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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Adirondack Wildlife: American Mink

minkIf the river otter is the most aquatic member of the mustelid family, and weasels represent the terrestrial branch of the clan, the American mink is the adept middle child, taking advantage of its adaptations both in the water and on land to make a living.

Like both otters and weasels, mink have long, sleek bodies, the sharp teeth of a predator, and small – but keen – ears and eyes. Their fur – long a fashion staple – is a combination of oily guard hairs, which afford some water-repellency, and an undercoat that grows thick in winter to provide warmth. It’s a common makeup in winter-active mammals – and a bit like us humans wearing a waterproof Gore-Tex shell over layers of insulating polypro or wool. » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Adirondack Tree Bark in Winter

It’s winter. Hardwood trees are bare. But that doesn’t mean the woods are bereft of interest. Winter, when sunlight slants in, is the time when bark comes into its own. Pause to take in the aged-brass bark of a yellow birch, or the hand-sized bark plates on a big white pine.

Bark is beautiful. And practical. A protective tissue, a defense against insects, fungi, fire, and deer, it has a lot in common with human skin. » Continue Reading.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Nature Conservancy: Boreas Ponds Classification Commentary

What follows is a letter sent to the APA.

In response to the Adirondack Park Agency 2016 – 2017 Amendments to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan involving the Classification and Reclassification of 54,418 acres of State Lands in the Adirondack Park which include the Boreas Ponds Tract, 32 Additional Classification Proposals, 13 Reclassification Proposals, and 56 Classifications involving map corrections, The Nature Conservancy respectfully submits our comments related exclusively to Boreas Ponds. Our perspective is informed by nearly ten years of ownership and stewardship of this parcel, as well as focused stakeholder engagement. For over 50 years The Nature Conservancy has managed lands globally for both conservation and public use purposes, including our 160 preserves in New York State, and we are accordingly very mindful of the challenges and opportunities presented by this classification proceeding. We are grateful for the opportunity to provide input with respect to the classification of the Boreas Ponds parcel we conveyed to New York State in April 2016. » Continue Reading.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Local Government Review Board: Boreas Ponds Classification Commentary

What follows is a letter sent to the APA.

The Review Board thanks the Adirondack Park Agency for the public hearing process on the 2016 classification package and makes the following comments regarding the process, and the classification of the Boreas Ponds Tract, the Benson Road Tract and the MacIntyre East and West Tracts.

The members of the Review Board have carefully considered the physical characteristics of those tracts and their capacity to withstand use, as the fundamental determinants of state land classification specified by the State Land Master Plan, and support the following:

o The compromise of Alternative 1 for the Boreas Ponds Tract.
o Wild Forest classification for the Benson Road Tract.
o Evaluation of additional alternatives for the MacIntyre East and West Tracts.

» Continue Reading.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

12 Counties: Boreas Ponds Classification Commentary

We are writing as the Chief Elected Officials of the 12 Counties comprising the entire Adirondack Park. We are the Elected Representatives of the 130,000 residents of the Park, as well as the million people who comprise the broader Adirondack region. It is our privilege to comment on the current Classification package which the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) has presented for input.

We would like to thank you and the entire APA for this huge undertaking, and the admirable effort you have made to inform people about the Classification package and travel the State to listen to the public’s views. » Continue Reading.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Blue Jays in Winter

“Jay, jay, jay!” Every morning last winter I awoke to the loud cries of a flock of 17 blue jays dancing around my feeder. They gorged on sunflower seeds and suet, scaring away smaller birds, then left, only to return in the afternoon. I ended up buying a second feeder for the smaller birds, which was more difficult (though not impossible) for the jays to feed from.

This boisterous group was a foraging flock. Like many species of birds, blue jays change their behavior from summer, when breeding birds live in pairs, to winter, when they often gather in groups. In summer, blue jays feed and raise their young mostly on insects, while in winter, they shift to fruits, nuts, and seeds. As biologist Bernd Heinrich explained in his book Winter World, these food sources are widely dispersed, but occur in large clumps that groups of birds can detect more easily by combining their scouting efforts. Another advantage of winter flocks is that many eyes are better for detecting predators. » Continue Reading.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Arthropods Among Us

Not to alarm you, but you’re surrounded.

There, buzzing stupidly into the slats of your venetian blinds, is a house fly. Nearby, nestled in a crevice of the window-frame, a ladybug waits out the winter. In a corner overhead, a spindly house spider sits motionless in its haphazard web. Underfoot, bristly little carpet beetle larvae nibble at the fibers of an old rug. And that’s to say nothing of the dust mites, which are too small to see and too numerous to count. » Continue Reading.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Questions About Winter Bird Feeding

Back in September, I put out the bird feeder. I try not to do it too early because, well . . . bears. My feathered friends emptied it in hours. A couple of refills later and I decided I couldn’t afford to put out the buffet that early. The weather was warm; natural feed had to be available.

