In 1970 I sensed the tipping point on my morning ride: I was suddenly sure that I’d see an end to Sundown farms such as Mr. George’s (who supplied our milk). My “sign” and my daily joy was the bald eagle in his swoop across the sparkling Rondout Reservoir in his hunt. Life as I had known it in Sundown in the Catskill Mountains would be altered.
The Catskills have a special, haunting essence. The story of Rip Van Winkle could not have been set elsewhere; its author Washington Irving put it best, “…the Kaatskill Mountains had the most witching effect on my…imagination.” Lore has it that American Indians would hunt, but not settle here. The mountains are an eroded plateau lain over with dense tree cover. You could tuck yourself away for 20 years in solitude—or party with bowling companions, like the fabled Rip did. The contours of the Catskills make magic out of thunder, as if a bowling party is in progress around you.
Prior to 1970 much living took place on the Catskill plateaus: they were dotted with family farms, and smaller meadow plateaus were used by valley-dwellers as pastures. My Sundown valley neighbor Eunice would take the cow path, winding round in S-curves, up to the meadow to fetch home cows for milking. High on the plateaus, entire farms, like the Van Valkenburg’s, had stupendous vistas: set below the farm fields were multi-toned hues of green-treed mountains, spreading as a vast lawn. With dusk the sun’s blanket of mellow gold rays lay delicately across the emerald treetops. The mountaintop farm had its own lark drawing out his two-note, setting-sun announcement, as in any valley field.
My premonition was borne out: the farms are nearly gone, trees hold court in high meadows, and blueberry bushes have vanished under taller foliage. My memories contrast starkly with Sundown today. But thanks to decades of protection of the Catskill watershed, the animal population is surging. Although I miss meadow pastures of the Catskills, I welcome the return of bear to his cave, and the eagle to the aerie.