Humans of the Catskills: Shaune Bornholdt

Shaune Bornholdt / Photo Credit: Reidar Bornholdt

Journey to the Catskills:

On a summer day in 1973, on the Columbia University campus, I was chatting with another mother while our preschoolers splashed hands in the fountains. She told me of a place that sounded magical. Her family had recently pooled resources with four other families to buy part of a mountainside up near the Rondout Reservoir in Sullivan County – and they were looking for a sixth member. “That’s us!” my husband and I said when we talked it over that night.

Each family had its own little site on the big mountain, with acres of forest and meadows held in common and state land nearly all around. We tent-camped there that summer. We’ve come up every year thereafter, hauling in all our water, sharing the woods with deer, bears, wild turkeys and – one year – a voracious albino raccoon and her three kits. Eventually we upgraded to a prefab shed from the local woodshop. The workmen complained about “that goat path you’ve got,” the steep, mile-long rutted road that regularly washes out. We spend our winters in New York City. But once the snow melts off the road, my husband and I come up here every chance we can. This, too, is home. Our middle-aged kids say that they feel they grew up here. We call it, simply, The Land.     


I’m now retired. I’ve been an advertising writer for a small press, a teacher, a remedial reading tutor and (starting at age 60), a psychologist at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center in the Bronx. Now, I’m thinking of doing tutoring part-time.    


My avocation is writing poetry. The Land is my inspiration, along with my rural upbringing in Pennsylvania and my adult life in our West Side city neighborhood. I write about the ways city and country life complement and conflict with one another, and the ways we humans relate to nature. I’ve often written of meadows: they are clearings in matter and in mind, with a history of cultivation and wildness, like poetry. They are “potential spaces” where projections can play with realities. The ponds within them reflect the heavens.  When I wrote a thesis after my retirement, I entitled it, “Home’s Meadow.”

Happiness Is:

Happiness is elusive, often. Scary, sometimes – Will it last?  Should it? Do you have to work for it, or can it descend on you, like grace? Aristotle said it’s “an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.” Actively caring, being with good people whom you love, and who love and accept you, is surely happiness for most people. Generosity. Time with grandkids. Starting a poem. Finishing a poem. I’m often happy at The Land, especially when my husband and I are sitting outside in the Adirondack chairs, having morning coffee.

Favorite Dish:

Speaking of happiness, that would be the cake we have for family celebrations. It’s called a “Happy Day Cake,” has three eggs and lots of butter and sugar in it and it’s my mother’s recipe, which I’ve now passed on to our children. Part of its virtue: unlike my angel cakes, the Happy Day Cake has never flopped.

Ideal Country Home:

I wish we could actually repair our wretched road and build a real log cabin right on our site, but town and watershed regulations would make that difficult. We’re actively looking for a year-round Catskill home, and our grown children will help care for the campsite. It’s in the family and we’ll keep coming back. It shapes my ideal, which also now includes better accessibility – and indoor plumbing. A big porch. More mountain views. And, as here, a time and place for companionship and solitude, a place to meditate, write, and be with the people I love. Whatever the year-round place we find, my husband and I agree that it has to be near The Land.

*For links to some of Shaune Bornholdt’s poems in online journals, see her website at