This is Real
Looking Up and Looking Down in an Adirondacks Autumn
Welcome to my substack #10, written in reflection of my 4-week residency at the Blue Mountain Residency in October. Soundtrack to this post: Aesthetic Playlist
1. Driving into the Adirondacks feels unreal. It is October 1st and the hills lining both sides of the small winding road are covered in fading green leaves of Birch, Maple, and Beech, fighting for the green. It feels a little bit like traveling back in time – strip malls and cookie cutter suburban tract homes give way to shaky cabins and teetering shacks. Slowly, gazebos appear that look like they belonged on Gilmore Girls and marketplaces that are shiplapped with weather worn wood line the road. Tiny churches made of granite, stained glass and actual steeples. The rest stop with the bathroom and vending machines on the way has a sign that states this is where the battle of Saratoga in 1777 occurred. Our car hits a bizarre traffic jam in the town hosting middle of the World’s Largest Garage Sale. It lasts for miles until it gives way to forests again. As we drive deeper into trees on long stretches of nothing along the Hudson River, we see large chairs alongside the road, giving us the impression that not only were we going back in time, but we were shrinking in size. I wonder if it’s because Adirondack chairs came from the Adirondack, except, this chair we passed was more like a ten foot tall dining chair. The more north we go, the pinker the sky became and the redder the leaves on the trees – by the time we reach Blue Mountain Lake, the trees are bejeweled. This is to be home for the next month.
2. It is a dizzying otherworldly arrival, and I can’t tell if it is because my glasses were fogging and I am breathing through a mask, or if my motion sickness makes standing still feel like I am swimming through a vortex. The last of the forever pink sunset has just faded. I have a hard time focusing and I feel unmoored. It could have been not eating all day or that the energy of this place rocks me. I wonder if there are laylines over this point on the globe. It couldn’t be Covid, I tell myself – I have been safe. I think of how out of place I feel, showing up late and last to this otherworldly place. I wonder if the other participants could tell by looking at me how I was feeling inside.
3. The participants wonder if it was my first time experiencing autumn, ever – me, acting like an awestruck Angeleno of all the littlest autumn experiences. Of course, I had experienced fall before – when we lived in Chattanooga, my parents would drive us through the Appalachian Mountains to see orange treelined rapids. As DC Yuppie, I saw the leaves change color around surrounding the national monuments. I had even visited Upstate New York before - Ithaca, NY when i was dating a boy who went to Cornell and we would walk to look at the gorges. But fall in the heart of the Adirondacks is kind of where the whole idea of autumn originated from, you know? It was different, deep, isolated, and authentic. It was quick.
4. Looking up on clear nights, I am able to spot the Milky Way immediately. It sweeps across bright, like a wash of transparent platinum white paint. After dinner, clouds permitting, I run down to the dock to sit and look down at the reflections of the stars in the glassy water. It is like a mirror, so impossibly flat. In the sky, I can’t find the Big Dipper. This is unfathomable to me, but I guess I have never ventured so far north before. Instead, the constellation in the night sky that shows up for us is Casseopia – that zig zag constellation – right at the center of the sky. I catch the tail end of two shooting stars as I lay back on the dock and stare up at the sky.
5. Looking down on the volcanic gravel lining the paths between the cottages and studio, red glints up at me. Garnets, I soon discover. The rocks were mined from a nearby old garnet mine. I start looking intensely at the road as I walk to the art studio, picking up whatever red rock I find. Sometimes, I sit to the ground, and just sift through the rocks on the road for an hour – momentarily wondering how silly I look but then reminding myself I am at an art colony where artists are expected to be weirdos. Garnets are the crystal of fire, passion, creativity and strength. Garnets can help you begin increasing movement and vibration inside your body. They can also be used to give you more confident in your artistic, self-expressive activities. How magical that our paths at this place is energized with such magic. By the month’s end, garnets line all the pockets of my jackets and sweats. People ask if I am collecting them for art – but I am just collecting them for collection sake. I glue garnets into the vein of a heart I painted and wonder if this was symbolic of a heart hardening inside-out or just a heart ablaze in fiery passion.
6. Looking up, the tall leaves of the trees rustle in red, orange, and yellow. The grass is still green, and on a particularly windy day, the leaves come down in waves. I heard that catching a leaf is good luck – easy, I think, but the wind moves them erratically. I chase the falling leaves with the camera on my phone, and it never looks the way it does with my eyes. Two weeks in, there is a torrential downpour, and the next morning, all the trees are bare. Time moves fast when trees turn red and leaves fall in the span of two weeks. How do locals not feel a sense of dread when time turns so quickly? The visual representation of time passing is so stressful.
