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, September 17, 2010

Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet At Depot Theatre

Adirondack Almanack is pleased to offer this guest post by Fred Balzac of Jay, NY:

Until about midway through the play, William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, has all the trappings of a comedy: two feuding families; two young lovers who meet and marry in secret; their hot-blooded, sword-wielding cousins and buffoonish elders whose rivalry is sure to be o’erthrown by the fecund love between two representatives of the next generation of fair Verona.

But then wily old Will throws a curve into the proceedings: during a swordfight between the best duelists among the Montagues and Capulets, the lovestruck Romeo intervenes, enabling Tybalt to fatally wound Romeo’s sharp-tongued cousin, Mercutio, who musters enough breath to utter the curse, “A plague on both your houses,” before succumbing. Dazed and confused, Romeo picks up his cousin’s sword and, before he realizes what he is doing, manages to run it through his new in-law Tybalt, killing him. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

High Peak Hiking: Four Slides in One Day

Many Adirondack hikers go on to explore the many slides of the High Peaks after hiking trails for many years. Slides create a direct approach to the top, combining bushwhacking, easy rock climbing and a sense of adventure.

Then there’s Kevin “MudRat” MacKenzie of Lake Placid, who has taken slide-climbing to a new extreme.

Call it slide-bagging. And recently he got four of them in one day.

About a week ago MacKenzie, 40, an assistant registrar at St. Lawrence University, climbed Giant Mountain — the popular High Peak off Route 73 in Keene Valley. He climbed it, descended it, climbed it and descended it, by himself, going up and down four adjacent slides on the prominent west face.

“I was going to do everything on the west face,” he reported later. “So I put together four of them.”

Every slide was different, he said. Every slide had its own character.

Starting his hike around 7 a.m., he hiked the Roaring Brook Trail to a bushwhack that follows drainages to the base of the Bottle Slide, one of a number of bare areas created from landslides years ago.

He describes the slide as one of his favorites, with waves of anorthosite, plenty of cracks and ledges to climb and a pitch of around 39 degrees (he figures this out at home using topographic software.

From there, he descended the Diagonal Slide, which is steeper and covered with algae, making for a nerve-racking descent. “You can’t see what you’re stepping onto,” he said.

At the bottom of the mountain’s headwall, he traversed to the Question Mark Slide, an obscure route that’s steep, overgrown and covered with wet moss. That took two hours, including a lot of bushwhacking through the trees to avoid the perilous, 45-degree wet bits.

Finally reaching the summit at 1 p.m., he was exhausted and decided to pass on hiking Giant’s most well-known slide, the majestic Eagle Slide (the wide and obvious bare section visible from Keene Valley). Instead, he walked down the 600-foot-high Tulip Slide and decided to call it a day.

MacKenzie says he’s done about 30 slides so far, and hopes to one day climb all 100 major slides in the peaks. His next area: Dix, with its dozens of slides, which he plans to attack in a weekend camping trip in the near future.

Readers: What are your favorite slide routes and why?

 


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mating Birds: Love Adirondack Style

Well, I don’t know if we can call it “love”. Maybe a more scientific term is called for. How about “potential mate selection”? No, it just doesn’t quite have that Valentine’s Day ring to it. However we say it though, mate selection has begun in the wild woodlands of the Adirondacks.

One day last week, as I skied through the wonderful trails of the Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center.

I stopped to watch the acrobatic high-jinks of some black-capped chickadees. Off in the distance came a loud, monotone drumming on a tree down the hill. As I heard it I knew that spring was not too far away.

What I heard was the drumming “call notes” of a male hairy woodpecker calling for a mate. He will rapidly drum with his bill on a branch, preferably hollow since he wants that sound to carry a great distance through the winter woods. By the way, he’ll also drum on your metal gutters, down spout, or nearby telephone pole! Hard to imagine a bird going through such self abuse while winter still holds firm in the North Country.

But as they say, the early bird catches the worm; in this case he attracts a female, courts her, and then sometime around March or early April they begin nesting, and about 30 days later they’ll have a growing family in that hollowed-out nest hole.

I’ll bet you have observed this courting of hairy and downy woodpeckers on your walks though the late winter woods. You’ll first hear the loud “chink” call notes of the male and then you’ll see the two birds chase one another around the trunk of the tree. Often she’ll fly away, but hot on her tail is the male. He’s not letting this one go. So chances are if you see two woodpeckers playing a game of tag this month or next, it’s a courting pair.

Are other birds gearing up for the mating season now? You bet your sweet-smelling-red-roses they are! Peregrine falcons will soon be returning to the Adirondacks from their wintering grounds along the coastal US, Mexico, or Central America, in search of a good cliff-dwelling-casa. We often get falcons back on North Country nesting territories in late February or early March.

Hear any owls hooting in the woods? That’s most likely a male defending his chosen territory and also trying to attract a female. Being year-round residents, barred, great horned, and saw-whet owls will begin nesting in early March. I recall seeing a great horned owl on a nest with almost a foot of snow balanced along the rim of the nest on St Patrick’s Day. And in mid April I’ve observed large great horned owl chicks sitting on a nest.

Bald Eagles will soon be courting, and what a treat that is to watch. Look for two adult bald eagles flying high above in unison, like two joined figure skaters in the air. If you’re really lucky you’ll get to see them performing a talon-locking maneuver that defies death. They will begin cleaning out the nest and re-attaching branches to spruce the place up. It’s not unusual for a pair to be sitting on eggs in a raging, late winter snowstorm.

Just like the eagles, falcons, and owls, a male red-tailed hawk will begin his pre- spring courting in the skies above our neighborhoods. Listen for the high-pitched screech he gives in flight as he searches for a mate.

