Archive » September 2022 » Columns

— Photo from John R. Williams

Elwood Vanderbilt, who is now 95 years old, celebrated his birthday with the other Old Men of the Mountain last Tuesday at Mrs. K’s restaurant in Middleburgh.

The day is the same, but the day itself is never the same, so this Tuesday, Sept. 20, the Old Men of the Mountain were at Mrs. K’s restaurant in Middleburgh. The prettiest part of the year is coming up with the trees changing and all the fall flowers showing off.

The colors of spring are fine but not equal to the colors of fall. One set of colors lets the OFs know that the blast of winter is on its way; the other set lets the OFs know it is over.

The Old Men of the Mountain met in Middleburgh to celebrate an OF whose birthday was on the 21st but was reaching the milestone of 95 years old. The OMOTM does have its share of nonagenarians.

Elwood Vanderbilt will be 95 but is not our oldest member right now. The OMOTM’s oldest member is Mike Willsey at 97. The term OFs fits the group well.

Mrs. K had a cake for Elwood on this occasion and this cake was beautiful. Some of these cakes are works of art and it is a shame to cut into them and eat them.

The odd part is: We all know where these sweet repasts wind up. That makes it more of a shame.

To be 95 or 97 and still lucid is great. Elwood does manage with a walker but, as mentioned many times, there are OFs who rattle their canes and park their walkers as they come to breakfast. One of these nice, crisp fall days the OMOTM should have an OF walker race.


Single OFs share cooking tips

The OMOTM have another sub-group, and they are OFs without a partner. This led to the question: How do those living alone (either in their own home or in an apartment) handle their meals?

This came up as a topic at the breakfast table. It was strange, with no communication or get-together; it was found that many do the same thing.

One OF has sectioned plates and does all his cooking on one day. The OF then portions these sections off in a rotation so he isn’t eating the same thing day after day.

The OF says the rotation is kept interesting that way. Then the OF places the sections of food in the freezer and thaws them and eats them without having to cook every day.

Another OF cooks all his food on one day but prepares lots of the same thing then has it every day until it is gone. Then he starts another but different batch and does the same thing. Not quite as adventurous as others but achieves the same thing.

Others were taking hints because they eat out most of the time and were beginning to find it’s too expensive now to do that. The OF were beginning to really mutter about the cost of common commodities yet their income has not gone up any.

Remember when our mothers and maybe even the OFs’ wives saved cooking grease and reused this grease especially if it had a lot of bacon grease in it?

Well, some of the OFs do not mind cooking and, judging by what they have, they are doing a good job of it. These OF are still saving the grease (especially bacon) and claim they really use it.

Sounds good to a lot of other OFs, even those who are not allowed to have it because their cardiologists say it is a no-no. An often repeated comment is: Why are so many no-nos so good?

So, whatever the OFs are cooking, when they are preparing their meals they should keep it up, because the group is a real rowdy bunch of OFs and that takes energy, and food equates to energy, and as one OF said, “What is this calorie thing anyway?”

Continuing on with cooking — many of the OFs order eggs at breakfast and one OF inquired offhandedly, “I wonder,” the OF said, “How many chickens are there in the world?”

The OF added that he bet there would be a ton of zeros after the number.

That is a thought, but the OFs weren’t going to lose any sleep over it, until one other OF said he wondered how many gallons of fuel were in all the gas tanks, ships, planes, trains, homes, and industry fuel tanks.

Talk about zeros behind a number — chew on that one for a while. That brought up a remark from someone else mentioning, “Well, as long as we are chewing, how many sticks of gum are being chewed on right now?”

This conversation could go on for quite a while.

Those who traveled to Mrs. K’s in Middleburgh to celebrate one of the OFs who has made 95 and some of these are 90-plus were: Robbie Osterman, Rick LaGrange, Doug Marshall, Ted Feurer, Marty Herzog, Jake Lederman, Joe Rack, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Ken Parks, Wally Guest, Harold Guest, Roger Shafer, Frank Dees, Paul Whitbeck, Pete Whitbeck, Gerry Chartier, Jake Herzog, Duncan Bellinger with his guests from Germany - Reiner Ahren, & Fredrich Ahren, Paul Muller, Russ Pokorny, Warren Willsey, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Herb Bahrmann, Bob Donnelly with guest Terry Ayres & Jeremiah Hending, Dave Hodgetts, Allen DeFazzo, John Dap, Frank Weber, Elwood Vanderbilt of course, and me.

