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, April 30, 2009

Adirondack Almanack Welcomes New Contributor

We’re delighted to announce that Shamim Allen joins Adirondack Almanack this week as our music sherpa. Shamim writes music, plays guitar and sings in the popular Saranac Lake band the Dust Bunnies, and she’s also an avid listener of other musicians. She will guide us to good live music in and around the Adirondacks with her posts every Thursday at 3 p.m.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Sweeping New Book About Lake Champlain

To coincide with the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial, Adirondack Life has published Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History, a big beautiful book about a singular expanse of water and the lands that surround it.

Every page of the large-format hardcover tome is rich with maps, illustrations and/or color photographs. The book gives due attention to the glaciers and natural and human history that pre-date the July 1609 arrival of explorer Samuel de Champlain, who fired the starting gun for two centuries of European warfare and upheaval.

The volume is divided into chapters about New York, Vermont and Quebec towns along the shoreline; the lake’s geology and biology; native inhabitants and their displacement; the waterway’s importance in colonial power struggles; its era as a highway for commercial transport; and finally Lake Champlain as a place of recreation.

The 220-page book is $44.95, available at adirondacklife.com and in regional bookstores.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

King Philip’s Revenge: DEC Closes Spring

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has closed King Philip’s spring, apparently for good. DEC removed a pipe that connected the fenced-off spring to a popular pull-off on Route 73/9 in the town of North Hudson near Exit 30 of the Northway (I-87), citing high levels of coliform bacteria as the reason. (Wish I’d known before I filled a water bottle there a week ago. I wound up pouring most of it on a plant anyway.)

Coliform indicates human or animal waste has gotten into the water. It’s unlikely DEC tested for giardia or E coli (such tests are hit or miss), but the chronic presence of feces brings risk of these and other disease-causing organisms. Following is DEC’s press release:

DEC removed the pipe to the spring after periodic waters samples taken by DEC over the past six months indicated high levels of coliform bacteria exceeding Department of Health water quality standards.

“The Department understands that obtaining water from the spring is very popular with visitors and residents,” said DEC Regional Director Betsy Lowe. “The decision to close the spring was made after considerable deliberation, however, it reflects our responsibility to ensure the safety of the public.”

Coliform bacteria are found in the digestive tracts of animals, including humans, and their wastes. While not necessarily a pathogen themselves, the presence of these bacteria in drinking water, however, generally is a result of a problem with water treatment or the pipes which distribute the water, and indicates that the water may be contaminated with organisms that can cause disease. Disease symptoms may include diarrhea, cramps, nausea and possibly jaundice and any associated headaches and fatigue.

DEC weighed a number of factors before making the decision to close the spring, such as NYS Department of Health (DOH) regulation and disinfection.

DOH regulations require that public drinking water supplies be treated or taken from underground wells— the spring is essentially a surface water supply.

Measures to disinfect the pipe and spring are only temporary. Due to the location and accessibility of the spring, it can be easily contaminated by humans or animals at any time — even shortly after the system has been disinfected.

Constructing and maintaining a permanent structure and with equipment to disinfect the water would not comply with the Article XIV of the State Constitution and the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. It most likely would be costly, ruin the experience of obtaining water from the spring and change the taste of the spring water, as well.

DEC regrets the inconvenience caused by the closure of the spring, but can not ignore its responsibility to protect the public. DEC continues to recommend that users of the Adirondack Forest Preserve treat any water obtained from surface waters, including springs, before drinking or cooking with it. Questions from the public may be directed to the DEC Region 5 Lands & Forests Office at (518) 897-1291 or [email protected]

Galen Crane wrote an enlightening article about water quality at popular Adirondack springs in the 2001 Collectors Issue of Adirondack Life. At that time DEC did not test springwater, and the magazine did an independent test. Crane found that coliform was present — though in insignificant amounts — at six of seven springs sampled, including King Philip’s. Some people advocate drinking even untreated, unfiltered surface water in the Adirondack backcountry, arguing that worries about giardia are overblown. But where coliform is confirmed, doctors say it’s prudent not to gamble with that water source.

