Posted on October 5, 2015
Thirteen of the Catskill High peaks are off-trail but that’s where you’ll find the most interesting stories. For the first time in a long time I set my GPS to autopilot and let someone else do the dirty work of finding our way up two mountains. The result: coming across the sad remains of a downed private plane flying from Atlantic City to Oneonta in 1983.
Like a cemetery, the zone is now a sacred site that triggers a sense of reverence and regret for the untimely demise of the lives lost, in this case one 51-year-old pilot.
Since the improvement of aviation navigation technology there have been far fewer crashes in the Catskills or any mountain range, for that matter. Inclement weather (fog, snow, low-lying clouds) coupled with spatial disorientation tended to lead to terrible tragedies. Disintegrating wreckage scattered in the woods includes engines, wings, rudders, and even an ejection seat dating back to a WWII aircraft.
The above photo was taken not far from the summit of Doubletop Mountain in the Central Range of the Catskills. If only the pilot had pulled up just a few seconds earlier he might have skimmed the treetops and survived. But, of course, not all is macabre hiking the fabled serenity of the Catskill mountains.
My nine mile loop up Big Indian and Doubletop with experienced members and aspirants of the Catskill 3500 Club was fun too! And, like I mentioned, more so because compass-head David Bunde led the pack with equally hardy David Connolly pulling up the rear with his canine companion Bailey.
We hopped streams, past lean-tos, paraded up herd paths and filled canisters. To earn the oft-sought after 3500-badge signatures are required in notepads protected inside grey canisters nailed to trees on 13 summits.
Hiking in the raw and untamed wilderness is best in the autumn when a tapestry of colors explode in the forest. We experienced multiple shades of reds, yellows and oranges lapsing onto a bed of mossy sediment that proved soft on the foot but a little difficult to navigate. Surprisingly, slipping and sliding was seldom among our crew of 12, those who did lose their footing (yours truly) did so graceful, almost purposefully.
Two lost souls hooked up with us at the midway point, one of them a quiet, ragtag character that reminded me of Stephen Katz played by Nick Nolte in the newly released motion picture A Walk in the Woods. Others agreed. You know you’re in good spiritual company when everyone reads the comedic works of bestselling author Bill Bryson.
Following a conga line of hikers requires safe distance between one another lest you get smacked in the face by a bent tree branch. I have the faint scars of a narrow lashing on my left cheek following a podiatrist a wee-bit too closely. (No worries Po!)
When the going got tough I found inspiration chatting with a heroic gal who had just hiked a challenging 23.9 mile Escarpment Trail not 12 hours earlier. Elizabeth works as a program and promotional editor for the History Channel – a surprisingly sedentary career choice for someone so active. Nearing the end of the hike, I picked the brain of a recently retired union electrician who advised me how to save money on my solar utility bill.
Between the attention reserved for traversing a bushwhack and the interesting conversations shared between sweaty faces time passed quicker than hiking alone. Many thanks to the motley crew of playmates that kept us aspirants safe and on-course. Hell, if I did this hike solo my fuselage would have looked much like that of the doomed aircraft.
Posted on October 1, 2015
What? You say you haven’t signed up for Starry, Starry Night yet? What in heavens are you waiting for? There will be fireworks, cocktails and catering, entertainment and the debut of an original production by PilotGirl Productions.
Join the 500-plus suits and gowns that will sashay atop the longest pedestrian footbridge in the world on Friday evening (that’s less than 24 hours) for the Walkway Over The Hudson’s annual gala celebration.
The Walkway will recognize the roles of two strong-willed luminaries, both who have been instrumental in the building and completion of the bridge, and both retiring from their roles at the organization. My six-minute video features remarks from friends and colleagues like Dyson Foundation President, Rob Dyson and former NYS Parks Commissioner, Carol Ash.
Past guests have included television personality, Martha Stewart, NYS State politician, former Governor George Pataki, and local musical fixtures like the late, great Pete Seeger.
Tickets are still on sale at their website (http://www.walkway.org/ssn) for $150 ($75 tax-deductible) and goes to benefit a bridge recognized in the National Register of Historic Places.
See you there!
Posted on September 21, 2015
Heritage Days is yet another reason for the town of Hermann to revel in their teutonic roots. The area was settled by free-thinking Germans in 1837 for its resemblance to the Rhine Valley. The fertile soil, mild climate and rolling hillsides proved ideal for farming, brewing and especially wine making.
This weekend, Hermann celebrated their unique history and heritage with reenactments, demonstrations and exhibits. My camera was rolling when a mock battle broke out between Confederates and Union soldiers on a bluff overlooking the Missouri river.
