I’m turning forty this August and as part of my birthday present to myself, I’m going to be spending a few days at the Sivananda Yoga Farm in Woodbourne, NY, in the Catskills. I’m sure many men of my vintage would much rather buy a muscle car, get a tattoo, or spend a lost weekend in Vegas to celebrate this milestone, but then I’ve never been much of a guy’s guy. At Sivananda, the wakeup bell rings at 5:30 AM and you spend your day meditating, walking in the woods, eating healing vegetarian food, sitting in a wood-fired sauna, and doing lots and lots of yoga. At this point in my life, it’s just what I need. The Catskills are a beautiful old mountain range in southeasten New York State. As a native upstate New Yorker, I’ve visited them many times. The area is full of neat little attractions, and has long been frequented by artists, outsiders, rebels, and visionaries. The original Woodstock was held there (but not in Woodstock, actually in nearby Bethel), the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt Tremper is there, and so is Bearsville Studios, where REM and other musical luminaries have recorded albums. There are pristine lakes and creeks for tubing, swimming and skinny-dipping. And even though the region is well past it’s prime, it was at one time home to some grand resorts, many of them long gone. It’s this fact that brings me to the subject of today’s post. You see, when a man reaches a certain age, even though he is perfectly happy in his present life, he can become nostalgic for the past. When I was in high school, I belonged to an organization called Key Club. We were affiliated with the local Kiwanis Club, and we basically raised money to help children in need. Every year, all the Key Clubs from New York and New Jersey held an annual convention. The year I went, my senior year in high school, the convention was held at the beautiful Pines Resort in South Fallsburg, NY. The way I remember it, most of the kids that were there came from huge high schools from New York City and Long Island. I was coming from little Solvay, NY. The kids I met that weekend from Ramapo and other schools were so much wiser and funnier than anyone I knew back home. And it was there I met Beth H, a dark-haired, beautiful Jewish girl from Baldwin, NY. Meeting her was like meeting an exotic creature from a distant planet. She had the most delicious Long Island accent, wore fuzzy sweaters with black leather pants, and taught me how to dance the “Time Warp” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. We spent the weekend swimming in the Pines’ huge indoor pool, gazing into each other eyes, and not much else. When we both returned to our respective homes, we spent many months writing agonizing, heartfelt letters back and forth to each other, but it was not to be. After awhile, we wrote less frequently, and then our little long-distance romance ended. I’m not telling you all this because I wish things had been different. We never had a future together. We came from two different worlds, and we were in high school, for god’s sake. I do think about Beth H sometimes, but only to hope she’s happy. What I’m really writing about is The Pines itself, this wonderful place that allowed our brief 48 hours of puppy love to blossom. To come full-circle, when I decided to spend my weekend at Sivananda, I thought it would be nice while I was down that way to take a little car tour and stop in at The Pines for lunch or something. But after a very brief search on the internet, I discovered that The Pines is now a vacant, condemned shell of its former self. It seems it went out of business years ago, a victim, like Niagara Falls, of glitzier resorts elsewhere and an insurmountable bill for back taxes. There are a few websites out there that show current photos of the empty pool, the flooded lobby, the backed-up toilets, and the vandalized ballroom where we all danced that night almost twenty years ago. What was the name of the hotel in The Shining? The Overlook? That’s what these photos reminded me of. I don’t think I had ever felt sorry for a building before, but I did for this one. All those memories, and all those happy people. Where are they now? Joy always grabs us unexpectedly, I think. We have to be ready for it because tomorrow, or twenty years from now, someone could put up a fence around our joy and write “no trespassing” across it. I remember reading a Zen story about a woman who, as she was meditating, looked out the window and saw a rusty gutter pipe. She said, “From seeing that rusty pipe, I learned that everything eventually decays and dies. I learned the Dharma from that pipe.” Today I learned the Dharma from The Pines. Enjoy today right now. Don’t worry about the past, or become obsessed with the future. With joy, right now is the only time there is.