Act of Dog

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Last night, Alfie and I were up until 2am at a Wednesday night party on our 80-acre mountain top that has seen a motley assortment of fabulous neighbors move in over the past few years. It used to be quiet around here with only one other full-time neighbor, but no more. Finally, some more people to drink Scotch with and howl at the moon. There’s the artist and his partner/manager; a bunch of young, hip photographers from Philly; two hilarious European adventurers; a South American and her daughter who, last night, shook a fierce cocktail at 1am like it was our last party on earth: “blood and sand” with Scotch, vermouth, orange juice and cherry liqueur. Up here, we know what’s important.

The host’s female dog, Victoria, took a shine to Alfie, because he’s a ladies man. Ladies love them some Alfie. The only problem was that her big brother didn’t approve the match and he’s much bigger, with a head as big a bowling ball looking like he could ram his way through a stone wall without much trouble. There was much tentative nibbling and furtive kissing between the two lovebirds, followed by Alfie diving under the dinner table with big brother on his tail, using a wall of guests’ legs for protection. Alfie’s a lover, not a fighter.

Alfie and I jogged home in the crisp night air, under a star-crusted, inky black dome, but before that, there was much fun debate over whether I should walk – about 1000 feet – home alone. Most people on the ridge have had an encounter with the visiting bear, but the bear avoids me since I screamed like a banshee at it last time it came near the house. It’s possible that he’s been around before, but didn’t like the look of my machete. Regardless, the episode in which Alfie went after the bear and started barking at him, and then me running out of the house screaming at Alfie to stay away from the bear, now makes him literally take the high road instead when he passes by. The bear is not scared of us, but he must be keenly aware that we’re just bonkers enough to get him into a spot of bother and there are no sutures in the forest – only bleeding out.

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Wild Saturday Program Begins at Woodchuck Lodge, Roxbury, NY on May 4th, 2019 with Leslie T. Sharpe

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John Burroughs Woodchuck Lodge’s wildly popular Wild Saturday Program begins on Saturday May 4th, 2019 at 1pm. Naturalist Leslie T. Sharpe discusses her award-winning book, The Quarry Fox and Other Wild Critters of the Wild Catskills. The book is the first in-depth study of Catskills wildlife since John Burroughs was writing in the 19th Century. All visitors, including children, will be invited to share their wildlife stories. 

This event is free and takes place at Woodchuck Lodge, 1633 Burroughs Memorial Road, Roxbury, NY 12474. All are welcome.

Go to website to learn more about Woodchuck Lodge, the ancestral home of writer and naturalist, John Burroughs.

Foraging: Early Spring

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Foraging began in earnest this month at upper elevations of the Catskill Mountains. Finds: ramps (wild leeks), field garlic, young nettles, dandelion leaves, thistle roots, Japanese knotweed, cohosh and the first mushrooms of this year: morels.

Forsythia is starting to bloom at high elevations and you can make a simple syrup out of this brief bloom (pictured above). Only about 5% of our forsythia has bloomed, but those flowers probably won’t survive today’s (04/27/19) snow and low temperatures (41F).

You can do so much with young Japanese Knotweed shoots and this is a great idea because they are an invasive species. Use young knotweed like rhubarb and put it in salads, stews, fruit pies.

Rob Handel at Heather Ridge Farm makes a nettle soup that I’m still marveling about years later. Catch the grey-green, toothed leaves of nettle before they flower. They reportedly contain an extensive variety of nutrients like Vitamins, A, B, C and K; minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron; amino acids; polyphenols and carotenoids. Nettle allegedly reduces inflammation and lowers blood pressure.

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The Fire Towers: Mount Tremper

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The hike to Mount Tremper Fire Tower on the Phoenicia Trail is surprisingly gorgeous in late April despite a severely moody atmosphere at the summit with thick rain clouds threatening to burst any minute. At this time of year, it’s more lush and green than other trails with multiple tributaries splashing across your path, and onwards down the mountain through vivid green moss towards the Esopus River. The trail head is on Route 40, outside Phoenicia and starts over two small wooden bridges that span waterfalls, and a steep climb up stone steps for a half mile that’s utterly beautiful but treacherous with tree roots and deep mud when wet.

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Dog Is In The Details

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Tonight was a gorgeous spring evening in the Catskill Mountains: clear sky, full moon, 60F with frequent, strong gusts of a humid breeze washing over our ridge like a warm tide coming thick and fast as if a storm was on its tail. Alfie nodded his nose up delicately into each wave and followed it through to find out who was where and what they were doing. Coyotes yipped faintly in the distance and I whispered: “do you hear that”?