The Civil War encampment proved a popular place for tourists to experience life in 1860. Families were taught how to relive the past with canon duty on the battlefield or blacksmithing in the wagon barn or quilting a blanket at the history museum.
On Saturday, I focused on a printing press in the basement of the Strehly House that fueled the struggle that divided the emigrants’ new homeland. Carl Strehly and his partner and brother-in-law, Eduard Muehl, printed articles opposing slavery including “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the anti-slavery novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
“We did not escape oppression in our old homeland to support it here in America,” said one of the editors of the German language newspaper Hermanner Wochenblatt.
Posted on September 18, 2015
You’ll need to pray pretty hard if you want to find a hotel room in Philly this week. More than a million eagerly-awaiting Catholics are expected to descent on The City of Brotherly Love with hopes of attending mass with Pope Francis. I’ve been in town all week shooting an equally important event – a documentary about Nelly Toll.
Nelly Toll was a Jewish child living in Poland when forced into hiding from the Nazis during World War II. She dared to dream, imagining a better world that manifested in her creation of nearly 60 watercolor paintings. Reproductions of her original artwork went on display at the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill. To catch a video clip of Nelly, visit www.imaginingabetterworld.com
After shooting our crew found their way to 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue for a civic icon – a Philly cheesesteak. I scored parking in front of the oldest cheesesteak joint in town, Pat’s King of Steaks. I took that as a good “sign” as we were torn between having a sinful hoagie at Geno’s Steaks across the street.
Equally delicious were sides of cannoli shared at Cafe Crema on the same block. The cheese-filled pastry shell sells for $5 for plain and $6 for flavors.
We washed everything down with a frosty beer at a “pop-up” beer garden while listening to live music. A Philly non-profit transforms underused vacant lots like this one (see photo) into a lush urban oases with a performance stage, tables and sandbox for children to play. We donated a dollar to help support the community effort.
Should the Pope care to sample American classics, his motorcade is more than welcome in this eclectic neighborhood.
Posted on September 8, 2015
Every year, towards the end of August, George and I bike from his family camp in Three Mile Bay to our favorite city in Canada – Kingston! The round trip trek is only 45 miles sandwiched between one island and two ferry boat crossings. We pack the tattered backpack with passports for entering foreign soil, loonies for craft porters and sunscreen/swimsuits for a beach break at the half-way mark.
When we reached Limestone City, much to our delight, we didn’t need to bike much further. The town was submerged in raucous entertainment, cooking demonstrations, vintage car shows and artisans selling unique, indigenous crafts.
We had blindly stumbled upon the bicentennial commemorations of the birth of Sir John A. Macdonald – the Father of the Confederation and Canada’s first Prime Minister. His 19-year tenure is famous for building the Trans-Canadian railroad, deft handling of relations with the United States, rising to the challenge of the Northwest rebellion, and the delicate balancing of French and English interests. Having emigrated from Scotland at 11 years, Macdonald made the Ontario juncture his home from school to work to death.
The “Canada Comes Home” website lists 50 ‘something for all’ activities for the Fall including a drill squad and artillery detachment reenactment at Fort Henry followed by the Dragonboat, Chili and Writers festivals.
Posted on September 4, 2015
Shipbuilding came to a close in 1923 but tourism is alive and well in the deep-water harbor hamlet of Port Jefferson, 90-minutes east of Manhattan on Long Island. Hundreds of expensive sailboats and sloops anchor on the protected cove that overlooks idyllic Main Street and Brick Hill. The town is named after our country’s third president.
Midweek before Labor Day and the north shore is bustling with preparation on maritime-themed commemorations. Regattas, pirate shows, oyster dinners and nature walks through rare salt marshes and shellfish flats are a few options to enjoy the last vestiges of summer.
Following a hot and sticky production shoot at the estimable Stony Brook University, my producer and I retire for chow and desserts along the waterfront. We split fried pickles at Gourmet Burger Bistro, swill beer at the brewery and lick gelato served from the Frigate candy store.
We escape the dreaded bumper-to-bumper car ride home by using the ferry. The one hour port-to-port ride crosses the Long Island Sound to Bridgeport, Connecticut and for only $59 cuts travel time in half.
Port Jeff is an adorable alternative to celebrity-studded towns with Gatsby-era estates. The daily Patch hyperlocal newspaper lists small achievements like adult reading programs at the library, antique car shows and chicken suppers. Its charm is summed up in souvenir shops that sell lids and t-shirts emblazoned with the town’s motto: “Destination for a day or a lifetime.”