The Lordly Hudson

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The number of factories on the banks of the Hudson increases slowly, and evidences of manual labor are still few, although big industrial companies are moving their experimental laboratories and their executive offices to campuslike retreats on grassy lawns that carpet the plateaus above the river. Housing developments and enormous apartments (concentrations of expertly packaged people) creep upriver and, despite the efforts of zoning boards to exclude them, lend spiritless monotony to estate acres that once gloried in homes made fanciful by ornamentation. A real-estate directional sign near Tarrytown reads, “To the splitlevel, ranch-type Cape Cods.”

September of 1959 marks the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage up the river. Only the upper reaches, which the explorer never saw, remain little changed since 1609. From Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds near the summit of the Adirondacks’ highest peak—Mount Marcy (known to the Indians as The Cloud-Splitter)—the river runs as a mountain stream, shallow and trout-inhabited, for about 150 miles until it finds the north-south channel. The northernmost mountains are older—and lonelier —than the tavern-crowded Catskills. Where the Hudson runs at the base of one of them stands an iron mine—a wide gash of rust-colored earth. Miles downstream, at the tiny town of North River, a road running up to a spacious log inn high above Thirteenth Lake turns a deeper red, and the dust of garnets rises in the air when disturbed by rolling wheels.

When, at the middle of their journey, the waters enter the deep sea-running channel traversed by Hudson, they pass by many a vestige of man’s experience through the more than three and a half centuries of his occupancy. The stream itself and its natural surroundings have not been entirely without change. The ice, which used to choke the river near the city of Albany until a day in March when it broke in volleying thunder and set out for the Atlantic, thunders no more. The giant sturgeon leap no more in darkness from the star-reflecting surface. Flocks of songbirds no longer flee before the windstorms while eagles circle above to dive upon their helpless prey, as once they did in 1815, so the French traveler Jacques Milbert reported. The blue Catskills are the same, though, and the steep-walled palisades, and the wide-spreading harbor leading into the Atlantic. There in the ocean bottom a canyon, cut by the river millions of years ago to a depth greater than that of the Colorado River’s Grand Canyon, receives the waters of the stream Henry Hudson called “Great River of the Mountains.”