King Philip’s spring is reputed to have been named after a Wampanoag Native American chief who waged war on New England colonists in the late 17th century and was beheaded in 1676. If anyone knows why this spring bears his name, please tell.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

New Anthology of Essays by Elizabeth Folwell

Adirondack Life turns 40 this year. In Park years, that’s the time it took to make 6,000 46ers, add 350,000 acres to the Forest Preserve and subtract 12 paper mills (by the magazine’s own count).

Another milestone has been reached: Betsy Folwell marks 20 years with Adirondack Life — half its existence — first as an editor, now as creative director and always, foremost in many readers’ minds, as a writer.

The magazine has published a 250-page anthology of Folwell’s essays called Short Carries, and her prose is even clearer and stronger against the plain white pages of a book.

Some of Folwell’s finely-turned phrases take hold from the moment you read them; they underlie how we see this landscape as much as the granite that dictates what kind of moss, ferns and trees root here. For me, one of her most unforgettable essays is “Lessons From a Dead Loon” (July/August 1989):

“‘I thought maybe you could do something about this,’ the conservation officer told me as he laid the dead loon on the grass. A number-four snelled hook was stuck in the bird’s throat; he had drowned at the end of a fisherman’s set-line off Rock Island in Blue Mountain Lake.”

What struck me is not only that cops seek Folwell out for help, but how acutely observant she is. She knew “our diver . . . one of a pair that made the daily circuit from Lake Durant to Blue Mountain, as predictable as church bells.” She knew her bird just as she knows Elvis, the curled-lip black bear that cruises her back yard; Gerard, the old river driver; the “tow-headed tamaracks” in the October bogs; and the tourists who held a tug-of-war over a Sunday New York Times at a general store she ran one summer.

Short Carries: Essays from Adirondack Life by Elizabeth Folwell is available for $16.95 at adirondacklife.com and in North Country bookstores.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring Fiddle Jamboree This Weekend

Sunday is the Spring Blossom Fiddle Jamboree in Long Lake — part concert, part competition, part social gathering.

The event draws fiddlers of all ages and abilities from across the North Country. They are invited to show up with two or three tunes in their head, and they take turns on stage, backed by legendary North Country fiddler Donnie Perkins and his talented family band. A featured fiddler also performs several sets.

Fiddle meets are held across the North Country, and each enclave has its own approach. In Redford, for example, folks are accustomed to dancing. In Long Lake people mostly sit, listen and tap feet. A few old timers come out of the woods to play old-time hits like “Golden Slippers”; young’ns discovering perennial regional favorites like “St. Anne’s Reel” and “Whiskey Before Breakfast” are well represented.

The jamboree begins at 12:30 at the Long Lake Town Hall and ends when the last fiddler leaves the stage.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Placidians Win Multisport Mountain Race

Congratulations to five Lake Placid residents who won the team category in the Tuckerman Inferno pentathalon Saturday. The course links running (8.3 miles), downriver kayaking (7.5 miles), bicycling (18 miles), hiking (3.5 miles) and finally a 600-foot climb-up/ski-down of Tuckerman Ravine, the spring backcountry ski mecca on the side of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington.

The Inferno combines the April recreation options of hardcore Northeastern mountain jocks. Team Lake Placid finished in 3:46:21, ten minutes ahead of a second-place group from Vermont. The Lake Placid crew comprised people who manage to stay seriously fit despite serious day jobs: Marc Galvin (run), Charlie Cowan (kayak), Edward Sparkowski (bike), Jeff Erenstone (hike) and Laurie Schulz (ski).

Also Saturday fourteen club cyclists with Team Placid Planet finished the punishing 65-mile Tour of the Battenkill in southern Washington County, the largest bike race in the United States. The loop includes about 15 unpaved miles and attracts both amateur and pro riders with its challenging hills. Among Adirondackers competing were Keith Hager, Dan Anhalt, Bill McGreevy, Charlie Mitchell, Jim Walker, Bruce Beauharnois, Ed Smith, Dan Reilly, Bill Schneider, Bill Whitney, Tim Akers, Shawn Turner, Darci LaFave and Susanna Piller.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Salmonella Found in Warren County Siskins

In late March and early April, cultures from three pine siskins from Warren County yielded Salmonella typhimurium. Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) wildlife pathologists also detected salmonella in a house sparrow found in Putnam County.

