Letter From New York October 7, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

All day rain spattered down on the cottage while I worked on some personal business that I have been neglecting, the last day of a five-day vacation I took from work.  It gave me time to ruminate about existence; nothing like a rainy day to get one’s mind soaring over the landscape of life, attempting to put the pieces of the puzzle together to tell the story.

I am fortunate to have people in my life that have chosen to linger it in it for a long time.  When I was in my first high school production, I met another classmate, Tom Fudali, as he was climbing up some scarily high scaffolding to adjust lights for the play.  He was wearing a tool belt and struck me as the kind of person who could do anything.  I was more than a bit intimidated.  But he became my best friend and I am fortunate that he is still my best friend; we’ve seen each other pass through many of the litmus tests life gives to people.  I am the godfather to his son from his first marriage; I was best man in his second wedding.  We can be together for a short time and it is as if no time has passed since we’ve seen each other.

He came this past weekend to visit and we went up to Lake George, a soul achingly beautiful 32-mile stretch of lake that anchored a significant piece of American history of which I was pretty much ignorant until I explored it this weekend.  At the southern end of Lake George is Fort William Henry, built to protect the northern edge of His Majesty’s American Empire from the French.  Thirty some miles to the north, the French build another fort, Carillon, to protect the southern edge of their North American Empire from the British.  And it was here that the French and Indian Wars were played out.  The French attack on Fort William Henry, its surrender and the subsequent slaughter of many of the British by the Indian allies of the French, became the inspiration for James Fennimore Cooper’s LAST OF THE MOHICANS, made into at least three films, the most recent being the lauded one starring Daniel Day Lewis.  Not a bad film though only loosely accurate as to facts in some cases.

Carillon, the French fort, was taken by the British not long after the fall of Fort William Henry and was renamed Fort Ticonderoga.  Later it played a part in the Revolutionary War.  Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold raced there after Lexington and Concord, taking the fort from the British garrison who had not yet heard that the Colonies were in rebellion.  The cannon from the fort were then dragged through the snow of the winter of 1776 to Boston, coming through my little town of Claverack on its way there.  Once the guns were set up outside of Boston, the British decided to retreat, sailing out of Boston harbor, threatening to burn the city if their retreat was molested.

I realized there was a great deal about American history that I didn’t know and certainly didn’t have a granular knowledge of it.  I didn’t know that Ticonderoga was once considered “the key to the continent” or that LAST OF THE MOHICANS was inspired by the events at Fort William Henry.

In the exhibitions, I realized how hard life was on the frontier and thought of the people who had carved this country out of a wilderness, of our strange history with Native Americans, allies, foes, oppressors, combatants, the uneasy relationship that happens when any Empire displaces another, which we did when we came here.  That is history.  We’re not unique.  It’s been happening since time began.

And since time began, history is formed and lived with relationships, friendships, loves, marriages, families, generations of folks who come and then are gone, moving into the slipstream of time while history continues to be made.  But our individual lives are punctuated by the friendships we make along the way, like the one I have with Tom.



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