Tag Archives: Frost Valley

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.

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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 #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.

Cape Cod #6

It is amazing to me, but I remember only two tiny snippets of hitchhiking back from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to the Catskill Mountains of New York.

One snippet is Boston.

My main rule in hitchhiking was to avoid big towns and cities. I didn’t like trying to catch rides in traffic and for the most part had no interest in witnessing how one big city handled tying streets together versus how another did the same thing. But Boston was different. Boston is so tied to the history of the United States I wanted to get the feel of the town. And, having been a Unitarian Universalist since high school, I wanted to check out the first church (founded 1620) in the English American colonies. Yep. It’s Unitarian.First Church

How did I make it into and out of that city without remembering a ride or standing on a corner with my thumb out or any other detail of dealing with a world capitol? How did I spend two nights there without remembering one bed or couch or beer or bar? (The only way I know it was two nights is from reading it in a letter a friend saved.) All I remember is a view of the lawns and trees of Boston Commons rolling off to the north west, filled with students studying and chatting. And looking at First Church from the outside. I don’t even remember if I tried the door to see if it was openLeslie Williams public domain 2014 small

Having left Boston, I do remember it beginning to rain as I crossed the Hudson River from Massachusetts to New York. And raining harder as I got closer to Oliveria Road, the tiny mountain meander that passed over the Catskills and wound down Frost Valley. I don’t remember the ride (or was it rides?) over the mountains, but I remember the rain coming down harder. And when I got to the Frost Valley estate I had spent the summer on and let Stan the caretaker know I was back, he told me a hurricane had hit Cape Cod and the rains were headed our way.

For not remembering much about my return, I distinctly remember my disappointment at having missed the opportunity to go through a hurricane. Had I known Gerda was on the way I would have stayed on the Cape for the 5.6 inches of rain.

Hum. “Had I known.” — So THATS why people listen to the news !

Frost Valley #9: A Yellow House

There were two summer homes on the private estate where I spent the summer of 1969, one a few miles upstream from the compound that included the lodge and the other a few miles downstream. INT

Come mid-summer Stan said one of the chores for 1969 was getting the upstream house painted. They had hired a professional painter and since most maintenance chores on the estate had slowed down I could keep busy helping him out.

At the time acrylic paints, those wonders that let clean-up be done with water, were fine for indoor work but no respectable professional painter would ever use them for exterior coverage. They just did not stand up to the cold and water and sun like good oil-based paint did.

So, up Frost Valley I went and cursed to cleaning up with solvents I was.

The painter taught me more our first day together than I have learned about house painting before or since.

First, scrapping is the most important part of the job. (I figured out on my own that scrapping sure makes one glad to be finished with pushing steel over wood and to start painting!)

Second, the house was sided in long slats of wood, about three inches wide, running horizontally across the walls. The painter started off by explaining that if we were using acrylic paint we could paint whatever we could reach from the ladder, square blocks immediately in front of us, and when we overlapped them with the next square block we painted they would blend right in.

But oil-based paint isn’t like that. If it gets tacky or dry and you paint over it it, even though it is exactly the same paint, where they overlap there will always be a different color. So we painted three boards at a time, reaching as far along the length of those three boards as we could, and then we moved the ladder and continued painting those three boards all across the wall. There was plenty of moving ladders that summer.

Third, he taught me to keep the paint on the tips of the brush. Take small dips of paint to the wall and don’t let it get past half way up the bristles of the brush. Painting is so much more pleasant when your hands are not slippery with paint.

And forth, he taught me not to sweat cleaning up. It’s no big deal, especially when the paint is all in the end of the bristles of the brush. Just swish it about a bit in the solvent and flip the solvent and paint off the brush with a good swing of the arm. Two or three swishings and flippings does the trick.

I’ve since learned that with acrylic paint, where you are dealing with water to clean up, just a touch of soap on the bristles when you have finished cleaning them keeps them nice and soft. (I’ve also figured out that disposable brushes are much better than they used to be, but that’s our little secret.)

We got along well, that painter and I, but I do remember one awkward moment—

It was 1969 and I was a young wonderer, not serving in the military. One day I was on the roof, painting the areas under the eaves of a dormer window, when Stan and another local both managed to be spending some time chatting with the painter. They were right below where I was working. The conversation, as often happened that summer, got to hippies. Perhaps out of deference to my being in ear shot, the general tone of the discussion was that for the most part those hippies are OK.

“I will say one thing for those hippies,” the painter observed. “For the most part they seem to like girls.”

I instinctively turned to check that comment out and the painter was looking directly at me.

What does a shy young gay guy do?

I snapped back to my painting and to the rush of anxiety I had been caught up in since my youth when caught off guard about sex. Perhaps today I’d have pursued it with him. Perhaps it is just as well the topic was dropped by everyone.

We painted that house a beautiful light yellow with, as I remember, white trim. It looked real sharp. I was proud to have been part of the job and I was glad to have learned how to scrape and paint.

I’m also glad my home is sided with steel and has never needed my skills.

Frost Valley #8: True Trees & Heavy Steel

Frost Valley was named for a reason and a requirement for the private estate where I found myself being a handy man was two well-stocked woodpiles, one for the main house and one for the caretaker’s place. The caretaker, Stan, had been on the estate long enough to keep an eye out for promising firewood trees.

