All over the Catskills you can find ancient shells, clam-like fossils and other marine life partially buried in the sandstone because, during the Devonian period, the Catskills were at the bottom of the sea, somewhere around the Bahamas. The Devonian Period was 400 million years ago and since then the Americas have moved farther north to the position they are in today. On hikes to places like Slide, Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain, the rocks look like they had pebbles thrown at them while they were molten. According to Catskill Mountaineer, Panther Mountain sits on top of a meteorite hit that happened 375 million years ago. In the middle of the picture above, taken on Slide Mountain, you will see what looks like the remnants of a curling shell.
Catskills evenings are magical on a clear night with a few planets in alignment and an inky sky bursting with stars. They’re even more magical when viewed from a fire tower of which there are five in the Catskills. Fire towers are equipped with cabins at their apex and these cabins were manned (can we say personned now?) to watch for fires in the Catskills that are common around May when the grass, having been covered and deadened during winter, hasn’t yet sprung to life. The foliage is also still very dry and wildfires are common.
On Friday September 2nd, witness the 3rd Annual Lighting of the Fire Towers when from 9 to 9.30pm, we are invited to find a place with a view of a fire tower (or towers) on the horizon and watch their cabin light up the night sky.
It’s difficult to decide what was more remarkable about a hike up Indian Head Mountain during hunting season. Would it be the periodic burst of gunfire from the local sportsman’s club every few hundred yards of my 13th peak over 3500 feet, like distant, anonymous cheerleaders? Perhaps it was the burly, camouflaged hunters strolling nonchalantly around the parking area, with loaded weapons over their shoulders, incongruously set against our hippy neighbors in their tie-dye. Possibly it was the roadside pile of dead deer we passed on the journey, but I think it was actually the unseasonal weather: t-shirt warm and humid at 55F by 10am on December 13th. I had no mobile phone service at lunchtime, so I could not tell what exactly the temperature was, but it felt like at least 60F. We’ve had a smattering of snow this year, but thus far that has been all. Last year was a strikingly different story as you can see here from our Daily Catskills picture of the same day. The lower parts of the trail to the summit and back down were wet and there were frequent stream crossings, but they were very low.
The trouble with hiking the Catskills in the autumn is that thick layers of fallen leaves completely cover the path. It’s easy to lose your footing and stumble, as your boot disappears up to the ankle into the crunchy leaves, especially when the ground underneath is rocky or slippery. The hike to Plateau Mountain from Mink Hollow Road on the Route 212 end, is rocky, pebbly and everything in between. It’s also wet, wet, wet; with several knee-deep river crossings on the first 2.6 miles, and frequent muddy pools, so if you feel like hiking it now, take your waterproof boots. One river crossing necessitated the aid of two large trees that were downed halfway across the water. All the clumsy, ankle-turning stumbling that’s met with enthusiasm on the way up becomes quite tiresome – and downright dangerous – on the way back to the car when you’re exhausted.
If it sounds like a big pain in the backside, this would be the point to mention that it’s utterly gorgeous: a smorgasbord of beautiful Catskills landscapes in a 7.3 mile round trip, featuring thick, white birch trees mixed with soft evergreens, falling waters, mossy boulders, a spring and a lean-to complete with outdoor privvy.
A beaver has moved into the hood, specifically the woods at the end of my road, and now I realize why the term “eager beaver” came into existence because he’s highly prolific. In his new habitat, a roadside pond, he has downed nearly ten trees in the short space of a week and was spotted yesterday, clearly from the road, swimming around on his back, surveying his work. One of the trees he felled looks to be about a foot in diameter. The town excavators who were clearing out all the gulleys in the area last week may not have noticed his handy work, but it looks like the over-achieving beaver is building the Empire State Building of dams and this could be a problem for the small stream that drains through the pond. He swims late in the day when the sun has warmed the pond, so I’ll be back around 4pm to see if I can catch him.
55F at raining by noon. Overcast, blustery and humid.