“Yes!” he barked. “I wasn’t going to say anything, but now you’ve heard it!” He barked. Then he barked some more of his deep, throaty commands, holding his body rigid against the wind as if it might blow the coyotes straight up to our feet. As the yipping and howling died down, we marched across the brush, dried and flattened by another strident winter, listening to the bare trees creak and squeak – like (very tall) old ladies getting their hair messed up and complaining about it. Alfie was slightly hesitant and wanted to turn in – coyotes! What’s next? – but we stuck together, fur and hair ruffled by the strong, balmy air that pushed grassy, spring smells in our faces and I led the way under a dome of midnight stars. Bare trees allowed us a panoramic view of the mountains in the bright moonlight. Alfie’s attuned to my every mood by now, at my side like my Pullman daemon, able to explain everything with one look, sensitive to every gasp or concerned expression after five years together, but it wasn’t always like this, especially when he was a puppy and insisting on leaving the house at 4am.

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Daily Catskills: 04/19/19

A gorgeous balmy, breezy 60F night spills over into the day but draws foggy, blue cloud cover like curtains rippling over gusty winds and a high of 70F. Flowers bloom. Buds bud. Spring is in the air. Update: Warm afternoon rain continues all night until the following afternoon.

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How To Ramp

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Here in the glorious Catskill Mountains, locals used to pick ginseng, wild leeks (ramps), chanterelles, and other rare delights in a sustainable fashion, but now we have visiting hikers ripping out all the ramps, bulb and all, to take home, or marketeers hauling out ramps by the truckload in garbage bags to sell downstate at markets. So now we must conserve – or transplant. Foraging is a great way to supplement your diet and reduce your carbon footprint. Sustainable foraging is essential, or our rare delights may disappear.

Here at Upstate Dispatch, we transplanted three wild ramps years ago that add a bunch to their number every year and they seem to love it where they are (pictured above). The secret is to plant them somewhere wet and shaded with plenty of tree cover, a place that sometimes gets boggy in rainy periods or where you find lots of mossy carpeting instead of grass.

Until recently, seasonal eating was once a relic of our agrarian past, like that quaint anachronism Sunday best. Sunday best is definitely as dead as the dodo in this consumer age and ramps will be gone too if we don’t harvest sustainably. Because of there rarity, they’re very popular and seasonal eating is making a big comeback in certain areas.

If you’re foraging on public land, only take some of what you find and only take the leaves by cutting above the bulb. Don’t remove the entire ramp.

Please do not pull ramps like this, pictured below, unless you’re picking on your own property.

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Earth Day, April 22nd, 2019

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A second Earth Day event at John Burroughs’ Woodchuck Lodge: Monday April 22nd, 2019 at 1pm.

Former DEC ranger, Patti Rudge, of Oliveria, will show participants how to attract nesting bluebirds in specially constructed bluebird boxes. Participants will have the opportunity to purchase a nesting box to attract a nesting pair to their own property. 

Celebrate Earth Day with the great naturalist and Catskill Mountain native, John Burroughs (1837-1921), John O’Birds, as he was known during his lifetime.

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The American Chestnut

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Allen Nichols of the American Chestnut Foundation will speak at the Catskill Center, this Saturday April 13th, 2019 at 1pm on the restoration of the beloved American Chestnut. The Catskill Center is at 43355 Route 28  Arkville, NY 12406. This event has been organized by John Burroughs Woodchuck Lodge.

According to the foundation: “More than a century ago, nearly 4 billion American chestnut trees were growing in the eastern U.S. They were among the largest, tallest, and fastest-growing trees. The wood was rot-resistant, straight-grained, and suitable for furniture, fencing, and building. The nuts fed billions of birds and animals. It was almost a perfect tree, that is, until a blight fungus killed it more than a century ago. The chestnut blight has been called the greatest ecological disaster to strike the world’s forests in all of history.”

The AC Foundation is committed to “restoring the American chestnut tree to our eastern woodlands to benefit our environment, our wildlife, and our society. Unlike other environmental organizations, TACF’s mission is not about preventing environmental loss or preserving what we already have. The concept of our mission is much bolder and more powerful. It’s about restoration of an entire ecosystem and making our world a much better place than we found it.”

