Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Catskills on an empty spring day

I realized something, today. Sometimes I don't post about the best things.

I was sorting images on my computer, and storing them in their various orderly folders, when I saw the Catskills folder (in: New York, 2013, April).

I never wrote about the Catskills. All two hours of them.

One of the reasons was that the day we spent in the mountains was the day of the Boston bombing. So writing about our idyllic getaway didn't feel right.

Another reason was that those few hours felt perfect.

There was another perfect time, near Stanford, in South Africa; hours spent paddling near sunset on a mirror-smooth lagoon past flocks of flamingoes, gliding in silence,  gorgeous waterbirds in the reeds right beside us, mountains all around. I have never written about that. It was years ago. It was too intimate, too beautiful. Too impossible. The effort required to catch it in words too daunting. And also the knowledge - fear? - that my photographs cannot possibly convey the feeling or beauty of the moment.

It was a long drive. To the Catskills. We'd picked up sandwiches at the Overlook Farm Market, mimicking our October 2009 route, when we drove with my mom to see fall foliage. It was chilly. Both times. We bought a gas station beer, to go with the sandwiches. And then we drove some more. At last we were in the mountains, and spring was nowhere near. We had left the flowers behind us in the city, and now even the small towns' forsythia bushes were still tightly furled in bud

But then we stopped in a narrow valley when I started to see all these little yellow flowers flashing by, and couldn't stand it anymore...

They are coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), but I did not know that, then. Then, they were freaky, magical, pushing up out of heavy, papier mache-like leaf litter and dried mud, their tender, fragile stalks heaving it all up without effort, no leaves, all stalk and flower. In this valley the chill left the air. And the coltsfoot was everywhere, on southfacing slopes in the sun. It is not native, as I thought, then, but a European import. Edible, ironically, and famous and controversial, medicinally. How could I have eaten these?

Beside this rushing, clean stream I saw plants I did not know - very striking. 

A member of a Facebook botanical group sent me in the direction of Veratrum, or false hellebore, and indeed: Veratrum viride. I last saw the species was on the slopes of Mt Baker, Washington, at about four feet tall, and at serious elevation. That was another perfect moment. Hiking in fields of flowers, like my best dreams.

There were trout lilies nearby, not quite open yet. Spring was delayed up here. 

I found, and picked winter cress (Barbarea verna - yellow rocket, land cress), a European weed.

From the slope to our right many streams ran. There was still snow on the shady side of the road. 

I explored while Vince took pictures of a beautiful waterfall. I found wake robin, not quite open yet (Trillium, but I don't know what species). Then I remembered Bears and started to make more noise.

Tiny yellow violets in the leaf humus on a very steep, southern slope. Deep happiness. Plus pollinator.

This is where I found the violets. 

We found our remembered creek, from that cold, brilliant October.

Perhaps that's it. The reluctance to write. Creek. One of the best words in the English language. So American. Storied. Touching on dreams. Crick. I wanted a cabin. I wanted to move in. Nowhere seemed better than where we were.

The water was fast and cold. We put our gas station beer in a small stream that ran to meet the creek. 

I followed Vince's pointing hand to a patch of green on the slope ahead.

Holy moly. A mountainful of ramps.

My first ramp sighting. Ever.

I pulled about six. Much harder to unearth than  field garlic. Even if I had had the proper digging implement ( I had a nice stick) I'm not sure I could have taken more. There were thousands. Which is why this post has no GPS coordinates attached.  I felt like I'd walked into a bank vault and been shown all the money. So I pocketed five dollars. And remembered what all that money looked like. I washed them in a stream. We took them home for a very special dinner.


Our gas station beer was cold. 

Our picnic was very basic. We'd had no plans, for once. We'd just wanted, needed, to get out of Dodge. 

I'd like to see it again. Now that green has entered the trees.


  1. We don't describe perfect, we create it. Therefore perfect is often left alone. You've posted about something I've been thinking about writing out lately, but in the abstract as opposed to your experience. Glad you did. There's gold in them thar hills.

  2. My ragged yard is full of purple and white violets, and my neighbor keeps bees. But, I've never before seen a yellow violet, and I don't think I've ever noticed a bee on the violets here. Beautiful photos!

  3. Beautiful post, but the best things can't be put in words. You got as close to it as one can. Love your work.

  4. Memories of perfect are okay too.

  5. I think you should go back tomorrow or this weekend & take more pictures too.

  6. Your writing ability suffers no lack. I feel like I was there. I could feel the cool air; smell the beginnings of Spring, and heard the water rushing. well done!

  7. You describe it all very eloquently. I could feel the cold water on my fingers while putting the beer in the creek and smell the fresh chilly air. Beautiful!


Comments left on older posts are moderated (purely for spam control). Please be patient, you will be seen!