JN: How long have you lived in the Catskills?
PD: I was born in Margaretville, so I’m a lifelong resident except for five years that Michael and I – the year after I got married, I was very young – we moved to Texas. We lived there for five years so we could finish school for basically free. Then came back and started raising our family here in the Catskills. So we moved back to my Dad’s farm and he gave a piece of it to each sibling.
So my children grew up climbing on the same stone walls that I grew up climbing on and also my grandchildren are [doing that] as well. My brother and I used to bring the cows from the barn down the road up here to this field and then take them back again at the end of the day to be milked.
JN: How long have you lived in the Catskills?
BH: I was actually born here and then I moved away for college. I lived in New York City for a while and Boston for a while. I came back here and practiced law for a bit and then moved to the Finger Lakes area when our first child was born. I lived in Dutchess County for a while and came back about four years ago, right after Hurricane Irene.
So you like to travel?
No, I actually don’t like to travel, but my first wife was a navy brat and she did like to travel, so we did.
I was having a conversation with somebody else about that, about how young people are moving away and how we can keep young people in the region.
And that’s been an issue ever since I went to school here. I can remember the Rotary Club had about eight of us come down from my class in 1976 and asking us what would it take for [us] to come back here, but in being 18 years old, we didn’t really have an answer at the time.
We have a whole field full of yarrow this year, which is an anti-microbial herb with a distinctive aroma that’s reminiscent of anti-bacterial oils like tea tree. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be harvesting the best of it and drying it for use as a tea.
Yarrow is revered in the world of natural medicine with reports of it having universal healing powers, arresting conditions like bleeding, pain, infection, allergies, colds, flu, toothache, and gastro-intestinal disorders like cramps, bloating, indigestion and even urinary tract infections. The herb is an astringent and the liver benefits from yarrow’s bitter components. When taken as tea, yarrow is said to increase the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
It has been a remarkable summer for wild apple trees that seem to be everywhere you look. Much more conspicuous this year due to being so heavily laden with fruit, they’re all full to bursting with apples that are about two inches in diameter and mostly green in colour. Here in the Catskills, bear and deer are going to be feasting on them well into winter. The fruit is very tart to taste but make a superb apple sauce with the addition of sweeteners like honey, sugar or orange juice. They make a fantastic compote with berries. A noteworthy source of vitamin C and fibre, the apples will fit in just about any pie, cake or sauce. Soak them in vodka for a tart cocktail, a replacement for Cranberry juice, or add them to cider.
My persistent, resolute village envy has been exacerbated by the opening of The Annex in Andes, a boutique indoor market selling freshly cut flowers, cider, honey and herbs grown from seed, all locally produced. The building is on the corner of Main Street, that is Route 28, where it does a sharp right on its way to Delhi. Its interior looks like a rustic, aged restaurant made lovelier by the presence of herbs and flowers in the front and thirst-quenching Wayside cider in the back. Phoenicia Honey Co makes a welcome appearance.
Today, the ribbon was cut on the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center, a new center for visitors to the Catskills off Route 28 in Mount Tremper. A partnership of the Catskill Center, the Friends of the Catskill Interpretive Center and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, it features state of the art technology. The CIC is a space for the interpretation of the natural and cultural resources of the Catskill region.
You’ll find it tucked away behind an array of sculptures and a large kiosk on 5096 Route 28 in Mount Tremper. Plan your next trip the Catskills here.
56F at 8am, clear blue skies. A crisp morning. 74F and rolling grey cloud cover by afternoon. Heavy rains late afternoon/evening.
I am told by my pal, Laura Silverman, that spruce tips are ready to go. They are the brilliant green shoots that unfold from growths at the ends of the spruce spindles in May. They are much a much brighter green than the needles on the spindle and stand out in stark contrast to the tree itself. Snip the green shoots off and eat raw; they are packed with chlorophyll and Vitamin C. The aroma of only one of these little shoots is sensational. Literally spruce up a living room, pocket, bag or underwear drawer. They freeze well, so you can get your Vitamin C in the winter too. You can make tea, use in soups and salads. You can also crush them and make a pesto like you can with the garlic mustard. Recipes will be forthcoming over the weekend.
