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It is from here that our journey begins.

For years we had been surrounded by towering buildings, traffic jams and oblivious lubbers in the city that never sleeps.  It was a vibrant yet frenetic existence.  It was the storied love/hate relationship.  We weren’t ready to leave but we were ready to move on.  We spent summers fleeing to our family retreat on Long Island and to the country town in Ohio that I had sprouted from.  We worked hard, but we were also so very fortunate to have what we had — families who surrounded us with love and compassion, friends who shared and shaped our in-betweens.  And, lots of laughter.  There was never a point when we didn’t acknowledge our gratitude.  There was never a point we weren’t reminded by our beloved Pit-Lab rescue, Seven, with his pure joy of living, that life was a gift.  But we were still searching for something.  Seeking our truth.

It was the tragedy of September 11th, 2001 that created a shift in our energy – as it did for so many.  We were together but living separately in New York City then.  It is impossible to describe the rage, the sorrow and the horror packed between the overwhelming sense of pride, fortitude and fierce loyalty to our city and country.  Day after day people stood along the Westside Highway, as we did, to give thanks and support to the women and men who traveled to the fallen to dig, to rescue and to weep.  The words that would echo constantly through my brain were “the land of free and the home of the brave” and “stand beside her and guide her through the night with a light…”  It may sound trite but it was a mantra so familiar and comforting that it stayed with me each day.  We found our humanity in each other as a people and as a country and it made us stronger.   It affected us profoundly, in ways that we wouldn’t understand until years later.  But, it also affected us in that moment.  We knew we needed to find a place where we could discover ourselves beyond the city dwellers we had so confidently embodied for so many years.

And so we three sojourned north to the mountains — for fresh air, for solace, for the long and glorious exhale beneath the clans of oak and pine and shaggy bark hickory that have always out-limbed us.  We found our spot at the foothills of those mountains and discovered a freedom that we had forgotten.  The symphony of songbirds in the morning.  The chatter of tender, chartreuse leaves exploding into spring, caressing the summer, blazing the autumn and finally baring bones on their winter exodus.  Every day the bustle of nature’s curious and confounding expressions.  Every night the blackness of the sky offering us a multitude of endless twinkles and good nights.

It was a perfect spot.  Nestled and hidden.  High enough to see treetops for miles.  We couldn’t see any neighbors but getting supplies was easy.  Our country road wended its way into the quaint little town — far enough to not be reached by spit but close enough to not have to pack a lunch.  The small town had suffered a common economic brutality of the times — but hope, a gem that often springs eternal in the spirits of the downtrodden, was on the horizon.  And, the spirit of this town was on the mend.  The weakened pulse of her main street had begun to strengthen as her old heart started to find its beat again.  Like a glorious old dame, she was putting on her lipstick, her new wardrobe and stepping out, a reminder of how beautiful she was.  Shops were popping up like daffodils and little restaurants were quietly filling seats and bellies.

And there was something else there too, at the very far end of Main Street.  Another gem.  Not hidden.  Not unpolished.  Just there shimmering beneath every sunlit day and moonlit night.  It was the jewel known as the mighty Hudson River of which all things New York flowed from so many years ago — and whose lifeforce still quenched the state from tip to ocean’s tow.  Up around this way,  she touched the town with a crooked little finger called Catskill Creek.  Not to be confused with “crick,” which in my neck of the woods could be a yarn-thick trickle of water through the woods.  The Catskill Creek was a bustling waterway of activity that rose and fell with the tide of the river and the change of seasons.  We couldn’t help but be drawn to her.  Marinas dotted her banks and every kind of vessel that floated — with engine or paddle or sail or not — could be found docking, traversing or headed to the mouth of the creek to turn north or south toward an adventure on the Hudson.  Trees stretched their limbs and shaded her shores and in early summer without fail the massive Eastern Cottonwoods tucked her in with an unwelcomed blanket of cottonwood snow.

The energy that lay there, above and around the water, was only a piece of it —  it was the water itself as it flowed in and out, predictable in tides and unpredictable in storms.  It was the stillness of slack tide and the lashing of mountain waters rushing around that hooked finger picking away at her banks.  It was the ancient call of waterways that had drawn explorers and common folk alike to explore and discover.  It was the love-at-first-sight that kisses the imagination.  It was the unspoken promise of a comfort that could only be found in her bosom.

We didn’t know it then, standing on the banks of the creek — or maybe we did— that this something we had found together would redefine us and create a new journey for us.  There are so many times one forgets to remember the “why.”  This is the remembering.  And that moment, on her banks, was the beginning of an incredible journey…

-T.S. McFadden

Admiral, M/Y OLOH

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