A Catskill Catalog by Bill Birns

A Catskill Catalog: April 4, 2012

It was Ray Smith Day at the Phoenicia Library, Saturday, the day before opening day of trout season.

Fitting. Ray Smith was the most celebrated fisherman on the Esopus Creek. Ever. From the 1920s and ’30s to the 1960s and ’70s, Phoenicia, Esopus, and Ray Smith were names tightly linked in he collective mind of the angling world.

A Catskill Catalog: March 28, 2012

A Sunday morning, summer of 1975 or so, in New Kingston. My neighbor had taken a morning snort or two and was feeling emotional. He motioned toward my three- or four-year-old son, running willy-nilly through the yard. “See that little shit,” he said to me, “He’s Catholic and I’m Protestant, but I love him like he was my own.”

A Catskill Catalog: March 21, 2012

Maple syrup appears nowhere in the index of History of Food, the all-inclusive standard French reference on the subject, written by the very high-brow Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat and published in 1987.

Maple syrup’s just too local, I guess, just too much of a regional food to merit inclusion in a book that claims to trace the nutritional choices of universal humanity. Maple sugar is “of only incidental importance.”

Important around here!

A Catskill Catalog: March 14, 2012

“The river is the carpenter of its own edifice.” So said Luna Leopold, engineer, geologist and father of modern water management.

I heard that quote from Wayne Reynolds, Delaware County Commissioner of Public Works, when he made a presentation last week in Fleischmanns. Forty people crowded the monthly meeting of Fleischmanns First, a village-focused civic organization of which I am a member. The commissioner came to talk about village bridges.

A Catskill Catalog: February 29, 2012

In late summer, 1938, the New York Tribune sent a reporter to the upper Delaware Valley. Tribune readers, generally affluent and educated, might be curious about the historic agricultural valley that was soon to disappear to provide water for the City of New York.

A Catskill Catalog: February 22, 2012

The 1990 soccer season was Roxbury’s year. Both the boys’ and girls’ teams won sectional titles. The boys ended their season in their next outing, losing their first intersectional game, but the girls marched on, making the Final Four of the New York State Championships in Syracuse.

A Catskill Catalog: February 15, 2012

Soccer has to be included in any catalog of Catskill Mountain life. Soccer madness visits many mountain towns every fall, particularly the central school-hosting villages throughout Delaware and Greene counties; Downsville, Andes, Roxbury, Windham, Tannersville, South Kortright, Davenport, Stamford, Gilboa, Jefferson and Margaretville.

A Catskill Catalog: February 8, 2012

His name, in his native language, means ebb-tide. Fitting for a man of “the people of ever-moving waters,” the Mohicans. He carried a Christian name, Hendrick, fitting for someone who had been dealing with Dutch and English neighbors his entire life.

Among his own people, he carried a Mohican name, rendered variously in English as Kackaweeriman or Cockalalaman. Known to history as Hendrick Hekan, he was a Sachem of the Esopus people, the Mohican river-Indians who had long made a home of the lands washed by the Hudson River and Esopus Creek.

A Catskill Catalog: February 1, 2012

Wiltwyck, Beaverwyck, and New Amsterdam were the three Hudson River settlements of New Netherland, listed from smallest to largest: today’s Kingston, Albany, and New York City.

Settled in 1651, Wiltwyck quickly became a vital agricultural outpost, site of the best wheat-growing land in the colony. The creek-washed flatlands of the Esopus Valley had long been the cleared, productive cropland of the Lenni Lenape, the Algonquin-speaking “common people,” native to the place. To the colonists, it was perfect for wheat, the European staple.

A Catskill Catalog: January 25, 2012

Seventy-five years ago this month, federal agents raided a farm in the Town of Halcott, where they discovered an operating still.

It all started with complaints that someone was jacking deer at night with a light. Game protectors went to investigate. While on farmland in Townsend Hollow belonging to Fred Matthews, the officers smelled alcohol: a still.

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