In The Hemlocks

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Catskills’ Writer and naturalist John Burroughs (1837-1921) called hemlock forests “…dark, sheltered retreats” and there is an earthy stillness in a hemlock forest that’s incomparable with the rest of the rocky Catskills forest. The trees are tall, majestic statesmen, all going in the same direction, unwavering in their straightness, like woodland sentries guarding over life below them. Hemlock forest floors are a thick, bouncy carpet made of billions of hemlock needles which seems to absorb all the sound, and the bark is a rich brown that soaks up the light. On bright, cloudless, sun-filled days, beams of sunlight break through the hemlock canopy like flashlights pointing from above into the tranquil haven. The smell is intoxicating.

“Their history is of a heroic cast,” wrote Burroughs of the hemlocks. “Ravished and torn by the tanner in his thirst for bark, preyed upon by the lumberman, assaulted and beaten back by the settler, still their spirit has never been broken, their energies never paralyzed.”

Here in the Catskills, again the hemlocks are under attack due to the long march of the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, a pest that has been ravaging our local population of hemlocks since the 1980s. Signs that your hemlocks are under attack are pretty obvious. If you observe a thick, white foam on the underside of the hemlock leaves, you should send an email to: DSNIDER@CATSKILLCENTER.ORG who works with CRISP, the Catskills Regional Invasive Species Prevention project run by the Catskill Center that is now using biological methods to counter the pests. Continue reading

The Pines in Mount Tremper

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Turns out this local gem is situated just a walk up the road from the crossroads of Wittenberg and Route 212 in Mount Tremper. If you have loved ones coming in on the Pine Hill Trailways bus from New York City, the bus driver will allow them to alight at this crossroads and walk a few minutes up Route 212 to The Pines. Once there, they can drink a lot and have their host drive them back to their digs for the weekend. How convenient is that? Continue reading

Monday’s Radio Show: Burlesque & The Outdoors

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Two separate subjects will be discussed on Monday’s radio show; two that don’t go together at all, except in much warmer weather: burlesque and the outdoors, namely hunting and fishing.

Last year, Brett Rollins, aka Neil O’Fortune, put on a burlesque show at Union Grove Distillery in Arkville that was extremely well-received and very popular with a large crowd. Brett says that he’s had so much warm and positive feedback on the event that he’s putting on another one on in February.

Burlesque has a 100-odd-year history dating back to the musical halls of Victorian England and is mostly irreverent slapstick with music and comedy skits. It came to America around that time, but it’s popularity waned in the mid-twentieth century. It’s most recent revival, called neo-burlesque, has been popular in New York City since about 2001 and, having reported on it for national publications, I’ve witnessed it being remarkably popular with the ladies. It’s a favorite with large groups of women for bachelorette nights and girls’ nights. The art raises the matter of body image for women. Women have been fed the importance of being skinny by the media for so long that we all think that there’s something wrong with our bodies, but in actual fact, we should celebrate our natural form. Fashion magazines are for fashion and not a guide in how a woman’s body should look and its time we stopped torturing ourselves. Diseases like anorexia and bulimia have never been more prevalent. Burlesque acts feature women of all shapes and sizes in fantastically elaborate costumes – a celebration of the female form. Listen in on WIOX on Monday to hear me discuss this with Brett, and Fifi Dupree joining us on the phone, from 9am to 9.30am.

In the second half of the show, from 9.30am to 10am, we’ll be discussing outdoor pursuits fishing and hunting with Ryan Fifield of Fifield Outfitters. How to get the correct permits, NYS rules and regulations and the services that Fifield Outfitters offer.

