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.


Friday, February 23, 2018

Science of Hoarfrost and Rime Ice

hoarfrostIn folklore and literature, Jack Frost is often portrayed as a mischievous guy, sort of Old Man Winter’s younger self. He’s a personification of everything cold. In our region he’s a busy guy, at least for half of the year.

And an artistic one.

He gets credit for painting the trees orange and yellow and red in the fall. And we’re all familiar with ground frost, that harbinger of winter that looks like a dusting of snow. This phenomenon occurs when the temperature of objects near the ground falls below freezing. Water in the air freezes onto objects, sometimes as what looks like frozen dewdrops, sometimes as branched crystals. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Irruptions: Northern Bird Visitors

snowy owlI have been keeping a close watch on my birdfeeders. Not only because I love seeing the juncos and goldfinches that arrive in flocks, and the black-capped chickadees that zip around, and even the blue jays that tend to scare everyone else away, but because I am hoping for some not-so-typical visitors: red crossbills and pine siskins. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Ice-Out Days and Climate Change

ice outWhile driving down from Isle La Motte in early December, my son and I noticed a fine skim of ice floating down the Alburg Passage. As it collided with the Route 2 bridge supports, it broke into rectangular fragments. I wondered if what I was seeing was typical, or a symptom of changing climate? But a single observation tells you only about the current weather, and says nothing about climate trends.

To understand long-term patterns requires long-term data. So I reviewed ice formation data on Lake Champlain. I learned that between 1816 and 1916, the lake was “closed” to navigation in 96 of 100 winters. In the last 30 winters, the lake has closed 13 times, and just three times this past decade. At first blush, this might seem like overwhelming evidence for less ice, but again, this is not the whole story. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 3, 2018

How Do Cows Stay Warm in the Winter?

Jerseys in snowLiving through a winter in Northern New York, especially one as cold as this one has been so far, often leads people to wonder if the cattle they see outside are uncomfortable and if they should be inside a barn. In most cases, the answer is no.

Cows that are used to being outside generally prefer to be outside and will be healthy in cold temperatures as long as they are given adequate care, including good quality feed, water, and a dry location with shelter from the wind.  » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 29, 2018

Rare Blue Supermoon Lunar Eclipse January 31st

blue moonOn the night of December 3, 2017, a moon rose that was unlike any other of the year. Not only was it full, but it was at the closest point to earth during its orbit.

Astronomers refer to this orbital proximity as perigee – a word with Greek origins that means “close to the earth” – thus this full moon was a perigean full moon. Of course the phenomenon is more commonly known as a supermoon, a term coined in 1979, not by an astronomer, but by an astrologer named Richard Nolle. By his definition, a supermoon is a full or new moon that comes within 224,000 miles of the earth. (The average distance is 238,000 miles.) » Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Living A Wood-Burning Life

fireplace At about 9 am on an overcast November Saturday, a group gathered at the edge of the local dump.

They sipped coffee, pulled on gloves, and adjusted ear protectors. Then they started to work. There were loggers, tree care experts, high school students, police officers, doctors, farmers, and lawyers. There were whole families, a guy on crutches, a few dogs, a legislator or two. By day’s end, they had cut and stacked more than 21 cords of firewood, and delivered most of it to the homes of their neighbors. What was left would be available throughout the winter to anyone with an unexpected need for fuel and a way to burn it. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Bird Smell is Nothing to Sniff At

vultureI have spent about a decade as a backyard birder and have learned quite a bit in that time. I can instantly recognize the call of a red-winged blackbird and the sweet summer song of the wood thrush. I know a scarlet tanager the moment I see one and can distinguish between the various hawks that inhabit this area. I am knowledgeable about migration patterns, nesting habits, mating and fledging.

But avian olfaction? Not so much. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Nature’s Way: No Fuss X-Mas Tree Recycling

christmas treeIn urban and suburban areas, Christmas tree disposal has come a long way since the bad old days when trees were just compacted with the rest of the household trash and landfilled.

Today, progressive trash hauling companies run special organics routes where they collect and recycle trees, and many solid waste districts have drop-off centers where the trees are chipped. The recycled trees become compost or mulch or bioheat. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

10 Things You Can Do To Make The Adirondacks Great In 2018

Every day at Adirondack Foundation we help people be more generous and strengthen the Adirondack region. Our staff put together a list of 10 things each of us can do to make 2018 great, we would love to see your additions to the list.

Ten things you can do to make the Adirondacks great in 2018: » Continue Reading.


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.


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