Monday, June 15, 2009

Picky, Picky, Picky

© 2007 David Minor / Eagles Byte¬

Fowler and his Philadelphia friend disembark from their steamboat at midday and set out to procure transportation to carry them about 25 miles inland. Four dollars hires them a light wagon, a driver and a pair of horses and they set out. Fowler describes the first part of their journey. “After traveling over twelve miles of very bad road, through a barren, rocky, half cleared, uninteresting country, we arrived at Montgomery, a village with a few pretty good houses and stores, and, perhaps, about 800 inhabitants.”

The village, named for Revolutionary general Richard Montgomery, who had a home back down on the river, had at one time been called Ward’s Bridge; early settler and miller James Ward having built a bridge here over the Walkill River.

Fowler writes, “As we drove along we observed many persons cutting and carrying their hay, in the midst of stumps and stones, and where an English farmer would have deemed it utterly impracticable to have performed either operation.” Our traveler was being a bit too critical. In his 1982 book Common Landscape of America author John R. Stilgoe explains, “A husbandman needed not one but several fields, and he needed them immediately. He needed one for corn or wheat, another for meadow, and a third for pasture. He had no time to create one perfectly tilled field free of stumps, roots and rocks; he had little enough time to create three filled with girdled trees, especially if he had located far from natural grassland and needed hay for winter fodder.”

Not realizing all this, Fowler goes on to say that if he hadn’t seen decent farmland on Long Island he would have had rather less of a good opinion of agriculture in the state. He’s not terribly impressed with the Catskill-area livestock either, finding the cattle inferior, the sheep rather common and the pigs, “perfectly hideous; their heads large, legs long, sides very flat, and bristled along the back like a wild boar.”

Our disapproving friend and his Philadelphia companion finally arrive at their destination near today’s Bloomingburgh, Sullivan County’s first seat (but not to be incorporated for another three years) having encountered, “various stops and hindrances.” The friend has made visits to the area before but hasn’t mentioned any relatives in the area, so it’s a bit of surprise to Fowler, when they pull up to a farmhouse and the friend addresses the man as “uncle”. Fowler soon learns that it’s a all-purpose salutation used for male elders.

Even though most of the family has probably turned in for the night not too long before, all are soon up and making the travelers welcome. Obviously starved for diversion, everyone seems prepared to sit up half the night, discussing politics and religion. “ . . . and we had pretty much settled some abstruse points in both ere we had been half an hour in the house.” And everyone had plenty of questions about news from the outside. Fowler admits he could have continued this far into the night had he known what awaited for him when he turned in. He concludes his notes for the day, “What, the bugs again . . . Bear with me, reader, though I can hardly bear with myself - ‘tis even so.” We’ve borne with him on the subject before; I think this time we’ll leave him to suffer alone. Then pick him up the next morning - next time.

No comments: