Almanack Contributor Mary Thill

Mary Thill

Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Adirondack Bloom Index Part IV: August and September

Ed Miller, an enthusiastic naturalist from Rexford, likes to say he has a special fondness for late bloomers, being a bit of one himself. After retiring from work as an engineer at GE, he threw himself into another life, of paddling, botanizing and exploring.

Now that August is in full swelter Adirondack late bloomers are showing their colors. Following are Adirondack Upland Flora’s median bloom dates for 2,000-foot elevations in August and September (The book, by then Paul Smith’s College professor Dr. Michael Kudish, was published in 1992.)

August 1 Green woodland orchid
August 3 Meadowsweet, pickerel weed, elliptical St. Johnswort
August 4 Sundews and pondweed
August 5 Skullcap and water lobelia
August 12 Swamp loosestrife and steeplebush
August 15 Bog goldenrod
August 17 Closed gentian
August 18 Eel grass and bugleweed
August 22 Large-leaved goldenrod, jointweed, claspingleaf pondweed
August 23 Water milfoil
August 25 Rough bedstraw and northern willow herb
August 26 Joe pye weed; red maple leave turning red on dying branches and stressed trees
August 29 Marsh bellflower
August 30 Water smartweed, mint and swamp beggars-ticks
September 1 Most goldenrods and asters
September 4 Clearstem
September 11 Panicled aster
September 14 Autumn ladies’ tresses

Not many people have seen it, but early August is when the rare Prenanthes bootii (alpine rattlesnakeroot) blooms on a few high Adirondack summits. Mid-August is the time to look on mountaintops for flowering mountain sandwort, three-toothed cinquefoil, closed (or maybe narrow-leaved) gentian and sheep laurel; those species that also grow at lower elevations bloom later on the cold summits.

Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson noted these flowers around Saranac Lake August 5-12, 1922: Rattlesnake plantain, white avens, agrimony, purslane, ladies thumb, common mallow, climbing false buckwheat, husk tomato, chamomile, Oswego tea, large purple-fringed orchis, hog peanut, climbing bittersweet, waxwork, tall coneflower, mayapple, boneset, peppermint, burdock, teasel, bergamot, cardinal flower, fringed loosestrife, sow thistle, milkwort, thimble weed, Indian tobacco, butterfly weed, English plantain.

This concludes our series on bloom dates for this season, sadly. (Past bloom posts can be seen here, here and here.)


Friday, August 7, 2009

A Day in the Life of the Adirondack Park

In the August 2008 issue of Adirondack Life, photographers from all around the park assembled a beautiful feature called “A Day in the Park.” It included pictures taken on a single, hot August Saturday.

Here are 18 shots that didn’t make the magazine, mostly because the other photographers took better pictures, but also because I didn’t have the sense to know the camera was set on low-res, which works for a computer screen but not a glossy page.

In honor of Wells Olde Home Days and Carnival, which take place this weekend, and in honor of August Saturdays, and with apologies to the residents of lower Route 30, who were not well represented in Adirondack Life because of my goof, this link to a Flickr set contains photographs taken from Long Lake to Mayfield on that day.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

An Abundance of Art in the Adirondacks

There’s a lot going on in the visual arts in the Adirondacks, and we have only been able to cover a fraction of it, so a quick callout here to check in with your local gallery. Shows change fast in summer. It’s amazing what creative people are doing in these woods, most of it not very woodsy.

One of the cool little galleries in Saranac Lake is 7444, in a former railroad siding building on Depot Street. Next week 7444 hosts Aaron Hobson’s Barkeater Photography Workshop. Hobson’s beautiful, dark, cinematic work has been shown around the world, and photographers come from around the world to work with him in Saranac Lake. There are still a few slots left to sign up for the workshop.

At 6 p.m. today 7444 will host an opening of “paintings and thoughts” by Ursula Wyatt Trudeau and Margo Fish, residents of Saranac Lake and Lake Placid respectively, and two creative women who do a lot more than art to liven up their towns. See the gallery’s blog for 7444’s schedule of events.

Worth going out of your way for is a show hanging in the gallery at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. Photographer Todd R. Lockwood’s arresting large-format black-and-white portraits of Adirondackers, Vermonters and others make you want to learn each subject’s life story. Lockwood lives in South Burlington and has been taking pictures since he was a student at Northwood School in Lake Placid in the 1960s.

Lake Placid also has an interesting art space with a numeric name: 511 Gallery, on Main Street. Keep an eye on its Web site for upcoming artists.

