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by Maricia Mlynek


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A Toast To Rip Van Winkle

Four hundred years ago, explorer Henry Hudson made a voyage into uncharted waters. Today, the waters he sailed bear his name. In celebration of the anniversary of this adventurer, I trailed his course into the Catskill Mountains and along the Hudson River.


I wonder if old Henry Hudson started his trip with any trepidation. Did he double check his supplies, call out his crew, and meet with the cartographer? As Mellody (my partner in this trip) and I loaded the car for our 10-hour journey, I checked my list. All things were accounted for except the most important. I went through the list again--crew: check; supplies: check; map: ???). What? No map for a trip we had never taken? Calmly, my first mate told me confidently that a GPS was already placed in the front of our vehicle to give directions along the way.


Oh, no. I appreciate modern conveniences. I respect progress and inventions that make life easier, but I do not necessarily agree with them. Now, we face the age of a GPS instead of a map. I want the big sheet of crumpled paper. I want to be able to highlight, star, and circle places. I want to grumble about folding it and curse when it tears. I want to see the entire state of New York, not just the little screen of interstate I am currently driving. Yet, Mellody was firm. A GPS would be our guide, and I begrudgingly drove into the State of New York with the machine telling me when to take a break, how far to go before I turn, and how to take an alternative route.


What would Hudson think of such a contraption? I would hope that he, too, would scoff and take out his compass as a guide. Progress--that is what the modern minded say. As we drove into the Catskill Mountains, I imagined Hudson and his crewmen sailing the Half-Moon up a river into the unknown. How different is the region today? How much has changed? I would venture to say that almost everything has been transformed.


This beautiful picturesque area has become modernized, but it remains an area rich with history, culture, and legends. One well known legend from the Catskills is Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle.” As a child, this legend confused me. What was the lesson? Perhaps, Irving was warning against laziness or drinking with strangers. On this trip, I found a new meaning in an old legend.


As I looked again at the legend I had read many times before, I saw an entirely new tale being spun. Perhaps, the changes that would occur in the Hudson River Valley were more than Rip’s mind could handle. Thus, the ghost of Henry Hudson and his crew arrived in time to offer Rip an opportunity to sleep through the changes. When he awoke 20 years later, all was different.


The part I love the most is this, “The very village was altered; it was larger and more populous. There were rows of houses which he had never seen before, and those which had been his familiar haunts had disappeared. Strange names were over the doors--strange faces at the windows--every thing was strange. His mind now misgave him; he began to doubt whether both he and the world around him were not bewitched. Surely this was his native village, which he had left but the day before. There stood the Kaatskill mountains--there ran the silver Hudson at a distance--there was every hill and dale precisely as it had always been . . .”


All had changed. Yet, the mountains, river, hill and dale were precisely the same. I think that is the story of Rip Van Winkle and the Catskill Mountains. I think it is my story and your story, too. Things may change. Progress is inevitable. Maps may become GPS systems. We can sleep through it, fight it, or accept it, but in the end, we must keep our traditions and respect the legends.


Progress with preservation was the end result of this exploration. I accepted a GPS in the car, but I wished for the latitude and longitude of a map. I ended my trip with a toast to old Rip Van Winkle. Though, I did not wish to drink from his flagon. As I lay to sleep in the valley of the Hudson River, I listened for the sound of Henry and his crew’s nine pins over the sound of a fast paced world. I believe that I could hear them. Happy anniversary, Mr. Hudson, the Catskills are still as majestic as they were when your ale lulled Rip Van Winkle to sleep centuries ago.


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