Tag Archives: Upstate

Hiking the Catskills: Huckleberry Point

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Like Giant Ledge, Huckleberry Point is a reliable hike that’s a comparatively shorter distance than other Catskills hikes, but offers equally stunning views and a beautiful summit. You can also find people doing this hike in sandals and a tiny handbag on a Friday afternoon, so it’s that kind of go-to hike – the kind people decide to do regularly and on a whim. Unlike Giant Ledge, there’s no climbing involved, this trail is easy to moderate with one or two rock piles to climb over, but nothing anywhere near to the rock climbing you’ll endure on Giant Ledge. The Huckleberry Point trail is also different in that you’re climbing up and over the summit of a mountain and down the other side to the lookout, so you’ll be getting some aerobic exercise in both directions instead of only getting it on the ascent. Continue reading

New Invasive Tree-Eating Pest Threatens The Catskills: The Spotted Lanternfly

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, the US Northeast now has the Spotted Lanternfly from Asia on the march from Pennsylvania after its discovery in 2014. As reported by the Catskill Center, it has been spotted as close as Albany and Yates County. The fly is easily distinguished by its colorful wings and it feasts on grape vines and hardwood trees like oak, maple, apple, walnut and cherry. By eating these trees, the render the plant or tree vulnerable to other insects.

The DEC urges people to report sightings of the fly or eggs to spottedlanternfly@dec.ny.gov. This fly is unique because it only flies short distances; it’s primarily transported by human activity. It lays its eggs on vehicles, rusting metal, stone and firewood so they are very easily moved long distances on vehicles like long-haul trucks. It’s egg masses are brownish-gray, waxy and mud-like, resembling taupe putty when new. Old eggs masses are brown and scaly.

Signs of an SLF infestation may include:

Sap oozing or weeping from open wounds on tree trunks, which appear wet and give off fermented odors.
Massive honeydew build-up under plants, sometimes with black sooty mold developing.

Daily Catskills: 10/17/18

A crisp autumn day beginning with a humid morning and rising to a 52F high. Mostly overcast with rolling, dark cloud bringing a sudden hail storm at 4.15pm and, after a plunge into freezing temperatures of about 36F late evening, a crunchy layer of snow. If we wanted it dull, we would be living somewhere else.

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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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Fall Harvest Soup

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What do you do when you have a basement full of potatoes, onions, garlic and apples? Add lentils to make a Fall Harvest Soup. You can easily make it vegan by not adding butter. You can also add bacon if you can’t live without meat, frying thin slices of your bacon in with the garlic.

This soup is a delicious mixture of the fruity apple with the nutty lentils. The potatoes thicken the soup, but you prefer the soup to be thinner, add more warm stock towards the end to reach the consistency you prefer. If you prefer the apples and lentils to be the main two flavors, only use three cups of potatoes, and add a half-cup of lentils. Continue reading

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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Wild Plant Teas: Goldenrod

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Goldenrod is a perennial that grows mostly in direct sunlight, although you can find them in partial sunlight by roadsides. You’ll usually find them in fields and on hillsides and, as the name suggests, they are tall rods (or stems) getting about two to six feet high with loose, floppy clusters of tiny, yellow flowers at the top of the stem that droop over slightly.  Thin leaves, two to six inches long, grow all the way down the stem alternately, and are hairy.

We have Goldenrod in abundance – whole fields of it – so taking a few blossoms for tea is sustainable. It’s best harvested in late summer when the flowers are opening. Clip off the yellow blossoms including two or three inches of the stem. Steep three of these fresh blossoms in a cup of hot water to make a delicious fresh tea that tastes similar to a strong green tea. Sweeten with a dash of maple syrup. Don’t pour boiling water over them. Let the water cool down a little first because you don’t want to burn the flowers.

Goldenrod is said to have a number of health benefits. It soothes a sore throat, reduces pain and inflammation. It is also used for gout, joint pain (rheumatism), arthritis, as well as eczema and other skin conditions.

The flowers don’t freeze well, so if you want to save some tea for winter, make a condensed batch and freeze to dilute later with water. To make a condensed batch of tea, simply soak as much fresh goldenrod as you can fit in a mason jar of hot water. Strain through a sieve and freeze.

Foraging: Black Trumpet Mushrooms

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Like Lion’s Mane that I wrote about last year, Black Trumpet mushrooms are easy for the novice forager to identify because they don’t have any toxic look-a-likes. Plus, like Lion’s Mane they are absolutely delicious: earthy, aromatic and deeply flavorful, possibly one of the best smelling and tasting mushrooms out of all the top edibles.

