I crossed paths with a group of hikers on September 27, 2003 while traversing the High Peaks of the Dix Range near Keene Valley. The cloud ceiling that day was hanging at about 3500’ which put it well below the altitude of the herd paths and the rain was blowing sideways under heavy winds. There were no views, but the enthusiastic hikers were focused on a different goal. They were students from St. Lawrence University and comprised one of many groups scattered throughout the Adirondacks at that time.
Each was playing a role in a collaborative effort to put at least one St. Lawrence student on the summit of all forty-six High Peaks over the course of three days. The annual tradition called Peak Weekend was initiated by the university’s Outing Club in 1982. and coincides closely with autumn’s foliage peak, either the last week of September or the first week of October (though their first effort was attempted in the spring of 1982). An Outing Club meeting held the week prior enables all the participants to choose their objective, meet the group leaders and discuss logistics.
While autumn’s peak foliage hadn’t quite reached its full spectrum, September 25th marked the beginning of this year’s St. Lawrence University Peak Weekend. The weather during the end of last week made for the perfect autumn hiking conditions with most of the adventure taking place on Saturday. Crisp Adirondack blue skies free of summer’s humidity enunciated the splendor of autumn’s colors. Group sizes this year ranged from two to the DEC limit of sixteen, including some staff and faculty. The total participation was roughly 260 including three St. Lawrence athletic teams. Several groups camped Friday night in conditions below freezing while others met early Saturday morning to day-hike their objectives. Routes included both maintained trails and some less traveled routes including Mt. Colden’s Trap Dike which was ascended by a large group of first-year students. The coordinated effort has not always achieved its goal, though according to the Outing Club’s website, 2009 marked success for the fifth consecutive year.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced proposed changes to the state’s freshwater fishing regulations. The agency will be accepting public comments on the changes until November 2, 2009. According to a DEC press release: “The proposed regulations are the result of careful assessment of the status of existing fish populations and the desires of anglers for enhanced fishing opportunities. The opportunity for public review follows discussions held with angling interest groups over the past year.”
The following are highlights of the proposed changes in the Adirondack region provided by DEC: * Apply the statewide regulation for pickerel, eliminating the “no size” limit regulation in: Essex, Hamilton, Saratoga, Warren and Washington County waters.
* Apply the statewide regulation creel limit of 50 fish per day for yellow perch and sunfish for Clinton, Essex, Franklin and Hamilton Counties, as well as for Schroon Lake, as this limit will help protect against overexploitation.
* Eliminate special regulation prohibiting smelt fishing at Portaferry Lake in St. Lawrence County as no smelt runs have been reported in many years.
* Delete the 5+5 brook trout special regulation (Regions 5, 6 & 7), which allows for an additional 5 brook trout under 8 inches as part of the daily limit, as there is no basis for retaining this special regulation for this species.
* Prohibit fishing from March 16 until the opening of walleye season in May in a section of the Oswegatchie River in St. Lawrence County to protect spawning walleye.
* Ban possession of river herring (alewife and blueback herring) in the Waterford Flight (Lock 2-Guard Gate 2) on the Saratoga County side of the Mohawk River, where blueback herring, declining in numbers, are especially vulnerable to capture.
* Allow the use of alewives and blueback herring as bait in Lake Champlain, Clinton County, Essex County, Franklin County, Warren County, Washington County and Canadarago Lake (Otsego County).
* Add new state land trout waters to bait fish prohibited list for Essex, Hamilton, and Washington Counties to guard against undesirable fish species introductions and preserve native fish communities.
* Allow ice fishing for rainbow trout in Glen Lake, Warren County.
Comments on the proposals being submitted by e-mail should be sent to email@example.com or mailed to Shaun Keeler, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bureau of Fisheries, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4753.
After full review of the public comments, the final regulations will go into effect October 1, 2010.
Artwork of Brook Trout by Ellen Edmonson from Inland Fishes of New York, a publication of Cornell University and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
In time for the opening of Pheasant Season October 1, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will be stocking easily accessible areas where upland game bird hunting opportunities are generally limited. 2,500 pheasants will be distributed at locations in six counties. A second stocking will occur later this season.
Since some of the locations are on private land where the public is allowed to hunt, DEC asks hunters to maintain cooperative relationships with landowners by keeping hunting groups small, seeking permission, avoiding driving through fields or blocking roads or driveways, and staying in areas where public hunting is allowed. For the third consecutive year DEC is providing a Youth Pheasant Hunting Weekend on September 26-27 to provide junior hunters (12-15 years old) an opportunity to hunt pheasant the weekend before to the regular season begins.
