By Garnette Arledge
Ruby has come to Andes. You must have seen her, bright, happy, strong, curls, big smiles, two and a half feet tall, 23 months old. She walks her mothers frequently on Main Street. Within a week after moving here in May, she had smiled, laughed and naturally cried her way into the hearts of all of us. For Ruby brings Julia Reischel and Lissa Harris out to meet and greet her neighbors in town at least twice a day.
“Out!” Ruby Madeline Harris declares in all weather, so out they go. “Ruby needs exercise and we need to take turns working on the Watershed Post, so one of us will accompany her.” You might see Ruby on her way to her cousin Montana Damone’s house, the Andes pool or out to lunch at Woody’s, or dropping in on her new friends the merchants, taking out library books and her favorite Sesame Street video, now 25 times and counting.
Meanwhile, upstairs over Andes Books at 295 Main Street in the big green building, either Lissa, her birth mother, or Julia, her adopted mother, will be digging out news of interest in the five counties in the New York City watershed for their on-line newspaper.
“Andes is central for the whole watershed. And because people come up here to invent their own reality. It’s tough covering a large territory from Sullivan to Greene to Ulster to Delaware to Schoharie County. So we pick our battles,” said Julia, a Harvard graduate in History and Literature, who has made a career in alternative weekly journalism and legal reporting after growing up in Washington, DC. Her favorite recent read: Kathleen Norris’ Dakota. Julia adds, “We moved up because Lissa has roots here and was eager to get back home. There’s no place on Earth like this.”
Lissa, whose roots in Delaware County go back several generations, is a Harris who grew up in Margaretville and Woodstock. A graduate of Smith College, Lissa has double master’s degrees in science writing and natural resources from MIT and Cornell University. (Both on scholarships, Julia adds.)
Lissa’s great-great grandfather John Birdsall founded the Margaretville Telephone Company in 1916, and strung many of the first phone lines in the region. “My first real job at 18 was mapping all the lines which had only been in handwritten ledgers. I worked with Kari Blish, who now runs the Flour Patch in Margaretville, Jeremey Marks and Debbie Liddle.”
“John Birdsall was my great grandfather Sheldon’s father. Madeline Birdsall (nee Avery) was Sheldon’s wife. Sheldon and Madeline’s (called Madge) only daughter, Dawn Birdsall (later Roadman) was my mother’s mother and thus my grandmother, many people here may remember her.”
On Lissa’s paternal side, the great-great-grandfather, according to her father Frederic Harris of Delhi, was Roy Colony, a renowned professor of geology who worked on our reservoirs.
Ruby has even more local connections since her biological father is Dean Haspiel, a comic book artist in New York City, whose mother Barbara Haspiel was a longtime resident of Andes until recently. “We are very grateful to them,” said Lissa.
Lissa and Julia were legally married in Boston last August. Because New York recognizes out-of-state gay marriages, they are legally married here as well. “We are looking forward to the day when our marriage is as dull news as everyone else’s,” said Lissa.
Watershed Post Project
The Watershed Post, www.watershedpost.com, which Reischel and Harris launched in January, looks for interesting news about the Catskills region from various blogs, newspapers, websites and social media. They also write their own articles for the website. “We try to cover what the big news outlets miss, or find the new angle and the fresh point of view,” said Julia. Their business office is located in Delhi but often they work at home by remote access on their computers and to be able to accompany Ruby on her Andes tours.
“Our idea is to curate news about what goes on in this special place. For example, the area’s relationship with New York City – fraught as it is – not just about water, but also important issues, milk, food, energy and growth. And one reason we called it the Watershed Post is this is the largest unfiltered water system in the world sitting on the bones of towns that were literally drowned,” said Lissa.
With the Watershed Post, Lissa and Julia are experimenting with new business models for supporting journalism online. “We have a very different funding model from standard advertising. Our model is to be supported by local businesses that can use our website to communicate with our readers online,” said Lissa.
What are the benefits of the Watershed Post as a news and advertising source? Mountains make a natural physical barrier to outsiders therefore businesses cannot do local or regional radio and TV effectively, there is no reliable cell phone service and it’s an inherently bound region. On the other hand, word of mouth news can get to everyone promptly through the site, it acts as a bulletin board for announcements and news and helps businesses reach customers downstate.
“And we give businesses something extra that is powerful. They can write their own posts on our site daily, upgrade photographs, changing frequently to be up to date and flexible.” “It’s all about new ways of relating to each other,” said Julia. They say their readership is growing.