Author Archives: JNUrbanski

Trail Blazing

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In the midst of cabin fever the winter before last I was out in the freezing, driving rain with the dog and decided to make a trail out of an old logging road on our property. We’d been using this trail through the forest, the dog and I, for some time and, unexpectedly – because it was about -10F at the time – the urge to start a trail came over me. To this day, I’ve no idea what prompted this move, but back then I just didn’t want to go back inside. I traipsed around in the forest for a couple of hours collecting large stones with which to line the trail until I was soaking wet and my woolen gloves had numbed my hands. Over the past year, we’ve added to it by lining the trail with a branches that look like they might one day thicken like a hedgerow. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 05/10/18

A high of 70F with huge, scene-stealing clouds and intermittent rain showers. Humid with early evening fog descending into the valleys and rising off the Esopus. Shoots a-shooting. Buds a-budding and the maple leaves unravel first. The forest comes alive and the soft earth ejects a few ancient objects.

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Cultivating Lion’s Mane Mushroom

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I first encountered lion’s mane mushroom last August on a hiking trail. It was growing on a dead log and I took half of it home and sautéed it with scrambled eggs. It was delicious, meaty and delicately fragrant with the texture of lobster. The mushroom is a powerhouse of beneficial nutrients and is said to improve neurological function and alleviate anxiety.

After searching high and low for the rest of the summer, I never saw it again. So,  I bought a grow kit from Catskills Fungi (pictured below) in December. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 05/06/18

57F and raining all day. Seeds sprouting. Ramps thriving, but the memory of a long, hard winter is not yet cold. Harvesting wood to season for next year.

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Daily Catskills: 05/03/18

A high of 85F, overcast, humid with morning sun and then frequent, refreshing afternoon rain showers being the only thing that stop the flies from dive-bombing our eyeballs. Hazy like mother nature accidentally dropped a bag of flour somewhere on the horizon.

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Birding in the Catskills

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If you’d have told me ten years ago that I would become a bird watcher, I would have told you to shut up and pass the whisky, but the truth is that birding is yet another remarkable stress reliever of the natural world, a brief distraction from daily worries in which you can focus on something completely different even for a few minutes.

The ability to forget your troubles, even for an hour, will save you more than a few grey hairs and there’s nothing more pressing right now than conservation of nature and the environment. Bird watching is another useful way to get involved. Anywhere there is park land, you’l find birds.

A modern approach to birding would be, of course, an app on the phone. Cornell University offers such an app, called Merlin, for free and, if you turn on location services for this app and submit the date and identification of every bird you spot on your property, whatever species you find gets recorded in their database. The app offers color pictures of birds, recordings of their calls, drums and tweets. This helps the university monitor bird species and, in return, you get forget to where you are, or what day it is, for a few minutes while you’re walking the dog while you stare at a species of woodpecker for half an hour wondering if it’s a downy or a hairy. You will play the song 20 times. Then you can play it’s drum 20 times and, then, ask the dog, who is now wondering what’s up there, several times, because it’s cloudy: “is that a red streak on its head”? The dog will choose not to divulge any information on the subject whatsoever, but will simply stare at you wondering where breakfast is. The second time, you’ll remember to bring the binoculars. After having used the app for a few days, it’s clear that no one bird song is the same as another even in the same bird. There are variations in every species possibly depending on the season, temperature, how high the bird is or how old, but it’s exhilarating to accidentally call over a chipping sparrow, who’s sporting some unusually beautiful plumage ordinarily only seen in spring when he’s interested in making some new chicks.

You can find information for beginner birders here. You can learn about “birding by ear”, which makes more sense than birding by sight, and all sorts of useful information on the subject at the Audubon website.

Bird watching is encouraged at the Mountain Top Arboretum in Tannersville.

There’s a “falcon whisperer” that goes to the top of bridges to monitor the bird population. Presumably, he’s in control of any vertigo. He will speak at the Catskill Center in June.

Some birding events coming up in the Catskills:

The Warbler Weekend, run by the Catskill Center in Mount Tremper on May 25th and 27th.

Taking Flight: A Birding Conference at the Ashokan Center on June 10th to 12th.

Daily Catskills: 05/01/18

77F by the afternoon, with mostly clear skies. Birds chirping. Blooms and leaves continue to bud like they weren’t covered in snow yesterday. Most of the snow melted by dusk, even on the ski slopes.