 

Fire Cider Making

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Fire cider is a traditional, ancient folk remedy and winter tonic in which curative roots, herbs and spices are steeped in apple cider vinegar. The basic ingredients of fire cider are garlic, horseradish root, jalapeños, habaneros, ginger and onion. Chop these ingredients finely, put them in a mason jar and cover with apple cider vinegar. To this mix you can add extras like grapefruit, rosemary, garlic, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne pepper or really anything that takes your fancy, usually a root or herbs because they steep better than powders.  Continue reading

Bee Hopeful

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Our early attempts at beekeeping failed when our bees died over one of the Catskills’ harshest winters four years ago and we never got back on that horse again. Past Catskills winters have been brutal with night-time lows as low as 15F recorded on our thermometer, but that was nothing compared to the temperatures we have just been though this winter: -19F over this past Christmas and the New Year. Not sure how any creatures except the penguin survives these kinds of temperatures, but year after year, we find bumble bees pollinating our crops. They must survive in the wild somehow. Continue reading

Cornell Mountain Gets Further Away

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How quickly the phrase “failure is not an option” turns into “let’s find the nearest pub” when faced with an extended trip down an icy rock face. Pictured above is part of the trail down Slide Mountain on the way to Cornell. Yes, that’s the trail up the middle of the picture, completely filled in with ice. If you had been there you would have found me clinging to some of this rock face, stuck and hyperventilating, even wearing crampons, wondering aloud, why, why, why, am I here again? Have I learned nothing? You would have observed my dog looking at me quizzically, wondering, why doesn’t she just trot down like I just did?

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Daily Catskills: 01/24/18

Briefly back to the earth tones and flax colored landscape. Bitterly cold with an icy wind chasing grainy snow that swirls around on the ground and fills the air, glittering in the sun. An afternoon high of 28F.

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Exploring Kaaterskill Falls: Winter Edition

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The gloriously gorgeous Kaaterskill Falls, being one of the true wonders of the Catskills, is one of our most popular hiking spots for tourists: lush in the summer and, in winter, haunting the eye with its striking beauty. Because of its popularity, it’s noticeably the most well maintained area, with manmade steps, bridges, a viewing platform, rope handles and much more signage. Most of the signage this season is warning signage because Kaaterskill Falls is also the most dangerous place in the Catskills, statistically speaking. Deaths and injuries occur here every year, mostly because people hike to the top of the waterfall and slip over the edge. To prevent more accidents, a sturdy old-school, farm style fence has been installed at the top of the falls, in addition to plenty of warning signs saying: “danger!” Continue reading

Catskills Events: January

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There are some first class events happening in the last few weeks of January, namely a Full Moon Ski/Snow Shoe, a fly fishing meeting at The Pines, an open house at the Catskills Interpretive Center and a farmer’s market. See you there.

Thursday January 25th – 6pm to 10pm – Anglers’ Night at The Pines
From 6pm to 10pm, join a “casual gathering of anglers and friends” at The Pines in Mount Tremper. 5327 Route 212, Mount Tremper, NY 12457.

Saturday January 27th – 11am to 3pm – Winter Open House at the Catskill Interpretive Center
Come out to the Catskill Interpretive Center to learn more about the great opportunities to get outside in the Catskills this winter. Meet outdoor adventure experts and browse information tables from local recreation organizations, enjoy indoor & outdoor activities for all ages from animal tracking to snow sculpture, and much more! Admission to this event is free. RSVPs are appreciated. Call 845-688-3369 or click here. 5096 Route 28, Mount Tremper, NY 12457.

Tuesday, January 30th 6pm to 8pm – Blue Moon Snow Frolic at the CIC
On the grounds of the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center​ in Mt. Tremper, Jonathan Mogelever will lead a moonlit cross country ski excursion on the 1.5 miles of trails. Jeff Senterman​ will snowshoe with those that prefer a wider base. A bonfire will burn for digit-warming, there will be telescopes available for moon-gazing and the supermoon will light the trails. The Catskill Interpretive Center will be open for hot chocolate and snacks. Cross country skiers from beginners to advanced are welcome to this 45 minute ski and/or snowshoe. Bring your own equipment and please dress warmly.

Monday’s Radio Show: January 22nd, 2018

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On Monday’s radio show on WIOX, we’ll be exploring both history and the natural world: the local tradition of ice harvesting and fly fishing.