The bacteria may be spread via bird feeding. Following is a synopsis from Kevin Hynes, a biologist in DEC’s Wildlife Pathology Unit, with advice for bird feeders:

“The pine siskins that died from Salmonellosis were from two separate areas in the Town of Queensbury. I am not sure where the Salmonella in these cases originated, perhaps from bird seed that was contaminated during the manufacturing or distribution process or, more likely, from seed and areas around birdfeeders becoming contaminated by the feces of infected resident birds.

“Typically in the late winter and early spring we see the pine siskins and common redpolls dying from Salmonellosis. These birds are winter visitors to New York from Canada, and they appear to be unusually sensitive to Salmonella poisoning. The siskins and redpolls may also be stressed as they travel south in search of food. Occasionally we see our year-round resident birds like house sparrows succumbing to Salmonellosis, but not as commonly as the siskins and redpolls, which leads me to believe that the resident birds have a higher tolerance for Salmonella and can act as carriers, infecting feeders, and areas around feeders, with feces containing Salmonella bacteria.

“Try to keep your feed dry because Salmonella grows better in moist environments. It is a good practice to take your feeders down once a week and sanitize them with a 10% bleach solution (1 part chlorine bleach to 9 parts water), and shovel or sweep up the spilled seed under your feeders and discard it in the trash where birds will not have access to it. In addition, if you notice birds acting sick (sitting alone all “puffed up” or acting weak) you should take your feeders down for a week or two to allow the birds to disperse, clean up any spilled seed from the ground and sanitize the feeders by soaking them in a 10% bleach solution for at least 10 minutes before drying them and resuming feeding.  Wear gloves when cleaning bird feeders and wash your hands afterwards.

“If you find dead birds, caution must be exercised when disposing of the carcasses, because humans and pets are susceptible to Salmonella infection. Birds sick with Salmonellosis are easy prey for cats and dogs which can then become infected with Salmonella, which can result in sickness and death. The NYSDEC Wildlife Pathology Unit may be interested in examining birds found dead at feeders (especially if there are four or more at one time) please contact your Regional NYSDEC Wildlife office for guidance or visit the NYSDEC website.”


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bats Flying and Dying in Broad Daylight

The disturbing die-off of the Northeast’s bats has been mostly something we’ve heard about on the news.

Reporters have accompanied biologists into abandoned mines to witness bats dying or dead, piled on the floor of their winter hibernacula. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 20, 2009

A Dry White(water) Season

Low snowpack and scarce April showers have led to burn bans around the Adirondack Park. The drought also has river paddlers wandering, searching for streams pushy enough to float their colorful little boats.

“Whitewater kayakers are being forced into summer habits of traveling downstream, unfortunately by car, to seek water levels suitable enough to sink their paddles in,” writes Jason Smith, on Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters blog. “The Hudson River along with the Moose River, in the central Adirondacks, offer reliable spring flow and are popular spring runs. But even these mighty rivers are running lower than usual. . . . [D]on’t be alarmed if you see a vehicle loaded with short, plastic kayaks driving aimlessly around your neighborhood.”

Other Adirondack critters known to crave a good spring rain are amphibians. In Paul Smiths, in the high-elevation north-central Adirondacks where ice was still on ponds as of Thursday, wood frogs and spotted salamanders began to move on a warm rainy night about two weeks ago, observes Curt Stager, professor of biology at Paul Smith’s College. The cold-blooded creatures live buried in the forest floor most of the year, braving exposure to predators and car tires on rainy April nights to travel to the ephemeral ponds where they breed. Peepers, American toads and other frogs and salamanders also congregate at waterholes this time of year.

