Zen and the Art of Hay Making

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I took some time off to finish my memoir last month and part of it was published in Farmer-ish. Please find the link to my essay here.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m a former city girl: a Londoner, then a New Yorker, who is now living on a 100-acre farm in the middle of the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York, tapping maple trees, planting vegetables and driving tractors. I write about my hilarious first tractor lesson, which was the culmination of a turbulent two years: a painful divorce, a long stint alone in quarantine on a mountain top, and then falling in love with a local farmer who lived six miles away over the mountain, but I had to pay 100 bucks to meet him online. I now live with him and (part-time) with his young children and, thus far life has been as wild as that first day on a tractor.

Farmer-ish is a beautiful, literary farming journal and I’m proud to have my 1500-word essay included in their Winter Solstice edition. I hope you enjoy it.

Jenny Neal

Book Stores of the Catskills

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I’ve been in the Catskills for 18 months, leaving once or twice on occasion, but only for a few hours. For a frequent, avid traveller this is something of a record. I’m used to getting on planes and escaping whenever I feel like it, but as a writer, I also know we can travel through books. Wherever I have travelled, I have always bought a couple of books from the local used bookstore, and I always leave a book in my hotel room or rental.

Last week, I joked with a friend that one day books might be obsolete because they provide only words, not video: your imagination must provide the rest. I hope this isn’t true. I know at least one person who credits his imagination to a love of books in his early life. It’s my goal to read all the books and one day have a book barn and reading room, but until then I would recommend a book tour of the Catskills.

Although there are book sellers, there are very few book stores within the boundary of Catskill Park, in the midst of the mountains where Upstate Dispatch is based (the so-called “blue line”), our side of the Hudson River. Technically, there may be only two: The Golden Notebook in Woodstock (open all week). Woodstock is the quintessential Catskills town through which every local should take an early evening stroll at least once a year for the sheer romance alone. If you’re in love with a book nerd, spend all afternoon in the Golden Notebook, then treat yourself to dinner (the fabulous Cucina is open all week) or ice-cream at Sweet Dreams, which is open all week.

Briars and Brambles Books, Windham

© Briar and Bramble Books

Update: This book store is on the list to visit. It’s open all week. Watch this space.

On the outskirts of the Catskills, there are book stores in major town on your way into the heart of the Catskills. Please stop at one when you visit. As one owner told me yesterday: “you don’t make any money from the books. You have to offer the gift items too”, so buy a coffee, eat a pastry, read a book. Schedule chores and errands around a book store to relieve the boredom.

The Green Toad Book Store, Oneonta

(Pictured top) For a bookworm, there’s something magical about finding yourself on a deserted Main Street mid-week in the early dusk of autumn. It’s as if you’re getting a personal tour through history like you’re in an empty museum. To then chance on the welcoming lights of a book shop makes the experience even more memorable. The Green Toad in Oneonta, which is also open all week except Sundays from 9am to 7pm, is accompanied on Main Street by some wonderful restaurants, so if you’re driving in from the north or west, you can eat curry or shop in the market before strolling back to your car. Parking on Main Street is free. If you’re visiting during the day, there is a coffee shop connected to the book shop by an internal door. Not only is The Green Toad is packed to bursting with books, it’s filled with gifts and cards. Books: The Overstory by Richard Powers and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.

Rough Draft Books, Kingston

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Rough Draft, open all week, situated on a historic crossroads in Kingston, is half-coffee house and half bookshop with a large coffee bar, lots of inside seating, wide range of beverages and snacks, but most noteworthy for parents: quite a large percentage of the books seemed to be devoted to children’s books with a rug for them to sit on. If you’re coming up from New York City on a Friday night you can bring the children here for a pit-stop until 8pm. Local parking is metered. Books bought: World Travel by Anthony Bourdain, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I Eat Poop (essential reading) by Mark Pett.

On the Trailways Bus Route, Barner Books in New Paltz is open all week from 10am to 6pm. Also Inquiring Minds, in both New Paltz and Saugerties locations, is open all week according to the website. There is also Our Bookshop in Saugerties. In Rosendale: Postmark Books.