Spring Event: Birding for Earth Day at John Burroughs Woodchuck Lodge

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Come join us at Woodchuck Lodge for two events next Saturday 6th April, 2019: a birding walk and a talk on how to attract birds to your yard and discourage predators.

10am – 12pm Bird Walk

Join birding enthusiast Henry Wagner of SUNY Cobleskill and Park Naturalists for an outdoor foray in search of the birds of early spring, as we celebrate the date of John Burroughs’ birth. Affectionately known as “John O’Birds”, the renowned Catskills naturalist (1837-1921) waxed especially romantic about the “return of the birds,” bringing millions of Americans to a heightened appreciation of nature during a critical period in US conservation history. Bird sightings found at the Memorial Field will be embellished with pertinent quotes from Burroughs’ vibrant essays.

This program is open to the public free of charge and children are welcome. In case of inclement weather, the program will be cancelled.

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Daily Catskills: 03/22/19

Almost a foot of overnight snow descends, putting an end to exactly a week of thatched, nascent landscape and its rich earth tones. Sticky snow like spray foam clings to trunks, boughs and branches, turning outdoor furniture into ghosts, making ski-runs deep and slow. Mountains shrouded in foggy snow clouds. More snow fall during the day and a high of 38F.

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Book Review: A Cast in the Woods by Stephen Sautner

It’s a familiar story: writer buys home in the Catskills for [insert reason] and ends up losing heart, time and, no doubt a smidgeon of sanity to conservation, restoration and protection of these beloved mountains and its river network. For Stephen Sautner, the reason was a familiar one: fly fishing. An avid outdoorsman from boyhood, he decided to buy a fixer-upper cabin on the banks of a tributary and turn it into a “fish camp” for holidays and weekends until retirement. Well, that’s what he thought. Turns out Mother Nature had other plans for him and this portion of the river that ran through his 14-acre property, that he named simply “Six-Foot-Wide Stream”, but it was anything but simple. Several devastating floods, flora and fauna infestations and a scare over fracking gave him an all-consuming education he didn’t anticipate. But he would do it all over again, he says: “come spring, when the warblers have returned, and mayflies are hatching and brook trout are rising to them, and I’m siting on the front porch sipping coffee and watching it all, I believe I wouldn’t have changed a thing”.

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The Mysterious Life of Trees

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In a recent article in Atlantic Monthly Magazine entitled Death Cap Mushrooms Are Spreading Across America, the author details how deadly amanitas are popping up all over cities and being eaten by city people because they are tasty, and I find it highly intriguing, being a former city girl, gone country.

Some naturalists theorize that man was “created” by the natural world, or Mother Nature, as a smarter, better way to spread seeds across the world in order to more successfully propagate forests – a sort of supreme effort by trees at world domination, if you like. If this is so, we turned the tables on this activity a few hundred years ago and in terms of the history of the planet that’s pretty recent.

To risk stating the obvious, we have stopped being useful to the trees. We have been chopping them down at an alarming rate for hundreds of years. A good way to get rid of us as a species, should they have the capacity to decide, would be to grow very tasty, highly poisonous mushrooms in abundance on the ground, ones that don’t affect local animals – only us as a species. Might the trees be trying to kill city dwellers?

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March in the Catskills: Update & Links

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Upstate Dispatch has been pretty quiet so far this month. It’s been like a reference library at HQ as we research future projects. There’s been a lot of reading going on and some fiction-writing.

As another superb ski season comes to a close, fly fishing season will be hard on its heels. April 1st is opening day across the Catskills. Esopus Creel is preparing to open a store next to Woodstock Brewery in Phoenicia. Stephen Sautner has published a new memoir about conservation, fly fishing and life in the Catskills titled A Cast in the Woods. I interviewed Stephen, a lifelong fisherman, for my radio show today, and will be posting a print interview with him online in the next few days. Trout Tales gears up for a couple of months of events, classes, and activities in rivers and streams flowing through these mountains.

While we work on content, specifically podcasts, we offer some interesting links to articles on the arts, food and the outdoors.

Have a great week.

J.N. Urbanski

Human-shaped mushrooms found in the UK, from This Is Insider.

From National Geographic, a man who only eats what he grows and forages.

Are you ready from Spring migration? The National Audubon Society’s birding app.

It would have been Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday this year on May 31st, 2019. John Burroughs Woodchuck Lodge is hosting a celebration that begins at Union Grove Distillery in Arkville on the evening of May 31st, 2019. Check the website for details.

Paper bird sculptures.

