I’m not athletic, but I developed a love for a new sport in Cold Spring: postcard hunting. I purchased four—the oldest postmarked in 1937 and the youngest in 1985—for a dollar each. My favorite lines: it is impossible to move a big, delicate plant in a car and Richard, it is lonely at this lake.
Angel and I were on our way to a hiking trail when we stopped in at the Cold Spring Antiques Vault. Inside, the store owner watched us move through the shop on his surveillance screens. He reminded me of a willow tree: his wispy grey hair hung past his shoulders, and his back was hunched over the way a knotted tree trunk might bend if the wind hits it enough times.
When I brought the postcards up to the counter he asked me how much they were. In my excitement at finding them, I had pulled each from bins labelled with different prices.
“I’m not sure,” I said smiling. Unpleased with my response, he huffed and walked to the back of the store. The bin he chose to price my postcards was one I bypassed completely while searching, but I was happy to pay only four dollars for my haul. He slipped them into a thin envelope and we left.
Cold Spring’s Main Street is dotted with antique shops like this one. They proliferate in small towns overrun by tourists—especially city folk—like an invasive species. It is a street curated for the droves of people that arrive on the weekend looking for an “authentic getaway.” I can’t knock it—I did that! And it felt good. I googled “weekend getaway accessible by Metro North” before I knew Cold Spring existed. But still I question what we mean when we lament and say things like “Why can’t we live like this all the time?” Live like what? People actually do live there all the time.
Angel and I arrived on a Thursday and left on Saturday. Before catching our train out, we grabbed breakfast at the Foundry Cafe. It was crowded with people coming in for the weekend. The difference from when we arrived to then was stark. Hiking was not just an activity, but a means of deploying a certain class status. Watching everyone sport their hiking gear and tap their FitBits felt like we were spectating a sport. People loudly proclaimed that they were not from here, but from the city, in need of a *break,* and could someone recommend a bug spray that wouldn’t dry their skin out?
At night, a portion of the promenade on the Hudson floods. To get to the promenade from the Pig Hill Inn we had to walk through an underground tunnel beneath the Metro-North tracks. It was dusty, gray, full of cobwebs. And on the wall was sheet of paper with colorful letters: Coming Soon!!! Tunnel Mural Painting Helpers Wanted Date: TBD one weekend this fall. Six splotches of red, purple, yellow, green, blue and black paint resided below the paper that had been torn in half and then taped together again with neon green tape. Someone scrawled on the poster in the corner: don’t! colors are horrid.
I too want to use three exclamation points.
We went hunting for fall in Cold Spring, but I found marigolds and zinnias instead. There were marigolds all over. I never knew these flowers were late summer/fall flowers. I only thought it curious that they kept blooming despite the chill in the air when summer ended. We decided to spend the only full day we had in town hiking.
Dave, one of the inn proprietors and chef of the Pig Hill Inn, assured us, “There’s only one stoplight here. Just walk in that direction. It’s all clearly marked—you’ll see the trail markers everywhere.”
Easier said than done. After being trailed by a police car when we stopped to admire a church and tree in full fall glory—its leaves were a fiery flash of orange—we decided not to loiter until we reached a summit of sorts. We continued down Main Street, but saw no signs. We got directions from a friendly woman walking her dog. “You can’t miss the signs!” she called out to us. After walking into a wooded area, a car approached us and stopped.
“You both don’t seem like one of the five people who live on this road—are you looking for a trail?”
We turned around, made a right at a group of garbage bins and barely spotted something circular on a tree. When I realized what Dave was talking about—tiny trail markers that seemed to blend in with the foliage—I laughed. I imagined markers the size of a STOP sign. These were smaller than the palm of my hand and each color indicated a different path.
“Are *those* what Dave was talking about?” I asked Angel.
He shrugged. We hiked. I complained. And then I understood why hiking is a thing.
Following the trail required a kind of patience and concentration that I really only exercise when close reading a text, eavesdropping on a conversation or staring out of a bus window. Right before we reached a summit I was ready to quit and I was very vocally petulant about it. It’s something I have trouble admitting about myself.
“But what else is there?” I asked Angel leaning on the thick branch turned walking stick he found for me at the start of our hike.
A brief list of things I love about the Pig Hill Inn: it is old, its floors creak, it is steps away from the Metro North Station, the bathtubs have clawed feet, there is always a freshly baked pie for guests to eat.
