The Saxhole of Chestnut Ridge

Every Sunday I take the dee-oh-gee on a nature walk. We go to a local park, usually one of our local county or state parks; our most common destinations are Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora and Chestnut Ridge Park (a county park) in southern Orchard Park. Chestnut Ridge is a big park, set amidst several hillsides, with lots of hiking trails and old roads and ravines with babbling brooks along with shelters for families to rent for picnics and a huge hill that’s the region’s best place for sledding in winter and a noted disc-golf course. We like Chestnut Ridge a lot. We’ve been going there regularly ever since Cane became a member of the family, and we still haven’t seen all it has to offer.

In addition to nature, Chestnut Ridge also offers some interesting people watching on occasion. When we go on Sunday mornings, there are often large groups of young people jogging through the park, and a lot of them don’t restrict their jogging to the roads, but also to the off-road hiking trails. This is always fun to watch, and Cane enjoys seeing the runners go by. There are also always lots of people with other dogs, which can make Cane either happy or nervous, depending on the dog. There was one fat brown dog who just kind of waddled around, once; this dog’s name turned out to be “Ammo”, which led me to advance my Law Of Dog Names: The more bad-ass a name a dog has, the less bad-ass the dog actually is. So a dog named, oh, Crusher will be a big whimpering softie, while a dog named, oh, Frankie will be an ass-biting menace. It’s just the way things are.

This Sunday past, we saw several groups of joggers, including one older group and one younger group. We also walked past two middle-aged women who were talking very loudly about their own medical problems, and then we took a side road that led past a small playground where two teenagers, figuring they were alone, were making out quite nicely. (They stopped when they realized Cane and I were approaching, and I turned my gaze aside and left them to their youthful hormonal fun-having.)

People watching is fun, but the main reason I love these nature walks is the nature — especially the sounds. I love hearing the knocking of woodpeckers at work upon the trees. I love the sudden flutter in the air when a bird I didn’t even realize was there takes wing. I love the whispering as the trees rub against each other in the wind, and I love the rushing of the streams, even as by this time of year they have mostly dried up to little more than a few trickles, here and there. Aside from the occasional passing car or truck engine — and sometimes not even those, if we’re far enough from the roads — there are no man-made sounds at all, save my own footfalls and the soft jingling of the tags on Cane’s collar.

But today…we were on another road, heading back in the direction of the parking lot, when I heard…music.

Somewhere in the distance, music.

I couldn’t tell where or why, but as we kept walking, I realized we were getting closer to the source of the music. I recognized the tune first: “Amazing Grace”. And then, moving forward, I recognized the instrument. It was a saxophone. And the person playing it finished “Amazing Grace” and moved right on to “Onward Christian Soldiers”. And then followed several more hymns and other bits of Americana. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” and eventually, “The Star Spangled Banner”. We came around a corner, and there he was, standing next to his parked car across the road. He had a music stand set up and everything. This guy was actually playing his saxophone in the middle of Chestnut Ridge Park, on a Sunday morning. And he was playing it loudly. His sound carried.

Now, I must admit that the sax has never been my favorite instrument, but like all instruments, it’s a pleasure when played well. This guy, unfortunately, was not very good. He wasn’t “rank beginner” awful, but he played a lot of wrong notes and…oh, the hell with it. It doesn’t matter how well he played. If Thelonius Monk himself decided to set up a solo show in the middle of Chestnut Ridge on a Sunday morning, it would have been every bit as annoying and inappropriate. I found myself finishing our walk in some disbelief that there exists some asshole who is sufficiently narcissistic to decide that what people going to one of our area’s finest nature parks really need is to listen to his not-very-good saxophone playing. Who on Earth possibly comes to that conclusion?

By the time his playing was finally fading from my ears as I and the dog achieved sufficient distance from him, he was playing “Over the Rainbow”. I got Cane back in the car, but instead of leaving the park, I drove back in. I wanted to see this clown closer up. I wasn’t going to yell out the window or throw garbage at him (though both were tempting prospects), but I wanted to see what kind of asshole does this. When I drove by his space, he had evidently decided that it was time to move on. His stand was gone, and he was leaning into the hatch of his little red car, putting away his horn after his presumably self-booked gig. Older guy. Skinny. Had his shorts pulled up oddly high, and socks up to his knees. There he was, evidently quite satisfied. He’d accomplished his mission, see, forcing himself upon everyone in earshot in a place where “in earshot” is a pretty large area.

As I drove home, I thought about the saxophone playing asshole…the sax asshole…the Saxhole. The Saxhole of Chestnut Ridge.

I’m not sure I’ll take Cane to Chestnut Ridge next week or not. We might, because I really do love that park, but I love others, too. High are my hopes, though, that I have heard forever the last of the Saxhole of Chestnut Ridge.

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4 Responses to The Saxhole of Chestnut Ridge

  1. Roger Owen Green says:

    always love your personal glimpses

  2. Lynn says:

    – " The more bad-ass a name a dog has, the less bad-ass the dog actually is." –

    I hadn't thought about it before but that might be true. My son and daughter-in-law have a pit bull named River (after River Tam) and she's a sweetheart and deathly afraid of thunderstorms.

  3. Bill says:

    Two points. First, I've defended my share of dog bite cases, and have concluded that any given case will turn on the dog's name. FiFi wins, Jaws loses. Other evidence seldom matters.

    Second, where would you have the sax player go? He has probably been driven out of his house by his family, and his garage by his neighbors. The parking lot of the mall is going to run him off toot de sweet. The park is all that is left for him, and you should give him a break. Lots of people dream of being able to play an instrument, but as you know that goal is not one easily achieved. I think the guy deserves credit, but I would encourage him to lay off "Over the Rainbow". There should be a 25 year moritorium on "Over the Rainbow", except for the actual Judy Garland in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz". The song– which is a fine song– has become a badge of wistful earnestness which has lost just about all of the authenticity it ever had, except in its original context.

    Other songs in this category include Graham Nash's "Our House" (Get off my lawn, you damn hippies!), and "House at Pooh Corner". Actually, all Loggins & Messina should be relegated to a box in the basement.

  4. Kelly Sedinger says:

    Bill: I'm assuming you're speaking with your tongue in your cheek here? (But if not: my pointing out that his choice of venue for his bad sax playing does not confer upon me a responsibility to suggest a more appropriate choice of venue. A public nature park ain't it. As for repertoire, I don't care, unless he shows up to repeatedly perform John Cage's 4'33"!)

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