Alex Shoumatoff, Author and Bedford native gave a keynote address for the Westchester Land Trust, Third Annual Leon Levy Symposium, held at Bedford’s Historical Hall on Sunday, March 6, 2011. The symposium was appropriately titled “Westchester, Bedford and the Education of a Conservationist,” The talk focused on how Alex’s youth in this area lead to his career as an environmental writer.
As I sat and listened to Alex’s wonderful recollections of Bedford, the soulful sound of his voice, as it waxed and waned, evoked fond memories for me too. I found myself drifting off, back in time, to my youth and onto the BRLA trails where I spent many a wonder filled day horseback riding. The recollections of an era gone by delighted us all. I chuckled with laughter, and sometimes with bittersweet pangs for a time and place no longer with us except in memories. I too, knew of the life that Alex spoke about growing up in Bedford.
Spoken words of a cave behind Historical Hall that only the few new about, or at least that’s what we thought at the time. Swimming in the Quarry, meandering through the woods through secluded places in the heart of Bedford, when there were no fences to speak of, but historic stonewalls to climb over. Shared remembrances too of family friends who struck a cord or planted a seed with one part or another through Alex’s childhood. For me, it was experiencing the heartfelt songs of the migrating wood warblers in the spring. I have clear visions of songbirds landing in the shimmering morning light, with brilliant colors of the finely feathered males, reflecting off the beautiful backdrop of clustered white birch trees in my backyard. This was soul food for the mind as the intermingled youthful memories of Alex and mine played again as if it was yesterday.
Following the talk, some gathered around Alex for his signature on the books they brought in their arms. There was a lovely reception that included wine pared with local assorted cheeses, meats and breads. They were displayed with pride by the Local Market TABLE.
The Bedford Historical Hall (1806) was formerly the old Methodist Church and was purchased by the Bedford Historical Society in 1916. A three bay by five bay, two-story structure, the Historical Hall is distinguished for its pedimented and pilastered gable end. Within, a balcony, supported by simple, square Doric columns and enclosed by paneling, extends the length of three walls. The Bedford Historical Hall encompasses most of the 1680 hamlet and laid out in a typical village green plan. The buildings include notable examples of the Greek and Gothic revival styles. This is one of seven buildings preserved and protected by the Bedford Historical Society.
Some stayed for the musical encore, with Alex picking on his guitar accompanied by Tore Heskestad on his fiddle. “They used to have a band in the seventies”, Alex said, called “ The Immigrants,” with Robert Klein. Alex sang a few songs from his CD, Suitcase on the Loose, which Kate McGarrigle produced. A delightful end to an otherwise dank late winter day. Alex Shoumatoff is also the publisher/writer of a website dedicated to raising consciousness about disappearing species and cultures, which is visited by readers from 90 countries each month. www.dispatchesfromthevanishingworld.com
For some, Bedford will always evoke a sentimental yearning to come back and visit. To smell the earth with which we grew up on. As Alex said “The greatest gift a child can have is to be exposed to the natural world and to have the freedom to explore it.” I couldn’t agree more. Thanks to Alex for sharing the days of old. It warms my heart to know that there are others too who feel the same way about growing up in Bedford, New York.