John R. Williams imagines this could be “the OFs in front of the Altamont Station waiting to load up for their trip to the Your Way Café in Schoharie.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Your Way Café in the outskirts of beautiful downtown Schoharie not far from the “Old Stone Fort.” The fort was originally a Dutch Reformed Church but, during the Revolution, it was blockaded and used as a fort. It was briefly attacked.

Sometime after the Revolution, the blockade was removed and it became a Dutch Reformed Church again. However, many of you readers already know this and probably a lot more.

On the way to the breakfast, early in the morning, it was foggy, with rain. Neither circumstance was too hard, or too thick, in the way of being early fall, end of summer, early a.m. nostalgic.

Some of the OFs come off the mountain either by Canaday Hill, or wind up on Route 443. Those using 443, just before it connects with Route 30, would come across what appeared to be either a town truck, or county truck with flashing lights in the west-bound lane.

As the cars drove around the truck, the riders would see a good-sized buck deer in the road still alive, but severely wounded, and a car in a driveway with some damage.

Reporting this little common incident had the OFs start talking about deer. This has been a subject the group has talked about many times; however, on this occasion, the discussion turned to: “Do deer have four stomachs like a cow?”

One OF thought they did, most didn’t know, even though they have killed deer and skinned them out. They had never stopped to count the guts.

One OF said he knew that deer do chew their cuds like a cow. That was a good clue. This scribe looked it up. Deer do have a four-chambered stomach and digest their food much like a cow.

Now you must remember that this is a group known as The Old Men of the Mountain.

Being that, one OF asked the question “What is the difference between a cow chewing its cud and a girl chewing gum?”

None of the OGs answered and one finally said, “What is the difference?”

And the OF who had posed the question replied, “It’s the thoughtful look on the face of the cow.”


Bridges with character

The OMOTM have a new member with a well-known county name. Some of the OFs began bringing up people with the same name and who they were and what they did. Then other common county names popped up.

Then names somehow led to a short conversation on bridges and one of these bridges was at the North end of the Old Stone Fort where the bridge crossed Fox Creek on Route 30. It seemed at that time bridges, especially small ones, had character, and even some of the larger ones displayed this characteristic.

Today there are some large beautiful bridges but they lack character.

When the OFs were young, even a culvert had character and each one seemed different. Today, so many bridges seem to be just extensions of the roadway and oftentimes the drivers don’t even know they are on a bridge.

On the Taconic, one OF said, the bridges were works of art, but most of those were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the thirties.

Today, it was suggested, most are in a hurry to get to where they are going so that it just doesn’t pay to put the time and effort into this type of construction. Just build it rugged with straight lines, right angles, and call it good enough for government work and go on to the next.

Another OF said beautifying the roadways may slow people down; then again, it may slow some down but not others, and the gawkers will get plowed in the back by the “we are in a hurry guys.”

“What we need,” one OF interjected, “along with the passing lane is a slow-speed lane so some can enjoy the ride.”

“Well,” another OF added, “the roads will have to be nearly 72 feet wide, one lane for the walkers, another for the bicycles, another for the gawkers, one for two people in a car, one for egress or ingress, one for passing, and one for high speed, and don’t forget one for trucks. Why not just take the road less traveled?”

That is a rather common statement, and the ruts of that road are worn by the wheels of the drivers over 70, but they do meet some intelligent young folks along the way.


Trains of old

One breakfast group table discussed trains of old, particularly the engine on display in Pennsylvania. This was the Big Boy, which was the largest steam engine ever built and they built 25 of them.

One OF brought in pictures of the engine that is there in Pennsylvania. The Big Boy is on display in other museums in other states and the OFs think if anyone is interested in machinery this one chunk of machinery is to be checked out.

Many think the articulated bus, or farm and construction equipment being articulated is neat. Well, for neat, the Big Boy was also articulated so it could make some of the turns.

Many don’t realize that this massive piece was built right here in the American Locomotive Company in Schenectady. Remember Schenectady? The city that lights and hauls the world.

    Those Old Men of the Mountain who made it to the Your Way Café in their little railroad hand-cars with rubber wheels were: Roger Shafer, Glenn Patterson, Joe Rack, Mark Traver, Wally Guest, Harold Guest, Doug Marshall, Miner Stevens, George VanWie, Jake Lederman, Ted Feurer, Wayne Gaul, Rick LaGrange, Frank Dees, Russ Pokorny, Bill Lichliter, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Pete Whitbeck, Jake Herzog, Marty Herzog, Gerry Chartier, Paul Whitbeck, Paul Muller, Bob Donnelly, Elwood Vanderbilt, Dave Hodgetts, Lou Schenck, Duncan Bellinger, Herb Bahrmann, Rev. Jay Francis, Frank Weber, and me.

