Category Archives: Frost Valley

Buck Brook #6: Perfect Ski

I have to thank my friend Jim Knosp Housley for jogging my memory. He was shocked that our first time skiing at a resort was our last time skiing with the Buck Brook students. His reaction jogged yet another memory from that winter of 1969 – 70.

The memory is a short vision of an effortless ski run. It was a vision that changed skiing for the rest of my life.

Indeed, Jim, I must have taken the students and staff on at least one more ski trip to the Pocono Mountains that winter. And I do vaguely remember finding another ski hill to check out.

The proof of both another trip and a different hill is my watching a skier from the lift. This skier was passing on our left side, opposite from where the run was on our first trip to the Poconos. Otherwise I remember the resort being similar to the first, with one lift and one run in a clearing between the trees.

The chair I was riding had passed the first pole holding up the cable when my eye was caught by a female skier making the most graceful decent of a hill I had ever seen. No effort at all. She just held her poles straight out to her sides and she did not turn. Nor was she just going straight down the hill as fast as she could. Rather she was in complete control and merely leaning. Just leaning from side to side.

As she leaned her skis naturally following the effect of her weight and tracked to the left or right.

No effort.

Just leaning from side to side and letting her skis settle in beneath her.

It was beautiful. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

It was everything I had always wanted my skiing to be.

Not trying to control skis. Not worrying about form. Not launching into a turn.

Just leaning from side to side.

And because of that, in poetic form — legs together. Skis parallel. Perfect.

I got off the chair, pointed my skis down hill, stuck my arms out to my sides, poles dangling in the wind, forgot about turning — and have celebrated my association with motion and gravity ever since.

Frost Valley #16: Final Days

Frost Valley #16 – Final Days

Bud was back in school, summer work was wrapping up on the Frost Valley estate, and I knew it was time to move on before winter made hitchhiking miserable. But there wasn’t a rush, so one day when there were no chores to do I decided to visit the Autumn-colored trail to Slide Mountain one more time. I went alone, so Bud was probably in school.

This time I encountered other climbers on the ledges overlooking the Catskills. They were young guys, mid- to late-teens. Long haired and dressed in jeans and t-shirts, they presented the perfect youthful hippie look of 1969. And they were interesting—talking of things from the planet to the stars, from books to road trips.

It was the middle of the week and well into September so I was curious about their not being in school. AHA! they assured me, but they WERE in school!.

It was a school based on Summerhillian principles named Buck Brook Farm. The school taught by doing, not lecturing. And camping in the Catskill forest was certainly something being done!

The more we talked the more they encouraged me to come and join the staff at Buck Brook Farm. The more I listened the more I came to think the Travel Gods were lining me up with a place to spend the coming winter.

One comes to trust the Travel Gods. I made sure to get directions.

JPG

Within a week Stan and Bud drove me the fifty miles from Frost Valley to Roscoe, New York, and seemed to know the maze of backroads to Buck Brook Road and the unmarked drive at Buck Brook Farm. After fond fare-wells to Stan and Bud I hopped out with my pack and walked up to the old farmhouse across a small brook.

The headmaster happened to be in. Yes, the boys had told him about me. We chatted a bit. I was assured we were not there to be friends with the kids but to be the adults in the circus. And with that I was shown back across the small brook to the largest building in the compound. There I was casually introduced to staff and kids on my way to the second floor and a room overlooking the front drive.

I would stay for a winter and a summer.

Frost Valley #15: Color of the North

Fall was gathering ‘round us in Frost Valley and once again I found myself surrounded by natural wonders that were new to me.

Having been raised in the deserts and pine-covered mountains of Idaho I was not aware of tourist industries based on people looking at forests full of colorful trees. But now, as I fed the estate’s fish and mowed the fields and cleaned up the garden, I found myself increasingly scanning hills no longer green but pocked with reds and oranges and yellows. And then reds and oranges and yellows pocked with green. Eventually the green was gone.

