Tag Archives: Frost Valley

Frost Valley #6: A Local Concert

One daily highlight of maintaining the estate in Frost Valley was grabbing a bag of fish food and walking upstream some half-mile to feed the fish in the ponds behind the little meadow where I had met a baby skunk and had first been introduced to fireflies.

One afternoon in mid-August I saw a car parked on the road beside the meadow and discovered two guys sitting on the edge of the road, enjoying the view while they ate a simple picnic. The guys were both studs so I wasted no time introducing myself and sitting beside them to compare notes. I told my story of finding obscure roads to hitchhike on and they said they had found Frost Valley because they lived in Boston and were headed to a concert and figured this tiny line on a map would be a nice, wooded drive. Then we made out for a while there beside the road, all three of us thankful for the absence of traffic and confident we could hear any vehicle approaching in the small valley.

Once the meadow had been splendored beside, the two guys suggested I join them at the concert. I was sure Stan could spare the help since the estate’s chores were all caught up. But I did have the fish to feed and it was kind of cold and drizzly, I didn’t have a ticket and it would be a couple days before I was back and I had no food or bedroll packed. The guys assured me it would be OK but I declined and they went on down the road while I headed to the ponds to feed fish.

Two days later Stan needed something from a shop that was in Monticello, some thirteen miles south of the town of Liberty, where I had spent a night under a freeway bridge on my way to the middle of the Catskills. We took highway 42, a back-road short cut from Frost Valley to Monticello, and picked up what Stan needed. On the way back Stan wanted to take the long way, up Highway 17, the freeway-style road I had slept under in Liberty. He wanted to check out the big commotion that was going on up that way.

We soon discovered a very long parking lot.

The freeway was divided, with a grassy median between the north- and south-bound roads. On both sides of the road north to Liberty cars had pulled onto the gentle slopes away from the pavement and parked.

There was nothing disorderly about this parking. The cars were diagonally parked as precisely as could be, as if an attendant had directed each placement.

On the other side of the freeway, headed south, both sides of that road were just as precisely filled with parked cars. This went on for miles.

At Liberty we got off Highway 17 and headed east back to Frost Valley and a rather wet and chilly August weekend.

There was a lot of talk in Frost Valley that week about those orderly cars parked on the freeway. And the fact there was no litter. And the fact no one had heard even one horn honk. “Well. I guess when folks have no where to go they have no reason to honk horns,” seemed to explain it all.

Eventually I figured out there was a well-attended concert just fifty miles from where I spent the summer of 1969 in the Catskill Mountains.

The concert’s name was Woodstock.

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 #3: Murder

Precious fireflies continued to delight my summer in Frost Valley. Evening walks were a joy, there being plenty of water and meadows to provide happy habitat for the silent celebrants of the gathering darkness.

But not every night was spent in the wonder of nature. One evening I had joined Stan’s family for a bit of TV watching. I was staying in a loft over the garage, so when the show was over I headed out of Stan’s house. There was a step out the kitchen door and just as my balance shifted to land my right foot on the step — just when it was too late to change course — a firefly headed between the step and my shoe. It did not come out the other side.

My God ! ! !  I HAD KILLED A FIREFLY ! ! !  A beautiful innocent gift to the joy of evening. MURDERED ! ! !

Visions of eternity in a justly deserved insect purgatory filled my soul with dread and my heart with sorrow.

Then visions of thousands of children capturing and torturing and playing with millions of fireflies over hundreds of centuries crossed my mind and I was relieved to figure perhaps, just this once, I’d be forgiven for a purely accidental quick splattering of one firefly.

A laugh escaped my mouth, but I wasn’t happy with the incident.

When I moved my foot, however, I was rather delighted with the entire situation. There, smashed on the step, was a glowing mass of warm green goo. How does Life do that?!

I checked the bottom of my shoe, which also sported a spot of glowing goo.

A vision of proportion washed over me. For every one of those millions of captured and tortured and played with fireflies over the ages there must have been a dozen or more having their crushed bodies smeared on happy faces. The idea of glowing war paint was a wonderful prospect I would have gleefully joined in on a few years earlier.

For the rest of the summer I thought about smearing the glowing goo of a crushed firefly on my face. I just didn’t have the heart to do it.

Frost Valley #2: Illuminated

Not every night, but on occasion Stan would take an evening drive up and down Frost Valley, checking that the buildings and properties of the 3,000 acre estate were as they should be.

One late dusk he ask if I’d like to come along. I hopped in the the blue Scout’s shotgun seat and we headed up the valley. As we were passing the meadow where I had seen the baby skunk a flicker of light caught my peripheral vision. My mind quickly processed it to be the headlights of the Scout glancing off a discarded metal can next to the road. Just as quickly the idea was dismissed — reflected light could not have come from that angle. 

Instinctively I turned toward where the flash had come from and immediately found myself shouting out, “STAN! STOP THIS TRUCK ! ! !”

Rather alarmed, Stan slammed on the breaks as I opened the door and was jumping out as the Scout stopped. Without hesitation I was running across the meadow, my arms outstretched in joy, ignorant of where I stepped.

My heart races to this day remembering my anticipation of arriving on the far side of the meadow, nearest the fishing hole, where they were the thickest. Once there I could only twirl and twirl in exaltation — they were so beautiful and so silent and so mystical and joyful and unpredictable. They were just so present in the warm gathering darkness.

They were fireflies. firefly meadow

I was raised in the West. We have no fireflies. I had seen Disney’s Song Of The South and had figured the animated dances of randomly glowing lights in the background landscapes were as real as Sugar Plum Fairies.

When you are twenty-two years old and see actual fireflies for the first time, thick like they were in that meadow, they are one of the most elating experiences you can imagine. Magic. Lighted life, adding dimension to the night with soft glows ramping brighter and dimmer, on and off, floating randomly over and through the tall grasses.

It took me a while to calm down. My twirling slowed. My shouts of glee and Oh My God and Look! Look! Look! quieted. I caught my breath. Lowered my arms. Stood and soaked in the moment and the meadow and the magical insects. Finally I walked back to the Scout.

Stan was standing on the far side of the truck, his door open and watching my return. I had been unaware of him before but now realized he was laughing. Hard. Big, gleeful lungs-full of laughs. As we got in the Scout he confided, “I’ve only known one other guy from the West. He acted exactly the same way.”

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.