"Lifting that chain and leaving the scene of our crime, I experienced a renewal of faith and promise once again that waits to be stolen from the Catskill Mountain autumn."
By Steven Kurlander
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." - Henry David Thoreau
Autumn in the Catskills is forever distinguished by the vivid aura of the wooded lands that define the vast number of forgotten back roads and trails in the mountains.
In late September and early October, the change peaks with the brilliant colors of foliage signing their end and the building of yet another layer of compost for the ancient forest floor to support the eternal vegetation and animal life there.
Hiking Catskill Mountain back roads and on worn paths in the woods in the fall, you can actually smell the demise of the decaying leaves, which conveys not so much the terrible stench of death, but the opposite-a renewal of the energy and beauty of the forests in the spring months ahead
I recently took a walk in this second autumn of my return with my wife Jodi down the country road that abuts my new home in a wonderful subdivision that is aptly called "Harris Woods." Over the last few weeks since we moved into the house, I have begun a process of discovering the secrets of this road, one composed of scattered homes fronting vast tracts of woods, large rock formations, aged rock walls encumbered with moss and broken branches, and even two forgotten cemeteries of prior centuries littered with broken tombstones and overgrown neglect.
Midway in our hike, beginning our ascent up a steep hill, Jodi and I stopped to admire a large stone amalgamation along the side of the road that was very picturesque. At that moment, I spied an almost veiled rusted chain barring entry to what was apparently an abandoned road into the woods that bordered these vast rocks. Without hesitation, I pushed the chain above my head and Jodi and I entered this forbidden path.
Trespassing in legal terms is defined as the "wrongful interference with one's possessory rights in [real] property." And as we started down that path in the woods and began to survey what turned out to be a scene of spectacular beauty, I not only felt a reawakened sense of discovery that had its origins in my exploration as a child of the woods near my home, but felt a sense of guilt that I was actually committing a visual theft of the wonderment contained by that rusted chain.
Before us unfolded the discovery of two abandoned homes, which by the overgrown grass, the encroachment of wild bushes in their driveways, and the look of the faded stains and Andersen labels still prominent in the windows, now stood as the busted dreams and disappointment of prior speculators. The decaying homes faced a dramatic ancient rock ledge several stories tall and was bordered in the back by a beautiful little pond in the back of the property.
It was a special "woods" moment, one I had not had for years, to think, to observe, and to appreciate natural beauty and life. Except for a dog barking in the far distance, we stood totally alone with this quiet, beautiful autumn scene that encompassed both the splendor and decay that the Catskills so aptly capture in the autumn.
At the same time, I sensed an ambivalence and sadness around me. I was momentarily touched by the lingering angst of the ghosts of those woods I felt looking down upon me, the trespasser, who too had felt the pain and the decay of loss and failure of bad economic times that the abandon homes portended along with the fallen leaves on and around them.
We lingered peacefully there for a few minutes, and then sensing the lateness of the afternoon, left.
Just a year after moving back from South Florida to resume my position now an as almost life-long, fourth generation resident of Sullivan County, I now walk these back roads and woods in this autumn with a deeper appreciation for the infinite life and beauty of the mountains. I also value with a new sense of enjoyment the solitude and rediscovery the Catskills woods and the change of seasons now that I have escaped an empty existence in the brutally crowded and hot tropics of Palm Beach County suburbia.
Lifting that chain and leaving the scene of our crime, I experienced a renewal of faith and promise once again that waits to be stolen from the Catskill Mountain autumn.