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.


Monday, January 1, 2018

Quaking Aspen: Capturing Winter Light

aspenNear the house where I lived during my Colorado years, there was a trail that wove through a sprawling grove of perfect quaking aspen trees. In spring, the soft green of emerging leaves was one of the first signs of warming weather. Come fall, their gilded leaves, fluttering in the breeze, reflected in the river, turning everything to gold. Even in winter’s rest, their stark trunks and bare, branching limbs were lovely against a backdrop of deep snow and craggy mountains.

Except the trees weren’t really resting. Little did I know that, even shorn of their leaves, they were still harvesting sunlight. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Beech Bark Disease

beech bark diseaseIf you’ve ever seen chevrons on the bark of an American beech, you know you’re looking at a tree that’s been hugged by a black bear. And you’ve likely been impressed with the bear’s climbing ability. And perhaps looked over your shoulder while you were busy being impressed.

But bear-clawed beeches aren’t as common as they once were. The American beech, Fagus grandiflora, has become another member of the North American “trees-devastated-by-imported-pests-and-diseases” club.

Beech trees are still out there in the forest. But many of the big ones are gone, victims of the notorious beech bark disease. It’s a one-two punch — a tiny scale insect bores holes in the bark and a fungus marches in and infects the tree. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Adirondack Insects: Cluster Flies

cluster fliesSo here’s my movie concept: during a laboratory accident, a scientist exchanges his DNA with a fly. Over the next few weeks, our hero slowly shrinks in size and transforms into an insect with black spiky body hair, maroon eyes, and translucent, buzzing wings.

What distinguishes this movie from previous versions of “The Fly” is that this time, the scientist swaps his genes with a cluster fly. Instead of developing super-fast reflexes, he becomes clumsy and lethargic. Instead of rampaging through a city terrorizing people, he alternates his time between crashing against the window and lying upside-down on the floor, twitching. The crisis comes when his irritated girlfriend picks him up with a tissue and tosses him outside. He soars into the clear blue winter sky… but then his wings freeze. The final image: a tiny crater in the snow. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Afterlife of Logs

polyporeMy three children have participated in a Four Winds Nature Institute program that recruits adult family members to lead grade-school nature learning. I have worked with several moms and dads over the years to pull together materials for hands-on lessons about communities, habitats, and the natural world. The activities usually ended with crowd-pleasing puppet shows.

During my first year in the program, in a rare moment of advance planning, I read the entire year’s program, and was glad I did: “Snags and Rotting Logs” was scheduled for November, when I anticipated most logs would be frozen or buried in snow. Regardless of frost or snow, I expected that some interesting invertebrates would have tunneled deep into the soil to wait out Vermont’s winter, leaving little more than wood for the students to dissect. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Nuthatches: The Upside Down Birds

nuthatchLike many people who watch birds, I have my favorites. The nuthatches, for instance.

Quirky little birds. Shaped like stubby cigars, with their short tails and thick necks. And that disconcerting habit of spending time upside down. I wish I could do that. Of course, I wish I could walk up walls and hang from the ceiling like a gecko, too.

But why do nuthatches walk down the trunks of trees, anyway? » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Living With Liverworts

liverwortI followed a stream downhill through the woods as it coursed through a small ravine. At the base of the hill, just before the brook entered a wetland, a patch of unusual-looking plants was growing amongst moss on a decaying tree root that spanned the stream. They were round and flat with lobed edges, and only the size of a dime. A couple of other patches grew nearby. Here the plants had branched out from their round bases, extending flat green ribbons across the damp soil.

These odd plants are liverworts, named for the resemblance of lobed species to the human liver. Liverworts are often confused with mosses and both are bryophytes, though recent evidence indicates that they may not be closely related. Liverworts have no roots, tubes, or veins to transport water and nutrients, but they anchor their bodies to soil or rock with threadlike filaments called rhizoids. They rely on diffusion (movement from an area of higher to one of lower concentration) to move water in and out. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Coyotes Prepare for Winter

coyoteEight years ago, my husband and I planted 128 fruit trees on a hillside, mostly apples, but the back few rows included stone fruits. Our apples began producing with gusto after only a few years. We made gallons of cider and sold bushels of heirloom apples. But the plums have required patience. Their blossoms are so delicate and our springs so unpredictable that after eight years, there are still varieties we have yet to taste.

Over these eight years, we have been loyal. We have not eaten anyone else’s plums. This year, we were rewarded when all five of our small Stanley plum trees produced dark blue fruit. By the end of September, they had almost ripened. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Succession: How A Forest Can Create and Re-Create Itself

forest succession A few years ago, I started an observational experiment in forest succession on a couple of acres where we once pastured sheep and goats. Rocky and wet, without livestock it was hard to keep cleared. So, I let the forest recreate itself and just watched the process unfold.

