Land in the Sky: Place of Beginning

Place-of-BeginningA package arrived in yesterday’s mail from our lawyer. Enclosed was a thick sheaf of documents pertaining to the purchase last month of my family home in the Catskill Mountains. My wife and I bought it from my mother. We spent a good hour in the lawyer’s office signing the papers that constitute our “death pledge,” which is what the word mortgage means in English.

The property itself is situated on the north slope of an eminence known locally as “Paradise Hill.” We have thirty wooded acres—and a lot of sandstone ledge. My father bought this land in 1958, the year I was born. Over time, a few structures were put up—a small cottage, a barn, and the main house. My father did a good bit of the construction work himself, including designing and raising the entire barn, but my brothers and I and my mother also lent a hand. Needless to say, we have a lot of memories rooted in this place that we sometimes call Mud Meadow.

Such memories—in all their warmth and fluency—stand in contrast to the stolid legal description found in Title No. 304763, which is how they refer to our place down in the county registry of deeds. “ALL that piece or parcel of land situate, lying and being in the Town of Big Hollow bounded and described as follows: BEGINNING at a point in the center line of the highway which leads from Round Hill to Big Hollow near the top of a mountain in the north line of lands of Mrs. Charles E. Ising, and runs thence along the center line of said road down the mountain the following three courses and distances N. 36° 20’ E. 153.62 ; N. 23° 21’ E. 159 feet; N 48° 41’ E. 340.41 feet . . . etc.” On and on it goes, concluding several hundred words later: “thence N. 79° 40′ W, 376.08 feet part way along an old stone wall and part way along a rusty wire fence which is the northerly boundary of the aforementioned land of Mrs. Charles E. Ising to a point marked by an iron pipe driven in the ground; thence N. 75° 06′ W. 128.3 feet still along the north bounds of Mrs. Charles E. Ising to a point marked by an iron pipe driven into the ground; thence N. 69° 27′ W. 145.28 feet to a point marked by an iron pipe driven in the ground on the easterly side of the aforementioned road which runs between Round Hill and Big Hollow and then continues N. 69° 27; W. 24 feet to the point and place of BEGINNING.”

I’ve walked the bounds of these thirty acres too many times to count. I remember old Mrs. Ising, long dead. My father is gone too. The land, though, is still here. Ditto the old stone wall and the rusty wire fence. And so are the iron pipes. The trees—the maples, birches, oaks, hemlocks, and even some basswood—are taller and the shade cast by them in summer is thicker than in 1958. Otherwise things on the ground remain pretty much unchanged. The lawyer’s cover letter urges us to “keep the enclosed in a very safe place.” Good advice. I think I will keep it in the heart, where it might be driven in like an iron pipe.