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Daily Catskills: 04/30/18

36F at 8am, snowing heavily, with the mountains shrouded in the thick fog of our profound resignation. We live in the mountains and, consequently, get all the weather. We catch all precipitation however cold it may be. The budding maple leaves that have been reddening the bare, umber brush like a light rash are covered once again in white powder for most of the day. Locals say that the weather was always like this and that back in the day, there was nothing planted before Memorial Day. Plus, of course, water is life. Keep it flowing.

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Daily Catskills: 04/29/18

A high of 45F and overcast, with icy rain, a flurry of snow, the occasional flash of late afternoon rain and mist settling in the mountains. The leaves of the Trout Lily spring up over the forest floor like spring’s green army.

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Daily Catskills: 04/28/18

A sunny morning filled with hope and enthusiasm, with a high of 65F by afternoon, followed by late afternoon showers and more gloom with brief flashes of sunshine. A vivid, beautiful sunset chased by mist sinking enigmatically into the valleys at dusk.

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Monday’s Radio Show: Joyce St George, running for NY State Senate

2018 is allegedly “Year of the Woman” and many women I know have been spurred to run for office. Go ladies, and thanks for your dedication. Joyce St. George will be the guest on my radio show on Monday April 30th at 9am. (You’ll find the show streaming online by clicking here and scrolling down to the grey bar above the address and clicking on it.) We’ll be talking about as much as we can: about being a woman in politics, her career in law enforcement, and her run for state senate.

Aside from being a fellow colleague on the radio with her show “Conflict Revolution”, a show that brings different people and perspectives together to discuss differences and find common ground, Joyce is a powerhouse with an intimidating resume. She began her career in the 1970s, when she became the first female investigator to serve in the New York State Attorney General’s Special Prosecutor’s Office on Anti-Corruption. Following the dramatic testimony of Frank Serpico, Joyce and her colleagues rooted out corruption within the criminal justice system in NYC, investigating police officers, judges and district attorneys. That was only the beginning of her career and I’m wondering why nobody’s made a movie about Joyce herself.

Joyce is approachable, affable and engaging with a big heart. With her husband Frank Canavan, she works with the Margaretville Food Pantry that serves 500 local families. Joyce was hired by FEMA to provide crisis services in Delaware County following the floods from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, and served on the Flood Mitigation Council for the area.

Tune in to WIOX on Monday April 30th at 9am.

All candidates running for office are welcome on the show. Please email your request to: wiox@wiox.wskg.org.

Update: an earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Joyce was running for State Assembly.

Daily Catskills: 04/27/18

44F at 10am and gloomy with mist rising off the Catskills and a light drizzle. There’s a burn ban in effect until May 15th, so the sky is keeping us well-watered and the sun decided help by completely disappearing. Wild leeks love the weather.

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Catskills Comfort Food

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Spring so far has been like a Bronte novel. First, we had snow right up until April 20th, and now we have continual rain on our face and gloom like we’re in England getting our hair salted and ruffled by sea winds. Any minute now, we might expect Heathcliff to run over the fields yelling for Cathy, but wet is good. We like to keep our many “kills” flowing, but it’s still chilly out there and expected to worsen: on Monday we will welcome more snow. To put it mildly, we’re not breaking out the salads. Locally, menus are changing with the season, but there are still good, hearty options in some places. The best Catskills comfort food has to be the Zephyr for its rib-sticking chicken pot pie, pictured above (and its decent prices, especially its good value prix fixe). So much of restaurant food is salty and loaded with butter, but the Zephyr’s isn’t. It uses tarragon in its pot pie and corn to add sweetness. It’s unfailingly delicious every time: a steadfast fixture on the Catskills food scene.

The Zephyr also does a good cream of broccoli soup loaded with smoked cheese and the most perfect chunky zucchini fritters (pictured below) with three kinds of sauce. One could live on these alone. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 04/24/18

60F on the peaks at 9am, wisps of cloud floating in a wash of blue, and breezy, with varied birdsong. A high of 67F and hot in the sun. 100F in the greenhouse.

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Daily Catskills: 04/21/18

Sun! 48F by noon with a high of 55F and brilliant sunshine fading to a hazy horizon. One lonely cloud takes a wrong turn. Spring waits in the wings, cooling its heels, like the introverted understudy, while the farmer prepares for the best.

