A family wedding over a long weekend in the Adirondacks.
You were thrilled when you heard they were getting married. They’d been together for years. Kids these days – no one seems to get married until they are in their thirties. Yes, yes, back when you were a young woman friends often married in their mid twenties… Yes, and in the Middle Ages they married in their early teens. That was then, and this is now. So it was with a complicated sense of relief, pleasure and surprise that you heard the news. Wedding bells were going to chime.
It was a delight to get their Save the Date card. Yes, you are going to be invited to the wedding. You’re cousins of course, but they are half a generation younger, and family gets stretched pretty thin these days, with generations divided and family members spread around the country and around the world. Shared occasions are fewer and farther between. So you wouldn’t have been surprised not to make the invitation list, though you would have been a bit sad.
The invitation arrives, with a silhouette line of pine trees printed across the top. A wedding theme is emerging. They are going to be married in the Adirondacks. A destination wedding, and yet not too far for you to travel. Lucky you. The couple’s wedding website promises all kinds of entertainments and activities for those who can join them in the forested mountains.
You RSVP happily, and send a wedding present from their online registry. You may never see your gift, except virtually.
Other invitations are generously showered upon you now that you are attending the Wedding, Rehearsal Dinner, Wedding Luncheon, Wedding Dinner and Dancing, and Sunday Brunch. You RSVP to all offers through email and in the affirmative. The Club offers tennis and golf. You can take out a canoe on the lake. There will be an organized hike. Your suitcase logistics are going to prove challenging.
As the early fall date approaches you start to anticipate. You collect all the invitations, dress code guidance and scenic driving directions into a folder. You start to plan your wedding attire. Even though they are getting married in the mountains there are cocktail attire expectations in the evenings. Yes, you are really pleased to be able to wear that navy dress with the graphic rick-rack trim and the fit and flare shape. Perfect for the dance floor. And the black heels with the sparkle plenty buckle on the pointed toe. A brightly colored pashmina in case the mountain air is cool at night. And your “good” jewelry, that doesn’t get out enough anymore.
Blue jeans and Patagonia fleece for hiking, Merrells for the trail, short sleeves and long, because in the mountains of upstate New York in September who knows what the temperatures will really be.
The weekend arrives, and car loaded with finery, outdoor gear, and a bit of trail mix to get you in the mood, you head off for the unknown north. You are getting in the mood for a good party.
Up 93, into New Hampshire and then Vermont. There are scarlet edges to the leaves along the roadways. Into the Green Mountains, and off onto a country byway. Red barns, fields that have been hayed, and here and there the last of the feed corn still to be harvested. The wedding weekend is already an adventure.
Across mighty Lake Champlain and into New York State. A quick stop at the ruins of Fort Crown Point. Because it is there, and it’s a piece of American and British history, and after all, you spent all those years in the UK. You’ve always liked a little bit of history with your travel. Besides, you have a little more time than you’d thought. You don’t want to arrive too early, when the family is still sorting out the final wedding details, and possibly dealing with nerves. Or even having a last minute melt down.
Back into the trees, leaves flickering around you, the road and its bridges winding alongside and over boulder strewn riverbeds that still give evidence of the watery destruction of Hurricane Irene. Nature rearranged.
Your wedding weekend directions say to turn left at the Club’s painted wooden sign. You recognize the quiet logo just as you drive past the driveway. Drat. Up the road a piece, to where you can safely make a u-turn, and back to the discreet driveway. It’s the kind of place you have to know is there, or you’d never find it. Up the steep switchbacks of the roadway-driveway. And this is still the valley. In the summer. No wonder every other car you see is a four wheel drive.
You round the next sharp corner and there before you is the emerald green grass of a rolling fairway, edged by forest. Ahead, past a cluster of apple trees bearing a heavy crop of scarlet fruit, is the sprawling Victorian era hotel-clubhouse.
Around you like sleeping giants are the granite faced hulks of the forested Adirondacks. It’s a grand place. Building, valley, forest, imperial mountains. You catch your breath. Oh yes, this is going to be special.
There is already a party going on at the entrance to the Club. Lovely flowers in Adirondack pack baskets to welcome you,
vivid balloons to mark the way, suitcases piling up at the front door. Arriving guests, cousins, hostesses are embracing and jesting with one another on the broad veranda of the hotel. The lobby is an historic masterpiece, with twin fireplaces to ward off the mountain chill. Over one there is a stag’s head, over the other a moose head.
More flowers, sepia photographs of visitors in this same lobby, circa 1890. A tray of warm chocolate chip cookies the size of small plates.
You register at the mahogany front desk, and head off with the keys to your room, to settle in and, even better, to keep out of the way. The room is simple and pristine. No telephone, no television, no radio. Off the grid bliss. There are thick white towels to welcome you, a ribbon tied bag of granola, a map of the grounds, with instructions for the weekend.
Once your weekend finery is hanging in the closet, you head off to explore. Cottages, a bowling lawn, the golf course, and the inviting wooden gate leading to the trails of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve.
You will have to come back for a hike later in the weekend. Now to the business of dressing up.
Beneath a tent off to the side of the main building tables are laid for the Rehearsal Dinner. The groom, like his father before him, enjoys nothing so much as mucking about in boats. The tent is hung with nautical flags, each table is identified by a boat marker, and there is a navigational chart instead of a guest book to write your best wishes to the bride and groom. At the entrance to the tent is a bar, and a canoe serves as its cooler.
Once the party begins it goes by too quickly. A festive gathering of old friends and new acquaintances, the smiling bride and groom surrounded by their young wedding party, providing the evening’s wattage. There’s a raw bar, and champagne, a buffet dinner, intense conversations, hilarious toasts (with incriminating photographs), and -did I say- champagne, and music and dancing.
