JV: I was born in the town of Catskill 28 years ago.
So you’re a born and bred mountain man. You never wanted to leave? Usually young people leave here by the thousand every year.
I have left a few times and I came back. I lived in Denver for a year or so. I was in San Diego for a little while, but I really, really love this area, now that I’ve grown up and got all of that out of my system. I through-hiked the Appalachian Trail last year, so that got me away for six months.
Heather: I moved to the Catskills in 2007, so I’ve been here going on eight years.
Where did were you living before?
I was living in Dutchess County in Dover Plains and I had been there 17 years. I grew up in Nyack. I’ve actually never lived anywhere more urban than Nyack. It’s been a slow and steady march northward.
What started that slow march?
When I was in High School. I had a buddy who – and this is a crazy story – we both turned sixteen, got our driver’s licenses. She quit high school and moved all by herself as a sixteen year old to Woodstock.
I moved upstate with my family in 1979 when I was nine years old and my parents were partners with my mother’s parents – my grandparents – at the Emery Brook House, that’s now the Evergreen. They ran it as a German Cuisine bed and breakfast.
Were you born here?
I was born in Huntington, Long Island.
So what made your family move to the Catskills?
Well, my grandparents had found the area. They had a boarding house in Rockaway and the area was being developed so they had to sell, or were bought out. I don’t really remember the story of how they left Rockaway, but they were looking for a German community and that’s how they wound up in Fleischmanns. There was a nice German community here and they were looking for a similar situation to what they had left: a boarding house. So when they contacted a real estate person in the area, the real estate person told them about the St Regis, which is huge and much bigger than anything they had envisaged managing, so they then found the Emery Brook and that’s where they settled.
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.
It’s about this time of year that cabin fever firmly seizes us in these mountains and we do impulsive things like go hiking up a mountain when there’s only two hours of daylight left. Spring seems like it’s just around the corner and we’re so used to the bitter cold that 20F seems nice and toasty. It’s not until we’re approaching our icy ascent (in our snowboarding boots, stupidly wearing wool and cotton), passing very sensible hikers on their way down using sticks and cramp-ons that we realise what a risk we’ve taken, but there’s a happy ending to this story, and a sandwich. Charles Dickens walked 20 miles a day in his prime, stalking around town in the afternoon after a sturdy lunch, no doubt conjuring up characters en route from his observations of 19th century Londoners. Writers love a good walk. First, the sandwich: corned beef brisket on toasted rye with a dash of mustard from Arkville Bread and Breakfast with a portion of chips (that were meant to go in the Fish and Chips, but that was yesterday’s lunch). Thinly-sliced brisket, lean, delicate and not too fatty on perfectly-toasted rye. This reasonably-sized portion, plus a cup of Twinings Irish Breakfast, got me to Giant Ledge in most unsuitable shoes and down again, occasionally sliding on my bottom because of the ice.
The ultimate space saver, this towel expands from the size of a tablet (bigger than advil, but much smaller than a champagne cork) to the size of a face cloth. Throw a handful in your backpack and then simply dunk one in water with a drop of soap for a convenient outdoor bath.
“Master, Mentor, Master: Thomas Cole and Frederic Church” until November 2nd, 2014 at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring Street, Catskill, N.Y. For more information: thomascole.org or 518-943-7465.
Alice Waters at the Blue Cashew Kitchen Pharmacy in Rhinebeck, New York on September 28th 2014.
23rd September at 11am, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development are breaking ground on the site of the new Maurice Hinchey Interpretive Center, a center where tourists can learn more about the wonderful Catskill Mountains. The ground breaking will be followed by a hike.