2017-03-15 / In This Place

A is for Automobile

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by Trish Adams

In this week’s column, we contrast a few of Editor Clarke Sanford’s columns across the decades. Although Sanford bought the paper in 1904, you’ll notice my column selections begin in 1937. Why? You need look no further than the bottom of the page: Sanford was far more intent on building his other businesses and particularly in “motorizing” the Catskills as a young entrepreneur and wasn’t a regular contributor to the paper until later. In fact, for many years, Sanford Chevrolet Co., Inc was listed in the masthead as the publisher! Sanford also loved movies and was instrumental in bringing them “in this place” even before his splendid Galli-Curci Theater was up and running. His grandson Dick remembers that Clarke said his middle initial “A” should have stood for Automobile, not Alaire.

You’ll note that Clarke’s columns evolve from a pithy, aphoristic style, typical of old-fashioned newspaper columns, into lyrical, free wheeling naturescapes that capture perfectly the mood of his village, the countryside and his deep and abiding love of both.

March 12, 1937

Sap is extra sweet this spring.

Sweet sap following a mild winter is against all precedent.We have been taught that deep snow and cold winters made a combination to produce the sweetest maple fluid in the spring.

But either nature has gone wrong or the teaching was a fallacy. All who have tapped attest to the sweet sap. It makes a great difference to the sugar maker. An occasional producer fails to tap seasons when the sap has little sweetness.

Last year there was but one “run.” And it was a cold winter. The trouble was that spring came with a jump. Correct weather for sugar-making is warm days and freezing nights. This combination, with dearth of south wind, will make the maples produce for weeks.

Making maple sugar is a combination of romance and much hard work. It lasts two weeks to a month and will net the ordinary farmer in this section around $100 to $150.

I think “maple cream” made in the ice cream freezer is its top notch product. Fleischmanns has given up snow trains for the season. Charlie Muller will soon be ready to give the skis of the city to the summer boarder crowd.

Who cares about the income tax, pussywillows are in bloom!

They do shed a measure of loveliness in the gloom and discord of March in a little bottle on her desk.

Blessings on you little fuzzy wuzzy. Pakatakan will look more blue from now on.

Next will be the frogs, the peepers, the flying ducks, the first smell of wildflowers.

Anyway that income tax blank can wait until the 2 o’clock mail next Monday.

A village is a place where the police, fire department and constable are one and the same, but the difference between a gardener and a golfer is that one uses the holes he digs.

The neighbor girls have so many beaus that even at our age we are gradually acquiring a rather thorough knowledge of the automobile horn language.

Teacher was recently making a demonstration. She had on the desk a glass of water, an empty glass and a bottle of whiskey and two fish worms. In the glass of water, she dropped one of the worms, which wriggled around with apparent delight. In the empty glass, she poured a little whiskey. The other worm was dropped in, and, after a few convulsions, ceased to be live bait. The teacher asked the class what the difference in the action of the two worms signified. A boy raised his hand and said: “It means that if you drink whiskey you won’t have worms.”

Yours truly, The Mountaineer.

March 14, 1947

Troubles are like babies—more you nurse ’em bigger they grow. Card games are expensive says mountain youth. Ditto for any game where you hold hands.

“Chiffonier” comes from French meaning rag gatherer. If you doubt it is applicable pull out any chiffonier drawer.

This was overheard on Main street: “My sister and me ain’t no more alike than if we wasn’t us. She’s just as different as I be, but only the other way.”

Monday is St. Patrick’s day, harbinger of the green. Soon birds buds, and bees will join this spring parade. If I had the say l would add another festive day to the calendar. I would name March 20 “Maple Sugar Day” for New York and New England.

Year in and out that is the best day to attack our most beloved tree with bit and brace to bore not too deeply into its outer shell where up and down flows the sweetest sweet in the world.

No scientist knows what day the sap will run, but a small boy on the farm knows as do his elders. “The sap runs, the sap runs” is as dear a call of spring as the first robin, and the cheery dropping of the first sap in a shiny new bucket is as enthralling a song as that of the red breast. Boiling down in the sap house is as complete a combination of fun and labor as this world knows. There is no overtime except when the sap runs steadily for three days in a row with every bucket and storage tank full. Then is full need of the sap wood that has been gathered when occasion offered for a whole year. The pans need constant attention and frequent stoking. The nights are long in the sweet steam that fills the building.

But 100 gallons of syrup is a lot of money today. Not too long it was $65. I have not been told this year’s market but we all know it will be in round dollars several times 65 cents.

Dear Mountaineer;

In regard to the Ladies’ Aid to the Fire Department, the arguments for it don’t seem to be very practical. Most of the Firemen are working men and have jobs or positions to return to after a daytime fire, so they wouldn’t have time to go to the fire hall for coffee and doughnuts. I really can’t see the women getting out of a warm home (especially if there are small children in the home) and going in the middle of a cold winter night to make coffee and doughnuts for the Firemen at the fire hall. (Are they going to keep doughnuts on hand for such an emergency?)

As for sewing on buttons, etc. Most uniforms are kept in each home and such matters are taken care of by wife or mother. I can just hear the following conversation: Fireman—Hey, there’s a button off my fireman’s pants. Wife—“Well, fold them up and take them over to the fire hall and wait until the Ladies’ Auxiliary meets next month.”

I don’t think there’s so much objection on the part of the poker players. This matter has already been brought up and put to a vote. It was voted not to have a Ladies’ Auxiliary.

The Firemen have a fine hall. There were objections to them having the building when they started, but they have overcome the objection. Many of them spent long evenings building furniture, painting and cleaning. They purchased a new stove and other equipment at their own expense.