7. As we walk on the property by the pond, it smells like Thanksgiving. Looking down, it is thyme activated underfoot. This herb that in California cost $2.99 a bunch just grows wild out here. Suddenly, the imagined Americana I am told of makes more sense. The taste of concord grapes like that of grape cough syrup or bubble gum. Apples cider and apple pie. Steamy lakes being creepy. Taste of maple harvested from maple trees. Oranges as Christmas stocking stuffers. Smurfs and Chip’n Dales. Casseroles. Galoshes. Wool blankets and their lack of washing. Exotica Americana.
8. It is so still and quiet, that we can hear the tour guide out on the boat as we sit on the dock reading. We look up, but not directly, side-eyeing each other as we eavesdrop on the tour guide. Leaf Peeping tourists, I assume. He points at the gray cottage I am staying at, saying it was built by the family members who wanted a place to be nudists freely. The staff of the residency say it is a lie, but I wonder if the ghosts of the gray cottage are upset with my presence because I wasn’t nude enough. It is too cold for nudity in the Adirondacks. Or maybe they are upset that I rearranged the books on the shelf by color the first night in my room. Either way, the light bulb blew out early on and the curtain fallen unexpectedly.
9. I thought the way Instagram’s Black Forager would casually find mushrooms was manufactured for the ‘gram. I am thus surprised, when on my walks in the paths mushrooms abound so casually. Looking down, in the grass, on tree stumps, hidden and visible, they are everywhere. By my third day, I discover white puffballs, purple and yellow coral, bear head tooth, parasols, and chanterelles. I learn about veils, caps, gills and sponges. Mushrooms also have vulvas (volvas), did you know? I collect the fruits in my pockets, knowing that they are talking to each other about me through their wide underground network.
10. I hear the sound of squawking and look up – Canadian Geese in a V-formation flying across the sky and South. Makes sense here, so close to Canada. More sense, at least, than the mess created by the geese around Echo Park Lake year round in Los Angeles.
11. Looking down at the pile of wood, I’ve become an expert at picking out the right wood for a slow burning fire in the fireplace of my cottage. The pages of the New York Times are best for a quick burn and the birch bark best for sustained fire to light the moist wood of the North East. Going to sleep with the red embers crackling is a mood.
12. The roar of the sea plane over head implores me to look up. I had never seen a plane without wheels from underneath before.
13. The rustling of a chipmunks as it hops implores me to look down. Cartoon-like, but this is what the cartoons must based on.
14. Looking up at the rain falling, I have an urgency to write about this downpour that is not a monsoon. It is is a different kind of pour. Writing about rain is my Bengali birthright, like writing about fish and ponds and deltas.
15. Looking down for moose tracks in the mud, wondering if the dog prints were bear claws.
16. Looking up being woken up by the pink sunrise through my east facing window, after the rains.
17. Looking down at the clear water from the canoe, so clear the roots of the water lilies clinging to earth below are visible.
18. Looking up to steam coming off the water in cold morning air like we were in a horror movie. The steam fog a result of the air being so cold that the warm water isn’t able to catch up. The lake reflection giving the impression as we sit on the dock that we are floating in the center of a cloud.
19. Looking down at the water from the boathouse, like a strip of glittering shimmer when the wind hits the lake in waves.
20. Looking up because I think I hear a sound in the woods while walking alone in the forest. Is it a bear? Or the sound of a leaf falling? The dangerous thrill of uncertainty in solitude.
21. On one of our first nights there, we start talking about dreams. How we are dreaming in this place and how we could control dreams. How powerful our dreams are and how we can lucid dream. The next night, the collagist hands out miniature paintings that say “This Is Real” to help us in our lucid dreaming – you put the card in a visible place, and look for it in your dream. If you didn’t see it, it meant you were dreaming. I place mine on a table by the bed. We place extra cards all around the property. “This Is Real” becomes our groups mantra, moving beyond dreams and into the reality of living in a dreamlike place.
22. October is my month of insomnia and dreaming hard. The psychic once told me it was because my body was experiencing seasonal change. Here, I dream of familial rage, and flirting with old lovers, and ghosts stealing books. My notebook for the month are filled with dream scratches. I am a restless sleeper with nightly allergy attacks and nightmares I do not lucid dream this month, but am waken by dreams. We eventually meet each other in our dreams, our lives are so intertwined.
23. After four weeks, I’m back in Los Angeles, and the month in the forest truly feels like a dream. I didn’t write as much as I had hoped. But I finished a chapter, outlined a book, and started a new painting series. I read books and audiobooked more. But what I really did was just be present and grounded and see life around me exist. I let my mind wander and got bored to the point of dreaming and imagining. We made our dreams real. It was all real. But it all feels like a dream.