Washington Irving’s short story “Rip Van Winkle” was originally published just about two hundred years ago. The tale, if you’re unfamiliar, tells the story of an unmotivated man who escapes his shrewish wife for the afternoon with some strangers and the promise of sharing their keg of liquor. After enjoying copious amounts of the free flowing contents of the cask, and games of nine-pin, Rip dozes off only to awaken twenty years later to a changed world. The moral of the story is that life and time continue to move forward, waiting for no one.

What a perfect jumping off point for a birthday weekend escape in the Catskills.

While I know that many people choose to ignore their advancing age, I prefer to celebrate each new year of life. An invitation to a surprise destination with someone special was exactly the way I like to honor the occasion.

Despite the Winter Clove Inn having been in business since 1838 or approximately 20 years after Rip Van Winkle was published, I’d never heard of it before. Still owned by the original family, this year round resorts features 49 guest rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, dining and an array of activities. Remote feeling, yet less than 25 minutes from the village of Catskill, this is the kind of place you go to when you want to get off the grid. (Not to suggest that the WiFi signal is bad, it’s actually quite strong.) This spot, nestled into a treed lot of seeming infinite measurement, simply makes one want to indulge in the sense of being removed from it all. The exact kind of place one particularly appreciated going to at a time when a national heroine, such as Justice Ginsberg, dies in the middle of a pandemic.

Get me out of here and share some of that hootch, just like those Dutch ghosts did for old Rip.

We arrived before noon and got checked in to our large and simply furnished room. After settling in, we made our way to the large dining room where we found the table reserved for us for our entire stay. The menu options were simple – tomato basil soup, sandwiches, ice cream based desserts. Not fancy, but fortifying fuel for a hike on one of the numerous available trails.

Naturally, we opted for the Lovers Loop path, an easy one mile scenic walk that included a covered bridge, rocky stream and waterfall, and a small pond. The air was crisp and smelled amazing with hints of cedar and leaves just beginning to decay. The sky was blue and sun was strong. It was everything you want in a late summer, wooded walk. I wouldn’t change a single part of that walk, in all honesty.

Although we encountered people on the trails, property and common areas of the inn, everyone was compliant with Covid recommendations and mask wearing was universal following all guidelines. Prior to Saturday, I’d only eaten one restaurant meal indoors since March. Eating three consecutive meals at a single assigned table in the dining room, spaced from other diners, seemed reasonably cautious.

The property offered shared amenities we didn’t take advantage of, but it was more a matter of limited time, rather than hesitation because of possible covid exposure. We’re already considering a winter stay and cross country on the trails, flasks in pocket, glove warmers in place.

Meals are available during a specified time window and dinner was served between 6:00-7:00. We sat at our table close to the end of that hour, after having a pleasant and informative conversation with the owner, Lenore, but never felt rushed.

Again, the menu was limited and basic, but well prepared and substantial. A few tweaks in the kitchen and things could really boom from a culinary perspective, but, maybe that’s not the end goal of this charming place. The food, like our room, is seemingly designed to encourage the enjoyment of the scenic surroundings. You are fed hearty, basic food and provided with a comfortable bed with big pillows, in a room filled with furniture which has surely been in place for the last century. Now, get outside and breath.

Which we did. We sat on logs and talked. Held hands. Reclined in matching chaises with faces tipped up to the sun. We didn’t read the paper or watch the news. Instead, I read the stars and watched the sky. It felt like we were a million miles away from now. Or, as was Rip’s experience 20 years beyond now. Either way you measure, it was a lovely, romantic escape.