The Catskills Outdoor Expo on March 30th, 2019.

And finally, an example of how hoards of people descend on a natural wonder and ruin it, from the LA Times. Please adhere to Leave No Trace guidelines when enjoying nature: take only photographs and leave only footprints.

Bee Update: Our Catskills Bees Survived the Winter

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On March 15th last week, we woke to a bare Catskills landscape like it had thrown off its white quilt in the night and saw a high of 65F that day: such a stark difference from last year on the same day in the same place, where it remained at 37F and covered in snow.

Just before noon last week, we decided to check the last surviving bee hive. To our delight, after five years of trying to keep bees and failing, we discovered that our white hive of bees survived the winter. (The Warre hive into which we had installed a swarm last year did not.)

We re-stocked the surviving bee hive with food patties for the bees, just in case we got another cold snap, and put back the lid. Last year, we built a heavy “roof” for our hive and insulated it with old, woolen sweaters and pillows and this seems to have kept them warm. The hive is thriving.

Catskills Conversations: Dr Joanne Polk, co-founder of Manhattan in the Mountains

A podcast of my interview with Dr Joanne Polk, classical pianist and Grammy award-winner, on WIOX Radio in November of last year. Since graduating from Juilliard, Joanne has spent most of her career and post-graduate studies focusing on female composers like Clara Schumann, Amy Beach, for which she won the Grammy in 2007, Fanny Mendelsohn, Cecile Chaminade and Judith Lang Zaimont.

Joanne is co-founder of Manhattan in the Mountains, a monthly three-week music festival in the Catskills’ Hunter Mountain starting on July 28th, 2019, consisting of master classes and lectures that culminates in a series of concerts open to the public.

Electric Vehicle-Charging Stations in the Catskill Mountains

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Electric vehicle-charging stations are springing up all over the Catskills. Here’s a list within the Catskill Park Boundary and within the NYC watershed starting north at the Schoharie Reservoir on Route 30, and running south though the Catskills down to Roscoe on Route 17. Click on the links to Google Maps. Take a tour through the mountains in your electric vehicle, see the sights and charge up along the way. Also noted: nearby inns or restaurants.  Cell service is intermittent in the Catskills, especially between Andes and Delhi, and between Big Indian and Phoenicia, so physical maps are still essential for this area.

Blenheim-Gilboa Power Project, 397 Power Plant Access Rd, Gilboa, NY 12076. A pretty remote part of the Catskills by the Schoharie Reservoir. Close by: Heather Ridge Farm, Restaurant & Store, open year-round.

Village of Hobart Public Parking, 11 Cornell Ave Hobart NY 13788. Nearby: Bull & Garland (closed until March 2019), The Sheep’s Nest. Hobart “Book Village”: a magical bibliophile’s paradise nestled in one of the most scenic areas of the Catskills. 

Delaware County Electric Co-op, 39 Elm Street, Delhi, NY 13653. Nearby: Brushland Eating House, Catskills Regional Harvest Farm Store, Goldenrod, Tay Tea, Catskills Momo Tibetan Restaurant. Spotty cell service in surrounding areas. Know before you go.

Town of Colchester EV Charging station at the Downsville Diner at 15185 State Highway 30, Downsville, New York 13755.

Winwood Inn, 5220 NY-23, Windham, NY 12496. Nearby ski mountain and Windham Country Store, which does a fantastic Mean Green Burger using jalapeño mayonnaise. 

Windham Mountain, 33 Clarence D Lane Road, Windham, NY, 12496. See above.

Village of Margaretville Public Parking, 48 Walnut Street, Margaretville, NY 12455. Nearby: Picnic, Trattoria Locale, The Cheese Barrel, The Binnekill Tavern, all on Main Street. Cell service here. State Trooper station about a mile west of here on Route 28/30.

Emerson Resort & Spa, 5340 Route 28, Mt Tremper, NY 12457. Nearby: Phoenicia Diner Route 28 (try the everything), Peekamoose on Route 28, The Pines on Route 212. Cell service drops for a while in surrounding areas. Know before you go.

Woodstock Community Center, 56 Rock City Rd, Woodstock, NY 12498. Nearby: Garden Cafe, Upstate Films, The Tea Shop of Woodstock. a good wine store and all the delights of Woodstock further out into the village.

Bread Alone Bakery, 3962 NY-28, Boiceville, NY 12412. Bread Alone does a nice Hudson River Breakfast. Nearby: Boiceville Supermarket, the Goods Luncheonette, try the fish and chips.

