I love the contrasts between light & shadow upon the desert mountains of Arizona. This area is known as Usery Mountain Regional Park, located just 20 minutes from my home in Mesa. The Park encompasses 3,648 acres and is situated at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Pass Mountain rises to 2,840 feet and features a spectacular hiking trail which allows views of 70 or more miles into the distance beyond. The lower Sonoran Desert is a fascinating place offering a wealth of rich color and a diverse variety of flora & fauna. On a bright day with palatial clouds sailing overhead, you can absorb the pulse and atmosphere of this remarkable environment. As you take in the sweet birdsong and distant calls of wildlife, for just a moment you begin to absorb the manifold beauties of the wilderness preserve.
Journeys & Visions Along the Urban Landscape
Often we encounter glimpses of things which might ordinarily escape our notice. In the 1960's I frequently traveled via the Jersey Central Railroad to Newark from the station at Dunellen on my way to New York City. As you approach the more densely populated areas, one notices a more commercial, urbanized landscape and fewer pockets of picturesque trees. Yet I distinctly remember gazing dreamily northwards from the windows of the eastward-bound train as I prepared for a day in the City.
To Gauge the Map of Tracks, Trees & Hills
As you approach Plainfield, there is a point somewhere in the vicinity of Leland Avenue which affords an expansive view to the north. On one eventful train trip many years ago, I just happened to casually glance in this direction and noticed a spectacular sight which I had never seen before. Just overhead from the dense pocket of trees to the north, in the distance I could discern a beautiful building shining in the early morning sun. It was on the southern side of one of the Watchung Hills, looking like a magnificent palace, a stone castle or royal chateau. As the train crosses Terrill Road, you can still see this building quite clearly, but the image fades as you edge toward Martine Avenue, eventually dropping from sight as you approach Westfield Road. This view lasts only a brief moment on the moving train, then vanishes altogether, not to be seen again until the long homeward-bound journey.
A Vision Upon the Watchung Hills
The beautiful building within sight of the train is known as Mount Saint Mary Academy, an independent school which offers a college preparatory program for young women, 9th through 12th grade. Situated in Watchung, just north of Plainfield along Route 22, the Academy is under the direction of the Sisters of Mercy of the Mid-Atlantic. The first building to house the Academy was erected in 1908, unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1911. The new building (the present structure) was rebuilt in 1912, featuring a prominent bell tower with the inscription "Gratias Agamus Domino Deo Nostro," (We give thanks to God). Whenever I had occasion to travel via the Jersey Central, I would earnestly look northwards to see if I could spot the bell tower and the imposing facade of this magnificent building. On certain days, if the weather was overcast and grey with slight rain or fog, you might totally miss the vision upon the hill and the grounds adjacent to the Academy. If the trees seemed to grow somewhat taller, the view could be completely cut off and suspended from sight. Sometimes you really had to search the horizon or you might miss the occasion in a matter of moments.
Andante pastorale from Symphony No. 3 by Composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
There is a passage in this remarkable symphony (FS 60, Op. 27 "Sinfonia espansiva," composed in 1910-11) where two soloists enter the second movement and sing wordlessly in the "Ah" vowel, echoing one another and sounding profoundly beautiful together amidst the splendor of the orchestra. These two voices seemingly appear out of nowhere and rise to glorious heights of harmonious expression, drawing the listener in toward one of the most transcendent moments in all of Classical music. I find this music to be thrilling and resplendent in an all-encompassing manner, especially in the version offered by Dacapo with Michael Schonwandt conducting the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. In this performance, Inger Dam-Jensen sings the soprano part and Poul Elming the tenor part, recorded in cooperation with Danmarks Radio. (This recording is also available on Naxos.)