Bluseed Studios in Saranac Lake always has something new on its walls or in progress in its printmaking, ceramics and artists’ studios. And the Adirondack Artists Guild on Main Street in Saranac Lake is featuring a different artist every month. Nancy Brossard of Childwold will have an opening reception for a show of landscape paintings 5-7 p.m. this Friday, August 7.

Those are just a few places near me. Every town has something arts-related in August. Feel free to post events in Comments, or see these links for more shows.

Arts Council of the Northern Adirondacks

The Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts

Lower Adirondack Region Arts Council

Arts Center Old Forge

Lake George Arts Project

Photograph courtesy of Aaron Hobson and 7444 Gallery


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

All Quiet on The ORDA Concert Front

Sorry, spin dancers, Phish will not be playing the Olympic Center, according to the Olympic Regional Development Authority. When contacted by the Almanack last week, the state agency harshed rumors that the reunited Vermont jam band would return to Lake Placid this year.

Actually no arena concerts are coming to Lake Placid, and none have for two and a half years. In the now-distant past Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Blues Traveler, New Kids on the Block, a bunch of country singers, Cher and many others have rocked the ’80 Rink. The last to do so was Buffalo jam-band moe., which packed the place in March 2007.

The local police didn’t like moe.’s winter festival, snoe.down, citing a few dozen arrests on minor drug-possession charges. When moe. announced that it would not return with its multiband roster for a third season, the Lake Placid police chief said he was “glad.”

It’s not by design that there have been no big shows lately, ORDA says. It’s just the way it is. “We still do concerts, but obviously with other venues in the area — in Montreal, Burlington and Albany — not as many groups come through Lake Placid,” says ORDA spokeswoman Stephanie Ryan.

ORDA does book small-stage music to complement events such as world championship competitions, Oktoberfest and the Flaming Leaves Festival. “But there are no plans for any [major shows] right now, to my knowledge,” Ryan says.

The Olympic Center is slated to begin renovations this week, so it’s a moot topic for a while. Still, one Main Street business owner remembers fondly the thousands of dollars snoe.down brought to her business at a pretty slow time of year. “More concerts would be nice,” she says.

Logo from 2007 snoe.down


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Late Blight: What Not to Do

A Wilmington woman who suspected her tomato was afflicted with “late blight,” a fungal disease killing area nightshade crops, put the plant in her car and drove it to the Hhott House garden center in Saranac Lake late last week to get an expert opinion.

The opinion was, yes, the plant did indeed have late blight, and now it had traveled through Lake Placid, home to Cornell University’s Uihlein Potato Research Station, which provides seed stock for much of the state. It had also come within six miles of Tucker Farms, a commercial potato grower in Gabriels, and, less important, within a block of my potato and tomato plants, the latter which are finally fruiting.

The plant was bagged and discarded in the trash, as it should have been to begin with. Late blight is spread by spores that can travel several miles on the wind. Here is a reminder from the Clinton Essex Cooperative Extension on what you should do if you suspect your tomatoes or potatoes have late blight.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Opinion: Gillibrand Listening to the Wrong People on Rooftop Highway

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s quest to obtain federal stimulus funds for the “Rooftop Highway” is a puzzlement. Who has the senator’s ear on this? Apparently nobody inside the Adirondack Park.

While the science is abundant and clear, that four-lane highways are akin to walls to animals that travel on the ground, the presence of a six-million-acre park south of the proposed expressway is rarely mentioned. Nor are movements of wide-ranging mammals between the Adirondacks and southern Canada. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Linking Forests Across the Champlain Valley

The Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy gets a lot of attention when it completes a landscape-scale protection deal like the 161,000-acre Finch Pruyn purchase, or when it buys a place with a hallowed name like Follensby Pond.

But for decades it has also been working among the little farms and forests of the Champlain Valley with a larger picture in mind.

“The goal is to provide safe passage for species—a way for a moose, say, to go from the Adirondacks to Vermont with little risk of being struck by a car, or a salmon to make it far enough upstream to spawn without being blocked by a dry culvert,” Michael Carr, executive director of the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, said in a press release Monday. “Where are the most important habitat linkages and how do we work do we protect them? To date, we’ve raised several hundred thousand dollars in grants for this initiative in the Champlain Valley, which is a critical piece of a larger effort.” » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Northway Checkpoint Still Active, Technically

It’s been two and a half months since a Border Patrol checkpoint was last staffed on the Adirondack Northway, but the federal agency says the North Hudson post is still in operation, though more sporadically than after it was established in 2002.

