Tag Archive 'Catskill Mountains'

Aug 08 2016

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Brief Sojourn in the Catskills

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Catskill campI don’t like to mix business with pleasure. It’s hard to stay focused that way. But I made an exception last week when I headed south of Albany, New York to hunt for books for a couple days. Instead of car camping between book sales per usual, I parked my car at a trailhead Thursday afternoon, changed into hiking clothes, and slipped into the Catskill Mountains for the night.

I didn’t go far. A mile into the woods, I tagged a small stream and followed it back to a high, dry spot. A patch of wood ferns called my name. I pitched my tarp in the middle of them. Then I made a nice place to sit against a tree. Home sweet home.

Mine was a modest dinner: a cup of juice reconstituted from powder, an energy bar and a carrot. Lord knows I’d consumed plenty of calories on the road – mostly junk food. No campfire. I kept things simple. Didn’t want to smell like wood smoke while book hunting the next day. Yeah, business and pleasure don’t mix well. Not really.

A barred owl hooted while I was scribbling in my field journal. I hear them at home, now that Judy and I have moved to a wooded place in the country, but it’s different hearing them in the mountains. Alone in the wild, I felt closer to that creature.

I slept well that night despite having a rock for a pillow. The forest was cool and calming after a hot, crazy day on the road. Funny how I feel more comfortable in the woods than anywhere else. A lot people think it’s dangerous in the wild – bears, the prospect of getting lost, etc. – but I find the opposite to be true. I never feel as threatened alone in the wild as I do moving among my own kind. Few places are as dangerous as a busy highway.

Thirteen hours. That’s all the downtime I got. Enough to get me by. I broke camp in a hurry, eager to begin another so-called workday. I’d hiked out to the car and changed back into street clothes a half hour later. By mid-morning I was working another book sale, chasing the dollar. Yet a touch of the wild stayed with me. The people book hunting around me never knew the difference, of course.


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May 18 2012

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At long last, I made the pilgrimage to Slabsides that so many nature lovers make. I drove five hours south, walked a hundred-yard path through the woods, and there it was: a statement of rustic simplicity erected during the height of America’s industrial expansion. I could hardly believe I was there. Just me, my dog Matika, and the ghost of John Burroughs.

The old nature writer built this cabin in the summer of 1895 with the help of his son Julian. He spent a good portion of his latter years here writing, reflecting, and entertaining visitors. Peering through the window, I could see the table near the fireplace where he did his work. Books and papers have been carefully arranged on top of it.

The John Burroughs Association opens Slabsides to the public twice a year, but I wanted to be alone with my thoughts when I first saw the place.  Good thing I was. The place took me somewhat by surprise.  An imposing structure, the cabin is something of a contradiction – like the man himself. Rustic in appearance, yes, but a little oversized for a backwoods retreat if you ask me. And it sits on the edge of a two-acre wetland. What’s that all about? One easily imagines Burroughs communing with nature here, yet he built the place to escape “domestic tyranny.” His wife Ursula, that is. Hmm…

I hung out at the cabin for a short while, walked around the little swamp that Burroughs once drained, then drove an hour northwest to a trailhead in the nearby Catskill Mountains. There I shouldered my old army surplus rucksack and hiked up the Kanape Brook. Once I was back far enough, I traced a feeder stream away from the trail, effectively disappearing into the woods.

I spent the night camped near an old cellar hole where some poor soul tried to scratch a living from this rugged, rock-strewn land. There I conferred with the ghost of Burroughs about all matters literary, commercial and philosophical. We disagreed on more points than we agreed. No surprise there. We are two strong-willed men living at different times, in different places. The only thing we share is a deep and abiding pantheism. That and a love for all things wild. Perhaps that’s enough.


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