The birds, ever optimistic, still dropped by. I started writing dialogue for them: » Continue Reading.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Trees of Christmas

christmas treeYou picked it out, maybe cut it down, brought it home, watered it, and decorated it. But do you know what species of tree that is surrounded by presents in your living room?

If you purchased your Christmas tree rather than cutting it out of the woods, chances are it’s either a balsam fir (Abies balsamea) or a fraser fir (Abies fraseri) – these are the two species most commonly grown on Christmas tree farms in northern New England. Balsam fir is found naturally everywhere, from Alberta to Pennsylvania, and has the largest range of any North American fir species. It’s perhaps best known for its aroma – when people say they want a tree that smells like Christmas, they’re talking about a balsam. Fraser fir, native to the Appalachian Mountains, doesn’t have the same trademark scent, but it does have a little more visual flourish in the form of elegant blue-green needles with silvery-white undersides. » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Outside Story: Carpenter Ants

carpenter-antMention carpenter ants, and Declan McCabe, chair of the biology department at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, thinks about the time he got a lungful of formic acid. He had taken a class into the field to survey insects. He saw a huge ant and sucked it up into his aspirator. Yes, a straw-like aspirator is an important tool for entomologists, who clearly aren’t worried about getting too close to their work. He successfully captured the ant and then took a breath. His lungs burned. That big ant had used the classic ant defense of spraying formic acid.

Mention carpenter ants, and Rachel Maccini, of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Cooperative Extension, thinks of the calls that pour into the extension’s hotline each spring, each caller wondering if those ants suddenly crawling across the rug, the couch, and the kitchen counter are going to take the house down. » Continue Reading.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Glacier-Carved Rocks: New England’s Ice Age Past

potholeWhen I’m hiking, I like to watch for rock basins, sometimes as small as cupped hands, that appear along summits and ridgelines. These are “thin places.” When filled with water, these tiny quivering pools offer both an ephemeral now and a deep plunge into time. » Continue Reading.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Invasive Species: House Sparrows in Winter

house sparrowHouse sparrows – those little brown and gray birds that flash mob the bird feeder – are common and easy to see. They’re quarrelsome, noisy, and when they’re on the ground, they move in vigorous hops that remind me of popcorn popping out of a pan.

They’re also an invasive species, scavengers that have hitched their wagons to humans, and at least on this continent, are having a very successful ride. Our farms, lawns, and grocery store parking lots provide all kinds of year-round foraging for these birds, and our structures provide them shelter. From gutter pipes to the bulb rims of traffic lights, house sparrows know how to make themselves at home in human-dominated settings, regardless of whether humans want them there. » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

On The Color of Cranberries

cranberriesAs a kid fidgeting at my grandmother’s Thanksgiving table, I often wondered, what’s the point of cranberries? She had a live-in Irish cook who insisted on serving whole cranberries suspended in a kind of gelatinous inverted bog. If I ventured to eat a berry I experienced the power of my gag reflex.

How times change! The humble American cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, in my opinion, is worthy of a downright homage. I am a fan. Yes, cranberries are tart, sour, and even bitter, but that makes them both good food and strong medicine. The Wampanoag called them ibimi, meaning sour or bitter berries. They crushed them into animal fats and dried deer meat to make pemmican, a food full of energy and vitamin C for long winter trips. Mariners brought them on sea voyages to fend off scurvy. According to passed down knowledge, the Algonquin used the leaves of cranberry to treat bladder infections, arthritis, and diabetes-related circulation problems. » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tamarack: Our Only Native Deciduous Conifer

tamarackTamarack is a tree with a number of aliases – hackmatack, eastern larch, or if you’re from Northern Maine and feeling contrary, juniper. Whatever you call it, this scraggly tree, easy to overlook for most of the year, lights up the November forest. Weeks after leaf season has passed us by, the tamarack turns brilliant yellow and then orange, blazing like a torch amid the evergreens and fading, broad-leaf browns.

It’s an oddball tree, the only deciduous conifer native to our region, and I’ve often wondered how it manages to make a living. Deciduous trees are big spenders, investing in foliage that they use quickly and discard. This approach may seem wasteful, but in certain scenarios it’s a good strategy. Big leaves enable a tree to collect and bank a lot of carbon dioxide all summer; the tree then drops the leaves and takes the winter off. » Continue Reading.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Black Bear Encounters: A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear

black bear dec

The black bear is one of the most fascinating wildlife species in the Adirondacks. Residents and visitors are constantly introducing human food and garbage into the home of the black bear. Wild, non-habituated bears forage for foods such as berries, nuts, insects, and grasses.

These bears will not normally show an interest in our food unless they are first introduced to it through our careless behavior. If they cannot easily get to our food they will look elsewhere. When we store food and garbage poorly, bears are attracted to this easily accessible food rather than the natural foods they must work to acquire. » Continue Reading.

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