On Tuesday, Sept. 6, the Old Men of the Mountain had an unusual meeting at Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh. The proprietor of the restaurant was on vacation in Maine where she unfortunately had a medical event and was taken to the hospital in York, Maine.

The irony of this is that this scribe was at Cape Porpoise in Maine sometime back and had a medical event and was taken to the hospital in York, Maine.

The proprietor of the restaurant had her problem evaluated and fixed. The scribe (as is usual with this OF) remembers the hospital couldn’t find what was going on and instructed him to see his doctor when he got home.

In this case, the OF’s doctor said he had a whopping case of solar neuralgia and the medicine was to wear a hat. This scribe does, and the neuralgia is gone.

The proprietor then related a story to the OMOTM about her experience at this hospital with another patient, who the proprietor thought was a regular. The proprietor did not know if the patient was inebriated or had a mental condition, but he came into her room and started up what seemed to be a normal conversation.

Then this character sat at the edge of the proprietor’s bed and continued to talk. Then before she knew it he tried to get into bed with her and his whole demeanor changed. All this was going on while the proprietor’s husband was sitting on the other side of the curtain.

The proprietor said her husband was getting ready to take care of the situation and she said she would handle it and went to the nurse’s desk and reported what was going on. They (hospital security) of course did take care of it and the visitor was taken away.

As the proprietor said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Welcome to Maine.


Back to school

School is back; some of the OMOTM met school buses on the road Tuesday morning. Going back to school caused two reactions from the OFs — some say, “No way” while others would like to be that age.

One OF said he would like to go back to school as a junior but have the knowledge he now knows about women and to heck with the school work.

Another OF said he learned what he knows more naturally than from books. There is a big question here. What about reading, writing, and arithmetic? Sometimes it is hard to remember when we learned to read, write, and add, multiply, and divide.


COVID not over

At Mrs. K’s, there was another event. One OF felt fine at the table having his coffee but, when the OF got up, he did not feel so well. When paying his bill, the OF felt a little wobbly and by the time the OF got to the front door he had to sit down.

The OF did not sit for too long and felt worse. It wasn’t long before the ambulance was called and the OF took an ambulance ride to St. Peter’s while other OFs took his vehicle to his home.

St. Peter’s emergency drop-off was packed with ambulances. It was raining as the ambulance from Middleburgh unloaded the OF in the rain, out on the drive. Great way to start.

Inside, according to the OF, the gurneys from the ambulances were lined up in the hallway in the order they arrived at the emergency room. It was quite a while before the Middleburgh group was first in line.

Once in the hospital, the OF said, he watched the show in the emergency room area for 12 hours, on a gurney, in a hallway, and he saw how dedicated the people who work there are. They treat everyone from addicts to people banged up from head to toe, complete weirdoes, and from really old people to crying toddlers.

Occasionally, someone would come and check out the OFand take the OF’s vitals. Eventually, the OF found out he was waiting for a room because he was being admitted and the hotel was full.

The OF said he had something wrong but the doctors could not figure it out. One doctor, the OF said, thought it would be best to do a CT scan, while following up on the heart, which was fine, but the symptoms weren’t.

Finally, the following morning, there was a room and the OF was taken there and the OF said, before he was even in the room, he was whisked to have the CT scan.

The hospital had the OF all wired up to check out his heart, yet all the evidence noted there was nothing the matter with his heart. Eventually, they had the CT scan report and a doctor came and told the OF he had blood clots on the lungs.

Both lungs had clots going all around on the bottom. The doctor asked if the OF had had his COVID shots — and the OF did have them and was boosted. However, the OF said he did get COVID and had quite a time getting over it.

The doctor said he wasn’t over it yet. The clots were a result of COVID and he might have three to six months to go.

The OF said, “What a bummer; I knew I wasn’t feeling normal.”

The OF said he felt OK but not normal. “Ya know what I mean?”

One OF answered, “You OF, you never were normal, so how could you tell?”

Another OF suggested The OMOTM should purchase one of these yellow buses and have someone go around and gather everyone up and bring them to the breakfast. That would be some chore because to gather up Rick LaGrange, Doug Marshall, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Otis Lawyer, with guest Don Martin, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Joe Rack, Ken Parks, Duncan Bellinger, Wayne Gaul, Ted Feurer, Robbie Osterman, George Washburn, Bill Lichliter, Pete Whitbeck, Jake Herzog, Frank Dees, Marty Herzog, Russ Pokorny, Herb Bahrmann, Jack Norray, Lou Schenck, Bob Donnelly, Elwood Vanderbilt, and me, would be one heck of a route.

