By T. Morris Longstreth
The Catskill country resembles a four-leaved clover. One leaf
includes the region north of the Esopus and east of Stony Clove, with
the ancient marine bluff as its feature. Another lies west of Stony
Clove and north of the railroad running from Phoenicia to
Margaretville, declining from mountainous to rolling, pastoral
country, famous for its cows. The third leaf, in the southeast,
gathers together the jumble of mountains east of Big Injin Valley and
north of the Rondout, an excellent camping land, with open woods,
clear streams, and interesting heights. The fourth leaf, the rare
one, lies to the southwest, including the mountains west of Big Injin
and the flatter, pond-dotted second-growth of the wild and untenanted
lands from the Delaware south for twenty miles. It was in search of
the nature of this fourth leaf, of which no one could tell us
definitely, that Brute and I set out.
Below Sundown the country falls and flattens, so we turned to keep
within the sight of hemlock, eschewing Eureka and Claryville where
the Neversink's two branches become of one mind, and made our way
along an old wood trail, lighthearted from our send-off from Happy
Valley, toward the East Branch of the Neversink. The country was in
its most charming improvisation on the general theme of spring. Every
turn of the trail received us with blossom and birdsong and sped us
with some beautiful picture. The sky filled early with islands of
white in a sea of blue that would have gladdened the blase eyes of
the daughters of the Hesperides.
Groves of fern grew out into the trail, sheltering carpets of littler
growth: white violet and the white-veined partridge-vine, anemone and
oxalis, the foam-flower and clintonia, gold-thread and bunch-berry,
twisted stalk and Solomon's seal. We saw mosses in richer pattern
than Persian ever dreamed, hillside glory, and the glow of sandy
places, meadows here and there dancing with color -so much beauty
that our fugitive appreciation of it seemed pitifully scant.
The forest, too, was exquisitely varied. Occasionally a grove of
hemlocks would enhance the lighter greens of new leaves on the oaks
and maples, poplars and beeches, and along the road a veteran pine
would dignify an entire view. And always blues blended with greens,
from the smile of the blue-eyed grass, through the wild iris of the
swamp, to the beds of lupine and gentian and others I did not know.
There was no turn of the way that did not encounter an infinite
gaiety of life: cinque-foil in the acre, evenly starring the spaces
left by the less prodigal wild strawberry. We found some trilliums,
and now and then a rare blossom when we stopped to look for it: the
waxy-white pyrola growing out of a warm bed of pine-needles, and the
fragrant pipsissewa beside it. Laurel grew in terraces, blackberries
in mounds, and the wild honeysuckle's pink and white showed like a
dairymaid between the duchess laurel and the girlgraduate daisy.
Nowhere have I seen such confusion of seasons as a thousand feet of
altitude could make in a morning's walk. And I have not told the
half-partly because I have no patience with catalogs, and partly for
lack of names. And, when the flowers and the shadows of trees and the
shapes of clouds have been enumerated, there are still the perfumes
and the songs of birds.
The last were in such confusion as to make an incessant counterplay
of melody. In the open fields bobolinks and meadow-larks, red-wings
and the tribe of sparrows poured out their special ecstasies, as
ladies before a concert, nobody listening to the others. But along
the streams and in the soberer wood there was much finesse of melody,
the dreamy whitethroat and drowsy pewee enhancing the tiny motifs of
vireo and warbler, which the imagination seized upon and carried
along until some fresh voice, the mourning-dove, some distant
hermit-thrush, or bell-clear tanager, would add a new wealth to the
chants and madrigals.
As for the sparkle of goldfinch and dodge of wren, flash of warbler
and flit of kinglet-they cannot be set down any closer than can be
caught the exact amount of star-glitter at a given moment. There is
but one allaying thought. Next June the same festival will be played
through again, and those who are so lucky as to be tramping those
same trails can bathe in those pleasures which I so charitably
refrain from trying to compute.
