Almanack Contributor Guest Contributor

Guest Essayist

The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with a biding interest in the Adirondack Park.

Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor John Warren at adkalmanack@gmail.com.


Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Porcupine

porcupine I once lived in a cottage perched atop a sloping field in Western Massachusetts. It was the lone structure at the edge of undeveloped forest and sat far from the road. The cottage had a large front deck with an expansive view and a smaller one in back that faced the forest. It was under the small deck that a porcupine took up residence one fall, for a stay that turned out to be briefer than I would have liked.

Since he wasn’t damaging the house, and didn’t seem aggressive, I didn’t mind his presence. Until my dog, Beckett, met him. Beckett, a 55-pound mixed breed, could not learn the porcupine lesson. He was always certain that this time – this time – he would be victorious. Fed up with yanking quills out of him or taking him to the vet after especially bad encounters, I was desperate to figure out how to share the space peaceably with our resident rodent. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 8, 2018

Intoxication: Animals and Alcohol

drunk bird It’s the time of year when the landscape is laid bare, the ground is impenetrable with frost, and flying insects have faded into memory. As fall slides into winter, resident songbirds like robins and waxwings must switch from their warm weather diets of earthworms and arthropods to the best of what’s left: fruit, and lots of it. As it turns out, this is also the time of year when conditions become ripe for the conversion of fruit sugars into alcohol via natural fermentation.

Studies show that waxwings, whose winter diet is comprised almost exclusively of fruit, metabolize alcohol seven times faster than finches (seed eaters) and three times faster than starlings (omnivores). In addition, a waxwing’s liver constitutes nearly 5 percent of its total body weight, compared to just under 3 percent for starlings and finches. Larger livers and higher rates of alcohol metabolism likely evolved in response to occasional exposure to fermented fruit. For the most part, these adaptations enable waxwings to dine on boozy berries without ill effect. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Gray Jays: Souls of Dead Woodsmen

gray jay The sound of a gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis) evokes an image of the North Woods: dark green spruce trees, spire-like balsam fir, and bare-branched tamaracks silhouetted against a raw, slate-colored sky; the smell of woodsmoke in the air and a dusting of fresh snow on the ground. I see these birds occasionally around our cabin in northern New Hampshire and on hikes at higher elevations in the White Mountains. They’ve always had an air of mystery about them.

The bird is often heard before it’s seen. The gray jay has a number of calls, whistles, and imitations in his repertoire: many are harsh sounding, and I have witnessed gray jays mimic the scream of the blue jay. My favorite call, though, is what some ornithologists refer to as “the whisper song.” This is a soft, warbling chatter that can sound either cheerful or melancholy – depending, I suppose, on the mood of the listener. Not long after hearing the whisper song, a group of birds will suddenly appear, silently swooping and gliding from branch to branch. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Hunting Camp Talk: Moon Phase and the Deer Rut

rutty moon adelaide tyrolDeer hunters, like professional athletes, are always looking for an edge – it’s the nature of the pursuit. And so we’re susceptible to superstition, alluring gadgets, marketing campaigns. A classic genre that combines all three of those elements is the moon table – a chart that tells you when the best hunting days are based on the moon phase. These charts were a sporting magazine staple in the early days. In the print world they have largely gone the way of the Marlboro Man, but you can now buy an app which uses the moon to tell you when to take your hunting vacation.

Whether deer movement is affected by moonlight is an intriguing question. But because it’s hard to isolate the moon from all the other phenomena that affect deer behavior, I can’t imagine how you’d go about proving or disproving any particular theory. Scientists have conducted radio-collar studies with small groups of deer trying to gain insight, but the samples were so small, and the data ambiguous enough, that there’s not a lot to take from it. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Flight of the Flunker Moth

winter moths In early November, I flicked on the porch light and took out the trash. In the brief time it took, a couple of late-season moths found their way to my porch light, and as I slipped through the back door, one of them joined me inside. I cupped my uninvited guest under a drinking glass and took him out for liberation; and “him” turned out to be correct.

Before the release, I couldn’t resist a closer look. It was unmistakable: a “flunker moth.” But don’t expend energy on a Google search; it will come up empty because the term is a Vermont original coined perhaps by the venerable Dr. Ross Bell or by students in his Field Zoology course which I had the privilege to take in the 1990s. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Opinion: Wildlife Need More Adirondack Clear-Cuts

Bicknells thrush In the September-October edition of the Adirondack Explorer, ecologist Charles Canham says there are legitimate concerns about over-harvesting trees in the Adirondack Park, and that there is no good ecological or silvicultural rationale for clear-cuts.

I must disagree with these suppositions by Mr. Canham. With millions of acres of state land preserved within the Adirondack Park and never to be managed (harvested), Adirondack Park Agency oversight of larger clear-cuts on non-state-owned lands, and best management practices in place for forest harvests, there should not be great concern for over-harvesting. This is not the days of old, when massive cuts were done on steep slopes with no effort to stabilize the soil. Methods are much more environmentally friendly these days. » Continue Reading.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Opinion: The Adirondacks Does Not Need More Clear-Cuts

Bicknells thrushNew Yorkers think of the Adirondacks first and foremost as a preserve, but working forests on private lands have always been an important part of the Park. There has been a sea-change in ownership in recent years, with timber investment firms now controlling the bulk of working forests. And harvest rates throughout the Northeast have been steadily increasing.

