Phoenicia in the Catskills

The day we drove into the Catskills, the freshness of the foliage was a balm to the senses. It is the kind of lushness that you see as summer sets in, a vibrant shade of green that makes you hum with barely contained joy, when the sun might beat down upon you with all its strength, but humidity is still at bay, so you slap on some sunscreen and shades, and gaze upon the world with benevolence. A world that is ripe with possibilities because you are off to explore parts of it that you have not seen before. And you know the kind of thrill I am talking about, for you’ve been there. It’s just this feeling called travel.

My mind was a blank slate, and I let it be. By which I mean that I did not go ballistic googling up places to see. I am guilty of doing that often. At times, I let go. Last month I was not feeling too well, maybe this lethargy was a result of it. Yet as we got closer and closer to the bucolic surroundings, all discomfort fell away like a load of unwanted baggage.

The clouds were curdling away gently above our happy heads to make way for buttermilk patterns that stretched and stretched before disappearing behind rows of trees framing the roads. We passed by rolling hills and pastures, silos and barns with peeling paint, country houses and porches, till via Route 28 we arrived in Phoenicia. I had fixated upon this strange name after reading about it in an NYT travel piece because well, who wouldn’t be curious about its Greek origins, redolent of faded civilisations and mythic birds. I wonder why the founders named it Phoenicia, this town that was thrown up on the traveller’s route thanks to the Ulster and Delaware Railroad. In the early 20th century, it was the only rail route to the Catskills, the name of which is said to be derived from the Dutch ‘Kaaterskill’, meaning Wildcat Creek, and probably a reference to the resident bobcats.

These mountains of southeastern New York represented a gentile way of life for city folk who sought a quick getaway for fresh air and good food. The Catskills were the summer place to be, especially for Jewish immigrants who were turned away from popular holiday resorts.

Phoenicia turned out to be a hamlet on the Esopus Creek, down the mossy green waters of which girls and boys floated lazily on tubes while fly anglers fished for trout. The Town Tinker Tube Rental, operating out of a rust red barn, was the first post of business that registered in my mind as we walked into town beneath its leafy bowers. And the first scene, that of clusters of teenagers in swimsuits, holding onto ginormous black tubes. The tube rental’s repurposed old school buses were eye-catching. Painted white, they roamed the streets of Phoenicia, providing rides to tube enthusiasts.

There is one main street in this small town that is said to have remained quite unchanged since the 1850s when it was laid out. On this thoroughfare, you find everyone. They would either be lounging around in the cantina on a sultry noon, tinkering around its country store, or walking their single-eyed, slobbery Great Danes about town. And all around are the lush hills. The Catskills.

Towards the other end of town — to get to which we walked past a parish church in grey stone with red pipings and an old rectory — stood a few ramshackle trailers and houses worse for the wear. The creek gurgled alongside. Here there were no kids, just an old man fly fishing. It was a place drowsy with slumber. Wisps of cottonwood floating around us in the quiet of the noon beneath tall trees, acquiring an ethereal air in dappled sunshine. Wisps that clung together in batches of white fluff as they reached the ground. It was a moment of intense beauty that made time stand still. And I thought to myself, you can really ‘hold Infinity in the palm of your hand’.

My craziness scaled new heights when I found myself outside a rambling house. It was awfully dilapidated. Broken window panes, shards of glass, busts and figurines matted with dust and cobwebs in a dark shed, a trench in the grounds covered by grass as if to create a kind of a trap for the snoop who fancies a peep into its interiors. Just as I had finished playing the self-appointed prole of Ms. Meddle, and crossed the lane to get back to Adi and our friend who were by the creek, a window on the upper floor, translucent with grime, was thrown open.

Out of it emerged a head. A bespectacled man with a remarkably white head of hair and a bushy, long white beard. In an overtly bright yellow sweatshirt. We squinted at each other.

In a few minutes, the three of us were retracing our steps to the modest hubbub of the hamlet, leaving the house behind. I turned around a few times (curiosity always gets the better of me) for I could not fathom anyone living in that battered house. And every time I looked back, I caught the man pop back furtively. This happened more than a few times till an exasperated Adi asked me to put a lid on this strange obsession. That’s how we left Phoenicia behind, me wondering aloud if we had indeed sighted the last of the Great American Hobos in the heart of the Catskills.

