Chapter XX

The Happy Valley

From "The Catskills" (1918)
By T. Morris Longstreth

Our mountain was not only the best viewpoint of the Reservoir that we had climbed to -- it also gave us an illuminating idea of the country we were about to explore. As Utsayantha constitutes the northwest redoubt of Manitou's great fortress, so does Mount Ashokan hold the key to the southeast. To the north, northwest, and west rise the tumbled ranges of the southern Catskills, to the very vitals of which we wanted to penetrate. So, packing up, we made the road into South Hollow by midday, and fell, as had become our customary luck in the earlier spring, upon one of the most interesting fellows in the whole region -- 'Gene Kerr, bear-killer.

It was his barn that arrested us. Nine bear skulls and some skins of other beasts decorated this remarkable shack, and in a jiffy we were talking about two-pound trout and the toothsomeness of bear-steak over the fence that separated us f rom Mr. Kerr and the tidiest little garden it has ever been the good fortune of deer to feed in.

"You fellows must need a good meal in front to balance those air packs," said Mr. Kerr, leaning on his hoe.

"Just what we're looking for, a three-course balancer," we cried.

"Well, I guess she kin fix you up."

All through dinner we listened to the hunting recollections of this vigorous old man, whose age was hinted at neither by the light in eye nor by his upstanding bearing. Not only bear and deer and trout and partridges and gray squirrels were his frequent game, but he liked the fun of bringing in coons and skunks, mink and woodchuck, white rabbits, porcupines, and an occasional weasel. He said that he heard bob-cats occasionally.

"It beats all, how thick deers is gettin'," he said, and the talk would veer around to bears continually.

"They just swarm in the beech-nut years. I got two last year, when they snowed up, and three afore that. Sheep's head in a trap done it. One of 'em weighed in three hundred pound, dressed."

He took down his guns to explain their points as affectionately as a mother would her twins. His graying hair seemed no more to betoken the long winter than October flurries, and his love of the woods -- just the day-long wandering in them, so he had gun in hand -- was fine to see.

His wife, equally energetic, had other tastes.

"Oh, if somebody would only come along and start something!" she exclaimed. "Ever since the waterworks was started, the valley's been dead -- no summer people, nobody to sell butter and eggs to. And it's a beautiful place, too."

We acknowledged it.

"And he spends his days, and nights too, chasing through the woods, with me wonderin' what's happened to him. Not so long ago he kep' me up to midnight while he was toting in a bear."

"No! Only the hind quarters."

Mr. Kerr's present living was being made out of ginseng root, it appeared. I hope that Mrs. Kerr gets her wish. Truly the valley of the Bush Kill is a secluded haven of extraordinary charm. Up South Hollow goes a trail to Mount Ashokan; up Mine Hollow can be found the diggings of those deluded prospectors who thought that they at last had found gold; up Kanape Brook are charming little falls; and along Watson Hollow, the main thoroughfare from West Shokan to the western country, are sites for summer homes offering every inducement a summer home can have.

We had thought to climb Peekamose, but found that there was no trail, and that bellying clouds were drifting too thickly over the ramparts ahead of us to offer much assurance to explorers. So, now balanced fore and aft, we left our entertainers, to cross the divide.

In the darkening afternoon., on a road arched with trees and soft with grass, we marched silently. Vistas up wooded ravines opened up for the moment, and little waterfalls flung some word at us as we passed; but, for the most part, we were free from the outer world. Even the birds, which had made the settlements bright with song and flutter, were few. A vireo, looking at us big-eyed, a warbler sighing to himself in the deep wood, a disconsolate pewee, that was all.

The road climbed for about four miles, reached a level, less densely wooded, -- where an old father porcupine slid down a birch as slick as an applethieving urchin, -- then began a descent of five miles to Sundown. We met nobody, said almost nothing. It was good enough to be walking together again; and, though I was tired, being not yet hardened, we swung along the narrow lake by the road, confident that we would be put up at Peekamose Lodge.

Peekamose Lodge sleeps in a little gulf of rock formed by the intersection of two ravines. One house is occupied by a caretaker who owns a savage beast miscalled a dog but really a reincarnation of Nero. Across the ravine the other house is occupied by a gentleman at odds with his only neighbor, and guarded, not by a dog, but by a flock of trained gnats. Thither we climbed, footsore and hungry, after having tried to find some hospitable soul at the care-taker's, where Nero was jumping around on his chain and acting as if he wanted a little fun with Christians.

The gentleman who lived in such splendid isolation referred me to his opponent for supper, and to that man -- who had just returned from somewhere -- we wearily climbed back across the noman's-land ravine. The rival gentleman said that the enemy always referred people to him for meals, and that he wasn't allowed anyway and he knew it, and besides there wasn't anything in the house.

