When I was about 9 years old, my parents drove up to a small hotel in the Catskill mountains for a vacation and a well-deserved rest and, of course, they took me along with them. The hotel was aptly called “Ah Koch Ahlain.” There was a large farm kitchen that was shared by all of the guests at intervals, and as the name implies, you did your own cooking there.
Being a city boy, I was curious about things I had never seen before in a country setting, so I began walking around and looking at the interesting country sights. Chickens and ducks were roaming around freely outside. There was a small field with corn and many varieties of vegetables growing there. All of it was fenced in to keep the deer and other animals at bay.
While walking around the property, I came to the edge of a wooded area and I saw a path leading into the woods that looked very inviting. The day was sunny and it was very hot, and being an adventurous 9 year old, I decided to see where that path went. As I entered the mouth of it, I recall how cool it was there. It became darker as I continued to walk deeper into the woods.
The purple shadows and the faint streaks of sunlight coming through the leaves created many varied colors with a mist that actually felt cold on my bare arms. I couldn’t help thinking how different everything was there. It was like stepping into another world from just a few minutes ago. My eyes were wide with anticipation as I walked deeper into this strange place that I had never seen the likes of before, or could even imagine.
My senses were at work contemplating the wonder of it all when I began hearing the faint sound of the most beautiful music. I followed the sound as if I was being led to its source, which I could not resist. I kept walking toward that music to see where it was coming from. It sounded as if its origin could be some unknown mysterious place, which I was going to find. It became louder and even more haunting as I came closer to the sound. In my mind, I wanted to drink it all in and be there in this perfect place that I found, and leave and return to it whenever I wished.
The trees created a canopy of fused darkened light but I could see clearer there than in the sunlight itself. It was then, a few feet ahead of me, that I saw something move on the ground. It was something I feared, something that I knew about but never thought I would encounter. I froze in my tracks and stared in disbelief. It was a large black snake with his head reared up as if he was about to strike, and I could see his eyes and his forked tongue moving in and out. My bare arms and legs became laden with goose bumps as I turned and ran out of that strange and wondrous place as fast as my legs would take me… never to return there again.
I remember telling my parents that I saw a big black snake in the woods while not divulging the entire story… In my mind’s eye I could just see my mother’s reaction and hear her saying, “Why were you walking in the woods!” “Why were you walking where you don’t belong!” Knowing what my mother would say kept me out of trouble all of my life, which is why I took what she said very seriously. That inherent judgment that was a part of her I guess also rubbed off on me. Thank God for that intuition, which always kept me on the “straight and narrow.”
I knew whenever things in life seemed too good to be true, to always think of this encounter—as an omen to heed; and looking back, I’m sure that music came from a house that was bordering the wooded area… and the music was Puccini’s Turandot, because years later, when I heard Nessun Dorma for the “first” time on the massive stereo radio in our living room, I knew I had heard it once before, like in a dream, in the woods.
By David S. Weinstein