A Brief But Glorious View
The second movement of Nielsen's 3rd Symphony illustrates how a moment of divine music may inspire us in an extraordinary and long-lived manner. It is just a brief interlude in the overall structure of the Symphony, a passage which Nielsen refers to as "the purest idyll." Yet this passage reflects a visionary summit peak, a moment where voices soar wordlessly over the enchantment of the symphony orchestra. It is a reminder of the art of perspective, a vital reflection of looking upward and outward and noticing something we might have previously missed. From the train to a brief vision of the mountainside Academy, from a momentary passage in music, or from the written notes of Carl Nielsen regarding his Symphony, we may each engage "...a certain expansive happiness about being able to participate in the work of life and the day and to see activity and ability manifested on all sides around us."
A Journey Across An Imaginative Landscape
In the late 1960's I often had occasion to travel via the Jersey Central Railroad from the Dunellen train station all the way to Newark, traversing the Hudson Tubes and eventually arriving at New York City. As an Art student enrolled in the New York Art Semester at Drew University, I was expected to visit museums and galleries, engage in class field trips to meet artists in their studio environments, and to keep a noteworthy journal of my thoughts, perceptions and observations. The Jersey Central provided a convenient method of commuting to NYC and I quickly became fond of train travel as an alternative to taking a car or bus to the City. The route began in Dunellen, traveled through Plainfield, Fanwood, Scotch Plains, Westfield, Garwood, and Cranford, finally reaching the great train station at Newark, a place of enormous overhead structures and miles of parallel tracks packed with passenger trains.
The View From a Train Window
There occurs a brief moment as you leave the train station at Fanwood heading East where the tracks curve slightly to the right and the train allows a view into the backyards of some vintage homes clustered along a stretch of wooded parcels of land to the North of the tracks. At this point the train seems to be at a somewhat higher elevation, perhaps as much as 10 feet higher than the backyards of the homes, giving the effect of looking downwards into a miniature canyon or autumnal valley. Just at this juncture of time and space, I would remember the lines from one of the songs by Judy Collins on her 1967 album "Wildflowers," a critically acclaimed album arranged and conducted by Joshua Rifkin. All of the songs on that recording are gems, but the one which keeps coming back to me is entitled "Albatross," one of the most beautiful works of art which Judy ever recorded. The first lines read, "The lady comes to the gate dressed in lavender and leather...," a poetic entry into a visual field of splendor. The song continues, "...She hears the steeple bells ringing through the orchard all the way from town." I do not remember if there were any gates that could be seen from the train windows, but there were certainly plenty of places that a gate might provide a beautiful entryway into these lovely homes with their petite backyards. Similarly one could occasionally view a church steeple briefly at some distance from the tracks, or imagine the bells heard in each neighborhood, or envision the neat topography of land laid out from the town center to the small wooded parcels dotted along the train tracks.
A Poetic Song with Evocative Images
Judy's song continues with vibrantly resonant language, pinpointing the grandeur of the human landscape as well as the natural landscape. "Many people wander up the hills from all around you, making up your memories and thinking they have found you." As I peer through the train windows I begin to see the history of the moment and the pattern of the events and the people in my life. From station to station, from track to track, from city to city....these thoughts and perceptions become the dialogues of a young art student transformed via time and the ongoing process of maturity. Judy speaks of "the embroidery of life" and then paints a picture which becomes indelibly etched in my artistic heart and mind. "...And in the night the iron wheels rolling through the rain, down the hills through the long grass to the sea." Joshua Rifkin's arrangement and orchestral conducting soar with an affinity for Judy's lovely voice during this powerful passage. There is a rise and fall of evocative feeling in this special music, conjuring images which remain impressively vivid.
Judy's song "Albatross" closes with some perceptive observations on the continuity of life. "Day and night and day again, and people come and go away forever." Who hasn't reflected upon our days of schooling or early family life or days spent working or travelling or interacting with others via relationships? Wave upon wave of events may occur as cycles existing in time, like the train excursions via the Jersey Central, peering out the train windows and recording the impressions one may encounter or visualize along the way. Then in the closing lines to the song, Judy so eloquently, so elegantly, quietly recites a marvelously resonant and poetic message, "Come away alone, ...come away alone....with me." This is the memorable language of love, a time and a place which can be viewed as a tender invitation, a noble passage, an everlasting entrance or an eternal gate.