The checkpoint is temporarily down because the New York State Department of Transportation is doing roadwork in the section of I-87 southbound between Exits 30 and 29, says David Matzel, public information officer for the United States Border Patrol sector in Swanton, Vermont, which covers five northern New York counties.

The post was last manned on May 11, Matzel says. Its infrequent use of late has nothing to do with budgeting, he says. Authorities decide to staff it “based on intelligence,” he explains. The intelligence pertains “only to immigration and terrorist activity. . . . Anything else we get past immigration is just a factor of someone trying to run drugs through there at the wrong time.”

The checkpoint has netted a lot of marijuana and ecstasy in its lifetime. The questioning stop was instituted in reaction to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Four motorists were killed when a tractor trailer rammed into a line of cars there in 2004. Since then, officials have added rumble strips and other safety measures designed to better warn motorists to stop.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

An Adirondack Cocktail

Adkforum has an interesting thread going about a bride’s search for an authentic Adirondack cocktail to serve at a Keene Valley wedding. So far the consensus seems to be Genny, though the western New York beer is being edged out by Lake Placid’s Ubu Ale.

Joe Conto teaches a class at Paul Smith’s College called “Beverages: Six Glasses that Changed the World.” Last summer his students invented Toni Basil Lemonade (“oh, basil, you’re so fine, etc.” ), a vodka and lemon cooler garnished with basil, for Lisa G’s restaurant in Lake Placid.

As for a drink with Adirondack ingredients, Professor Conto offers, “I make this one cocktail with:
1.5 oz Makers Mark
1/2 oz maple syrup (good stuff)
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
Shake with ice and strain into martini glass, Garnish with lemon twist (not wedge). The bourbon and the maple taste gooood together.”

He adds, “One time in New York City I had a drink with dark rum, maple syrup and lime juice (I assume the same proportions, maybe a little more syrup) served on the rocks with a lime wedge garnish. Also good. Actually, I might add a splash of club soda to this one.”

Potatoes are the region’s cash crop, so vodka would seem a possibility, but locally distilled P3 Placid Vodka is actually made with grain. Its Adirondack cred comes from Lake Placid water and filtration through Gore Mountain-area garnet. Whatever—this drink recipe from P3’s Web site sounds pretty good:
“The Miracle on Ice”
The Red – cranberry juice
The White – ice and a splash of Sprite
The Blue – muddled (mashed) blueberries
The Miracle – P3 Placid Vodka

There is a cocktail called an Algonquin, but it originated at the New York City hotel, not on the mountain or the lake. It calls for 1.5 oz Old Thompson Blended Whiskey, 1 oz dry vermouth, and 1 oz pineapple juice. Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Enjoy.

Photograph: left to right, Wood, Earth, Metal, Water and Fire: drinks invented by the bartender at Reflections, High Peaks Resort, Lake Placid.


Friday, July 24, 2009

North Country Residents Fattest in State

According to a report released this week, the New York counties with the highest percentage of overweight or obese adults are Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties at 67.7 percent. Hamilton County has 62.9 percent, Herkimer 62 percent, Warren 60.2 percent, and Clinton, Essex and Franklin have 56.7 percent. Manhattan was rated the state’s skinniest region, even with 42 percent of its adult population overweight.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand mined the data from federal Centers for Disease Control body-mass index statistics and released it Tuesday. The proliferation of overweight people “costs the U.S. over $100 billion in health care costs every year,” the report states. Over the past 30 years obesity rates have doubled among children and tripled among teenagers, the CDC says.

Gillibrand called on parents and schools to serve healthier foods and encourage exercise. She is drafting bills to ban trans-fats in schools and to increase the USDA’s authority to regulate school snacks. She also wants to increase funding for school lunches and community-based programs that encourage exercise.

New York’s heaviest counties are in line with CDC’s national average of 67 percent overweight; the state as a whole is below average at 60 percent. At 62 percent, the North Country has the highest obesity rate in New York. Gillibrand, a Democrat, represented much of this region as a member of the House for two years until she was appointed in Janary to a vacant Senate seat to represent the entire state.

Next week the Almanack will talk with North Country physicians about the report.

