mountain laurel of elko lake
Saturday, February 8 2020
Our household has developed such a large accumulation of liquid assets in recent weeks that Gretchen is once more itching to buy real estate, though not to extend our landlording empire. For years she's wanted a lake house, probably located in the Adirondacks. Recently, though, we'd learned that the nearby Catskills also has some lakes, and these are mostly located in Sullivan County (about an hour away to the southwest). Gretchen recently reached out to a realtor in Sullivan County to give our preferences for a parcel on a lake (either with or without existing buildings). She wanted a private location and enough area for our dogs to be offleash. Anything short of that and she wasn't interested. So the realtor came back with a parcel east of the hamlet of Livingston Manor that might be suitable. It was 35 acres with no buildings and a fair amount of lake frontage on a 65 acre pond called either Elko Lake or (on Google Maps) North Pond. That puts it at about four times the size of Twenty Ninth Pond, the location of the cabin we've been going to every summer for the last four years.
We left on our real estate adventure a little after 10:00am, while the dogs were still off in the forest. (We thought we might be riding around in a realtor's car, so we didn't bring them). Our drive took us down to Ellenville and then west to Woodbourne on the often ruler-straight Route 52. I used to drive this route years ago, back when I was doing computer lab maintenance in the prisons for the Bard Prison Initiative. That part of Sullivan County is in complete shambles economically. In the early 20th Century, its proximity to New York City made it a popular vacation area, but in recent decades people in New York have overlooked the region, and it has fallen on hard times. This was true ten years ago when I used to drive to Woodbourne, and it's still true now. An indication of the state of the local economy is the nature of the billboards, which tend to feature public service messages promoting things like the reporting of elder abuse. When I used to drive to Woodbourne, I always went directly to the prison and rarely if ever ventured into its downtown. Today, though, as we drove past its shuttered storefronts, we both marveled with mouths agape. The main structure in the center of Woodbourne's downtown is a movie theatre, which is now boarded up and covered with graffiti, some of it in Hebrew characters. About the only industries in this region are the prison and the social services used by the many large families of Hasidic Jews.
There are other hamlets along Route 52 with similar æsthetic challenges, such as Loch Sheldrake, which sits at the south end of an overcrowded pond. I realized as I saw these places that an ugly place tends to attract people who don't care much about æsthetics, and they bring their ugliness with them. Ultimately, a positive feedback loop is established making ugly places continue to become ever uglier, a cycle that requires major economic changes to reverse. This can operate in the other direction as well, as people attracted by beauty are drawn by something beautiful, concentrating their æsthetic good choices. This is apparently what is happening in the hamlet of Livingston Manor, whose downtown is dominated by a majestic old brick school building. People who don't care about æsthetics are unlikely to pay for the "view premium" that school puts on nearby real estate, so only those who care about æsthetics are likely to move there.
Gretchen had done her Happy Cow research and parked us near Main Street Farm, a cheerful café and market. There, both of us got the portobello mushroom reuben and vegan coffee drinks, as well as a beet sandwich (because Gretchen always orders too much food). Both of us agreed that the reuben was an excellent sandwich. Gretchen was less impressed with the beet sandwich, since it contained some sort of sweet spice (clove?). Fortunately, the sauerkraut and shavings of mushroom kept spilling out of her reuben and she eventually had enough to put in her beet sandwich to drown out the unwanted flavor. As we ate, the owner (a guy named Jon) came over and chatted with us, mostly about his vegetable growing operation (which is his main job in the warm season). This got me talking a little about my occasional successes with starting tomatoes super early and using a greenhouse. He was impressed to hear that I've occasionally been able to get tomatoes as early as the late spring, though, as he pointed out, Hurley is a much warmer place than Livingston Manor. I'd just taken a GPS reading of the elevation, which was over 1800 feet (but that was inaccurate; it was closer to 1400 feet), and that accounted for the persistence of snow in this part of Sullivan County.
The realtor Gretchen had contacted hadn't been able to meet with us today, so she sent an understudy, an attractive millennial woman who met us at Main Street Farm. Gretchen seemed to have an amicable conversation with this young realtor at the cash register, but once we were alone in our Prius, Gretchen immediately declared, "I hate her!" In addition to her ditzy demeanor, the realtor had made the unfortunate admission that she prefers real reubens to the sort Gretchen and I had just enjoyed, adding (as Millennials always do) "I won't lie." The realtor had driven to Livingston Manor in a two-seater jeep, which meant we had to convoy to the parcel on Elko Lake.
