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Chapter III

Meandering By The Map

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

I, too, would have liked to watch the thing out. But there was another consideration besides the fleeting beauties of the roaring landscape. Remaining on our unprotected perch involved freezing to death; and, as we were already blue with the persistent blasts, we reluctantly left the dumb hotel to their vengeance and sought a little woodland harbor for our lunch.

A path rises to the northeast from the building and skirts the cliff. On one side rises the forest, on the other falls the abyss. There are a thousand of the finest opportunities for selfdestruction, but Brute and I felt very well satisfied with life and did not avail ourselves. Instead, in a sheltered semicircle of young spruce we made a little fire and in its golden circle devoured food.

Then we got out the map. Maps are as invaluable as meals to any person who intends to enjoy the Catskill country. The legend of the largescale masterpieces is a fascinating short story to the man who walks. For it must be understood at the outset that the Catskill country is able to respond to the exactions of the experienced as well as to the simpler pleasures of the amateur traveler. It is as versatile a pleasure-land as one may wish for. It provides motor roads of excellence through ail extensive woodland. There are bears for the hunter, and hotels for his wife. Old men who have never seen a railroad live but a few miles from resplendent garages.

Time was when the Catskills were about the only mountain country available for the fortnight vacation. The White Mountains were a little far away, and the Adirondacks an unexplored wilderness. The West was unknown., Now it is but a day f rom. Broadway to Montreal. A trip to be talked about means at least Australia or the Ural Mountains. Therefore the Catskills are passed by. They are actually getting wilder. There are more deer in them than ever before, as many bear. Fewer people put up at the big hotels than when Queen Victoria was planning her Jubilee. Consequently a man with a map in his hand can plunge into as wild a wild as most men want four or five hours after he has left his taxicab in New York. The map is an important consideration: the Government map the only thing (cf. Appendix).

From the safety of a train platform it is easy to under-estimate the difficulty of cross-country travel through the Catskill woods. Once swallowed by the forest, which is of second growth, very thick and very much alike, the hill-shoulder that you judged would be so easy to follow becomes a maze of distracting side-slopes; the peak for which you were making apparently has ceased to exist; and the summits are so long and flat that you never know when you have reached the exact top. But the Government maps show every trail, every road, every roadside house, streamlet, ford, and spring. In planning out the day's progress they will inform you as to whether you will find secondary roads or the superior roads of State. With the contour lines and a compass, cross-woods travel becomes secure. Every vagary of the slope, each knoll, each rill of water, is there to identify your location.

Splutterkill, Splatterkill

Splutterkill, Splatterkill

Following the map soon became an obsession with Brute. His keen interest in affairs of accuracy was stimulated by the unfailing way in which these sheets of paper delivered us to our destination. When our supper depended on the one way out of some vast labyrinth like the slopes of Panther Mountain or the featureless expanses about the head-waters of the Beaverkill, there was supreme satisfaction in being able to say, "That way lies a summit, this a ledge. I must follow eastsoutheast for a mile to reach that brook, which I shall know is the right one because of the woodsman's road beside it."

It was, then, with something of this satisfaction that Brute and I, on our snowy ledge, plotted our next move. To be sure, while there was a diversity of interest, there was a paucity of possibility. Although in our nook we were safe from the gale, it flew roaring above us at intervals and shook down a tinsel of light snow. On a summer's day we would have taken time to investigate Echo Lake and to climb Indian Head on our way to the Plattekill Clove. But we decided to edge around the cliff until we struck the road and f ollow that to supper.

Indeed, at that altitude of three thousand feet there was slight evidence of the thaw that had been raging in our city streets. The snow beside the trail was upwards of two feet deep. In spots where the sun had basked on the open ledges f ell cascades of ice. Everywhere sat winter, worn and senile, but capable of making our progress difficult. And at the rate the cold was increasing we could take any pace without much danger of arriving in a lather.

On a clear day in winter or summer that walk from the Overlook to Plaat Clove affords extraordinary views over the Hudson. The road was once used for carriages, but nature has restaked her claim. Washouts, new trees, deserted flagstone quarries, decaying cabins mark the re-occupancy by the wilderness. It is doubly lonely now, and the porcupine, the fox, the woodchuck, and the bear openly share the territory with their shyer neighbors. Several times we had to avoid slipping into the depths by going on all fours across a river of ice. It grew f airly late, and we were tired with the snow-tramping and wind-buff eting before we stumbled down some long slopes, crossed a rickety bridge, and entered the scattered village of Plaat Clove.

