Chapter XXI

Beaverkill Bush

From "The Catskills" (1918)
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 as you."

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 prove it."

"All right. Back there are some lumbermen. They saw us pass an hour ago."

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 those packs?"

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."

"Your furlough!"

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.

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