Above: A YouTube video from Prattsville's MudFest, held Saturday and Sunday, August 25 and 26. Video by Lance Wheeler.
Over the weekend, several Catskills towns that got whomped by the Irene and Lee floods held events timed to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the deluge.
But it was Prattsville that stole the spotlight -- by opting to ditch the somber reminiscences in favor of an all-out, gloppy, mudluscious party. MudFest, a two-day community-wide tribute to the grubby but undaunted spirit of recovery, drew plenty of reporters as well as festivalgoers.
Prattsville got a bit of welcome news just before MudFest kicked off, too; last Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an additional $500,000 in rebuilding funds for the town. The Wall Street Journal reports that although a lot still remains to be done, the town has come a long way:
Roads and bridges have been rebuilt. Most—though not all—residents have returned to their homes. And many here feel that Prattsville and the Catskills have turned a corner after a natural disaster.
"I can't say enough about how lucky I feel that we got through this," said John Young's brother, Brian. "Any good that's happened has been from the townspeople and their own initiative."
In Prattsville, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo labeled the place hardest hit by Tropical Storm Irene, and in other towns dotted across the remote Catskill Mountains landscape, everyone has a flood story: the generations-old business that washed away; the new trailer that was split in half; the family dog that disappeared; the museum whose collection was practically erased. Increasingly, the story line includes frustration over the money that ran out, but there are also cries of hope, even celebration, as evinced in Prattsville over the weekend.
The town held its first Mudfest, a series of fund-raising events that drew hordes of people from beyond this small enclave, whose pre-storm population peaked around 600. Children streaked down slides into mud pits. Bands played at barbecues. And dozens marched to the Schoharie Creek for a Native American blessing of the very body of water that a year ago jumped its banks and devastated the town.
Mudfest began there Saturday afternoon and ran through the weekend. Mud volleyball. Tug of war in a giant mud pit. A mud-soaked Slip 'n Slide that dumped into a wet, muddy mound of dirt. Tractors pulling beds lined with hay bales shuttled kids and their parents around to different sites.
Irene pummeled Prattsville perhaps harder than anywhere else. Some homes were knocked from their foundations by others that were washed downstream like flotsam. Much of the town is still displaced. But rather than sulk, the town decided to celebrate in the slop.
"I got muddy again this year, but because I wanted to," Anastasia Rikard said. "Last year it was because I had to."
Last year, during the floods that swept through Prattsville's Main Street like an Ovaltine-colored wave of destruction, Rikard was trapped for hours in her family's disintegrating house -- an ordeal put memorably to words by New York Magazine's Josh Dean last week.
It was more than mud that the floods left behind in Prattsville, and across upstate New York. Jennifer Kabat, writing recently about a burgeoning art collaboration in Prattsville, describes the muddy waters of Irene as only someone who has lived through a flood can:
A FLOOD SMELLS of oil and mold and mud – also shit but you try not to think of that. A heaviness collects at the back of your throat. It stings and crawls up your sinuses then down into your lungs. Breathing can be hard, doubly so if you have asthma. Rubbish is everywhere. A flood does not leave things clean. This is not water as you or I usually know it. It is not pure or pristine or life giving. Living in a city, I never understood water’s power. My first flood I watched it blow out my neighbors’ basement windows. This is not benign. Maybe you know this already.
All the more extraordinary that Prattsville turned out in style this weekend to roll around in the mud -- good, clean, honest mud this time around.
Below: A few photos by MudFest organizers. (For more, see their Facebook page.)
Mud volleyball: Sport of champions.
To the victor go the spoils: The winning mud volleyball team, from Diamond Landscaping.
A few of MudFest's doughty organizers.