Here in the Catskills a high percentage of the population are seniors and retirees, so the community is taking social distancing and self-quarantine very seriously. Gatherings, even of small groups like book clubs and language classes, have been cancelled, but we still need to support local businesses to keep them up and running. There has been much laughing over why there is no toilet paper. Why is toilet paper a rarity but fine Belgian beer and fabulous chocolate freely available in bulk? Strange. Perhaps because there are no leaves on the trees yet?Continue reading
Back in the day, something described as “going to seed”, was something – usually a woman – that was old, neglected or useless, on the turn, dried out or past its sell-by date, but we can take that idiom back and revise it. We can transform it into a farming analogy to assist people preparing for another round of winter blues, cabin fever or those suffering the bleakness of depression or raw pain of heartache .
From Kristi Burnett of Burnett Farms, a local farmer, comes a tip that she received from a past mentor. If you’re in the depths of depression, imagine yourself as a seed frozen and buried in the earth. It’s dark and cold down there, but come spring, you’ll transform, emerging from the soil with enormous potential, growing into a towering oak or majestic hemlock, a being much larger than you were before. Now is the time to hunker down, meditate, study, and prepare to break ground and blossom in the spring. You may never be the same again, but you will be robust enough to scatter your knowledge like more, hardier wild seeds in a strong wind.
Winter is here. We’re uncertain as to how long she is staying this month, but it you’re stuck in your garret mourning lost love like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, living on a frame of home-produced honey and foraged mushrooms, its arrival comes way too early. If you have nobody to snuggle in your hibernation, now is the time to find someone.
Fortunately, up here we have some fine influencers keeping hope alive: gentlewomen of modern lore. Laura Silverman of The Outside Institute kindly reminds us that there still sparks of life in an apparently barren landscape. Laura will be leading a winter foraging walk on December 7th. Leigh Melander of Spillian shares an article in Fast Company on how Norwegians enjoy winter. Norwegians celebrate the things one can only do in winter and make sure they get outside every day: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Norwegians also have a word, koselig, that means a sense of coziness. It’s like the best parts of Christmas, without all the stress.”
Winter in the Catskills is undoubtedly a spectacularly beautiful season, with the former vibrant landscape frozen in time, with seeds hovering atop dry stalks, ready to fly into the wind. If you have south facing windows, remove your curtains or blinds and let the low light flood in first thing in the morning and remain there all day. To watch the deer stalking methodically in single-file through a snow storm in single-digit temperatures is to be reminded exactly how weak a species we are without our creature comforts.
Tomorrow will mark the five year anniversary of Upstate Dispatch. I’m not sure how that happened, but it’s been a wild ride. I can honestly say that this city girl has learned so much more about life, work and herself these past few years than could have been imagined.
You may have noticed that there hasn’t been much on the website these past few months and there’s a reason for that. I’m taking my life in an entirely new direction. I’ve no idea where it will lead, but there will be a new website devoted to more of my writing life than just this neck of the woods, and new media-based work in the arts and further afield. But there’s so much content here, you could peruse this site for the next year on the old posts alone. Below find links to the most popular posts of the past five years. Coming up for UD in the future, we’ll be more food-focused with new contributors to write on recipes, farming and the local economy. We’re looking for sponsors to underwrite our fall content and invite pitches to email@example.com.
Meanwhile, over the summer, it has been nice to relax into the scenery, just exist in the woods, forage, harvest and meditate, without having to document every leaf, stream and view of it.
Upstate Dispatch Links
We never finished the Catskills 35! I have just six bushwhacks left and will do those over the winter because the summit is easier to find without the leaves on the trees. However, our hiking section is the most popular.
See our Instagram feed here.
An interview with Steve and Kristie Burnett.
Thanks so much for reading.