On the first half of the show, I’ll be talking to Lisa Wisely of Blue Spark Creative Services, together with Kajsa (pronounced Keesa) Harley of Hanford Mills Museum where the annual ice harvest will take place. Before refrigerators, we had ice houses, which were separate structures from a main house, sometimes built into a hill and in the shade, in which we kept ice in chunks. Lakes were a good source of ice and this ice was harvested and distributed every year.

Every spring, I invite a few local, famous fly fisherman on to the show to talk about this meditative art about which the only thing I can’t get behind is catch-and-release. I prefer not to torture the poor creatures. If I’m going fishing, I’ll be eating whatever I catch. My guest on Monday, in the second half of the show, will be Todd Spire of Esopus Creel.

Local Maple Syrup CSA

It’s syrup time. Taps went into trees a little earlier this year. Tree Juice is now offering a CSA.

There are many maple syrup producers in the Catskills and some of them welcome visitors. It’s worth paying more for local sugar and seeing how it’s made. Some of the modern equipment is more complicated that customers realize. Farmers and producers use miles of tubing to collect the sap. Syrup is produced by condensing the sap and 50-60 gallons of maple sap yield one gallon of syrup. It’s completely organic. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 01/13/18

Bright sun poking through hazy cloud with a high of 20F and a continual flurry of glittering snow. Large puddles of mud with frozen crusts crack underfoot and trees creaking in the cold.

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Mid-Winter Planting: Hickory Nuts

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Yesterday, the temperature inexplicably rose up into the sixties for a few hours, followed by rain and a severe flood watch. Since then it has plunged back into the teens after an overnight snow storm, during which I woke up to the sound of cracking trees and thundering wind rattling my drain pipes. Never a dull moment here in the mountains. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 01/12/18

Overnight, gusty, house-creaking, tree-waving winds continue into morning, with rain melting the last of the snow, and bright despite being overcast. A lush landscape of brunette tones is revealed, and the landscape welcomes a drenching before the ice storm. A balmy 61F. T-shirt weather. Flood warning. The carbon sink (compost piles) gets a thorough soaking.

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Daily Catskills: 01/11/18

A high of 52F, gloomy all day with the occasional whip of wind and a chorus of tinkling as the snow drips from high places. An anonymous critter’s regular commute back and forth from a large cave into the hemlock stand melts slowly to reveal a trail of crushed ash leaves.

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Bear Cub Birthing Season

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We have a large rocky outcropping on the edge of the forested part of our property that juts out sharply towards our neighbor’s ten-acre forest (pictured above). This rocky area, about an half an acre in size, is essentially a pile of assorted boulders that look like they’ve been tossed down the hill, but I suspect that this pile is home to various creatures great and small. Years ago, when I was brushing my teeth, casually looking out the bathroom window, I saw a fisher cat sneaking through the back of our woods behind the house towards this rocky outcropping. Continue reading

Hot Toddies, Seeds and Bee Bibles

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Cabin fever has you wondering if its possible to survive another six-month winter and why you would put yourself through another one, but there’s a reason we have winter in the Catskills. I like to think that it’s not because the earth suddenly tilts for no purpose whatsoever, as if holding its cold ass to the fire. No, winter’s for learning, seed planning, and drinking a lot of warming winter cocktails like hot toddies and mulled wine. If the earth must kick back, so can we. Continue reading

Local Radio: WIOX

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Local, regional radio hosts and shows are finally getting the attention they deserve from the New York Times in a piece by Kirk Johnson entitled: “As Low-Power Local Radio Rises, Tiny Voices Become a Collective Shout”. I’m proud to be part of this chorus on WIOX Radio on Roxbury, Upstate New York in a show called The Economy Of, in which I tackle different subjects every other week with guests from all over the world. I’m also being considered for a Morning Edition slot from 7pm to 9pm one day a week on this station. The station and its programs are indeed incredibly diverse and informative. Started by a group of locals in a converted barn and now partnered with WSKG, a NPR affiliate, WIOX is the little engine that could, covering everything local in the Catskill Mountains, streaming online and locally on 91.3FM.

