Tag Archives: New York

Buck Brook #16 – Buckets of Sap

It was darn cold and wet when the maple trees started running sap. And run they did! I was 25. I was at Buck Brook Farm in the Catskill Mountains, a hundred miles north of New York City. 

Having been raised in the evergreen forests of Idaho, the early spring of 1970 was my first exposure to turning the sap of maple trees into tasty syrup. 

I had spent 1969 in the Northeast, enjoying the different leaves and barks and branches of trees I did not know the name of. But when the trees started rising their sap from roots to budding leaves it was easy to pick out the maples — each one had a little peg on its trunk, like a pecker taking a pee. And every peg was easy to find — it sported a galvanized bucket hanging from it. 

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At least they did at Buck Brook Farm. We were a school keeping kids involved. Commercial operations had miles of plastic tubes draining the sap to common collection points but we made use of the tradition of wearing kids out by carrying buckets. 

My first astonishment with gathering maple sap was how fast those trees run it out! I had enjoyed years of visions of a leisurely drip, drip, drip as the pegs lovingly extracted the sweet liquid. Now that I think about it my assumption of collecting maple sap would have filled a bucket every two days or so. 

Folks, that’s not how these mighty trees move their life-giving liquid. What was coming from the pegs was not a leisurely drip. Or a drip at all. It was a steady stream. Think turning  your faucet just past drips. A thin stream, yes. But far from occasional drops.

For two weeks we were kept busy carrying buckets of maple blood through the forest to our pickup, where larger tubs were waiting to be filled and carried to the fire.

Carried to the fire? We’ll explore that next time. For now let’s just say what was running from the pegs was not syrup, folks. It was thin as water. But oh, what delightfully sweetened water!

Buck Brook #13 – Warm in January

I was raised in Boise, Idaho, which has four distinct seasons. So I was raised knowing about the frozen tundras of January. Heck, it sometimes even gets below zero for two or three nights! Sometimes. But usually the middle teens is about as cold as we have to survive.

In the mountain country of upstate New York I learned that what we consider winter in Boise is a far cry from what much of our country considers a normal winter.

In the Catskill Mountains during the January of 1970 we spent several weeks with the daytime temperature never getting warmer than 20 degrees BELOW ZERO!

I know. That’s crazy talk. But it’s true!

And we got used to it. We still took our early morning walks. We still worked outside on the buildings, even getting a foundation under the library. And those of us who smoked still went outside to do it.

We smokers did find a little nook at the front of the men’s dorm that was blocked from the wind on two sides. It faced the south, so if the sun were getting through the clouds at all there was some radiant heat. We’d bundle up and run to the nook and get some good puffs in, maybe even almost finish half a cigarette, before being driven back in to the warmth of the buildings.

By late January it was starting to warm up. One day the sun was all but shining through a light haze and the bare trees of the forest. The light and warming air found us in our t-shirts lighting up in the light of the sun. We weren’t exactly lingering between puffs but each of us did finish our entire cigarette before heading in. It was warm and we talked about it!

On the way back to the heat of the dorm I gave in to my curiosity and walked over to the barn with the fire engine, where a long metal advertising thermometer hung. I wanted to confirm my suspicion that it was about 32. Freezing! And here we had been out in undershirts smoking an entire cigarette!

Imagine my surprise to find the temperature had not gotten to 32. It was, instead, all the way up to zero.

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ZERO!

You spend a month colder that 20 degrees below zero, folks, and you’ll be surprised how much heat there is at zero!

Joining everyone in the dorm I told them I would be telling stories of being warm at zero. I assure you, dear reader, you are not the first to hear about it.

Buck Brook #7: Trip to Florida

The end of December came, the kids left for home, and the rest of us headed south for our annual meeting of the Green Valley School staff. Buck Brook was one of the campuses of Green Valley School, headquartered in Orange City, Florida.

