Apostasy Of A Cheerful Liar
By T. Morris Longstreth
The map had disclosed three possibilities of travel from Plaat Clove
to Twilight Park. But only the morrow could disclose its sky. Our
host, who claimed an intimacy with the adjacent weather, predicted a
cessation of the snowflurries during the night. But with the north
wind still doing its laborious worst, we weighed each route with the
care employed by those who travel thoroughly - and have nothing else
The most interesting way led along the eastern parapet of mountain
that runs about two thousand feet above the river valley. If the
weather should clear, the contour lines promised us a magnificent
off-look at a hundred places. Two miles north High Peak's shoulder
slants in a human way to the place where the epaulette should be, and
then drops abruptly, giving a view of an immense amphitheater. This
route along the continuing bluff was also short as well as scenic. At
the thought of its concise elegance we -wished our host well with his weather.
The second road led down through the Clove to the base of the Peak's
main mass, skirted that, and went up through the Kaaterskill Clove.
If the incompetent squalls should turn into a genuine storm, we could
The third route marched up to the apex of the triangle at
Tannersville and then down to Twilight, very much King-of-France
style. This was long but on the level.
The Onti Ora
The morning came from force of habit, and we awoke, but not to the
sun. The same corpse-colored clouds; the same northern gusts. We
dressed shiveringly in the Good Dame's guestroom; Brute's face, a
vision of pale blue complicated with red prominences. Only the
knowledge that heaven (the kitchen range) was below kept my fingers
from freezing to the clothes they tried to button. If there is any
virtue to be got f rom. pioneering, we were virtuous f rom the
epidermis in. But there is some potency in a quire of hotcakes. The
Good Dame surpassed herself. We listened again while her husband told
his tale: certainly clear by the afternoon and warmer anyway. So we
stayed and helped the man repair his trout tackle, for the new season
was but three long wishes off.
Dinner was the plump affair which was the pretty custom of this
family: a pork roast being the axis around which revolved subsidiary
dishes in a pleasant, planetary way. Speaking in the same spirit of
parable that describes good little boys as composed of sugar plums,
one could say that the Catskills were made of roast pork. A porkless
day in those mountains means a dinnerless day. Every household is not
considered complete unless equipped with a dynasty of squealers. The
procession, in winter at least, runs serenely on-sty, rafter, and the
dinner-table -- and a day without pig would be as disconsolate an
affair as a week without a Saturday night. But there need be no
feeling of monotony. There is no animal so versatile and none, I am
sure, whose treatment is so diversified. On our trip the gamut of
preparation ranged in taste from venison to whale.
When our host, after dinner, had postponed the clearing until the
morrow or the day after, we felt that we must leave, compromising on
the road toward Tannersville. With reluctance we set out, but that
was soon forgotten in the pleasure of the road again. With our
knapsacks on our backs and the rhythm of the road in our hearts,
there came over me, at least, that sense of well-being it is hard to
get in any other way than on foot. I did not know Brute well enough
yet to decipher what language the wild country spoke to him, but I
was glad to see that at least he did not wear his emotion, like a
riband, around his sleeve. And so well had we begun to work in double
harness that, as we set out along the opening valley, it seemed
impossible that we should have known each other so short a while,
even though of experience so variously full. It is the same way,
however, with all walking trips. Close to earth everything is of
importance. In the first few miles of the walker Is day there is a
sense of well-being to promote good-fellowship, in the last few a
sense of comradeship to mitigate fatigue. As Brute said once,
"With the fellow you like, you can walk from anywhere at all to
anywhere else and never mind the distance." And I might add that
the surest test of the right friend is the ability to go
nowhere-in-particular with him and still be interested and happy.
Our afternoon was to be remembered chiefly for its dramatic close,
but still, despite the muscular wind and the unleavened clouds, I
shall have no trouble thinking back with pleasure on the body of the march.
As the valley widened we bad glimpses at times through the variable
veil of snow of Indian Head and Sugarloaf dimly on the left, of Round
Top and High Peak, the splendid culmination of the great ground
swell, looming indistinctly on the right. What sort of introduction
to these Catskill ranges is best, I have never yet decided. Should
one have all the possible beauty first as in those dazzling firework
bombs that explode in showers of stars? Or should one get acquainted
by degrees and with mounting enthusiasm to the final appreciation, as
in the crescendo of a rocket's flight? I have seen this valley
shining in the dews of a spring morning and glowing with the
supremest glories of October, hot with the hazy breathlessness of a
July noon, and whipped with winter winds. Yet through the
half-luminous snow-dust of that first acquaintance the mountains took
on an eerie height they do not in reality possess, and in that light
I idealize them yet.
It is in this valley that one of the strange tricks which rivers seem
to delight in is played. Waters falling at the head of the Plattekill
Clove all reach the Hudson. One stream reaches it in ten merry miles.