For the past hour our conversation had specialized on things to eat, and we had determined to pitch upon a house that had a prosperous air. At length, after passing one or another because of some defect in its shingling or the paint, we knocked upon a well-to-do looking door which seemed capable of offering to us at least three courses, if not a salad. The light from its window shone straight to the heart, for night had suddenly fallen and we were not yet acclimated to the feeling of homelessness. A little girl opened the door about wide enough to admit a lizard, and through this aperture I ventured to project my wishes. In a minute the little girl came back, said mama said something, and slammed the door upon our three-course dreams. What a noise that door made! It seemed to reverberate through our hollow interiors. Brute spoke in the vernacular.

"Gosh!" he said. "Now we know what a spider feels like."

Without commenting on the sensitiveness of that insect, I should say that I felt very flat. "The next house is yours," I said, "and for Pete's sake put your foot in the door. 'I

The next house would have been passed by earlier, for the rain-spout was broken; but our three courses had now come down to two and a bed. This time a woman answered our knock. Brute's voice, coming from such a broad-chested youth, sounded ludicrously meek:

"Please, ma'am, is it too late to get some supper?"

The lamplight shone on his good-looking, windreddened face, and his appearance must have won over anything short of shrew; but the woman said shortly:

"Yes, supper's all put away; besides, there isn't much in the house. But up the road maybe they I give you something."

"No, I don't think they will," I interrupted, "and we really won't eat much if-"

"Up the road- " she began.

Brute turned, without a word; but no master of the unspoken drama could have performed an oath more delicately with a simple gesture of a presented back. I tried the Christian device of thanking the lady as heartily as if she had presented us with two roast turkeys; but it affected her not a bit, and I hurried to catch up with my enraged companion. On that cold road there seemed no heat left in the universe, but we felt not its loss. We burned to have at these fed but unfeeding people. We longed to demolish a house or two. We pictured the pleasure of setting one on fire, warming our fingers over the embers while the late householders cowered before us and offered us fried potatoes and custard pie. It put us in spirit, and suddenly Brute laughed aloud.

"You can't blame them. You've an awful hungry look. I've got an idea, and I bet you we're fed at the next place. I'll manage it."

"How?" I inquired.

"You wait. All you have to do is eat."

There was some doubt at first as to whether there would be a next house. When it appeared, it looked dark and windbeaten, unpromising for even a crust. But up the lane we trudged, I lagging. This time a man came.

"Good evening, sir," began Brute, apparently with all confidence. "Could I have a drink of water?"

The man looked somewhat surprised, but, as he couldn't well refuse, bade us enter. I registered a point for Brute. The water came.

"Would it bother you," continued the boy, "to sell us a couple of pieces of bread? We'll spread them ourselves."

"Like a little meat with them?" asked the man.

"Yes; and if there are any potatoes that could be fried easily, and perhaps a pinch of tea- It was pretty cold on the mountain. We 're prepared to pay."

"How far 'a' you come?" asked the man, putting down the lamp, which was a good omen. I I Strikes me you fellers 'd like a real meal. Ma," he called into the next room, "here is a couple of fellers who've had jest raisins and chocolate for their dinner. I guess you kin git 'em up a little something. "

"I guess I kin," she said. And I guess she did.

And if it hadn't been strictly forbidden I'd put down her name in capitals. For the "little something" began with a four-egg omelet and wound up with some wild strawberry jam, with our original three courses in between. We sat about the stove and talked till nearly ten o'clock. And that is dissipation for those who rise at five.

Before we went to bed the good dame warmed us a cherry-pit bag, against the rigors of arctic sheets. The discovery of that cherry-pit bag was alone worth the long trudge across the Plattekill heights. Cherry-stones thoroughly heated in an oven will keep their heat all night. Before we slept we laughed once more over the strategy that had gained us our entry. And that was a rule of the road which we applied many times thereafter: If you want something big, begin with something easy and work up.

 

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