Every day before lunchtime, the boxy white mail van pulls up for a moment to the mail box across the road. Upstairs in my bathrobe at my computer with a window view of the road I’m tempted to interrupt whatever I’m writing to walk over in my slippers to see what the day has brought. The longer he takes the better the chances of something worthwhile like a book. Alas, I usually find a handful of bills and catalogs, but I rarely regret the interruption because I’ve also gotten a good look at Overlook Mountain, the massive and majestic corner of the Catskills plateau that dominates the skyline above Woodstock. Rising twenty-five hundred feet out of the valley flatlands a few miles from my cottage, it reminds me of why I live here and not back in Manhattan or further out into the Hudson Valley, where wood lots and corn fields have their own pastoral beauty but feel far removed from the wilderness that first brought me to the Catskills. Overlook stands apart, a giant swelling wave of a mountain that were it moving might crest in a mile or two to come spilling down upon us in a chaos of forests and cliffs. That it doesn’t may be why we stand in awe of its power. Spring greenery takes several weeks longer to reach its summit. Pre-winter ice storms cap its heights in a white beret while the rest of the landscape remains autumn brown. Once during a series of March storms that hovered above freezing at the cottage I watched mist and melting snow for days, delighted that I didn’t have to shovel. A woman who lives half an hour away up around the far side of Overlook told me that she got seven feet of snow. That’s how big a difference the mountains can make. I’m glad to live down on this side, but I’m also glad to have Overlook so close. No matter how far removed my mind may be in my writing, standing by the roadside and staring at the mountain anchors me in the Catskills. Melville looked our his window at whale-shaped Mount Greylock for encouragement while writing Moby Dick. I have Overlook Mountain from my driveway to keep connected to my wild soul.
Guy Reed lives with his wife and two daughters right at the base of Overlook Mountain in a cottage originally built by a bluestone quarryman. Himself a child of the Minnesota plains, Guy will never grow indifferent to the exotic grandeur of this mountain that towers against the sky. Here’s his homage from his chapbook, The Effort to Hold Light:
I’m sitting on bedrock that crops up in my driveway.
There’s no digging this stone out, it’s solid as it gets,
an outpost of the tectonic plate we’re floating on.
The mountain behind me shows what happens
over time; you get smaller, but the secrets
are revealed, the center comes near the surface.
It’s my wife’s birthday today. I’ve been spending
my free time reading Jack Gilbert and rereading Jack Gilbert.
He’s still alive, lives ninety miles away in smaller mountains
across the river. He is eighty-four. Beth is half that age,
I’m half plus a little. I should drive up there,
find Jack, talk about white horses in moonlight,
but I’d only be an annoyance, the well-meaning ass
who interrupts his last great poem, which we might
never get to read anyway. Best to enjoy the silence here.
There might be a giant sea fossil yet locked inside the mountain
that sixty million years from now will see the light of day.
Only the heavens have the patience to wait. That creature
had its life, important part writ in stone. Another year older for Beth
today, another day older for the rest of us. So much
to look forward to, so much to stand firm upon
surrounded here by thin-leaved coneflowers that bloom,
drop their seeds, then wait for what comes next.
For years, I’ve heard Guy read at open mics, chatted with him at parties, even participated with him in the Goat Hill Poets writing group for a while. He’s an amiable guy, laid back, tolerant, never one to complain about work or fathering a family dominated by women. He finds time to write poetry when he can and loyally attends readings. He wonders why poets from the region who have taught him so much don’t get more recognition. To him, the Hudson Valley is one of the poetry hot spots in the nation. For a season or two, he hosted his own public access TV show to interview local poets whom he admires. (His mother-in-law served as his producer.) In school he studied theater and film making so he seemed at home around the white umbrella lights in the studio. I, alas, have never trusted cameras not to make me look foolish with forced smiles and awkward expressions that I’d rather keep to myself in the mirror. I enjoyed appearing on Guy’s show but couldn’t bring myself to watch the DVD he mailed later.
What I didn’t know until recently was that one of his proud possessions was an old Airstream trailer out in the yard, a silver whale, or as he informs me, “a 1971 Ambassador 27′ Land Yacht” that his family used as a guest house and that he used as a writing studio. Well, why not, I thought to myself as a great proponent of writer’s cabins, though I’ve envisioned them as Thoreauvian log retreats rather than Space Age capsules built for the highway. Alas, I won’t get to see him in action. Hurricane Irene landed two oaks on the trailer, not destroying it but denting its aluminum badly enough to need repairs. Guy and his wife have tied a tarp over the beloved beast and listed it on Craigslist for sale.
The Effort to Hold Light has reminded me of how much I value books. Yes, I’ve heard Guy read many times, but not until now have I appreciated the true measure of his work by reading his poems collected in this chapbook. He’s drawn to those moments when time almost seems to stop to reveal the true preciousness of being. He spots the transcendent briefly emerging from the ordinary. He shares some wonderfully weird dreams. He does one thing I’d never do, which is to use the word “light” in a poem. Being hardheaded, I would point out that you can’t actually see, touch, smell, taste, or hear light; hence it shouldn’t be in poetry, which relies upon tactile sensations. But Guy, bless him, shows that he’s smarter about light than I am. Here’s the first poem in the book.
Cosmic rays pierce your body
every second: photons, helium nuclei
and other particles from stars.
It’s a measurable fact.
In the last second
energy from the light you just saw
traveled nearly a billion feet. In ten seconds,
thousands of cosmic rays passing by
through space, in time. How many through my heart?
Ah, love, the beautiful ones through your eyes.