Tag Archives: Catskill Mountains

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.