Whoever has journeyed up the long Hudson River will remember the Catskill Mountains. Rising up to the west of the river, these mountains look different with each change in weather or time of day. Even when the rest of the land is cloudless, the Catskill Mountains at dusk hold a misty blanket around themselves, glowing with the rays of the setting sun.
It is said that in these misty mountains, strange magic can sometimes take place. Such a mysterious and magical thing happened long ago to a man named Rip Van Winkle. Rip lived in a village at the foot of the mountains. He was well-known in the village.
Rip Van Winkle lived in a comfortable house that he had built with his own two hands. He had a doting wife who took good care of the couple’s several children. These children were all rosy-cheeked and happy, and they all loved their father.
Rip would gather his children around him and play games with them. The children and their father would fly kites and shoot marbles. Late at night around the family’s fireplace, Rip would tell the children stories of ghosts and witches and the wild frontier. Rip Van Winkle was a good father and a good man who enjoyed his life.One of Rip’s favorite things to do was to hike among the beautiful Catskill Mountains. He loved to look at the plants and animals that lived there. He loved to stare at the mountains’ misty majesty. It was on such an evening hike that Rip’s famous troubles would occur.
That particular evening, as Rip and his dog, Wolf, started to climb into the mountains, there came from the woods a voice calling Rip’s name.
“Rip Van Winkle!” the voice cried out. “Hello, Rip Van Winkle!” It seemed to be getting closer.
Rip looked around, but saw only an old crow perched in a tree. Figuring that his imagination was playing tricks on him, Rip began to hike again. But again he heard the voice call his name. “Rip Van Winkle!” it called.Again, Rip turned around, and this time spotted a small figure walking toward him. As the stranger came closer, Rip was surprised at his appearance. The stranger was a very short and stout little man, with bushy hair and eyebrows and a full, bushy beard. On the man’s shoulder was a barrel. The man asked Rip to help him carry it, and Rip, being a friendly man, agreed.
Rip and the strange little man carried the barrel high up into the mountains. They walked and walked, higher and higher into the misty mountains, and deeper and deeper into the dark woods.
Finally, the two came to a clearing. Here Rip spotted a group of small men much like his new friend. These men were busy playing a game of bowling on the clearing’s grass. All of the little men had long, flowing beards and funny hats and clothes, much like the man with the barrel.The men opened up the barrel, which Rip saw was full of a strange, dark liquid. Pouring the liquid into cups and mugs, the men offered one to Rip. Rip found the drink so sweet and so good that he drank mug after mug of it. All the while, the strange little men watched Rip drink. And then, the men watched his head begin to nod, his eyes begin to close, and soon, Rip Van Winkle was asleep.When Rip awoke, he found himself not in the grassy clearing where he had visited his new friends, but instead lying on the ground at the foot of the mountains, where he had first met the strange little man.
“Oh, dear,” Rip thought to himself. “I must have slept here all night long! What will I tell my wife?”
Rip called out for his dog so that they could head home. “Wolf!” he yelled. “Come here, boy!” But Wolf didn’t come. “He must be off chasing a squirrel,” Rip thought.
Rip headed back into the village. Once there, the people of the village began to point and laugh at Rip. Wondering why the people would do this, Rip stroked his chin. There he felt a long, gray beard. He looked to find his clothes were in tatters. Rip looked at the people, who were dressed in clothes that seemed strange to him. Even the buildings were different, with new paint and signs.
Rip left the village, worried about how different it appeared — and how different he looked, too. He walked until he arrived at the land where his warm, sturdy home stood. As he came to the house, he expected to hear his wife’s voice, scolding him for not coming home the night before. He expected to hear his children playing and his dog barking.But Rip did not hear his wife or children. And he did not see the house he had left behind the night before. Instead, the house had fallen apart. The roof had caved in. The windows were all broken. The door had fallen off its hinges. Even the tall, proud chimney was crumbling.
Then Rip heard a dog bark. “Wolf!” he called. But although this dog looked just like Wolf, it was thin and its fur was tangled. It growled at Rip, as if it did not know who he was.Sad that even his dog was different, Rip wandered back into the village. There the people gathered around Rip, still staring and pointing at him. They asked who he was, worrying that he was crazy or even dangerous. This scared poor Rip Van Winkle.
“Please, people,” Rip said to them, “I mean no harm.”
Just then a man with an odd, tall hat quieted the crowd. “People of the village, leave this poor fellow alone,” the man said. Then he turned to Rip and asked Rip who he was, and why he had come to the village.
“I’ve lived in this village my whole life,” Rip replied.
“Then name the people who live here,” the man said.
“Well, there is Nicholas Vedder. There is also Brom Dutcher,” Rip told the people of the crowd.
“Nicholas Vedder has been gone for years,” said one.
“Brom Dutcher went off to war,” said another.
Rip’s heart sank when he heard this. All of the changes in his home and his friends made him sad.Then Rip spotted a woman who looked familiar. “What is your father’s name? And where is your mother?”
“My father’s name was Rip Van Winkle. My mother passed away recently of a broken heart because my father left the house twenty years ago and never returned.”
“Why, I am Rip Van Winkle,” Rip said to the woman.
Some of the crowd looked closer at Rip. This man did look like the Rip Van Winkle of old. He was telling the truth! The man whom they had not seen in twenty years had come home!
That night the people of the town gathered in order to give Rip Van Winkle a warm welcome home, home after twenty long years spent sleeping in the misty, mysterious Catskill Mountains.