Tag Archives: Catskills Writer

Daily Catskills: 10/19/18

Clear skies at dawn and for the most of the morning. Wispy cloud forming at noon and then, a delicate layer of woolly cloud floated across sky like a sheet and hardened into milk glass at dusk. A high of 61F. No snow on Kaaterskill High Peak, but the odd patch of ice in places.

Daily Catskills: 10/16/18

A fresh, chilly morning rising to a high of 54F. A rare day with clear, blue skies do nothing to enliven the dull fall colors. Still waiting for nature’s fireworks.

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Winnisook Lake, Origin of the Esopus Creek

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It’s truly extraordinary that one of the most majestic creeks in the Catskills – and possibly about a quarter of the drinking water supplied to nine million New Yorkers – begins with a tiny spring originating on Slide Mountain in Oliverea just over the apex of the Catskills Divide. This spring was dammed at its source by the Winnisook Club in 1886 to create the now 8-acre Winnisook Lake, so that members of this private club would have somewhere to fish. (This is a private club with no public access).

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Spilling from this pristine lake, is the start of the Esopus Creek, which travels about 65 miles through the northern Catskill Mountains and is revered as the source of some of the America’s best fly fishing.  It is dammed for the second time to create the Ashokan Reservoir and then continues on from there to empty into the Hudson River at Saugerties. We have so much water here in the Catskills, and so much rain, that it really feels like a rain forest in humid periods. The precipitation occurs because we’re high up in the path of clouds moving east from the comparatively flatlands of Ohio. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 10/10/18

Already 72F mid-morning with the sun spilling through gaps in the clouds and gilding the forest. Another overcast afternoon with a high of 79F and a slow breeze. Feels like a late summer.

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Giant Ledge in Fall

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Ah, Giant Ledge. These days it’s like Times Square up there even on a weekday in autumn because it’s a quick 1.5 miles from the parking area, over a babbling brook and up quite a steep, rocky incline to literally a giant ledge jutting out into the wilderness with astonishing panoramic views of both western and eastern Catskill Mountains. On a nice summer day, you can get up there in your day wear on a lunch break and then there’s full cell service at the summit, which makes it popular with the Instagrammers, photographers and weekend visitors. There is no cell service on the way up, in the parking area or on Route 47.

For this reason, Giant Ledge is the gateway hike. It’s lures you in with its easy rewards, and before long, you’ve bought proper hiking shoes, non-cotton clothing and perhaps even hiking poles. If you go 1.85 miles further on from Giant Ledge you will reach the summit of Panther Mountain, which is one of the Catskills peaks over 3500 ft, the “Catskills 35”. (There are 35 peaks over 3500 ft here in the Catskills.)

In the fall, it’s muddy and once the leaves start falling on the trail along with the rain, the rocks get very slippery so extra care is needed. (In the winter, it completely ices over and it’s necessary to use crampons). Only the beginning part of the trail to Giant Ledge is level: a brief reprieve in the rock climbing, but it’s still muddy at the moment. None of that seems to deter the multitude of visitors though, because it’s one of the perfect spots to watch the leaves change.

Right now, the landscape is mostly yellow with some swathes of red. There’s lots of green left on the oaks and other hard woods, but it’s sure to burst into its final, vivid orange fireworks any day now. If that happens on a sunny day, we’ll be golden.

Go here to scroll thought last year’s October.

Giant Ledge is a 2.5-hour drive from George Washington Bridge. Take I-87 to Kingston, Exit 19, then take Route 28 (West) after the traffic circle, following the sign to Pine Hill. At Big Indian, turn left onto Route 47 and drive 7.5 miles south on Route 47 until you see the trail head sign. The parking area is just before a hairpin bend.

The View

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The Trail

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Daily Catskills: 10/09/18

A balmy high of 78F, but overcast still with thick cloud like a plumped up duvet that rolled back to reveal some sun (sun!) for a brief period in the early afternoon.

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The Catskills 35: Cornell Mountain via Wittenberg

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This time in the beginning of fall is the best time to hike. It’s too cold for the bugs but warm enough to hike in a t-shirt once you have gotten going and the leaves have only just started to fall, so there’s no thick, wet carpet of rotten leaves coating the rocks to make the trail treacherously slippery.