Showers Saturday gave creeks and rivers a noticeable boost. The last two weeks had brought snow and then unrelenting sun. “They [herps] have been dribbling around. It was an early start and then it got cut off by the dry weather,” says Stager, who studies local phenology. “Every year is a little different in the Adirondacks. You’ve got to watch it for decades to notice a real pattern.”

High/dry kayaker sketch courtesy of Jason Smith


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Adirondack Events for Mid-April

Rick Moody — author of Garden State, The Ice Storm, The Diviners and the memoir The Black Veil — will read from his most recent novel at 7 p.m. tonight at the Joan Weill Student Center of Paul Smith’s College. The event is free, sponsored by the Adirondack Center for Writing.

Kayaks are on roof racks and the Northern Forest Paddle Film Festival returns to the Lake Placid Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. Friday. There’ll be five shorts about canoeing, kayaking, waterways and the paddling life. Proceeds support the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. $8-12.

April brings the spring whomp. Old-time fiddle and harmonica duo the Whompers are back in town, 7:30 Friday at BluSeed Studios, in Saranac Lake ($10). Musicians are invited to bring instruments for a second-set jam. On Saturday night, Whompers and friends play at the Red Tavern, in Duane. The place is off the grid and off the map, and the dancing goes late into the night.

In the pastoral hill country east of Glens Falls and west of Vermont, 10,000 spectators are expected to turn out Saturday and Sunday for the Tour of the Battenkill, the largest bike race in the country. Two thousand riders will blow through downtown Greenwich, Salem and Cambridge, but the real character of the race comes from remote dirt roads that have earned the event the nickname Battenkill-Roubaix, after the Paris Roubaix of France.

In Bolton Landing, Up Yonda Farm offers a guided Cabin Fever Hike at 1 p.m. Saturday. The walk winds through the farm’s trails to a vista overlooking Lake George. On Sunday the farm will offer Earth Day activities all day. $3; members free.

Monday through Thursday next week, days start warming at the greatest rate of the year. Impatient? At the Adirondack Museum at 1:30 Sunday, naturalist Ed Kanze presents “Eventually . . . the Adirondack Spring.” Free for members and kids; $5 everybody else.

On Monday the Lake Placid Center for the Arts begins a six-session life drawing course, 6-8:30 every Monday evening through May. $55. Call (518) 523-2512 to sign up. Gabriels artist Diane Leifheit runs the course. She will also offer pastel plein air evening classes beginning May 20 (sign up by May 11). The first session introduces pastels and materials, setting up to paint outdoors and mixing colors. The following four sessions will go on location around Lake Placid (weather permitting), capturing the early evening colors. $95. 6-8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, through June 17.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Curse of Adirondack Bank Robbers

The robber of a Tupper Lake bank (in a presumably fake beard and mustache, left) is still at large, six days after the heist. This is unusual in the Adirondacks. The general wisdom is that nobody has pulled off a bank robbery inside the Blue Line, at least in recent memory. Hold up a bank? Sure, quite a few have done that. But get away? That’s the trick.

There are only so many forest-lined roads in and out of any Adirondack town, and if the police are quick with roadblocks, the theory goes, it’s simple enough to sweat out the thief. In the 1970s, cops caught the robbers of a Willsboro bank waiting for the Essex ferry to Vermont.

Others, such as a husband and wife in St. Regis Falls, were picked up locally within hours, and a guy who took off on foot from Adirondack Bank in Lake Placid was met by police on the Saranac Lake end of the Jackrabbit Trail.

Jack Lawliss, retired commander of State Police Troop B, began his career as a Trooper in Tupper Lake in 1955. He worked on several bank cases inside the Blue Line, all solved. The Willsboro case stood out in his memory because the same bank was the victim of an unrelated robbery a week earlier, and those thieves were apprehended in Reber, five miles away. The institution had operated without incident for a century before then.

After Lawliss retired, a 1992 robbery of a Key Bank in Au Sable Forks ended in the arrest of Robert Jones, who had also held up a bank in Plattsburgh with his wife as getaway driver and their two kids in the back seat. To reduce his wife’s sentence, Jones later confessed to the kidnapping and murder of Kari Lynn Nixon, a 16-year-old Au Sable Forks girl who had been missing for seven years.

