Oh But This Summer of Fiery Sunsets and Fireflies

Every evening as the sun sets in a riot of colours upon the mighty Hudson, and I saunter along the river, I find myself revelling in the wonder of nature. Adi comes with once in a while. Together we spot so many pinpricks of yellow and orange in the twilight hour. The park is swarming with fireflies and it is difficult not to feel as gleeful as a child. The chubby squirrels of winter have procreated in the last few months it seems. Their tiny summer offsprings have the run of the park, their thin tailed bodies priming up for the harsher months with nature’s nutty offerings.

Meanwhile I have not fallen off the face of the blogging world quite yet. I shall hold on as long as I can — like a tenacious camel. Why camel though, you might ask here. I have no idea. Maybe because I am a child of the desert.

The season is speeding away even as we find ourselves tiding over some hot and humid days. The in-laws are visiting us and there is not enough hours in a day to slip in updates here. But they are in Washington DC for a few days, and we shall head there for the weekend, so here I am wondering if there are any recommendations you have for Adi and I.

Below are some shots from Central Park from one of our wanderings through it on a sweltering day when a sea lion we saw, slumped over a rock in a desultory fashion. I think we would have perched ourselves just so in a pool, if we had one. During our gander in the park, we watched tiny turtles swim in the mossy green waters of a pond, which is what remains of the 19th century Croton Aqueduct. As it happens, I am in the midst of a tome on the history of New York City during the Civil War. It talks of the great stretch of green today in Central Park adjoining the Turtle Pond, once a part of the aqueduct that transformed life for the multitudes of miserable residents of the city in the 1800s. You see, they had to rely on brackish water for their daily needs or pay vendors two cents a pail for ‘tea water’ (which was basically water drawn from wells up the island). Naturally New Yorkers considered it wiser to consume distilled and fermented liquor day and night than live off the filthy water that the city dispensed for the public.

Now, before I take off on the joys of discovering the city through this book, which is always a hazard when I start writing, I shall leave you with a cheery hello and a fond note on the benches of Central Park with their various plaques. If I could, I would spend a day just photographing the words they feature, because I simply adore them.

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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…
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…are contented campers
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And abandoned barns
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Trailers and cottonwood

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Esopus Creek
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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