To access Cornell on a marked trail, you need to approach from either Wittenberg or Slide, two of the Catskills highest peaks and each one difficult enough on its own. Wittenberg is much more difficult than Slide, a withering epic that begins as it means to go on, with even the very beginning being a steep ascent to the sign-in register and, then after a 2.9 mile hike with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet, in the last mile before the summit there are three or four intimidating climbs up sheer rock faces. Hiking Cornell via Wittenberg from Woodland Valley is the third highest vertical climb in the Catskills. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 10/06/18

Gloomy, overcast with the sun occasionally breaking through the cloud for a high of 64F. Thick mist hovered over the caps on the high peaks for most of the day. The whisper-quiet summit of Cornell covered in a foggy shroud.

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Daily Catskills: 10/05/18

After a gloomy morning, the thick clouds evaporated into nothing leaving clear skies and blazing sunshine for a change. Fall began in earnest this week. The yellow leaves are falling and the reds are popping. Peaches are ripening just as their leaves are drooping.

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Daily Catskills: 09/29/18

Almost 60F by mid-morning with ominously low blanket of cloud that splits into a flotilla of long cotton balls by mid-afternoon.  A high of 62F. The fall is slower this year with only vague swathes of red amidst the yellowing landscape.

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Daily Catskills: 09/26/18

Another one of our many moody days. Showers in some areas, and the ubiquitous low-hanging clouds looking like the underside of a winter comforter. Long, steady breezes push through the trees and a high of 75F. More rain late afternoon. Rain, rain, rain. Cows in a huddle.

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Daily Catskills: 09/21/18

A sturdy autumn breeze steals the day, shaking acorns out of the trees. Overcast with sombre clouds passing slowly in a low, solemn procession and chilly for a high of 66F. The landscape continues its barely discernible yellowing.

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Five Catskills 35 Trail Hikes

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There are 35 Catskills mountains over 3500 ft and there’s a club of volunteers devoted to maintaining these trails, and leading group hikes, called the Catskills 3500 Club. Two of the best extra resources are the Catskill Mountaineer website in which you can see a great deal of detail on each hike in the Catskills and a set of maps produced by the NYNJ Trail Conference. All the hikes are pretty strenuous, steep and miles long – not just your proverbial walk in the park. Furthermore, nine of the hikes are bushwhacks, which means there is no trail and you must rely on a map and compass. Some of the hikes are arrestingly beautiful, with waterfalls, lush vegetation and mountaintop lookouts that reward the hiker with stunning views that extend for hundreds of miles over the Catskills’ peaks. But don’t go unprepared. These hikes demand a high fitness level and expert advance planning, especially in winter. Novice hikers should not be attempting peaks in summer or winter without advice.

As an introduction to hiking, I hiked in the summer first and you never forget your first peak.  Balsam Mountain in the summer is spectacular. Here are links to five reviews of the Catskills 35s: Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 09/17/18

Mist sinking into the valleys early morning with wispy clouds getting thicker as the day progresses. A mostly sunny afternoon with a high of 80F and light rain beginning at dusk. Balmy.

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Retrolinks Sunday: The Best of Upstate Dispatch

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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.

Our adventures with our small farm and a steep learning curve in the world of foraging.

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

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Daily Catskills: 09/06/18

80F by noon and breezeless, but cooler in the forest.  A humid 84F high broken by heavy clouds, mid-afternoon showers, lightning and a long thunderstorm that dumps a mass of evening mist that rolls in and out of the valleys at dusk like a tide. Then a power cut at 8.30pm for absolutely no reason at all.

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Daily Catskills: 08/17/18

A rainy, soggy morning with a brief interlude of warming sun around midday with brief periods of sunshine, returning to torrential rain and thunderstorms late afternoon. A high of 80F.

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Daily Catskills: 08/16/18

A dull, foggy, humid start rising to an 87F high by late afternoon with blazing sun. Hordes of post-rain mushrooms stage a revolution on the forest floor.

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Interview with Joyce St. George, candidate for NY State Senate District 51

“I remember when you went for a job and there were signs saying WOMEN NOT WANTED or MEN ONLY or BOYS ONLY”.

Reportedly, this year the US has had a record number of female political candidates running for office. Joyce St. George is one of these women. Joyce was a guest on my radio show on April 30th and we talked about some aspects of her career, being a woman in politics, her career in law enforcement, her run for state senate and what she does to unwind (she also practices and teaches karate here in the Catskills).

Joyce is a powerhouse with an intimidating resume. She began her career in the 1970s, when she became the first female investigator to serve in the New York State Attorney General’s Special Prosecutor’s Office on Anti-Corruption. Following the dramatic testimony of Frank Serpico, Joyce and her colleagues rooted out corruption within the criminal justice system in NYC, investigating police officers, judges and district attorneys. That was only the beginning of her career and I’m wondering why nobody’s made a movie about Joyce herself.

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

Daily Catskills: 08/08/18

Early morning sun barely breaking through thick fog. Overcast and humid with periods of break out sun, a torrential afternoon shower, and a high of 83F. The Catskills is a rain forest, consisting of a innumerable number of creeks, streams and rivers in a world that is running out of fresh water.

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Back on the Burroughs Range: Slide Trail

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John Burroughs couldn’t have picked a range of mountains to frequent that’s more demanding for the hiker, but according to the DEC it’s the most popular range in the Catskills Forest Preserve. It’s probably popular because it has the most interesting network of trail hikes, but it’s extremely challenging in parts, the Slide Trail (between the summits of Slide and Cornell) feeling like a craggy, sheer rock-face covered in trees. Continue reading

Mushroom Hunting

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This week’s torrential rain created ideal mushroom growing conditions and the chicken mushroom, turkey tail, ghost pipe, chaga and polypores are all ripe for the foraging. Get out there and pick them, paint them or just generally admire them before they dry, rot, or get eaten by other creatures, like the hungry bears that the July drought had forced towards more urban areas. There’s even a bolete or two in advance of their normal August season. The reservoir is high, creeks are gushing and mushrooms are glowing in the understory like little alien beings. Like a movie cliche, yesterday the dog bound off into the forest to chase a much faster creature than him, and I ran off after them both and stumbled into a grove of hemlocks dotted like acne with polypore and a carpeted with ghost pipe. The polypore pictured above is a tinder polypore, good as a fire-starter for campers, was an ancient antibiotic and a sort of chewing tobacco used by certain indigenous Alaskan tribes. Continue reading

Foraging: Burdock

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Burdock is a biennial, wild invasive species that looks rather like a thistle, but is a cross between rhubarb and celery and repellent to animals because of its bitter outer layer. It’s noteworthy because of it’s initial growth of the instantly recognizable, huge, spade-shaped leaves with frilly edges that have a whitish underside. At first glance, the first year plant looks like rhubarb.

It grows better in rocky, disturbed soil like roadsides, in full sun or partial shade. We have one that’s thriving in the garden, though, in mulched earth and letting it go to seed to see if it can be cultivated because if you only have one plant you can’t really make full use of it. You really need a patch to harvest at different times. Continue reading

Rochester Hollow, Shandaken Wild Forest

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Compared to any of the Catskills 3500 hikes, Rochester Hollow is a gentle, family-friendly hike with not much of an elevation gain from the parking lot (about 850ft), and good for dogs in hot weather because it follows a creek for the first couple of miles.

Compared to Giggle Hollow, across the valley to the south west on Belleayre, its name is rather boring, but the trail is far from dull and is the home of a memorial (pictured above) to the late naturalist John Burroughs with a small stone seating area. Though the Rochester Hollow trail is relatively gentle, it’s still a worthy trek, the whole trail being a lasso-shaped loop that’s made up of three intersecting trails blazed red, blue and yellow for a total, round-trip length of 6.5 miles that can be completed by an experienced hiker in about 3 hours. Continue reading

A Nature Walk & Cocktails with The Outside Institute at Foxfire Mountain House

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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.

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Continue reading

John Burroughs Woodchuck Lodge Annual Meeting, July 15th

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The John Burroughs Woodchuck Lodge Annual Meeting will take place on Sunday July 15th, 2018 at 1pm.

The meeting will be open to the public and, after agenda items are discussed and trustees are voted in for another term, there will be a modest, family-friendly hike to the gorgeous new summer house, free gifts for attending (book, refrigerator magnet or CD) and light refreshments. Continue reading

Invasive Species Awareness Week

It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week (ISAW) in the Catskills. We have many voracious pests like the Emerald Ash Borer from Asia that is decimating the ash tree population of the Catskills. Ash trees are expected to be mostly extinct in the region in a few years’ time. Hemlock trees are also under threat from Hemlock Wooly Adelgid. The biggest way that invasive insects are transported is via wood like firewood. Never bring firewood to the Catskills from elsewhere for camping or cookouts. Always buy it here.

This week there are 17 events in the Catskills to highlight the growing problem from invasive species and help landowners and residents identify them.

Click on the Catskill Center’s link here to find out full details of all this week’s events that begin tomorrow, July 10th at 10am with a Mile A Minute Pull in Narrowsburg. This fast-growing vine threatens other native foliage by shading it out.