Graphic from Wiki Commons. From left to right, the “healthy” man has a 33 inch (84 cm) waist, the “overweight” man a 45 inch (114 cm) waist, and the “obese” man a 60 inch (152cm) waist.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Commentary: Fest Feststock

The time has come to declare one day in the Adirondack summer calendar free from the holding of festivals. It seems the suffix –fest or –stock is being added to random things: rutabagas, green, no-see-ums, hobos, sitting in a chair, storytelling (only one of these is made-up). Field days and fireworks ensue.

Every Adirondack chamber of commerce must have read the same destination-marketing playbook. The theory goes: People who come to canoe don’t drop a lot of money on hotel rooms or restaurants. But people who come for a canoe festival? Cha-ching. We get it.

Still, isn’t the essential charm of the Adirondacks that it’s a place to get away from people? Maybe visitors like to drive into town for a day of local food and music, sure. But can’t they also sense the difference between a genuine celebration and a manufactured event?

The proliferation of “community” happenings is becoming exhausting to some of us who live here year-round. The Merriam-Webster definition of “festival” mentions “often periodic” and “special observance.” When so many events are crammed so close together, they sap those characteristics from each other. There are plenty of things worth celebrating: harvest time, the dead of winter, ice-out, the return of migratory birds. But a word here in defense of doing nothing, especially summer nothing.

There are no inspiring quotes about inaction, only invocations against it. But there is value in just sitting in the garden, drifting in a boat, not driving somewhere. Summer’s short. Let it be its own celebration.

Credit goes to Ned Rauch, a founder of Ten Dollar Radio Show as well as a charter participant in Hobofest—which OK I might attend except it conflicts with Irishfest—for letting me vent and for adding “stock” to “fest.”


Monday, July 20, 2009

An Adirondack Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare in the Park is a city summer tradition. People pack a picnic and a blanket and go to their local green space to watch live drama under the trees. Now the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts has taken the concept to state park scale.

The Arts Center will present 45-minute outdoor productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at parks and beaches in twelve Adirondack towns. This regional adaptation of the play is as Elizabethan as Elizabethtown.

“In the original version the nobility of a town go into the woods for a night and strip away the trappings of society and find out what it’s like to be a human being,” says Arts Center Director Stephen Svoboda. “In our production the young lovers are going to be sophisticated summer people who come up to the Adirondacks in their Gucci shoes, not expecting this rustic world. The male faries will be romanticized lumberjacks and the female fairies have a Sixties hippie feel with long flowy fabric, and really they’re sort of the embodiment of nature. Then the Mechanicals are the acting troupe in the play; in our version they’re going to be these Beatnik actors from New York City all in black with their bug spray, and since a lot of these performances will be on a lake, they’ll show up in a canoe, lost in the wilderness.”

The production is appropriate for all ages and is free. “It’s really accessible to the audience, something that our summer residents and year-round residents can relate to,” Svoboda says.

See the Arts Center’s Web site for details and locations. Here is a general schedule:

July 25th 2 pm THENDARA 

July 25th 7 pm TUPPER LAKE

July 26th 2 pm BLUE MOUNTAIN LAKE

July 26th 7 pm LONG LAKE

July 28th 7 pm OLD FORGE 

July 29th 2 pm RAQUETTE LAKE

July 30th 2 pm MINERVA

July 30th 7 pm INDIAN LAKE

July 31st 2 pm Hudson River Pavilion, NORTH CREEK

July 31st 7 pm PAUL SMITHS/SARANAC LAKE
August 1st 2 pm INLET 

August 1st 7 pm SPECULATOR


Friday, July 17, 2009

Visual: Whallonsburg Farmworker Housing

I took this photo because I’d been wondering what the farmworker housing in the news looks like.

Several reporters I know who have followed this issue for the past few years have come to the same conclusion: the Adirondack Park Agency would have granted a permit for these houses if the farm had applied for one; this is a battle of jurisdiction and principle between two well-lawyered parties.

The reaction of the farm’s owner, former Wall Street trader Salim B. “Sandy” Lewis, to his recent state appellate court win can be found on his Web site. The APA has not commented yet. But if the reporters are right, we should see the question of whether these structures are more essentially “farm accessory” or more essentially “house” ascend to another court.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Builders and Realtors: Learn About Home Energy Efficiency

Many Adirondack homes have been languishing on the market, For Sale signs weathering on the lawn. Yes, a lot of real estate is overpriced and a lot of people are nervous about buying, but maybe some of these places would be snapped up if they weren’t under-insulated oil-sucking money pits.