Petrified ripple marks on a boulder eroded from the Manlius limestone tell of the rock's formation in shallow tidal waters. (Photo by Mike Nardacci)

A recent issue of the “Friends of Thacher Park” newsletter featured an essay by state geologist Dr. Chuck Ver Straeten describing some of the rock layers that form the Helderberg Plateau. Reading it got me thinking about my many trips to Thacher Park over the years and my slowly dawning awareness of the geologic history locked within it.

The Irish novelist James Joyce defined the word “epiphany” as a moment of sudden insight into oneself or some situation — a moment when disparate facts or events come together to bring about a revelation, and since I was a kid I have had more than one such revelation there.

My memory of my first trip to Thacher Park is lost in the mists of my early years on this planet, but by the time I was old enough to understand the word “fossil” I had come to marvel at the fact that the craggy, forest-draped plateau to the west of Albany contained many traces of past life on Earth.

I can remember even as a small child being excited that it seemed that every rock I picked up in the park contained curious shapes — tubes, rings, and frequently whole or fragmented seashells. My father told me that they were there because “a long time ago” — I doubt I could have comprehended the phrase “hundreds of millions of years ago” — the whole Helderberg area was at the bottom of the sea.

By the time I entered high school, on my trips there I would sometimes search the rock outcrops for dinosaur tracks or bones — unaware that the rocks of Thacher Park were laid down around 180 million years before the first dinosaurs walked the Earth.

Early in my college years, I had become involved in the sport and science of caving (adherents consider the term “spelunking” to be rather politically incorrect!). As my friends and I crawled and climbed our way through Knox Cave, the Clarksville Caves, gloomy Onesquethaw Cave, and others beneath the hills, we had all learned enough to comprehend the term “Devonian Period” to classify the time in which the rock layers had formed.

The fact that this made them something like 400 million years old was — and remains — exceedingly difficult to comprehend for humans accustomed to think in terms of years, decades, and centuries. I also had become aware that caves tended to form in certain types of rock — most commonly limestone — but do not recall when I first heard the term “strata” to describe the rock layers that make up the Helderberg Plateau or to wonder why they looked different from one another and weathered differently.

But when I began my first teaching assignment — English and American literature and language — I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of the high school’s Earth Science teacher who coincidentally had done some caving. I assisted him on some field trips into the Helderbergs and began to learn as did his students about the fact that every rock layer is of an age different from those above or below it and formed under sometimes wildly different conditions.

I became aware that the rocks making up the plateau vary in age from the Ordovician Period — prior to 420 million years ago — to the Devonian Period — roughly 400 million years in the past — and contain within them stories of rising and falling sea levels, the building and erosion of mighty mountain ranges, and the emergence of strange forms of life, many long gone extinct.

A “geo-epiphany” to coin a term!


Layers of history

The strata of the Helderberg Plateau consist mainly of sandstone, shale, and limestone. Each of these rocks types forms under different physical and climatological conditions and it must be understood that, during the times in which they formed, the landmass that would become North America lay far to the south, with the Equator running through the middle of what would become New York State.

Through much of this time — the late Ordovician Period through the later Devonian — roughly 500 million to 360 million years ago — this area was under warm, shallow waters much like the sea surrounding today’s Bahamas.

A view of the Helderberg escarpment at Minelot Falls offers a cross-section of many of the major “strata” — or “formations” — that make up the plateau and which form the cliffs that tower above the Indian Ladder Trail. Rising up from the valley below in the talus slopes are the Ordovician Period Indian Ladder beds atop the Schenectady Beds.

The latter are difficult to see because in the valley the sandstone and shale strata of the Schenectady Beds are covered with glacially-deposited soils and rocks; the shaly Indian ladder beds rising up to the base of the escarpment are in many places obscured by gigantic boulders and sediment deposits that have crashed down from the cliffs.

Both of these strata contain marine fossils, but the sand and clay content indicate that they formed in muddy waters containing large quantities of sediment, likely shed from ancient nearby mountains.

Atop them are two relatively thin layers often regarded as having formed in the Silurian period, some 440 million years ago. The lower of the two is the Brayman shale/sandstone, which has not been found to exhibit fossils though the shale layers contain tiny, gleaming crystals of iron pyrite — “fool’s gold.”

Like the two strata below it, the Brayman seems to have formed from the petrification of sediments eroded from nearby highlands, perhaps in an environment that was hostile to life. 

