The Happy Valley
By T. Morris Longstreth
Our mountain was not only the best viewpoint of the Reservoir that we
had climbed to -- it also gave us an illuminating idea of the country
we were about to explore. As Utsayantha constitutes the northwest
redoubt of Manitou's great fortress, so does Mount Ashokan hold the
key to the southeast. To the north, northwest, and west rise the
tumbled ranges of the southern Catskills, to the very vitals of which
we wanted to penetrate. So, packing up, we made the road into South
Hollow by midday, and fell, as had become our customary luck in the
earlier spring, upon one of the most interesting fellows in the whole
region -- 'Gene Kerr, bear-killer.
It was his barn that arrested us. Nine bear skulls and some skins of
other beasts decorated this remarkable shack, and in a jiffy we were
talking about two-pound trout and the toothsomeness of bear-steak
over the fence that separated us f rom Mr. Kerr and the tidiest
little garden it has ever been the good fortune of deer to feed in.
"You fellows must need a good meal in front to balance those air
packs," said Mr. Kerr, leaning on his hoe.
"Just what we're looking for, a three-course balancer," we cried.
"Well, I guess she kin fix you up."
All through dinner we listened to the hunting recollections of this
vigorous old man, whose age was hinted at neither by the light in eye
nor by his upstanding bearing. Not only bear and deer and trout and
partridges and gray squirrels were his frequent game, but he liked
the fun of bringing in coons and skunks, mink and woodchuck, white
rabbits, porcupines, and an occasional weasel. He said that he heard
"It beats all, how thick deers is gettin'," he said, and
the talk would veer around to bears continually.
"They just swarm in the beech-nut years. I got two last year,
when they snowed up, and three afore that. Sheep's head in a trap
done it. One of 'em weighed in three hundred pound, dressed."
He took down his guns to explain their points as affectionately as a
mother would her twins. His graying hair seemed no more to betoken
the long winter than October flurries, and his love of the woods --
just the day-long wandering in them, so he had gun in hand -- was
fine to see.
His wife, equally energetic, had other tastes.
"Oh, if somebody would only come along and start something!"
she exclaimed. "Ever since the waterworks was started, the
valley's been dead -- no summer people, nobody to sell butter and
eggs to. And it's a beautiful place, too."
We acknowledged it.
"And he spends his days, and nights too, chasing through the
woods, with me wonderin' what's happened to him. Not so long ago he
kep' me up to midnight while he was toting in a bear."
"No! Only the hind quarters."
Mr. Kerr's present living was being made out of ginseng root, it
appeared. I hope that Mrs. Kerr gets her wish. Truly the valley of
the Bush Kill is a secluded haven of extraordinary charm. Up South
Hollow goes a trail to Mount Ashokan; up Mine Hollow can be found the
diggings of those deluded prospectors who thought that they at last
had found gold; up Kanape Brook are charming little falls; and along
Watson Hollow, the main thoroughfare from West Shokan to the western
country, are sites for summer homes offering every inducement a
summer home can have.
We had thought to climb Peekamose, but found that there was no trail,
and that bellying clouds were drifting too thickly over the ramparts
ahead of us to offer much assurance to explorers. So, now balanced
fore and aft, we left our entertainers, to cross the divide.
In the darkening afternoon., on a road arched with trees and soft
with grass, we marched silently. Vistas up wooded ravines opened up
for the moment, and little waterfalls flung some word at us as we
passed; but, for the most part, we were free from the outer world.
Even the birds, which had made the settlements bright with song and
flutter, were few. A vireo, looking at us big-eyed, a warbler sighing
to himself in the deep wood, a disconsolate pewee, that was all.
The road climbed for about four miles, reached a level, less densely
wooded, -- where an old father porcupine slid down a birch as slick
as an applethieving urchin, -- then began a descent of five miles to
Sundown. We met nobody, said almost nothing. It was good enough to be
walking together again; and, though I was tired, being not yet
hardened, we swung along the narrow lake by the road, confident that
we would be put up at Peekamose Lodge.
Peekamose Lodge sleeps in a little gulf of rock formed by the
intersection of two ravines. One house is occupied by a caretaker who
owns a savage beast miscalled a dog but really a reincarnation of
Nero. Across the ravine the other house is occupied by a gentleman at
odds with his only neighbor, and guarded, not by a dog, but by a
flock of trained gnats. Thither we climbed, footsore and hungry,
after having tried to find some hospitable soul at the care-taker's,
where Nero was jumping around on his chain and acting as if he wanted
a little fun with Christians.
The gentleman who lived in such splendid isolation referred me to his
opponent for supper, and to that man -- who had just returned from
somewhere -- we wearily climbed back across the noman's-land ravine.
The rival gentleman said that the enemy always referred people to him
for meals, and that he wasn't allowed anyway and he knew it, and
besides there wasn't anything in the house.