Up the Neversink, lumbermen were getting out ash for airplanes, and a
little farther up we came to a glorious growth of spruce and hemlock.
Then, quite unwarned, we were brought by Coincidence, Fate's little
brother, into as embarrassing a position as it has been my lot to meet.
In the slight breeze we had smelled smoke. Brute suggested that we
follow it up. Breaking through some tangle, we heard a hurried noise
as of something running, a smash of sticks, and then quiet. Following
up the smoke odor, which had drifted down a glen, we came upon a
queer-looking impromptu camp, where a loose fire smoldered. By it sat
an ordinary tin can, which had once contained beans, but now held
some tan-colored stuff that we supposed was tea. The beans were in a
frying-pan, left burning on the coals. Then we saw, with horrid
surprise, the skinned hind quarters of a fawn. Its little
amber-colored cloven hoofs could have belonged to nothing else.
Whatever nature the suddenly deserting camping party might own to, it
certainly seemed mysterious to us-mysterious and sickening. How
people could, in the clean woods, f all so low as to kill fawns, we
failed to see-f ailed with indignation. We were standing around,
discussing the loathsome riddle presented, when, almost without
noise, a fairly well dressed man with a long paper roll in his hand
stepped over a log and was at our side.
"Well, gentlemen," he said, quite gently, "you've been
wanted now for two days for that killing on Deer Shanty Brook. This
is too bad."
He turned over the small carcass with his toe.
I did not look at Brute. Somehow, I felt that he was blushing. I felt
guiltier than if I had killed a dozen fawns, and probably looked it.
I said, "Despite the evidence, we don't know as much about this
The warden carelessly unbuttoned a button on his coat, and the badge
showed. He looked a bit confused himself.
"Where Is Deer Shanty Brook?" asked Brute, recovering.
"Where you were this time yesterday." He didn't say it with assurance.
"Do you really think that my friend and I killed that fawn and
were concocting this horrible meal?" I asked.
He took another look at Brute, who had recovered from his guilty
surprise. I remember thinking that I would never judge a man by
appearances. Then he said:
"Well, you don't certainly look it. But I guess you'll have to
"All right. Back there are some lumbermen. They saw us pass an
Brute was looking at some mud by the fire. It was tracked up. He put
his foot in one of the tracks.
"The devil takes a ten," he said, with a laugh.
The warden laughed a little.
"Will you go back with me to the men?" he asked.
"Sure," we assented.
"Well, I guess you won't have to. But what are you doing with
In surprise, I had forgotten them. But nobody could want clearer
evidence that, as poachers we were abominably dressed for the part.
We told him about the night before with Mr. Dimock, and then he
confessed that he wasn't a game but a fire warden, and so was always
interested in stray smoke. We marked the place on the trail, and
continued with him. We found him a most interesting man. He told us
that a good deal of poaching was done. One of the neatest tricks was
pulled off by two automobiles, one blocking the road to a pond while
the other went in, jacked the deer with its lights, and often got
one. But the mounted police were efficient, and the warden thought
that the two or three rowdies responsible for the fawn-murder would
probably be caught within twenty-four hours. In that neighborhood the
deer seemed abundant. Our new friend told us that he had seen
twenty-two at one time on a ridge, in autumn when the leaves had
fallen before the season opened.
He explained the fire system: The entire region is dominated by seven
stations, from which the hundred thousand acres of land belonging to
the State can be watched for fire. These are: Mohonk on the south;
Twaddell Point on the west; High Point in Wawarsing for the southern
wilderness; Hunter for the entire northern region; and Belle Ayre,
Balsam Lake Mountain, and Tremper for the great central forest.
The State land, in four counties, requires more than fifty fire
wardens and about eight rangers.
In dry weather these are stationed at strategic points in order to
throw their f orces in the very shortest warning upon an incipient
conflagration. Thanks to their watchfulness, the excellence of the
telephone service, the fire lanes, the response of the workmen, and
the increased carefulness of hunters and fishermen, the Catskill loss
for 1917 was about a thousand dollars, the expense of fighting the
sixty-four fires that caused the loss was but five hundred dollars,
and the acreage burned two thousand acres, mostly brush and second growth.