Frost Valley YMCA, 2000 Frost Valley Rd Claryville, NY 12725 No cell service in area. Take a map. There’s no eating around here, only hiking.

Roscoe Diner, 1908 Old Rt 17, Roscoe, New York 12776.

Roscoe Brewery, 145 Rockland Road, Roscoe, NY 12776.

Catskills Brewery, 672 Old Rte 17 Livingston Manor, NY 12758

All addresses provided by Plugshare: use the website or download the app to see more details or plan a trip.

Catskills Love & Local Links

It’s been a bit quiet over here on our ridge at Upstate Dispatch, but there’s far from nothing going on.

We’re working on upcoming radio shows on two subjects: shopping locally and tips and regulations for winter hiking, here in the Catskills. These are two very important subjects that get to the heart of two important matters: our slice of natural world, these mountains and our economy.

I’ve been advocating for shopping locally for products and services since I arrived in the States 20 years ago. It just makes so much sense. Now, from the MARK Project we have a PR campaign called Catskills Love. Give our businesses some love here in the Catskills. We live in the so-called “Watershed”, which means we have to keep our water table clean, so industry and agriculture is strictly regulated. We rely mostly on tourism to survive. New Yorkers, come hike, ski and shop with us! We protect your water, you need to have our back. Plus, we have some of the most well-made, beautiful products. Find our fabulous Christmas list here.

On these mountains, winter hiking is dangerous. Trails are covered in ice as thick as ice-skating rinks. During extremely cold temperatures, it’s like hiking up frozen waterfalls at the summits. We’ve seen a spate of rescues recently that proves it’s imperative to be prepared. Much of the Catskills is wilderness. On February 18th, hear from the President of the Catskill 3500 Club on tips, rules and regulations on WIOX Radio.

More links:

Millennials are taking up hunting, from The New York Times.

The Greenhorns have published their new farmer’s almanac.

Carve your own cutting board on March 16th 2019, and African-American Games & Crafts on February 17th, at the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, New York.

Learn about Golden Eagles in the Catskills in a beautiful setting: the Mountain Top Arboretum in Tannersville on April 20th, 2019.

Women are making their way in the trades from Hudson Valley One.

Daily Catskills: 01/22/19

After almost a week of gloom, the sun appears and lights up the sky to a dazzling, brilliant azure blue, a consolation for the laziest, slow rise in temperature: still a bone-chilling 12F. By afternoon, a haze had crept overhead like tight muslin, dampening the sun to a enigmatic glow. A breathtaking day.

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The Fire Towers: Overlook Mountain

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Overlook Mountain was one of the first hikes written about back in 2015 here on Upstate Dispatch, the second hike taken with Jeff Vincent of Catskill Mountain Wild. It’s a gateway hike for novices and visitors, because it’s relatively short, with extra bonus features, a fire tower, and magnificent panoramic views of the Hudson Valley and Eastern Catskill Mountains, the sort of hike that inspires us all to want to hike more of these mountains.

The Fire Towers, built for early detection of forest fires, are a destination in themselves. The cabs at the top of the fire towers are closed on weekdays and in winter when they’re unmanned, but you can still climb the stairs almost all the way to the top if you’re not worried by the wooden floorboards that creak sharply underfoot in the freezing cold temperatures, or the whistling wind that rattles the metalwork.

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Hiking the Catskills: Belleayre Mountain from Lost Clove Road

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Who doesn’t want to go to Giggle Hollow? This delightful-sounding place can be found between Pine Hill and the south-eastern edge of Belleayre Ski Mountain, in a small web of hiking trails that leads from the top of the ski mountain all the way down to Big Indian wilderness and beyond. In the winter, these Belleayre trails are the perfect destination to snow shoe to these gob-smacking views if you’re with non-skiers or your dog.

If you do take your country dog, he must be harnessed and leashed if he’s likely to become uncontrollably excited by the prospect of skiing and keenly propose the notion of exploring the double black diamonds to a chorus of “Hi, Puppy!” as the skiers glide by. You don’t want your dog flying off down the mountain. While we were admiring the view from the summit, which is the end of the trail, we were approached by a skier from Europe who made me fiercely jealous by telling me that in The Alps skiers take their dogs, who follow them up the mountain on foot underneath the ski lifts. Alpine skiers ski with their dogs. What a life for an outdoor dog. Perhaps we could have Dog Day on Belleayre? Or would that descend into chaos?

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