Remembrance As a Path Toward Understanding
After the young Martin falls off the spinning carousel, the effects of focused light and Bernard Herrmann's music add tremendous drama to the overall evocation of this scene in "Walking Distance." As the light fades away, one by one the children leave the darkened, now silently still carousel horses, revealing a brief gallery caught by the camera. A succession of wonderfully carved horses momentarily fills the screen, each one cast in motionless pose, as if suspended in frozen animation. Herrmann's accompanying music brilliantly underlines the emotional sadness of this powerfully reflective glimpse into the human heart. We sense Martin's coming-of-age as he grapples with these uniquely personal events, a time of intense introspection as well as a time of endearing compassion. As the music and dramatic lighting bring key elements to the foreground, Martin's father (played by Frank Overton) steps forward after meandering through the maze of carousel horses still visible in the distance.
A Father Speaks to His Son
The quality of Rod Serling's writing can be seen and heard in the next few moments of this luminous story. Martin's father finds his adult son sitting at the carousel's edge holding his hand to his head in anguish over the series of recent events. The dad sensitively approaches his son with the kindly spoken words, "I thought you'd like to know the boy will be alright." Here there are intimations of healing for both the physical and the hidden aspects of Martin's life. "I know who you are," the dad continues, revealing that Martin's license and identity have been confirmed through the wallet he accidentally dropped at his parent's home earlier that evening. "You've come a long way from here and a long time....How? Why? ....You know things that will happen. There's no room, no place. You have to leave here." Martin listens attentively to his father speak these heartfelt words, carefully measuring each phrase with an eagerness to fully understand his present predicament. "It was once your summer....It's his summer now," (referring to the young 11-year-old boy). "We only get one chance. Maybe there's only one summer to a customer." Instead of looking backwards, Martin's father suggests tenderly, "Try looking ahead." Martin agrees with his dad, beginning to sense the wisdom imparted to him through this intervention in time. As the carousel silently starts up, Martin hops aboard to gain another ride, this time with a smile, with renewed understanding, now on a transitional journey toward the closing scene.
Final Scene of "Walking Distance"
The last scene revisits the drug store/ emporium which first appeared at the beginning of this story. Martin discovers a lively perspective as he enters this crowded atmosphere in the store which features his favorite three-scoop chocolate ice cream soda. Now there is loud music, dancing teenagers, and a different soda jerk at the fountain. Initially desiring to order his favorite dessert, Martin strikes up a conversation with the fountain attendant, but then decides to forgo the treat. The attendant asks about Martin's slight but noticeable limp and difficulty in getting up from the counter. Martin says that he injured his leg when he was eleven years old and fell off a merry-go-round. The attendant says, "Merry-go-round? They tore it down....condemned it!" Rod Serling's closing narration speaks eloquently and endearingly about the almost universal desire to go home again, "...that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth."
Between Afternoon & Night in "Walking Distance"
As Rod Serling begins his voice-over during the transition phase between afternoon and night at Homewood, we sense the rapidly changing pace of events for Martin Sloan in this seemingly idyllic neighborhood. Previously in the day Martin had attempted to meet his parents only to have them shut the door in his face, due to their incredulous reaction to his far-fetched claims. Now as the evening progresses, Martin finds himself again drawn to the home which he considers his own, a place which he fondly remembers from his childhood years. Under the mysterious mantle of descending darkness, Martin crosses the street and walks across the lawn of the house he once knew as a young boy. He rings the bell on a bicycle but another hand stops him abruptly, revealing the presence of Martin's father. "Back again?" Martin only wants to convince everyone that he is not lying and has proof of his true identity. As the porch light comes on, Martin's mother appears at the front door of the house, inquiring about the noise and unusual conversation on the front lawn. Martin leaps up the front steps and tries to convince his mother that he has factual personal history, a driver's license and further documentation to provide complete proof of his identity. But in an emotional scene etched with fear, fright and confusion, Martin's mother cuts off the conversation as a sign of rejection, no longer having the patience to listen to his irrational claims.