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World’s largest kaleidoscope at Mt. Tremper on Route 28
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At Emerson Spa
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Now, you are in Phoenicia

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Black Bear Campground

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Esopus Creek
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Husky in the hood

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Phoenicia’s main street

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Catholic parish church of Phoenicia
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Our Lady of La Salette (an apparition seen by two children in a small village of La Salette in the Alps in the 1800s)
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Old Rectory
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Meanwhile at the other end of town…
…are contented campers
And abandoned barns
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Trailers and cottonwood

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Esopus Creek
Abandoned or not?



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Fly fishing in the creek
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Seeking trout
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Phoenicia, where the Esopus runs through in a shimmer of silver

Published by

Arundhati Basu

The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.

43 thoughts on “Phoenicia in the Catskills

  1. It does look rather wonderful. I hope you’re feeling more like yourself now. The hot weather doesn’t suit everyone and energy levels can be low, beautiful though it all is. Thanks for introducing me to Phoenicia. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚


    1. I am definitely better than before, Jo. Thanks for asking. The body has a way of throwing curveballs at one. It is quite so hot suddenly. My skin is throwing tantrums, but it is summer, what did it expect? πŸ™‚ And you are welcome, I cannot wait to hike some day in Phoenicia. xx


    1. Thank you, Sheree. The heart beats a little faster with anticipation every time we happen upon such old places. xx


  2. That almost abandoned house looks irresistible to me. It’s no wonder you wanted to explore it but it must have been a surprise to see the old man with the beard πŸ™‚ I couldn’t help but laugh out loud picturing him squinting at you wondering who the pretty young lady was! Very funny! A very charming town – Neek


    1. Heh you are cute to imagine the scene. I veer towards the thought that he was a squatter but of course it is my fancy πŸ˜› Thank you Neek! I am telling you that house had old dusty treasures that I espied through its broken windows. xx


  3. Yours is the kind of writing I’d want on audio, so I can listen to it before bed, let it soothe me to sleep. It’s so descriptive and comforting. I kinda begrudge any future children you may have… their bedtime stories are bound to be bloody amazing, even if your just describing the weather that day 🌞☁️
    Also, I’d want to explore that old house so badly!


    1. Now now, Sarah you are too kind. Thank you! I think your words made me smile. It is one of the nicest things that anyone has said. I shall now execute a pirouette (in my head) and nibble on chocolate. And hey, I almost fell into that booby trap, the dug-in grounds around the house, because I wanted to peep into the shed. The thought of an irate husband descending upon my head was a successful deterrent. πŸ˜‰ xx


  4. How far is this from New York city, Dippy? It looks like it’s a totally different world. Beautiful. I wonder who was more shocked – you or the old man?!


    1. Hi Tracey, it is just above a couple of hours to Phoenicia from the city. It is an easy day trip. I had underestimated the charm of the Catskills. Naturally, the rewards were unexpected.
      The old man was at a better vantage point, so I think the pleasure was entirely mine.


  5. Oh! Those clouds in the first photo. It’s sunglasses weather! I admire you and Adi’s adventurousness! Hope you’re not getting weather that is too hot! We’re starting to get 80-degree weather, which we in Seattle feel faint over. πŸ™‚


    1. It is, Theresa, and lotsa iced tea. It is so hot! I was intent on hikes there but that day it was too late for one. I can imagine that in Seattle that would be It. πŸ˜› We are in the mid-30s (C) and I am ready to head to Kamchatka! xx


      1. Oh, yeah, that heat is so enervating, just drains the energy from you, eh? I know you miss your beloved Cornwall, even more so now in this season. I think of you often, and your delightful travel mind! πŸ™‚


      2. Aw thank you, also for remembering my beloved Cornwall. In fact, I was writing about it. Telepathy exists then (?). xx


      3. Yeah, that heat is so punishing. And humidity! We’re heading to Port Townsend (on the Olympic Peninsula) on Thursday with the family, and it’s always a bit cooler over there. Good thing, since it’s supposed to be 80s F here over the weekend and into next week, hot for us, anyway!