It is interesting to know that of these 64 fires careless smokers
caused 13, locomotives 33, berrypickers 1, hunters 4, brush-burners
8, incendiaries 2, children 2, and a burning building, 1.
As we walked, our warden filled us with information so interesting
that we would have liked to annex him for as long as we should thirst
for knowledge. He said that the leaf fires in the spring, before the
new leaves had come out to keep the ground from drying, and in the
fall before the autumn rains, were the worst, running fast and
spreading far. Also, fires along farmlands through dry grass were
swift and sometimes dangerous. Thanks to the top-lopping law, which
requires lumbermen to cut up conifer tops down to the three-inch size
and so prevents inflammable slash accumulating, there was almost no
danger of those vast furnaces that used to follow in the wake of lumbermen.
At nightfall we three came to the road leading along the West Branch
of the Neversink. The warden continued his way toward the Winnisook
Club of snowy memories, while Brute and I turned down to Branch,
parting with the liveliest good feeling and many a laugh at the mode
of our introduction around the poachers' fire.
Branch is charmingly situated, and we slept with a sense of well
being, surrounded for miles on every side by a wilderness forever
unassailable by a completely predatory lumbering. The State owns some
of the land, and will own more. It is a pity that it could not have
been prudent enough to own the fishing. Clubs or millionaires have
bought the lands or the rights to almost all the good trout water in
the Catskills. To be sure, there is much of the Esopus, the streams
from Hunter, some water about Willowemoc, and a few scattered brooks
where any one can cast his fly. But from those the first fisherman
can take the cream and the early small boy the rest. The great
streams, both branches of the Neversink, and the Bushkill are closed
to the public.
From Branch the easy way would have been to follow the road down to
Claryville-and a very lovely road it is-and so out to the pond
region. But we were just beginning to tap our energies, and all
unwittingly set out upon a monumental day by short-cutting up Fall
Brook and over to the grass-grovm road that leads by Tunis Lake.
Again the clouds rose in piled islands; but the day was rougher, and
the blue sea slopped over in a wash of big drops, leaving an
iridescent jewelwork on the sparkling pines and a curse upon the lips
as we plunged through the bushes.
It was a lonely morning. In the deeper woods the birds were asleep
and we saw no game, and the only man we met was an unreassuring
specimen who exhorted us to turn in our tracks to avoid getting
irretrievably lost. Though those were not the exact words he used.
Judging by the amount of profanity an ex-lumberjack can control, I
should argue that conversation in the absolute wilderness must
consist entirely of addresses to the Deity.
Without describing our climb breath for breath, I can recommend the
top of Balsam Lake Mountain for those who wish to push into a
semi-pathless wilderness, mount through hazes of scrub and mosquitos,
to emerge on a steel-towered eminence and get a view of all the blues
in heaven and beneath. Here one is at last centered in wilderness.
There are no towns of any size within a day's journey, and the
villages do not show. A solid block of forest marches away on every
side, down into valleys and up over farther ranges.
There is no smoke, no noise, no visible highway, no farmers in the
offing-nothing but an unfeatured forest wherein lurks a second-rate
opportunity to play Daniel Boone.
Why this great stretch of second-growth woods, watered by delightful
streams, scattered with small ponds, secluded because of the absence
of approaching roads, and full of lesser game, should have been
ignored by those who claim that they love the Catskills, I cannot
surmise. One misses the beauty of old woods. The shut-in-ness of the
trails leads to temporary melancholy. Food must be brought, for the
native never reckons on an alien appetite. Bugs there are in season.
But, to counteract all these disadvantages, there is an isolation
that lures one into the belief that he is far from cities, a beauty
of rolling ranges that appeals to people who like their views
untouristed. I know of no place in the entire Catskill country more
charming than the valley of the Bushkill.