To the layman, they could possibly look like, perhaps Devil’s Urn, little, round cups that grow on rotting wood but even then, the Devil’s Urn only appears in spring. Wood Ear could also be considered similar, but wood ear looks like, well, a brownish/black, flattened ear. There are black boletes, but they have pores not gills. It should be noted here that if you’re going to learn about mushrooms, a pocket guide is essential and you should have a good few year’s worth of mushroom-hunting experience before you start thinking about eating anything without at least two positive ID’s from experts. A novice should always have a mentor. Plus, most important, mushrooms affect people in different ways. Some people can’t even tolerate edible mushrooms and you may have an allergy of which you are unaware. Continue reading

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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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.

Daily Catskills: 05/10/18

A high of 70F with huge, scene-stealing clouds and intermittent rain showers. Humid with early evening fog descending into the valleys and rising off the Esopus. Shoots a-shooting. Buds a-budding and the maple leaves unravel first. The forest comes alive and the soft earth ejects a few ancient objects.

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Daily Catskills: 05/03/18

A high of 85F, overcast, humid with morning sun and then frequent, refreshing afternoon rain showers being the only thing that stop the flies from dive-bombing our eyeballs. Hazy like mother nature accidentally dropped a bag of flour somewhere on the horizon.

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Daily Catskills: 05/01/18

77F by the afternoon, with mostly clear skies. Birds chirping. Blooms and leaves continue to bud like they weren’t covered in snow yesterday. Most of the snow melted by dusk, even on the ski slopes.

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Daily Catskills: 04/27/18

44F at 10am and gloomy with mist rising off the Catskills and a light drizzle. There’s a burn ban in effect until May 15th, so the sky is keeping us well-watered and the sun decided help by completely disappearing. Wild leeks love the weather.

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Catskills Comfort Food

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Spring so far has been like a Bronte novel. First, we had snow right up until April 20th, and now we have continual rain on our face and gloom like we’re in England getting our hair salted and ruffled by sea winds. Any minute now, we might expect Heathcliff to run over the fields yelling for Cathy, but wet is good. We like to keep our many “kills” flowing, but it’s still chilly out there and expected to worsen: on Monday we will welcome more snow. To put it mildly, we’re not breaking out the salads. Locally, menus are changing with the season, but there are still good, hearty options in some places. The best Catskills comfort food has to be the Zephyr for its rib-sticking chicken pot pie, pictured above (and its decent prices, especially its good value prix fixe). So much of restaurant food is salty and loaded with butter, but the Zephyr’s isn’t. It uses tarragon in its pot pie and corn to add sweetness. It’s unfailingly delicious every time: a steadfast fixture on the Catskills food scene.

The Zephyr also does a good cream of broccoli soup loaded with smoked cheese and the most perfect chunky zucchini fritters (pictured below) with three kinds of sauce. One could live on these alone. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 04/21/18

Sun! 48F by noon with a high of 55F and brilliant sunshine fading to a hazy horizon. One lonely cloud takes a wrong turn. Spring waits in the wings, cooling its heels, like the introverted understudy, while the farmer prepares for the best.

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Daily Catskills: 04/19/18

An inch or two of overnight snow and 35F by morning. Overcast with glowing, gunmetal clouds composed entirely of the sheer grey exasperation of waiting for spring. Snow, made exclusively from the frosty tears of our disappointment, resumes at lunchtime, but melts like our hopeful summer dreams into the soggy turf, dull and colorless like our mood, by the afternoon. Snow joke.

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Catskills Diary: This Writer’s Life

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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:

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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

Daily Catskills: 04/17/18

35F, but humid at 8am and lightly but steadily snowing over mountains shrouded in fog. A monochrome morning transforms to color by lunchtime because the snow’s too delicate to survive the soggy grass and muddy roads. A high of 39F and snow all day.

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Monday’s Radio Show

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On Monday’s radio show (April 16th) at 9am on WIOX, my guest will be Leslie T. Sharpe, editor and educator, author of The Quarry Fox and other Critters of the Wild Catskills.

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Leslie gave a remarkable speech at the Catskill Center on Saturday entitled “John Burroughs and H.D. Thoreau: The Roots of American Nature Writing” that transported the audience back in time with a teen-aged Washington Irving he sailed up the Hudson; described Thomas Cole as he painted the Catskills; showed us how John Burroughs forthrightly traipsed through dense hemlock forests.

Leslie, a member of PEN America, began her writing career at Farrar, Straus & Giroux and has been an editorial consultant, specializing in literary nonfiction (especially memoir, creative nonfiction, biography and cultural criticism), literary fiction (novels and short stories) and poetry. She has been Adjunct Associate Professor of Writing at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, where she taught in the undergraduate and graduate (MFA) writing programs for twenty years. Join us as we talk about her life as a naturalist, why she wrote her memoir and what’s so special about the quarry fox.

