Robert LaValle

In the township of Livingston, New York, approximately a quarter mile beyond the intersection where Water Street and Bells Pond Road become one lonely road, a tilted tired old street sign rests against a thicket of overgrown perennial vines indicating Mambert Road. 

Upon entering Mambert Road one is greeted by gentle rolling acres of corn on the left and to the right lengthy fields of barley. Further along, the sun-drenched fields give way to a densely wooded forest where only thin beams of the brightest July sun are able to spear their way through an impenetrable forest so dense that as a kid I imagined hovering spaceships would snatch us away. If not aliens the boogieman was sure to get us. No one dared walk this stretch alone, not even by day. If ever we might, we held hands as our hearts pounded through our young chests. 

Along the southern side of the road are vine-filled wetlands and to the north, a sharp incline crowded with oaks, pines, ash, hickory, maples, scrub brush and the rest. Leaping from the earth along both sides, filling the road’s borders, are an assortment of shade-adoring weeds along with occasional groupings of beautifully simple and perfectly content, long stemmed, four-petal lavender painted wildflowers.

At the end of the long tunnel of forest, along with the refreshing sight of evermore daylight, a well-established black walnut tree marked what would become the entrance to our newly purchased property we aptly nicknamed, “Upstate.” Rows of mature manicured apple trees flanked both sides of the remaining stretch to the Mambert farmhouse at the crest of the hill.

Mambert Road

Perciful Mambert Senior established Mambert Road, his farm and homestead long before gas-powered vehicles. Navigating these woods along a path of least resistance, his hand-cut trail soon became a road that accommodated horse-drawn carriages, and little did he know, motorized transportation including his great grandson, Perciful III’s, homemade motorized bicycle. Without the availability of commercial road equipment, nature defined its many shifts and turns. To this day, drivers must proceed extremely slowly to allow instant stopping for the surprise of an oncoming vehicle. One driver must back into the closest clearing but whenever the road’s namesake, Perciful Mambert III, was traveling, he always received the right of way.

Until purchasing upstate, every cent of Dad’s hard-earned salary went to maintaining our seven-member family along with our modest Long Island home. We lived well on the essentials, and other than what we heard or seen on TV, we knew little of luxury. Purchasing the Mambert Road property was a dream come true and perhaps a bit of luxury. Though a financial stretch, according to Dad, owning a piece of upstate was essential. The land purchase along with the fundamental building materials meant severely tightening the family’s budget; it didn’t prevent Dad from building his vision of a cabin in the woods.

Searching high and low we knew we couldn’t afford the choicest of properties. Perhaps not even grade B. Our land was not on a hilltop with a panoramic view, a river or a stream. In fact, this piece of property was likely to be considered undesirable by most, but it was affordable, and plenty good enough for us 80’x100’ plotted Long Islanders. Along with the comfortable monthly payment of $33.33, the 10-acre’s best feature was a brook that we soon learned ran very close to dry every summer.

The three- hour drive from our Long Island home was never easy or much fun, but nearly every spring, summer and fall weekend, along with summer vacations were spent clearing portions of our newly purchased acreage to build Dad’s dream in the woods. Among many things, this is where I learned how to shoot a rifle, use a bow and arrow, a chainsaw, a handsaw, how to dig a ditch, hit a nail, climb a ladder and much more but ultimately how to become a man. 

to be continued…

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a three-part series based on the author’s experiences on a family-owned property on Mambert Road in New York east, of the Hudson River.

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