By Elaine Corrington
If you see a man walking through Hurleyville or on the Rail Trail with two REALLY big dogs on leashes (perhaps pulling his tangled arms in two different directions at the same time), it is a pretty good guess that man is Charlie Blume.
Charlie lives just off Main Street, and loves getting Mush (a rescue Bull Mastiff), and Earl (a coon-hound with a “howl that people compare to Elvis”) out and about. Charlie and his girlfriend Sarah (a music therapist who also can be seen careening around with the dogs at times) have now celebrated three Christmases in the hamlet. He has children-Asia (34, a teacher at Boys and Girls Club of Queens), Chris (26, a biologist in a veterinary office in Pennsylvania), Johanna (23, an athlete with a Masters in media communication), and the two youngest-Olivia, 10, and William, 7, who share his love of cartooning.
Charlie is a tree man- but that is just the start of his idiosyncratic list of interests. Climbing trees was the great joy in his youth and right out of high school he started making a living at it.
“It is what I DID, and I knew it was what I wanted to do for a living,” he says. “I am still doing it 53 years later. If I stood still, I would drown!”
He is a New York State Certified Arborist.
It was someone who shared another passion of Charlie’s who prompted him to apply for a job at The Center for Discovery- artist Richard Rulli.
They met at a coffee shop and ended up having a long conversation about art. At the end of that conversation, Richard told Charlie about The Center (where there are LOTS of trees), and told Charlie he should apply there- which he did. He does tree work for The Center, and has added other skills and tasks along the way when there are no trees that need immediate work- concrete work, building projects, grounds maintenance, snow clearance, and salting sidewalks- many of which you might also spy Charlie doing around Hurleyville.
Trees and art? Yes- many kinds of art. As a kid Charlie loved penny candies, comic books, newspaper comics, television cartoons, and animated cartoons and movies.
“I wanted to emulate every comic book superhero I could,” he recalls. “My favorite was Popeye- everyone forgets about him. Historically, he depicted good qualities of early America. So did Bugs Bunny, but Popeye was closer to home for me because my Dad was basically Popeye! He is 93 now, and just last year he joined Joe Rausch and Peter Dollard in the Maker’s Lab to show them how to repair a vintage machine they had acquired.
“Of course, I also watched Gigantor, Speed Racer, cartoons from the 1940s through the ‘70s. The ‘70s cartoons I considered ‘my cartoons.’ I started drawing penciled comic books and cartoons, and they were published in local town papers in Long Island- seven of them weekly! Ned Haybaler’s Farm Report was a favorite. I am a member of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Manhattan. Once I started doing pen and ink drawings, I also drew old houses and barns (I love old architecture). I do painting (although black and white is my best- color kind of eludes me). And I do sculpture. I am a certified welder and have several pieces of welded art that are among my personal favorites of my art- especially a really creepy scarecrow, which was featured on an album cover.”
The welding also fits in with another hobby- building and racing cars. Charlie is a hot-rodder, and last summer tried out his latest, which he has been working on for several years, on a ¼ mile dragstrip. He has also taken time to teach cartooning to some of the people who live at The Center for Discovery, which he enjoys very much- as do they.
Charlie loves living in Hurleyville (“… A real town.”), which was closer to his work. He finds it a beautiful town and loves all of the different architecture.
“Every day here is a new surprise,” he says. “What surprised me most was the historical aspect of the old houses and buildings on Main Street. Fifteen years ago I was called by a private client to do tree work in Hurleyville. Driving through, it looked like a dead town, and I didn’t notice the historical points. The turnaround has been dramatic.”
He was active with Sullivan County Historian John Conway’s historical timeline project of soils and agriculture, and loves listening to Sullivan County history on his radio program. He has a lot of ideas- as does just about everybody- about what kinds of businesses could help to sustain this turnaround.
Although he loves Hurleyville, Charlie is taking steps to build an A-frame house in Grahamsville that will be as off-grid as possible. It doesn’t seem like he has to worry about standing still in the near future!