Naked as a jaybird

One of my most radical acts occurred on the spur. I was at home in the Cemetery House in Westkill. There was a massive evening downpour. I was all alone and decided to head out into the deluge without a stitch on. I ran around the gravestones, protected from view by tall pines. I rolled in the wild thyme.

This reminded me of running as a teen with fellow hippie students in Vermont through rain. Or doing the same with fellow twenty-somethings in Alaska during the dark-less summer nights.

After my cemetery run and roll I jumped in the car, an old Lincoln. Soaking, I popped in my Best of Leonard Cohen 8-track and roared across SR 42 and up the back roads of Beech Hill butt naked.

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I knew I’d see no other vehicles. One never did up Beech Hill, and rarely anywhere that deep into the Catskills on a weeknight. All the same, I felt a frightened thrill for the ten minutes I was out.

It was several steps beyond that feeling one gets when driving on a full moon night in the middle of nowhere, fields on both side, and you turn the headlights off for a moment. The way I’ve seen people drive in poor rural areas elsewhere, where drivers think that’ll save the use of their car battery.

When I got back to my house, the dog and cats were waiting, staring me down like the renegade I felt myself to be. I ran a hot bath, listened to a symphony on the old stereo I kept on a vanity. Afterwards, I put on jammies, made a drink, and read for a while listening to the rain outside, along with an occasional passing car every ten minutes or so.

Now, that strange instance some 30 years ago stands apart from the earlier experiences of group nakedness, winter skinny dipping, and other flights of self-consciously crazed action. Every time I smell thyme I get a body rush. Whenever I get deep up a woodsy road, far beyond other cars in those areas that are getting rarer to find these days, I recall that thrill I felt without license, without anything but my sodden wits.

Empty thrills, in other words. The stuff of body-deep memories.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.