Listed below are pheasant stocking locations by county in DEC’s Region 5. “YH” indicates a site stocked prior to the youth hunt weekend and “RS” indicates a site stock prior to and during the regular season.
* North of Brand Hollow Road, west of Rt. 22B in the Town of Schuyler Falls (RS only) * Lake Alice Wildlife Management Area in the Town of Chazy (YH & RS) * NOTE: Monty Bay Wildlife Management Area will not be stocked due to better pheasant habitat at Lake Alice.
* Near the junction of Lake Shore Road & Clark Road on state land in the Town of Westport (YH & RS)
* North of Rt. 11 between Brockway Road & Garvin Road in the Town of Bangor (RS only) * Howard Road (also known as the Griffin Road) in the Town of Fort Covington (RS only)
* Rt. 140 west of the Village of Ephratah in the Town of Ephratah (RS only) * Rt. 67 Ephratah Rod and Gun Club in the Town of Ephratah (RS only)
* Daketown State Forest in the Town of Greenfield (YH & RS)
* Carter’s Pond Wildlife Management Area in the Town of Greenwich (YH & RS) * Eldridge Lane in the Town of Hartford (RS only) * South of the Village of Whitehall between County Rt. 12 and the barge canal and along Greenmount Road in the Town of Whitehall (RS only) * Eldridge Swamp State Forest in the Town of Jackson (YH & RS) – note that Eldridge Swamp is often wet, knee boots are recommended.
For further information on pheasant hunting and release sites contact the DEC Region Wildlife offices at 518-897-1291 (Ray Brook) or 518-623-1240 (Warrensburg) or visit the DEC web site at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/9349.html for more information on pheasant hunting.
Public meetings that focus on the state’s whitetail deer herd management have been scheduled for around the state this fall. The meetings seek public input and an opportunity to participate in New York’s long-range deer management planning. According to a recent press release the goal of the meetings will be, “to identify and prioritize the issues that are most important to hunters and other people concerned with or impacted by deer.” » Continue Reading.
The APA voted this week to classify Lows Lake as Wilderness. You can read more of the Almanack‘s coverage of Lows Lake here, and the Adirondack Daily Enterprise‘s report here, but the following is a press release issued today by the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK):
The Adirondack Park Agency’s landmark decision today to classify Lows Lake as Wilderness will provide added protection to two important wilderness canoe routes. » Continue Reading.
Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company has announce its sponsorship of the 2009 Paddle for the Cure, a leisurely 6-mile paddle on the Moose River beginning at Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company, on Rt. 28 in Old Forge on Saturday, September 26. All proceeds for Paddle for the Cure will support the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund. The Paddle for the Cure will begin at 11:00 am Saturday morning. The day-long event will last until 6:00 pm. More information and pre-registration forms are available at www.PaddleForCure.net. According to the event announcement, the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund supports both new and established researchers investigating the causes, prevention and treatment of breast cancer. This research will include—but not be limited to—studies of the genetic, molecular, cellular and environmental factors involved in the development and progression of breast cancer; application of the knowledge thus gained to educate medical professionals and increase public awareness for the prevention, detection and treatment of breast cancer; and studies of the outcomes of breast cancer detection and treatment on the patient, their families and society.
The Sierra Club—the same people who thought they had re-established canoe rights once and for all in New York State with a lawsuit-baiting paddle down the South Branch of the Moose River in 1991—wants to make sure that private landowners and state officials recognize what that trip accomplished.
In a letter sent last month, the Sierra Club’s Adirondack Committee asked the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to enforce public navigation laws by making an Adirondack landowner remove cables and signs strung across Shingle Shanty Brook. “This is a clear-cut case where those laws have been violated by Brandreth [Park Association] for many years,” an August 27 letter to DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis states. “DEC should order the Brandreths to remove the cable and intimidating signs from the State’s right-of-way where they have long been a threat to paddlers and a hindrance to navigation.”
Four canoeists and a kayaker affiliated with the Sierra Club were sued for trespass nearly two decades ago when they attempted to paddle the Moose River through the Adirondack League Club near Old Forge. The test case worked its way through the courts for seven years before it affirmed the right of recreational paddlers in New York not only to float through private land via rivers but to use the banks to portage around obstacles (for background see this Almanack article, or this brochure on the history and status of navigation rights).
