Chapter IX

Stony Clove

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

Our castle in Twilight Park, with Mrs. France to send us forth of a morning with a sort of culinary godspeed and with her father to receive us at night with the welcome of open fireplace and hunter's tale-this cozy castle of ours detained us until the snows gave up their siege and the roads lay smoking in the April sun. It was a well equipped center from which to sally. There was High Point to climb. There were the Wildcat and Santa Cruz ravines to explore. There was a marvelous point of view, discovered and Cooperized with the name of Hawkeye by Miss Clara Atlee, a ledge about two miles south along the eastern parapet, giving the valley view from a lair of wilderness. Find it if you can. I shall not give more details, for the explorer's sake or its own. Also beware of the bears. Then near by there is a bit of standing room only, whence Von look down into an amphitheater of trees for which much of the Hudson Valley is the stage. There were the walks along the ridge, with the views from Clum Hill and the Onteora Park district to be looked over, and all the details of Manitou's best architect, whose work in the broad region capitaled by the Kaaterskill House was rich in surprise.

As Brute and I loafed about from place to place, we realized with the utmost satisfaction that we weren't seeing everything. In fact, for everybody who travels, I judge that those days of old fashioned touristry are over. No more will men and women run around Europe gulping down cathedrals at the rate of two an hour. The silliness of absorbing mere numbers of things ended with the era that closed July 31, 1914. Baedeker went out with the lights of Rheims. There are fewer treasures now, but we will learn to treasure them more. For us Americans, particularly, it is a salutary lesson.

If one of those old-style travelers should come to Haines' Falls, what a fortnight of trotting he would have. He would be confronted by the same old dilemma: fourteen courses of scenery and dyspepsia, or three and a good digestion. Of course it is entirely possible to do the hundred miles of trails, to see the score's of waterfalls, to mark off on a list all the noted sights as viewed and got out of the way, to take a thousand photographs. There are names of places -- Lemon-Squeezer, Druid Rocks, Elfin Pass, Fairy Spring, all of which happen to be quickly available from the Kaaterskill -- that would make the usual nursemaid water at the mouth to have a picnic in, with all the extras; trampled ferns, pickle-jars, and papers strewn around. But I beg of you to take your time. Inspect the great rocks of puddin'-stone with white plums baked in the brown dough in prehistoric ovens and then laid away in the glacial epoch to cool. Sit down on the great cliffs (not created primarily to carve your name on) and look off to sea in your imagination. This great parapet was once a marine bluff. Against it surged tides so impetuous, upon it beat storms so tremendous, that our halcyon era must seem the Indian summer of its content. Most of all, look closely at the ankle-deep moss-mounds where you sit, each one a forest in miniature, with tiny ravines, bold ranges, and deserts ringed with green.

However much the gospel of work must be practised for our deepest satisfaction, it is he who obeys the idler's creed who enjoys the riches of nature. He who runs may read, but not every one who reads remembers and still less is able to grasp the full measure of the countryside speeding past. There is a wealth of underfoot and a width of overhead that your blind swallower of scenery misses as completely as that other amateur in living, the man who exists in the morrow and ignores to-day. If one could only chain a member of this haste-and-waste club within a glen, or moor him beside a bloom-edged lake for one whole day sometime, he might thank you for it. But there is a risk.

The other satisfaction we had, besides the delight of loafing along, was the coming home each night. Home may be where one hangs up his hat, but, I insist, only after he has hung it there once before. Even more important than the hat-rack standard is the quality of welcome. This is like the quality of mercy, only more versatile, and in our case most genuine. The tales of Mr. Layman would furnish forth a boys' series of Exciting Excitements in Exciting-Land. He had killed thirty-six bears before he was twenty-six. Being nearly eighty, he could remember the days when the settlers depended entirely on corn meal and game for their winter supplies. Yet, even at that, they lived so long that they became extremely frail. As far as I could ascertain, they never died; the wind blew them away.

Mr. Layman's father had told him tales more remarkable yet: Of Louis Wetzel, the great Indian-killer, whose favorite diversion was to sit in a cave, gobble like a wild turkey, and when an Indian appeared to secure the more gullible biped. The country motto was, apparently: Every Indian out of the way is one Indian less. Mr. Lindsay was another apt Indian-getter. One day six redskins materialized from the wood, as he was splitting rails. They were chestnut rails. Mr. Lindsay did not interrupt his work to kill those Indians just then. Soon his ax stuck, and he asked the six Indians who were grouped about, to pull the rail apart. They did; and then the rail, being chestnut, closed upon their sixty fingers. It was, of course, a simple matter to decapitate it them seriatim.

