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John Burroughs of the Catskills, a Talk by Bill Birns

  • Catskill Interpretive Center 5096 Rte 28 Mt Tremper, NY, 12457 United States (map)

Catskill Mountain farm boy to nationally celebrated “Sage of Slabsides,” writer and naturalist John Burroughs carried the Catskills in his soul wherever he went. Born in 1837 and raised on a rocky mountainside farm in Roxbury, Delaware County, Burroughs’ widely- read nature essays helped shape the development of the first American conservation movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

As a literary man, John Burroughs was the first writer to celebrate the genius of America’s poet, Walt Whitman. His 23 volumes of essays delve into religion, science, travel and literature. It was Burroughs’ Nature Essays, however, that made him famous. His clear-eyed description of bird and tree, mountain and trail, stream and meadow brings his reader along, a companion encountering nature’s surprises, a friend in mutual discovery.  On a deeper level, Burroughs made a bridge for his readers, a bridge from the Transcendentalist spirituality of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s view of nature to the hard-headed scientific approach of Charles Darwin.

By the late 1800s, Burroughs was a much sought-after public figure – a rural celebrity – befriended and admired by students and industrialists, writers and farmers, artists and just-plain-folks. One of America’s most famous men, Burroughs never stopped being a Catskill Mountain boy. The sense of place that grounded him in the Catskills was always central to John Burroughs’ being.

Bill Birns is a writer and teacher who has lived in John Burroughs’  Catskills for 44 years. He is the author of a book of regionally-based essays, A Catskill Catalog (Purple Mountain Press, 2011), and a poetry-sequence, The Myth in the Mountain (Mountain Arts Media, 2013). Bill taught a couple generations of Catskill Mountain kids at Margaretville Central School and Onteora High School. He holds a Ph.D. in Rhetoric & Linguistics from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he wrote his dissertation on the dialect of the Catskills. Bill currently serves as President of the Board of Trustees of John Burroughs’ Woodchuck Lodge, in Roxbury, a not-for-profit membership organization promoting Burroughs’ legacy.



Catskill Cabaradio - September 12th | 6pm | Pine Hill Community Center | 287 Main Street, Pine Hill

This signature quarterly event is always worth waiting for. We begin at 6 with a community potluck — always outstanding — and at 7 the lights go down and the live radio broadcast begins. You can listen to it on WIOX community radio at 91.3 FM, or streaming on, but as good as radio gets, and as proud as we are of this listening option, there’s nothing like being in the audience and getting to answer the trivia questions, respond to the “Applause” signs and watch the sound effects being produced. Let’s face it, live entertainment is the best.

Theme: John Burroughs

Confirmed Guests:

Carver Blanchard
John Burroughs Memorial Locust & Wild Honey Orchestra
Will Soter - Upstate Adventure Guides
Todd Spire - Director, Pine Hill Community Center
Brett Barry - Silver Hollow Audio

& as always:
Your Host Elly Wininger
House Band - The Pine Hill Playboys
"Your Mother Should Know"
Trivia w/prizes - (John Burroughs anecdotes & trivia by Ed Renehan)


Earlier Event: September 12
Volunteer Appreciation Picnic
Later Event: September 12
Catskill Cabaradio - Burroughs edition!