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Daily Catskills: 04/20/18

More overnight snow squalls deposit a few inches of snow. Winter is the party guest that won’t go home, but won’t help with the dishes. He makes himself a cup of coffee and bangs on about how cool he is. True, he was handsome once, and was so photogenic. But someone please put him a taxi. Pay his fare if you have to. 35F by noon with a brisk chill in the air and overcast with cloud rippling like my brain on cabin fever. A high of 37F.

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Daily Catskills: 04/19/18

An inch or two of overnight snow and 35F by morning. Overcast with glowing, gunmetal clouds composed entirely of the sheer grey exasperation of waiting for spring. Snow, made exclusively from the frosty tears of our disappointment, resumes at lunchtime, but melts like our hopeful summer dreams into the soggy turf, dull and colorless like our mood, by the afternoon. Snow joke.

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Catskills Diary: This Writer’s Life

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There’s been a lot of very precious writing emerging in the last few years here in the Catskills where we are riding a tsunami of elite influencers, food writers and stylists. One such darling is Tamara Adler, Hudson Valley writer, who detailed every minute of a few days in her splendid life for Grub Street back in February. Click on the link and read about how she takes her tea in a mason jar and “cooks her eggs over smoldering coals” in a “hand-forged egg spoon” by popping them into her wood stove, poaching them, just so. She calls gouda, a Dutch cheese, “culturally transgressive”. Oh my. Does she mean “culturally”, as in fermented (in rennet) or culturally as in hip? And by “transgressive”, does she mean that gouda is an asshole?

Contrived observations aside, country life seems startlingly easy in the Adler household. She issues statement like, “I fire up the wood stove”. If you have a wood stove, you’ll know why this is understatement of the year. If she has ever dropped a 15 lb log on her foot, she doesn’t let on, but more important – who can afford to let their wood stove burn down to a smolder in the darkest depths of winter? If I had put an egg into my raging wood stove in February, it would have exploded. The spoon would have melted.

Now the New York Times has weighed in because there has rightly been a backlash against the egg spoon now that Alice Waters sells them – also hand forged – for a whopping $250 per spoon. I’m an enormous fan of Alice Waters and her work, but a $250 egg spoon is a luxury and after all her hard work promoting a sustainable food system, she probably deserves it. But I also certainly don’t agree that the backlash is sexist. It’s economical. I think it’s pretty extraordinary that the writer is linking the backlash to the MeToo movement.

I need to weigh in myself because I really don’t want readers to think that country life in the Catskills is easy. It’s not. Ask my husband who’s had a learning curve so steep, he could probably build us a new house from scratch. Here he is, replacing our siding last year, nonchalantly getting on with it without complaining:

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Further, we are still in the tail end – I hope! – of a six month winter and are running low on wood. We have run out of kindling, which is crucial to starting a fire quickly. There was plenty of it loose on the ground by the woodshed a few days ago, wet from the recent rain, but I forgot to sweep it up and dry it last night and now it’s covered in snow and completely useless. Today it took me exactly an hour to get the fire going. Now I have to go outside with the axe and make my own kindling for tomorrow because I feel like spring will never get here. It’s April 18th.

Yes, these mountains make you gasp in awe at their beauty every day of the year, but we do have our bad days. Cabin fever is a serious business if you work from home in winter. Maybe the fact that people are trying to cheer themselves up with old spoons is revealing in itself. Anyhow, in case it looks easy, here’s a more realistic rendering of a winter day in the life of a country lass and you can insert your own f-words before every noun. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 04/17/18

35F, but humid at 8am and lightly but steadily snowing over mountains shrouded in fog. A monochrome morning transforms to color by lunchtime because the snow’s too delicate to survive the soggy grass and muddy roads. A high of 39F and snow all day.

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Daily Catskills: 04/16/18

An overnight storm: house-rattling winds and freezing snow melting to slush in the morning. Rain mixed with hail begins mid-morning and becomes torrential with very high winds until mid-afternoon. A late afternoon high of 47F as fog hugs the mountains.

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Monday’s Radio Show

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On Monday’s radio show (April 16th) at 9am on WIOX, my guest will be Leslie T. Sharpe, editor and educator, author of The Quarry Fox and other Critters of the Wild Catskills.

