[Years ago, my brother Pete and I, along with a friend or two, would perform an annual rite of spring– taking a long, pathless hike over the hills and thru the valleys linking the towns of Canisteo and Greenwood, NY. One year we invited our poet friend, Steve Lewandowski, to come along and be initiated. Steve eventually felt moved enough to write a short account of his adventure with us and, more recently, agreed to share his upland tale with the readers of this blog. The following account, then, written and forwarded by Stephen Lewandowski is (as he has stated elsewhere) “indebted in part to Peter Franklin who not only kept a journal of May 7, 1983 and shared it… but drew a map by hand of the Town of Greenwood with the streams and ridges named.”]
Walt and Peter Franklin and their friend Tim and I began in the early morning to walk from a bar in Canisteo to the Greenwood Hotel in Greenwood for a drink. The distance is twelve or fifteen miles.
We meant to start out with a drink and found Orville’s bar in Canisteo open at 7:15 am. Actually I think it wasn’t so much open as being cleaned out. But anyway, the door was open and we walked in on the surprised owner, had our ritualistic beer, played a game of pool and set out. We walked out of the Village of Canisteo past the school and through the cemetary and the living sign made of yew on the hillside. It says “Canisteo.” By the time we had walked that far, the beer was beginning to work its way out, so we paused gratefully among the giant, sheltering letters.
We walked to the west of Bennett’s Creek as it parallels New York State Route 248 in the Towns of Canisteo and Greenwood. Instead of following the creek or road, we went through the hills. We crossed five ridges, including Purdy Hill and Call Hill (2401′ above sea level) of about seven to nine hundred feet “lift” each above the valley floor.
We crossed the tributary streams flowing east to Bennett’s Creek, which in turn flows north to join the Canisteo River then flowing east to join the Chemung which, many miles east, becomes the North Branch of the Susquehanna. In other words, we were fording the headwaters of the Susquehanna in country where its name is almost unknown.
Like the bear, we went over the mountain “to see what we could see.” Mostly we saw the tail end of each other scrambling madly for footing either up or down a ridge or splashing through a creek. When we had the smallest moment of respite, we also saw spring wild flowers– spring beauty, hepatica, dutchman’s breeches, cranesbill, trout lily, and trillium– and heard and saw birds– warblers, thrushes, sparrows, towhees, and an oriole. I only remember taking one real break, which was for lunch, and I was so tired by then that I had an eerie feeling watching the clouds drift effortlessly over the territory that we had crossed with such effort.
The others had made this walk before, but it was my first time. We went through Bear Lick Hollow, over Purdy Creek, across Fall Creek, over Call Hill, pausing for lunch, crossed Sugar Creek, Slate Creek and Slate Creek Road, through Erskine Hollow to Rock Creek, along Rock Creek to Brown Hollow, along the Hollow Road to Greenwood Hill and a piney state forest from which we descended in the late afternoon to the Greenwood Hotel situated in Cole Hollow.
When we set out, we intended to walk all the way to Walt’s house in Christian or Bootleg Hollow, over one more ridge to the south, but my legs were shot. From the bar, over renewed provisions of beer and wings, we called Walt’s wife, Leighanne, to pick us up. Someone in the group toted up our scramble– 4320′ of ascent and 3700′ descent– on a bar napkin.
I’d been invited to a party that night at the studio and home of a sculptor in Scottsville, so I got my car from Walt & Leighanne’s house where I’d left it and drove to Scottsville. The party was in one big room that served as the sculptor’s studio, and in one corner of the room was a bed. Probably the sculptor used that bed when tuckered out from sculpting but for the evening it was being used to hold the pile of coats from fifty or sixty guests.
I talked and drank and ate. After a while, I went into the corner where the bed was and sat on the floor and talked some more. Then I sat on the bed and ate some dessert. Then I leaned back on the bed for just a moment of rest.
When I woke up, there were three or four guests left, the party debris had been all cleaned up and the coats were all gone from the bed. I told them about my walk earlier in the day, put on my coat (it was chilly) and drove home.