Fifty Years of Justine and Susun
My apartment on Avenue A was called “Paradise Alley,” but it was at our farm in Delhi, deep in the Catskills, at the end of a dead-end road, where I truly found paradise. Life, however, had other plans for me.
I awoke one morning with a gun against my head and a large, ugly man saying: “Get out of bed now!” We were being arrested. And searched. The police took axes to the walls of my home, tossed all my food on the kitchen floor, ripped up my library, destroyed my clothes, and – in short – made a total mess of my home. Not to mention reawakening the trauma of being roused by violent police just a few years before.
I could not get it together afterwards. When we were finally released on bail and returned home, I just sat there and cried. I couldn’t make a meal for my family or put clothes on them. I was fine in the barn, fine in the forest, fine on the tractor, fine anywhere except in my home or in my bed, where I could only cry with frustration and loss.
We did the only thing we could envision: We sold our beautiful farm and bought a Land-Rover caravan and went on the road. For the next two years I did not sleep in the same spot twice unless we were fifty miles or more from human habitations.
1971: Susun’s sister, before: While we were at our farm, my sister came to visit, and decided to drop out of college and stay. Her husband joined her. And they conceived a child. It was her husband’s careless stupidity that brought the police down on us, nonetheless, we all went on the road together. My sister, like myself, wanted a natural birth. So the two of us studied midwifery manuals meant for women in isolated places, without recourse to hospitals, and found a beautiful spot by a waterfall to settle in and await the imminent birth.
1971: Susun’s sister, after: With labor well under way, we sent the menfolk out to search for something we devised as necessary. It was a very, very long drive to the nearest town, and by the time they returned, our new addition was nursing and the “mess” had been cleared away. Once again, life had plans for us, and within an hour of the birth, we were told we had to leave our pocket paradise. The new mom wanted ice cream, so off we went to get her some! Imagine the look on the face of the teenaged server who, when he asked how old the baby was, was told: one hour!
1972: Justine on the road: Our trusty Land Rover caravan allowed us to tour the wilder places of North America, visiting National Parks and following dirt roads for hundreds of miles through magnificent mountains and around canyons. We spent a lot of time in Western Canada – ferrying up the coast, dipping into the Okenogan, getting snowed in in Banff, seeing moose next to us when we awoke. And we spent a lot of time in the Four Corners region of the USA. Here is Justine, perhaps just before we walked down the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon, or on our way to Zion, or after our time at Bryce.
1971: Our Land Rover home: With a pop-up top, fold-down seats that slept four, and an onboard kitchen, our Land Rover caravan was a sung, secure, and portable home. We installed a winch, which we used repeatedly to get ourselves out of swamps, snow, and sand. Our vehicle/home was designed for rough use, and we gave it that, and then some. There was the day we awoke in the Rocky Mountains literally buried under six feet of fresh snow. . . and without a shovel. Plenty of trees to attach our winch to, once we got to it! Those were magnificent years. On the road. Open road ahead and nowhere we had to be.
1973: Land Rover garaged in the Catskills at the Quonset hut: The road was winding; the road was straight. We were well on the way to becoming Canadians, with no intention of returning to the States. But Justine’s dad wanted one last visit with his mom in Los Angeles. From there, we drove to Santa Barbara, on our way north, to have dinner with friends. And found ourselves in jail, part of a roundup focused on our friend’s block. Did I mention we had jumped bail and had not returned for our court dates? Now the gig was up. Justine’s dad was about to spend many years in Federal prisons. I got in the Land Rover, a single mom, and drove north to British Columbia to pack our possessions and get back on the road, this time with a goal: Back to the Catskills.