The other in a hundred and seventy-five. The course of the
Plattekill. Creek is the course of a thousand cascades. In a couple
of miles it falls a couple of thousand feet and loafs the rest of the
way across the narrow plain. The other is the Schoharie. It is hard
to tell where it rises, which is the parent spring, for in the short
six miles there are more than thirty ravines each contributing a rill
to make the brook. But I should imagine that the stream on Indian
Head might have the credit, for its source is farthest east. From
there the water runs west and north, east in the Mohawk and south
from Albany. Some day some poet will wander down the full length of
this enchanting stream and tell its adventures for the inland water
babies. In that short life from Plaate Clove to the sea, its water
meets all the vicissitudes of longer streams.
The hastening afternoon and a resurvey of the map were responsible
for our decision to cut off across a spur of Round Top, called Clum
Hill. This would shorten the way by two or three miles, which were to
be missed very slightly, and would give us a view of many lands.
Unfortunately the road chosen can never reveal what was missed on the
way not taken. But by rerouteing destiny we were treated to two
experiences which, f or superlativeness of sort, the way by
Tannersville would have been hard put to it to excel.
Clum Hill is strategic ground for the viewseeker. Any time of day
pays interest on the climb. But morning is best. Then Round Top is in
relief, and shadows spread down the ravines of Sugarloaf and Indian
Head, Twin Mountain and Plateau, that would rend a cubist with
delight. Doubtless from such a scene it was that the first Art Fiend
got his idea. Certainly the triangles, quadrilaterals, and
parallelopipeds of the new art are all to be found cast in
fascinating shadow into the gulfs. The facts that they are cast into
the gulfs should give the cubists pause, but there they are, bold
blocks of beauty to lend strength to the airier lines and color of
the rest of the landscape. The thing the cubist artists forget to do
is to put in the rest of the landscape.
From Clum Hill the valley of the Schoharie narrows to the northwest,
where the Hunter Range and the East Jewett Range lose themselves in
blue. Below to the north lies Tannersville, and still farther north
rise the protecting slopes of Parker Mountain with Onteora Park
sitting beneath its chin. But the sight that makes Clum Hill one of
the imperative delights to see is the upper loveliness of the
Schobarie guarded by Indian Head and his mountain kin. Here and there
on the bottomland the hayfields shine against the maple woods. Here
and there the blue smoke of noon dinners (pork chops and apple
butter) floats across sunny roofs. Elka Park nestles beneath Spruce
Top, and back of all the big Plateau Mountain comforts one with its
solidity. Morning, noon, or evening there are more rational pleasures
to be got from sitting comfortably on Clum with your back against a
tree than in many a whole day Is march.
But when Brute and I first topped that engaging height there was very
little thought about sitting. There were no hayfields, no pork chops
in the view. The north wind was as sharp as suspicion's tooth. But at
that moment was being prepared for us a surprise that was to make
amends for the cloudy monotone of squalls, for the leaden coiling and
ragged hangings of the last two days' entertainment. So uniform had
been the coloring of the afternoon that we had paid no attention to
the time. We did not realize that evening was upon us, until, through
a tear in the sky-furnishings near the horizon, the sun shone levelly
across us. The change was plain magic. In the space of a thrill the
world turned the color of a plum preserve. The clouds dripped rose,
and the snow drank up the color. The forests shone with rare
tintings; only the hemlocks refused the mask of carnival. The long
bulk of Plateau Mountain and the receding peaks glowed with a hue
that was neither faded carmine nor old lavender. As the scene
brightened for an instant everything seemed to swim in the freshet of
There are spring sunsets so cool, so fragrant, that they make you
draw long breaths of peace; and there are midwinter brilliancies that
exhilarate you with their strength. But this Arabian Nights' display
was different. It was breathless, unannounced, like a universal
lightning. It is one thing to watch the slow summer light deepen and
fade away; it is quite another to be thrown into a sea of exotic
splendor and held down. Art never takes the breath; the circus does.
Nature was enjoying one of her rare, sensational moments. Almost at
once, as if a spot-light had been removed, the color faded and went
out. We had had an experience.
And now we were to have another. There is a farm possessing the
near-top of the cleared hill, and from the farm a trail runs along
and down the northern side of the ridge until, in the course of a
couple of miles, it joins the carriage drive into Twilight Park. If
we were to take the road to Tannersville and Haines Falls we would
have all of four miles to go. Remembering our fortunes of the night
before in arriving late for supper, we were unanimous in choosing the
shorter route despite the woods, the failing light, the snow. It was
a risk, but we were assured at the farm that the trail was easy to
follow, being sign-posted every little while, and, as the worldly
Brute remarked, the grub was worth the gamble.
