Miles from Monday: Summer in the Catskills


August 27, 2012, Washington, DC: I hesitate to say much about the communities in the Catskill mountains of upstate New York. They produce an impressively low rate of return in Google search results and I get the feeling residents like it that way. Those mossy mountain roads and precariously pitched homes and soft patches of light between the trees are not meant for the masses. Who am I to disturb the calm of this ocean and reveal the location of the surfers' best breaks? Look away. Nothing much to see here. All I can tell you is this:

I can tell you that once upon a time in the 1880s, groups of sophisticated and artistic New Yorkers came here to escape the city, traveling up the Hudson by boat and by train to mountain retreats. They gathered in grand clubhouses and on the porches of cottages clustered throughout private parks, and spent nights conversing and creating communities.

I can tell you that not much has changed. On August nights in the Catskills, handfuls of the city's writers, artists and educators gather on those same porches after dinner at a clubhouse or a walk in the woods. They meet where there is no such thing there as 3G, where a home phone with a cord may ring in the night, where more often than not they'll connect in person. They gather beneath yellowed photographs of the people who sat in that very spot over a century ago, inviting ghosts from another era to join the party. They talk about the summers they spent here as children decades ago, discuss inspiration from people like Frederick Olmsted, sing Happy Birthday through the darkness to a kid on the nearby porch.

I can tell you that this is a snapshot of the mountains where the Hudson River School artists painted landscapes and Baby dirty-danced her heart out and Rip Van Winkle took his twenty-year nap. This is the Catskills, not the Hamptons. This is summer's end, miles from Monday and light years from Manhattan.

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