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.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
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?Continue reading
Upstate Dispatch recently celebrated its fourth birthday and I took a bit of a break to ponder on why and how it started in the first place. As a writer, I’ve always lived in deserted areas of cities with cheap rents: Shoreditch when it was a post-industrial wasteland on the other side of Liverpool Street train station – a two-pub pocket of London that was deserted at weekends where I learnt to play pool; Williamsburg when there were still cars burning on the streets of Kent Avenue: Bed-Stuy, when there was an actual car burning outside our studio one time and where a musician came every Sunday with a set of speakers and an electric guitar to play where nobody heard him; leafy Fort Greene when the rents were laughably low and one local dive bar in a basement that teemed with characters fit for novels, bursting with life. As I moved on from one city to another, and one area to the next, in the above order, the expanding population followed hard on my heels. Shoreditch is now a tourist mecca akin to Piccadilly Circus or Times Square.
The Catskills, where I now live, is also a sparsely populated area where there are so many characters fit for novels and brimming with life in a completely different way: rural, and wild-forested natural history. Farmers, artists, historians, writers, homesteaders, cooks, teachers and more, nestle in the valleys of the Catskills and perch on mountaintops. Our forested ridge is fast filling up with young people seeking a more calming environment, good food and company. In the time since we bought our house, an astonishing eleven years ago, our dog has had the run of a 40-acre ridge-top and we only had two friendly full-time neighbors, a retired couple. All that is changing – our dead-end road is filling up with young, curious people and for the first time last night, as I read by an open window, I heard music coming from another distant house that mingled with owls, evening chirping and the waning laughter of crows.
New York City is charging out of its concrete jungle, sending out its long, withered, under-nourished tendrils towards us – the only vegetation that it can muster – gasping for life and some nurturing soil. This slow march from the city to the country is viewed with consternation by some, but if you’ve had children, you can’t really complain about the fast-swelling population.
Upstate Dispatch was started as a Catskills diary, a daily documentation of life in the Catskills and latterly my experiences as a writer in the past four years in local print and on my radio show on the eclectic WIOX Radio.
There is a so much to read on this site. Here are some more links to the best of Upstate Dispatch:
Our hiking page has been the most popular. Find our efforts to climb the Catskills 35 and document some of the best views in the Catskills over the years.
Every day, for the first 18 months of the website, I published one picture a day from around the area in the Daily Catskills section. Click here to scroll back through the years in this category.
More on my personal history in First Person Dispatch.
Conversations with other Catskills residents in Catskills Conversations.
Now, back to documenting this year’s slow fall. The mountains look like those heads of broccoli that you leave in the fridge too long: slightly yellowing, “on the turn” as they say in England.
Thanks for reading.
J.N. Urbanski 9/11/18
Finally, a chance to meet Laura Silverman when she conducted a nature walk at the Foxfire Mountain House on Sunday. Laura has recently opened The Outside Institute and has been a guest on the radio show on WIOX and featured on this website, but we had never met in person – a common dilemma in today’s working practices. The Foxfire property – an inn and wedding venue – abuts the Catskills Forest Preserve and we had a tour of local flora and fauna that included a brace of skittish turkeys, bullrushes, ancient grape vines, mugwort, wild thyme, sumac, a lonesome tinder polypore, milkweed and some poison ivy. Poison ivy is difficult to identify, but essential if you don’t want to be itching or burning your way through summer. Did you know you can eat bullrushes? The walk was followed by cocktails using local ingredients in Foxfire’s gorgeously appointed bar. The Outside Institute has published a field guide to the Hudson and upper Delaware valleys and we’re currently working our way through it.
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:
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
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
Here’s a picture of me working hard at the radio station while I take a break from Upstate Dispatch this week. My guest on the radio next week, March 19th at 9am, will be Linda Leaming, author of Married To Bhutan and A Field Guide to Happiness. You can stream the show online here: WIOX Radio. In both books, Linda writes about her life in Bhutan, a tiny buddhist country in the Himalayas between India and Tibet, and what we can learn from Bhutan’s trail blazing accomplishments in areas like the importance of the arts, conservation and the well-being of its citizens. The government has a metric called Gross National Happiness that it measures often, instead of Gross National Product. Bhutan has decreed that a very large portion of their country will remain forested. There is no styrofoam and very few plastic bags in Bhutan. In Married to Bhutan, Linda writes that the Bhutanese “have foregone opportunities to make money off their considerable natural resources – lumber, water, minerals, plants and animals in favour of their quality of life. That alone makes it a world apart”. A Field Guide to Happiness is her second book on Bhutan and gives us tips on how to be happy.
