I was not yet seventeen when I first met Richard in 1968 at Emerson college in Boston. Our first summer together we spent hours by the Sawkill, enjoying the secluded chamber concerts of Water Music. It was a perfect spot for romantic trysts. Rocks were moved, dams were built, and the fascination of channeling insistently moving water remained as engaging as I remembered it from my childhood. Later, he had permission to pitch a tent in the small woods and the Sawkill became his gurgling tentmate, until the constant rains later that season caused mold to sprout on everything he owned. He abandoned camp and joined me in my mother’s cabin studio, working as a carpenter by day.
When Richard and I married, visiting my family in the summers also meant spending time by the stream. We would bring our friends with us and there are photographs of all of our young wet glistening bodies as together we created the best swimming hole ever. Years later, when we bought an old farmhouse across the Hudson River from Woodstock, we brought our two daughters to the stream. By then my mother and her sister had inherited the Shady house. Squeals of delight resounded up and down the Sawkill as the girls and their friends enjoyed the delights of cold water on hot summer days. More toes were nibbled, more Indian paint applied, more efts were found and released, and the next generation absorbed the pleasures of a wild Catskill mountain stream.
Over time, it was not only the stream bed that changed. The small Shady house was sold a few years after my mother died. It was a hard loss for me and Richard. As a willing part time caretaker of my grandparents, he had often worked on the old cottage. More than the sadness of losing the house, was the stinging loss of free access to the stream that held so many sweet memories of our lives together and joyful periods of my childhood and that of our daughters.
The last twenty-five years of our marriage were spent on sixty acres that Richard and I bought in Bearsville, another hamlet of Woodstock. The only thing I truly desired when we searched for a suitable place to build a home, was that the land should have some kind of water on it. I don’t think I understood at the time just how deeply imprinted I was by the Sawkill, that it meant Home to me.
Our Bearsville property fit my ideal beautifully. Sourced above our land on the shoulder of John’s Mountain, was a small seasonal creek locally named Bearpaw Creek. There was a broad forty-foot wide shale cliff maybe twenty feet high over which the creek poured down, creating a two-pronged waterfall. During the spring and fall rains, water gushed with impressive force and in the dry summer, trickles would meander under the rocks and sink into the streambed only to reappear near springs that dripped along green beards of moss hanging from the cliff face. Winter temperatures froze all action and covered the cliff with solid ice curtains of rippling blue, glinting in the sun.
When Richard was diagnosed with cancer in October of 2016 and we understood how ill he was, we sold our sheep and horses and fostered our last dog to dear friends. We put our mountaintop home up for sale and rented a house closer to the flatlands of the village of Woodstock as more accessible to caring friends and family. In fact, the house stood just off the small country highway a few miles from my grandparents’ Shady home. Though it was not visible from this rental, that last fall of Richard’s life we took comfort in listening to the Sawkill from across the road. A quarter mile away was the Bearsville Post Office where we got our mail. There it was again, across the road, rushing impetuously under a bridge on its’ way to Woodstock.
When asked, Richard said he had no opinion about where he wanted his ashes to go after his death. “It is for you to care about, my love, as it will not matter to me.” That striking moment when my daughters and I finally held a box of dusty human remains, Richard’s remains, we gave some to his two brothers and saved a pinch for undecided future destinations. The majority we took to a low spot off the road, on the border between Bearsville and Shady. The Sawkill lay broad and flat there, and we found it an easy walk along a shallow bank to a rock extending into the main current of the stream. We three bent down together, saying part of a poem I had written, and Richard had once recorded, which we had played at his memorial. Half laughing and half crying good-bye, we tumbled the sterile crumbling dust out into the cold water for his final earthly trip down the Sawkill to the sea.