The Catskills - a national forest preserve, collection of mountaintop towns, and vacationland to the disposable incomes of New York City and its surrounding suburbs - has the strange, dual identity of being an isolated rural region and bustling tourism hub. Its wilderness despoiled and tamed by the 1850s, the area thrived as a lively strip of vacation colonies and resorts along extensive railroads even before its designation as federally protected land, but was eventually abandoned by tourists in favor of the more exotic possibilities of air travel. Now, the locals, families that have been here for generations, watch the rise of the next wave, as wealthy outsiders pick off the abandoned houses and resorts and renovate them into AirBnbs. City people come here in the high seasons and see what they want to see, what they’re unable to see where they live: fireflies, foliage, wild slopes, and then they leave.
This park is a reforestation success story, the first-growth having been logged and sent downriver to build modern America. Nature up here is ambitious, powerful; thus the dilapidation of infrastructure is dramatic and complete between tourism booms. Wild things creep into every crevice, flowers take root in engines, birds and mice make their homes in walls, trees fall with abandon. To live in this beauty, to have a functioning house and car, requires constant attention, foresight and negotiation with the nonhuman members of the ecosystem. When I moved here, sprung from those cities and suburbs myself, I had to be taught, like a newborn baby, how to exist with the natural world, how to deal with cold, and wind, and darkness, with no public works and no delivery services and no internet. The locals themselves are not indigenous land-dwellers - most want convenience above all else, most of the young adults leave for the cities and to pursue education - yet, out of necessity, they have been raised with an understanding of nature, a relationship borne from immediacy, holding their ground through the subzero temperatures and receiving the tranquil seasons as a reward. That, for some, is reason enough to stay; they know that if they leave for a different life, the city people will come in and turn the entire park into an expensive seasonal rental, or else nature will merely swallow it whole again, in a display still more beautiful than anything humans could have created.