If you’re thinking of selling, or are in the business of selling homes, or are just interested in learning more about how you can reduce fossil-fuel use in your own household, there’s a daylong program in Saranac Lake Thursday, September 24 you might want to sign up for.

Local can-do person Gloria Volz has arranged to bring the Green Build Science (GBS) training program to the Adirondacks. The course is designed mostly for Realtors and building trades professionals, including contractors, interior designers and home stagers. However anyone, including home and business owners, are welcome to learn more about sustainable building practices, energy efficiency and energy-saving tax credits.

An greenhouse gas inventory of the Adirondack Park commissioned last year found that out of 45,965 year-round homes here, 18,000 are “badly in need of insulation.” About 60% of the energy in every home is wasted through inefficiencies, according to Community Energy Services (CES), based in Canton. A few nationwide numbers: the USA Green Build Council says 92% of people surveyed said green features are important when buying property, and 40% of new homes are being built with green features. That last percentage is depressingly low, actually.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) offers a Chinese menu of cash incentives for all kinds of ways to improve home efficiency, from insulating to replacing appliances, to tapping in to clean sources of energy like sun, wind and geothermal, or carbon-neutral local sources like wood and pellets. Sometimes it’s daunting to figure out how to take advantage of these programs, so the September 24 seminar might help with that. If you’d like to start right away, CES is set up to help Adirondack homeowners navigate their way to better home finances and Earth stewardship.

For more information or to register for the course, visit greenbuildscience.net or Volz’s site.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Baseball and Botany Go Together in Saranac Lake

Baseball and blooms are both in full season, so we’ll let Christy Mathewson field the July wildflower date observations (May and June lists here and here).

The following notes are verbatim from a hand-written list compiled by the pitcher in 1922, when the charter Hall-of-Famer was in Saranac Lake trying to recover from tuberculosis. He died there in 1925.

July 2
Water Avens
Yarrow or Sneezewort (White Rays, also Pink Rays!!!!!)
Common Milkweed
Indian Poke or False Hellebore
Purple Flowering Raspberry
Fireweed; Great Willow Herb
July 4
Cow Parsnip
July 5
Common Elder
Yellow Avens or Field Avens
July 12
Great Mullein
Meadowsweet
St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum)
Bull Thistle
Common Parsnip yellow
July 15
Day Lily (H. fulva)
July 16
Water Lily: Water Nymph
Maiden Pink (D. Deltoides)
Yellow Loosestrife (Lysmachia terrictris)
July 17
Canada Thistle
Early Goldenrod (S. juncea)
Loosestrife (in swamp) (Lysimachia stricta?)
Broad-leaved Arrow Head
Joe Pye Weed
Shinleaf
Daisy Fleabane?
Lance-leaved Goldenrod
Hardhack: Steeple Bush (S. tomentosa)
Chicory?
Asparagus
July 20
Catnip
Blue Vervain
Bellflower (C. rapunculoides, Linn)
Tansy, Bitter Buttons
Elecampane
Bouncing Bet
July 22
Pickerel Weed (P. cordata)
Narrow-leaved Arrow Head
Ladies Tresses
Jewel-weed: Spotted Touch-me-not
Monkey Flower
July 22
Blue Aster (A. sagittifolius?)
Potato (Irish)
Lettuce (L. interfrifolia? purplish)
Turtlehead (C. glebra)
July 24
Water parsnip
Golden Ragwort – Squaweed
Smaller Purple-fringed Orchis
Monkey Flower (M. Ringens)
Ladies Tresses (S. ceruns)
July 26
Dalibarda (D. repens)
Fetid Currant
Pipsissewa or Princess Pine
Common Evening Primrose (Oe. biennis?)
July 31
Bedstraw (Galium triflorum)
Mad-dog Skullcap (S. lateriflora)
White Aster (A. acummatus and umbelatus)
August 1
Bedstraw (G. asprillum)
Bottle Gentian
Wild Cucumber, Wild Balsam Apple
August 3
Skullcap (S. galericulata)
Bladderwort (U. vulgaris)
August 4
Climbing false buckwheat

Some of the common plant names Mathewson noted have faded from use in this region (hardhack, sneezwort, wild balsam apple). My posthumous crush on this guy deepens every time I look at his list. His excitement over pink rays in the yarrow (!!!!!) and uncertainty over a species of primrose (?) are endearing. It’s hard to imagine a contemporary pro athlete taking such careful notice of the natural world.

Photo: Christy Mathewson attends a town league game in Saranac Lake, 1920s. Courtesy of Historic Saranac Lake.



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