Once the early rush to keep grass mown and weeds out of the garden began to settle down, the earth in the forests had firmed up enough to get the 4X4 GMC Scout into the woods with a trailer. So we found ourselves tossing a chain saw and pry bars onto the trailer and setting out into the woods on barely noticeable ruts being overlapped with the branches of hardwood forest.

trees & steel photo

I figured we’d be searching for dying trees or gnarly old snags that would beautify the forest if removed, but Stan quickly set me straight. Perhaps such harvesting would beautify the forest, he agreed, but his job was to cut and split wood. And splitting gnarly snags and dying, unpredictable wood was a pain in the keester. Nope. He had his eye on the healthiest, straightest, most handsome trees in the forest—two or three he’d been eyeing for several years.

And handsome they were. Perhaps Elms? No matter. They stood straight and strong, with no branches for a long way up the trunk. I ended up appreciating that last detail.

It seemed a shame to me, chopping down such beautiful trees, but down they came.

In a surprisingly short time the first load was cut into foot-long sections, just right for the estate’s stoves, and loaded on the trailer. We hauled them to the shed area of the estate’s main compound, dumped them on the ground, and went back for more.

It would have taken less time if the final load had come out as easily as the rest of them. As Stan parked the Scout in the best place to pick up the last load he expressed concern for what looked like a soft spot in front of the Scout. But after testing the spot with his toe he figured it would be “OK.” Once the wood was loaded and the tools were in the back of the Scout it took only twenty feet for the weight of the load to turn “OK” to “creamy mud.”

Getting out to lock the front hubs of the Scout left us squishing in our socks. The granny gear and the four wheel drive just meant four wheels were digging in rather than two.

We cut our losses and walked back to the compound to get the tractor.

Next came the splitting—whether the logs we had just harvested or the dried harvest from the year before I don’t remember.

I do remember being taught how to split wood. First, to take the time to simply look at the cut end of each piece. Find the places it wants to be split. They are easy to find once you look for them—little cracks, usually around the edge, where the wood is already splitting. Then get the heavy maul high overhead and put most your effort into getting the sharp edge as close as you can to the little crack you’ve chosen. Yea, there is some effort put into the power to drive the maul through, but mostly gravity and the heavy steel will provide the oomph. Getting it where it will do the most good is what pops that wood open and sends two pieces clattering across the ground.

There is, of course, one other secret to splitting wood, and it is the secret that will keep you from having to twist and pull your maul out of a piece of wood that didn’t split. While reading the wood check the sides of the log for knots, the places where branches once were. You can split wood with the knot coming out the left or right side of your split, but no matter where the little cracks are running, if you try to drive your maul through a knot you will be putting more work into extracting the steel than it takes to split a dozen logs that pop right apart.

Trust me, I soon came to appreciate Stan’s insistence on trees that were straight and true and who’s branches (meaning strong knots) began way up the tree.

I was not a very strong guy, but I am six foot four, so by the time that maul smacked into those hardwood logs there was plenty of travel in that steel. I got to where I could split wood with the best of them and was surprised at how quickly those trees were turned into cords of split wood.

I can’t say as I’d want to make a living at it, but to this day I enjoy splitting wood. There is something very satisfying when the halves go flying several feet in two directions, as if the wood is glad to be liberated from itself.

Frost Valley #7: Hippies & Women

During my stay in Frost Valley, there were a few times Stan and I would run into folks who ignored the No Trespassing signs and pulled off the road to park beside Clear Creek for a picnic or camp-out.

One night we were driving back from a meeting of the volunteer fire department in Claryville when Stan impressed me by noticing some bent grass beside the road. Sure enough, following the tracks just past the willows we came upon a car. We kindly let the occupants gather themselves before politely letting them know they’d have to move along.

Another night Stan brought the Scout to a screeching halt in front of the barn I was staying in. The urgency in his voice startled me and I jumped up when hearing he needed my help. The Scout kicked gravel as we sped to the caretaker’s house, where Stan ran in and got his sidearm, something I had no idea he had. Then we were off, speeding down the valley while he explained he’d come across a bunch of hippies camping on the property and there were lots of them and he needed my backup while controlling the situation.

We have to remember, this was 1969. The battle of Vietnam was being fought on the home front as well as in Asia. Lines were drawn between long haired hippies and decent society. Both had their fears of one another.

Well. Stan knew I was something of a hippy. Even though I had cut my hair short to avoid confrontation on the back roads of America, I was, after all, hitching about the country and not in the war.

I don’t remember much about that fast ride a few miles down the twisty road, but I do remember keeping a calm voice and trying to mellow the situation out—all the while hoping we did not run into a camp of armed jackasses demanding some claim to camping that the State of New York did not grant them.

We got to the little service road leading to the hippy’s hidden spot and turned in. The camp had been picked up and their vehicles were in the last stages of being packed. Perhaps thanks to my being there Stan was able to see there was no threat coming from these young people in clothes that harkened back to our great-grandparents.

Stan ended up apologizing for having to kick them off the land and then explained there were public camping spots up the valley, owned by New York State. By this time it was dark and Stan continued, “You might have trouble finding the turn off. Follow me. I’ll take you there.”

My heart sings to this day, thinking of Stan jumping the divide that separated our nation.

Shortly after the hippy incident, we were in the Scout checking out the property when Stan observed, “You know, Dean. I’ve noticed. Every time I have to kick out hippies they always clean everything up real good. I never have had to pick up one scrap of anything. But these damned middle-aged women. They seem to think they can leave crap all over the place and everyone else should clean up after them.“

I quit worrying about hippies getting hurt in Frost Valley.