These subjects were on my mind while was in New York City last week and between appointments decided to pick up Linda’s book on happiness instead of just ordering it online. I went to Rizzoli Bookshop, Strand Bookstore, Bookoff and Barnes and Noble. I was told that Linda’s books are not stocked in any Barnes & Noble in NYC, (but they should be – and he will put in a request to order them). Then, because I just decided to be on a mission – I was in NYC after all – I called Greenlight Books, Bluestocking books, Community Books, BookBook and Unnameable Books in Brooklyn but not one stocked A Field Guide to Happiness. It occurred to me that the book did not exist in New York City because if happiness was actually attained there, the earth would violently tip off its axis due to the sudden unloading of the weighty burden of abject disgruntlement in that part of the world. If everybody in NYC became satisfied with their life or just simply decided not to be in a huge hurry, or if everyone smiled at the same time, the city would crumble into dust and wash out into the ocean out of purposelessness. On occasion I smile at people in NYC and they look at me with a confused “do I know you?!” expression. So I caved and ordered the book online. It came from a happy place far away. Continue reading
After about 28 hours, power was restored to our home yesterday, which is nothing compared to what’s happening in other parts of the world. The entire episode was a necessary education in conservation and a return to a much simpler life if only for a day. We lost water (both hot and cold) and electricity, so no lights or gadgets except what we could power with our tiny generator. We had a wood stove for heat, but no shower, or toilet or even hand washing and the dishes piled up in the kitchen, which was so annoying that I spent hours melting snow to clean up. It takes approximately three to four cubic feet of snow to fill a 1.6 gallon toilet cistern that gives you one good flush. It takes another cubic foot of snow or so to do the dishes. This takes hours of slow melting of the snow over the stove in several saucepans. Continue reading
It’s not until you run out of water that you realize how much of it you squander. I thought about this after our power went out this morning, but I really needed to wash my dirty hair. It’s been snowing since the early hours of this morning. Now that we’ve had over two or three feet of wet snow, trees are collapsing under the weight and pulling down power lines all over the Catskills.
We need electricity to run our water pump and hot water tank. So now we have to save the water to flush the toilet or drink, although I did have a liter bottle of fizzy water and just managed to wash my hair with it. I only needed a few ounces to get my hair wet and managed to wash most of the soap out with the rest. This got me thinking about why we need to flush our toilet with clean water and so much of it.
We’ve had whiteouts before but not like this. We once got five feet of snow and couldn’t open our front door, but we’ve never been without power for this length of time. Judging by neighbors on social media, most of the area lost power at about 10.30am on Friday 2nd March. Like most people in the Catskills, we have a small generator that runs on gas (petrol) that will supply our freezer, or charge our electronics for about eight hours. We also have a wood stove for heat, but we’re without water or lights. A friend is melting snow for water in the next village and we’ll be doing that tomorrow morning once our generator has run out of gas. Or we’ll walk down to the gas station and fill up a container if our country store is open. As darkness falls, it’s been quite calming to wind down with the dusk. We’re now in a blackout. We don’t see any lights across the mountains. It’s books by candlelight for some people and scrabble by flashlight for us once I’ve stopped writing. The only other problem we have now is that our pipes might freeze and burst in the basement without the electric heat down there. We’re also worried about our heritage apple tree (pictured above, top left). Without snow weighing it down, it’s a good ten feet taller. It’s also hard to get evergreens like fir and pine to grow well or in clumps because they need so much light. Now they are buckling under the weight, looking like closing umbrellas. We don’t want to lose them.
The snow continues to fall and is not predicted to cease until 1am tomorrow morning. Saturday will be a day of shoveling for everyone and at dawn we’ll go out and try and shake the snow out of the trees.
Update: the generator held out until morning.
For me, February 22nd, will mark six years of my public radio career on WIOX in Roxbury, Upstate New York. Our “wildly diverse, live and local”, progressive little radio station in the heart of picturesque Catskills is a hive of activity, broadcasting locally on 91.3FM and streaming online on www.wioxradio.org. WIOX is now an NPR affiliate, having partnered with WSKG in Binghamton.
