Much of Entertaining Welsey Shaw takes place in the small New York town of Callicoon. And I mean small. The population of the official whole town is 3057 according to the latest census, but the main concentration of that, or “census-designated place,” is just 167, down from 210 in 2000.
Callicoon is located on the edge of the NY-PA border, about two hours northwest of Manhattan and right on the Delaware River. It’s an escape. Sort of an artists colony that never took off, Callicoon is delightfully away from it all. Until a couple years ago they didn’t have cell phone service. Many people still don’t have TVs or high-speed Internet. Want to know where dial-up is alive and well? Come to Callicoon.
It was featured in the opening scene of the movie TransAmerica, I’m told. (I haven’t seen it, and can neither confirm nor deny.) I love this place. It’s got a vibe all its own and it’s gorgeous in the fall. There are farmers markets and pot lucks, and a sense of community. Everybody knows everybody pretty much. It’s quiet at night, and you feel safe.
There are no first-run movie theaters, no video stores, just one supermarket, and only a handful of restaurants. (They’re quite good, though.) There’s lots of nature. It’s particularly breath-taking in October and November. I live in California, and we don’t really get a proper autumn. I miss the golden leaves, the red trees, the crisp air, the frost, the mist, the chill in the air.
Callicoon is a very patriotic town, but it strikes me, from my limited experience, as a mellow kind of patriotism. While strolling along the grass one day, watching people walk their dogs and commune with nature, I came across this monument honoring the fallen veterans of all wars. I was impressed enough by the site to specifically mention it in my story.
The town was named Kollikoonkill by the first settlers. It means “cackling hen.” Early Dutch hunters trained their rifles on the abundant turkeys in the region. They came for the good eats, and stayed for, well, maybe for the absence of wifi.
Callicoon boasts the country’s only hydro-powered radio station, WJFF, 90.5 FM. Well, actually it’s located in next-door Jeffersonville, but it’s close enough for Callicoon to claim some credit, I guess. Power comes from a dam 50 feet away adjacent to Lake Jefferson. In my novel, my main character Daniel fills in there occasionally, doing classical music shifts. In reality I’ve never seen it, but I did do similar shifts at similar stations in my college days. That’s how I first heard the incredible Kazzrie Jaxen, a fiery pianist of wit and wild imagination, who lives in Callicoon.
The Catskill Mountains and their many spas are nearby. There are nice hotels and plenty of places to pamper yourself, though I’ve never done it. The area is so scene a whole 19th century school of nature painting, the Hudson River School, derives from it. Some of those artists worked in and around Callicoon, and perhaps there are artists who still do. The Hudson River School is noted for its depiction of humans and nature in realistic settings co-existing peacefully rather than being in a struggle. This is the philosophy around Callicoon and its environs in general. People here are very in tune with nature. They are deeply concerned that the currently active and popular fracking interests, which are buying buying up properties, will start to pound oil and gas out of the ground, destroying much of the area’s natural beauty.
Let’s hope the environmentalists win. Especially since natural gas doesn’t seem like it’s going to be the big economic boom that was forecast.