Chapter IV

The Wall Of The Manitou

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

Breakfast was no betrayer of the expectations raised by supper. The Good Dame of Plattekill Clove, (as our hostess is registered in heaven,) brought in buckwheat cakes that had to have a cover on them to keep them down, and there was nothing at all inconspicuous about their size.

The weather did not do so well by us. The air tides were still setting in from the north; the tinselly snow was still flurrying; and, since there was no likelihood of a view from any of the surrounding points of vantage, we made a virtue of abnegation and wanted none.

There is at the top of the Clove a gorge called by the ambitious inhabitants the Grand Canon. We visited this, and found that to loiter down it, to really digest the formations and appreciate the trees, is a matter of many hours. At the very top, in the Devil's Kitchen, as their fancy names it, there is a scene that distresses all artists who have not brought along the means of reproducing it. The road passes over the gorge by a small arch so beautifully rounded and bastioned with rock that it is a little sermon on the value of doing the ordinary well and with an eye to beauty. The brook sings a little lament as it goes through this arch. it is leaving lovely fields and is about to be lost in a series of mad plunges. When we saw it first it had whitened the entire cavern with frost. In the spring it riots down those great stone steps. Our guide, she who keeps the charming Inn near by, said that in great freshets it was master of the gorge, filling it with f oam and noise and demolishin g the stairways, which they annually rebuild.

In this microscopic Grand Canon grow primeval trees that can never be cut. Above, boulders lean over, and are ready to pounce down when the magic command is given. Dark dens lean back into the mountain from which skew-eyed goblins can be drafted into Puck's midnight gang. On a day of dark bluster, with thin snow sifting down the while, this gorge becomes almost sinister and oppressive. But in June, when the sun beats on the fields of hawk-weed and daisy and the roads are hot with dust, this place is a cool refuge, a wonderland for wandering in. Occasionally the scene opens and you look out over a green floor of light-tipped hemlocks down the Clove. Far out to sea-the blue sea of distant counties -farmlands lie in the haze of heat; but always you are buoyed by the cool breeze from down the ravines.

Water runs everywhere, mosses drip, and some leisurely bird warbles in content.

Wall of Manitou

Wall of Manitou

In this gorge there are many waterfalls. The Ghost's broad veil is well named and very real at dusk. But Brute and I were menaced by the icicles hanging overhead to the length of twenty feet and sharpened to a dagger's point. We were invited to destruction by the smooth aprons of inclined ice across which we sidled on all fours. Half-f rozen, and with our appreciations benumbed by a thousand difficulties we were scarcely able to give to the nuances of beauty their full due. But my memory tells me this: that gorge, unadvertised ,and not very famous, is the finest miniature of wilderness in the Catskills, and the beauty of its trees, lichened rocks, cascades, and glimpses of the plain will repay a lengthy visit at any season. If one does not go to be awed, he will remain to be charmed. The enjoyment of the Catskills depends on the same point of view. If one visits them as one may visit the Canadian Rockies, in the expectation of having all of one's big emotions drawn out and played upon, there will be hideous disappointment. There is nothing big about the Catskills. They are as comfortable as home. They were created, not for observationcars, but for bungalow porches. Yet they are not so little. Indeed, while Brute and I sat that night in the kitchen of the Good Dame's, listening to her husband tell of the wildcats he had trapped, they seemed very wild and very extensive.

No two people to-day will agree as to what are the Catskills. We came upon mountaineers living to the west of Belle Ayre, in the heart of the wildest portion of the woods, who disclaimed any connection, while still farther west we came upon a village in the plain who contended for it. Even the origin of the name is still disputed. Some would have it derived from the creatures of even-song. But the etymology contradicts that.


The plural of cats in Dutch is katten, or at a pinch katte, but never kats. By a confusing coincidence, the bay lynx, which once made so free with most of the colonial forest, chose these woods for his last fortress. Even to-day they are more abundant in the mountains surrounding Slide, Hunter, and Peekamose than they are in the larger Adirondack cover.

But it must be remembered that, at first, one little stream was called Cats' Kill, which was -named in honor of the poet of Brouwershaven. In his day Jacob Cats cut considerable figure at the Dutch bar. He was made the Chief Magistrate of Middleburg and Dordrecht, the Grand Pensionary of West Friesland, and finally the Keeper of the Great Seal of Holland. He is found in our libraries to-day. At the very time that Hendrik Hudson was eating roast dog with his red-faced hosts near the outlet of the brook that was to be Cats' Kill, Mr. Cats was penning amatory emblems behind his native dikes. He wrote "Sinne en Minne Beelden," a collection of moralizations and worldly wisdom, perhaps derived from his own experience, as in the following:

    Nineteen nay-says o' a maiden are ha'f a grant.

By his indefatigable industry he turned out nineteen volumes of this sort of thing, with poems which a critic of the time declared to be characterized by "simplicity, rich fancy, clearness and purity of style, and excellent moral tendency."

With a record like that, it is small wonder that the map-makers, half distraught for names for the myriad brooks of the region, should decide to call one after the Grand Pensionary, in the same way that they were naming Block Island after Adrian Blok and Kaap May for Admiral May. So Cats got his Kill, and the mountains in which it rose were soon called the Catskills, the name spreading until it took in first the whole region north of the Esopus, then the still higher group at the head of which stands Slide, and -finally some of the out-running ranges to the west.