Only weariness quenched the wrath within me. Sundown village was miles away; a mist was beginning to seep through the foliage; the insults f rom Nero, added to the injuries from the gentleman's gnats, were intolerable. The meek are not uniformly successful in inheriting the earth, it appears. Brute, equally enraged, but also tired to a semblance of civility, inquired of our future prospects.

"Down the road about four mile there's a postmaster who may take you in. He's a queer one, too, and writes books."

Judging that anything that seemed queer to this strange company might suit us, we set out once more in the falling dusk. It was a road that I can now look back on with pleasure, but then the fatigue that ached from shin to thigh preluded any but a lamenting interest in the beautiful curves, the rich wood smells, the extraordinary waterfalls. One of these had eaten a hole through the cliff, pouring through the ring-in a cascade of plenty. We came to a blue pool where the waters of the Rondout, the clearest of all waters, had caught the secret of the skies screened from them. It was in some such pool that the old-world goddesses used to bathe. If Pan ever comes to America, he will love the Blue Hole most of all, and its rocky ledges crowned with the fine-textured beech are certainly the place for him to sit and make his music in. Even to us, drooping with exhaustion, there was still a prayer of admiration possible.

At length we came to a house that might be the postmaster's, though there was no sign, and a Union Jack and tri-color flew from the flag-pole with the Stars and Stripes. We knocked. A man, the instant impression of whom was medium height, graying hair, a kindly, inquisitive eye, and a genial smile, opened the door.

"Is this -- are you -- that is, can you direct us to the postmaster of Peekamose?" I asked, my wits sliding into first rather slowly after the long pull.

He already had guessed the situation, and in a quiet but systematic manner set about making us feel as much at home as the Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle. From the bathroom we emerged clothed in our status quo ante; from the diningroom we sauntered as satisfied as pelicans; from the den we retired to the living-room, beginning to wonder just what the limitations of this man were; and from the living-room we went to bed,six hours later, -- fully satisfied with the capabilities of Chance as guide and guardian. We had stumbled upon the radiant House of Dimock, its master, author, explorer, hunter, ex-millionaire.

There is a beautiful flower that unfolds, petal by petal, beginning with thorn and ending with a rare perfume -- once in a hundred years. So did our stay in the Happy Valley seem to me. Compare that enraging moment when we had turned from the slimy-fanged Nero and the stings of outrageous fortune (and the gnats) to the cactus at its worst; compare the hospitable welcome at the door to the first petal, that evening of conversation to the full bloom of pleasure, and you can readily see how the same thing could never happen over again in a century.

Anthony W. Dimock's story, as he tells it himself in "Wall Street and the Wilds," is a sort of Arabic-American Nights Tale which immediately relates him to the Aladdin family. He was not only a poor boy who lisped in numbers and the millions came: he was still boyish when they went -- a rare figure in the annals of millionaires. He kept his youth by hunting buffalo. Later he sought to keep the buffalo by turning the sentiment of his famous Camp Fire Club toward conservation. Oscillating between the labyrinthine ways of finance and the open wilderness, he has enriched his life with such deposits of adventure, and mingling in big events, that to open the vein of reminiscence before the fire on a wet night in June is to land one in an El Dorado of wonderment.

The den, clearly, had been stocked by one who understood life. Art, humor, achievement, the love of people, the standing for beauty, sanity, daring, and the unknown quantity that gives the mellowing touch to daring -- these were the qualities represented. His son Julian's pictures of tarpon jumping, of the Everglades, are probably as fine as can be taken. The men who have sent him words of sympathy or congratulation are many of the most interesting men of the United States. The strange coincidences that a long and active life have collected seem to take the thread from Atropos. The den was a room to revert to in delight at the fullness of life.

I think the great fact of our visit was that a man who had looked into the extreme brilliance of success, the extreme blackness of defeat, should have such kind and unembittered eyes. They had caught the softening of the June hills as well as the sparkle of the Rondout. It was Nature's triumph, this capture of a man who had seen everything, of a woman who had the world to choose from -- the Catskills' triumph in particular. Yet, as we continued on the morrow down the beautiful windings of the valley, we did not wonder why neither Florida nor the West had failed in competition with its soft beauties to lure these people for aye. There was something ultimately fitting in the environment to their open hospitality. And Brute and I have often referred to the charming picture since: the low gray house set in the green dale, flashing brook and wooded mountain, the lord and lady of the demesne dispensing a gracious hospitality to wanderers, while ever and anon there arrive messengers from the outside world with tribute, or, the best of tribute -- friends.

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