The Northwest Redoubt
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.