A Catskill Catalog by Bill Birns

A Catskill Catalog: June 1, 2011

Nineteen young Americans from New York’s Capital District have died, these past 10 years, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Closer to home, the supreme sacrifice has taken eight young men from the greater Catskill Mountain region, if we define that region very broadly.

At Memorial Day, we mourn the sacrifice and loss of Davis Jones Jr., Phillip Charte, Derek Farley, David Miller, and Benjamin Osborn, young men from just beyond the Catskill region, killed in combat operations since Memorial Day a year ago.


A Catskill Catalog: May 25, 2011

I won’t say I’d never heard of rhubarb growing up. It just never figured into any dishes that found their way onto the dinette table of my boyhood.

Rhubarb grew in my suburban neighborhood. I always thought the plant vaguely poisonous, it being named, and all, after a sudden breakout brawl on the baseball field, the only rhubarbs I ever really knew.

The first few springs I lived in the Catskills, rhubarb was a revelation.

Strawberry-rhubarb pie. Rhubarb in custard. Stewed rhubarb. Rhubarb Betty.


A Catskill Catalog: May 18, 2011

In 1867, the Reverend Charles Rockwell authored an early guidebook to the Catskills, The Catskill Mountains and the Region Around. He devoted a chapter to the animals then common to the mountains.

Here’s how the chapter, “Wild Animals,” begins: “The cougar or American panther, or painter, as this animal is often called, painter being a corruption of the word ‘panther,’ belongs to the feline or cat species, and is found from Patagonia, in South America, to the northern bounds of the State of New York.”


A Catksill Catalog: May 11, 2011

In the Catskills, the very dirt that makes the land is young. The oldest Catskill soils can be dated back about 13,000 years ago, when the last glacier receded.

I was never any good in science in school. Flunked physics. I’m not proud of it, just making clear how much of a stretch the history of soils is for me. I have to rely on Mike Kudish’s magisterial book, The Catskill Forest, a History (Purple Mountain Press, 2000).


A Catksill Catalog: May 4, 2011

The 15th anniversary of the January 1996 flood passed without my notice. I was busy shoveling snow. This wet spring jars the memory. Fifteen years ago, the Catskills experienced the worst regional disaster in my time, perhaps in anyone’s time.

Actually, the entire northeastern United States got socked. It began with an old-fashioned, post-New Year’s nor’easter. Snow began to fall, to the south, on the evening of January 6, moving into the Catskills on Sunday, the 7th, and snowing hard through Monday, the 8th.


A Catskill Catalog: April 27, 2011

A rainy April in the Catskills doesn’t bounty-up the summer harvest. Seed crops are still in the greenhouse. The late Dan Morse taught me, long ago, that a Catskill Mountain vegetable garden goes in, really, on Memorial Day, or a bit before, if you’re going fishing that weekend.

A big garden was considered something of a necessity, when I got to the mountains, the reason for having a backyard. I didn’t, so Dan lent me a section of his, where he taught me to plant radishes, onions and peas; carrots and pole beans; broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower; rows of corn and hills of potatoes.


A Catskill Catalog: April 20, 2011

“The War Commences”
A century-and-a-half ago, April 13th, The New York Times carried a subdued headline, announcing news long expected. For weeks, a standoff simmered between the federal garrison at U. S. Fort Sumter, in Charleston Bay, and the secessionist state government of South Carolina.
The Times may have taken the news in 18-point stride, but the secessionist bombardment of the country’s own soldiers caused great stir throughout the Catskills. Can’t secede from the union just ‘cos you lost an election, the reasoning went.


A Catskill Catalog: April 13, 2011

John Burroughs is on Facebook! As of last week, the writer and naturalist has over 100 friends. Having recently celebrated his 174th birthday, Burroughs has been quite dead for some time, buried, as he was, on his 84th birthday, in 1921, in the field above Roxbury, now a state memorial in his honor.

So, he’s clearly getting help with his Facebook page.


A Catskill Catalog: April 6, 2011

If you’re looking for a model for the way community healthcare needs to go, look no further than the healthcare campus on the hillside overlooking Margaretville.

Big changes have been happening over there for the past dozen years or so. These changes both reflect current healthcare reality and provide cutting-edge leadership in facing those challenges.


A Catskill Catalog: March 30, 2011

“We had kerosene lamps for light. No electricity, of course.” So begins the late Forrest Dutcher’s privately printed memories of Fox Hollow and the Shandaken area, lent to me by a friend.

Forrest Dutcher grew up in Fox Hollow, Shandaken, in the early 1900s, just about a hundred years ago. In them-there days (as my friend, the late Frank Russell, used to say) Fox Hollow butt-up against the Hiram Whitney Chair factory, a string of buildings and rail-sidings whose last remnant is the stone garage now housing Black Bear Construction.


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