Daily Catskills: 04/13/18

The last remnants of snow linger in the shadows on the lower peaks, but the honey bees are out and busy. Bright sunshine, a high of 70F with a cooling breeze. The warmest day of spring so far.

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The Shavertown Trail, Andes

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The Shavertown Trail that runs over the summit of Perch Lake Mountain in Andes is a moderate hike suitable for all ages that offers its rewards early on: stunning views from Snake Lake about a mile up from the trailhead. This hike is perfect for a large family party or house full of visitors of assorted ages. The first mile is the most strenuous, after which less fitter members of the group can loiter at the lake and picnic – if spring ever visits us again – while admiring the views over the Pepacton Reservoir. Those who need more of a workout can can go further. After the lake, the trail is a solid, long hike for 1.5 miles through a dense hemlock forest to a loop which turns you around to hike back to where you started. The entire trail is 5.3 miles long and the elevation gain is only 700ft.

This guided hike – led by volunteers of the Catskill Mountain Club – was supposed to be a spring hike, but winter is hanging on like the overbearing party guest who has outstayed his welcome. Yes, he’s handsome and charismatic, but cold, and exhausting. Plus, the house is a mess. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 04/07/18

At least six inches of overnight snow, soft and powdery, not like Monday’s snow which disappeared pretty quickly. A high of 34F with clouds that ripple and shimmer in the sunlight. A beautiful day despite the shoveling.

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Catskills Weekend: Trout Tales

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Get hooked on fishing this weekend: Trout Tales starts this afternoon (April 7th, 2018) for an entrance fee of $10, take a wander around historic Spillian (pictured below in better weather) and listen to an afternoon of lectures dotted around the property that culminates in happy hour drinks, dinner and an evening of stories. Most interesting will be the Women in Fly Fishing, as the practice does seem to be dominated by men, like most of history. Hear stories from the ladies of the fly fishing world, including one record holder, Heidi Nute. For the foodies: learn to cook trout on a campfire.

Tomorrow Sunday April 8th, join The Catskill Mountain Club to hike the Shavertown Trail in Andes, the summit of which affords sweeping views of the Pepacton Reservoir. It snowed last night, here in the Catskills, depositing about six inches, so dress for the cold. Bring plenty of water. Pre-register here by emailing aroberti@catskill.net.

Spillian, 50 Fleischmanns Heights Road, Fleischmanns, NY 12430.

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Life Drawing at Streamside Yoga in Andes

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Art is meditation, says William Duke who runs a Life Drawing class at Streamside Yoga in Andes every Thursday night with a live nude model from 4 to 7pm. Charge is $10 to pay the model and there is usually some serious regular talent at this event, like Sandy Finkenberg, Peter Mayer and William Duke, Steve Burnett or Gary Mayer. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 03/29/18

A high of 49F, humid, overcast with light drizzle. A spring thaw sends plumes of thick, fast-moving mist into the mountains. The Catskills becomes a steam bath. Stunning views from mountain tops. Large herds of deer graze under cover of early evening fog.

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5th Annual Burroughs Catskill Mountain Community Day Lecture

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Leslie T. Sharpe, naturalist and author of “The Quarry Fox and Other Wild Critters of the Catskills” will be the guest speaker at the 5th Annual Burroughs Catskill Mountain Community Day Lecture at The Catskills Center in Arkville on April 14th at 1pm.

Her subject will be “John Burroughs and H.D. Thoreau: The Roots of American Nature Writing”.

This event has been arranged by the board of  John Burroughs Woodchuck Lodge Inc, the nonprofit organization that is custodian of writer John Burroughs’ home in Roxbury.

Woodchuck Lodge was built by John’s brother in 1862, 15 years after John was born, on the east end of the Burroughs family farm. The Burroughs’ homestead where both boys grew up, later sold, is a mile away up the road and was built when John was 13 years of age. Woodchuck Lodge was John’s retreat in retirement and he is buried nearby.

After Leslie’s speech, attendees will also commemorate his birthday. Birthday cake and light refreshments will be served. All are welcome.

Saturday, April 14th 2018 1pm at the Erpf Center, 43355 Route 28, Arkville, NY 12406. (Directions in link.)

Sponsored by John Burroughs’ Woodchuck Lodge, 1633 Burroughs Memorial Road, Roxbury, NY 12474.

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On the Radio: Linda Leaming, author of A Field Guide To Happiness

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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

Whiteout!

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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.

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