It was in this back country, along the upper edge of Sullivan County,
that Brute and I had another one of those delightful surprises that a
pedestrian runs a hundred chances to the motorist's one of meeting.
On the map of Sullivan County I had counted a hundred and twenty-odd
ponds, and, although it meant running out of the mountainous
Catskills to see some of them, I was curious to discover this region,
which I had always supposed as dry as a desert. A very little
sufficed. Go to the Adirondacks for water. But, as we were wending
our misty way back into the highlands, we stopped at the top of a
hill to the north of Willowemoc to make inquiry, and found that we
bad come to the domain, residence, and person of John Karst, who was
the premier wood-engraver of school texts in our land.
He invited us in to exchange news bef ore the hearth. His daughter,
for whom is named Esther Falls, told us the interesting tale of their
strange country, still a half wilderness. Their house, with its great
ceiling beams and huge fireplaces, was full of stories. It had been
built in the great days of the Livingston era, now vanished from the
region, the memory of which is preserved in the town of Livingston
Manor. It had been the scene of the meetings of the Sheepskin
Indians, those whites who met in disguise to protest their taxes.
Indian-hunters and grizzled trappers had talked before its
chimney-place. Strings of fish, in the custom of those days, had hung
from the rafters to dry while the talk went on.
Nor has John Karst neglected to add to the interest of this notable
mansion. Quaint bric-a-brac, souvenirs of his more active days,
valuable paintings, real tiles from the Low Countries, wampum, and
the curiosities of many a land, each with some tale, came near to
beguiling us over-long.
Brute, whose edge for this sort of thing had never been taken off by
the indiscriminate horrors of museums, roamed from relic to relic. I
could scarcely tear myself away from the reminiscences of John
Karst's long immersion in the fascinating life of books and printers.
With reluctance we left, coming out from the cheery fire into the
mist with the feeling that of all unreal things this was the
strangest, this unheralded hour in the high estate of civilization in
the midst of our back-country ramble. In this region, overrun with
rabbits, deer, and bear, we had found a friend of all publishers
ruling a demesne in a half-feudal way. Truly the surprises of the
Catskills never cease.
Our road brought us through a deep and extensive wood, over hill and
down dale, until a precipitous slope sent us hurrying down to
Turnwood on the Beaverkill, much the wiser for our long detour and no
whit worse. Holding true to Catskill type, the land was one of
beautiful combinations. Hill met valley in a succession of soft
curves. Brooks poured into the mother stream from little gorges.
Hemlocks darkened the watercourses, and the farther ranges shone with
maple, ash, and oak. Toward the cast the larger mountains looked very
blue in the chastened light. There lurked still much of the
aboriginal mystery in the forest dimness. We strode on without much
talk. I think I had some sense of the impending. Everything was so
quiet that one could almost hear the mumbling of the Fates. It was a
theatrical place that Brute selected, however, and I certainly had
n't guessed exactly what was coming when he said:
"To-morrow's the 15th, and my furlough's up."
He smiled broadly at my tone of astonishment.
"Yes; the leave for loafing I've allowed myself."
"And I suppose you'll court-martial yourself and be your own
firing squad at dawn if --"
"Don't joke," he said. "I enlist to-morrow, though I
hate to quit the party."
I would not make a good guide over the rest of the region we
traversed that afternoon. I know we came to the brow of a monstrous
hill and looked off into a dim and disfeatured landscape. I remember
that we took the train from Arena to Arkville, and by luck found our
way to a charming inn under the eaves of Mt. Pakatakan. There were
few guests, and we sat late alone before a grateful fire. I had seen
others off to the warsome, in England, never to come back. But in the
boy's eyes there was no thought of that, only an eagerness that I
wondered I had not interpreted before. And in the morning the train
was mercifully on time, nor did our jests run out. Only in the
hand-shake were the words we would not say. Such is the Anglo-Saxon
way of bidding farewell, perhaps forever.