Geologically, the Catskills are an upland plateau. By definition, a plateau rises steeply on one side, maintains high elevation, and slopes gradually into the terrain that surrounds it. The eastern Catskills rise dramatically, majestically, when viewed from the Hudson River or the New York State Thruway. But where, in the other three directions, do the Catskills end and the surrounding terrain begin?
Up north, the Helderberg Mountains of Albany County seem distinct. The Catskill Creek drains the Helderbergs, running southeasterly to the Hudson. The Batavia Kill and Schoharie Creek run northeasterly from the Catskills, toward the Mohawk River. These tree watercourses form a topological border between the two mountain ranges, a northern boundary for the Catskills.
Mount Utsayantha, in Stamford, is the westernmost high-peak of the Catskills standing 3214 feet above sea level. Mount Utsayantha rises from the valley of the West Branch of the Delaware, the generally acknowledged western boundary of the mountains.
And to the south? A glorious route out of the mountains is the Oliveria-Frost Valley Road. That road follows the Esopus to its headwaters, climbs the steep pass between Giant Ledge and Spruce Mountain, turns at Lake Winnisook in the summit, and follows the newly-born West Branch of the Neversink, down-hill, 20 miles or so, to Claryville and Grahmsville.
If one turns right on Route 55 toward Neversink and Bradley, one feels the terrain descend, to the big Neversink Reservoir, and, then, descend some more, to Route 17. Somewhere there, along Route 17, the Catskills seem to slope gradually into the surrounding forested terrain.
You know, it’s probably easier for all of us to say, “Oh, the Catskills? That’s Ulster, Greene, Delaware, and Sullivan Counties.”
But the Catskills are so much more.
Over 40 Years Ago
Over 40 years ago, I was part of a substantial migration of young people, who, in the midst of the cultural upheaval of the sixties and early seventies, were looking for a new way of life in the mountains, a way of life that would be more authentic and rooted and genuine than — it seemed to us at the time — the empty and phony suburban ethos from which we fled. We found that way of life, that culture, here, among rural people, mountain people whose sense of place and family and community seemed more real to us than the materialism and consumerism that seemed to mar urbane life.
That Mountain Culture was here before we got here, and it was that mountain culture that drew us to a different kind of life. That life and culture has all the dignity and significance that it needs. Mountain Culture requires no further refinement. It is that culture we celebrate.
Whenever We Arrived
Whenever we may have arrived in the mountains, we came, not just for the pristine natural surroundings, but for a little more sanity than the fast-paced, rat-race metropolitan world allows.
That sanity is right here, an integral part of Mountain Culture. It is the hallmark of a people who feel a sense of place, who live connected to the land, who value community and family above ideas and things, who live in the present guided by a living past, who combine faith and work and honesty and openness into a way of life with feet firmly planted on the ground, this ground.
There is something profound about mountain life and culture. All we have to do is look, listen, recognize, and respect.