The little falls are a quarter of a mile from the Blackthorn, almost within hearing range of the outlying camping sites. Yet few visit this secluded spot where the gurgling river splashes down into a pool before streaming on towards the main road.
I’ve been walking for more than an hour on a muggy Memorial Saturday afternoon - killing time until Black 47 plays at the East Durham Irish Festival.
I bathe my feet in the frigid water and study the sunbeams sparkling through the dancing, foaming waves. It’s been a long time since I’ve gazed at anything – who has time for it anymore? Life is always a bustle; if it’s not one thing, it’s another.
My grandfather seemed to be always staring, either lost in thought or actively pondering the shape and size of some church or statue; then again he was monumental sculptor, as he called himself, or a headstone maker as others more prosaically described him.
But there’s something that won’t let me be. I’ve been trying to ignore it now for over an hour but it sits like a turnip in my breast pocket, far more nagging and compulsive than any addiction - my bloody blackberry!
Why did I bring it with me at all? It’s a hot holiday Saturday – who in their right mind would be calling or emailing me? And even if they were, how important could it be?
There was a time I used to exult in being ensconced in the silence of the Catskills. From Friday afternoon to Monday night, no one could track me down.
I spent one of my first summers in America at the Leeds Irish Center - lost to the outside world. The O’Sheas from Kerry presided over this isolated domain. Not a man to take guff from anyone, old Gerry - a former pugilist - had once stretched an off-duty state trooper who was throwing his weight around.
The O’Sheas loved the mountains as did so many immigrant Irish who spent their vacations up there. Although the countryside was wilder and more wooded, I think it was the unhurried pace of life that reminded them of the rural Ireland that they would never return to.
Those hardy people had no blackberries or iPhones but they had deep plangent memories that they could summon for those who took the time to listen. They didn’t have to be instantly abreast of the latest news or rumor, they didn’t blog, they didn’t tweet; instead they listened attentively then carefully sifted the chaff from the wheat. They valued substance and didn’t double-task; when you talked to them you had their undivided attention.
Can we say the same for ourselves – forever checking texts, emails and phone messages, and to what end? Does 99% of it matter a tinker’s curse in the long run? Many of us boast thousands of friends but they only add to the loneliness when you’ve need of an arm around your shoulders?
And our children, will they ever stare at anything beyond a television screen, a computer or a cell phone? Will they ever predict the weather as our parents did by looking at the evening sky or sniffing the morning wind?
Will they ever take the time to gaze at the sunlight streaking across the frigid water of a Catskill pond? Will they store the memory of such a moment without the aid of a digital camera or cell phone?
Does it make any difference? They will inherit their world regardless.
And yet, I think it does matter because my grandfather once told me that, as a boy, he saw Charles Stewart Parnell being heckled in Carlow town during the bitter by-election of 1891. And I can summon the memory of the frock-coated, “uncrowned king” as if I’d been there, because I saw his image reflected in an old man’s eyes and felt his hurt and pain as he strove to comprehend how Parnell could sacrifice Home Rule for the love of a married woman.
Then the turnip in my breast pocket intrudes with a cheery digital tune and I’m summoned back to my blackberry present by some infinitesimal problem that I need never have been troubled with; and when I look back at the dancing waves the sunlight doesn’t sparkle as brightly anymore.
But it hardly matters for I had taken the time to gaze and that moment of magic next to a Catskill pond will remain with me forever.