It’s a process that has taken place across much of the Northeast since the mid-1800s. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Goldenrod Golf Ball Galls

goldenrodA few Thanksgivings ago, my then-ten-year-old daughter and I went for an afternoon stroll. Unseasonably warm weather made for a longer than planned walk through a power line right-of-way and on down through steeply sloping woods to the Winooski River. As we moved through the tall scrub, Lauren’s interest was drawn to the golf ball-sized swellings on desiccated goldenrod stalks.

As usual, she had many really good questions: what were these woody spheres on dead plants; why did some have holes; what did they look like inside? We pocketed a few and continued our walk. The soft silty river bank was peppered with footprints left by raccoons, herons, skunks, and deer that prompted more questions. By sunset we had made it through the Muddy Brook Natural Area and back out onto the gravel road. Our catch of the day remained in our pockets until after dinner. » Continue Reading.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Reflections on Roadkill

moose Every so often, my friend David texts me a picture of roadkill. A fisher trailing a single strand of blood-red sinew. A wind-roused pile of porcupine quills. A bobcat in graceful, permanent repose. One year, he built extra time into his schedule so he could stop to document every carcass on his daily commute – 40 critters in all, not including salamanders, snakes, and myriad other wildlife too small to be seen from a moving vehicle.

What David knows, and what I too have come to appreciate, is that roadkill is not mere gore. Roadkill is, in fact, an opportunity, a chance to look closely at the bodies of animals who would otherwise fly, dart, or scamper away from us. » Continue Reading.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Bear Denning: Bears Are Making Their Beds

bear den The fields around our home are something of a bear buffet from mid-summer through fall: wild blueberries in July followed by blackberries, then apples come September, with beechnuts falling from the trees skirting the mown area. In our 13 years here, we’ve seen a mother bear noshing on fallen apples while her cubs scampered around in the tree above her, heard bears climbing and snapping the occasional apple branch while we lay in tents 20 yards away during a backyard campout, and even witnessed two cubs playing in our kids’ sandbox.

I’ve often wondered where the neighborhood bruins – otherwise known as American black bears (Ursus americanus) – den up for the winter. How do they decide where – and when – to hunker down for the cold season? » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Chirp, Click, Buzz: An Insect Orchestra

field crickets This time of year, I keep the windows cracked open on even marginally warm nights, savoring the sweet air that sifts through the screens. On that air comes the sound of others relishing the last bit of warmth before frost settles in: namely, crickets and katydids.

With trills and chirps, clicks and buzzing, these winged insects – all members of the order Orthoptera, along with grasshoppers – woo potential mates. This music is ancient – and has been a key to the insects’ survival for some 200 million years. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Poisonous Mushrooms: An Aura of Amanita

Amanita by Adelaide TyrolOne of our big collective cultural fears about nature involves poisonous plants. Our mothers implored us to NEVER put anything from the woods in our mouths, but in reality, you can sample most of what’s out there with relative impunity. Your taste buds will give you a good indication of edibility, and if you ignore them you might pay the price of some diarrhea and stomach cramping.

Put another way, the poison in most so-called poisonous plants is about as harmful as the thorns they might carry – not something you want to go out of your way to mess with, but nothing to make you put a child-proof fence around the rhubarb because you heard a rumor the leaves were poisonous. (They are in mass amounts, but at a high enough dose so is salt.) » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

PROTECT: State Must Reject Railroad Car Storage Plans

Railcars being stored on the Sanford Lake Railway in a section of railroad in the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest AreaThe following statement was issued to the press on Monday by Protect the Adirondacks:

A new plan has emerged from the Saratoga & North Creek Railway, an arm of Iowa Pacific Railway Company, to store hundreds of old, dilapidated railroad cars, supposedly mostly boxcars, on siding track and unused rail lines in Warren and Essex Counties. These rail cars would be stored “indefinitely” on these rail lines. Saratoga & North Creek Railway leases rail lines from Warren and Saratoga Counties and owns the Sanford Lake Rail Line in Hamilton and Essex County. The plan was announced at a Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting last week.

Saratoga & North Creek Railway stated that it plans to store “hundreds” of old railroad cars. The Adirondack Park has never been used for this purpose. This is a critical moment in the history of the Adirondack Park and for all the reasons below, we urge you to take action and block this ill conceived plan. » Continue Reading.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Fog Descending On Swamp Maples

fog on maplesIn the Northern Forest, the edge of autumn feels like no other time of year. The cool nights and warm afternoons call mid-May to mind, but the dawn woods are quiet and splashed with yellow and red. As the days teeter between summer and fall, I wonder if they belong to either of these seasons or to a season all their own.

Although our four-season calendar makes perfect astronomical sense, its simplicity masks the constant change of the northern year. In a 1991 New York Times essay, W. D. Wetherell offered a more nuanced approach to classifying seasons, describing springtime in the Connecticut River Valley as a progression of four phases: “the start of Red Sox coverage in the newspapers; maple syrup season; the day the ice disappears on the lakes; [and] the smelt run.” But he also acknowledged the competing chronology of cabin fever, mud season, and black fly season. » Continue Reading.