Immediately above it is a layer of limy shale called the Rondout. Like the Brayman, it does not display fossils in the Helderberg area but some of its thin layers show mud cracks, indicating that from time to time the sediments that formed it were exposed to the drying effects of the sun.

These layers are poorly resistant to the effects of weathering and erosion and have formed a shallow shelter at the base of the cliffs known for years as “Paint Mine Cave.” The name apparently derives from the presence of rusty iron deposits found in the strata that supposedly in the 19th Century were mined and mixed with sour milk to produce a reddish paint.

These layers also feature streams issuing from a number of small caves and one larger one, known traditionally as “Fool’s Crawl.”

Forming at the boundary between these lower layers and the towering limestone cliff above them, they represent the resurgence points of underground streams that have worked their way down through the limestone — composed of the mineral calcium carbonate — and encountered layers that their mildly acidic waters cannot dissolve.

This boundary has also been regarded by some paleontologists as representing the transition between the Silurian and Devonian periods of geologic time — an interpretation that has been sometimes energetically disputed.

The great escarpment is formed mainly of two limestone layers, the Manlius and Coeymans, named for the localities in which they were first studied. Each of these is a nearly pure limestone containing little or no sand or clay, indicating they formed hundreds of millions of years ago in clear water with no mountains around to shed muddy sediments into them.

Resembling nothing so much as stacks of manuscripts, the thin layers of the Manlius show evidence of having formed in a coastal environment during a time of rising sea levels. Some fragments that spill from the cliff show mud cracks or ripple marks. These tell us that the limy sediments that formed the rock were from time to time exposed to the drying sun, characteristic of a tidal environment.

The Manlius is sometimes known as the limestone of the “tentaculites” — tiny, needle-like fossil shells that coat the surface of slabs that weather from the bedrock. The exact nature of these marine creatures is still being debated but they are found throughout the layers of the Manlius in outcrops that stretch from the escarpment at Thacher Park west to Gallupville and beyond.

They frequently line up on rock samples in parallel displays consisting of thousands of individuals, much as boats in ocean bays form parallel patterns from receding tidal waters.

Due to its being almost pure calcium carbonate, the Manlius dissolves readily in acidic water and many caves in the Helderberg area have formed in it. There are disputes as to whether the Manlius represents a late stage of the Silurian Period or as having formed in the early Devonian period — known to paleontologists as “the age of fishes.”

However, fish fossils have not been found in local exposures of the Manlius. The upper layers of the formation, visible in exposures on the Indian Ladder Trail, are marked by the presence of thick masses of stromatopora — extinct coral-like fossils.

Above the Manlius is the massively-formed Coeymans formation, described as a semi-crystalline limestone that contains great numbers of a rich variety of fossils: trilobites, crinoids (sea lilies), corals, and clam-like brachiopods, among others.

Interestingly, some years ago, two geologists from Brown University rappelled down the cliff face and noted that there seemed to be a cycle in the fossils as they descended: deeper-water fauna alternating with shallower-water creatures — a pattern perhaps indicating the rise and fall of sea levels during a Devonian ice age.

Like the Manlius, the Coeymans is a clean, pure limestone with little mud content — indicating, once again, that it formed in waters that were far from any mountains that were shedding sediments. Many area caves such as Howe Caverns are formed through both of these formations, and their thickness has allowed high passageways and chambers to have developed within them.


Higher and later

Moving higher in the geologic cross-section and into the later Devonian period are the strata called the Kalkberg and New Scotland limestones. Their fossil fauna are similar to those in the Coeymans, showing the continuing marine environment in outcrops visible in the valleys descending from higher areas in the Thacher Park area carrying streams in wet weather that produce impressive waterfalls as they cascade from the cliffs.

Along the lower section of the Beaverdam Road that ascends from Route 157, the Becraft Limestone forms a flat stretch featuring numerous grikes — cracks in the bedrock that have been enlarged and deepened through solution by mildly acidic surface water.

The Becraft appears to be made almost entirely of fragments of shells and crinoids, similar to coquina — the rock formed from naturally cemented such fragments found in the waters off Florida and elsewhere in the Caribbean. The stone can be cut and polished to a high sheen, producing an attractive surface for counters and tabletops.

The presence of the fragmented fossils indicates that the Becraft formed in a near-shore environment in an ancient sea in which powerful waves transported and smashed fragments of sea creatures. 

Atop the Becraft lies the Oriskany Sandstone, which in most areas of the Helderbergs has a thickness of little more than three feet. The Oriskany is what geologists call a “calcareous sandstone,” meaning that, although its matrix is common silicate sand, it is packed with shell fragments made of calcium carbonate. 

