For the pursuit of a trace of an optimist farmer Rip Van Winkle in the Catskill Mountains: On March 11, 2023, a fine day after the snow storm, I decided to make a long trip along the State Route 17 ranging between the exit 96 through the exit 80, where is the most beautiful scene of Catskill Mountains. Since I went to graduate school near Binghamton and Ithaca, 50 years ago, I would drive down this long meandering road crossing many bridges, indulging in the beauty of mountains on both sides, mountains rims over rims and valley. At one of the bridges, I almost hit bridge rail and fell down the deep valley in heavily snow winter in 1974 with my youngest daughter and wife without much knowing about the condition of the old car 1966 Chevy, of which tires were almost worn out, warning not to drive in snowy winter road, and at last the car skidded down the bridge in one of coldest winter in 1974 when I was returning from New York city to the campus of Harper college to finish up my graduate degree. In the middle of no traffic highway, We waited for 2 hours in cold winter for police, shivering with a bad cold and finally the police came down to take us to near by mountain top motel. We all were almost frozen to death below zero degree of temperature, especially my baby 16 month old, who is now 50 years old.Unlike those days when I had no feelings at all to appreciate the beauty of Nature and snowing winter in a hope of getting a degree in Economics and of returning to Korea to teach at my mother college,now I could deeply appreciate the beauty and marvelous view of mountains designed by God as the Catskill Mountains. Looking at the Nature’s beauty in Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter from the different angle, I began to remember a story of an optimist farmer Rip Van Winkle who used to reside in Catskill, when my high school English teacher asked me to read the text and translate it in Korean for the class. A farmer Winkle was wandering into the Catskill Mountains where he came upon a group of dwarfs playing ninepins. Rip accepts their offer of a drinks of liquor and promptly falls asleep, when awakens, 20 years later, he is an old man with a long white beard like the story of Solveig’s Song orchestra symphony opt 23, in which a pianist Solveig was abandoned by her husband Peer Gynt, who was a liar and narcissist man of no moral sentiments and left her on a journey promising to make lot of money for her, but returns home on a stormy evening on the sea without any money at all only in graybeard. Solveig sings for her love in sadness ; the dwarfs are no where in sight. Scenery is much more rich and beautiful in Summer than in Winter, but I could imagine the similar view to the one in Summer. At ripe old age, it is great memory and joy to remember his life with his dog living himself without worrying about anything. Winkle plays with dog all day watching the beauty of Nature of Catskill Mountains and takes a nap whenever he wants to sleep. His typical optimistic life in the Catskill Mountains in the early 19 century impresses me to a great extent at my age over the hill. Putting aside those intricate economic theories of Neo-classical, Marxism and Keynesianism, I am fond of reading those poems by William Wordsworth, Henry Long Fellow and Yeats, and Walt Whitman. The way Winkle leads his optimistic life looks a very attractive and enviable way at my retired age that is over the hill. Sometime I imagine how romantic it is if I could perform my life in his way. I am delighted to live near by Catskill Mountains after retirement and bring all those good memories of Rip’s simple way of life until biting the dust. From the cradle to the grave, we are born from the earth and return back to earth someday when we close our chapter of life. Today I enjoyed recalling a good memory of my life in graduate school as an Economics science student, who followed and took professor James Tobin from Yale Univ. as a life long mentor in Keynesian Economics tradition. In retrospect, I fired my high school English on an account that he didn’t approve my essay quoting a sentence from Oxford dictionary. He of course was not aware that I use the same sentence in the dictionary to answer to one of questions that was asked in the exams that was copied from the exam paper of Tokyo University entrance exam. In the exam review session in the class, I brought with me Oxford dictionary to prove that the answer was in the dictionary and I bang the desk with loud noise to blame him for the overlapping question he copied. I persistently argued with him that he was wrong not to recognize my answer to the question, which was self-evident in the dictionary, quoting the same sentence in Oxford dictionary. I turned him on the corner in class to bring this critical issue on my table while all 70 students were watching with keen attention. that has greatly embarrassed him and his dignity as a high school teacher with degree from SNU English Dept. I declared in public that you are not qualified to be a high school teacher, which became a legend at my high school days.
Today I am intoxicated with sweet and bitter memories of the past in the heart of Catskill Mountains, even though I was not drunk like Rip Van Winkle. Remembering a legendary Rip Van Winkle in the Catskill Mountains, Solveig’s sad Song while her husband was home coming in empty hand with white beard like Rip Van Winkle, and my graduate school days in America, I am tracing back the past 50 years vanished with thin that I survived with health.
Hubert Hojae Lee, Ph.D in Economics.