A Catskill Catalog: Dec. 3, 2008

“Shop local!” we’re told, particularly this holiday season with a world recession squeezing local economies. We want to help, want to do the right thing, want our holiday dollars to circulate in our mountain towns. But we also want to buy Christmas and Hanukah gifts worth giving. Happily, many regional retail outlets now stock Catskill Mountain themed books, books that just might be the perfect holiday gifts this year.
A great gift this year is Diane Galusha’s Another Day, Another Dollar: The Civilian Conservation Corps in the Catskills (Black Dome Press, 2008). Galusha is one of our top mountain historians, the author of four previous Catskill Mountain-themed books including Liquid Assets, the Story of New York City’s Water System (Purple Mountain Press, 1999) and When Cauliflower was King (Purple Mountain Press, 2004), the tale of the rise and fall of a cash crop that was, in the mid 20th century, a major mountain commodity.
Today, with the economy struggling and a new administration coming to power, the 1930s Depression-era New Deal is attracting renewed interest. Might the programs and policies put in place by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 be a blueprint for programs and policies to confront today’s difficulties? The release of Galusha’s book on the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) could not be better timed.
The CCC was established in the first weeks after Roosevelt’s inauguration in March 1933. Its purpose was twofold: to provide employment to millions of unemployed youth, and to confront the major environmental problems of the day: deforestation, soil erosion, and frequent floods.
Things moved fast. On April 6, 1933, the first recruit to the new all-male “Forest Army” enlisted in Pennsylvania. On April 17, the first CCC camp was established in Luray, Virginia. By July 1, 275,000 corpsmen were housed in 1,300 CCC camps throughout the U.S. By the end of its nine-year run, over three-and-a-half million men served in 4,500 CCC camps in every state of the union.
The corps was organized along military lines: the corpsmen wore surplus World War I uniforms, slept in tents and barracks and were commanded by experienced military officers. In New York State, 210,000 corpsmen worked out of 161 camps, planted over 221 million trees, battled insect pests and diseased plants, built 19 fire towers, 1,200 ponds, and almost 400 miles of forest access roads.
In late June 1933, the first CCC camp in the Catskills was established in Boiceville, on a strip of rented land between state Route 28 and the Esopus Creek where the Boiceville Market now stands, across the street from the present Onteora School, built 20 years later. The corpsmen were charged with battling the spread of the gypsy moth, but also worked to remediate stream erosion problems, build hiking trails and plant tress. Soon, other camps were built in Tannersville and Margaretville, in Breakabeen and Masonville and in six other Catskill Region towns.
The CCC cleared the first Catskill Mountain ski trails at Simpson’s hill in Phoenicia. They prepared the ground for Belleayre Ski Center, built the Woodland Valley Campground, turned the old Catskill Mountain House grounds into the North Lake State Campground and created Gilbert Lake State Park.
Another Day, Another Dollar is beautifully illustrated, a pleasure to hold and to look at, a great read with first-class production values: a book you’ll be happy to own and to give.
Martha Frankel doesn’t write about the mountains, but she lives here, a writer of national reputation who has interviewed and profiled celebrities and artists for publications like Cosmopolitan, The New Yorker, and Fashions of the Times.
Martha was featured along with her husband Steve Heller in Jane Smiley’s 1988 book Catskill Crafts: Artisans of the Catskill Mountains (Crown Publishers, New York). Steve crafts furniture and sculpture at Fabulous Furniture on Route 28 in Boiceville.
It was there that I bought an autographed copy of Martha Frankel’s new memoir Hats and Eyeglasses: A Family Love Affair With Gambling (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, New York, 2008). The book is a candid exploration of the author’s descent into obsession and loss, with on-line poker the culprit that finally turned a family legacy of gambling into a destructive personal Jones. It is a brave book, available at a good price at Fabulous Furniture (or full-price on line).
In the 1970s, Big Indian was the world center of the movement of the spiritual teacher Swami Rudrananda, known as Rudi. Rudi established an ashram, store, and restaurant in Big Indian, and had numerous disciples and students, some still living here in the mountains. He died, in a plane crash I believe, in 1973. Later, the movement he began relocated to Portland, Oregon.
At the Emerson Resort shops, I bought a copy of Rudi: In His Own Words (Rudra Press, Portland, OR, 1990). The book offers a look at the Swami’s teachings in chapters with titles like “Growing” and “Detachment” and “Surrender.” The spiritual seeker, or the merely curious, who receives this gift book will appreciate the brief snippets of teaching that can be read quickly now for further thought later.
So, shop local. Catskill Mountain books might be just the gift you’re looking for.