Copyright © The Overlook Press

Leslie gave a remarkable speech at the Catskill Center on Saturday entitled “John Burroughs and H.D. Thoreau: The Roots of American Nature Writing” that transported the audience back in time with a teen-aged Washington Irving he sailed up the Hudson; described Thomas Cole as he painted the Catskills; showed us how John Burroughs forthrightly traipsed through dense hemlock forests.

Leslie, a member of PEN America, began her writing career at Farrar, Straus & Giroux and has been an editorial consultant, specializing in literary nonfiction (especially memoir, creative nonfiction, biography and cultural criticism), literary fiction (novels and short stories) and poetry. She has been Adjunct Associate Professor of Writing at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, where she taught in the undergraduate and graduate (MFA) writing programs for twenty years. Join us as we talk about her life as a naturalist, why she wrote her memoir and what’s so special about the quarry fox.

Spring Shoots

Despite the mid-week snow, on the warmest day of the year yesterday, the potato shoots were popping up, along with a large rash of arugula that looked like all the seeds had sprouted, rhubarb and hard-necked German garlic, the mother of all garlics with cloves as big as your thumb. Whether they survive this week’s plunge into far colder temperatures remains to be seen, but we’re expecting rain tomorrow, more snow mid-week and a steady 40F or thereabouts. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 04/13/18

The last remnants of snow linger in the shadows on the lower peaks, but the honey bees are out and busy. Bright sunshine, a high of 70F with a cooling breeze. The warmest day of spring so far.

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Earth Day at John Burroughs Woodchuck Lodge

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Celebrate Earth Day with John Burroughs at Woodchuck Lodge and help us raise funds to pay for the pruning of the apple orchard.

This event will take place Sunday April 22nd at 1pm at Woodchuck Lodge, Burroughs Memorial Road, Roxbury, NY 12474. (In bad weather, the event will be held at The Catskill Center in Arkville.)

Meet veteran birder Joe Siclare of the Denver Valley who will offer a class called “How To Get Started in the Birding Hobby: A Door to the Natural World”.

In this class, learn how to:  Continue reading

The Shavertown Trail, Andes

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The Shavertown Trail that runs over the summit of Perch Lake Mountain in Andes is a moderate hike suitable for all ages that offers its rewards early on: stunning views from Snake Lake about a mile up from the trailhead. This hike is perfect for a large family party or house full of visitors of assorted ages. The first mile is the most strenuous, after which less fitter members of the group can loiter at the lake and picnic – if spring ever visits us again – while admiring the views over the Pepacton Reservoir. Those who need more of a workout can can go further. After the lake, the trail is a solid, long hike for 1.5 miles through a dense hemlock forest to a loop which turns you around to hike back to where you started. The entire trail is 5.3 miles long and the elevation gain is only 700ft.

This guided hike – led by volunteers of the Catskill Mountain Club – was supposed to be a spring hike, but winter is hanging on like the overbearing party guest who has outstayed his welcome. Yes, he’s handsome and charismatic, but cold, and exhausting. Plus, the house is a mess. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 04/07/18

At least six inches of overnight snow, soft and powdery, not like Monday’s snow which disappeared pretty quickly. A high of 34F with clouds that ripple and shimmer in the sunlight. A beautiful day despite the shoveling.

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Catskills Weekend: Trout Tales

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Get hooked on fishing this weekend: Trout Tales starts this afternoon (April 7th, 2018) for an entrance fee of $10, take a wander around historic Spillian (pictured below in better weather) and listen to an afternoon of lectures dotted around the property that culminates in happy hour drinks, dinner and an evening of stories. Most interesting will be the Women in Fly Fishing, as the practice does seem to be dominated by men, like most of history. Hear stories from the ladies of the fly fishing world, including one record holder, Heidi Nute. For the foodies: learn to cook trout on a campfire.

Tomorrow Sunday April 8th, join The Catskill Mountain Club to hike the Shavertown Trail in Andes, the summit of which affords sweeping views of the Pepacton Reservoir. It snowed last night, here in the Catskills, depositing about six inches, so dress for the cold. Bring plenty of water. Pre-register here by emailing aroberti@catskill.net.

Spillian, 50 Fleischmanns Heights Road, Fleischmanns, NY 12430.

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Fly Fishing in the Catskills

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“Indeed, a certain quality of youth is indispensable to the successful angler, a certain unworldliness and readiness to invest yourself in an enterprise that doesn’t pay the current coin. Not only is the angler, like the poet, born and not made, as Walton says, but there is a deal of the poet in him, and he is to be judged no more harshly.” John Burroughs, Speckled Trout

Catskills residents enjoy liberties that they never take for granted: hunting and fishing are permitted here and, for many, these are reliable, cheap and honest ways to feed their family natural food. In the Catskills, fly fishing season begins on April 1st. Fishing permits are available for residents and visitors. A ceremonial casting usually takes place every year at Junction Pool in Roscoe, a body of water formed by the confluence of the Beaverkill and the Willowemoc rivers, where the fish linger a little too long, so the fishing is favorable. Roscoe is known as “Trout Town USA”, the birth place of fly fishing in this country.

The most popular place for Catskills fishing, however, is along the banks of the 65.4-mile Esopus Creek that originates at Winnisook Lake at the base of Slide Mountain, a favorite hiking spot of the local writer and naturalist John Burroughs who died about 100 years ago. Fishermen and women come from far and wide to fish this creek. From Slide, it runs alongside Route 47 to Big Indian, turns in a south-easterly arc and heads south alongside Route 28, until its impounded at the Ashokan Reservoir, so that New York City can have its drinking water, then heads north to the Hudson at Saugerties. There were few anglers spotted on the river today as this year’s gloomy opening morning coincided with the Easter holiday. Continue reading

Life Drawing at Streamside Yoga in Andes

© Sandy Finkenberg

Art is meditation, says William Duke who runs a Life Drawing class at Streamside Yoga in Andes every Thursday night with a live nude model from 4 to 7pm. Charge is $10 to pay the model and there is usually some serious regular talent at this event, like Sandy Finkenberg, Peter Mayer and William Duke, Steve Burnett or Gary Mayer. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 03/29/18

A high of 49F, humid, overcast with light drizzle. A spring thaw sends plumes of thick, fast-moving mist into the mountains. The Catskills becomes a steam bath. Stunning views from mountain tops. Large herds of deer graze under cover of early evening fog.

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Local Eggs

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Local eggs from Two Stones Farm in Halcott Center including one from a copper marans. The yolks were large, fat and bright. Local eggs are really meaty, rich and filling, the perfect substitute for meat if you’re trying to reduce or eliminate your intake.

Twin Town: Thimphu

© Linda Leaming courtesy of her Instagram account – Punakha Dzong in Bhutan

I recently got back in touch with an old guest on my radio show, writer Linda Leaming, an American who moved to Bhutan twenty years ago. Linda and I are beginning a podcast series of interviews that we will conduct between here in the Catskills and her home, Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, because we have found that there are many similarities between our lives. We are both living in stunningly gorgeous, mountainous, rural regions in countries in which we were not born, with different cultures, and in doing so, we’ve learned so much about ourselves, the world and have much to share about this experience. Continue reading

5th Annual Burroughs Catskill Mountain Community Day Lecture

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Leslie T. Sharpe, naturalist and author of “The Quarry Fox and Other Wild Critters of the Catskills” will be the guest speaker at the 5th Annual Burroughs Catskill Mountain Community Day Lecture at The Catskills Center in Arkville on April 14th at 1pm.

Her subject will be “John Burroughs and H.D. Thoreau: The Roots of American Nature Writing”.

This event has been arranged by the board of  John Burroughs Woodchuck Lodge Inc, the nonprofit organization that is custodian of writer John Burroughs’ home in Roxbury.

Woodchuck Lodge was built by John’s brother in 1862, 15 years after John was born, on the east end of the Burroughs family farm. The Burroughs’ homestead where both boys grew up, later sold, is a mile away up the road and was built when John was 13 years of age. Woodchuck Lodge was John’s retreat in retirement and he is buried nearby.

After Leslie’s speech, attendees will also commemorate his birthday. Birthday cake and light refreshments will be served. All are welcome.

Saturday, April 14th 2018 1pm at the Erpf Center, 43355 Route 28, Arkville, NY 12406. (Directions in link.)

Sponsored by John Burroughs’ Woodchuck Lodge, 1633 Burroughs Memorial Road, Roxbury, NY 12474.

Copyright © D.J. Glick

Daily Catskills: 03/14/18

A nor-easter all week: another whiteout. A high of 31F and relentless snow since Monday 12th. Shovel, shovel, shovel. Snow banks getting higher and higher. Icicles get longer and longer.

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