A Catskill Catalog by Bill Birns

Bill Birns presents a weekly essay on history, geography, day-trips, arts and culture in the Catskill Mountain region.

A Catskill Catalog: June 1, 2011

Nineteen young Americans from New York’s Capital District have died, these past 10 years, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Closer to home, the supreme sacrifice has taken eight young men from the greater Catskill Mountain region, if we define that region very broadly.

At Memorial Day, we mourn the sacrifice and loss of Davis Jones Jr., Phillip Charte, Derek Farley, David Miller, and Benjamin Osborn, young men from just beyond the Catskill region, killed in combat operations since Memorial Day a year ago.

A Catskill Catalog: May 25, 2011

I won’t say I’d never heard of rhubarb growing up. It just never figured into any dishes that found their way onto the dinette table of my boyhood.

Rhubarb grew in my suburban neighborhood. I always thought the plant vaguely poisonous, it being named, and all, after a sudden breakout brawl on the baseball field, the only rhubarbs I ever really knew.

The first few springs I lived in the Catskills, rhubarb was a revelation.

Strawberry-rhubarb pie. Rhubarb in custard. Stewed rhubarb. Rhubarb Betty.

A Catskill Catalog: May 18, 2011

In 1867, the Reverend Charles Rockwell authored an early guidebook to the Catskills, The Catskill Mountains and the Region Around. He devoted a chapter to the animals then common to the mountains.

Here’s how the chapter, “Wild Animals,” begins: “The cougar or American panther, or painter, as this animal is often called, painter being a corruption of the word ‘panther,’ belongs to the feline or cat species, and is found from Patagonia, in South America, to the northern bounds of the State of New York.”

A Catksill Catalog: May 11, 2011

In the Catskills, the very dirt that makes the land is young. The oldest Catskill soils can be dated back about 13,000 years ago, when the last glacier receded.

I was never any good in science in school. Flunked physics. I’m not proud of it, just making clear how much of a stretch the history of soils is for me. I have to rely on Mike Kudish’s magisterial book, The Catskill Forest, a History (Purple Mountain Press, 2000).

A Catksill Catalog: May 4, 2011

The 15th anniversary of the January 1996 flood passed without my notice. I was busy shoveling snow. This wet spring jars the memory. Fifteen years ago, the Catskills experienced the worst regional disaster in my time, perhaps in anyone’s time.

Actually, the entire northeastern United States got socked. It began with an old-fashioned, post-New Year’s nor’easter. Snow began to fall, to the south, on the evening of January 6, moving into the Catskills on Sunday, the 7th, and snowing hard through Monday, the 8th.