Monday, May 3, 2010


Our Poet's Tour of the Catskill Mountains included views of greening mountains, small two-lane roads and indirect routes to almost everyplace we wished to reach. Woodstock area poet Will Nixon met Martha Healy, Sandor Schuman and me at the parking lot for the hiking trail up Mount Tremper. Our day was to also include a visit to Woodchuck Lodge, poet John Burroughs' summer house and grave site in Roxbury, New York (build on his old family farm). Burroughs had another writer's retreat built in a wild area less then a mile from his West Park, New York home. A small building with slabwood siding called "Slabsides." For over two years a group of local poets met there to share their own and others work. In part, the result is a new anthology of contemporary nature poems titled Universe at Your Door:The Slabsides Poets, edited by Will Nixon and Alison Koffler from Post Traumatic Press, 104 Orchard Lane North, Woodstock, NY 12498 ( Will started our hike by discussing John Burroughs and I had brought some poems and quotes of his. As Will pointed out for a poet who today is largely forgotten, John Burroughs was amazingly popular and in his life time read by millions. He hung out with Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Teddy Roosevelt on the level of collected friendship. Will said Burroughs hated the automobile at first but then Henry Ford gave him one and he changed his opinion. You do not have a million readers without having influence and celebrity. At his funeral the photographers, newspapermen and other reporters outnumbered family members and seemed more interested in photographing the rich and famous than anything else.
Since Will has written of quail in his book My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse. I read a stanza from John Burroughs poem The Partridge:

Ah! ruffed drummer, let thy wings
Beat a march the days will heed,
Wake and spur the tardy spring,
Till minstrel voices jocund ring
And spring is spring in very deed

This seemed like a nice energetic poem to start our hike with but first Will Nixon demonstrated how by flapping wings a partridge makes their drumming sound. We soon discovered we had hit the peak of spring flower bloom on Mount Tremper. The different colors and varieties of violets alone could fill a guide book. Sandy was taking his own pictures, especially of the few he couldn't identify. I pointed out that violet leaves make good salad greens and ate some to prove it.

We joked at the headlines, Noted Bioregional Poet Dies From Plant Ingestion Outside of His Known Watershed. I checked, violet leaves are edible and so are the flowers. Reading more John Burroughs while on the hike, we got I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order. We didn't hear any patridge druming but I did hear the quiet of an owl in flight. What we thought was a fish crow was also determined by sound, more croak than caw.
Leap and the net will appear is another John Burroughs quote. This "wisdom" led to some good natured (pun intended) revisions and warnings. It was agreed that Burroughs didn't mean this literally. "It's a metaphor!" Sandy kindly pointed out.
The trail wasn't steep but the way was long. Martha decided to enjoy a spot part way up the mountain and Will and Sandy decided to take pity on my weary legs and removed a nice portion of the upward trail so I didn't have to go as far that last 3/4 mile. Then they added it back plus more on the long downward hike so I am not sure I gained anything and man it was a long way back to the parking lot.
The visit to Woodchuck Lodge was a great end to the day. Visually different then the trails with weathered house, stone fences, broad fields and ancient trees. I was interested in the Spring Houses at the Lodge and also near the John Burroughs grave site. One old apple tree had to be well over a hundred years old

Will Nixon pointed out the hill named "clump" mentioned in a Will Christman poem. In a sense we were recreating Christman's annual visit to see his friend John Burroughs and even followed the same roads back to Albany. I drove down past the Christman Preserve to show Williams Hollow Farm, the Christman home, to Sandor and Martha.
--- Alan Casline
View of Clump Hill at Burroughs Farm

John Burroughs at Woodchuck Lodge

1 comment:

  1. from Therese B -- Beautiful photos! I enjoyed reading this account. Glad the day went well. Poetry en plein air must be delightful.