Brute and I covered, in our several trips, a block of highland country occupying about sixteen hundred square miles, all of which has a right, by origin, contour, similarity of surf ace, and interrelation, to be known as the Catskills. - The limits are roughly as follows: On the east the nearly vertical wall extending from High Point by the Reservoir parallel to the Hudson, and about ten miles from it to Mt. Pisgah about thirty miles north. On the southwest from High Point along the valley north of the Shawangunk Range to Napanoch, west to Livingston Manor, to include the wild region of small trees and small ponds. On the west a rough line from Livingston Manor up to Stamford, through Arena, Andes, and Bovina Center. On the north by an are from Stamford to Livingstonville. There pretends to be nothing dogmatic about our trip, the limits we reached, or boundaries suggested. But this rough block of elevated territory constitutes a unit for adventure and exploration. The blue line on the State Forest map follows about the same boundaries on the east and south, but has not included the interesting but more, open country in the neighborhood of Mt. Utsayantha at Stamford.

This great isolated citadel of upland appealed to the Indians as something extraordinary and to be accounted for. They said that Manitou had erected it as a defense from hostile spirits. As a citadel the region made its first appeal to me.

Any person passing along the Hudson, and seeing this dim, impressive wall of rock through the lowland haze, must be reminded, I should think, of that legend. Rising abruptly from the valley floor and continuing with high rampart and tremendous buttresses, it watches over the peace of the plain. The great wall is no longer grim, as in Manitou's day, for it is usually veiled with mists of blue. It is the gigantic memoir of some far-off time.

This citadel is easily visualized. Picture the eastern rampart, three thousand feet above the farmland, running for thirty miles along the river, towered at intervals and at both ends by massive Gibraltars, broken only a f ew times by giant causeways which lead up into the central fortress. You have then the aspect from the East.

The central fortress is divided into the northern Catskills, with Hunter Mountain as the chief height, and the southern Catskills, with its group of mountains culminating in Slide, both peaks being a little higher than f our thousand feet. The Esopus Creek runs between these groups from west to east. The fortress has no pronounced western wall. Valleys lead out into the plateau country. In the north this high region, only slightly under two thousand feet, is rich with pasture. In the south it is still covered with forest and small lakes.

This region-bounded on the east by the Hudson plain, on the north by fertile farmland, on the west by a ridgy terrain that is to rise again in the mountains of Pennsylvania, and on the south by other farmlands -- was the fortified abode of the Great Spirit. It became the storehouse of the early settlers, who took from it furs and game, hemlock bark, timber riches, slate, and who finally moved into its sheltering valleys. This region is still a citadel. In winter, though but a hundred miles from the center of the world, it is as isolated as a frontier. In summer into this capacious f ortress withdraw thousands of city people seeking refuge from heat and the stress of streets.

It is a refuge apart. Looking down from the great rampart on the ordinary world below, many a man has thanked Manitou for this retreat. Not only the casual transportation facilities but even the geology of the region contributes to the feeling of separation. The citadel is an anomaly amid its neighboring mountains.

In one of those leisurely ages some 43,000,000 years ago, as some geologist has bravely computed, there was a gulf in the vast Devonian sea which had thrust itself between the Adirondack Plateau of Laurentide memory and the Green Mountain Range. Into this gulf poured silt. Its bottom subsided for about a mile, and the sediment continued to settle in layers until the coal-making era was about to commence. By then the bottom of this particular gulf had heaved above the ocean level and became the Catskills. The early rise accounts for the absence of coal in the Catskill region, for these lands never went under water again. Hence all the formations and discoveries can be allotted to the subcarboniferous period. Even before the Catskills had entirely emerged, the interior of the continent had begun to rise, and this accounts for the slight southern dip of the strata.

The succeeding age, the coal age, came to a conclusion with a tremendous upheaval. The f orce of this upheaval caused the formation of the main ranges of the Appalachian system, and doubled the size of our continent. Most mountains are caused by the buckling of the strata, the warping of the earth-skin; but the Catskills, despite the rigors of the surrounding performance, remained unconvulsed. Isolated, hardened, they kept a level head, and are so to-day. You End outcropping ledges, an absence of pointed peaks, a multitude of waterfalls, and you realize that erosion has done it all.

There is another difference, too, between the Catskill fortress and the surrounding mountains. They did not succumb to the ice age. All the true ranges of upheaval, like the Appalachians, run from southwest to northeast. The Catskill ranges run from southeast to northwest. So, when the great Glacier gouged out the Adirondacks and kindred regions, damming the valleys and sweeping easily down the southwestern avenues, it could no more than slop over the transverse Catskill ridges. In this case the Catskills' strength was their loss. They have no large lakes.

For all the hardihood that had withstood the ordeal by primeval fire and the assault by ice, the Citadel bad finally to compromise with water. It surrendered to the tiny stream. The tooth of rills has gnawed out the vitals of the proud plateau until the Kaaterskill Clove, the Stony Clove, and the other valleys made it possible for the well-rounded Dutch to conquer the interior.

This was the stronghold that Brute and I were entering with our rover's commission. From this mountain fastness, towering above the Shawangunk, the Green Mountains, the nursling hills of the Delaware, and rising to the chin of the elder Adirondacks, we were to look down on a rich green land. We thought that we were taking possession of it. In reality it was taking possession of us. With every step we took we delivered ourselves into its hand. For it came to exercise upon us the only power that can conquer, assimilate, and ruthlessly possess f orever, -- the power of perfect beauty.


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