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It's Nelly's World

Be Here Now

alec vanderboom

I live in history. I live in a place that is not the place you think. That is to say, I live in Woodstock. (All right, near Woodstock: the town that I live in is no town at all now, being located on the barren rocky floor of a New York City reservoir.) It has long called to artists; the picture here was taken in 1924, at one of the annual Maverick festivals held on social activist Hervey White's farm, to which he invited all sorts of outcasts and Greenwich Village "bohemians," who scandalized the local farmers.

It was just a place to which they came. They hardly knew, or chose, where exactly it was. It could have been a little farther into the Catskills, say Fleischmanns, for all they cared (it was not; later, that place would call to the Hasidim, who likewise scandalized the locals, but for different reasons). But it was a good place--the perfect place. All an artist needs is endless green views, miles of woods, a few hard hills to climb, and stuff to make costumes. Then bring on the wine.

Years later, and the musicians came. Notable among them was Bob Dylan, who brought mystery to Woodstock.

He was becoming famous, as was his destiny, if not his plan. He was often seen zipping around town, from and to his house in the Byrdcliffe artists colony, on his '64 Triumph T100. In July of 1966, he either did or did not crash said bike on Streibel Road. It's certainly a crashable road: it climbs steeply up from 212, Woodstock's main street, nearly opposite the Bearsville complex that housed Dylan manager Albert Grossman's recording studio, then Todd Rundgren's Utopia studio, and now a theater, radio station, and fancypants eatery at which all Woodstock society (read: New York City expatriates) comes to see and be seen. History rolls on, from the past directly into the present, merely changing casts.

The bike wreck may or may not have occurred; some have speculated it was a publicity ploy. At any rate, it didn't hurt Dylan much, even if it did crack a vertebra. He got famouser and famouser. Then he left Woodstock.

And then Woodstock left Woodstock. The famous music festival that bears its name was supposed to have happened here, but wasn't; it was about 66 miles distant. Perhaps this has saved the real Woodstock. Or perhaps not, since there probably wouldn't be this new generation of stoners hanging out on the village green, or shops selling tie-dye and candles and pipes (not to mention triple-milled soaps and cashmere sweaters) if the mistake weren't rather easy to make.

There aren't a whole lot of mavericks, or artists, in Woodstock anymore; it's too expensive. There are film people, and music industry people, and industry industry people, and their gorgeous modern houses up in the woods, or their gorgeous old farmhouses with beautiful and vast gardens in the valleys between peaks.

But it's become my town too, by accident. Or fortune. These are the same things, I believe. The town park is the ground that Nelly and I love best, of all places. There will never be a day, I hope, that I don't walk into the meadow and gasp at the sight of the mountains rising up on the other side of town, magisterial, implacable, eloquent in their silence. Then we turn and go into the woods. We are refreshed by the water of the creek; me, by its permanent flux, Nelly by the cool wet of it on her long tongue.

Woodstock is not my home--home is the place that grew me, the place that sent its minerals into my sap through the roots, the place that will never leave me though I have left it. It is always there, underneath, bedrock anchoring me. It is the place that I start breaking the speed limit as I approach on return, eager to see: as if I might turn the corner in my old neighborhood to catch sight of myself, riding fast down a brick-paved hill on Delaware Avenue on a green Raleigh, the English racer that long ago disappeared from the stairwell in another home, Brooklyn. It is the place that visits me, strangely, as I lie on my back on the sticky mat in yoga as the teacher intones "Peace in your hearts . . . " I see Ohio then. I feel Ohio then.

Woodstock is temporary. I walk its sidewalks in the footsteps of the departed, Dylan, and Hervey White before him, and a hundred others who have come and gone. It is home, for now. Maybe it will visit me, too, in years hence when I am told to not hold on to anything, to let it all go.

Going into town: this is a way of saying "rejoining society." When I need the feeling that I belong somewhere, to the strange tribe that has gathered to make something of our lives, I go now to Woodstock. It is a fine place. It is what I have been given.