Humans of the Catskills: Mermer Blakeslee

Mermer Blakeslee

Journey to the Catskills:

I was born here. I longed to leave and did for a while, but came back. Not because I especially liked it – it was a lonely place 40 years ago – but these mountains were (and still are) kin to me. I was in Iowa, but writing from within the Catskills, this place and people, my people. I had to come back. Anywhere else, I would’ve been an outsider; I would not have ready food for my writer’s voice. Also, I was a single mother and wanted my son to be near his grandparents. And I had a job teaching skiing.


Like we speak of first and second languages, I’d say writing is my first art. It’s entwined into my core identity; it’s how I approach the world. My roots are in poetry. Since I was a child, I’ve imagined words to be alive, having a life of their own beyond and apart from us. I still see that way – word as seed form of the thing it points to. I broke into prose and novels when my life collapsed, and I was alone raising a child. I was humbled, flattened, and my inner voice shattered into many. I started writing from characters who would visit; I could hear their stories. First, I wrote short stories, then novels. Now I’m writing poetry again and also a hybrid form between poetry, prose, and memoir about my father’s brain injury.


Gardening is my second art. I came to it as an adult, after I moved here (where my partner, Eric, lived). I didn’t know a thing about plants – couldn’t tell a petunia from a pansy, but the land, the ground, the very dirt called me – almost literally, I felt it. Gardening taught me that my identity does not end at my skin. The border is permeable and leaks out into the world I love, the world I respond to and engage with. It broke through some of the narcissism our culture cultivates in all of us – our human-centric obsession with all things self. Like my novels belong in a sense to my characters, so too, my garden is not an expression of me. It is an intense collaboration with this place, this now defunct small Catskillian dairy farm.

Happiness Is:

I’m ambivalent about the very idea and run cold especially on the expectation of “happiness.” In fact, I wrote a poem about it.


that you no longer have that earache?

that your dog escaped that wheel?

enough fresh corn but not too much?

the temperature of the air matches the temperature of your skin?

the slices of your one tomato fit the bread?

sleep at the moment you wake?

the chest of your beloved lifting the sheet?

a hummingbird thinking your nose is a flower, then deciding it’s not?

an apple letting go?

                                     Mermer Blakeslee

Favorite Dish:

My mother’s date-and-nut bread with cream cheese which my sister-in-law now (lovingly) makes for me. Well, while we’re at it, all my mother’s homemade breads: sourdough cheese, sourdough rye… warm out of the oven with lots of butter. But ohhh, I haven’t tasted them for many years now.

Ideal Country Home:

My own.

But I get the question… 

Storied rather than designed – meaning filled with things loved and kept for their stories. 

Created with an original hand and an eye for beauty that draws you in and holds you. 

Fitted to and settled within its surroundings, its culture, and its place. 

Learn more about Blakeslee at and