Jeff Vincent is proprietor of the new mountain guide business Catskill Mountain Wild, in Catskill, New York.
JN: How long have you lived in the Catskills?
JV: I was born in the town of Catskill 28 years ago.
So you’re a born and bred mountain man. You never wanted to leave? Usually young people leave here by the thousand every year.
I have left a few times and I came back. I lived in Denver for a year or so. I was in San Diego for a little while, but I really, really love this area, now that I’ve grown up and got all of that out of my system. I through-hiked the Appalachian Trail last year, so that got me away for six months.
A gloomy and dismally overcast morning with light winds, still on 44F at 9am. Gusty and raining by noon. Update: still overcast by 3pm with briefest glimpses of sunshine.
If you didn’t have time nor space to nurture seedlings this past harsh winter, the Catskill Native Nursery will have it for you. They are hosting the Annual Seedling Sale at the Wildflower Festival this weekend.
For next weekend: get recycled furniture and doors for your new country digs at the Western Catskills Revitalization Council which “provides homeowners and builders with unique, affordable materials for home improvement projects”. The nonprofit organization is “dedicated to improving housing, community revitalization, and economic development in Delaware, Greene and Schoharie counties”. Open to the public on Fridays (10-4pm) and Saturdays (10-3pm).
Jenny: How long have you lived in the Catskills?
Heather: I moved to the Catskills in 2007, so I’ve been here going on eight years.
Where did were you living before?
I was living in Dutchess County in Dover Plains and I had been there 17 years. I grew up in Nyack. I’ve actually never lived anywhere more urban than Nyack. It’s been a slow and steady march northward.
What started that slow march?
When I was in High School. I had a buddy who – and this is a crazy story – we both turned sixteen, got our driver’s licenses. She quit high school and moved all by herself as a sixteen year old to Woodstock.
Many foragers, hikers, herbalists and conservationists consider it a travesty that instead of pulling and eating their edible weeds people throw chemical weed killer on them. It’s bad for the water table and our health. Dandelions that are so prevalent in our gardens now are fully edible raw and full of vitamin A. One cup of chopped dandelion is said to have 111% of your daily vitamin A intake, for example.
60F at 8am with hazy cloud cover and a light breeze rising to 70F by mid-afternoon.
John Hoeko, a lifelong fly fisherman, owns Fur, Feathers and Steel in Fleischmanns. He’s writing a book about his life and times and his work with the Catskills waterways.
How long have you lived in the Catskills?
My whole life, except for one day. I was born in Jamaica, Queens. My grandfather was Chief of Radiology in a hospital in Queens. He thought that the local hospital here in Margaretville, the old one, was too provincial. So he insisted I be born in New York City.
So you’ve lived here in Fleischmanns ever since?
Yes, my parents originally lived off Ellsworth Avenue, while they were building our house.
Former Mayor of Fleischmanns Todd Pascarella is embarking upon a new effort to keep us all in good spirits. Union Grove Distillery in Arkville is due to open this year, producing vodka to start and eventually offering aged rye whiskey and aged rye bourbon.
When did you move to the Catskills?
I moved to the Catskills in Spring 2001. I was drawn here partly because of my experience of going to college down in Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I grew up in Long Island and it was quite a contrast from the life in Long Island to the way things were down there: the natural beauty and the niceness of the people down there. I decided to try and move up here by myself as a yearlong experiment and I moved to MT Tremper. And I started meeting a lot of people who I was fascinated by, so I decided to buy a fixer-upper house in Highmount. I lived in that for a couple of years and that’s when I met Jeanine.
“I don’t ever think any more in terms of weekdays and weekends… I don’t ever feel the need to book a vacation any more because to me it’s all here.”