Color #1

 

TrailOne of the estate’s grandkids and Bud and I decided to check out this splash of Autumn in Upstate New York. I drove the estate’s Suburban up Frost Valley to the trailhead at the ridge of the Catskill Mountains. From there we took off on the trail Bud and I had taken when we ended up freezing under the brand new invention of a space blanket. I believe it was the trail to Slide Mountain — at 4,180 feet the highest point in the Catskill Mountains.

Eventually rocky ledges began to appear. These were not above the treeline where no trees grow, like I knew from Idaho. Rather they were flat, solid rock ledges that jutted out from the forest before falling off at a cliff. These cliffs were higher than the trees below and offered views over the surrounding forest. Before these ledges all we had seen were tree trunks beside the trail with color between them. The old can’t see the forest for the trees …

Ledges

Well, folks, there is a reason tourists check out the hardwood forests of the eastern United States in the fall. The rolling Catskill were resplendent.

That night we were laying in our sleeping bags telling stories and feeling a mild wind when we noticed something odd in the sky. We got up and checked out faint, huge balls of glowing light fading in and out in the far northern sky. They were silent. Their light was like the eerie, soft light of fireflies. Their light also slowly increased and decreased like the light of fireflies but much bigger and, perfectly proportionally, much slower.

While firefly light is definitely golden yellow this light was a muted aqua green.

We got up and sat on the rocky ledge of our camp, tucked into a crevice that blocked the breeze. There, wrapped in sleeping bags, we listened to the wind and watched the Northern Lights.

Frost Valley #14: Back to Bud

I don’t remember Seager or getting out of the car or what the beginning of the trail looked like. Nor do I remember crossing the headwaters of the Beaver Kill river. But I do remember snippets of a beautiful springtime path cutting its way through mountain meadows and hardwood forests, fresh in the bright green of new leaves.

I remember the path — just wide enough for a single pair of legs and largely obscured by the tall grasses and wildflowers crowding in on both sides.

And I remember a particular wide opening in the forest with dead timber and boggy ground where the gentle climb eased over a generous hump and began to descend.

I was not sure where the path was descending to. It was all a guess, taking off on this path having seen no map that showed it. But it seemed to be going in the right direction. And it was a path so it went somewhere. If it petered out I could always turn around.

It was a path with no footprints, so it could have been an animal path, but that never crossed my mind. The path had started at a road. It would come out somewhere and I could figure out where to go from there. It made no never mind to me where the path rejoined civilization.

In the meantime it was getting dark so I unrolled my cotton sleeping bag and ate a can of beans and crashed, glad it was the middle of May and not nearly as cold as the nights I had spent beside the roads in March and April.

The next day the little path continued to reveal itself — all running downhill. About noon I recognized the tree stump Bud and I had sat on chatting. I walked by the big old barn. Just past the barn I opened the door to their house and joined Stan and Lola for lunch.

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Frost Valley #13: Two Fun Gals

When I hung up the phone in Pine HIll I was mostly thinking about returning to Bud and Stan and Lola and the estate I had left in Frost Valley.

When at the estate, Bud and I had often walked up the rutted road that ran between their house and the hillside. Just a few yards past their house the narrow road passed a big old barn before turning left, into a gully that led into the hills. The road became two ruts and the two ruts gave way to a visible but not-well-maintained path. Stan had said the path went all the way over the ridge and through Catskill Mountain back country. Several times Bud and I sat on a stump where the road turned to path, visiting and enjoying the day.

As I returned to the road from the pay phone at the Pine Hill gas & grub, I decided to take the long way back to Frost Valley and see if I could find that little path that came in behind Stan and Lola’s house. I knew I had to keep going north and east and eventually drop south through the forest, but my map showed no paths.

I wish I could remember the names of those two spunky gals who picked me up as soon as I crossed the gas & grub’s parking lot. I thoroughly enjoyed their company and they seemed to enjoy mine. I’m guessing they were in their late twenties or early thirties and only as I write this have I thought perhaps they were looking for something other than a little daring-do, picking up a lanky hitch hiker to chat with. I’m so gay I miss all kinds of signals from the ladies, I’m sure.