In February and March there’s a whole text book list of things that are going on in the bird world, and I’ll soon be writing about them. Hormones are coursing through bodies; ovaries are growing; testes are enlarging (oops, sorry, thought this was the adult version-too graphic?). Anyways, all this is happening in our winter visiting birds and also in the birds that will soon be winging their way northward from tropical climates to find love in our Adirondack woods.

Photo: Male hairy woodpecker by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Lake George: Jefferson, Madison, and Prince Taylor

Lake George resident and regular Almanack reader Enid Mastrianni has offered for Black History Month this enlightening piece on a trip by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Jefferson’s enslaved servant James Hemings, to Lake George and their reactions to Prince Taylor, a free black man living just south of Ticonderoga:

Many a booster of the Adirondacks has cited the famous Thomas Jefferson quote, “Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin… finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves… down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony.” » Continue Reading.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Golden Eagles Over The Adirondacks

Singer John Denver wrote in Rocky Mountain High, “I know he’d be a poor man if he never saw an eagle fly.” These notes ring true for those of us fortunate enough to see a bald eagle effortlessly soaring over some Adirondack mountaintop or sparkling lake. Bald eagles have made quite a recovery over the past several decades in the Adirondacks, but now I’d like to divert your attention to the the bald eagle’s cousin, the golden eagle.

The golden eagle has long been a source of inspiration, power, and mystery to humans and it shows up as the national symbol of many countries. The golden once flew in great numbers across North America but at this point in time it seems to be holding on to a limited western population and a scattered eastern population. The western population is found throughout the mountainous states from Mexico to Canada and into Alaska. East of the Mississippi it can be found in small pockets of the western Appalachian Mountains during winter, with a majority of the eastern eagles spending their summer breeding season in the regions of northeastern Canada and Maritime Islands.

To this day we still wonder if there was ever a healthy breeding population in the Adirondacks. Teddy Roosevelt stated, in an overview of his 1870’s trips to the Adirondacks: “The golden eagle probably occurs here.” It is believed that the last known nesting golden eagles in this area (around 1971) was found in the Moose River Plains area—a wonderful bird and wildlife watching area anytime of the year. There were also scattered reports of a nest around the Tupper Lake region. As previously mentioned, mystery often surrounds this bird of prey.

Well, slowly and methodically science is trying to pull back this veil of mystery. As this proceeds we get a better picture of the eastern population and, lo-and-behold, the Adirondacks often becomes an integral part of this eagle’s migratory pathways!

As late September blends into autumnal October the golden eagles of Northern Canada’s eastern provinces begin a determined southerly migration into the western Appalachian Mountains. These raptors will often complete a day’s journey of 100 miles or more with good tailwinds. As the estimated 200-300 eastern golden eagles come southward they are naturally funneled over the northeastern states and, as luck would have it, many goldens migrate directly over the Adirondacks.

Technology has played a major role in this investigation. Over the years, many golden eagles have been caught, and radio transmitters have been placed on the backs of these eagles. As the signal is given off by the moving transmitters they show up (via satellite) on “listening” computers and the eagle’s flight path is followed. Based on several mapping sites I found (here’s one), there is a distinct pattern of golden eagles flying over Franklin, Clinton, Jefferson, and St. Lawrence Counties during both fall and spring migration.

OK, now that we know they’re out there . . . what do we look for? As fall marches through October into November I would start looking at the sky when the winds are from the north or northwest. Get out into some open field or on a mountaintop that offers a wide, open view. Personally I like Coon Mountain, near Westport, or I’ll climb the accessible fire tower on Belfry Mt outside Mineville. Both offer some nice views of the Champlain Valley. Another good option is Azure Mt, off Blue Mt Road, northwest of Paul Smiths.

While up there I’ll look with my binoculars for migrating raptors and specifically I’ll focus on the many turkey vultures that are lazily soaring on the heated thermals coming off the valley below. Golden eagles can resemble turkey vultures in flight with a slight “V” shape to their up-turned wings. Most bald eagles and other bird of prey will fly with their wings straight (horizontal) out from their bodies. As you focus on these dark-colored birds, look closely at the wings and try to determine if there are white patches on the undersides of the outstretched wings and a black band on tip of the tail. If so then you may be looking at an immature golden eagle! As our only birdwatching president, Teddy Roosevelt, once said, “Bully for you!”

Photo: A golden eagle in flight.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Adirondack Winter Finch Forecast

We birders (those who watch birds) eagerly await an e-mail that comes about this time every early fall. It’s a message that’s filled with information that can be good news or bad news. The good news can fill a birdwatcher’s heart with anticipation of a wonderful winter with colorful sightings. The bad news can mean a not-so-good winter with few of these colorful sightings. However, the bad news for us in the Adirondacks turns out to be good news for others.

All this I am referring to is the long-awaited Winter Finch Forecast given by naturalist/ornithologist Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologist group: www.ofo.ca/reportsandarticles/winterfinches.php » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

ADK Music Scene: Diz in North Creek, Jamming Etiquette

Tonight in North Creek at barVino, Diz is playing at 8 pm! Diz is a multi instrumentalist singer. On his website there is a nice example of his voice. He sings poignant love songs and tells a great joke – it should be a fun show.

Also tonight there is a regular Wednesday jam at The Shamrock in Gabriels. Located at the end of Split Rock Road coming from Saranac Lake and on the left on the road that runs between Gabriels and Bloomingdale coming from Paul Smiths. It’s a fantastic place, excellent food and all round great scene. There is a core group and always folks who stop in at different times during the night. It seems to get going around 8 pm but can start on either side of that – sometimes it runs as late as midnight and sometimes it’s over by 10 pm. » Continue Reading.


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