Esther De Jong, model, real estate agent and fine artist lives full-time in the Catskills after relocating from her native Holland via a life and career based in New York City.
How long have you lived in the Catskills?
Poignant relics of Catskills’ history like this antique tractor are to be found all over the Catskills, as much part of the landscape as the forest. Over the next few weeks, as spring begins, we’ll be photographing these enigmatic idols as they sit silently conveying their story like stoic immortal pioneers. May they always be around to remind us of the work involved in settling these mountains. Along Route 28 and other routes, you will find pieces of farm equipment and other machinery arranged into statues. We’ll be documenting those too.
Erik P Johanson has lived in the Catskills for little more than a year, but has already developed a business plan for the redevelopment of the Maxbilt Theatre in Fleischmanns, which has resulted in the building being put on State and National Register of Historic Places in 2014: a formidable achievement in such a short time. He now works full-time for the Catskill Center in Arkville. After having lived in New York City for ten years, Erik and his boyfriend tried the Berkshires, New Mexico and looked to purchase property in Los Angeles before buying a house in the Catskills and moving here full-time.
What first brought you to the Catskills?
“My muse is always nature.” Molly J Marquand, Catskills transplant and fellow native Brit, photographer, writer, naturalist, and wild flower gardener dishes the dirt to Upstate Dispatch in our new series Catskills Conversations.
How long have you lived in the Catskills? About two and a half years, I moved from New York City where my fiancé and I, Martin, lived for three years. I was born in England and moved to the Hudson Valley just before high school. I did go back to England to get my Masters Degree, in Taxonomy and Conservation of Plant Diversity (Botany) a joint programme with Kew Botanical Gardens and The University of Reading. But my undergraduate degree, which was in Ecology, I did at Bates in Maine.
What made you move here? I’d always had my eye on it, because I knew that I always needed space. We had this dream of having a farm and having wide open tracts of land. At the same time, I wanted to be close to my mother who lives in the Hudson Valley. [My fiancé and I] were both attracted to landscapes like the Rockies and Montana and places like that, but knowing that we were never going that far away because Martin’s family live in New York City.
The Catskill Center, a non-profit organization formerly known as the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, has been an advocate for this area since its inception in 1969, instigated by Sherret Chase, Armand Erpf and Kingdon Gould Jr, to tackle preservation issues and “foster harmonious economic development” in the region.
In terms of conservation, this region has an advantage over neighbouring areas because it supplies New York City with its drinking water, which travels unfiltered to the city in huge underground tunnels. Should anything sully the NYC drinking water supply, a billion-dollar filtration system would have to be built, something that New York State is keen to avoid, so the waterways are protected by regulation. This regulation hampers development, a significant disadvantage to the local economy, so the proceeds from year-round tourism – 2.5 million tourists annually – are our biggest benefactor. The people of the Catskills sacrifice the growth of their economy so that New York City can drink pristine water.
Every dollar that you spend locally is 5 to 7 times the value of that expenditure to your community. When you shop at a big box store you’re diverting your capital directly out of your community to places like Asia, where most American products are made and wherever the owners of the big box store live. Furthermore, big box stores notoriously pay low wages to their workers, so by regularly shopping in those stores you’re contributing to the large-scale expansion of a low-wage job sector, such is the power of your wallet. Moreover, it’s no secret that government is bought and paid for by large corporations through lobbying and campaign fund contributions, the Supreme Court now having ruled that those contributions may be unlimited. Even if every American decided to vote in the next election, this fact would remain unchanged. This means we are remarkably more powerful when we are spending our money than when we are voting. All the power is in our purse and how we spend our hard-earned money, quite an extraordinary fact. Think about what would happen if we all stopped shopping for a few days, or stopped buying brand-new products, or only purchased food from our local farmer.