Oblivious to anything other than friendly folks who seemed chatty and interesting, I told them about returning to Frost Valley and my decision to return the long way, hopefully on the little path I had been told crossed the ridge and led to the estate.

The gals looked at one another and agreed it might be the path that takes off from Seager. “At least it heads in that direction.”

I encouraged them to let me out whenever their route took off from mine and just point me in the right direction, but they would not hear of it. Rather, they insisted they take me to Seager and point out the trail.

to Segar INTI became most thankful for their insistence. Seager, it turns out, is a once-active village that died with the tanning business. With just one home, I would probably have been carrying my heavy cotton sleeping bag some nine extra miles. And then I don’t know if I would have found the tiny path.

Frost Valley #12: Leaving Bud

When I stumbled into Frost Valley in the spring of 1969, I had been hunting out tiny roads generally heading north and east from where I had spent the winter outside of Princeton, New Jersey. When I left Frost Valley in May I kept my orientation, figuring Maine was as good a goal as any.

I suppose Stan gave me a ride to the end of the valley, where the road crossed the ridge of the Catskills and began its descent to Oliveria and Highway 28. With my heavy sleeping bag and box of paints and a little money saved while working on the estate with Stan, I was doing fine and back where I felt I should be — moving through the landscape. The unknown road to Maine was a shining promise glowing in the unseen horizon.

But my heart was a bungie cord. The further from Frost Valley I got the more I was drawn to Bud and Stan and the cluster of sheds that made up the estate’s main compound. The further I got the harder each step was. I wanted to fall into the glowing promise of the unknown road. But my heart was tied to Bud’s quiet tears.

to Pine Hill JPEG

I turned left when I got to Highway 28, headed north. My head looked forward to adventure but my feet felt no joy. Pride did not want me to go back, admitting some abstract concept of defeat, but my soul was aching. Walking on Highway 28, each step was torn by two desires.

After three miles I was passing the hamlet of Pine Hill. First thing, my eyes scanned a roadside gas & grub and found the outdoor pay phone. I did my best to pass it up.

From the moment I figured I’d call my feet were light and my heart joyful. Stan said, sure, he could keep me busy for the summer and to come on back if I wanted.

These forty-six years later I remember the joy I felt when I turned from the phone and walked across the gas & grub’s parking lot.

As soon as I got to the road, two gals stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. I took the long loop back to Frost Valley.

Frost Valley #11: Loving Bud

I first settled into the Frost Valley estate thanks to a bright-eyed boy.

It was getting late in the day as I walked the valley’s tiny mountain road when a big GMC Suburban passed. It passed half way through the meadow I had just come into when it stopped and a schoolboy jumped out and went running across the meadow into a cluster of buildings. Before I had time to cover fifty yards the boy was in a jalopy, pretty much just a car frame with a motor, and was headed my way. He drove right up and started chatting. His name was Bud. The Suburban was Frost Valley’s school bus. His Dad had been driving it. His Dad was caretaker of the estate where they lived. His Dad could use some help with spring cleaning.

Wintoon lodge

I decided to back track to just before the meadow began, found a wide enough spot to sleep between the road the the “No Trespassing” sign, and settled in for the night. The next morning a International Harvester Scout with a “Constable” sign in the window stopped and Stan, Bud’s Dad, got out. We hit it right off and he suggested I stop in for a hot breakfast (Well, yea!). Sure enough, the local guy who had been helping in the spring was off to school and Stan could use some help with spring clean-up.

Bud and I became good friends that summer. I was an exotic, traveling stranger with stories to tell. He was a spirited kid, probably thirteen or so, and rather isolated in the forest of the Catskill Mountains. We went for walks in the woods and played board games and pool on the family’s pool table and filled our time together with a comfortable enthusiasm for one another.

One day he said he wanted to learn to swim and his mother Lola suggested I teach him in the pond that ran behind the little barn I was sleeping in. It was early summer but mountain water is mountain water — the pond came to my crotch and my legs were freezing. But poor Bud was laid out immersed in the icy existence as I held him on the surface and tried to explain floating and swimming. The entire attempt did not go well and did not last long.

Another Bud & Dean fiasco was my fascination with the brand new invention called a Space Blanket. I was hitch hiking with a heavy woolen World War II Army surplus bed roll and the idea of carrying bedding that weighed an ounce was heaven to contemplate. We were landing on the moon that summer, 1969, so this miraculous material from the space age must live up to its hype, right? Its super-shinny surface reflected body heat so well, there was no need for bulk. The thing had the heft of shrink wrap.

What could go wrong? So, Bud and I set off for an overnight hike up 5,900-foot Slide Mountain with full confidence in my new, light-weight pack.

Well, folks, Space Blankets might make an adequate ground cover, but I assure you they do not keep you warm. Or even isolated from the wind. Unlike being immersed in a cold creek learning to swim with a warm house and dry towel close by, this time Bud and I were in a dark forest in May with a flimsy piece of plastic over us, bundled in our clothes and shivering next to one another to keep warm.

As spring gave way to summer, the chores around the estate settled down and it was time for me to get back on the road. I had gotten close to Stan and Lola and Bud and was sorry to be leaving, and I knew Bud would take it hard. I told him first, the both of us sitting on the ground beside the compound’s workshop. He began to cry and I wanted to. I put my arm around his shoulder and we sat there for a good long while.

That night at the dinner table I told Stan and Lola I thought it was time to move on. Again Bud quietly broke down. It was a very awkward moment for all of us until Stan mentioned the movie Hud and said it was about a relationship similar to Bud and I. That went a long way to ease the discomfort.

I did leave soon after and will be telling the story of my return, my spending the summer, and Bud getting over me enough so when autumn came and it was time to move on for good he was able to say goodby with a twinkling-eyed smile. A smile I carry in my heart to this day.

Frost Valley #10: Raining Dam Spikes

Well, folks, I missed having Hurricane Gerda blow me off Cape Cod, but I sure did not escape the rain.

As the caretaker’s helper on a private estate in the Catskill Mountains in the summer of 1964, I was staying in the loft of a combination barn and garage, right under the wooden shingles of a roof with no insulation or finished ceiling. The shingles spent the night dancing under the consistent pelting of pouring rain. The babbling brook of Clear Creek became a roar.

The next day Stan and I got in the Scout and headed out to see what rambunctious Clear Creek had been up to. We only had to go about 500 yards.

The structure had not been much more than a wide sluice box, more of a pass-through spillway than a structure of any height — just enough of a weir to divert some of the creek’s water under the road and through several small ponds meandering through the estate’s main compound of buildings. Even so, the dam had been substantially made, with heavy beams framing it and thick timbers for the creek to run over. The morning after Hurricane Gerda, it was largely a jumble of boards strewn down the stream.

Within the week Stan and I and a craftsman Stan knew were fixing what could be fixed, securing the beams that needed secured, and laying salvaged and new timbers across the raceway. Sturdy spikes, some eight to ten inches long, had been purchased to secure it all together. Stan and his craftsman were glad to have a hired hand to sledge the big nails through the boards.

When I was fourteen my Dad quit letting me drive nails in the cabin he was building because every nail I started was bent by half way in. To this day, be it a three-penny or a brad, if it is in my hand and I have a hammer, it is going to end up bent.

Yet, with these sturdy spikes and being all of twenty-four, I thought I had finally found nails substantial enough to withstand my influence.

Nope! After five or six spikes were beyond recognition, Stan mentioned those things cost 80 cents each. After a dozen he started commenting how far it was to the hardware store to get more. By the fifteenth, Stan and the handyman had taken over and I was left trying to look helpful.