The whole endeavor has been an education and the setting couldn’t be more gorgeous: a converted barn in one of the most picturesque villages in the area. I believe my commute is one of the most documented in the region. A brief history: In late 2011, after spending more than ten years traveling back and forth between the US, Europe, and sometimes the rest of the world, I returned to my house in the Catskills and decided to make a life here. I felt lucky.* Continue reading
After this week’s election victories, Monday’s radio show will feature two prominent guests: Jeff Senterman and Julia Reischel. From 9am to 9.30am, we will hear from Jeff who is Executive Director of the Catskill Center. Many people ask me what the Catskill Center does and now here is your chance to find out if you didn’t know. From 9.30am to 10am, we’ll hear from Julia Reischel, a former local journalist and co-founder of the now-retired Watershed Post, who is now going into politics.
You can stream the show online on WIOX on Monday November 13that 9am. Let’s hope it’s warmer than today’s 22F.
“There’s this thing happening… the women’s movement, and I want to cover it.”
Writer Nora Ephron uttered that sentence over 40 years ago and, as of last year, during the last election cycle, it seemed like our quest for equality hadn’t really advanced that far. Women still earned less than men for doing the same jobs, women’s rights were being eroded and sexual harassment in the workplace continued unabated. According to one New York City chef, writing in GQ Magazine, whole industries have been marginalizing the achievements of women in the restaurant business for decades. This year, though, we are experiencing a wholesale transformation in our zeitgeist. It’s a paradigm shift of epic proportions. Women are beginning to speak up, becoming more politically active and attempting to effect change by running for public office. “Women hold up half the sky,” the saying goes, and we should have half the representation.
Here in the Catskills, we have a remarkable abundance of female entrepreneurs: women blazing their own trail in this wilderness. The area is filled with strong, female icons, role models, influencers, artists, farmers, scientists and teachers. Last night, election night, saw a female entrepreneur, Julia Reischel, former journalist, take a seat on our local town council and all over the country democratic women won hard-earned seats in local office. Continue reading
As a friend pointed out, there’s a lot of content on Upstate Dispatch and, moreover, a great deal of content that doesn’t much get read, or hasn’t been read by regular readers.
So, as winter approaches and I scout around for ideas for winter content, I offer some links to past work that are first person articles that are desperately in need of a follow up.
Deer hunting season approaches: a link to a 2015 post I wrote about hunting.
My first Catskills 3500 ascent: Balsam Mountain two years ago.
Eat Your Weeds, instead of throwing pesticide on them that ruins the water table.
Scroll through last year’s November. The gift guide still holds.
And finally, writing of gifts, here’s our donate page. UD takes thousands of hours a year to write and does not do paid or sponsored content or advertising.
I’ve been in England for a family wedding for the last two weeks and although the British countryside is in my blood, and I’m shaped like a missing piece of its jigsaw, it was moving to return to the mountains, to our densely overgrown, untended property. It had a party in our absence.
We arrived yesterday, early evening, to find that the short path from the car to the house was a thick carpet of clover sprinkled with aging chanterelle. Half of the field that was mowed around our small farm is now festooned with yarrow, bee balm, milkweed, thistle, mushrooms, mullein and wild strawberries.
Last night’s weather was its own production deserving of an Oscar, with thick, white mist stubbornly hugging these vast mountains. Rings of fog capped the peaks like fluffy crowns that dissolved into the sunset to reveal a surly, grey armada of larger clouds above.
My new sister-in-law, who I call my bonus sister, said, before I left for England: “you’ll notice how remarkably flat Norfolk is”. Continue reading
On my jaunts around the neighborhood, I regularly bump into people who love Upstate Dispatch. Last week, a reader told me: “I love the site! I just wish there was more of it”. Me too!
Upstate Dispatch takes hundreds of hours per month to research and write. All of the food and drink you see reviewed here has been paid for, with one exception, and where tickets are sold to local cooking, foraging, writing and art classes, they have been purchased. In the past, when we’ve had contributors, we have paid them. As I a writer, I believe artists and writers should not have to work for free. We are also an advertisement-free site, so we rely on donations.
