Queen of Upstate New York for a Day

Without really intending to, I was slowly wending my way through New England, and now it was upstate New York's turn. Fresh from the ocean scented realms of Byfield, Massachusetts, I drove due west on the uninteresting Massachusetts Turnpike, eventually turning south just in time to enter upstate New York north of Poughkeepsie.  Happily, when I exited the toll road and started down the two lane byways of the upper Hudson River valley, the needle on the scenery gauge shot way over to the right.

Seeing as how it was Sunday afternoon, it wasn't long before I found myself trailing a large pack of burly weekend bikers, reproducing their swoops as they wove back and forth, back and forth along the hilly country highways.

An extensive installation of shiny metal sculptures suddenly popped up on the roadside, and it was compelling enough to trigger my  turn-back-and-check-it-out response. As I meandered about the sprawling grounds of artist Bijan Mahmoodi's Circle Museum Sculpture Park, my focus quickly shifted from the art itself to the remarkable quality of the salvaged materials used in the pieces.  Bijan has a good eye for the attractiveness of junk and the things he's chosen to include really bump his sculptures up a notch.

I began to encounter the peas from a pod of puerile bikers who had stopped at the same time I did. They were busy mounting what I'm sure they thought was a hilarious running commentary in stage voices so loud as to be inevitable.  One fellow was apparently the Benny Hill of the group and managed to orchestrate a few lewd pictures before the whole lot of them hopped back on their bikes and went roaring off.
I noticed that Bijan had retreated to his studio shortly before the bikers had reached their height of hilarity, but when the dust from their abrupt departure had begun to settle, he reappeared and we sat down to chat a bit about welding.  Geeks like us never tire of talking about metal, it seems.

I really liked these galvanized trash can flowers Bijan made - great use of materials:  

Before the afternoon got away from me, I bid Bijan adieu and head off toward the town of Millbrook where I'd be spending the night at a place called Wing's Castle.  I wanted to leave myself plenty of time to have a good look around and take a nice long swim in the moat before retiring to the dungeon. I zoomed along a series of winding country lanes that threaded through forests and pastures, passing every now and then through a tiny township and occasionally running alongside a mossy green lake.

After turning off at one of the bends in the road and passing through a portal of greenery, I found myself at the foot of a tall rocky tower that stood sentinel high above the sweeping hillsides that cascaded gracefully down to the Hudson River. I feel certain I must have gasped out loud.

One of the first things that hit me as my eyes took in the castle's turrets and stairways and crenelated walls and pointed roofs was the sheer enormity of moving so damn many rocks from one place to another. I'd venture to say that no two rocks in the entire complex are the exact same size and each one has had to be carefully fitted to its neighbors, stone by distinctive stone.  The next thing that hit me was how much charm and beauty every single line of the castle is imbued with.
Artist Peter Wing is definitely not afraid of making things round or curved and the resulting geometry is extremely organic and pleasing.  In fact, in mulling it over, I decided the entire place is a truly magnificent love poem to the serpentine. It's sometimes expressed in verses as obvious as the numerous Gaudi-inspired serpent walls and it's sometimes expressed in verses as subtle as the superb undulations of the ornate iron railings that grace the entire property. But one way or another Peter and Toni have not only mastered the art of articulating the curve, they've created a whole epic poem celebrating it.

Construction of the castle began in 1970 when Peter Wing returned to the family dairy farm after serving in Viet Nam.  He soon married Toni and the two of them began working on an extraordinary art project that after 44 years is still going strong.  Fortunately for me, the Wings rent out several of the castle's rooms, which generously allows others to share in the fantasy of living in a better-than-fairytale castle, albeit for only a night or two.

After skillfully navigating the difficult reef of special social skills required to deal with hard core Yankee folk (I'm sure they dread dealing with Southerners just as much), I unloaded my suitcases into my way-cool room, grabbed the camera and dashed out the door to start exploring. There were so many fascinating things to behold!  It wasn't very long, however, before the aqua blue water of the moat pool sang its siren song and induced me to change into my bathing suit.  I had to ease myself inch-by-inch into the chilly water, but I was bound and determined to take advantage of such a fantastic swimming opportunity while I was able. And anyway it was just fine once I swam a few laps back and forth through the tunnel. The best part of the swim was that it made me feel like I was about 12 again.

I returned to the dungeon to dry off my carcass and organize myself to take a few more pictures before dark.  As I was poking around the grounds waiting for the sun to drop below the horizon, I found lots and lots of fascinating little nooks and crannies to explore.


As I climbed up and down spiral stairways and found chambers I hadn't yet discovered, it amazed me how much of it I'd simply failed to detect the first time around.  There's so much packed into every square foot of the castle!  From the corner of my eye, I finally detected the sunset portent I'd been waiting for: every single blade of vegetation touched by the sunlight was suddenly outlined in luminous gold. I quickly made my way to a semi-circle of steles that sit at the hill's crest. They come together to form a powerful place awash in grandeur, perspective and quietude, and an excellent vantage point from which to view the velvet tapestry of the purpling plains.  I sat contentedly and watched the oldest show in the world as the sun sank swiftly beneath the mountain tops, leaving a widely diffused wake of glowing orange in its path.  

When at last the light had receded, rendering the landscape completely featureless, I walked back up the short path toward the glowing yellow portal of light and stone that marked the entrance to my dungeon bower.

The crickets and frogs had already begun a haphazard duet and the newly darkened sidereal canvas above my head was sparkling with points of starlight.  I left the huge heavy stained glass window at the head of my bed open when I turned out the lights, so I could listen to the sounds of the cool summer night.  My final thought before dropping off to sleep was, "Man, I hope my handmaiden remembered to program the espresso machine before she went to bed. I'm just sayin', Don't be making me wait for my LA-tay, girl!"

No comments: