My “walking and writing” year at the Ashokan started and ended on September 15.   Reservoir Year was slated for publication by Syracuse University Press on May 15, 2020, extended to June 15, and then to July 15.  So it seems only fitting to choose a brief excerpt from the 15th of each month as a sneak preview.

Day 1.  September 15, 2015, 7 PM


Sunset walk along the Ashokan Reservoir under whisper-pastel sky.  Two deer graze on the steep embankment below the walkway over the Olivebridge Dam.  I stand still, holding my breath as they work their way toward me.  The doe stays a few yards downhill, but the fawn comes so close I can see white fur lining its ears and hear its teeth munching vetch.

A bicyclist passes.  They spook and charge down the hill, white tails flashing.  I turn to see western clouds streaked flamingo, with a sliver of new moon hovering over the cleft of Slide Mountain.

Day 31.  October 15, 3:20 PM


Reservoir Mysteries:

Why, on a sunny and windless day, are some spans of water entirely flat and some riffled?

Why does the sun’s reflection pool at one end of the basin, sparkling so brightly it hurts your eyes, then skip over a dark stretch of water and reappear in scattered twinkles like fireflies?

Why would the otherwise handsome young man leaning over the Lemon Squeeze wall cut most of his hair short and leave a high ponytail sticking out from the back of his head like a tempera paintbrush?

Why racewalking?

Linocut: Carol Zaloom

Day 62.  November 15, 3:50 PM


The sun’s low and warm, painting dead grasses with magic-hour gold. A couple walks toward me, and all of a sudden an eagle lifts up right behind them, rising over the guardrail, so low and so close I can’t speak but stand rooted, pointing up with both arms. They don’t turn or look–why do they think I just did that, a small seizure?–and I get the feeling the eagle is showing herself just to me. I swivel to watch her sun-gilded flight, reflected on still water.  She lands on a distant tree, and I see the bough sway with her weight.

Sun slides behind High Point.  The air cools in seconds.

It’s fitting I started this project in fall. It’s the season my life is in now, turning sixty this year, facing winter, the days growing shorter and so many flavors of loss all around and ahead, this beauty that changes so swiftly it aches.

Day 92.  December 15, 8:20 PM


Fierce wind after dark, moonlight-edged clouds and a freckle of stars in the breaks.

And then: helicopters!  Two of them, loud and low, raking the water with spotlights.  One pass overhead and they’re gone.  What the hell?

Linocut: Carol Zaloom

Day 123.  January 15, 4 PM


Mattress clouds, mirror water.

Twin sets of deer tracks across creek-spill snow.

Day 154.  February 15, 11 AM


Temps in the single digits again, granular flurries descending from milky sky. The reservoir is a buffet of ice textures.  On the smoother parts, windblown snow gathers in cracks.  Out past the striated path where the ice cutter went through and fragments refroze, the ice pack meets gray open water clotted with floating chunks.

Looks cold. Is cold.

Eight crows in a flying wedge.

Day 183.  March 15, 9:20 AM


The Ides of March, midpoint. Halfway through my reservoir year. From the end of the road I can’t see any mountains; they’re socked in with fog. Welcome to the unknown.

As soon as my feet hit the path, there’s a ruckus of Canada geese. A dozen or so are hanging out around the rock jetty that juts into Driftwood Cove. They set up a racket, and the cry is echoed from behind the point by what sounds like hundreds of frat buddies. Then the crows get involved. Word is out: Red Hat Walking!

One hundred eighty-three consecutive walks.  Miraculously I have not missed a day yet.  What does it mean to do something 183 times in a row?  I have no grand conclusions, but then again I am far from concluding: 183 walks still to go.

Only this: I have never not come back with something to write. There is life going on every day.  We have only to notice.

Linocut: Carol Zaloom

Day 214.  April 15, 5:10 PM


New daffodils blooming.  Two goldfinches perch on a flowering crabapple.  Spring peepers earning their name.  These dime-size tan frogs inflate their throat pouches like miniature bagpipes, greeting spring nights with a jubilant chorus of treble-clef shrills.

DAY 244.  May 15, 2:30 PM


Cold and blustery with spatters of rain. I’m driving on Spillway Road, where there’s whitewater coursing over the falls. For the first time in months, water tumbles down the wide concrete steps that funnel the reservoir’s overflow back to the creek. Whitecaps churn up the basin, with white veils of rain in the mountains. Of course I get out to look.

As soon as I open the door of my car, I smell pine sap and honeysuckle. The air vibrates with waterfall music. I stand on the bridge, feeling spray on my face as water spills over the curving cement edge and splashes down four giant tiers. It’s exciting to be at eye level with the overflow, and I realize what it reminds me of: the sloshing seal pond at the Central Park Zoo.  When I was a kid, there was nothing I loved more than watching their sleek bodies shoot past the glass, sending cascades of water over the edge.

Linocut: Carol Zaloom

Day 275.  June 15, 7:30 PM


I’m starting the last of four seasons today, and it’s my birthday.  Road markers, stone cairns on the passage of time.

Busy tonight, summer carnival crowd. An elderly couple has brought folding chairs, sitting at the guardrail with glasses of wine, like the people who gather at Key West to applaud the sunset. I went there twenty-two years ago, when I was pregnant with Maya. Sunrise, sunset.

On the stone bench, two young hippies with beards and tribal tattoos.  One of them plays the recorder, softly and not very well.  His buddy lolls, grinning the grin of the stoned.

A slender blonde and a larger brunette in a jaunty fedora cross the Lemon Squeeze hand in hand.  As I get closer, I recognize Sarah Stitham with her partner Kate McGloughlin, an artists who paints the Ashokan again and again; her ancestors have lived in the Esopus Valley for twelve generations, and some lost their homes when the dam was built.

“Reservoiristas!” I greet them.

Beaming, Kate asks, “So are things being good to you?”

“Some yes and some no,” I answer a little too honestly.

Kate says, “We’re all in the same boat. Ars longa, vita brevis.” She throws out both arms, indicating the sky’s glowing mesh of clouds and crisscrossing contrails. “We’re millionaires, all of us. Millionaires!”

Yes, we are.  And I’m sixty fucking years old.

Linocut: Carol Zaloom

Day 305. July 15, 3:30 PM


Six-point buck posing on the road, new antlers in velvet.

Waves of heat rise off the pavement.  It’s silent.  No other walkers, no birdsong, the water too still to lap.  Thunderheads starting to gather.

Biplane dragonfly, translucent yellow-and-black chiffon wings, perched on the tip of a dying sweet clover.  It doesn’t look real.

Day 336. August 15, 8:10 PM


I missed the sunset, which happens much earlier now.  Missed the damn afterglow.

I go to the guardrail to gaze at twilight.  Something moves down at the base of the dam, by the waterline.  Is it a bear?

Linocut: Carol Zaloom