The Moose River ruling said streams that are “navigable in fact” are open for public passage. There’s room for disagreement about the definition of “navigable in fact” on rivers such as the Beaver between Lake Lila and Stillwater Reservoir, which is really only passable for about a week after ice-out.
Other waterways, such as the East Branch of the St. Regis River and Shingle Shanty, seem to meet navigability criteria, yet landowners continue to post them. Paddlers could use the disputed section of Shingle Shanty on a traverse from Lake Lila to Little Tupper Lake with a short carry around a dam at Mud Pond. Here’s a recent account of that trip by Adirondack Explorer editor Phil Brown.
A June 2008 article in the DEC magazine The Conservationist by agency attorney Kenneth Hamm states, “[A]ttempts by landowners to interfere with the public’s right to freely navigate violates the State’s trust interest in the waterway. Either the State or the public can sue if a landowner tries to interfere with the public’s right to navigate on navigable waterways.” In the late 1980s DEC was still arresting paddlers for trying to access rivers involving private land. Its enforcement policy shifted, to uphold paddler rights, in 1991.
Nobody has sued a landowner yet. Charles Morrison, a retired DEC official who co-signed the Sierra Club letter as the group’s public navigation rights coordinator, has been focused on codifying riparian-rights case law and common law in statute. A bill has an Assembly sponsor but has been stymied in the dysfunctional state Senate. If the legislature and the DEC don’t take up the issue, we might see a paddler as plaintiff rather than defendant in the next navigation rights lawsuit.
Here is the Sierra Club letter to DEC:
Dear Commissioner Grannis:
We are writing to request that DEC take action to remove the blockage of the State-owned public right-of-way on Mud Pond and a segment of Shingle Shanty Brook between the outlet of Mud Pond and the downstream Forest Preserve boundary. This blockage, where these navigable waterway segments flow on private land adjacent to the William C. Whitney Wilderness, is maintained by the Brandreth Park Association. It consists of a cable strung across Shingle Shanty Brook by Brandreth at the downstream Forest Preserve boundary and a number of posting signs, all erected by Brandreth. (For general location, see sketch map of the Mud Pond-Shingle Shanty Brook through-segment and vicinity, Attachment 1.)
This blockage forces paddlers to use a very rough one-mile carry trail through the Forest Preserve instead of this easy waterway route.
As discussed and documented in the attached“Illegal Blockage of Shingle Shanty Brook and Mud Pond in the Whitney Wilderness Vicinity,” these impediments to public navigation violate both State public nuisance law and the public’s right under State law to freely navigate on navigable waterways. They are infringements on the navigational easement that the State holds in trust for the public. This also is a critical link between Little Tupper Lake and Lake Lila in the heart of the proposed 500,000-acre Great Oswegatchie Canoe Wilderness (GOCW), whose creation has been advocated by the Sierra Club and other conservation organizations. (See map in enclosed GOWC brochure showing this larger area, Attachment 2.) The GOWC includes Lows Lake and the Bog River, the Five Ponds Wilderness Area and the Pigeon Lake Wilderness Area, all of which are accessible from the Whitney Wilderness by paddlers.
We actually are asking DEC to do several things. First, with regard to the case at hand, enforce existing State public nuisance and public navigation rights law in accordance with the 1991 DEC enforcement guidance memorandum on this subject. This is a clear-cut case where those laws have been violated by Brandreth for many years in the name of their deeded recreation rights. DEC should order the Brandreth to remove the cable and intimidating signs from the State’s right-of-way where they have long been a threat to paddlers and a hindrance to navigation.
Second, DEC should ensure that Brandreth’s surrogate, Potter Properties LLC, amends its 2007 deed concerning its illegal claim to navigation rights on the waterway segments at issue, to reflect the State’s ownership of these rights. This is discussed below.
Third, we ask DEC staff to honor the several commitments made during the Sierra Club’s December, 2007 meeting with them, which were to:
—revise, update and reissue the 1991 DEC enforcement memorandum for public navigation rights as soon as possible.
—remove the text on navigation rights in the black bordered box on page 3 of the DEC Whitney Wilderness brochure. This text erroneously states that a court decision is needed to find that a waterway is navigable in order for it to be truly navigable-in-fact, which is incorrect.
