chasing Kathy through the Catskills
Saturday, July 9 2005
Today Gretchen and I went to the Mountain Culture Festival in Hunter, a village in a high mountain valley in Greene County. We'd originally planned to carpool from the McDonalds parking lot in Saugerties with CAS Kathy and her boyfriend David, but a forgotten cell phone and a series of small timing errors made it so that we never met up and Gretchen and I trailed behind them separately in our car, always five to twenty minutes behind.
In Saugerties Gretchen managed to borrow a cell phone from a stranger and find out we'd just missed Kathy, so we headed up through Kaaterskill Cove on 23A and then through Tannersville and then Hunter, a famous skiing town neither of us has visited before. Hunter Mountain rises just to the south of Hunter and is so absurdly steep that it looks fake, although some of that fakeness is due to the many ski clearings cut into its highest reaches.
As festivals go, the Mountain Culture Festival proved to be unusually good, and much of this was outgrowth of the demographic that was in attendance. Unlike the blotchy overweight Ricky-Lake-watching scene typical of, say, the Saugerties Garlic Festival, the people at the Mountain Culture Festival looked more aware, more worldly, more tasteful, and obviously wealthier. This had a profound effect on the vendor tents, forcing a strong selection pressure towards tasteful, imaginative, and craftsmanly. Gone were the weeping bald eagles stenciled onto denim. In their place were virtuosic pieces of furniture made from sticks or bowls carved from odd pieces of wood. When the bowl didn't look like it had been turned on a lathe you knew it was going to be expensive, and it was: $400. That's not the kind of money someone who could be fooled into buying a blooming onion would ever be able to spend.
A lot of attention had also been put into providing diversions for kids. There was a whole tent of interactive activities for children, though I can't say much about these except that the painted faces coming out of there were much scarier than I think either the artists or art were aware. There was also a kid's maze made completely of hay bails and the reward for making it through was a very long slippery slide at the end.
There was a kid walking around the festival completely tuned out to the world around him. This was because his head and one of his hands seemed to be attached to one another, held there by the glue of a cell phone. It was the cell phone which Gretchen kept coveting, hoping to find out where in the Catskills Kathy might be. Finally, after looking at a whole barn full of mediocre quilts, we saw the kid sitting outside on the porch. He had returned from the digitally approximated world to this one, and that meant his cellphone lay fallow. Gretchen asked if she could perhaps borrow it, but her request kind of freaked the kid out. He looked to his mother, as though maybe she'd warned him about this scenario in the past. He must not have been the one paying the bill for his phone, because he seemed unaware of the altruistic potential of endless Saturday anytime minutes. His mother said okay and Gretchen did get to make her call, finding out that yet again we'd missed Kathy, and that now she and David were down in Pine Hill on Route 28, eating at the Indian restaurant there.
The drive south down Route 42 took us through a spectacular narrow, steep-walled valley and up into highlands. I noticed from a great distance that many of the trees in the highlands were brown, like early spring or even autumn. As we passed through these areas I could see that they were defoliated by massive numbers of some sort of insect.
We finally caught up with Kathy and David at the Indian restaurant, which happened to be featuring a massive buffet. We ate out on the porch, since the weather was perfect outside. While we were there, a hummingbird flew in through the open doors into the dining room, perhaps drawn by its pervasive red theme. There was a small group of children, half of them Mexican and the others Indian, all of them black haired and brown skinned and the descendants of the folks who run the ethnic restaurants of downtown Pine Hill. They ran around excitedly trying to chase the hummingbird out, but it was a hopeless cause. Hummingbirds have it in their minds that the only way to escape is by going upward, and as a result this one tended to fly tight against the ceiling, never ducking low enough to make it out of a door. The only solution seemed to be to wait until it exhausted its blood sugar, when it could briefly be a bird in the hand and then released outside.
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