Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tree Spirits

Visit Cherry Blossom Village

It was Professor Joseph Campbell of Sarah Lawrence College who taught us that the legends, myths and old folktales of a people are the most important part of history explaining better than wars, industries and technologies who we really are. In our village, there is an abundance of these tales making our place in history secure and our understanding of ourselves and our past clear.

Some of the old town tales are of the spooky, bone-chilling kind suitable for Halloween or for scaring children into good behavior, but there are some a bit more romantic which reveal a softer side of our village nature. There is the story of the schoolmaster and the well-to-do village lady ... oh, wait ... that was one that Mr. Irving packed in his bag and transported up the North River to that other "Sleepy Hollow". Ahh, here is one, yes, I think you will like it. It's just right for this season as the Cherry Blossoms are about to bloom -

It is believed since ancient times that each tree is a spirit; a spirit that seeks ways of expressing its own innermost nature in the outer world. Many are the legends describing these magnificent beings and the tales of those who have chanced to see what is not meant for man to see.

In the old Village of Second River, so well known for its headless horsemen, shrieking ghosts and wandering spirits, isn't it apropos that ancient village spirits should find a home among the sakura along the old mill stream. From the far-off lowlands they came in wooden sailing ships to a delightful place where a sparkling silver stream flowed into a quiet, blue river. With vigorous efforts they cleared the land, built their homes, planted their crops and fought-off the soldiers of an oppressive king to preserve their freedom. They created a place by the flowing waters which they called "The Beautiful Village". It was resplendent in Spring with flowers on rolling hills, glittering in Winter when young lads would speed-skate on the ice while pretty girl skaters would frolic in dainty pirouettes on the frozen stream. In the long course of time passing, they were gone, but their spirits returned again and again to watch over their village; the men spirits to reside in the oak trees while the ladies preferred the willows.

By the middle of the last century, events conspired ... was it the will of the spirits ?... to cause the transporting in ships from a far-off land a stunning collection of flowering cherry trees. They were planted by the mill stream in the old village. What a perfect place for feminine spirits to inhabit the trees and express their girlishness, striking pretty poses, adorned in delicate blossoms, dream-dancing the ballet of the cherry blossoms. True enough it is that the sakura look like exquisite ballerinas posing in their Spring finery. If you come to see our sakura by the rippling water and chance to see an elegant pirouette swaying in the breeze or a fine arabesque, you will know that the old village spirits have returned to live once again in their beautiful village.

There is the tale of a lad returned from the war, hard used in battle, hobbled by his wounds. He could be seen on most days walking along the path among the Cherry Blossom trees. It was soothing to him to be among them. He came in every season. The sakura were charming while in blossom but he enjoyed them as well in summer as they relaxed in the warm sun renewing their energies. Autumn was a wonder when each tree would express itself with a different color palette and all together they were dazzling. It was on a late Winter's day when the sakura were bare, the pose with which they would display their beauty in early Spring was sharply defined against the cold, blue Winter sky, when he caught a glimpse of a shadow nearly obscured by brilliant sunlight playing on snow. The sakura spirits would rather you didn't see when they step out of their sleeping trees to rehearse the Cherry Blossom Ballet in the time just before Spring, but a sharp eye on the long shadows of a late Winter afternoon will sometimes reward you with a glimpse.

The lad saw among the deep shadows a dancing figure so lovely that his heart leaped and his knees nearly buckled. You know how it is when you see that special girl for the first time. After awhile this charmingly cute village-girl spirit became aware of his gaze. Amused by his adulation, she teased him a bit by striking her prettiest poses. She held his gaze for a long time. He became lost in his vision. How could he know that she was a tree spirit three centuries older than he? He only knew she was perfect. Of course, spirits are ageless, neither young nor old, but he was a long time passing from joining her. She, too, was becoming enchanted by the noble warrior spirit she saw deep within the woebegone soldier. She determined to use her best skills to engage him 'til the time might be right. And so it was that season after season, year after year, he came to the Cherry Blossom grove to admire her. So enamored was he that he came to adore her when she blossomed, when she relaxed in the Summer sun, when she was glowing in Autumn and, best of all, when she rehearsed her ballet in late Winter. At the turn of many seasons, when the time was finally right, both the tree and the old soldier were gone. He had joined his beloved tree spirit.

Watch on a breezy Spring day, when blossom petals are swirling all around you, if your heart is light, you can see them dancing together among the swirls in the Cherry Blossom grove where they first met.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Maria Varick Joralemon

There is a tale to tell, a chilling tale of fierce, marauding redcoats, of dark-of-night escapes in the bitter cold of Winter and a remarkable woman who fed an army. The tale is told to us by one of our own fellow citizens who lived here through these events during the Revolutionary War. Here, in her own words, in just the way she wanted us to read it, is the story of Maria Joralemon:

I am Maria Varick Joralemon, of Holland ancestry, wife of Theunis Joralemon, of Belleville, New Jersey, also of Holland ancestry. My brother was John Varick, who suffered a long imprisonment in the City Hall Park Jail, New York City, because he had a son who was an officer of rank in the American Army. My brother never recovered from these hardships, and remained an invalid the rest of his life. But we both never tired of hearing about the adventures of Richard Varick, his son : -
Dick was Secretary to General Schuyler, Inspector General at West Point, and a member of General Washington's Military Family. I could fill a book with the tales the lad would tell us, when he came home for a few days leave.