Admittedly, an exhaustive search of Adirondack police blotters and newspaper archives dating back to the creation of the park in 1892 is a daunting project that we have not undertaken, so if you know of any successful in-park bank robberies please tell us.

Meanwhile, bank hits seem to be a nationwide trend, and there have been three unsolved hold-ups recently in Canton, north of the Blue Line.

The manhunt continues around Tupper Lake. Roadblocks, dogs and a helicopter Friday afternoon failed to net the gunman, who is reported to have fled on foot in the direction of Saranac Lake. “Solitary robbers usually target a bank that is close to their place of residence, making a car unnecessary,” wrote George Bryjak, retired professor of sociology at the University of San Diego, in a scholarly look at bank robber demographics in Wednesday’s Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

Police agencies have not said how much money was taken. Following is the State Police’s complete press release:

On April 10, 2009, at 12:15 p.m., the New York State Police responded to an armed bank robbery at the Community Bank, located on Hosley Avenue in the town of Tupper Lake. The preliminary investigation has established that a suspect entered the bank and displayed a handgun. The suspect fled the bank with an undetermined amount of cash.

Suspect is described as a white male, tall with a thin build, last seen wearing a tan hooded jacket and blue jeans. Subject may have tried to disguise himself with a moustache and or goatee and wearing sunglasses.

State Police Aviation, Canine, Uniform and BCI personnel, Tupper Lake Police Department, Saranac Lake Police Department and New York State Forest Rangers remain on scene and are continuing interviews of witnesses and searching the area for evidence.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the New York State Police, Troop “B” Headquarters, Ray Brook at 518-897-2000.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Faster, Easter Bunny, Run, Run

Spinning egg by Marquil


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

An Adirondacker in T’bilisi

Saranac Lake has an inside man in the former Soviet republic of Georgia at a time when the country’s conflict with Russia remains intense and political opposition is taking to the streets in a bid to oust president Mikheil Saakashvili.

Jacob Resneck, who worked three years here as a reporter for WNBZ, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, NCPR, the Press-Republican, Adirondack Life and the Adirondack Explorer, departed in February to hitch-hike and couch-surf his way across Europe and Asia, gaining entree into local culture with gifts of Adirondack maple candy.

His route has taken him into Ukraine, Armenia, Abkhazia, Transinistria and Nagorno-Karabakh. “Admittedly, I’ve developed somewhat of a penchant for quasi-independent nation states,” the native northern Californian and erstwhile Adirondacker writes on his blog, jacobresneck.com.

With local journalism students acting as interpreters, Resneck is reporting in Georgia for Free Speech Radio News. The informal dispatches on his blog are available to all of us and give insight into life in some complicated places.

Resneck plans to move on in May to Turkey and then India, where we trust that his talent for friendship and train-hopping will serve him well. We’ll follow his writing with interest.

Safe travels, Tintin.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Essential Literature: The Adirondack Reader

For 45 years the cornerstone of any Adirondack library has been The Adirondack Reader, compiled and edited by Paul Jamieson. The anthology, published by Macmillan in 1964, collected pivotal and perceptive accounts of how people have experienced these woods since the arrival of Europeans 400 years ago.

Any true Adirondack geek already has a copy of the Reader, but now you need another. The Adirondack Mountain Club last month published a third edition that adds 30 entries written since the second edition came out in 1982.

Another reason to covet this update: pictures! A 32-page color insert of drawings, photographs, engravings and paintings spans Adirondack history, from William James Stillman and Winslow Homer to contemporary painters Laura von Rosk and Lynn Benevento. The original Reader had some black-and-white plates; the second edition had none.