Elko Lake was to the east, up in a higher part of whatever plateau this whole part of Sullivan County lies on. There were still a couple inches of snow on the ground up there, which I completely hadn't anticipated. At some point the realtor pulled over and said she felt "like" we'd gone the three miles we needed to go from a certain landmark, and, because she saw a for-sale sign, she thought maybe this was the parcel we'd come to see. That seemed wrong to me, since (according to Google Maps) we were nowhere near a lake. Gretchen was increasingly dismayed by our realtor's chirpy incompetence, and was doing little to conceal her feelings. Millennials, being a generation raised by helicopters and fed a steady diet of participation trophies and adderall, are a bit thin-skinned when it comes to criticism, though the realtor was doing a pretty good job of sublimating her anxiety. Eventually it was decided that we hadn't driven far enough on the road we were on. Three miles is a long distance to travel on a 20 mph road.
Eventually we got to a spot that our smartphones suggested was near a lake and near a narrow right-of-way belonging to the parcel in question. At that point we set off on foot. I wasn't really dressed for trudging through the snow, but I managed to make my Keen sandals snow-worthy by putting my socked feet inside plastic bags before putting them in the Keens. This ended up working even better than expected. I also borrowed Gretchen's cap, since she was wearing two different items of clothing that were equipped with hoods.
The right-of-way was overgrown on both sides with hemlock saplings, which meant we had to stoop low to make our way. Occasionally snow would fall off a bough down the back of my neck. It was miserable going, and eventually we decided to walk in the adjacent woods instead. I suppose I listen to far too much true-crime audio, because I kept thinking that this scenario looked like one where a pretty young realtor ends up hacked to pieces in a remote Catskill Mountain forest.
Gretchen and I had hopes of standing on the parcel's lakeshore for a sense of what our privacy might be, but there was a dense undergrowth of mountain laurel blocking our way, its evergreen leaves hanging limp from the cold. We tried picking our way through this thicket, but we didn't even make it a hundred feet before we gave up. We eventually hiked back to our cars and then drove to a neighbor's cabin and looked at the lake from there. I was pretty sure there were too many houses on its shoreline for our needs, and Gretchen eventually agreed with me on that. We left our ditzy millennial realtor on a good note; she had, after all, been a good sport and trudged through the woods to show us the property.
I drove us back to Hurley, a drive that took a little over an hour.
Back at the house at some point I brought home and split another massive chunk of white ash. One of those chunks supplies a little less than the amount of firewood burned in a day, so my daily retrieval of such chunks has led to a gradual loss of available firewood from the just-in-time supply piled around the stove itself.
This evening after eating a dinner of leftover bean glurp (zinged-up slighty with cubes of fresh poblano pepper), I returned to my cursed Particle Photon microcontroller board. I reflashed all of its firmware and tried (many many times) to get through the setup wizards, both in the text-only Particle CLI and using the web-based installer. PPs give all their feedback at this stage in the form of a blinking light, which can be any color and pulse at a range of different speeds. Most of what I saw was a fast-blinking green or a fast-blinking cyan. Both of these are errors suggesting the device can't reach the internet. Eventually, in an act of desperation, I tried getting the Particle Photon to connect to my smartphone acting as a hotspot (and using my data plan as the internet). Amazing, this worked, giving me the slowly-"breathing" cyan LED that meant I could actually use the damned thing. It wasn't clear why this worked when connections to my various WiFi routers hadn't. Was it that it needed to use a password? (My WiFi routers tend to be open, not requiring credentials.) Or perhaps the Particle Photon's WiFi is so weak that it needed to connect to something very nearby. (My phone was less than a meter away.) In any case, it was nice that I was done with that particular ordeal.
My success with Particle Photon came after I'd climbed into bed, where I was soon joined by Neville the Dog. Eventually Diane the Cat tried to join us (since she also likes to snuggle with me) but Neville wasn't having it. He suddenly lunged at her, causing her to dart away in an instant. As she did this, she ricocheted off my left cheek, leaving a bleeding clawmark in her wake. I was so angry at Neville that I evicted him from the bed, but he climbed back in only seconds later.
Our realtor (left) and Gretchen (right) in a scene that looks like it's about to end up covered on True Crime Loser.
Trying to get through the mountain laurel thicket.
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