—help to educate the public about their lawful rights and obligations by issuing a statewide flyer or brochure that combines and expands on the information that is in Kenneth Hamm’s article and the John Humbach-Charles Morrison article, both of which are described below. The flyer would be widely disseminated through all DEC Regional Offices and via DEC’s website.
Fourth, DEC needs to let paddlers know, in DEC’s brochure for the Whitney Wilderness, that the vital Mud Pond-Mud Pond Outlet-lower Shingle Shanty Brook link is open to the public for navigational purposes, for through travel.
It is particularly important to follow through with these committed actions in view of the delay in getting a bill (A.701) passed in both houses of the Legislature to codify the public right of navigation in a single statute and give DEC specific authority to issue regulations, including a list of navigable waterways that would be subject to amendment based on field investigations. We appreciate DEC’s collaboration in drafting this legislation.
Please let us know if we can provide any other information to aid DEC’s pursuit of this enforcement case, or if we can help with any of the agenda items to which DEC committed itself in 2007. Thank you for your attention to the abuse of the public’s rights on Mud Pond and Shingle Shanty Brook.
Roger Gray, Co-Chairman, Adirondack Committee John Nemjo, Co-Chairman, Adirondack Committee Charles C. Morrison, Adirondack Committee, Public Navigation Rights Project Coordinator
Encl. Main attachment and eleven (11) numbered attachments
cc: Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General Judith Enck, Deputy Secretary for Environment, Executive Chamber Stuart Gruskin, Executive Deputy Commissioner, DEC Allison Crocker, General Counsel, DEC Michael Lenane, Deputy Commissioner, DEC Christopher Amato, Assistant Commissioner, Natural Resources, DEC James Tierney, Assistant Commissioner, Water and Watersheds, DEC Robert Davies, Director, Division of Lands and Forests Kenneth Hamm, Associate Attorney, DEC Office of General Counsel Christian Ballantyne, Director, Legislative Affairs, DEC Elizabeth Lowe, DEC Region 5 Director Christopher LaCombe, Regional Attorney, DEC Region 5 Brian Huyck, Enforcement Coordinator, DEC Region 5 Katherine Kennedy, Director, Environmental Protection, Depart. of Law Lisa Burianek, Environmental Protection, Department of Law Curtis Stiles, Chairman, Adirondack Park Agency Terry Martino, Executive Director, Adirondack Park Agency
Photograph of the East Branch of the St. Regis River
The second weekend in September is quiet. Mornings are cool, still and misty. Soft maples put out the red flag, making a fall statement as other trees pretend summer isn’t over. But a swim is not yet out of the question, and the biting bugs have given way to the singing bugs. Good canoeing weather.
On a northeasterly diagonal across the Adirondack Park, this weekend belongs to the Adirondack Canoe Classic, better known as the 90-Miler. From the day the ice goes out, every other race is practice for this one, a three-day tour of lakes and rivers, and a test of endurance as well as marriages. The 27-year-old event attracts serious athletes and boatsmen, but it has remained fun for duffers and people who don’t have the latest gear, though I learned from experience—one year of paddling and several more-arduous years of pit-crewing and volunteering—not to skimp on the boat: buy or rent one designed to move fast over flatwater.
The 90-miler is a traveling carnival, and the 500 or so racers are only part of the troupe. Support teams and volunteers double the ranks. If you’re driving through you can track the race’s progress by where cars are parked along the roads between Old Forge and Saranac Lake as family and friends stop to cheer boats on or to hand paddlers food and drink on the carries.
My favorite place both to paddle and to watch is at the bridge where Browns Tract meets Raquette Lake, just off Route 28 at the hamlet of Raquette Lake. Racers have to go single file on the winding little stream and under the bridge in the midst of Day 1, Friday, the longest day. Most of Saturday they will be out of sight on Long Lake and the Raquette River, though the early morning view from the Long Lake Route 30 bridge of 250 colorful guideboats, canoes and kayaks moving north in bunches is a once-a-year spectacle. On Sunday they do the Saranacs and finish at Lake Flower in Saranac Lake village.
This is the 27th year of the Canoe Classic and the 25th that the Department of Environmental Conservation has helped stage it. Terry Healy, a DEC employee who died in 1993, had an “enthusiasm, sense of fun and commitment to the 90-Miler” that’s remembered every year through presentation of a Terry Healy Award to a participant, support team, volunteer or staff member who exemplifies the spirit of the event.
The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) is now accepting public comments on Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan compliance for proposed guidance on snowmobile trail siting, construction and maintenance on State Lands in the Adirondack Park. The draft document is available from the APA here. The public comment period will end September 30, 2009. The APA State Land Committee will deliberate whether the draft standards and guidelines are consistent with the State Land Master Plan at their monthly meeting on September 10th. The proposed document will follow-up the October 2006 Snowmobile Plan for the Adirondack Park’s Environmental Impact Statement. According to a press reelease issued by the agency today: “The 2006 Snowmobile Plan established a framework to reconfigure the Adirondack Park State Land snowmobile trail system through the Unit Management Plan process. The goal of this comprehensive plan is to improve safe connections between Park communities and minimize potential adverse environmental impacts. In addition, this plan promotes relocating snowmobile trails from the remote interior to the periphery of Wild Forest classified State Lands.”
The following are highlights of the proposed document provided by the APA:
Shift snowmobile use from the remote interior or Wild Forest areas to the periphery of Wild Forest areas.
Establish ”community connector” or Class II snowmobile trails, to be located in the periphery of Wild Forest areas, with slightly wider than present standards (9ft maximum width; 12 ft width on curves and steep slopes over 15% grade);
Establish “secondary” or Class I snowmobile trails which would provide recreational opportunities other than connecting communities. The Class 1 trails would be maintained at a maximum 8ft cleared trail width at all locations;
Allow grooming of “community connector” trails with small tracked groomers;
Allow grooming of “secondary” trails by snowmobiles with drags only;
Ensure both “community connector” and “secondary” snowmobile trails will retain essential characteristics of foot trails;
Ensure snowmobile route design, construction and maintenance activities will be carried out pursuant to Snowmobile Trail Work Plans developed by DEC staff in consultation with APA staff.
Following the APA State Land Committee meeting on September 10th, the APA will continue to collect public comments for the full APA Board prior to the October 8-9 monthly meeting. Written comments received after September 30, will be provided to Agency members but will not be part of the official record. During the October meeting the Full Agency may render a formal State Land Master Plan determination on the snowmobile standards and guidelines document.
Written comments should be addressed to:
James Connolly, Deputy Director – Planning Adirondack Park Agency P.O. Box 99 Ray Brook, NY 12977
The Rogers Island Visitors Center at Fort Edward is hosting the Rogers Rangers Challenge triathlon. The run, canoe/kayak, and bike event will be held (rain or shine) on Saturday October 3, 2009.
The Rogers Rangers Challenge is dedicated to the memory of Major Robert Rogers and his Independent Company of American Rangers which were based on Rogers Island at Fort Edward during the French & Indian War (1755-1763). Rogers Rangers, forerunners of the U.S. Army Rangers, fought and died on ground upon which the challenge takes place. Local Native Americans described Rogers as having the ability to “run like a deer.” Participants in the event are encouraged to dress in period costume. The Challenge begins at the Hogtown Trailhead with a run over Buck Mountain to Fort Ann Beach at Pilot Knob (7.5 miles) and then a canoe/ kayak along the east shore of Lake George (3 miles) (a Compass is recommended due to the potential of thick fog). The final leg is a bike from Fort Ann Beach to Rogers Island Visitors Center, Fort Edward (30 miles). The race is limited to 100 participants and you must be at least 16 to participate. The entry fees is $60.00 per person which includes membership to Rogers Island Visitors Center, and entertainment & catered lunch for each participant.
Participants must pre-register by September 12th; for more information e-mail Eileen Hannay at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 518-747-3693.
Over the weekend of August 8th and 9th three of the more experienced 4-H Adirondack Youth Guides participated in a special trip offered only to active 4-H Guides who have reached Intermediate level or above. This year’s trip included a 14-mile paddle in canoes from Lower Saranac Lake to Middle Saranac Lake and a hike up Ampersand Mountain. The three youth guides spent several weeks preparing for the trip. They met for three weeks to plan the menu, itinerary, and logistics. They secured the camping permit and then acted as the guides for three adults during the entire journey. The trip began at the Route 3 DEC Ranger Station on Lower Saranac Lake where participants paddled to Bluff Island for lunch and then through the Saranac River to a campsite on the Northwestern edge of Middle Saranac Lake. The Youth Guides planned and facilitated educational programs on aquatic life, wild bird identification and astronomy and used GPS units in a team building exercise. On the second day the group paddled back to Lower Saranac and then climbed Ampersand Mountain.
The 4-H Youth Guide Program is offered to any young person age 12 and over with an interest in acquiring outdoor skills and experience. For more information contact John Bowe or Martina Yngente at Cornell Cooperative Extension at (518) 668-4881.
Photo: 2009 ADK Youth Guide trip participants; Top – Ben Hoffman, Sabrina Fish and Michaela Dunn; Bottom – John Bowe 4-H Team Leader, Martina Yngente 4-H Community Educator and Tabor Dunn- chaperone.
Protect the Adirondacks! will host the 7th Clean Waters Benefit on Saturday, August 22, 2009 at Hornbeck Boatworks off Troutbrook Road in Olmstedville, in the Town of Minerva to raise funds for its programs and services in the Adirondack Park. The event will begin at 11:30 AM with a canoe/kayak paddle on Minerva Stream, concluding at the historic Olmstedville dam.
Participants are asked to bring their own canoe and be prepared to pull over several beaver dams. Tours of Hornbeck Boat Works and of the owner’s Forest Stewardship Council certified forest will begin at 12:30 PM. A Reception begins at 3:00 PM and features author Bill McKibben as the event’s guest speaker along with Adirondack singer-songwriter Dan Berggren. » Continue Reading.
The 4th Annual Whiteface 5K Downhill Mountain Bike Race, part of the 2009 Gravity East Series, will take place on August 29-30 at the Whiteface Mountain Bike Park. The race, which also doubles as the Pro GRT Final, will be the first Gravity East event to feature a pro qualifying and seeding run. The pro men’s race will include a $2,000 purse for the winner. The weekend will also feature a round of Gravity East’s inaugural e.thirteen Dual Slalom Series and a chainless downhill after the main event for fun. The Whiteface 5K is almost three miles long, and an eight-plus minute downhill course that is the longest mountain bike competition in the East, with 2,456-vertical feet from the top of Little Whiteface. The main event is sponsored by High Peaks Cyclery who will offer a $5,000 overall purse. Last year’s winner Geritt Beytagh finished with a time of 7 minutes, 24.47 seconds and only seven competitors finished the race under eight minutes.
The race course will be marked five days prior to the event, and is available for training seven days a week including race day. There will be one course for all categories. Participants can register online at www.active.com until August 27 at 12 p.m. for just $25. Riders may also pre-register by phone at 877-228-4881 (option #2 then #3), event 177-1411. Racers can register at Whiteface from August 28 until 11 a.m. on August 29 for $35. The competition will be professionally timed by All Sports Events.
Interested participants can check out bike and stay packages, beginning at $59 per person including lift ticket and hot breakfast, at www.downhillmike.com. The website also offers specific race info, and video and photos from last year.
The Whiteface Downhill Mountain Bike Park is open daily from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Free guided tours are available weekends at 1 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. Lift tickets, mountain bike rentals, lessons, clinics and more are available right on site.
Severe thunder storms. Stuck in the house. So what else is new this summer in northern New York? Now, nature addicts like me don’t mind a little rain. That’s what Gore-tex is for. But crashing branches and slashing lightning? No way am I hiking or paddling in that, and it’s driving me nuts.
Where comes this craving to be out in the woods in all weathers (except severe thunder storms or maybe freezing rain)? It started when I was just a small kid, maybe 9 or 10, growing up in a boatyard on a lake in Michigan, with a dad who had lots of chores for me and who wasn’t all that nice about getting me to do them. But he had taught me how to paddle. And a winding creek ran between our lake and another, the banks lined with marsh and forest. And canoes were there for the taking. I soon learned that two turns of the creek carried me beyond the sound of my dad shouting about unfinished work. So the woods and the waterways became my refuge, my place to get lost on purpose. And so they still are. For 15 years I worked as a nursing assistant for Hospice, traveling all over Saratoga County to care for people in their own homes, people dying of every illness the human flesh can fail by. And I couldn’t fix it. Each day I had to walk into the heart of suffering. And stay there. Friends asked me, “How can you stand it?” One way was to go to the river, push off in my little canoe (a 10′ Hornbeck Black Jack, weighing 12 pounds), and as soon as I felt that smooth silken water bearing me up and smelled the sweet scent of mossy banks, I sensed that all was well. I could really believe that some great goodness lay at the core of creation, that death and change were just part of the scheme of things, and that all would be well, indeed.
