Fifty Years of Justine and Susun
Back to the Catskills. Back to Woodstock. Back to the place on the planet where I belonged. Justine and I packed our belongings and got back on the road. The road east, from Vancouver to Toronto, and then east through New York and finally south, to the mountains, to Woodstock.
We got up every morning and made breakfast in the Land Rover kitchen, then closed the top, and drove, with stretch breaks, until dinner. I would turn off the main road onto a road between towns and follow that to smaller and smaller roads until I was off the road, in the forest, if possible, by a stream. I would “pop” the top, make dinner, feed Justine, and throw up. I was “widowed” and had never driven so far alone in my life. Justine and I would look at the stars, then make our beds, pull the covers up and sleep.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. For more than a week. Until, at last, we were . . . where? Yes, in New York. Yes, in the Catskills. Yes, in Woodstock. But not really home, for we had no home except the Land Rover. We stayed with friends until, hitching to town one day, I met Aaron van de Bogart, the third, forest ranger and naturalist, who took a liking to Justine and I and offered to rent me his Quonset hut at a price I could afford.
1973: Quonset hut home with hobby horse: Somehow the transition to sleeping in one place every night was easier because our house didn’t look like a house. It was metal and the walls curved. I felt safe, secure, protected, even though I was alone and terrified much of the time. I enrolled Justine in elementary school, started a garden, and went looking for work.
1973: Walking in Willow: Because Aaron, like myself, was most at home in nature, his hut was at the end of a dead-end road in the small community of Willow, surrounded by forest and fields returning to forest. My job search showed me the truth: I was expected to work to make enough money to pay another woman to take care of my child while I was away. I have never chosen to live second hand, and I didn’t want it now, either. So I applied to receive welfare, and stayed home with Justine. Whenever she didn’t want to go to school, we would find lots of places to walk to and things to learn about. Here we are with a therapist who helped me get through these difficult days.
1973: Willow woods: You can just make out the edge of the stream that ran behind the Quonset hut. It was a favorite place for Justine and I to find solace. I see so many spirit guides in this photo, swirling like a mist around us. When Justine was at school, I got out my canvas, brushes and paints, my rapidograph pens and heavy paper and made art. One day I folded an unmounted canvas that I had squeezed paint onto and moved the hidden paint with my fingers. When I opened it, a spirit guide was looking at me. I did another and another and another. It was better than a box of chocolates, finding all those spirits looking out at me every time I opened a canvas that I had touched.
1973: Justine in Willow: It was a glorious time for Justine. She had my full attention. We cooked together. We made art together. We baked bread together. We explored nature together. Not many months after this picture was taken, we were knee deep in wild strawberries, laughing our heads off at the sheer abundance and beauty of Nature. We were acolytes of Artemis, wild women, running.
1973: Justine in Willow: It was a horrible time for Justine. Her father was gone. She didn’t like school. I was struggling to find myself. My dreams were of being a passenger in a driverless car. Then, when I finally got myself in the driver’s seat, the car would only go in reverse . . . up trees! I had stopped throwing up every day, but I often cried myself to sleep. Justine reverted to behaviors she had long outgrown. We clung to each other.
1973: Susun, Justine, the Land Rover, and Aarons’s snowmobile: Aaron and his wife Jane took an avuncular interest in Justine and me and would visit us regularly. Aaron showed me where hundred-year-old Catskill ginseng hid and taught me from his vast store of natural knowledge. Slowly, but surely, the plants healed me. And I returned the favor by teaching others about green blessings.
1973: Justine’s hand-made house: Since every child needs a club house, Justine was encouraged to learn building skills. Here is her lean-to hideaway. It is made of found materials, with some strategic help from Aaron in the planning and much help from me in the construction stages. Building a house is a really good way to rebuild yourself when life has dumped you in the street. With each board, Justine proclaimed her place in the world.
1976: My hand-made house: A few years later, I remembered what Justine had done and built my own house, but more on that later.