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On Getting Lost in the Catskills

The Kaatsberg, or Catskill Mountains, have always been a region full of fable. The Indians considered them the abode of spirits, who influenced the weather, spreading sunshine or clouds over the landscape, and sending good or bad hunting seasons. They were ruled by an old squaw spirit, said to be their mother. She dwelt on the highest peak of the Catskills, and had charge of the doors of day and night to open and shut them at the proper hour. She hung up the new moons in the skies, and cut up the old ones into stars. -Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle

There are 35 mountain peaks in the Catskills that have at least a 250 foot drop between the peak and any other peak, or have a peak at least ½ mile away from any other peak. When you have climbed each peak, you can proclaim yourself to be a member of The Catskill 3500 Club. Dues paying aside, and to be technically accurate, you must also climb Slide, Blackhead, Balsam and Panther mountains again in winter. The Club's bylaws define “winter” as the period from December 21 to March 21, inclusive, regardless of the actual occurrences of the winter solstice and vernal equinox in particular years according to their website, a detail that I somehow really appreciate.

Slide Mountain is the tallest at 4183'.

The Kaaterskill High Peak was originally thought to be the tallest, but corrections have been made and she now comes in at #22 (or #23 depending on your source) at 3655'.

Slide Mountain as seen from High Point Mountain

When Rip van Winkle scrambled to the highest peak while shooting squirrels (as told by a Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker in Rip van Winkle) and then woke up 20 years later to descend and find his house in shambles, his nag of a wife deceased and the townspeople unrecognizable, interestingly they were going on about the rights of citizens-elections-members of Congress, described as Babylonish jargon by the teller of the story. Yet Rip Van Winkle was also a sight to behold to the townspeople. They wondered was he a Democrat or a Federalist? On which side did he vote? Even Rip van Winkle's old dog Wolf didn't recognize him.

Illustration of Rip Van Winkle by Felix O.C. Darley

Time does indeed march on and how we adapt to a strange future whether with sadness or humor...or by making our way up a high peak in pursuit of new adventures, we still come back to the idea of what it is that makes an area in which we live home and how we might think of that home so it brings comfort to our lives. Are we friends or strangers to one another? Do we recognize one another even in times of turmoil? If we're to find a way forward, how might that be done?

Friends, your civilized thoughts, suggestions and ideas are welcome.


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