      4. How delightful that you are going to get a breather from the heat! Have a wonderful time in Port Townsend and lap up the cool for me too. xx


      5. I think yo’d love Port Townsend, Dippy-Dotty Girl! Ocean, rocky beaches, Victorian-style downtown buildings, 3 great little bookstores and small fun places to eat. A vintage-and-contemporary movie theater! πŸ™‚ Maybe when you come visit family some time in the future, they’d love to take a trip there with you and Adi! (It’s about 2.5-3 hours’ drive from Seattle, including ferry travel)


      6. Oh but I have to after you described it so beautifully. The thought of three bookstores and the mountains, why I am sold.
        I just looked it up too. Looks just purr-fect πŸ™‚ Thanks lovely! xx


      7. Ah. We are having hotter-than-normal weather here this week, sadly for me, but it looks like it will cool off now that we are past the weekend, cool off a little (low 70s F). Nothing compared to your east-coast heat, I’m sure! πŸ™‚


  6. Stunning photos of this area, Dippy. That gorgeous church, that huge dog, or is it a horse! Lol! and the creepy house with the trap!! What a town! I have heard of this area but never have I seen it. Thanks for showcasing it.


    1. Thank you Amanda, I am glad I could bring a sliver of it to you. Haha the Great Dane was the cutest, drool-some fellow with just one eye (which made me sorry for it). I suppose its genetic pre-disposition is to blame for it. But yeah, I loved the town and our boho friend added something extra to it. x


      1. This particular breed, the Harlequin GDs are prone to genetic problems in their ears and eyes.


    1. Thank you Lorelle. It does though mine is ovary-related. πŸ™‚ A cyst. Bloat, pain, yadda yadda. But I am better.
      The town was straight out of the books. We got delayed that day or I was set upon a juicy hike. Another day, I suppose. But it’s only getting hotter. How is it at your end? xx


      1. Oh join the club!! I too have similar issues! After turning 40, the body seems to be on a whole new path of its own 😫
        Here it’s so cold Arundhati. I look for that 10 mins of sunshine in the afternoons. Today none πŸ˜•
        The kids are on school holidays. Plenty of sleep ins and rest which is lovely. Tomorrow we are off to visit my niece and nephew who are staying at my mum and dads as my sister is working. So we will pop in and see them in the morning and then head off to have lunch with my husband at our regular little Japanese cafe near his work. Enjoy the rest of your week. Xx


      2. Well these changes are bloody expensive I say (it turned out to be a dilated fallopian tube and not cysts, after a Pelvis MRI). Sigh. I am looking for a Homeopathic cure but I am sure the doctor shall not be gung-ho about it.

        Sounds lovely, this mid-week treat at the Japanese cafe, and meeting up with your sister’s kids. I am sending some sunshine your way, I have way too much of it anyway. πŸ™‚ Enjoy the week and weekend. xx


      3. They sure are. I too was seeking alternative solutions. Chinese doctors and naturopaths. Can’t harm to try. Everyone has a different result, so I am always keen to try something different before drastic western medication solutions.
        I caught your sunshine today…the whole 5 mins of it, and it was worth it. Thanks lovely, enjoy your weekend too. XX


      4. That is fantastic, Lorelle. I caught some of it on an early morning run and it was divine. To a mind that is open to possibilities. xx


  7. You got me with your headline, both such interesting names. What a peaceful looking place. I had to giggle about you ballistically googling places to see. I’m very guilty of doing that and need to remind myself that a little surprise is a good thing. I’m glad this trip left you feeling better.


    1. Thank you Caroline. I used to be a fanatic about research, I still am, but only once in a while do I let myself slip. πŸ™‚


      1. I have been doing the same, watching the world cup with different emotions. It has been such a roller coaster of a ride this year. Loved it. Meanwhile, I am enjoying the long summer evenings but trying to see out this humid heat at our end.


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