It apparently formed in the environment of an ancient locality termed a carbonate beach. A famous modern example is Sand Beach in Acadia National Park in Maine. The presence of so many fossils makes the Oriskany highly sought after as a decorative stone, appearing in many places in the Capital District in exterior walls and fireplaces.

Above the Oriskany is a gritty shale layer known as the Esopus, named for its type locality, a small settlement near Kingston. It spreads over a large section of New York State, having its greatest thickness — nearly 300 feet — in the southeast part of the state. In the Helderbergs, it is around 100 feet thick and appears as a gray or tan rock that weathers to fragments easily.

Exposures of the Esopus such as those along the Beaver Dam Road usually feature piles of dusty, crumbly gravel at their bases. Rock such as this forms in extremely muddy marine environments, indicating the presence of nearby highlands from which torrents of sediments are being shed and deposited in the ocean.

Such an environment is not conducive to the sustaining of much life, and the only fossils common in the Esopus are those of a humble marine worm known by biologists as zoophycos. Existing side by side in the thousands on exposed surfaces of the Esopus, such as in the Onesqethaw stream bed in the village of Clarksville, the worms’ fossils confused some early paleontologists who mistook them for patterns in the ancient mud caused by spinning currents in the water and termed them “rooster tails.”

Each worm anchored itself on the seafloor and formed a series of curving tubes radiating out from the anchor point in search of food. The great thickness of the Esopus indicates that this muddy, low-oxygen environment persisted for many millions of years.

Above the Esopus is another massive layer known as the Onondaga, indicating an abrupt change to conditions once more conducive to the formation of limestone. A pure, heavily fossiliferous stone again indicating the presence of clear, warm, sunlit waters, with no high mountains nearby to shed muddy sediments into the sea, the Onondaga is rich in the fossils of corals, sea lilies, and brachiopods whose pearly remains stand out clearly against the clean, gray limestone.

Towering outcrops of the Onondaga are visible near Clarksville in the gorge of the Onesquethaw Creek on the south side of the village and in the arc-shaped fold of the bedrock known as an anticline that borders Route 443 just west of Clarksville. The popular Clarksville Cave system that stretches nearly a mile through a preserve in the village and is well-known for its fossils, underground stream, and classic geologic features is dissolved from the Onondaga.


Major change as plates shift

Following the formation of the Onondaga, a major change was occurring involving the tectonic plates that would eventually become North America and Europe. The plates were moving together, resulting in the great mountain-building episode known as the Acadian Orogeny, and in the area that is today northeast of the Helderberg region an extensive range of lofty mountains of Himalayan grandeur was rising.

But, as a land mass rises, the forces of weathering and erosion immediately begin to attack it and its ultimate elevation depends on whether the processes of elevation or of leveling predominate. For millions of years, as the mountains rose, they shed immense masses of sand, silt, and clay that spilled down through the valleys that separated the summits and into the shallow sea in which the Onondaga had formed.

These sediments buried the limestone and eventually filled up the sea, forming the series of interlocking deposits known as the Catskill Delta from which our present-day Catskills and much of the Appalachian Plateau evolved after the delta was elevated far above sea level in the continuing plate collision.

A dramatic illustration of these great geologic events is visible in one of the many sinkholes that border the south side of the Beaver Dam Road above Thacher Park. The surface bedrock of the broad, flat terrain on which the road lies is the top of the Onondaga limestone layer and directly above it are slopes composed of the shales and sandstones of the non-carbonate rocks known as the Hamilton strata.

These layers do not dissolve in the mildly acidic waters that fall from the skies or collect in pools on the surface; therefore, those waters flow down from the heights in small permanent or seasonal streams. But, as they meet the soluble limestone, they are able to infiltrate it through sinkholes and produce underground streams in caves. 

The sinkhole called “TV Tower Cave” with its mossy natural bridge lies precisely at the boundary between the two rock units, illustrating the beginning of the formation of the Catskill Delta as the Acadian Mountains rose those hundreds of millions of years ago.

In higher elevations of the delta’s layers near Rensselaerville, the rocks begin to show ripple marks indicating the shallowing of the ancient seas and near Gilboa are the petrified trunks of giant ancient fern trees, some of Earth’s oldest large land plants.

The section of the Appalachian Plateau known locally as the Helderbergs once stretched to the base of the Adirondacks and, over millennia, erosion has caused it to retreat far to the south. Viewed from any distance, its strata resemble a series of stacked books.

And metaphorically — that is what they are: the record of stretches of Earth’s history so far back in time that the mind boggles trying to comprehend their age and contents.