Some nights we chose neighborhood gossip instead of tales of colonial prowess. There was one bit of history about the founding of Haines' Falls that hit Brute particularly hard on his ample funny-bone. Haines' Falls at first was completely Haines'. The Hainesness of it was sometimes upsetting to the chance visitor. One tourist was being driven in, and asked his guide who lived in the house they came to first. Abram Haines. In the second? Charles Haines. The third? Aaron Haines. The next? Captain Pete Haines.

"Heavens!" exclaimed the tourist. "Let's take the other road.'

But on the other road the three houses belonged to Levi Haines, Jesse Haines, and Uncle Jerry Haines. Out that tourist got.

And so did Brute and I -- but for a different reason. We had decided that, as we were indulging in a magnificient indolence, we would make it pay for itself. I was to take notes for some magazine articles, Brute was to memorize the roads for summer exploitation. Sometimes it happens that the moment a vacation acquires a motive it loses everything else. We had already had a fortnight of superior freedom and were on our guard. Beneath the cuticle of laziness the dermis of doing something began to itch; and so, seizing a morning of exceeding promise, we once more became horses to our packs, engines to our shoes, and slaves to the map.

The most ambitious avenue for our stored energies was Hunter Mountain, the guardian to the north entrance of Stony Clove, the most observed of all observers. Hunter, the hypocrite, for long posed as the highest mountain in the Catskills. Slide, who betters him by two hundred feet, sat coy as Cinderella in the back mountains, unmeasured and unsung. Hearsay is stronger than theodolites. I shall never forget one ingenuous native whom we asked how much higher was a certain mountain that obviously rose several hundred feet above the one on which we all were standing. He said: "That ain't really higher. They say this is the highest mountain in the State of New York."

Hunter is a climb-repaying mountain. From the steel tower on the top the entire Catskill mountainland is visible. Stony Clove, the cross-bar of the letter H which is completed by the valleys of the Esopus and the Schoharie, is but a gash in mother earth. The mass of the southern Catskills rises in ranged domes, which on that morning dropped into gulfs made pearl-gray by the mists of melting snow. Westward the chain that walls the valley toward Lexington wandered away until it grew soft with lilacs and lavendars. The great expanses of leafless hardwoods gave an unreal tone even to the foreground. The rest of the scene was vibrating in the sun. The east was swallowed up in light, and the broad valley toward Stoppel Mountain shone with white fields and whiter roofs.

If you have your nerve with you, climb Hunter some forenoon that promises thunder. The north line of the Schoharie Valley becomes compact with clouds that stand for hours waiting for the signal to advance. Nowhere else can you find more beautiful concentrations of vapor. The rugged chain of hills seems to be continued in the mountainous masses resting on dark fields of larkspur blue. It will be a day when the southwest wind has brought reinforcements all the way from the Gulf of Mexico for the tremendous gun-play. If you know what is coming there will be thrills along your spine. From this lookout that controls every valley of approach you will see the small ravines darken, the sunlight pass from the plains, the concentration of opposing forces deepen in intensity.

The breeze dies. A song-sparrow half way down the mountain sings once. A great gun rumbles far beyond the ranges, then another on the other flank.

By this time you, who have been half in doubt whether to race down to the bottom or to brave it out in the watchman's shelter, know that retreat is impossible. You resolve to stay on the tower to the last moment, and then if your time has come it will come. Allah is good.

Slowly the flanks close in, and distant flashes are followed by a long roar that ends in a sullen boom where the projectile struck. Suddenly your attention is caught by a line of gray. It rises from the horizon in an are that widens as you look. The assault is on. In magnificent order the line advances. For a frightened moment you question whether you have been wise. The cannonade is now terrific, and from horizon to horizon drops a blinding barrage out of the inexorable blackness.

Over the top, across the valley, the wind has blotted out the world. You have one moment to live. A gigantic bolt falls upon the Shandaken Valley, and another leaps to the sky from Black Dome. If it weren't for the fire-warden beside you, you must retreat. In a vast fury of dust, drenching fire, and roar of artillery, the storm troops sweep across the valley. The village of Hunter is taken, the next range is swallowed up.

A terrific thunder, piling down upon the darkness that was Tannersville, shakes the tower. The noise is overpowering, and you turn to go. The Powers have the range. Another broad stream of fire falls into Spruceton, and the roar, mingling with the cannonade of center and of the right, crushes the prostrate valleys. You are fighting to get down the tower. Wind, leaves, rain-shrapnel; the whole weight of the assault is on yon. In the cabin is the darkness of night, now shattered by blinding flashes, now doubly dark. The hurricane of rain batters at the defenses of the cabin, and hail-grenades explode upon the pane. At the supreme moment a shell tears the world asunder, and the whole universe seems yielding to its forces in a great debacle.