If you love reading Upstate Dispatch, please consider donating. Future donations will fund a small summer arts and literary studio in the local village for Upstate Dispatch. We want to expand our coverage over the summer, move into the community, and revive the Catskills Conversations series, shedding more light on our local luminaries and their stories.
Lastly, I want to thank our past donors who have expressed their appreciation of Upstate Dispatch in a meaningful way. I’m sincerely and immensely grateful for the love!
Please find our donation page here.
After informal discussions amongst neighbors, I’ve gleaned that the cabin fever or winter blues hit a high this past winter. During a chance encounter with an acquaintance, I was asked: “how did you survive winter?”, to which I replied, “barely”. Although, most agreed that the weather wasn’t as bad as the year before. To be honest though, cabin fever aside, happiness seems to be quite rare these days. Last year, I was surprised when at a social group in NYC, as 20-plus ladies sat around in a circle, I asked how many of them were on anti-depressants and they all raised their hands. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a journalist or if people are being more honest lately, but in my experience, we’re opening up about anxiety. There’s a lot of be anxious about; the proposed revival of the coal industry is one of them. (Coal, really? Are we in Victorian England?) In my experience, the winter blues and bouts of cabin fever have been held at arm’s length by writing, reading, diet and
lots of booze exercise (and the latest research, below, seems to indicate that what you eat affects your mental health). Even if you’re not a writer, a ToDO list or a journal can help enormously. As a writer, one has to get used to solitude, but spring is on the way, the buds are on the trees and after last night’s rain there might be mushrooms. There are definitely ramps in the valleys.
Here are some links on the latest news on health and exercise from some respected media outlets and some tips on writing:
More research into how gut bacteria can affect our minds as well as our bodies. A study suggests that eating probiotics like yoghurt relieves anxiety. The book Gulp by Mary Roach and foods to restore our gut bacteria from The Scientific American.
How perfectionism kills creativity from Anne Lamott.
Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules of Writing. “Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.”
And for fun:
How one writer tried to stop complaining.
How one writer said yes to everything, including crossfit, and ended up in the hospital, from Vice.
A decent portion of my formative years was spent in the local library where, due to being English born in the seventies, my innocence was cruelly shattered by George Orwell. I don’t think Orwell or Golding is on the syllabus for eleven year olds these days, but for a sensitive soul like myself, the novels 1984 and Animal Farm ruined my taste for literature thereafter, but just being in a library now feels like home. My mother was an avid reader and our weekly trips to the library I will never forget, but sadly I don’t remember reading anything after being assaulted by Lord of the Flies, except for a feeble attempt at some Jane Austen and a lot of Oscar Wilde. Thanks to George, I switched to non-fiction.
I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for reading Upstate Dispatch. This week, we were thrilled to receive some high praise, kind attention and a surprise donation: it’s enlivening to know that all the hard work is appreciated. All the analytics and visitor metrics in the world won’t tell us if you actually enjoyed reading it or not! UD has thousands of readers every month, from near and far, but hardly any comments. I also received some other feedback: you want to read more about me in particular, my life. My writing and consulting work takes me far and wide, introduces me to some incredibly interesting people and places. While I’m formulating a plan on how to deliver more of these stories on this website, here are some back links to some popular posts (at the bottom of the page). UD was started in September 2014, so there’s a lot of history here. Feel free to dig around and comment. I’ll be publishing back links from this site every couple of weeks.
This year, as a writer, I decided to get back into fiction and vowed to read more. I also vowed to attend at least one writer’s group, or start one, because my romance with the blank page can’t beat a night out with actual people. I will also be going down to the local library more: Skene Memorial Library in Fleischmanns to write my fiction. Country life can be isolating, especially if you work from home like so many local writers, farmers and producers. If you buy books, like I do, donate them to the local library when you’ve finished. It’s a great way to share some of your collection, while still having access to it.
Finally, I have been neglecting the high peaks, having ten more hikes to complete the Catskill 35. Tomorrow: North Dome and Sherrill – that’s if I haven’t signed up too late.