I’d never been further south on the eastern seaboard than Trenton, New Jersey, so the trip was an anticipated adventure.

There were perhaps seven of us and, as I remember, we decided to drive to Florida in three cars. I ended up with Arthur and Ann Gunderson and their young son.

We were fairly close, the Gundersons and I. Arthur’s job was to oversee the construction projects at Buck Brook, make purchases, and coordinate with building codes and inspectors. Ann was in charge of coordinating the kitchen, ordering supplies and making sure we staff all got our turn at cooking and cleaning.Their son was a bright and engaged kid. So I was glad to share the ride with them.

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As much as I enjoyed working with Arthur, he was a source of grousing among the students and staff at Buck Brook. I saw his fussing over minutia as necessary to coordinate materials and construction projects while many students and staff grumbled about his not getting the free-spirit let-it-flow nature of our environment. (Even I had to agree the gawd-awful little tin shower stalls he ordered from some catalogue were — well — gawd awful compared to the roomie and conversational three-head open shower they replaced. But Arthur explained an up-to-code tiled communal shower would cost a fortune compared to the tin stalls, and watching the budget was one of his challenges.)

That was our Arthur. And Arthur was my ride. And when we got to Florida there was more than one pair of rolling eyes accompanying inquiries as to how I stood the extra twelve hours it took us to finish the straight-through, all-freeway drive.

Well, OK. When we were finally at the Florida boarder and cruising along nicely, Arthur did just blurt out, “the car could use a wash.” Just out of the blue. Worse, he took the exit we were approaching and started looking for a car wash. Yea — that time I was ready to just jump out and walk.

But there was also the time we were passing Washington, DC. It was the middle of the night and Arthur and Ann started pointing out distant landmarks of a town they had spent some time in. When I said I had never been to our nation’s capitol they immediately agreed something must be done about that and pulled onto the surface streets and circled the Capitol Mall for me.

Yea, it took us another half a day to reach Florida. But I had learned you can wash your car any time and any place you want. And I had seen our Capitol for the first and, so far, my only time. And we had stopped for some nice sit-down eats instead of dealing with paper on our laps and a ceaselessly moving, cramped vehicle.

I told those rolling eyes that Arthur wasn’t that difficult a character to enjoy.

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 !

On The Road #14, Neversink

I woke to the racket of big rig trucks on their morning move across New York State. The expressway overpass that was my roof rattled under screaming tires and I figured it was time to hit the road.

I was headed toward a road through the heart of the Catskill mountains, a road respectable enough to earn a little black squiggle line on my map but not worthy of a number — just the notation Frost Valley. I enjoyed lovely little Route 55, winding its two-lane way through broadleaf forests and cleared farms between the overpass that had served as my tent at Liberty, New York, and Frost Valley. About half way between the two my map showed a community called Neversink.town new

The name caught my eye. A mountain town called Neversink? Had it once had neighbors that had sunk? Most curious indeed.

What I found was a lovely community of freshly painted houses. And a most poetic set of circumstances, indeed.

It turns out no one really knows the origin of the names Neversink River, Neversink Township and Neversink the town. There is speculation it came from in Indian word but that is disputed. We do know the town was established on March 16, 1798. And we know that, of all the towns and cities that have been established in New York State and these great United States, Neversink is one town that did, indeed, sink. It seems New York City, some seventy-five miles to the south, was thirsty.

The city began looking for more water in 1941. Its first choice for a reservoir was shut down by squabbling over quality fly fishing, so the city dammed Neversink River instead. Today this reservoir joins three others in the area to supply half the city’s water. The reservoir was complete in 1953 and was supplying water at its planned capacity by 1955.town historic

And that’s how lovely Neversink the town was condemned to slip into the watery deep. Residents rebuilt about a mile away and above the waterline.

There was another community on the Neversink River that met the same fate but not the same end. It was never rebuilt and is lost to history. Its name? Bittersweet.

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1993 dam face1993 resevour