I have not exaggerated. No one could. A well developed thunder-storm viewed from a point of vantage, particularly at the twilight hour, is as magnificent a spectacle as is offered to most of us. A great earthquake, a volcano in action, a modern battle-any of these may be far more impressive, particularly the last, which involves moral forces. But a thunder-storm is comparatively harmless. A barn or so, a tree or so, a man or two-of course there is a price for everything; but compared to the earthquake or the eruption the price is very small, and compared to the battle less than nothing, for no one is to blame for the destruction that may occur. Nowhere are thunder-storms so well staged as in the Catskills, and in the Catskills nowhere can they be seen to more comprehensive advantage than from the steel towers on Hunter, Tremper or Belle Ayre. Nor, strange to say, is there a much safer spot to look from. For, when the burning hoof of the lightning has raced too near, you can always visit with the fire watcher in his cabin near by, and be protected by the adjacent tower, which any wandering bolt would covet first. Time was when all of us children looked forward for about half a year to the feeble explosions of the noisy Fourth. Time might very easily be when some enterprising person will erect insulated bleachers and charge admission to as magnificent a spectacle as our continent affords. At present the towers are free.

All this time Brute and I have been shivering on Hunter. We are tired of far-reaching, impersonal scenery, and decide upon a raid into the comfortably contracted coziness of Stony Clove. It is late when we get there. We walk to Lanesville and take a long rest. Unconsciously we have done our very best by the Clove. Lateness and rest are just what it requires to bring out its best. It is beautiful, always. If there is any quiet bit of scenery that has had more injustice done it by the blather of tourist sketch and railroad guide, I have yet to read about it.

There follows the railroad's description. I am responsible for the italics, because I couldn't bear for any one to miss the idea that the scenery through this pleasant valley is going to be "awfully grand."

"Geologists differ as to the probable cause of this cleavage of the crags. Steeple Mountain and Burnt Knob rise abruptly skyward over across the valley, and there are various other soaring peaks with craggy crests now coming into view which add rugged grandeur to the scene. . . . Edgewood, 1787 feet above the tide. . . . where a few acres of almost perpendicular meadows have been reclaimed from the relentless grasp of the great CRAG. . . . "

Well, there you get one notion: crags -- and crags and crags, until the neck is cricked and the head dizzy with the vertiginous display. One might almost suppose that the traveling public would hesitate to intrust itself to a passage imperiled by such overwhelming crags.

If you visit the place you will get another idea of it. You will see a valley winding, at a grade not at all embarrassing to motorists, to the two thousand foot level, and whose sides slope upward from a thousand to fifteen hundred feet higher. They are chiefly forested at the top. Near the northern end of the Clove the valley sides draw together, forming a gorge wide enough for a pike, a railroad, and a tiny pond. About as noticeable as the Clove's glaciers and volcanos are its soaring Peaks and craggy crests. If one chooses to be maudlin about it and compare it with some of the foremost exhibits of Rocky Mountain scenery, the Stony Clove is a pathetic failure. But if one is willing to accept it as a thing of beauty in its own right, a leisurely stroll along the Clove can be as satisfying a walk as any that our united country can produce. It was a revelation to Brute and me that afternoon.

The first impression we obtained was of graceful proportions. Instead of frowning battlements and crushing ponderousness, the sides of the valley seemed to soar on broader wings and rise on more reposeful curves than those that water usually carves. Then came the color. The bottom meadows were already greening; blue streamers of wood smoke floated from the chimneys of housewives who would have early supper. Here and there slides of ruddy shale shone in the background, and higher lines of snow gleamed white along the barer ledges. Overhead clear blue. It was as fair a scene as is likely to greet two tired mountaineers at the close of any day.

If you will believe me that the Stony Clove is a pastoral of lyric beauty with one dramatic climax, instead of the roaring bloody gulch of the fictional folder, I hope that you will also believe that its beauties cannot be more than skimmed by him who trusts only to steam or gasoline for or his scenic memories. It is about ten miles from Phoenicia to the Kaaterskill Junction, and the stroll is worth a day.

If the Mountain House is the eye of the Catskills, the Overlook the brow, Windham the lungs, and Slide Mountain the heart, then Phoenicia is the nerve center. It lies at the cross-roads of Nature, and as snug in its valleys as a moth in a muff. For merchantry it should be a strategic place to live. Every motorist who comes up the Esopus Valley from Kingston, or down the Esopus from the west, every traveler whose traffic delights the eye or dusts the nose of sellers of wares, must bisect Phoenicia. Yet, in a place where money is being made the people did not impress me as a lot of mere money-changers. Phoenicia has kept decent. She has not run to greenbacks at the expense of every other sentiment. She has been given a beautiful nest by Nature, and she has kept it sweet-smelling. Her stores are clean, her outsides painted, her bit of the earth keeps its charm. One does not have to forget any unpleasantness preparatory to enjoying the contentments of the Clove.