Popular Links from Upstate Dispatch:
Alfie, my black lab/shepherd rescued from the Kingston ASPCA, has his own fans and this post, entitled For The Love of Dog, about him was picked up by Mrs Sizzle in New York City. He was photographed by Shannon Greer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Last year, I became a trustee on the board of Woodchuck Lodge, John Burrough’s ancestral home. I’ll be writing a post on community service at a later date.
Thanks again for reading,
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 2017. The ancient tradition of Yuletide, one of the oldest winter celebrations in Europe began this morning and will end on January 1st, 2017. Yuletide was a fire festival celebrated by the Northern Europeans. Pre-Zoroastrian Persians and ancient Romans celebrated something similar before the common era. Hannukah, the ancient Jewish festival of lights takes place almost concurrently with Yule this year, starting December 24th. 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!
My piece in Edible Hudson Valley’s Winter Issue on Wayside Cider was published this week. I wrote a long profile of owners Irene Hussey and Alex Wilson, a short version of which appears in the Whisk section in the front of the magazine. What I had not submitted for publication, was the results of the photoshoot I did with Alex Wilson of Wayside Cider, that took place in Andes. I followed him around with the camera, over hills and dales, while he foraged for apples. Edited out of the published piece was a brief paragraph or two on the humble Catskills apple.
New York State has been an apple state since before the first settlers decreed that each household should have its own orchard back in the sixteenth century. A wave of planting crept up and down the Eastern seaboard shortly after the settlers arrival, but Native Americans were cultivating apples long before then. Andes is, in fact, adjacent to the homesteads that were once historic Shavertown, one of the first settlements in the area and home to an ancient apple orchard that was planted hundreds of years ago by Native Americans. Sadly, both ancient orchard and town are now submerged under hundreds of feet of water that is the Pepacton Reservoir.
63F at 11am, humid and overcast. 64F by 1pm.
46F in NYC at 8.30am. 54F by mid-afternoon.
55F by 10am, with hazy sunshine. 70F by 4pm.
It’s about this time of year that a city makes a special guest appearance on Upstate Dispatch to honour my urban roots. There’s a lot that I miss about the city, but the most prominent difference between country and city life is that, in the country, you have to drive everywhere. In the city, you can walk or take readily available public transportation. Small towns and villages in places like my home country England are mostly very, very old and designed for walking or riding (animal or bicycle). British Towns radiate outwards like a rash instead of sprawling along lengthy American roads. You would never have an English address with more than three numbers in the street address, but yesterday I visited someone whose street number was 53939, which is unheard of in England and quite astonishing to foreigners. Even our longest residential roads, straight thousand-year-old roads that were built by the Romans, were split into sections called “high streets” like the A10, which is 90 miles long. It runs from central London to Norfolk at about a sixth of the entire country’s length.
52F at 2pm and mostly sunny in NYC.
Today is the first day of hunting season for shotgun users and I’ve been hearing gunfire echo over the mountains for the last month in preparation. The past few weeks of hunting season have been strictly for bow users only. Over the next month or so, there’ll be a plethora of camouflaged, gun-toting neighbors creeping around in the woods that abut my property, and sitting in makeshift deer stands. My husband saw a crossbow wielding neighbor stealthily striding out of the woods last week and felt like I had dodged an arrow.
As a new country lass, the first experience I had with a hunter was when I was hiking. Rounding a corner, our group chanced upon a man; perfectly still, holding what looked like an AK-47, looking like a stocky, camo-version of Bruce Willis in Die Hard. The gun made him look at least eight feet tall. He stared. We stopped. He silently crept towards us and then passed us without so much as an excuse me. We kept calm and carried on.
My Daily Catskills Canon camera has been with me through thick and thin: sun, rain, snow, blizzards, storms and horizontal hail that sprays you in the eyeballs like a Santa’s Visine. Co-incidentally, a few days before I was due to come down to New York City this week, the camera stopping working. So I took it to the storied Nippon Photo Clinic in Manhattan and just by virtue of it crossing Nippon’s venerated threshold, it miraculously became fixed. I was hoping to show the technician how it didn’t work, but it snapped away perfectly. I asked him if this was typical, but he shrugged his shoulders with a chuckle. Sod’s law, I thought as I checked the camera in for a clean and wondered how many famous photographers had paid the infamous Nippon Clinic a visit to have their equipment restored.
