Home  

Chapter XIV

The Northwest Redoubt

From "The Catskills" (1918)
By T. Morris Longstreth

When Manitou planned his great fortress, now known as the Catskills, he built the long battlement on the east to parallel the Hudson, arranged the labyrinthine masses of intersecting range in the south for Great Headquarters, designed a wilderness of pond and forest on the southwest and raised a great redoubt, now called Mount Utsayantha, on the northwest as a lookout toward the Great Lakes, whence were to come the predatory spirits.

Utsayantha is 3,365 feet high, and from its summit one is able to see spirits a good way off. To the north the first ranges of Adirondacks were plainly visible on the breezeless morning that adorned the world when Brute and I invested this redoubt of Manitou. To the west shone the long country that we were not to visit. The view looked over low hills and far away to Otsego Lake, where Cooper lived. To the east and south rose the Mountains of the Sky, the Onti Ora.

Before I visited the Catskills I considered that the Indians were singularly proud or misinformed to call their petty mounds the Mountains of the Sky. Pff! Mountains of the Sky! And what, then, were the Rockies? Mountains of the Seventh Heaven? And when one got to heaven? Borrowing trouble, perhaps. However, the Onti Ora seemed an uncalled-for pretension -- until I visited the Catskills. Then I understood. Mountains of the Sky is the most beautiful and fit name for the refuge of Manitou. The Indians did not mean the high sky, the empty and interminable blue. They meant the low, rich, all-brooding heaven that settles in between the ranges with its wash of gentian shades. They meant the cloudheaps of pearl or ivory that west winds set adrift from their moorings in these mountains.

That day on Utsayantha was a reward to Brute and me for indulging in living. A streak of laziness is a dangerous thing, but it is mighty pleasant. How often it wards off a lot of unprofitable exertion! Who is to say whether loafing for a whole day on a sunny mountain-top is laziness or life? And, whatever the verdict, the day was a distinct tribute to our intention. From cloudless morning to cloud-heaped noon, through gathering afternoon to gust-swept evening, we watched the pageant of day file across the lands.

At the foot of Utsayantha lies the wide-streeted, white-painted provincial town of Stamford. Beyond it, dale after dale supplies milk to the downstate cities, and should supply all the fragrant traditions of herdsmen and cattle-keepers to sweeten our toiling times. In such a lovely landscape one felt that men might be mildermannered than those who infest the rocky fastnesses of cities or the equally callous wilderness. In such a place, if anywhere, should flourish generosity and genuineness, a little deeper humanity. Yet, in conversation with one of the citizens, Brute and I heard a tale of the countryside such as one of the world's best misers would have blushed to better. We began to investigate a thing or two, and found that the people of these homelike valleys were scarcely different from other people. If they were no worse, they also were no better. Environment does not seem to warp morality for good or ill. The tree may grow as the twig is inclined; but there seems to be a very similar average of inclinations everywhere.

That evening we let ourselves down into Stamford, the first town of airs that we had penetrated since our clothes had begun to look strained and overworked. What the Stamfordians thought of our appearance cannot be related, for they never said. Nor could we care overmuch. Twenty miles a day is a narcotic to the pride, and much wayfaring, I can see, would bring on a social revolution -- at least, as far as dressing for dinner. How ridiculous our ancestors have been! Kings and nobles plotting and competing to live in marble halls -- unheated. Men slaving to amass gold and jewels, when what they really wanted was a hot bath. A throne, a scepter, and five necklaces of rubies would not have seemed so good to us that night as did two turkish towels. We arrived clad in mud and slush. We left clothed in our right minds. Yet the only joys that had enriched the interval between were never catalogued among the pleasures of emperors. Simplified civilization is the height of luxury.

However ingratiating was our stay in Stamford, we felt as do those campers who make a foray into a city for supplies. They arrive with a superior air. They depart with an apology for tarrying. It is as if they had demeaned themselves to the extent of the necessary moments in a man-made place. However pleasant it felt to be natty, Brute and I were both for betaking ourselves to the wild-wood again, despite its affronts to our haberdashery.