One way to buy local and recycle is to choose vintage stores for your Christmas shopping, thereby saving your economy and your environment in one fell swoop. One such place here in the Catskills is Mystery Spot Antiques in Phoenicia owned by Laura Levine, an artist who has shown work at the MOMA and has work in the permanent collection in the National Portrait Gallery. Laura has a superbly discerning eye and has filled her “odditorium” with magnificent, beautifully unique gifts like a snakeskin purse, a shearling coat, Liberty of London ties, gorgeously dainty Czech glass goblets and a bucket of polaroid cameras.
“I have always collected weird things my entire life,” she says. “I’m from the city. I grew up in the city, but my parents had a little cabin upstate when I was a kid and we used to go to yard sales and in the city I always used to go to flea markets.” Her antique store used to be in a little multi-dealer store in Phoenicia Plaza, near where the Phoenicia Diner is now. She had a 10 x 10 booth and stocked it with antiques until the placed closed down. “I had 30 days to move my things out and I was either going to sell it all or take the next step and open my own shop. I wasn’t going to do that, but I found a little space on the boardwalk in Phoenicia for $200 a month, so I took it. I opened over the summer for 20 days a year and the store grew from there.” That was over 13 years ago and five years ago the shop moved to its current, much larger and more prominent location on Main Street.
The store has just invested in two pick-up truck loads from an estate sale that she is still picking her way though, but her favorite thing of the moment is a steel shoe mold from a shoe factory, in a men’s size eight. “The thrill of the hunt is really the fun part,” says Laura who still lives in New York City and has an employee run the store for most of the time. “When I am at the store, I love meeting my customers. I’ve made some really great friends. I feel like it attracts kindred spirits and I always end up having something in common with the customers, like our paths crossed in the music business or the art world or something.”
For this weekend’s Small Business Saturday, the store is displaying a table of gift suggestions which range in price from 25 cents (for vintage greeting cards) to about $200, but the average price at the table is $20-$30. Gift certificates are also available: perfect for Christmas and especially if you’d like your in-laws to visit more! Entice them back to claim their gift.
If you’re wondering why Davy Crockett is outside, he’s a loaner from the neighboring Sportsman’s Cantina, moved there after Hurricane Irene, that Laura was thrilled to receive. It’s Davy’s birthday on August 17th and last year they had a Davy Crockett day during which customers dressed up as Crockett and local businesses donated prizes.
Go and have a dig around yourself in Mystery Spot Antiques, 72 Main Street, Phoenicia, New York: (845) 688-7868. Open weekends only for the winter, Saturday 11am to 6pm and Sunday 11am to 5pm. Find them on Facebook and Instagram. THIS WEEKEND ONLY: for Small Business Saturday on November 29th, get 20% off everything, except Mystery Spot Antiques’ tote bags and t-shirts.
If you’re one of those people not swearing off dairy for anything from heartburn to allergies, you might consider shopping for local New York State dairy products. If you’re an ethical consumer concerned about the effects on animals and people of large-scale dairy farming, you could help by shopping the Catskills Family Creamery trail. The Catskills Family Creamery is “a group of farmstead dairy producers exploring collaborative marketing, distribution and educational activities” including small farms like Lazy Crazy Acres, Cowbella and Dirty Girl Farm producing gelato, butter, yoghurt, kefir, cow and goats milk cheeses and fluid milk. (Lazy Crazy Acres bottles the DiBenedetto family’s Crystal Valley Farm milk.) Their motto is “Small Dairies Making a Big Difference” and you could make a difference by choosing to support small dairy operations in which farmers treat their animals with respect and protect their environment: the same environment that gives clean, unfiltered drinking water to almost nine million NYC residents. Not only does it take effort to ethically farm, it takes additional time and work to protect the NYC watershed.
Mark Bittman wrote a column about milk in the New York Times this year stating:
But the bucolic cow and family farm barely exist: “Given the Kafkaesque federal milk marketing order system, it’s impossible for anyone to make a living producing and selling milk,” says Anne Mendelson, author of “Milk.” “The exceptions are the very largest dairy farms, factory operations with anything from 10,000 to 30,000 cows, which can exploit the system, and the few small farmers who can opt out of it and sell directly to an assured market, and who can afford the luxury of treating the animals decently.