Next thing you know, you are gathered around one of the fire pits out on the lawn, your pashmina wrapped around your shoulders, the night dark and huge around you. A mountain chill that speaks of vastness. It is perfect. You don’t want any of it to end. Thank goodness there is still tomorrow. Hike. Lunch. The Wedding.
If anyone who spends any time in the Adirondacks invites you go on ‘a walk’, get out your hiking boots. And your day pack. And your walking poles. Having packed none of the above, you find yourself early the next morning striding along the road to the trail head. You feel winded by the time you get there. Luckily your friend and guide informs you that your ‘walk’ will require you to climb and descend ‘only’ 200 vertical feet, over the course of several miles. Actually, you amaze yourself, as you scramble up and across boulders, finding toe and finger holds, getting moss under your fingernails and bark in your hair, clinging to trees as you edge along the top of a steep ravine, or striding over a maze of tree roots, because you are enjoying your walk in the woods. Suddenly you can see yourself with hiking poles. Even gaiters, like your leader.
It is undeniably beautiful in the forest, with light filtering down through the trees, a puzzle of moss and lichen decorating the forest floor,
and the water of tiny streams finding its way over rock faces and through tumbled boulders below you.
It’s a scene right out of the Sierra Club calendars you used to keep on your desk. An Eliot Porter photograph come to life. No, rather it is the life that Eliot Porter found to photograph.
When you reach the top, and yes, there is a top, the view takes your breath away. In more ways than one. Down there, way down in the wooded valley, lies the club, that tiny little building.
You don’t want to get too close to the edge of the granite outcropping that you are now standing on, but you feel the thrill of both fear and accomplishment, standing here at the summit. The high peaks of the Adirondacks rise up all around you, so much higher, but you have made it here, to the top of this. Now, just to climb back down, and in time for lunch. You guess you will be wearing your blue jeans and Patagonia fleece to the Wedding Lunch….
Lunch for the grown ups from out of town is a miracle. You drive down a rutted road on the valley floor, past red barns and a field of autumn wild flowers, to an organic farm. The farmhouse is a white clapboard classic from the late 1800’s, set beneath towering trees.
On the clipped green lawn beside the farmhouse an endless table has been set up, a gleaming table cloth, cutlery, napkins printed with red roosters, and chairs along both sides. Fifty chairs?
The centerpieces along this magnificent picnic table alternate vases of local flowers with piles of fresh produce. The September sun gilds the glasses, sparkles on the silver, illuminates the leaves and the lawn, the crab apples on the trees, until the colors and the day seem to vibrate. Never has a luncheon table been so beautiful. You cannot take it in, enough of it, this visual feast. You just cannot get enough of this moment.
But there is also company to share, and a glass of warm cider to enjoy. A demitasse cup of cream of tomato soup, with a garnish of chili cream, and roasted pumpkin seeds, sipped standing up. You’ve certainly earned your lunch with the morning’s hike. Chicken salad and sliced tomatoes, warm corn pudding to die for, salad dressing with a hint of the farm’s maple sugar in it. Delicious company too. For dessert, yes, dessert at lunch, there are miniature apple turnovers with raisins and a drizzle of maple syrup. Your luncheon partner takes one bite of his turnover and immediately lifts his hand to gesture for the waitress to return with the tray. Go on, have two. They’re worth it.
All good things must come to an end. It is now time to return to the hotel, to the delights of a warm shower, and a change of clothes.
The wedding is to be on the bride’s family’s farm. There are shuttle buses to transport you all, in your wedding attire. Along the valley floor, beside the rushing streams, through a couple of towns, to the farm. There is the farmhouse, with painted red trim. A barn, a kitchen garden, a chicken house with busy inhabitants scratching about.
Beyond the fence, in the mown field, is the church.
The pews are made of hay bales wrapped in cloth. The aisle is edged with arrangements of field flowers in jars suspended from metal garden stakes. The altar is formed by two tree form hydrangeas. Beyond, across the flat of the valley, are the distant blue mountains. God’s church.
You sit in the sun of the September mountains, the breeze lifting your hair and shivering the leaves on the distant trees, and the dome of the cloudless blue sky arches overhead. A guitarist and a violinist provide a musical score. There are grasshoppers in the grass at your feet, and roosters crowing in the distance. Enchantment. And then it begins.
The groom and his best man are at the altar. The bridesmaids and flower girl process. The bride glides down the grass of the aisle on her proud father’s arm, bringing a glow of amazement to her waiting groom’s face. And you remember, and yet, you know… Every bride is the only bride. Every wedding is the first wedding. An original miracle.
You listen to the words of the ceremony, and they resonate. You heard and repeated many of the same words the day you were married. But perhaps it was harder to hear them then, harder still to absorb them, overwhelmed as you were with the present moment of being, attending so closely to each individual word that you could hardly hear the sense of the phrases, and feeling the responsibility for getting it right, saying it all correctly. You knew it was momentous.
You have heard the words many times since then, and perhaps they mean more and more to you. The vows are no longer words for the future, goals to reach, guidelines for your ambitions for a life together. No, you have lived them all by now, to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until… You know the rest.
When the minister asks “who will support this bride and this groom in their married life?” you all answer loudly, from the hay bale pews of church in the field, “We will,” and of course you realize that this is why you are here, and this is what it is all about. Family and friends gathering, feasting and ceremony, tradition and kinship. The celebration of marriage, so much more than just a wedding. Because it turns out marriage is for family, for friendship, for community. We must all say loudly “we will” and hold each other up, together, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until… You know that part.
That’s what it really means, this family wedding weekend. We will.
And did I say, champagne?