My father was one of the first people to get involved in the "running craze" that swept America in the 70's. He subscribed to Runner's World magazine and could be seen jogging around our neighborhood in the afternoon and evenings when he got off from work. Having injured his knee playing High School football, his doctor advised him not to run on the road. The hard impact the asphalt created wasn't doing his knees any favors. Fortunately, Tallman Park had a soft track and we often went to the park in the evening so my father could use it. A horseshoe pit was situated along the south side of the track and my father was passionate about playing horseshoes too. I spent a great deal of my time at Tallman Park while I was growing up.
The park also had a playground, with very tall metal slides and swings, and a few battered tennis courts. During the 1930's, the WPA built a set of stone seats, like a primitive coliseum, around the west end of the track. These cracked, crude seats are what I recall whenever I hear about anything described as "cyclopean." As children, this stadium seemed to us like a surviving primitive ruin, or a monument as ancient, and as imposing in our imaginations, as Stonehenge.
While my father jogged around the quarter mile tracks, we were free to explore. Soon, we knew many of the paths and lanes of the park and its forests. Climbing up the steep paths would take us to a clearing in the trees filled with empty picnic tables at the very top of the mountain. Birds flew above us lighting in the tall maple trees. When we chose to descend towards the river, we were led to the Park's ancient green swimming pool. Beyond the parking lot, and the squat stone cabins used by the infrequently spotted rangers and staff, lay dense and trackless woods.
In the summer months, especially on the weekends, the park would fill up with city dwellers, fleeing New York's humidity. The parking lot would overflow with cars and buses, forcing people to park on the streets nearby. Various ethnic communities would come and picnic, taking over the tables and spreading out blankets on the grass. Music from many radios and boom boxes keened through the sunlit air. When I came to the park with my charges from the Nyack Y's summer day camp, we would walk the children around the park, eat lunch, and then take them to the freezing pool. I lay on a towel and tried to remember the castles that dotted the top of the hills in Westchester, across the river. While the campers screamed and splashed each other, big ships and barges passed beneath us as they made their way up to Poughkeepsie and points north.
In the fall, and on the week days, the park was usually deserted. When we went there, we were pretty much guaranteed to have the entire place to ourselves. It didn’t seem like many of the local people ever used it. I wondered, sometimes, if my friends and I were the only people who knew the park existed. When we visited once, as part of a class field trip, I discovered that I was the only person who had ever been there before. The teachers counted on me to guide everyone to the picnic areas.
Some other people, it seemed, knew the park was there. My father, jogging along a path one there one day, happened to come across Diane Sawyer who, wearing dark glasses and an expensive coat, was strolling through the park in the afternoon all by herself. He told us he greeted her politely and moved on.
(Painting By Tor Lundvall)
In High School, friends of mine and I indulged in what was then described as “National Senior Cut Day.” A hoary tradition in our school, this was the day in spring that that the seniors, college admissions safely assured, deserted the school grounds without permission to party. I suggested we repair to Tallman Park and, equipped with marijuana and alcoholic beverages (Genesee Cream Ale and something called “Malt Duck” were procured at Tappan’s discount liquor store), we frolicked in the middle of the track and around the stone seats, unmolested and unwatched.
Some time later, some friends of mine and I crept into the park at night and, along the cracked masonry of the ancient seats, watched bats darting over the tree tops. The girls were frightened by the woods and the darkness, but I, conversely, felt strangely at peace. Above us, the stars beckoned beyond the wings of the hungry bats. I was at home.
I haven’t lived in Rockland County for more than twenty years. But when I think back on it, it’s always Tallman State Park and Clausland Mountain that I remember, and beneath them both, the slowly moving Hudson River.