"Aunt Maria", he would wheedle, trying to put his arm around my waist - and please notice, I just said "trying", because he never could succeed.

"Aunt Maria, if I tell you another adventure we had the other night, over in the big city, will you give me some more nut strudel, and another mug of ale?"

Ah - I can just see us now - all sitting around the blazing fire, in the old Joralemon house in Belleville. It was a beautiful house, all built of stone, standing on a high terrace surrounded by trees and shrubbery. A large orchard flourished on the eastern side, while white farm buildings and vegetable gardens were on the western side. The front of the house was glowing with flowers from the earliest Spring, when tulips swayed in the breeze, until late Fall, when the golden and crimson chrysanthemums made the air fragrant with their spicy odor. From the verandas which stretched in two tiers across the front of the mansion, you could see the blue waters of the Passaic River, and the low hills of New York. There was lovely furniture in that house - my husband's family had brought a great deal of it from Holland, and my brother had given me quantities of the old Varick mahogany, which had come from Holland also. I well remember the old fashioned bureau, hand carved and high and broad, which one day some fierce British soldiers wrecked and hacked with their bayonets. But that was only one example of their many acts of vandalism. It makes my blood boil to think of it. But, as Theunis, my dear husband, who is a mild man and a peace lover, says to me:

"Calm thyself, Maria, and attend to thy maids and thy kitchen."

But, I still do feel that terrible thrill of fear that I experienced on a bitterly cold night in December. We were awakened by a thundering noise on the door, and voices shouting :

"Make haste, make haste, the British are coming."

Oh, such a panic we were in ! Up we got and packed our things as quickly as possible, and harnessing four horses to the big sledge, we hastened over the snow for miles and miles until we reached the American Camp at Morristown. There we stayed in safety for over a week.

But, beside all these terrible memories , there is a very pleasing one that I shall never forget.

One beautiful winter's day, when the sun was shining clear and bright and the first warmth of coming Spring was in the air, my husband hastened to me with the astounding news that three hundred American soldiers and officers were marching to our house for rest and food and shelter. Three hundred !! I closed my eyes a moment, drew in a deep breath, squared my shoulders like this, opened my eyes and said :

"Very good, Theunis, everything will be ready for those three hundred dear American boys who are fighting so hard that we can keep our beautiful homes and so that we can live our free lives in this beautiful land. All will be ready for them."

My husband silently embraced me, and then I started for the kitchen and the smoke house - the pantries and the store rooms.

When the soldiers arrived, I was so sorry for them, they looked so weary and bedraggled. The roads were icy and snowy and their shoes and boots were in a dreadful condition. The young officers were in scarcely any better attire, and all were cold, tired and hungry. We welcomed them all. I so wanted to gather them all in my arms and kiss them, for they all needed a mother's watchful care. But we did all we could for them, and soon the tired soldiers were asleep in the big hay mews, and the officers were made comfortable in the guest rooms.

Then it was that my daughters and my daughters-in-law, and my servants and I worked like beavers. Great stores of potatoes, apples, winter rye, wheat and corn were brought out, as well as whole muttons and geese and ducks for roasting and hams ready for slicing for the tables; jugs of cider and ale were filled and placed in readiness. Tables were hurriedly laid out in the big room, even in the handsome best room, which had not been opened all winter. Blazing fires soon took the chill off the unused rooms, and by the time that the dear lads were rested, we were ready for them.

A finer sight I never saw, and it is one that I want to bring to you as a lasting memory. For to feed the hungry and help the needy are the good deeds that the dear Lord asks of us, and for those deeds He promises His Blessing. And we have been blessed - we, Theunis and Maria Joralemon, and our children and our children's children. What more can be desired ?

So with deep happiness of a thankful heart, I make my curtsy, and bid you all goodbye. Many women of my time have done more heroic deeds, many have made great and noble sacrifices, but of me it can be remembered - Maria Varick Joralemon fed three hundred American soldiers at one meal, and would have fed three hundred more if they had marched that day through Belleville.

It should be noted that Maria Joralemon refers to the town as "Belleville" not the "Village of Second River" as the town was known during the Revolutionary War. Not a bit odd, since, after all, it was her generation that, fourteen years after the war ended, re-named the town they had fought for as the "Beautiful Village." Maria Joralemon, as she offers us her recollections in later days, appears to be allowing civic pride to overrule any "good-old-days" sentiments.


Have you visited Cherry Blossom Village yet ?

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