It’s been another beautiful Catskills summer. In the last few weeks, red leaves have been scattered sparingly on the forest floor like clues to a treasure hunt, leading me to my autumnal prize. A spectacular show, like the forest’s own Mexican wave, a static riot of color will commence later this month. A benevolent Mother Nature now has a cool wind in the works while Old Man Winter waits behind her gleefully rubbing his hands. I hope she flicks an acorn in his eye.
It’s at the waning end of this glorious summer that Upstate Dispatch celebrates its birthday. It turns a year old tomorrow, September 9th. I would, firstly, like to thank you for reading and all your wonderful comments, feedback and admiration. Readership support means such a great deal.
For the last three years, I’ve produced and hosted a radio show on WIOX that airs live on alternate Mondays at 9am out of Roxbury, New York. Two years ago, I did a series on feminism called Women in Film and set about doing research for the series. At the time I did my research two years ago, in about July 2013, the UK’s Guardian newspaper had reported the previous week that a recent study of 2012’s 100 highest grossing films found that only 28% of the speaking roles went to women. To say I was shocked and saddened is not exactly true because I was already certain that we have a long way to go before there’s some equality in Hollywood, so I just hunched over my desk with a long sigh and put my face in my hands.
A more recent statistic from the same publication is not much better: “women accounted for only 12% of on-screen protagonists in 2014, and just 30% of characters with speaking parts”.
Scrolling through back issues of Brain Pickings this week, I stumbled upon the post entitled “How To Avoid Work” and read it with interest. My eye lingered on one quotation in the article: “Your life is too short and too valuable to fritter away in work”. The artist in me agrees with this sentiment but my other half is too pragmatic not to find it irksome. Frequently paired with this idea is the notion of only “doing what you love” and the pursuit of this idyll. Because Upstate Dispatch is devoted to the city folk who are making the country their home and their business, I decided to ask the question: what is work?
When cabin fever sets in, sometimes there’s nothing to do but jump in the car and drive to New York City. Book an evening or two with friends, feed sushi to your dog, drink with a million old friends in your favourite bar and exaggerate like a true New Yorker. Driving in the city sharpens the mind as much as a good 25-mile assault course and, once you’ve survived the hair-raising journey, you’ll only be in the city for a few hours when the opportunity for a robust debate will present itself. Quirky customs and foibles are brought vividly into focus when you don’t live here. Strangers receive smiles with downright fascination and will swerve graciously out of the way for your gorgeous dog, but not for you. In fact, NYC dog lovers will converse with your dog like an old, dear friend and completely ignore the human on the end of the leash. Stern police officers on the RFK Bridge will take your toll without returning your gaze and then, out of the blue, light up like a five-year-old and yell: “HEY PUPPY!” after spotting your dog in the back seat.
There’s such a lot to miss about city life: furniture on the street (covered in snow); street vendors selling old, pristine issues of Life Magazine for five dollars; Wholefoods; opening up a coffee shop 7am, for a large tea, croissant and dog biscuit; Strand Bookstore; exciting visits to Manhattan offices bringing back old memories; sushi; La Duree macarons; the sprawling Brooklyn Navy Yards; cyclists; roof farms; the dulcet, reassuring tones of NPR on the radio.
Years ago, a new country neighbor confided that whenever her husband went away on business she slept with a loaded shotgun by the bed, but I believe in accidents, sleepwalking and all the other disasters that Hollywood screenwriters can mustre. A shotgun only wakes you up after it has blown off your leg when you knocked it over reaching for a glass of water. A dog, however, wakes you up before something happens (or will ever happen).