It’s a hefty 544-page tome, but any book that attempts to get at the essence of the Adirondacks is going to be epic. Holdovers from earlier editions (six entries had to be cut to make room) include many “there I was” accounts, starting with Father Isaac Jogues’s 1642 description of having his fingernails bitten off by Mohawk captors (“our wounds — which for not being dressed, became putrid even to the extent of breeding worms”) and becoming the first white man to see the Adirondack interior — the first to live to tell anyway. Hard to top that kind of journey narrative, but almost every piece in the Reader commands attention. Entries weave back and forth between fiction, history, essay and poetry organized into ten subject categories Jamieson established nearly a half century ago.

Mixed in with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Francis Parkman, Robert Louis Stevenson, Theodore Dreiser and Verplanck Colvin are present-day writers Christopher Shaw, Christine Jerome, Sue Halpern, Bill McKibben, Elizabeth Folwell, Amy Godine and Philip Terrie, among others. Neal Burdick contributes an essay on the century-old silence still surrounding the question “Who Shot Orrando P. Dexter?,” a land baron hated by the locals in Santa Clara. Burdick also served as the book’s co-editor, assisting Jamieson, who died in 2006 at age 103.

“It’s still Paul’s book,” Burdick says. “I did the legwork. His name is more prominent on the cover at my request.” Jamieson approved each new writing, and many excerpts and articles were included on recommendations by other writers, Burdick adds. Burdick is editor of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adirondac magazine as well as a writer and poet in his own right.

More than any other book, this collection comes closest to defining the Adirondack sense of place we all feel but few can articulate. It’s as much a pleasure to read as an education, and Jamieson’s introductory sections feel prescient. He still seems very much the dean of Adirondack letters (a new edition of his classic Adirondack Canoe Waters: North Flow is also in the pipeline). Jamieson was an author, professor of English at St. Lawrence University, an advocate for Adirondack land preservation and canoe access, and an explorer of this region’s topography as well as literature.

The book is beautiful but alas blemished; sloppy proofreading has allowed typos to creep into the text, in both the older material and new additions. Further printings are planned, perhaps a paperback edition. We hope the copyediting will be brought up to the standards of the writers represented.

The Reader is $39.95 at book and outdoor supply stores, by calling 800-395-8080, or online at www.adk.org.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Exhibition of Contemporary Adirondack Masters

D. Wigmore Fine Art, in Manhattan, has assembled a show of landscapes by three artists known for Adirondack work as well as one who has come lately to North Country painting.

Adirondack Art Today,” on exhibit until May 6 at 730 Fifth Avenue, between 56th and 57th Streets, can provide summer residents and estranged Adirondackers with a scenery fix. The artists have deeply observed their subject, and the work is gorgeous, depicting the Adirondack Park in its more-picturesque seasons.

Gallery president Deedee Wigmore said she selected the painters Paul Matthews, Thomas Paquette and Don Wynn and the photographer Nathan Farb because they are “artists who I felt really represent the Adirondacks and who have each had more than one museum show.” Jay resident Nathan Farb is known for the painterly detail of his large-format photographs, and his work has been collected by the Museum of Modern Art and the Corcoran Gallery. Don Wynn was the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Adirondack Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of Art has one of his paintings. Paul Matthews, a summer resident of Keene, has made a decades-long study of Adirondack light and cloudscapes. Thomas Paquette had been artist-in-residence at several national parks before he began painting the Adirondacks in 2006.

The Adirondack Park’s varied terrain is broadly represented, from the Oswegatchie River to Mount Marcy to Lake George. Wigmore organized the show to complement an exhibition of modern rustic furniture that will fill the gallery later this month; “Rustic Tomorrow” paired six well-known modern and post-modern architects with six Adirondack rustic-furniture makers. The Adirondack Museum, in Blue Mountain Lake, conceived the project, which is on exhibit at Munson Williams Proctor Institute, in Utica, until April 19.

The six innovative, woodsy furniture pieces will then move to D. Wigmore Fine Art, where they will be auctioned May 6. Deedee Wigmore says she expects many of the architects, designers, craftsmen and artists to attend the auction party.

Artwork: Dark Tree, Light Tree by Thomas Paquette, gouache on paper. Courtesy of D. Wigmore Fine Art. More artworks can be seen at dwigmore.com



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