Descent into Keene Valley – 1990


There are times and places that float like a mist in the border country of my memory. If I try to focus my mind on them, they slip away like fog, leaving behind scraps of scenes that could be either dreams, or memory. Try to pin them down, and they disappear only to reappear later, in the periphery of my vision, when the seasons change and my senses recognize a forgotten scent. Then the mist creeps back into the corners of my consciousness, and I remember.

I had made the drive down to rural Hartford, from our apartment in the country that morning, jacked up on cheap coffee, replaying over in my mind how I would answer their questions, and sell myself. With sweaty palms the drive seemed to take forever, but I made it in time for the afternoon interview. This was my third round of interviews with ABB Combustion Engineering and it would all be made, or broken by this trip. I needed this job badly, before graduation dumped me into the back bedroom of 20 Prospect, over educated, under employed, and awash in debt.

The interviews had ended well, but late. I took my suit coat off, and loosened my tie, not wanting to let the feeling go. Alone, in a strange city, with nothing but my car, and a briefcase full of empty notebooks, and corporate brochures, I felt so grown up. No, I wanted to savor this feeling of freedom.

I climbed back into the car, and began the four hour drive back to Potsdam. It was the middle of the week, and I had blown off class to make the interview. Winter was ending in Connecticut, and already the brown grass was showing through the scraps of snow around the office parks. If all went well, I could be back in her room by 9 o’clock. She would want to know everything about the interview, what they asked me, what the position offered. I couldn’t wait to tell her.

Traffic was flowing fine all the way up I91 to Springfield, where I pulled onto the Massachusetts Turnpike and headed west. By the time I reached Albany, and turned onto the Northway, the sun had already set. Traffic thinned as I got north of Glens Falls and the highway began climbing into the edges of the Adirondacks. Just tractor-trailers, and myself, climbing and descending the hills, playing leapfrog on our way North.

Exiting the Northway, onto US 9, I left even the trucks behind, and turned up and into the mountains. When US 9 turned off towards Elizabethtown I continued on to NY 73, and the trees closed in on the sides of the road, until only a tunnel of pines remained. The banks of snow rose like hay bales along the shoulder. The road narrowed, but I only drove faster. It was past 7 o’clock, and I had the road to myself. The little 2.2 liter engine in the Plymouth strained on the climb, but I wouldn’t let up. I knew she was waiting.
Hwy 73 near Lake Placid

Through the heart of the High Peaks and the winter desolation, I kept on the gas. Husker Du was blaring inside the car, but outside only the silent trees saw me pass. I was driving too fast, and I knew it. One patch of ice, one deer in the road, one misjudgment of a curve, and all could have been lost in darkness, and ice, but there was no thought of slowing down. I threw the car into the turns, and downshifted on the descent to save the brakes. When the road straightened I jumped back on the throttle and accelerated over the frost heaves, the car leaping forward into the small cone of light in front of me.

Down into Lake Placid, and on through the slow, sleepy, towns of Saranac Lake, and Tupper Lake, I caught my breath. When I turned onto 56 to follow the Racquette River out of the mountains and back across the blue line, the race resumed, but the adrenalin had faded. Around 9 o’clock I pulled into the parking lot outside her dorm. The lights from inside glowed like gold. Stepping from the humid warmth of the car, my breath billowed like fog in front of my face. I put on my coat, and stepped forward toward the lights.

Clarkson in Winter

To run like a deer over the frozen landscape, chased by the wolves of doubt. To step out into the clearing, with your breath billowing before you, was a primal sense of being alive. Standing outside of her dorm that night I didn’t know what stood waiting in the dark around the next bend. Looking back now through the shifting fog of memory, I realize for the first time that I didn’t care.

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16 thoughts on “Descent into Keene Valley – 1990

  1. How is it that you were so incredibly mature and responsible before even graduating college? In an alternate universe during the same time period I was running naked through the quad screaming before starting a small fire in the woods and dancing around it braying like a donkey.
    All I wanted to do at that age was live on a commune that employed the barter system (hey here’s 2 homegrown tomatoes for that hat!)and travel on a tour bus with glitter soaked rock stars. Had I taken a few lessons from you I could have saved my knees, fattened my IRA and had a spa bathroom right now.

    • There’s a very simple answer to why I seem so mature, and lovable in my stories. I write them.

      I just hope she doesn’t have a blog with her version of events.

  2. Good thing your writing warms me, your pictures freeze me to death.

    Point of note, stepping from the humid warmth of ones car out into the cold where you can see your breath as if it were fog….makes me shout, “Great Jupiter’s Cock, it’s cold out here!!” Just needed to get that off my chest.

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