Blenheim Books on Main Street in Hobart, NY has a dog named Greta. Next to five other bookstores. Barbara with red glasses owns it. She showed me the agriculture section after I brought an agriculture manual and an environmental history of the Catskills to the register. The latter written by David Stradling. I pulled it off the shelf and saw it was blurbed by William Cronon, who wrote Nature’s Metropolis, a book that I devoured during a long summer of trying to know everything I could about Chicago before I left it.
How reading books leads to reading more books. Accidentally. How going to Hobart happened by accident and by Yelp search. How Greta happened to waylay us on the way inside in front of the New York history section. How Stradling got me thinking about the Catskills again. About New Year’s Eves at the Fallsview, again. How even just the first few pages got me thinking about how I needed to pay more attention to the cultivation of a feeling of naturalness around me, again.
How I spent a subsequent snow day checking work email, editing websites, posting to social media, and every now and then turning back to Stradling in my sweatpants. Reading about the mountain hotels, about the relationship between the city and the country. Trying to think through how his insights about the proximity of the Catskills to New York City play out now.
Exposed wooden beams. Locally sourced chard. Bluestone fireplaces in restored farmhouses. Instagram feeds just right. Barney’s did photo shoots at one of the restaurants, with sad looking black clad fashion people looking at the iPhone lenses. How is this rugged? How is this country? They all have the right dry cider in bottles sealed with wax. We drove past an apple vodka distillery on the drive up. On the way back we ate at Phoenicia diner, where the dads all had seven gray hairs in their beards and all of the daughters were named Annabelle.
Blenheim books. Two retired academics, one a radical feminist poet and the other Barbara in the red glasses, a former residential college dean. Easy enough to find these things, to stitch together narratives.
How narratives lead to more narratives, always, if you look. How they’re delicate and sinuous at their beginnings, but then rush downhill. How they have headwaters in the city and flow into one river upstate, the opposite way. How we went every year to the Nevele, Kutscher’s, the Fallsview, the Concord. How Stradling explains that the Jewish migration to “the mountains” shifted cultural conceptions of where the Catskills even are. How they were essentially moved to the west and to the south, away from the Hudson.
On Zillow, there’s real estate in Hobart. I look up acreage, foreclosures, expand my search. Imagine buying a dog and packing the car with Gina and disappearing into plain sight, selling books in the Catskills. Please, go ahead, tell me that you’ve heard more ridiculous ideas than that.