Only weariness quenched the wrath within me. Sundown village was
miles away; a mist was beginning to seep through the foliage; the
insults f rom Nero, added to the injuries from the gentleman's gnats,
were intolerable. The meek are not uniformly successful in inheriting
the earth, it appears. Brute, equally enraged, but also tired to a
semblance of civility, inquired of our future prospects.
"Down the road about four mile there's a postmaster who may take
you in. He's a queer one, too, and writes books."
Judging that anything that seemed queer to this strange company might
suit us, we set out once more in the falling dusk. It was a road that
I can now look back on with pleasure, but then the fatigue that ached
from shin to thigh preluded any but a lamenting interest in the
beautiful curves, the rich wood smells, the extraordinary waterfalls.
One of these had eaten a hole through the cliff, pouring through the
ring-in a cascade of plenty. We came to a blue pool where the waters
of the Rondout, the clearest of all waters, had caught the secret of
the skies screened from them. It was in some such pool that the
old-world goddesses used to bathe. If Pan ever comes to America, he
will love the Blue Hole most of all, and its rocky ledges crowned
with the fine-textured beech are certainly the place for him to sit
and make his music in. Even to us, drooping with exhaustion, there
was still a prayer of admiration possible.
At length we came to a house that might be the postmaster's, though
there was no sign, and a Union Jack and tri-color flew from the
flag-pole with the Stars and Stripes. We knocked. A man, the instant
impression of whom was medium height, graying hair, a kindly,
inquisitive eye, and a genial smile, opened the door.
"Is this -- are you -- that is, can you direct us to the
postmaster of Peekamose?" I asked, my wits sliding into first
rather slowly after the long pull.
He already had guessed the situation, and in a quiet but systematic
manner set about making us feel as much at home as the Prince of
Wales at Windsor Castle. From the bathroom we emerged clothed in our
status quo ante; from the diningroom we sauntered as satisfied as
pelicans; from the den we retired to the living-room, beginning to
wonder just what the limitations of this man were; and from the
living-room we went to bed,six hours later, -- fully satisfied with
the capabilities of Chance as guide and guardian. We had stumbled
upon the radiant House of Dimock, its master, author, explorer,
There is a beautiful flower that unfolds, petal by petal, beginning
with thorn and ending with a rare perfume -- once in a hundred years.
So did our stay in the Happy Valley seem to me. Compare that enraging
moment when we had turned from the slimy-fanged Nero and the stings
of outrageous fortune (and the gnats) to the cactus at its worst;
compare the hospitable welcome at the door to the first petal, that
evening of conversation to the full bloom of pleasure, and you can
readily see how the same thing could never happen over again in a century.
Anthony W. Dimock's story, as he tells it himself in "Wall
Street and the Wilds," is a sort of Arabic-American Nights Tale
which immediately relates him to the Aladdin family. He was not only
a poor boy who lisped in numbers and the millions came: he was still
boyish when they went -- a rare figure in the annals of millionaires.
He kept his youth by hunting buffalo. Later he sought to keep the
buffalo by turning the sentiment of his famous Camp Fire Club toward
conservation. Oscillating between the labyrinthine ways of finance
and the open wilderness, he has enriched his life with such deposits
of adventure, and mingling in big events, that to open the vein of
reminiscence before the fire on a wet night in June is to land one in
an El Dorado of wonderment.
The den, clearly, had been stocked by one who understood life. Art,
humor, achievement, the love of people, the standing for beauty,
sanity, daring, and the unknown quantity that gives the mellowing
touch to daring -- these were the qualities represented. His son
Julian's pictures of tarpon jumping, of the Everglades, are probably
as fine as can be taken. The men who have sent him words of sympathy
or congratulation are many of the most interesting men of the United
States. The strange coincidences that a long and active life have
collected seem to take the thread from Atropos. The den was a room to
revert to in delight at the fullness of life.
I think the great fact of our visit was that a man who had looked
into the extreme brilliance of success, the extreme blackness of
defeat, should have such kind and unembittered eyes. They had caught
the softening of the June hills as well as the sparkle of the
Rondout. It was Nature's triumph, this capture of a man who had seen
everything, of a woman who had the world to choose from -- the
Catskills' triumph in particular. Yet, as we continued on the morrow
down the beautiful windings of the valley, we did not wonder why
neither Florida nor the West had failed in competition with its soft
beauties to lure these people for aye. There was something ultimately
fitting in the environment to their open hospitality. And Brute and I
have often referred to the charming picture since: the low gray house
set in the green dale, flashing brook and wooded mountain, the lord
and lady of the demesne dispensing a gracious hospitality to
wanderers, while ever and anon there arrive messengers from the
outside world with tribute, or, the best of tribute -- friends.