Tag Archives: Catskill Mountains

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 #4: Posting Property

In the American West we take vast areas of public land to be the norm.

So I was not prepared to find mile after mile of forests being posted with signs that read, Private Property / No Trespassing, when I set out from New Jersey, hitch hiking in the spring of 1969. I was always careful to sleep between the side of the road and the posted property line.

As summer turned to fall in the Catskill Mountains I came to learn those lines I had slept along beside the roads are the simplest of the lines to post. By far most property lines of the 3,000-acre estate I was staying at ran through wild forest, free of road or trail or cleared brush. And they all had to be posted if the animals and lands of the estate were to be protected from intruders.

To be legal the property line had to have a posting that could be seen from the next posting, so someone coming upon the line would see that the property was posted no mater where they may have come across the line.

As the caretake’s helper it was obvious I — the only person with no experience with the wooded property lines — was just guy to go replacing backwood posters.

And how was I suppose to know where the line was? Well, after replacing each old poster I’d look to see the next one somewhere on a tree, probably in the same direction that I’d been breaking through the forest.

Unless, of course, the property happened to make a corner at the tree I’d just put a new poster on. Or unless the old poster on the next tree had been torn off by wind or animals or hunters.

In the case of missing posters the solution was to keep breaking through the forest hoping to see another worn poster. If I couldn’t spot another old poster soon, it was time to give up and get back to the last poster I’d put up — otherwise I could get entirely lost in an unknown forest. Once at the last poster I’d replaced, I’d look around to see if a corner had been turned on the property and, if there were still no old posters to be seen, I’d head out on another search in the direction I had been headed. Several times I managed to pick up the trail after going back to my last posting.

In the event of the property line changing direction, I was given excellent directions for general expectations: “Go in a straight line for a while and there is a corner that goes at about 30 degrees to the right—it’s just a little past a big fallen tree you’ll have to get over—then that goes straight for a couple of posters before there is another 90 degree right where you can see a rock outcropping on your left . . . ”

For a week or so I was fitted out with a pack of signs, a hammer, a sack of nails and another set of excellent instructions. It was generally assumed I’d get home before I got too hungry and there were, even in the late summer, probably enough little streams if I got thirsty.

And it worked. The property was properly posted before hunting season and I always made it home for dinner!

Frost Valley #1: A Very Cool Pole Cat

Clear CreekThe 3,000 acre private estate I was hired to help maintain for the summer of 1996 prided itself on being a fly fisherman’s retreat. Lovely Clear Creek flows through Frost Valley and there were several diversions from the stream into lovely little ponds that made perfect trout habitat.

The matron on the estate had long since grown too old to entertain the guests from the city who once flocked to the Catskill Mountains to escape the heat, so by 1969 about the only regular fisherman to tromp around the ponds was a seventeen year old grandson. When we first observed him bedecked in gear and trotting to the ponds, pole held high, the caretaker snorted something on the order of, “Behold the mighty fly fisherman. Fully capable of filling his creel in a pond stuffed with fish trained to feed when humans throw in food.”

Indeed, we did throw in the food. Even though there remained but one fisherman the ponds were maintained like the glory days, entirely overstocked for the food supply, so one of the first chores I learned was where the ponds were and just how many handfulls of pellets to cast upon the waters.

The primary fishing pond was a short drive up the valley from the lodge and set on the far side of a mountain meadow. The meadow had a two-rut path of a road arcing to the pond but we never drove on it. We’d just park the Scout by the side of the paved road and carry the bucket of food to the ponds.meadow

One lovely spring day (I almost said “One particularly lovely spring day,” but that would imply they were not all lovely. It was always a treat to walk through the ever-changing meadow) I glanced up from my admiring the flowers and grasses to find myself face to face with an undesirable critter.

Or should I say ankle to face? Some ten feet away and ambling toward me on the other side of the ruts through the meadow was a baby skunk. We both froze at the same moment. I stood still. After the slightest hesitation, he rather slowly and with great purpose elevated himself up on all four toes and lifted his tail.

I’m pretty sure a baby skunk, at lease one big enough to be ambling about on its own, can be just as influential as a full grown skunk and whether that is the truth or not in not something I particularly care to find out. Neither of us moved.

Given a minute or so, we both seemed to settle the question of who was out to do what and to whom and we both understood all either of us wanted to do was to continue ambling. I confirmed my intent by making a wide arc through the meadow on my side of the road. He turned on his toes, eyes riveted on this odd creature, until I was back on the path and headed on my way. I turned to see him figure I must be an OK dude before getting off his toes, turning his back, and continuing his journey.

I liked that baby skunk. And I hope he liked me. A very cool pole cat, indeed.