by Ingrid Blaufarb Hughes
Just past the Bushkill Creek we turn off Route 209 and I lead Jay into the deep shade of sheltering trees to walk the gravel road I know by heart, every curve and ledge. This is the place I would trace in my mind before sleep during years when we couldn’t visit, the place we came back to from far-off countries or not so distant states, the place where we were together, parents and children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins.
It’s as if the land lies under a spell-—in fact a quirk of local history: the plan to dam the Delaware, the farms and woodlands taken, the houses knocked down and buried before the change in plan, the protected preserve left to go wild, named for the Delaware Water Gap fifteen miles downriver. There are no campsites here, no trail markers. A few local people know this way to the river, but right now it’s all ours.
The hill is smaller now; we’re up it in two minutes. Here Poppy’s black walnut trees—trunks straight and thick, disappearing into branches far overhead— still mark the edge of my grandparents’ garden. I see the beds of roses and lilies and the vegetable garden, where my grandmother bends to inspect her tomatoes. Jay can see only an impenetrable welter of young birch and tulip trees, dense brambles and brush. Deep in there my grandparents’ ashes feed the growth.
That’s where the house was, I say. Two of the great oaks by the turnaround still survive, while another has fallen, its roots a massive disk standing on edge, their tangle holding enough earth to nurture a few weeds. The dirt road off to the right, a shortcut to the Schoonover’s farm, has been swallowed up entirely.
We pass the ravine that dives down to the Delaware floodplain—the ravine I loved for its green depths, too steep and thorny to explore, then as now—and follow the road that goes over the Hogback. Poppy’s pine forest slopes down on our left, pine and oak and birch climb steeply to the right. Several hemlocks by the road and a low stone wall mark the site of the bungalow where my parents and siblings and I used to stay. We shared the house with a good sized black snake who made an occasional appearance in the living room. Here too there’s dense new growth, making it impossible to find the three trunked birch where my brothers had a tree house.
Down the hill again, I can just make out the tracks of gravel leading us to the river. A long field that I particularly loved used to lie on our left—an early stage forest now. In the woods along the drop-off to the flood plain, we look for the gravestones among the trees, lichened but still readable. Nineteenth century Schoonovers lie here.
The way to the river is waist high with hummocky grass, nettle and blackberry briars. I lead Jay instead through the pines, planted by Poppy for a tree farm before he found he loved the trees too much to cut them down. Here needles on the ground give us better footing. Then we have to brave the thicket, but by now I’m too excited to care about the prickers or even the poison ivy. We forge on, trampling ferns.
At the bend of the wide serene Delaware, under the great sycamores, I breathe in a deep content. I had thought to peel off my clothes and swim, to savor the muddy, rich scent of the backwater, the slow pull of the current, but even in my exalted state I can see the bank has become too steep, the earth too dry and loose to climb down or up.
All year I am grateful for this protected realm, amazed at our good fortune in the Eden we lost and regained even better—the towering old trees and new growth, the ravine and the river bank, all ours by right of loving them.
Some years my daughter or niece or brother joins our visit to Bushkill. Each year the young trees are taller and another giant has fallen. The pine woods host young hardwoods along their edges now. The walnut trees are holding. I’m seventy now: they will outlive me. My ashes will lie below them.
About the Author:
Losing Aaron, a memoir by Ingrid Blaufarb Hughes about her son, was published in 2016 by Irene Weinberger Books. Her poems and stories have appeared in many periodicals including Lilith, West Branch Review, Kalliope,Mudfish and The Massachusetts Review. She was born in London and grew up in Athens, Saigon, Singapore, and various parts of the US. As an adult she lived in New York, where she raised her children and taught English to immigrants and native New Yorkers at the City University of New York. She now lives in the Hudson Valley and is active in a peace and justice group there, Women in Black.