ON THE SCENE: March is the month for making memories

Rich Cotton, Sarah and Earnest Stretton and Renee Cosgrove (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Mid-March brings three thoughts: maple syrup, the ECAC hockey championships and my late dear friend Jack Kendrick.

Loquacious, energetic and with a perpetual twinkle in his eye, Jack was a published poet, playwright, an occasional actor, a track and field man, and a boxer-wrestler good enough in all aforementioned sports to be an alternate for several at the 1960 Olympic Summer Games, where he roomed with Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali).

Jack was also a rover, a person constantly on the move. One day Jack would be off at showcasing one of his plays as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, boxing at the New York Athletic Club, giving a reading before thousands attending the Moscow Poetry Festival in Russia, or coaching local kids how to wrestle outside his mother’s Parkside Drive home in Lake Placid.

In the pre-cellphone era, Jack had an address book stuffed with notes and business cards that he held together with often breaking over-stretched rubber bands. Within it was an extensive array of contacts gathered over the years that he could usually be found sorting or flipping through as if reflecting on memories gone by.

On March 16, 1988, I mentioned to Jack that the next day I was going to drive my Datsun pickup to Ogden, Utah, as I had a three-month gig as an artist in resident at Weber State College. Jack asked if Ogden was near Salt Lake City, and I responded that it was about a half-hour north. Jack asked if he could come along as he wanted to see his close friend, actor Robert Redford, about getting a screenplay he’d been working on for consideration by the Sundance Institute.

Jim and Cali Brooks (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“You know Redford?” I asked.

He assured me he did, having met him at the New York Athletic Club a couple of years before and given the actor a copy of his latest book of poems.

“I am leaving tomorrow, St. Patrick’s Day. Will that work for you?” I asked, saying he’d have to pack light.

Jack assured me it would and asked if I could pick him up at 10 a.m. at his mother’s. Being an early bird, I planned to leave closer to 7 a.m., but I agreed with Jack, offering to help with the driving and gas. I arrived at the appointed time to find Jack still packing. By the time he finished, it was nearing lunchtime, and he knew where we could get some Irish stew. Of course, once there, his friends wanted Jack to sing “Danny Boy” and invited us to join them, and so the door opened to one more place, one person to hug goodbye to, and more song, until we closed The Cottage at 2 a.m. Then we hit the road with Jack promptly falling sound asleep. He woke up early the following day as we neared Toronto.

My experiences with maple syrup are not seared into my psyche quite the same way that meandering trip that covered the long way to Utah via Minneapolis to just miss Jack’s friend Garland Wright, director of the Guthrie Theater, see the sun rise over Mount Rushmore, and a visit with Carl and Julianne Eberl in Idaho Falls, where Carl led their symphony orchestra.

Rob Hastings at Rivermede Farm in Keene Valley (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

A much more pleasant experience for me was taking my partner Renee to the ECAC finals on Saturday evening held at the Olympic Center, her second hockey game, the first being to the FISU Winter World University Games championship, where Canada resoundingly beat the U.S. Renee, a Canadian, loved that outcome and nearly the intense energy of the game. She was thrilled by the game’s speed, the skaters’ flow on and off the ice, and the challenge of keeping her eye on the puck. She wanted to experience another, and the ECACs met the need.

Arriving, Renee met venue manager Chadd Cassidy, who provided her an overview of the differences between FISU and ECAC play, heard Jim and Cali Brooks’ take, and what to look for from former Lake Placid Central School Superintendent Ernest Stretton, who once played hockey, along with his wife Sarah and longtime hockey enthusiast Rich Cotton.

“We’re here because the ECAC finals are exciting,” said Ernest. “It’s action all the time. I used to play years ago, and I won’t tell you how many years ago as that would reveal my age.”

“He was an All-American,” said Sarah.

“Renee should listen to Rich,” said Ernest. “He knows all aspects of the game.”

“I grew up playing hockey. I started when I was six years old,” said Cotton. “I come to this game early; I like to watch the warm-up, the whole bit.”

Cotton, who likes to watch the game from behind a goalie so he can clearly see the action, laid out coaching strategies and said Renee should expect a fast-skating game. He felt both teams had good goalies and were well-matched. He said the athletes pay attention to their coaches and can hear them just about no matter what is going on. He then went into the details of the penalties and other aspects of the game.

We sat near a section filled with boisterous Colgate fans just behind both benches. While Harvard sent many shots at the Colgate goalie, Renee noted that they often shot from far away and seemed to have trouble controlling the puck, as they missed several chances when Colgate members were in the penalty box.

“That was interesting. I like it a lot, but I preferred the FISU finals,” said Renee. “The Canadians did a far better job of controlling the action than either of these two teams.”

When it comes to controlling, this maple season has been rough on those collecting the sap as the two heavy snowstorms resulted in many falling branches taking out sap lines. For Rob Hastings, now in his 35th year of commercially producing maple syrup from his 1,200 plus taps at Rivermede Farm in Keene Valley, challenges caused by weather, changing in and repairing equipment, and labor shortages are all part of the business.

“In the first big storm, the snow was like glue,” said Hastings. “I think it was the stickiest snow I ever tried to plow or maneuver through in the wood. It did a marvelous job of ruining my tubing system. Anywhere there were white pines, you had damage. Quite a bit of wind was associated with that and exasperated things. It was tough getting the lines back together, but this latest snow, though equally sticky, wasn’t much of the problem as the damage was already done. I was happy to see the added snow as it will help extend the sugar season; we want to keep the ground insulated for as long as possible.”

When Hastings was 10 and visiting the farm, Warren Ashe had 300 buckets out. He tasted fresh, warm syrup drizzled on snow, and the hook was planted. Whether experiencing a hockey final, fresh maple syrup, skiing on corn snow, or setting off on a voyage, March can get under people’s skin in unforgettable ways.


(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)

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