I’d just come from staffing a women’s retreat.

“So, what, you spent the weekend with other women talking about boundaries and doing trust falls, stuff like that?” His words sounded patronizing but his tone was empathetic.

“Something like that,” I answered. “We create a safe space for women to explore issues preventing them from being who they want to be. We nurture them, applaud their courage and hold them in their grief. It’s very powerful.”

“So what’s that, your magic crystals?” he asked, nodding toward the mesh bag of glass hearts in my left hand. Again I expected sarcasm but only detected sincerity.

Me in front of Big Pink, bag of hearts in my hand.
Me in front of Big Pink, bag of hearts in my left hand.

“Oh, no. They’re glass hearts that I carry around to give to people I connect with.” I took one from the bag and held it out to him. “Thank you for taking time to interact with me and for taking my picture in front of Big Pink. That was very kind. It must be annoying for you to have gawkers coming though all the time.”

“No, it’s my pleasure!” His kind face softened even more as he admired the heart. “Hey, it’s pink!” I was carrying 3 colors of hearts with me: red, clear, and peach. As always I’d let chance determine which color I pulled out. It was peach, which in the late afternoon light looked pale pinkish. More serendipity.

My host introduced himself as Sion. He was 71. He said he grew up in the area and gave me a brief history of his family, mentioning his connection to Max Yasgur’s nephew, a rabbi. When I mentioned my intention to stop by the Woodstock festival site the next morning, he nodded approval and said that he’d been involved in choosing the site for Woodstock 94 in Saugerties.

At this point I started getting nervous. Not because I suddenly feared for my personal safety but because it was going on 6:30 and I had less than an hour of daylight left to get down off the winding mountain roads and back to the highway that would take me to my hotel in Liberty. I was enjoying the conversation and knew Sion had lots of stories to tell but it was time for me to go.

Me and Sion, with No Trespassing sign.

I asked Sion if I could hug him goodbye, which surprised and pleased him. I started to thank him again for his patient hospitality but I realized I was interrupting him. He was quietly giving me a blessing, wishing me a happy life and successes in business and in love. He added that my visit had been the high point of his day.

On any other day our meeting would have been the high point of my day as well but falling as it did on a day already filled with good vibes and blessings, the extraordinary had become, for the time being, status quo.

Coming next: An unexpected wilderness interlude and fine dinering in the Borscht Belt. 

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