If you missed it, this morning my show was on farming. My guest was Dana DiPrima, aka Farm Girl, who writes the blog The Pitchfork about keeping a small farm on her property in Sullivan County. I’ve been farmer’s advocate since I began my show almost seven years ago. Time flies!

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How To Quickly Build A Roaring Fire in a Cold Wood Stove

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Quickly making a roaring fire is a fine art and in these plummeting temperatures the art form becomes a necessity when you’re starting a fire in an extremely cold cabin.

Materials pictured above from left to right: paper, tinder, kindling and thin, light logs of “starter” wood.

The real secret for great tinder is a certain type of egg box made with compressed paper or cardboard that is a strong enough structure to support the pyre while it’s burning, but light enough to burn easily. Paper alone is too light and burns down quickly. Once it has burned down, the embers can dampen your fire. Egg boxes burn slowly and cleanly. You can also use paper towel tubes, but the issue here is that you need to have saved them in advance. Continue reading

Happy New Year from Upstate Dispatch

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We enter the New Year 2018 with formidably low temperatures. Christmas was bitterly cold and New Year’s Eve’s overnight low is predicted to be -8F. I cannot remember it ever being much lower than zero in previous winters. It feels like a thorough cleansing, as if Mother Nature wants to properly destroy everything before she resuscitates the landscape next Spring. Previous milder Winters have been blamed for the prevalence in ticks, for example. This year – this past Fall – we had a record number of ticks on our ridge and extremely low winter temperatures do their part to kill the eggs and larvae hibernating in the soil. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 12/21/17 Yuletide & The Winter Solstice

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Today, December 21st, is Winter Solstice, officially the first day of winter. The northern hemisphere of the earth is pointed the farthest away from the sun and, tonight begins its slow return towards it until the June Solstice of 2018. The ancient tradition of Yuletide, one of the oldest winter celebrations in Europe began this morning and will end on January 1st, 2018. Last year, 2016, Hanukah, a festival of lights, coincided almost exactly with Yuletide, from December 20th to January 1st. Yuletide was a fire festival celebrated by the Northern Europeans. Pre-Zoroastrian Persians and ancient Romans celebrated something similar before the common era. The most enduring British tradition from Yuletide is the Yule Log, a small firestarter from a larger bonfire that was shared with many households by landowners in England. Evergreen trees were fashioned into wreaths and other decorations for the interior of the house for their refreshing smell. The Brits still make cakes fashioned into Yule logs and, of course, we still bring in pine trees, decorate them with lights, but now we call it Christmas. Happy Solstice!

Sunday on Bearpen

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I’ve written about Bearpen Mountain before after climbing it in March 2016. As I wrote then, it’s aptly named, being bearish not bullish, a long, gentle incline around a mountain following a snow mobile trail. Bare trees allow stunning, almost panoramic views, glimpses of the surrounding countryside, so it’s easy to keep your bearings. When the mountain’s covered in a few feet of snow, you can follow the tracks of previous hikers up or down a handy short cut that’s a dashed black line on the map and helpfully signed “Danger”, but this part of the trail is scantily marked, so I’ve never had the courage to bother with it before. It was a blessing on the way down on Sunday because all the hikers before us had decided to take the short cut so we had broken trail most of the long way up and – as usual – I had forgotten something, snow shoes, that would have made the going far easier. Continue reading

Literary Catskills: Burroughs

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In the hushed, revered halls of the New York Public Library on 42nd and 5th Avenue you’ll find The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, in which sit several collectible works of John Burroughs. The historical, literary treasures of the substantial Berg Collection sit in their own private reading room. Visits must be booked in advance to view any works in this room, in which coats are prohibited and other books are not allowed near whatever you are viewing. I’m imagining being presented with white gloves and whispering, so I don’t accidentally spit on the ancient goods. Visitors must obtain a NYPL Library card which is about as thrilling as it gets for a bookish, foreign writer like myself. I might frame it. Continue reading

Buy Local Art

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Artist Lisbeth Firmin will be busy during the holiday season finishing large and small works for sale. Currently in her studio in Margaretville working on two new oils and starting a third, she welcomes studio visits, and takes commissions. “I love painting people’s pets, too” she says. “I just did a commission for a friend in NC, a portrait of him and his dog in his beloved Mustang”.