We could all be a market for a local, small-holding dairy operation that Mark mentions. Vote with your dollar for the kind of farming you’d like to see in the world.
It doesn’t take much to make a chicly eclectic compost carrier. Find some leftover wood and a couple of door hinges, hammer it together with nails, watch it all turn to shit. Voilà!
Plastic has gradually displaced wood over the last forty years in all products ranging from toys to furniture, to siding for houses and everything in between. Plastic is disposable though and most of it ends its life floating in the South Pacific. In the Catskills, wood is carved and carved upon, built with, juiced, chopped, stacked and burned. We have associations and organizations that manage and conserve our forests. You’ll possess a finely crafted wood product for life and pass it down like art in your family as a treasured heirloom. Supporting local carpenters and craftsmen keeps that craft alive and keeps one more piece of plastic out of the ocean. It doesn’t take much to buy a carving board from local New York State wood like maple (pictured above from Knap Knoll) or wooden toys for children that will last many lifetimes. If you’re looking for a larger handmade heirloom for your family, visit Gary Mead’s Fruitful Furnishings in the Catskills for some of the finest craftsmanship in the Catskill Park region. And, as a side note, to protect our forests from invasive species, like Emerald Ash Borer and Asian Longhorn Beetle, please do not transport firewood.
“The goal of farming,” wrote Masanobu Fukuoka, farmer and author of One Straw Revolution, “is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings”.
The delicate words of this Japanese maestro echo all over the Catskill Mountains as young people, city-bred and country-born, return to farming in droves. Agricultural courses spring up like new shoots across the Northeastern states to respond to demand. Furthermore, there’s a flurry of articles regularly in the media about diverse people quitting New York City. Young, old, wealthy and those tired of the city’s rising cost of living are all looking to make upstate their home. Homesteading is an art in itself and the Catskills are bustling with creative activity. Small-scale farming, the kind that covers the property’s operating costs, doesn’t have to be an enormous amount of work and new busy upstaters with enough capital can now hire farmers and farmer’s apprentices to run their farms while they continue their existing businesses. City transplants who have made the leap quickly find that there’s an invigorating honesty in land cultivation that is rarely found in city life.
Novice homesteaders looking for an exquisitely picturesque organic farm on which to model their fledgling operation should look no further than Two Stones Farm in Halcott, New York.
On Saturday September 21st, there was a march in New York City for Climate Change. The Amish were not noted for their attendance, but they’re the ultimate environmentalists. Quietly and unceremoniously saving the planet, they’re still riding horses to work, making furniture, raising barns all on their own and getting none of the credit.
It would make sense to support these stoic, pastoral custodians and buy a piece of their furniture.
“Master, Mentor, Master: Thomas Cole and Frederic Church” until November 2nd, 2014 at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring Street, Catskill, N.Y. For more information: thomascole.org or 518-943-7465.
Don’t forget to see the gorgeous paintings of “BREATHE: Plein Air Paintings of Delaware County by Sandy Finkenberg” at the Catskills Center’s Erpf Gallery in Arkville, New York until October 24th, 2014.
Alice Waters at the Blue Cashew Kitchen Pharmacy in Rhinebeck, New York on September 28th 2014.
23rd September at 11am, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development are breaking ground on the site of the new Maurice Hinchey Interpretive Center, a center where tourists can learn more about the wonderful Catskill Mountains. The ground breaking will be followed by a hike.
If you’ve bought a parcel of land with forest, there are plenty of things you can do to maintain it. You can sell trees or use them for firewood.
If you have dead trees on your property, you can tell that they’re dead now by observing that they have no leaves. Before Autumn rolls around, right about now, you can go through your forest and paint the dead ones, so that when all the leaves are gone you have a reminder of which ones are dead. This gives you time over the winter to fell, chop and season the wood. (Only paint them green if you’ve run out of white spray paint and need to get the job done today.)