There is something deliciously invasively intimate about reading a postcard that was not addressed to you, not meant for you. The postcard is an exercise in restriction. It comes in pretty standard sizes and I’ve never received, sent or seen a postcard with an attachment. For better or worse senders either try to cram all of their sentences in to the white space. Postcards were and are also a tool of empire.
A postcard is both public and private. They are addressed to a recipient, not the world, but the message isn’t completely hidden (unless the sender renders it in a language that only they and the recipient are privy too—if you could invent a postcard language for you and a lover, what would the grammar be?). I’m sure too that senders of postcards write with an audience in mind—there’s a performative aspect to any kind of letter writing, any kind of correspondence. Is it because of the confined space of the physical postcard? Does the page become a kind of stage?
I found myself close reading each postcard the way I’ve asked my students to close read the topical essays we’ve read this semester. I took notes on each postcard the way I hope my students take notes on the exhibits they write about for their papers. I transcribed direct quotes and questions I had: big, delicate; this is an apology; what is a jade tree?; summer work; why is the card inappropriate?; the apology was about a jade tree; who writes a postcard about being unable to transport a tree?; who transports a tree in a car?
Postcards feel like things that were once alive, resurrected. Rereading the postcard with a pastoral scene on it—there are cows grazing, grass greening, trees blooming and a sky turning from blue to pink—I realize I might have misread a critical word. Postmarked on August 7, 1937 at 7am in Southwick, Massachusetts it reads:
My dear Boy.: I want to see you so bad. I hope you are a good boy. Richard it is lonely at this lake. goodbye Ma.
The word “lonely” might actually be “lovely.” Richard it is lovely at this lake. Every part of me wants it to read lonely and not lovely, and there is no app to ask who wrote it to translate.
I do this often. I misread things. It takes a moment before I honor the part of my mind that goes huh, that doesn’t seem right and reread. My first impulse is a curious one—to move on even if I have questions.
I’ve received postcards from friends who were dear to me, then, but have drifted away since. Is this how a postcard ends up in an overstuffed forgotten bin at the back a nondescript, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary antiques shop in Cold Spring? Is it that the people who might have held them close died too? Who finds a postcard and takes it to their nearest antiques shop? Is it possible to be unsentimental, not nostalgic, but generous all at once?
The last postcard I ever received was from a sort-of-ex three years ago. The front features a photograph of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. I can see now that it was simply a nice gesture, but back then, still hurt about how things ended, it misled me. I mistook it as a signal that we could rekindle whatever quasi-relationship we had. That only delayed me moving on and healing. I kept it because of the last few lines:
…you can read about it online, but it’s a garden made of bottles, bike wheels, pots that people have donated over time from across the world. And it reminded me of your identity as being from various places and how it all comes together to become a beautiful and intricate garden. So here’s this notebook to help you write and uncover more hidden gems and continue creating your garden.
I’ve never written in the notebook he sent and probably never will, but if I separate the scrawl on the card from the person I thought I loved then, the words help me think about my creative process.
The ride back to the city smelled like stale coffee and unopened emails. My (unfair) pet peeve while riding the Metro-North is any person who sits on the side of the aisle with a view of the Hudson only to ignore it for their phone screen. I always feel like I’m invading someone’s privacy on long train rides—I could hear every person’s conversation on the phone, could listen to their frustrations with a friend or lover on the other end while I rested my head on Angel in silence. It’s during quiet moments like that, my head carefully balanced on his shoulder, that I think I remember now, I love this person.
Here, we cross streets to avoid people, dodge dog poop, walk quickly under the Williamsburg Bridge to avoid foot traffic on Essex, curse the tracks rattling above us as the J/M/Z hops across the East River. We down strawberry shakes and milky bubble tea in a tiny basement level shop on East Broadway, watch as streetlights and the setting sun compete. It is that strange, in-between season: something like the tail end of summer mixed with an autumn that has second thoughts about showing up. It is not so cold that I have to keep my hands in my coat pockets and not so hot that it is uncomfortable holding Angel’s hand. The warmth of his hand is how I’ll measure the seasons.
Seasons change, I’ve been told, but change feels like too strong a word to describe what they actually do. Seasons slip, they slide, they settle into their own. They backtrack and reappear when we think they’ve gone for good. They cannot be hunted down, despite what #itsfallyall might have me believe.