To the Park Amidst the Lights & Music of a Carousel
After facing his parent's rejection, Martin runs to the local Park where a carousel is brightly lit and revolving. In an incredible moment, he sees himself riding the carousel, at age eleven just as he remembers from his treasured past. Through an overhead camera angle, situated precariously high upon the carousel superstructure looking downward at the horses and children, we see the adult Martin furiously chasing the eleven-year-old Martin, as the horses prance rhythmically in motion and the carousel spins unrelentingly forward. Suddenly the young Martin falls off the carousel as we hear, "Oh my leg, my leg!" The adult Martin, out of reach of his eleven-year-old counterpart, clutches his own leg as he grabs forward in pain. There is the realization of the adult causing the injury to the child. At this moment the music of Bernard Herrmann is almost overwhelming in its power and emotional impact. Martin walks slowly toward the boy just as a sense of strong light enters the picture and the children one-by-one dis-mount their fanciful steeds. "I only wanted to tell you...Martin, I only wanted to tell you that this is a wonderful time of life for you. Don't let any of it go by without enjoying it." The carousel operator holds the injured boy in his arms and carries him away. At this moment the light fades in the distance and the children all begin to leave. As the light still focuses upon Martin (in a unique spotlight fashion), there is tremendous sadness expressed in the accompanying music. "That's all I wanted to tell you," Martin repeats as violins recite some evocative phrases in falling lines, with still shots in half-light of the various carousel horses all silently bearing witness to the tragic nature of events which have just transpired. This is one of the most beautifully expressed, carefully composed and hauntingly photographed scenes in all of the five seasons of "The Twilight Zone," a tribute to the very high production values of this series overall.
Passages of Time - The Carousel & Bandstand
Rod Serling's "Walking Distance" exhibits some bittersweet moments for a man in search of his past. When Martin Sloan's parents do not recognize him, there is a sense of loss and sadness at the doorstep of the home he once knew. In the next adjacent scene, we briefly meet a young man who is admiring a brand new car, freshly minted out of Detroit. As Martin takes in the shiny visage before his very eyes, the young man states that the car is a 1934 Roadster, leaving the distinct impression that this event is taking place through an incredible regression in time. Now Martin begins to understand this inexplicable excursion beyond the rational elements he initially expected via his revisit to Homewood.
Atmosphere & Drama in a Series of Events
The next scene is one of the most atmospheric moments ever presented on "The Twilight Zone." Having left the young man with the 1934 Roadster behind, we now realize that nightfall has descended upon the neighborhood, with church bells gently ringing in the distance. Lampposts along the street radiate their distinctive glow as interior lights fill the windows of Homewood's stately houses. At this moment I am reminded of the memorable artwork of Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte (1898-1967), an artist who often captured that otherworldly atmosphere just between sundown and early evening. One such masterpiece is entitled "The Empire of Light" painted between 1950 and 1954, a lovely composition delineating some of the enchantment and charm of this unique time of day, with the light of the sky acting as counterbalance to the positively mysterious glow emanating from streetlamps and interior houselights along the boulevard. One cannot perfectly distinguish whether Magritte has painted either a day scene or a night scene, yet the evocation of transient light remains fascinating and almost hypnotic in overall effect.
Rod Serling's voice-over enters this atmospheric night scene, a moment of literary and philosophical insight adding dramatic pause toward further contemplation. "A man can think a lot of thoughts and walk a lot of pavement between afternoon and night." Here we begin to grasp this integration of varied elements, in retrospect realizing both the short and long passages of distance and time, from the country gas station to the Homewood sign to the people who live in this rather special place. Serling continues as narrator, "Memory suddenly becomes reality....Martin Sloan is back in time....his resolve is to put in a claim." Full realization of all these unusual elements will take place as Martin comes face to face with a powerfully emotional event from his childhood. A chance, a time of life and a revisit will help to clarify the hazy textures of Martin's treasured youth.