“The Lord and the Devil and the Bleu Mountains”

A folk tale about the origins of the Catskills and why digging a hole in your spring garden can perhaps more accurately be called excavating. Excerpted from Doris West Brooks’s Short Stories and Tall Tale of the Catskills.

“As the area around the Catskill Mountains was being settled, not only did the name of the mountains change from time to time, but the spelling of the names varied widely. Both the names “Catskill” and “Blue Mountains” were used interchangeably to designate this region. There is no doubt as to how the name Blue (Bleu, Blew) Mountains came into being; the mountains have a very definite blue color to them especially when seen from a distance… The early Dutch settlers knew the Devil flew about the Bleu Mountains. This is one of the reasons why the Dutch preferred settling in the fertile Hudson River Valley and the foothills of the mountains. Folklore tells us that there were two versions of how the Catskills were formed. Here is the story combining the two tales. (The Lord’s creation and the Devil’s)…

All the while the Devil flew about on his devious way, wreaking havoc and causing mischief, he carried a sack of rocks on his back. One day, way back when the Lord was just finishing up the world, the Devil was called to California on urgent business. This was way back when the continents were still flat, the waters just receding, and time was measured in epochs, not years. The Devil stayed on the west coast for a long while for he had a lot to attend to there. His sack, containing the rocks, became tattered and worn. Well, the Devil heard that there were fresh pickings back east and off he flew, not knowing his sack had a rent in it. He wouldn’t have cared anyway. As the devil flew over Arizona, one of his medium-sized rocks fell through the rip in his bag. The rock landed with such impact that it bounced, splintering into hundreds of fragments. The hole the rock left in Arizona was later referred to as The Grand Canyon. The many fragmented pieces of the stone landed all in a row, creating the Rocky Mountains.

…Just as he got directly over where we’re standing now, the rip in the Devil’s sack gave out completely and what was left of his rocks was dumped right here, forming the Catskill Mountains. Now it hadn’t taken the Lord nearly as much time to finish His work as it had the Devil, and He didn’t have much of anything left over to hide that pile of bare rocks, and, anyway, He was busy. The Lord has just created the rainbow and because the rainbow was made on the bias, He had a lot of color left over. The Lord was making extra birds and flowers out of the left-over scraps of color and, out of the tiniest bits of yellows and blues, He was fashioning butterflies. He figured the world couldn’t have enough butterflies, and, besides, He was enjoying Himself. Heaven knows, he needed a vacation after all that work creating the world and after all the problems He’d encountered with one of His latest experiments. It had been all down hill ever since the Garden of Eden. You can imagine how annoying it was at this point to be told that there was a heap of rocks in upper New York State that needed His immediate attention. The Lord just took up a handful of dirt left over from another job and flung it in the general direction of the Catskill Mountains. And that is how the Catskills were made and why to this very day there is only “one dirt to every three stones.”

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