So much so that logging rates are at unsustainably high levels in many places. This is most readily apparent to the public in the growing acreage of clear-cuts in the Adirondacks and Maine. But it doesn’t take clear-cutting to overharvest a region’s forests. Forest biomass is declining in Connecticut due to high-grading—the highly selective logging of just the largest and most valuable trees. To most foresters, that is a far worse sin than clear-cutting. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Boxelder and its Namesake Bugs

Boxelder bug Comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s shtick was the phrase, “I don’t get no respect,” always followed by one of his great self-deprecatory one-liners.

If Rodney Dangerfield were a tree, he might be Acer negundo – the boxelder, which also gets no respect. When boxelder isn’t being ignored, it’s being disparaged, dismissed, or damned with faint praise.

Boxelder, also known as ash-leaved maple, can be a fairly big tree: it can grow 50 to 75 feet tall and more than two feet in diameter, though it often has multiple trunks. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Chris Navitsky: Work To Limit Road Salt

Lake George Scientists in the 1970s began to notice and be alarmed by the abnormally acidic lakes and streams they were discovering throughout the Adirondacks. In some cases, fish populations were disappearing. Their groundbreaking work coined the term acid rain, caused by fossil-fuel emissions that drifted on high-altitude winds and were flushed down in cloud bursts.

Today, just as science-driven rules limiting industrial and vehicular emissions have helped our local waterways begin to recover, evidence we are seeing supports new approaches to safely managing snow and ice on roadways, driveways, and sidewalks while protecting our freshwater resources. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Opinion: Keep Brown Tract Pond Rustic

Campers at Brown Tract Pond New York State public campgrounds are managed under what is called “Intensive Use” rules. These lands are the most developed (least restrictive of development) public lands in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. “Wilderness” is the most restrictive. Interestingly, when it came to establishing management plans for Moose River Plains Camping Area, special guidelines were agreed upon to preserve its unique version of primitive/public campground. The Department of Environmental Conservation may not “upgrade” the area with features found in regular campgrounds. “Keep it simple” is what the people wanted. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Tiny Owls Are On The Move

Saw Whet Owl Every autumn, when the air tastes of apples and leaves crunch underfoot, my thoughts turn to tiny owls – northern saw-whet owls (Aegolius acadicus) to be exact. Just eight inches in length with a round head and bright yellow eyes, the saw-whet is arguably New England’s most endearing owl. Deer mice, I suspect, would beg to differ.

Saw-whets are small, secretive, nocturnal, and very often silent. As a result, until relatively recently, their migration patterns were poorly understood. Project Owlnet, a network of researchers spanning much of North America with a particular concentration in the northeastern U.S., is changing that. » Continue Reading.


Monday, October 15, 2018

Toad Toxin: Don’t Mess with Anaxyrus

american toad When my kids were toddlers, they discovered, quite happily, a toad in a damp corner of their sandbox, tucked into the shade beneath the small, triangular piece of wood that served as a seat. The toad seemed to spend most days there, probably waiting until dark to emerge and hunt bugs and slugs.

Thankfully, back then, we had a more mature dog who was wise in the ways of the world – not the goofy pup we have now, who I’m sure will learn the hard way not to eat toads. Many a clueless canine has clamped its mouth around an American toad – the species found most commonly in our region – only to be introduced to bufotoxins, a toad’s best defense against being eaten. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Indian Pipe: Ghost Flowers of the Forest

indian pipe On a walk in the woods in early fall, you may see a cluster of waxy, white stems with tiny, scale-like leaves rising out of the leaf litter or pine needles. At the end of each translucent stem is an odd, bell-shaped flower. This is Indian pipe, named for its resemblance to the clay pipes once smoked by Native Americans and early settlers.

Indian pipe, also known as corpse plant and ghost flower, has an unusual strategy for survival. It lacks the green pigment chlorophyll, and therefore cannot make its own food through photosynthesis as most plants do. Indian pipe and its relatives were formerly believed to live off decaying organic matter and were called saprophytes. However, more recent research has revealed that the plant is a parasite, sucking up nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Trees and mycorrhizal fungi have a symbiotic relationship: the fungi absorb nutrients from the trees; the trees benefit by increasing the surface area of their root systems, allowing them to drink in more water and minerals. Indian pipe interjects itself into this relationship, absorbing nutrients from the mycorrhizal fungi but giving nothing back. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Stings and Stingers: An Outside Story

hornet stinging apparatusAs a boy, I was exploring the loft of my grandmother’s barn when I disturbed a bumblebee nest among the moldering hay bales. In my memory, I leap stuntman-like from the haymow and hit the ground 10 feet below running flat out, rounding the corner of the barn then glancing back to see if anyone is in pursuit. There is an angry bumbler coming up fast. I vault the rusty ornamental fence and am steps from the screen door and safety when … I get nailed in the neck. Ow!

When we lived in Louisiana, I scalped a fire-ant nest while mowing the lawn and got stung a few hundred times as the ants swarmed up my legs. Vivid memory. I’ve been stung by several varieties of wasps and, as a beekeeper, I periodically get stung by my honey bees. Yes, it still hurts. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Kelly Metzgar: LGBTQI Pride in the Adirondack North County

celebrate unity eventOnce again it is time to celebrate the diversity of all people here in the Adirondack North Country. In the past two years we’ve seen an outpouring of hate, attempts at overt discrimination, and attempts to roll back human rights protections on the federal level.

We are facing a potential crisis in a U.S. Supreme Court poised to overturn settled law in the areas of women’s health, abortion, marriage equality, and LGBTQI civil rights protections. We’ve seen attempts to ban members of the transgender community from serving openly in the military as well as prohibiting their use of public accommodations. We’ve seen the lies and fear mongering of homophobic and transphobic hate groups bent on the elimination of trans people from society. » Continue Reading.