If you walk up from Phoenicia and follow the rails instead of the road, you will take your impressions from the more alluring vantage. The road keeps well to the bottom of the valley, the rails run on middle slopes. You get the heights and also the meadows spread in soft patches below. Leaving Phoenicia a-sparkle in its mountain setting, -- Tremper on the east, Romer on the south, Sheridan on the west, -- there is a short distance through a hill-lane, and then the village of Chichester and the outspreading dale open upon one as the world opens to a Jack-in-the-box released. This village, with its Welsh beginnings, its half Roman name, its German chair-making, its Lombardy poplars, its Old Glory on the pole -- how typical of the American mosaic!

The rails now climbed a little. We loafed along after them, sat now on some cleared knoll or mounted a little higher to search the heart of this superb valley. More than refreshing it was to find that here, in one of the show-spots of the East, there had been no attempts to magnify Nature into a spectacle. There are some people to whom Nature seems obsolete, out of style, and ready for rearrangement. Every little while in the rich pine woods you will come upon an estate where the Most High has been set heavily upon a back seat and the reins given over to a landscapegardener. It used to be the fashion to trim animals into the proper style, and it is still the fashion to level aged pines, make artificial lawns, and keep them raked clean of noisome anemones and the rank hepatica.

The kindly Stony Clovers have had truer sensibilities. When they settled this masterpiece of Nature, this wide-sprung, hospital ravine, they took Nature as she was, cleared a field here, threw a road there, but left everything else as humdrum and unprogressive as the Lord had made it. Consequently the tourist to-day finds great woods remaining, does not find the cliffs made interesting with advertisement. In the village where we spent the night we found heart-of-oak people. The closer to the soil men are, the less presumption they have, the less presumption, the less they perish from the earth. If it is a contest in longevity between high heels and the broad-toed boot, the last chapter is always written by the boot. High Heels complains that the simple life breeds simpletons. Boots retorts that summer folk are chatterers. It would require an interminable sitting of the jury to bring in a decision. Sufficient for Brute and me was the sight of an industrious people keeping the lap of these fair mountains sweet with cows and clover, without eye-sore or exploitation. Doubtless to them life hinged upon the price of pork; but it did not intrude duly into their conversation, and we found great eagerness to hear the latest news of France and our men-at-arms. Life in the Stony Clove, typical of the life in many of the Catskill valleys, seemed pliable at the top, steadfast at bottom, and wholesome through.

Lanesville is a friendly village lying in the heart of the vale. The environment of enclosing mountain gave one the immediate sense of "all 's well with the world." Nothing untoward could intrude. Across the foot of the valley ran a splendid range, possibly distant Panther. Into the western sky rose Westkill, a glorious mountain-wall, with its inviting Hollow Tree ravine. An aura of green hill shut one in, breathing a peace susceptible only to little ills which a neighbor's sympathy could soothe. Valley life is very alluring to hillwalkers.

Above Lanesville the mountains close in. Of an afternoon black shadows flow down from the western ridges, like inexorable glaciers devouring the farms, the brook, the opposing hill. But in the night the cottage lights shine bravely out. One white and lonely house high on the mountain's shoulder, which was just about to surrender to the creeping shadows, left a picture as of an embodiment of struggle in my memory. It would need a poet to write its annals, a painter to arrest your glance with the heather-purple of that twilight glen. But when I said something about its pioneer loneliness to Brute, he replied: "I suppose they've all gone to the movies."

That was the fun of being with Brute. You could never predict his reactions. Hungry, he would turn all the sanctities into a mockery.

Moved by some scene of beauty, there was none more devout. Dependable at base, honest throughout, he let his moods play with the tendrils of his fancy as a current plays with submerged grasses, waving at the top, rooted at the bottom.

Edgewood brings the valley to a climax, sitting enthroned in the measure of its maturity. Only the narrow passage north remains of all the generous spaciousness below. At Edgewood the view is nearest to grandeur. Ahead, the Notch; behind, the winding smiling valley and the curved hills. The mountains attain a dignity seen rarely elsewhere in the Catskills. Seracs of shale crop out, and the shoulders of Hunter are still high above you.

The Notch is an impressionist carving in that most successful of all designs, the V. There is a little pond at the, top, a sort of mild morass, then just the road and rail and the wind, working conscientiously at his bellows. Soon the road drops swiftly, the Clove is left behind, and your glance falls on old Clum, and the valley of the Schoharie.


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