Rip Van Winkle

January 28, 2019

Once upon a time, a man known as Rip Van Winkle lived in the village of Catskill. He was a happy-go-lucky fellow, and a little bit lazy, and he was married to a wife who was unkind. Often when Rip was seeking some peace, he walked with his dog and his rifle into the mountains to the west of the village. There, he lounged beneath the trees, watching hunted game, and sometimes he simply stared up at the sky and daydreamed.


One cool September evening, he was crossing South Mountain when he came upon a little round fellow wearing a belted coat, petticoat trousers and heavy boots. The fellow was peculiar looking -- his face was green and his eyes looked dead. He was carrying a keg upon his shoulder, and when he saw Rip, he said, "I'll offer you a drink if you'll carry this keg up the mountain."

Rip was a generous soul, so he lifted the keg onto his shoulder, and together the two gents climbed.


As night fell, they came to a plateau where a dozen men with the same ghostly faces as the first fellow and dressed in the same peculiar clothes were playing with stones. They were rolling these stones over the side of the mountain, and they plummeted down and landed with a thundering boom.

Rip noticed one fellow with a snow-white beard who stood apart from the others, watching them play. When Rip appeared, the old fellow turned and stared at him, and Rip's first thought was he ought to run.


But he couldn't seem to move.


Suddenly the man signaled for Rip to join him in a drink. Rip took a drink, and sighed deeply. This was the finest drink he'd ever swallowed, new and delicious and mouth-watering, and he could not stop drinking.


Soon Rip was overcome with exhaustion, so he lay down, his head upon a stone, his tired legs stretched out. Before long he was fast asleep.


After a dream-filled night, he opened his eyes and saw sunlight dappling the sky, but no one was around. He stretched out his stiff legs and rubbed the sore spot where his head had rested on the stone. He reached for his rifle only to discover it was rusting, so rotted that it fell to pieces when he touched it. When he looked down to gather the parts, he saw that his clothes were rags, and a beard flowed from his chin -- so long and white he couldn't believe what he saw.


Rip tried to remember the night. He stood and began to hobble down the mountain. His knees ached. So did his elbows and shins, and his head began to throb as he tripped along.


By afternoon, he came to Catskill, his village, but to his astonishment there were now houses where yesterday there had been fields, and there were now roads where there had been meadows. And where were his friends -- the blacksmith and the barber, the tailor and the baker? And where were those children who always trailed after him and the dogs that always barked a friendly welcome?

He hobbled toward home, eager to see his wife who had told him to lounge in the mountains. Yet his wife wasn't at the gate, and the gate was no longer guarding the garden, but rather a field of weeds.


His home had crumbled to the ground.


"The tavern, I must go to the tavern," Rip thought, and he moved as fast as he could toward that familiar, friendly place. There, he saw in place of the old sign a new one and an officer with a cocked hat that no longer said George III, but instead said Gen. Washington.


The folks inside were unfamiliar too, so Rip asked, "Where's Nick Vedder?" and the patrons said, "He's been dead for 18 years."


"Brom Dutcher?" Rip asked, scratching his head.


"He joined the Army and was killed at Stony Point."


"Where's Van Brummel?" Rip asked.


"He's in Congress."


He couldn't help himself, so he asked, "And where's Rip Van Winkle?"


"Over there," a few of the fellows said, and they pointed to a man who looked just like himself but young and good-natured and lazy.


"That's young Rip," said the barman. "His father was Rip Van Winkle, too, but 20 years ago he went to the mountains and never came back."


That's how Rip discovered he had slept for 20 years.


Eventually he found a few old fellows who knew him. He found his daughter, too. She was married to a pleasant fellow, and they invited old Rip to move in.


Rip slowly recovered from the news that his wife had died in a quarrel. For the rest of his days, he sat in the tavern and smoked his pipe and told tales of the old days.


One of Rip's favorite tales was the one about drinking a cup with explorer Henry Hudson himself. People say Hudson's spirit continues to live in those hills; every 20 years Hudson and his men gather in the mountains to play and reminisce about their travels. The drink they share throws mortals into a slumber from which nothing can rouse them until the day when the crew returns to meet again.


As you climb the eastern side of the mountains, by the old carriage road near Catskill, halfway up you'll pass the stone on which Rip Van Winkle rested his head. You may even see that the ground where Rip slept is slightly hollowed, and you'll know that the party of ghosts is due to appear.


So beware drinking any brew a stranger offers you when you visit those mountains.

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