On the Hudson Valley Amtrak line and off the I-87: Magpie Books in Catskill & Spotty Dog Books & Ale in Hudson.

There’s also a book village in Hobart that’s not in the mountains, but within the Watershed boundary, only open on the weekends.

As opening hours change with seasons and the weather going into winter, please double check the websites, or call ahead to confirm days or times.

Upstate Dispatch Retrolinks

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Daily Catskills is closing on October 31, 2021, possibly for the rest of the year as these hills go into hibernation. Go back years on Daily Catskills here.

If you would like to see daily content continue, please consider donating. Find our Donation Page here.

There will still be some weekly content leading into winter – with local news, links and interviews – and Instagram, where content will focus on food, drink and cozy places to visit during winter here in the Catskills. Meanwhile, here are some retro-links to past articles here on the website.

There is a wealth of content here on Upstate Dispatch. Please peruse the blog while we regroup and, of course, we welcome your feedback.

From the Upstate Dispatch archive:

Some past Catskills Conversations: The Burnetts, Jeannette Bronée, and Joyce St George. We have some badass women living up here in the Catskills. Joyce St George 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. Find other Catskills Conversations here.

Find food, drink, hiking, and memoir here on Upstate Dispatch.

Catskills Conversations: Christine Panas of The Village East Cafe, Fleischmanns

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“In New York City, when I decided to abandon my PHd and my years of academic training, I had to rethink: what am I going to do? I’ve spent all these years studying to be a professor, but it just wasn’t for me”. Christine Panas, co-owner of the recently-opened Village East Café in Fleischmanns has always loved food. “My thesis was on the Romanization of Southern Spain in the pre-imperial period. Very esoteric – but my thesis still included food. When I was working abroad as an archeologist in places like Turkey, I was only ever thinking about food. I was more interested in the local food and the local people”.

And Panas certainly digs in to her responsibility to the grateful people of Fleischmanns who have longed for a year-round café like this for years. “I’ve done a lot of openings in the restaurant business in New York and other parts of the country and I never felt that kind of love where people came in and hugged me. Usually the feedback is about the mistakes that you’ve made”, says Panas. Here, in Fleischmanns, residents appreciate the fact that she cares enough to have set up shop here where during the week, off-season especially, life was excruciatingly quiet for many years. 

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Catskills Links & Events, Fall 2021: Free Fishing Day, Gondola Rides, a Harvest Festival and more.

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The foliage is just starting to turn in this part of the Catskills: Dry Brook Valley. We have splotches of red, a dash of yellow, and the green is beginning to fade. Go to our Instagram page to watch the fall colors.

The I Love NY fall foliage map that details fall’s progress in New York State gets updated every Wednesday.

The Farmers Almanac explains autumn, the equinox, the foliage and more in this Fall article.

Saturday, September 25th is a Free #Fishing Day in New York, so residents and non-residents don’t need a fishing license to go fishing. Plan your fishing excursion here.

Fall activities at Belleare Mountain. Ride the scenic gondola until October 11th, 2021 or go hiking on one of the many trails over the mountain. Plus get your lift tickets and equipment in advance of 2021. 2021-22 winter season ski pass holders can ride the gondola for free anytime during normal operating hours, excluding special events.

Saturday 25th, September in Halcottsville, The Catskill Forest Association is hosting a Cider Making Demonstration.

Saturday 25th September: the Delhi Harvest Festival in Court Square in Delhi.

For art lovers, The Thomas Cole National Historic site is hosting “Art in the Garden” on October 2nd.

Daily Catskills: 09/21/21 The Last Day of Summer Hay

The last day of summer: a gorgeous morning, cloudless except for the odd wisp overhead and a swathe of stretched gauze on the horizon. Overcast for a few hours late afternoon, clearing before dusk, with a light breeze and a high of 70F. The last day of haying at Lazy Crazy Acres takes place under the full harvest moon.

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