Now that they have completed the rooms—everyone wants to get in on it. The Firemen’s organization is and has always been a men’s organization. Let’s leave it that way and let them enjoy the rooms in their own way.

A Fireman’s Wife

A bird feeding shelf outside my kitchen window again makes me realize how sharp are the eyes of our feathered friends. Sunflower seeds and suet are favorite foods for the birds. A tiny chickadee, fox sparrow or any of the others can spy a seed from afar and come after it immediately it is put out.

A new shelf on a limb, a bit of food tied to a tree is quickly found. What kind of intelligence permeates the wild that these small fry so quickly locate something to eat.

It cannot be scent, surely there is none from a three-year-old sunflower seed. It must be sight which tells them to come. How wonderful to realize every tree and shrub, every rock, every bit of grass, every window ledge, every square inch out-of-doors is under the constant patrol of a bird. What field-glass eyes! In the summer a fish hawk will pick out a small fish from more than 500 feet up in the air, dive and strike its prey. I doubt man has manufactured glasses that would do so well for him. If there are such they would be as big as a handbag. An owl will drop upon its prey from a long distance in the dusk, early morning or moonlight. Crow eyes will penetrate the hiding place of a hunter from far up in the air if he leave a tiny opening. A chicken hawk can drop from high in the sky to talon its dinner.

On the ground the chicken can see far up into the blue to watch a sailing hawk. A rooster, who has the welfare of his flock in mind, often cocks an eye. If he sees, far above, a moving speck that might turn into a hawk he utters a warning and the flock quickly moves under convenient bushes. There they well know the far-seeing hawk cannot find them. When the speck disappears the lord of the barnyard suggests “as you were.” I have never been able to ascertain punishment on the part of the flock or its leader as meted out to a member not obeying the warning. The hawk will take care of the discipline.

Yours truly, The Mountaineer

March 22, 1957

The trapping season closed on Sunday. This includes all the fur bearers. Plug casting for fish is a summer sport. This warm March has advanced the date. Two Roxbury men caught pickerel on plugs a mile and a half below that village a recent Sunday. The scene was the slow water in the river opposite the “stone house.”

A drive around the Pepacton reservoir on Sunday disclosed an ice pattern of the lake as it was several weeks ago. The rising waters of the warm days elevated the height of the water. The ice was raised several feet. It had not thawed, was simply raised to the new level. Around the edges was clear water—a pattern of the lake when it was several feet lower. Where the banks were steep there was little water. But where the shore was sloping the water was several feet wide. This big pattern of the winter height of the reservoir will float until it is melted by sun, wind and rain.

Last year and for several years there has been a lone wild horse living along the reservoir. Sunday there were two on the flats below former Arena.

Wild ducks on their spring trip from southern duck resorts to the wilds of Canada got as far north as the reservoir on Sunday. A few flocks visited the open places along the edges of the ice. They will probably hesitate to go further north where ice would be more solid. Wild geese were heard here on Monday evening.

Sap buckets and wild geese, red soft maple buds and pussy willows, lengthening days and March rain, rough shagbark and poplar buds, hyacinths and skunk cabbage, mud and an occasional green spear, hope of spring held back by a cold night.

These and a thousand other bits of a summer which stirs up in hibernation, rolls over to sleep again, rouses for a day or a week then slips back. All this is March in the last ten days of its 1957 existence.

A man must be patient to enjoy April 10 days away. A willow is not impatient. Willows have waited for nearly a hundred million springs. Spring always came. Willows are one of the most ancient shrubs we have.

There are nearly 200 different species of the willow. The one we call pussy is the Galucocus. The one scale protecting the bud through the winter bursts and the soft gray blossoms are ready for the first wild bouquet of 1957.

Under a lens one can see the rich glowing yellow shades of the pollen-bearing blossoms and the soft green hues of the seed-bear- ing catkins. The pollen travels by wind or insect, then down a tube to make the fertilization.

The pussies choose low spots, they are humble, everyday shrubs. When they toss their blossoms toward the blue skies of March and hang out their catkins, we know resurrection has come again. But never did a pussy know what joy and comfort it brought to lordly man who snipped off its flowers and put them in a vase.

Tree planting time is near. There are many tree nurseries where one may, for small money, buy any variety of tree which will grown in the Catskills. I know none better suited to this region than the shagbark, distinguished patriarch of both wood and field. It is rich in history and meaning.

Shagbark is a slang name for hickory. Its fruit is hickory nuts.

Before the days of rubber and steel it was an integral part of the farm life of most of the nation. It furnished sturdy wood for whiffletrees, axe handles, spade handles. The slow burning wood was efficient fuel in stove and fireplace. Its pungent, aromatic smoke cured millions of hams and tons of bacon.

In best locations it reaches a height of 100 feet and can attain diameter of more than three feet. The wood is heavy, 48 pounds a cubic foot. The bark is spectacular with appealing features. The partially loosened strips curl at the ends and have the appearance of old, weather beaten shingles on an ancient farm barn.

Before the axe cut the hickory forest to make more axes, boys and girls gathered the sweet flavored nuts in a tight race between the youngsters and the squirrels, come the first frost and a hard wind.

Most of the shagbark trees are gone. But there are a few left in bottom lands and on rich up land sites. A shagbark is not as beautiful as a white birch, does not have the grace of a hemlock, is not as massive as a great oak.

In place of beauty it has rugged strength, typical of the qualities which helped a new land grow into its rugged place among the nations of the world.

Yours truly, The Mountaineer

You can enjoy Clarke Sanford’s columns in just about every issue of the Catskill Mountain News in the mid-20th century, until his death in 1964, after which they would often recycle his columns from the past! You’ll find them in our archives at www.nyshistoric newspapers.org/middletown.

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