Her signature style is rich, stout brush strokes that create a lush dreamscape, a ruminative environment where subjects are often caught deep in thought, or on their way somewhere – and often both! –  with the ambient lighting, like sparkling daylight or a sunset, beautifully captured.

For small works, Lisbeth does small gouaches (9″ x 12″) for $300 and has the tractor prints available this Christmas, at $50 each. She’s also in Small Works Show in Roxbury through the Holidays, with three small gouache studies @ $150 each (6″ x 6″) and have a nice gouache of a house in Franklin in the MURAL Holiday show in Hobart ($195). Here’s a list of all the latest exhibitions in which Lisbeth is showing.

For the art lovers in your life, consider buying local art for the holidays.

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Correction: A previous version of this post mentioned a January 2018 class entitled Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain in Hobart NY. The class was actually a summer class that took place this past summer 2017. Apologies!

Grow Your Own Mushroom Kits

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I know what you’re thinking. This looks hideous. Who would eat this? But, If you’re an avid mushroom hunter, a devotee of all things mycological, then you’ll miss the vast array of mushrooms that were available in the forest during the warmer seasons. Pictured above is a mushroom grow kit, specifically Lion’s Mane, a delicate, fragrant mushroom with a taste and texture that’s a cross between lobster and truffles. I found only one stash of Lion’s Mane back in August in the forest and it was delicious. I’m trying to recreate this mushroom in my kitchen with a grow kit purchased from Catskill Fungi, but I think the room is a bit too light and warm. Mushrooms are extraordinarily sensitive and I have not been able to encourage this packet to achieve its full potential. In the wild, it looks like this: Continue reading

Amy’s Take-Away: Farm Fresh Soups

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Upstaters are busier than ever, especially around the holiday season. Many of us – writers, farmers, makers and artists – work from home and if you do, you might spend hours a day cooking your own meals that detract from your billable hours or projects. Amy’s Take-Away & Catering in Lanesville, ten minutes north of Phoenicia, NY, makes delicious, hearty soups with local ingredients offering vegetarian, vegan and meat options in equal numbers. If you’re having a particularly busy week, you could buy five of Amy’s soups at the weekend and save hours cooking lunch and cleaning up.

Amy’s is open on weekends from 12-6pm or “by chance or appointment”, meaning you can make an appointment, or if you’re in the area and Amy is on the premises, you can call 845-688-9759. The premises is only ten minutes from Hunter Mountain and quite a few Catskills 3500 peaks. If you’re ski-ing and hiking at the weekend, it’s a no-brainer to take Route 214 and pick up soups on the way.

Moreover, owner Amy Jackson is a farmer’s advocate having been a long-time member of NOFA, Chefs’ Collaborative, and Just Food. She is a certified food processor, a Master Gardener and has helped start farmers’ market and RSAs. Plus, she gets her produce directly from local, upstate farmers, driving to the farms herself to pick up what she needs.

On the current menu: corn chowder, cauliflower cashew, broccoli apple, minted pea and spinach, Ukranian borscht, turkish orzo, moroccan turnip and chickpea, “buddhist delight” and many more. Ingredients are sourced from Adams Farm, Bulich Farm, Migliorelli, RSK and Story Farms.

Daily Catskills: 12/09/17

A high of 30F and cold with afternoon snow beginning as a light sprinkles at lunchtime and continuing well into the evening. Cars over-shooting their turns, sliding gracefully off roads and into ditches, just before dusk ahead of the snow ploughs. Winter has finally arrived.

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