Out Divine Corners Way
by Jonathan Shimkin
After a year and a half of pandemic-induced immobility, we had the opportunity to spend a few days away from Divine Corners, at the Atlantic shore. So off we went on vacation, to see the sea.
We live, in the Catskills, in a region of encompassing forests and mountains; our cottage is bounded by the woods behind us, the hills of Neversink around us, and, in the distance, the imposing ridgeline of the Slide Mountain Wilderness. Verticals predominate; we live aslant, looking ahead to what’s over the next rise. The landscape declares vistas, but to actually take in an unbroken horizontal you’d have to climb one of its mountains, and even that’s no guarantee – you can reach the peak only to find the view obscured by dense foliage and forest.
As we travel toward the shore – heading south, then east – we descend from the verticality of our home terrain; the Catskills gradually dwindle, the landscape flattens, and a sense of horizontal expansiveness displaces the familiar sense of enclosure. The look of what we see induces a change in how we feel, a fact that accounts for some of the avidity around vacations: change your view, change your view.
Reaching the level shoreline at the end of our journey, we revel in the sense of unbounded space; nothing obtrudes between us and the horizon line. After orienting to verticals for so long, the experience of the primacy of horizontals is like a long slow exhalation of breath; everything comes down to earth; one is, perforce, on the level. Emerson said that the health of the eye demands a horizon, and here, by the sea, the eye’s the limit, to the very edges of the perceptible.
On our second day out, we sit on the southern shore of a great bay. The point of egress to the raw, unbuffered Atlantic is hard to see; from where we sit, the northern arms of the bay overlap in a way that appears seamless. The bay has the self-contained placidity of a lake, the waters as calm, the tide as subdued – a gentle lapping of waves, the slightest of undertows. One can swim in a line parallel to the beach for as long as one can swim.
The buoyancy of the salt water makes it possible for me to float, something I’m unable to do in the fresh water of the Catskills (“Neversink” is a serious misnomer to me). Lying back, letting the subdued pulse of the bay’s waves sway me with a gentle undulating motion, like the pendular swing of a rocking chair or the sway of a hammock, I let go of any residual sense of enclosure; I surrender to the luxury of unstructured time; I find my vacation in the moment. What a different sense of self from that imparted by the adamantine verticality of the mountains; this seaside self seems ready to disperse into air.
We’re away only a few days and already it’s time to head back. On the return journey we retrace our steps – west, then north – and watch the highlands reemerge along familiar contours. The Catskill nights are beginning to lengthen, with an early intimation of autumn in the cooler evening air. The expansiveness of the shoreline is something we internalize, a topography to be revisited in dreams and reverie. Having changed our view, our view is changed, and we see our home anew.
Jonathan Shimkin, writer and editor, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via his website: jonathanshimkin.weebly.com.