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A Strange Way

I promised Park Police Officer Terry Fee that I would write a letter to both New York State Governor, Kathy Hochul,  and the Commissioner of New York State Parks, Erik Kulleseid, but it’s hard to do that without revealing myself to be a total twat, barely better than the cabin campers who gave me an opportunity to manifest as a wise and compassionate Saint from Taughannock Park’s tent camping populace, an opportunity I failed.

When Officer Fee biked up to my campsite the night after the Cabin Kegger that I’m going to tell you about, she told me that there are no actual officers in the Park Police building and that she had gotten my story from the dispatcher I had spoken with.  Furthermore, she said, there are no actual officers in the park at night. There are only two Park Police officers anyway; and at night they are at Treman, 12 miles away. This is the result of Governor Cuomo’s decision that Park Police aren’t important and that everything they do can be done equally well by State Troopers. Can the State Troopers evict a camper from the park, I wonder? Because when the first distraught tent campers called the Park Police around 11 and again around midnight, the dispatcher sent the Troopers, who drove over there, wagged (presumably) their fingers, and drove away, clapping themselves on the back. The Navigator and I heard the revelry start up again each time after 15-minute lags, and it was pretty clear that the shot-pounding, huzzah-counting partygoers over at the cabins gave no fucks about other people’s situations. They could not see us, therefore we did not exist.

At 12:30 AM, armed with my frustration, I put on my sandals and headlamp, zipped myself outside our Hubba Hubba(™) and headed onto the service path down to Highway 89. I marched up the hill like General Sullivan against the Gayogohono, a parallel that sickens me, but truth be told I was the personification of the urge to destroy. I clambered up the beautiful, wooden Public Works Administration-era staircase to the cabins and emerged at the lightbulb-festooned central cabin, brandishing my head lamp. If there had been good music, it would have been Michael Abels’ “Run,” but as it was there was only the cabin people’s shitty music, something by Justin Bieber, I think. I scanned through the group of 30 or so can and paper-cup wielding miscreants. Someone said, “Get your light out of my eyes.”

 “You don’t like my light,” I hissed, “I don’t like your noise.” Then I called them some names. I was shaking, my voice was a little hoarse, but I didn’t want it to be so loud that the Navigator could hear me back in the tent. I let them know how every single tent camper was intimately aware that they had among them a fellow who could drink beer while they all counted 30, and that we all hated that person and them. That it was time for them, [expletives], to shut the [expletive] up. One of the young men started telling me that he’d “heard” me and he wanted to tell me all about what he called “their celebration of life.” I demurred. I made my lack of interest clear. He kept after me as I stalked off. I ordered him to not follow me. He said, “But my cabin’s over there,” pointing in the direction I was going. I turned my headlamp flat against my stomach. “Well, you’re not using my light,” I said.

It took me a while to calm down and go to sleep once I got back in my tent. I felt awful. On the other hand, the cabin people had gone to bed too, so my insomnia was all my own.

The next afternoon, while I waded in the lake watching the Navigator’s beautiful swimming, a woman with short purple hair about the age of my daughter, if I had ever had a daughter, came and stood by me. We chatted for a while about the beautiful day, the perfect water, and the park. I told her how I loved the hoot owls and the ospreys. I waxed a bit about the Rim Trail. She told me that her father had built many of the wooden park structures  back in the days of the WPA, and that she came here every year with her family. Two women with colorfully punky hair, we talked a bit about Burning Man and good conditioners for dyed hair. Her name was Ro. I asked if she’d been bothered by the noise last night. It seemed like a natural question, since the party had been mentioned by everyone I encountered on the way to the bathrooms in the morning and she and I were getting deep with each other. She said she had. Been bothered. I asked her which tent she was in. She said, quietly, and with a wince, that she had been in a cabin. She knew what had happened. I apologized for my rage. I confessed to being embarrassed by my own self. 

She said, No, No, she got it! She said she’d drunk herself asleep and had not been awake during my tantrum. She told me all the things that they had been celebrating: her birthday, someone else’s engagement, and someone else’s escape from cancer. I said, for me the difference between what happened at the cabins and what happens at a big burn is huge. First of all, Consent. We tent campers had not given our consent to be subjected to their noise. A State Park is not a burn; it is a natural place and it has a 10 PM noise curfew. Second of all, there is nothing creative, holy, or inherently celebratory in pounding back as much alcohol as rapidly and continuously as possible. Could they not find another way to celebrate? Maybe they could all drop acid, lay entwined in one another’s arms and listen to the wind? I left off my assessment of their music; it just seemed gratuitous. She said that when they sat down to plan next year’s party, she would communicate with the others about my concerns, and I thanked her. 

In 1675, when the Narragansetts had finally had enough of the white colonists’ encroachment, and they burned Roger Williams’ house and barn and fences to the ground, he asked them why. He said, I have hosted thousands of you here in my home, we have been friends, and now why? And although written records of the First People’s words are rare, the Narragansett’s response to Roger Williams was preserved by its white interlocutor:

[firstly] they Confessed they were in a Strang way

2ly we had forced them into it

3ly that God was with [them] and Had forsaken [us]…

May the Great Spirit help me to honor my inner Narragansett, my inner No to treating parkland like a fraternity house, and may the Governor and the Commissioner of Parks honor the Sovereignty of our greeny spaces, not letting them become trashy, mindless party sites, but a testament to the beauty of the spirit of this land, before we lose it all to pavement and commerce and motor vehicles. 

Can our Parks be granted Personhood? Our Parks are not unliving spaces. They are home to many a lowly worm and industrious field mouse, flocks of geese, and velvet-nosed deer. Are they not more alive than any Corporation? 

Can we not ban all motor vehicles from the Parks and the vicinity of the Parks? People who chug from kegs drive motor vehicles. Can we construct commuter lots on the edges of the Parks so as to reinforce the Sacred nature of Nature? Can we have enough staff in place to protect these resources and to educate the Park’s guests? 

Also, please accept my apology for losing it the other night. I am not proud of that. I was in a strange way.

Taubot neanawayean (thank you).


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