Enter Alfie, my first dog, who barks when someone crosses the street a mile down the road, has a sense of smell so strong he can tell that the UPS guy will be here in an hour and follows me from room to room like a family member who’s afraid I’ll commit suicide. I only have to look out the window with a slight frown and he goes to the window and starts barking ferociously. Last night I gasped at a movie and he awoke with a start and issued a dead stare right in my eyes with one ear cocked until he was confident that all was well. He takes his position in the household as Head of Security as seriously as a Black Lab/Shepherd mix can. In Alfie is combined both the sheer comedy of a Black Labrador with the bossiness of a Shepherd. More important, as a first-time dog owner I don’t even see myself as the master of this dog; he’s not my dog, rather I’m his human. I can’t be alone in believing that the master should not be picking up faeces off the road and carrying it in a little bag. No, I am the servant for the next… ever.
To open the new year, I wanted to post a piece I’ve been itching to publish for some time. Last year, Britain’s Guardian newspaper asked the question: What is a Hipster? This question remains inadequately answered just about everywhere I read it. So here’s my tuppence for the record.
The hipster, borne of necessity, like most American inventions, was quietly humming along by its introverted self until it was “discovered” like the next top model, propelled to stardom and repackaged. No longer the studious, dedicated urban outlier it once was, it has been devoured by contemporary culture: replicated, refined and turned into another brand like Pandora or Urban Outfitters. I’m keenly familiar with its recent history.
New York City has been a cultural icon for most of its life, but it’s a city that is almost unrecognizable from that which I visited for the first time almost 20 years ago. By 1998, I had moved permanently from an empty, crumbling mid-nineties Shoreditch in London to New York City’s Williamsburg and found something similar to what I had left.
No words can possibly describe the Wild Hive Skillet Polenta with Eggs and sauteed greens. The menu offered “sunny side up”, but the server offered them whichever way I fancied, so I took them scrambled and they were cooked to perfection: lightly buttery and moist. Was there cheese in the Polenta? Who knows? There was something magical in there, whatever it was, that made me feel like going straight to the Blue Barn and spending $36 on an antique red silk dress from Shanghai. Last time I did that it was the biscuits and gravy from Diner in Williamsburg, and two dresses from Pima Boutique in the Girdle Factory on Bedford Avenue… circa 2001. Remarkable dining experiences that make me go shopping are as rare as rent-stabilized apartments.
Me: ‘What’s in season?”
Waitress: “This is America: Everything’s in season.” (Italics hers.)
Duly silenced by this exchange, I flipped through the gigantic menu, struggling to make up my mind as the waitress stalked away proudly. One thing that stood out was the salmon. It was really cheap and back in England at the time smoked salmon was a luxury that I used to roll up in napkins and stuff in my pockets at corporate events. It was difficult not to be impressed by the range of choices and the prices, and in retrospect, I wonder today: what exactly is a luxury in times where “Sunday Best” is a quaint anachronism?
I’ve also recently given more thought to the thorough dressing down my American friend had given to a British sandwich on her first visit to London in the mid-nineties. Taking stock of what now seems like meagre offerings in Britain’s Marks & Spencer Food Hall, my friend exclaimed loudly: “call that a sandwich?!”
It all starts innocently enough. One uniquely New York City 105-degree scorcher during which the breeze sears your face and you contemplate frying an egg on the sidewalk. Freckles pop up on your cheeks in real time. Someone suggests camping again and this time you don’t laugh in their face. Now facing another blazing, humid weekend without air-conditioning, you’re ready to click together your ironic Mary Janes and chant: “there’s no place like the forest!”
Camping is one of the best activities America has to offer. Stunning scenery and plenty of room for everyone (including kids, pets, gear and cars) combine to provide a thoroughly refreshing alternative to the city. Camping is the “gateway drug” to country life, especially for those who work remotely. If you can work anywhere, why not a bolt-hole in the woods? You can’t find out the temperature by popping outside in your underwear in New York City.
Camping relaxes even the most hardened city folk. Just the first few gulps of fresh air on the Taconic State Parkway have you thinking you can taste green. As you drive up Route 87 with the car window down, you can feel the remarkably hefty burdens of the city fly off into the wind like jettisoned cargo. As you pull into the campsite at dusk, you wonder what all the fuss was about back in the Big Smoke: a big fuss about nothing. Your editor was once an inveterate city girl but this is how you get turned. Continue reading