But they tell of great movements in the planet’s surface, climatic changes, and the rise and erosion of great mountain ranges, and they preserve traces of the emergence and sometimes extinction of strange creatures from the past — all of which constitute a mind-expanding epiphany in the Helderbergs.

As we get older, the days of the week seem to become bunched up. The week seems to be filled up with Mondays or Tuesdays or whatever day routine commitments are made.

It seems like, when one is finished, there is an immediate time to go to another. So it was on Tuesday, the Sept. 30; the next thing you know it will be Tuesday, Oct. 6, but still in September the Old Men of the Mountain were at the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh.

The OMOTM must drive their doctors crazy because in the morning most of these OFs pack away some awesome meals and none of it the good stuff. Hey! At the ages of these OFs, who cares?

Let the OFs eat and be happy. Or as one OF puts it, “We got this far on what we ate so maybe doctors should be eating what the OFs eat.”

To go along with this attitude, one OF brought one of his grandsons as a guest. The grandson is a senior at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

This somehow brought up a conversation about kids and grandkids. The OF who brought the grandson said he had 19 grandkids and four great-grandkids.

An OF sitting kitty-corner to this OF piped up that he had 17 great-grandkids, and one was just born and is the first-born great-grandkid to carry on the family name.

For a while, Christmas at these homes must have been a zoo. Also, neither one of these OFs attempted to run off the names of all these siblings.

Farmers generally work from sunrise to sunset, 12 hours and longer days are normal, but now we know what the farmer does for relaxation.


Drought, floods , and fires

This scribe has a note that right now makes little sense. The note says “Old Lawns.”

It took some time for those two words to sink in but they finally worked their way through the caverns of the brain to tell what they meant. It was not so much about lawns as it was how dry it has been (which everyone knows) and how ponds and wells are beginning to dry up, let alone how so many brown lawns are popping up in the areas the OFs’ haunt.

All the people in the Northeast know we are in great need of a good soaking rainfall, not these few thunderstorms that can drop an inch in an hour but only cover two or three square miles.

One OF said every little bit helps, so don’t complain too much about the more violent storms that go through.

Another OG thought that the world was drying out to get ready for the big fire, to which still another OG said, “Put the brakes on that one — how about Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas and a few others? Those guys are looking for the next big flood.”

Another OG said this planet has been around for a long time and had many changes; even the area we OFs live in now was once under ice. The Pine Bush was part of a lake and that was not that long ago.

This OF said, “Don’t sweat it. Eventually this ball is going to tip and we will all fall off.”


Bigger worries

This particular OF is not worried about that kind of stuff. This OF’s concern is technology and what is going to happen when the world becomes a moneyless society and everything is done by phone.

The OF is afraid even credit and debit cards will be useless and all anyone will have to do is point a phone at a screen and the transaction is done.

The OF said he has trouble with a simple flip phone; to this OF, that type of technology is complicated enough for him. Everyone staring at a back-lit screen is driving this OF nuts.

Eventually, the OF thinks, people are going to evolve into having only one eye because they will be so focused on a single point. Who knows, the old goat may be right because stranger things have happened. The idea is not foreign; look at the Odyssey by Homer.


Making plans

To this scribe, it is good to hear so many of the OFs making plans to do this or that, go here or there, or purchase something big. All of this may or may not happen.

It is the planning that is important right now. Forget what might happen in the next few weeks — plan ahead.

As mentioned before, one OF is planning on quite a trip a few months down the line. Others are planning the trip to their winter digs.

One OF not only planned on downsizing but did it and found out, in that case, all the planning in the world came nowhere near what happened when it actually happened.

Another OF can hardly walk, has the routine aches and pains, has trouble walking down an incline, even a short one. The OF said, by the end of it, he has to run, and he can’t run. (What fun these OFs have.)

The OF just purchased a new 75 horsepower John Deere. What in the world is he going to do with that? Hey, it is his money, so what!

The Old Men of the Mountain who made it to the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh and parked their John Deere B’s, Farmall M’s, Oliver 60’s, Allis-Chalmers B’s, even a Fordson out back were: Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Doug Marshall, Miner Stevens, with grandson Brian Mclaughlin, Wayne Gaul, Ted Feurer, Jake Lederman, Ed Goff, Bill Lichliter, George Washburn, Robie Osterman, Pete Whitbeck, Otis Lawyer, Herb Bahrmann, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Richard Vanderbilt, Bob Donnelly, Elwood Vanderbilt, and me.

Being a grandparent, I sometimes wonder what other grandparents say to their grandkids.

