A Catskill Catalog by Bill Birns

A Catskill Catalog: January 18, 2012

If you know any little girls in the three- to seven-year-old set, you know that princesses are in. Disney has a stable of them; slender and brave girls who appear in 3-D movies and coloring books, on backpacks and as collectible figurines. They’re gold. Gold clad in pink, that is.
Gather round girls. Our Catskills may have their very own princess, replete with noble birth, forbidden love, and luxuriant black hair. She is Utsayantha.

A Catskill Catalog: January 11, 2012

The most famous resident of the Catskills never lived. We can all picture him, though. The beard, the dog, the pipe, the rusty gun.

The most famous resident of the Catskills hunted and was hen-pecked; kept a loyal dog and a comfortable pipe; loafed and drank; slept for 20-crucial years, yet never took an actual breath.
The most famous resident of the Catskills is, of course, Rip Van Winkle.

A Catskill Catalog: January 4, 2012

I’m writing this thing on a laptop computer. My smart phone is within reach. Technology has wrought a communications millennium, an opening to the world that seems to eclipse all other openings. The ridgeline-walled world of Channel 6 on the TV, of WGY and WDLA on the radio, is within my memory. I love to remember those simpler times, while embracing technology.

Not all do. I have friends who fear technology, distrust its effects on our lives and the lives of our children, abhor the way it has changed how we interact with one another. I get their point.

A Catskill Catalog: December 28, 2011

First published here a year ago, “A Catskill Mountain Holiday Party” is a year-end greeting-card, as 2011 enters history, and 2012 becomes reality.

’Twas a mountain holiday party, and stockings were hung from the bluestone mantel of a Livingston.
Whether Robert of Clermont, or Robert the Judge,
or Chancellor Robert, doesn’t matter a fudge.
For a hundred years, they held in their hands
millions of acres of wilderness lands.
Whole Hardenbergh Patent, they’d bought it all square:
the view from their window to the west Delaware.
Money talks. Deeds matter. That is the reason

A Catskill Catalog: December 21, 2011

The old Margaretville Department Store would fill up, on Christmas Eve, with young husbands seeking last-minute gifts. If a fellow went down there around 4 in the afternoon, he’d meet several of his friends and acquaintances around the sweater shelves.

It always seemed to be the young guys who converged on the women’s department in the east end of the store, looking for something we knew we should have picked-out weeks before. Shopping thoughtfully, in advance, seems to be a skill learned with age – at least for a lot of guys I knew 30-40 years ago.

A Catskill Catalog: December 14, 2011

Couldn’t help but think of John Halcott, as I rode an Amtrak train recently over New York’s City’s Spuyten Duyvil. He was the young Eton-educated Englishman who swam that channel with his sword clutched in his teeth, once he “became convinced he was fighting on the wrong side,” during the American Revolution.

A Catskill Catalog: December 7, 2011

My friend is 86 years old, yet he remembers where he was that day like it was yesterday. He was coming out of the woods, deer hunting. Sixteen years old, he got in the car and switched-on the radio. This was 1941, and car radios worked on vacuum tubes, so it took a while to warm up, but when it did, those old car radios could bring in some distant stations. That’s when he heard.

A Catskill Catalog: November 30, 2011

From 1946 to 1985, Henry Bernstein patrolled the woods and steams of the Ulster County Catskills. Hank retired as an environmental conservation officer, but his career began as a game protector.
Hank Bernstein died, this past July, at 94. Only a handful of men who once carried the title of game protector survive him.

A Catskill Catalog: November 23, 2011

The day after Thanksgiving, 1948, the Catskill Mountain News reported on several fires in the previous week. The Arkville Laundry burned, suspiciously, at midnight, the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Fifty-thousand dollars worth of equipment and machinery were lost. In the river hamlet, Pepacton, a chimney fire took John Shaver’s farmhouse, destroying 500 quarts of canned fruits and vegetables, and the winter supply of potatoes.

Stan’s Tavern, in Arena, advertised steamed clams, “fresh from natural Long Island clam beds,” and platters of French fries.

A Catskill Catalog: November 16, 2011

I remember thinking this guy Halcott must have been some fellow, having two local towns named after him. Turns out Halcott wasn’t one guy at all. He was three!

John Halcott started it all, back in 1776, when he ran away to join King George’s army to put down the rebellion in the colonies. The story is told that he was an Eton lad, student at a prestigious English school, son of, what-they-called-in-those-days, a good family. His people were said to be descended from a knight in the Court of King James, back in the early 1600s, and distinguished, since that time, in military affairs.

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