Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Walking with the Legend

There’s a certain feeling in the air sometimes after supper - he only has to look at me with an arched eyebrow and I know. We’re going for a walk in the woods near Lindenwald, the stately home of our eighth president, Martin Van Buren. It’s one of our favorite after supper activities and I rarely say no.

Most evenings there’s no one else around, but on that last walk -  it was almost October -  I think there was someone or something there. We grab our walking sticks. Mine is an old one our youngest son, Carl, bought when he was a teen. It has a little stone gnome on the top. John’s is a big thick cudgel kind of thing. We pull in and park in what passes for a parking lot; lumpy, bumpy, with pot holes everywhere, but we don’t mind. It’s rustic.

We don’t even look at the trail map someone has painted on a sign board under a rough pavillion. We know we’ll take the blue trail and we stroll onto the path. I hear rustlings in the trees. Unusual, as there are not many critters in this climax forest. There’s some underbrush and lots of poison ivy, though.

We reach the iron gate, its purpose a mystery. You can walk around it and we do. Then the road noises begin to fade, weeds are everywhere in the path and I hear sounds again –  faint disturbances in the brush. A grouse perhaps?

Not much further in and I feel we’ve entered another dimension; one where the Legend of Sleepy Hollow lies. The Hessian soldier with no head. The horrifying spectre who chases the lowly school master Ichabod Crane on Halloween night. Many imagine it happened right here where the author of the story, Washington Irving, visited frequently, taken in by superstitions of the local Dutch settlers and inspired by Kinderhook's colorful inhabitants.

The trees tower overhead and arch cathedral-like. Nature has her way here. A local Boy Scout troop does minimal maintenance, leaving fallen trees, protruding stumps, and the small bridge over a tiny brook as they are.

I imagine the night when Ichabod is terrorized by the Headless Horsemen.  As he travels home from the Halloween party hosted by the father of his dream girl, Katrina Van Tassel, every cricket chirp, every breeze kissed bush, each thump of a cattail on a log, haunts Ichabod’s imagination. It’s near the witching hour after all. Midnight. His pokey horse, Gunpowder, would as soon take a nap as keep walking.

By this time there are no road noises at all and the silence that surrounds us must be very like what the early settlers experienced every night. A twig snaps and I whip my head around. Nothing.

The writer in me loves this; the little kid in me is delightfully chilled. Then, suddenly, I’m diverted by thoughts of pioneer women. The ones who followed husbands, fathers and brothers out into the wilderness to carve out hearth and home. How did they manage in their long skirts? I think about sweeping hard packed earthen floors in drafty cabins and hauling water from a well every day. I was sure those brave souls had many a tale of their own to tell. I pull my jacket around me.

The walk is short. My legs seize up as the path rises and falls and then we crest a small hill and there it is - the bridge. Spooky takes over once again and I will myself to hear the horses hooves thundering behind us. I scurry down behind John hoping to make the bridge to escape the mad Hessian and his huge black stallion as they rear up at the top of the rise before dashing madly down to smash a flaming pumpkin into our skulls.

I clutch my throat and freeze.

“Should I make us chocolate malted milks when we get home?” John half turns to ask me. He’s smiling.

I come up short and instantly Ichabod, the Horseman, flaming pumpkins, and the shadowed moon dissolves.


Oh, well. We cross the small foot bridge and head up the incline on the other side. We’ve come full circle back to the iron gate and soon the swoosh of cars on the road assaults our ears as we exit the trails.

“Sure, sounds great,” I answer. But just for a second or two the woods sigh to me again and I look back. Some vagrant wisp of air lifts a small pile of leaves. I shiver. It’s not that far off, Halloween, and I’ve had just enough of a thrill to set the mood for it.

Walking with the Legend will do that.


On the way to Lindenwald

Did Katrina Van Tassle live here?

"For once you cross the bridge his power ends."



  1. I could feel what you felt and hear what you heard with each step you took, Sue. Thanks for taking me along. (Now if I could just taste that chocolate malted milk that John suggested, it would be perfect!)

    1. You're welcome to come along with me anytime, Cindy. John makes great chocolate malts - they're a favorite summertime treat. Thanks for reading!

  2. Susan --

    Wow -- this is super!

    Tell me more about the iron gate? Is Lindenwald part of the Kinderhook property? Also, has it been rumored that the Sceptre chased Ichobad here instead of down in Sleepy Hollow? How old is the schoolhouse?

    Also, with regard to what Cindy said, I could feel and hear what you did. It's amazing when you exit a roadway, park and star walking, how the car noise becomes a memory.


    1. Steve, The iron gate is just at the beginning of the trails and is quite high. But there are only three or four bars and it reminds me of something that might be used on a farm. It may have been put up to keep vehicles out. Don't know. There's also been a long standing notion that Irving really set his story here instead of around Tarrytown where his home, Sunnyside, can still be visited. Many think he based Ichabod on a local school master named Jesse Merwyn. I think no one really knows for sure. I have no idea how old the school house is, but it sits near the Luykas Van Alen house in the second picture. I think the Park Service owns the property and tours are available at Lindenwald. Thanks for your kind comments. =0)

  3. Ooo, that's been one of our favorite things this summer...walking together. Ours is far more - well, plain vanilla, though. No woods. No creaking bridges. No flaming pumpkins and no headless horsemen. It's pretty much soybeans and corn fields.

    Great post!

    1. Soybeans and corn fields - being together is what really counts.

  4. Rhonda, Soy beans and corn fields sound inspiring, too. Out in the air, under God's sky. What could be better? So happy you dropped by!