Mountainside - Santa Cruz Park
We crossed the open fields without difficulty, connected with the
trail-end, passed a sign or two of reassurance, and came, as had been
predicted, to a sugar-grove. There a youth of fourteen in baggy
trousers was preparing for the sugar season by tapping the
gray-barked maples with steel spouts. In the grove evening was
"Maybe we 'd better go by the road after all," suggested Brute.
"Let's ask him." We turned off the trail and went over to
the boy. "Is it a fairly plain trail to Twilight Park?" I
think "fairly" was our undoing.
"Sure," he said in an optimistic treble; "you can't
miss it." He gave us the same directions that we had received at
the farm and finished with, "You can't miss it. Only don't turn
off when you get to the thicket. Jes' go right through."
Reinspired, we pushed on. As the slope was northerly, the snow was
hard, and we walked rapidly. The woods seemed fairly open, and twice
we were assured by signs that we were on the trail, but we saw no
thicket. In a f ew minutes we altered our course, in order to be sure
of the thicket. After having set our teeth to go through it, we were
anxious to meet it. In another five minutes we were nervous for not
having met it.
"Let Is go back and pick it up," suggested Brute. "We
dares n't sidestep it." It was rather dark now and difficult to
follow our back trail.
After a while, "This isn't a trail; it's a creek."
It was. I went through the ice. We edged up the slope a little.
"Do you suppose Twilight Park is any darker In this?" asked
Brute. "It must 'a' been a blind man began it. " All humor
is of the soil, and when Brute relapsed into the speech of the soil I
knew that he was feeling the humor of the occasion. Many a time our
trip might have expired from misadventure if it had n't been for this
sense of humor which welled up always a little higher than the peak
of the immediate misfortune.
I was busy keeping up with the dim knapsack ahead of me, for when
Brutus is agitated his stride lengthens. At length he collided with
an invisible beech. But his only remark was, "I Id like to got
my hands on the cheerful liar who said we could n't miss our way."I
"He lied better than he knew," I said, "for there 's a light.
We stumbled excitedly along. But the light went out. In a minute we
found ourselves in the ashen gloom of that sugar-grove of twenty
minutes back, with the same boy still in his identical trousers. He
was coolly gathering up his tools. The light had been transferred to
"Hello," he said, "so it's you fellers again. Get lost?"
"No. Been huntin' mushrooms," muttered Brute. "Got a lantern?"
The boy, enveloped in cigarette smoke and darkness, said nothing.
"He doesn't really mean a lantern for mushrooms," I
hastened to explain, "but we couldn't find the thicket and we'll
return it to-morrow. "
The boy hadn't any lantern. But he offered to put us beyond the
thicket, and for a little money I secured his services for the
through trip to Twilight. He led off saying, "It is a bit shady,
but you can't miss it."
"Isn't he a cheerful liar?" whispered Brute at my heels.
A bit shady no more described the first hemlock grove we got into
than Egypt in the plague. It was as black as a 'phone booth in a
cellar. Out we would crawl into one semi-clearing, only to replunge
into another pocket of darkness. Our guide struck a match now and then.
After passing through a few sets of brambles, any one of which was
adequate to deserve the name of thicket, I began to admire the
sureness with which the boy led us on. But when we began to wander in
a general sort of brambledom, I began to doubt.
"How many thickets are there on this trip?" Brute asked.
"Only the one," replied the guide with a shade less confidence
"Well, we haven't missed that then." Brute was evidently
thinking my thoughts. The psychology of the moment was being shared
by all three alike. For as we were about to penetrate the barrier for
the third time in the manner of that son of Mother Goose who
scratched out both his eyes, we halted simultaneously and without a
"The Park ought to be sort of over there," and our guide
waved vaguely into the darkness, which was now unfeatured and complete.
"I think it's kind of over there," suggested Brute with a
"I dunno but what it is," said the poor kid.
We spread out our map on the snow and I held the match.
"You don't guess we're on High Peak?" continued the
irrepressible; "it looks as if it might be awful brambly there."
"Oh, no, not on High Peak," the youngster replied solemnly.
The match burned out. The darkness swooped upon us, three solemn
asses grouped on all f ours about the paper showing dully on the
snow. I struck another on a board beside me. It was a finger-post,
saying, "To Clum Hill."
"Sure, that 's the trail going backwards," exclaimed the
Cheerful One. "I knew we couldn't miss."
"Of course not," interrupted Brute; "nobody could miss
a trail that wanders around like this 'un. But what I want to know is
which side of that briar-patch we 're on now."
The remainder of the crossing was performed with minor acrobatics,
but performed. We trod a road once more with an exhalation of repose.
When we had arrived at the entrance of the Park, we blessed our guide
and sent him back. But not before Brute had made him say that one
could miss the way.
"It will purify his soul," said my companion later. Until
then I had not heard him refer to that abstraction. It interested me.