Some grandparents are unable to speak to their grandchildren once they reach high school age. They’re like two acquaintances forced to be together with nothing to say.

I believe, like Shakespeare, that human life is lived on a stage that every person stands on whether they wish to or not, whether they acknowledge the fact or not.

And for those who frump it and say they have nothing to say, well, by doing so, they’re having their say: to the puzzlement of family and friends.

On the stage, as we read the script assigned us — some say they create the script themselves — we attest to our value in life, our worth in relation to others, and our place in the history of human existence, all with grave consequences for our subconscious.

Macbeth speaks for Shakespeare speaking about life as a minimalist:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more.

I would love to sit down with Billy S. and ask him what that means and how such thinking affected his writing.

With respect to the stage conceit, I’ve often said that, when I was young, my parents were in the first row, in the footlights, directly facing the audience. Then, when they died, without me doing anything, I was whisked to the front where they once stood and it was me in the footlights facing the audience, directly, eye to eye, the footlights revealing the intensity of the relationship.

I was there for a while but then, when my son and his wife had a child, I was whisked to the back of the stage and my son moved to the front, at the footlights, the grandkids behind him, in front of me. I’m farthest back from contact with the public.

All these shifts in generational positioning have had me asking questions about who my grandchildren are, and not just mine but grandchildren en générale — the intergenerational thing.

My grandkids are related to me but they live in a whole other universe in that, when my son was growing up, he was in the house here — we had a face-to-face relationship; I had some control over him and to a large extent the conversations we needed to have.

I have three grandchildren and continue to wonder who they are, and how I might introduce myself without pushing them away — but remaining true to myself — in no way wanting a pal.

I used to say I wanted a grandfather like me but I also know some kids are born into the wrong family, which means they have the wrong grandparents: I might be no more my grandchildren’s cup of tea than the guy selling hot dogs at the food cart in front of the New York City Public Library on 42nd Street.

On one level, it doesn’t matter; on another, well, the story is worth its weight in gold, that is, how grandkids assess their grandparents in private, and whether later on they have a sense they came from them.

The passage of traits from generation to generation needs more study, especially from grandparent to grandchild.

Because I’m a poet, I have written a birthday poem for each of the three grandkids — not an occasional poem — for nearly every year of their lives. They’re in my published books.

The oldest grandchild just turned 19, the last day of August, the week after he left for school in Maine. I have many poems for him.

What follows is a short prose poem I’m sending him as soon as I’m done here. When he reads it, I hope he doesn’t say he’s in the wrong family.

Maybe you speak to your grandkids the way I do — I have no idea. Regardless, I pass on the following text in case you are one of those grandparents who sometimes wonders how other grandparents speak to their grandkids.



A guy I once knew used to say: If you knew me like I know me, you’d … and then he’d stop like he just got caught doing something bad.

It was noticeable. I saw it because years before I began to fly above the world and see as Selma Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgersson does in “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils.”

The Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, spoke of such sight in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. (Lagerlöf got the prize in 1909, the first woman to do so.)

It seems as though Hans had a facility — by flying on the back of a goose high above the earth — to see everything as it was and, to some degree, as it was meant to be: simultaneously.

Seeing things from up above turned me inside out, though sometimes I think it happened the other way around. It’s not weird, I eased into it — I can talk about the practice another time.

If I were developing a Psychology-of-Self Inventory (PSI) I would include a question or two about vision — ask everyone to say how (and what) they see, and show all work as required in math.

I’m still bothered by the number of people who spew anger into the face of others because, they say, life has cheated them.

A woman I know comes to mind — Freud would love her — she never laughed or smiled. When I saw the extent of her sorrow, I took up my pen and wept.

I hope this doesn’t sound like it’s coming from another world.

At Starbucks today I spoke to a young barista named Mimi. I said: Mimi, you’re like the Mimi in “La Bohème,” a beatnik in love with all that’s love and the fanciful flights of dreams: She got TB and died.

At her last breath Puccini has the orchestra blast forth a thunder darker than the Dies Irae — I think it’s the Buddha speaking.

If someday you wonder who your grandfather was — I’ve told you once or twice — well … maybe even this is premature.

In the evening when the sun is down, I read a bit before the lights go out, buzzing like a bee inside a flower.

Some nights I can’t sleep because the day’s events and what’s in store have me watching one second pass by another.

The genius of my self is the way I see — which sometimes shows in the form of an assassin: but I always get to sleep and, in the morning, feel like Jesus on Christmas Day.

August 16, 2022

4:39 p.m.

The Ville

Happy 19th!