It’s funny. I thought I’d enjoy such nature magazines as Outside and Backpacker, but when I leafed through a few issues, I found the articles were mostly about surviving nature — enduring thousands of mosquito bites, falling off cliffs, freezing in the mountains, struggling across deserts, that sort of thing: Nature as something that had to be challenged or overcome. Not for me. I preferred to go to nature for its power to heal. During my work for Hospice, I witnessed this power in the lives of others, as well. Let me tell you about two of these folks. While it’s true they both eventually died, I know that their final days were enriched by getting them off the couch and out the door.
Dan, a Polish-American retired paper mill worker, wanted nothing to do with me. No, he didn’t need a shave. No, he could shower without my help. No, he didn’t want to chit-chat. “Just siddown and be quiet. I wanna watch ‘The Price is Right’.” Now, to spend an hour doing nothing was bad enough. But to have to spend it watching “The Price is Right” — torture! So I busied myself making his bed and nosing about for something to read. And there on his bookshelf were several field guides for mushrooms. I interrupted his program: “Dan, do you like to hunt mushrooms? You know, we could go look for some.” It was late autumn. There might be a few late fruiters. Click! The TV went dark. “Could you really take me?”
Indeed I could. We drove to a site where he knew some Late Fall Oyster mushrooms might be found. While he sat in the car, he sent me off into the woods. It must have been angels (plus Dan’s good directions) that led me right to them. A whole bunch. I gathered a gallon or so, and you know, it might have been gold I laid in his lap, he was so delighted. And after that adventure, off we would go nearly every day until the day he died. He’d sit in the car with his oxygen tank (he had terminal heart failure), and we’d drive along the Hudson and Hoosick Rivers, visiting all the haunts of his youth. We found where he used to hide his canoe. We found where wild asparagus grew. He recalled how his father was gassed in the war. He remembered his mother’s struggles to run their tavern. He confessed how he started drinking young and how mean he had been to his wife when he was drunk. And he found at last the courage to ask for his wife’s forgiveness before he died. And he died in her loving arms.
Then there was Eleanor. I’m not sure what Eleanor’s illness was. Terminal crankiness, probably. She lived in an assisted living facility, very nice, lots of social events, classes, good meals. She never left her room. She wanted her meals sent up. She wanted her shades pulled down. The one pleasure she allowed herself was to sit on the porch in her wheelchair on pleasant days. One day I rolled her down the ramp: “Some Blue-eyed Grass is blooming near the parking lot,” I told her. She reluctantly consented. She had never seen (nor ever cared to see) Blue-eyed Grass, but that day her eyes were opened. A sea of radiant blue covered a vacant lot, studded with bright yellow Small Sundrops and snowy Wild Strawberry. “Oh my! How pretty,” she said (in spite of herself).
All summer we walked and rolled, on into the fall. If the day was rainy, she waited for me in her raincoat. She couldn’t get over the beauty of Blue Vervain (“How can that be a weed?”) or the tiny pink blossoms of Northern Willow Herb (“Wouldn’t they make a darling dollhouse bouquet?”) We picked gorgeous bundles of Panicled Dogwood (burgundy leaves, waxy white berries on hot pink pedicels) mixed with the dark maroon seed sprays of Curly Dock. Then we got in trouble for bringing in armloads of Goldenrod. Her daughter threw it all out: “Get those weeds out of here! They’re dropping pollen all over!” I heard that cranky tone and marveled: that’s how Eleanor used to sound. She didn’t anymore.
Fly-fishing enthusiast Tom Coe will demonstrate the art fly tying at the Adirondack Museum from July 23 through July 27, 2009. The demonstration will be held in the Mark W. Potter Education Center from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. and is included in the price of general admission. Coe will tie flies and display hand-tied flies including saltwater patterns and those suitable for bass, trout, and panfish. Visitors will discover the specialized tools and varied materials needed to tie flies as well. Coe will also offer environmental displays of fish habitats. Games, activities, and a hands-on tying station will help youngsters learn more about fish and create a fishing fly of their own. Tom Coe has taught fly tying classes through extension offices, at nature centers, and at Morrisville State College – where he managed the Campus Aquaculture Facility for eighteen years. He has done fly tying demonstrations at outdoor shows, and has been the focus of television features that highlighted his fly tying. Coe was photographed fly-fishing on the AuSable River many years ago for an article about the Adirondacks by Dr. Anne LaBastile.
Fly tying is part of a summer-long series of craft and trade demonstrations at the Adirondack Museum. To see a complete listing, visit the museum’s web site www.adirondackmuseum.org and click on “Special Events.”
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