The sensation of taking the road again is very like that of coming out of a theater into the sunlight after a tedious matinee. All the tiresome unrealities of a wrought-up afternoon are soothed by the slanting sunlight. So did we issue from the uncomplacent porters and the call of hackman into a countryside beaming with a sun that did not seem to have risen merely for the sake of the morning papers. The snow was gone on the levels, and the undercurrents of green, which for some days had been running up the brook-banks, began to show as a verdant torrent on the lea of southern hills.

At Grand Gorge there are three directions that call with equal shrillness. To the northeast is Gilboa, where the new reservoir is being made. To the southeast runs the road to Devasego Falls, Prattsville, and Red Falls. To the south you go through another clove and approach Roxbury, delightful town.

The two falls are worth a visit in season. Red Falls, where the steppy ledge breaks up the thread of water, runs like a melody of Schubert, clear, sparkling, beautiful-an eternal melody with variations. Devasego, on the other hand, particularly in the spring, is like Wagner going symphonically to pieces, Rhine maidens and all. And, as often happens, there are many secondary falls of unsung beauty nearby which are recommended to those whose tribulations are lightened by the sight of falling water.

Prattsville was settled by one Colonel, a tanner. Not content with the limited immortality of leather, the Colonel hired him a sculptor to imbust him on a cliff. To make assurance triply sure, he had his horse and dog done also. The inquiring tourist is always directed to Pratt's Rocks by the wide-eyed native to see the imperishable features of the great man (and his great horse and dog) on the old Devonian rock -- a lesson to all tanners of ambition. The trip out there is quite worth while-but to see the mark of the old seacurrents channeled on the cliff.

There is also another record of unrecorded time that the praters about Pratt forget to mention. Beyond Prospect Hill flows a brook called Fly, which any good Dutchman knows was meant for Vly, a swamp. The Fly rises in a glacial lake. Mr. J. Lynn Rich of Ithaca can prove it. The terminal moraine is there, too. Mr. Rich says that the glacial marks point to a movement different from the usual movement of glaciers in other regions. Catskill valleys were not much enlarged by the Ice Age. Therefore there wasn't much destruction of their sides or bottoms, not much detritus, hence few moraines, and so we miss the picture-gallery lakes that so enhance the beauty of the Adirondacks.

From Lexington to Shandaken is a road, a little more than ten miles long, that fits into its bed between high hills, and rests there with all the contentment of perfection. A stiff grade south of Westkill brings you to a summit of the pass, and to a charming lake where we saw a mink. In spring the road is bordered with woodchucks and decorated with nesting birds. In winter it is very lonely, and the glimpses of ranges afar off shine with a remoteness accentuated by the shadows of the ravine. In summer these same views take on a more neighborly appearance that make the Westkill Notch a favorite with even the casual motorist whose engine is not getting too hot.

It was later that we took the walk which stamped this valley with its completest charm for us -- a walk that every lover of woods, the easy woods, should know. We had left Hunter in a morning fog that lifted soon into soft clouds, which, entirely pleased with earth, hung not so far above the hills. A mile west of Hunter on the State road, an iron bridge takes you across the Schoharie, and a little road quickly brings you to the woods that cover the range. Up and up through the thick cover goes the little grass-grown road. For an hour you mount steadily, come out on a shaly top, descend a little, and suddenly emerge on the view of the Westkill Valley. If a camera could catch the impossible, then Brute's picture might show to you the atmospheric necromancy of our surprise. A cloud was leaving its motherdale forever. A range of mountains athwart the west softened in the light of mid-morning. The valley ran below us, disappearing behind mountain shoulders, reappearing where the brook had widened its tenure in the course of centuries. Southward rose the Big Westkill, stern in its own shadow, and still topped with cloud. Of all the scenes that fill one's years of memories, those are favorite that have come as surprise. We give Niagara its due, and are speechless beneath the Wetterhorn; but the minor personal discoveries -- a night of desert moonlight, some wood in Nova Scotia, a charming picture in an unmentioned nook -- these cling, and to them the memory has recourse when it least expects. Should I tell you to see the Westkill Valley you might be disappointed. Should you come upon it as we did, you will wonder why everybody does not go that way. Indeed, the entire Catskill region is susceptible to the dangers of expectation. There have been no strokes of geologic lightning to rend it into stupefying gulfs. All is blended, suave. It is meant for those who will look twice.



Previous Chapter | Back to the Index | Next Chapter


Home
Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery