Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Adirondacks: Off the Couch, Out the Door

Severe thunder storms. Stuck in the house. So what else is new this summer in northern New York? Now, nature addicts like me don’t mind a little rain. That’s what Gore-tex is for. But crashing branches and slashing lightning? No way am I hiking or paddling in that, and it’s driving me nuts.

Where comes this craving to be out in the woods in all weathers (except severe thunder storms or maybe freezing rain)? It started when I was just a small kid, maybe 9 or 10, growing up in a boatyard on a lake in Michigan, with a dad who had lots of chores for me and who wasn’t all that nice about getting me to do them. But he had taught me how to paddle. And a winding creek ran between our lake and another, the banks lined with marsh and forest. And canoes were there for the taking. I soon learned that two turns of the creek carried me beyond the sound of my dad shouting about unfinished work. So the woods and the waterways became my refuge, my place to get lost on purpose.

And so they still are. For 15 years I worked as a nursing assistant for Hospice, traveling all over Saratoga County to care for people in their own homes, people dying of every illness the human flesh can fail by. And I couldn’t fix it. Each day I had to walk into the heart of suffering. And stay there. Friends asked me, “How can you stand it?” One way was to go to the river, push off in my little canoe (a 10′ Hornbeck Black Jack, weighing 12 pounds), and as soon as I felt that smooth silken water bearing me up and smelled the sweet scent of mossy banks, I sensed that all was well. I could really believe that some great goodness lay at the core of creation, that death and change were just part of the scheme of things, and that all would be well, indeed.

It’s funny. I thought I’d enjoy such nature magazines as Outside and Backpacker, but when I leafed through a few issues, I found the articles were mostly about surviving nature — enduring thousands of mosquito bites, falling off cliffs, freezing in the mountains, struggling across deserts, that sort of thing: Nature as something that had to be challenged or overcome. Not for me. I preferred to go to nature for its power to heal. During my work for Hospice, I witnessed this power in the lives of others, as well. Let me tell you about two of these folks. While it’s true they both eventually died, I know that their final days were enriched by getting them off the couch and out the door.

Dan, a Polish-American retired paper mill worker, wanted nothing to do with me. No, he didn’t need a shave. No, he could shower without my help. No, he didn’t want to chit-chat. “Just siddown and be quiet. I wanna watch ‘The Price is Right’.” Now, to spend an hour doing nothing was bad enough. But to have to spend it watching “The Price is Right” — torture! So I busied myself making his bed and nosing about for something to read. And there on his bookshelf were several field guides for mushrooms. I interrupted his program: “Dan, do you like to hunt mushrooms? You know, we could go look for some.” It was late autumn. There might be a few late fruiters. Click! The TV went dark. “Could you really take me?”

Indeed I could. We drove to a site where he knew some Late Fall Oyster mushrooms might be found. While he sat in the car, he sent me off into the woods. It must have been angels (plus Dan’s good directions) that led me right to them. A whole bunch. I gathered a gallon or so, and you know, it might have been gold I laid in his lap, he was so delighted. And after that adventure, off we would go nearly every day until the day he died. He’d sit in the car with his oxygen tank (he had terminal heart failure), and we’d drive along the Hudson and Hoosick Rivers, visiting all the haunts of his youth. We found where he used to hide his canoe. We found where wild asparagus grew. He recalled how his father was gassed in the war. He remembered his mother’s struggles to run their tavern. He confessed how he started drinking young and how mean he had been to his wife when he was drunk. And he found at last the courage to ask for his wife’s forgiveness before he died. And he died in her loving arms.

Then there was Eleanor. I’m not sure what Eleanor’s illness was. Terminal crankiness, probably. She lived in an assisted living facility, very nice, lots of social events, classes, good meals. She never left her room. She wanted her meals sent up. She wanted her shades pulled down. The one pleasure she allowed herself was to sit on the porch in her wheelchair on pleasant days. One day I rolled her down the ramp: “Some Blue-eyed Grass is blooming near the parking lot,” I told her. She reluctantly consented. She had never seen (nor ever cared to see) Blue-eyed Grass, but that day her eyes were opened. A sea of radiant blue covered a vacant lot, studded with bright yellow Small Sundrops and snowy Wild Strawberry. “Oh my! How pretty,” she said (in spite of herself).

All summer we walked and rolled, on into the fall. If the day was rainy, she waited for me in her raincoat. She couldn’t get over the beauty of Blue Vervain (“How can that be a weed?”) or the tiny pink blossoms of Northern Willow Herb (“Wouldn’t they make a darling dollhouse bouquet?”) We picked gorgeous bundles of Panicled Dogwood (burgundy leaves, waxy white berries on hot pink pedicels) mixed with the dark maroon seed sprays of Curly Dock. Then we got in trouble for bringing in armloads of Goldenrod. Her daughter threw it all out: “Get those weeds out of here! They’re dropping pollen all over!” I heard that cranky tone and marveled: that’s how Eleanor used to sound. She didn’t anymore.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Follow "In Stoddard’s Footsteps" in Placid

His career spanned the settling of the Adirondacks, the heyday of the guide, the steamship, and the grand hotel. Pioneer photographer Seneca Ray Stoddard produced over 8,000 images of a changing landscape — the largest documentary record of regional life in the late nineteenth century. Adirondack photographer Mark Bowie followed in Stoddard’s footsteps more than a century later, faithfully photographing once again the exact locations of many of his classic images.

Join Bowie on Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at Lake Placid Center for the Arts as he compares the Adirondacks of today with Stoddard’s. The comparisons are fascinating, sometimes surprising, in every case, illuminating. The program is sponsored by the Adirondack Museum and will begin at 7:30 p.m. There is no charge for Adirondack Museum members and children of elementary school age or younger. The fee for non-members is $5.00.

Mark Bowie is a third generation Adirondack photographer. He is a frequent contributor to Adirondack Life and Adirondack Explorer magazines. His photos have been published in Natural History, as well as by the Sierra Club, Conde Nast Publications, Portal Publications, and Tehabi Books. Bowie’s first book is Adirondack Waters: Spirit of the Mountains (2006). In Stoddard’s Footsteps: The Adirondacks Then & Now was recently published. He has recently completed work on a third book, The Adirondacks: In Celebration of the Seasons, released in the Spring of 2009.

Photo: Grand View House, Lake Placid, 1893. Photograph by Seneca Ray Stoddard. Collection of the Adirondack Museum.


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

Diane Chase’s Adirondack Family Activities: Ticonderoga Free Children’s Workshops

Free. Now that’s a four-letter word that I don’t mind my children saying. As a matter of fact I encourage it with wild abandon. With the rain winning the weather wrestling match, inside alternatives are wearing thin. Even the sunniest of personalities isn’t always enough to break through a ten-day forecast of rain. Fortunately there are many options available to get kids (and the rest of us) out of the house.

The Ticonderoga Heritage Museum continues with its bi-weekly workshops offering “A Champlain Summer” of free children’s activities. The museum has tied into the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s travels to the lake graced with his name. The Museum has taken on the task to encourage kids to come and find out what other children were doing for fun 400 years ago.

My son informs me that it is considered work if you have to make something. Somewhere we have picked up a consumer. Really since when is it considered hard labor to make a block print t-shirt? Sounds like fun to me.

There is a theme for the last few events. Kids can design a Native American tee shirt on August 5th or learn about life as a Native American child and make and eat a corn meal treat on August 7th. Next week brings weaving projects on the 12th and rattles (to ward off evil spirits) on the 14th. The events take place every Wednesday and Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. and are free. The Heritage Museum is on the corner of Tower Avenue and Montcalm Street.

Across Montcalm Street and directly after the museum’s activities, are more free activities. The annual Ticonderoga Festival Guild is holding its 30th Arts Trek Children’s Series. These morning events are on Wednesdays at 10:15 a.m. so you’ll have to scurry to see it all. Since 1980 the Festival Guild has been dedicated to promoting the performing arts to the community at large. If you still have any energy left complete the loop with a wander to Bicentennial Park, which abuts the Heritage Museum property, and enjoy a romp at the playground, see the waterfall or if it rains hide under the covered bridge or gazebo.


photo used with the permission of Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Time


Diane Chase writes about Adirondack Family Activities in the weekly FamilyTime newspaper column for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, as well as blogs for LakePlacid.com and Adirondack Almanack. Her first guidebook is called “Adirondack Family Time: over 300 activities in the High Peaks Region and Beyond.”


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.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Welcome Diane Chase, Our New Almanack Contributor

Please join me in welcoming our sixth regular contributor to Adirondack Alamanack, Diane Chase. Diane says she is “first and foremost the mother of two young children and continues to seek and write about ways to foster imaginative play through fun-filled events and activities.” In other words, she says, “I really just want to have fun with my children so I write about family activities as an excuse to be able to play.” Beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, August 5th, Diane will be making weekly contributions with a focus on Adirondack activities for the whole family. She will be writing a regular Tuesday, 3 p.m. piece and may also contribute occasionally at other times as well.

From her home in Saranac Lake Diane also writes a weekly family oriented newspaper column for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and speaks and reads at library story hours engaging children in creative play. She moved to the Adirondacks in 2002 with her husband (middle school teacher, 46er and avid hiker), young son and expecting her second child. While taking care of her young children she was able to take time to explore and rediscover fun family–friendly activities and enjoys sharing them with friends.

Diane has 20 years marketing and writing experience. She worked for The Sailing Company: Cruising World, Sailing World and Sailing Business magazines from editorial to the art department. She continues to freelance for The Sailing Company and to work in marketing. Her writing and photography has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, marketing companies and advertising agencies. She is involved in writing groups and writing workshops.


Monday, August 3, 2009

A Talk on Adirondack Blogs and Local Media History

I’ll be giving an informal talk about Adirondack blogging, trends in local media history, the new book (Historic Tales from the Adirondack Almanack), and their connection to Hulett’s Landing at 7:30 pm, this Saturday, August 8th, at the Hulett’s Landing Casino. I hope you’ll come out for the event.

The original Casino was built on the over the waters of Lake George at Hulett’s Landing in 1917-18 and burned down in 1953. It was rebuilt in the center of the community in 1954 and operated until 1973. It was closed for 16 years before Al Kapusinski reopened it in 1989. It’s the only establishment in Hulett’s for dining and drinking.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ice Cream Review: Who Reads Adirondack Almanack?

In a post last March, we made a passing reference to Stewart’s Shops’ ill-advised decision in 2002 to discontinue it’s lemon chiffon (incorrectly referred to as “meringue”) ice cream flavor. Evidently, the post made its way to the marketing department. The ubiquitous eastern New York State dairy/gas/convenience chain—a mainstay of many Adirondack communities—has reinstated the flavor this summer. What’s more, they seem to have taken into consideration the passage of time and our decreased metabolism. Their lemon chiffon is now a “light” flavor.

While you may not be inclined to consider this flavor a summer music festival in your mouth, it will convince you, for the ten or so minutes it takes to eat a single scoop cone, that this is the sunniest Adirondack summer on record.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Climate Change Talk at Adirondack Museum

“Fifty years from now we may have Adirondack winters without snow and ice and forests that are the biological analogues of the dying coral reefs seen in the tropics today: stressed, structurally altered, not reproducing, and unable to support the birds and animals that once lived in them” Jerry Jenkins wrote in the Adirondack Atlas (2004). On Monday, August 3, 2009, Jenkins, co-author of The Adirondack Atlas: A Geographic Portrait of the Adirondack Park, will offer a program entitled “Climate Change and the Adirondacks” at the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake. Part of the museum’s Monday Evening Lecture series, the presentation will be held in the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. There is no charge for museum members. Admission is $5.00 for non-members.

Jenkins, a researcher for the Wildlife Conservation Society, will discuss
the impacts of global climate change on the region. He is trained in philosophy and mathematics, and works as a botanist and geographer. He has thirty years of field experience in the North Country, working as a naturalist and natural resources geographer for government agencies and non-profit groups including the Nature Conservancy, the State of Vermont, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Together with Andy Keal, Jenkins co-authored The Adirondack Atlas a Geographic Portrait of the Adirondack Park, perhaps the most significant Adirondack book in a generation. Bill McKibben describes the atlas as a “great gift…that marks a coming of age.” Jenkins recently contributed to an anthology Acid Rain in the Adirondacks an Environmental History, which one reviewer called the “definitive work on the topic.”


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Adirondack Gardening: Habitat Close to Home

When the editors of Adirondack Almanack asked me to take over Ellen Rathbone’s garden columns while Ellen is on vacation, I couldn’t help thinking, they have got to be kidding! Me, write a garden column? I guess they don’t know that I’m more of an anti-gardener. Not anti in the sense of “against” (I love other people’s gardens), but in the sense of “antithesis of.” In short, I’m a weed-loving wildflower nerd who will risk drowning and broken bones and heart attacks and Lyme disease pursuing additions to my wildflower “life list,” but I faint at the thought of cultivating the plot behind my house. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Golf Tourney to Benefit Adirondack Architectural Heritage

Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) will be hosting a benefit golf tournament at the Westport Country Club on September 1, 2009. Play will be Partner’s Better Ball and the event will begin at noon with lunch followed by a 1 pm shotgun start. Entry fee is $75 which includes lunch, greens fees and cart. Registration deadline is Aug. 23; provide your handicap upon registration. Reservations are required and may be made by calling AARCH at 834-9328.

Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) is the private, non-profit, historic preservation organization for the Adirondack Park region. This tour is one of over fifty events in our annual series highlighting the region’s vast architectural legacy. For more information on membership and our complete program schedule contact AARCH at (518) 834-9328 or visit our website at www.aarch.org.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sticking Up for Skunks, Adirondack Style

A friend of mine in college had a pet skunk named Cauliflower. We heard tales of this unusual household companion, but sadly only got to meet her on the occasion of my friend’s funeral. The year before, while I was interning at a nature center near Syracuse, someone brought in an “abandoned” baby skunk. One of the staff worked with a rehabber and took temporary custody of the little animal until the end of the day. After giving it a meal of Similac, I volunteered to babysit. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a baby skunk nestled in your bosom for the better part of a day (I had to keep it somewhere warm and secure). Needless to say, I developed a fondness for skunks.

In the ensuing years I have discovered that the mere mention of the word skunk causes cries of “pee-eeww” to leap from the mouths of every child, and even some adults, in the vicinity. Noses are pinched tightly shut, even though no actual skunk is nearby. This reaction amuses and baffles me. I guess some lessons are learned early and persist for a lifetime, whether legitimate or not.

Striped skunks (there are, by the way, nine other species of skunks) are known to scientists as Mephitis mephitis. Once grouped together with weasels in the family Mustelidae, skunks now have their own family, Mephitidae, which is shared only with stink badgers, an animal found in the Philippines and Indonesia. It is easy to see why skunks were combined with weasels, for like skunks, weasels have many scent glands and can be quite aromatic. However, only skunks use their scent as a mode of defense.

If one encounters a skunk, and does not threaten it in anyway, the skunk is liable to trundle along its merry way without a second glance. If harassed, it will give plenty of warning to leave it alone. First, it will stomp its front feet. If this doesn’t work, it will make little charges towards it’s harasser with its tail raised over its head. Should the intruder continue to bother it, the skunk will bend its nether regions around to the front, so both its nose and rump are facing the same direction, and let loose a stream of yellowish liquid, a potent musk that can be fired up to twenty feet away. The skunk can manage six to eight squirts before its supply is gone, after which it will require about a week to recharge. The active compound in the spray is butylmercaptan, Mother Nature’s answer to tear gas. While it will burn and sting the eyes, it will not persist (and the recipient will not go blind). Unlike man-made tear gas, the odor can persist for weeks and can be smelled up to a mile away.

In short, it’s best not to bother a skunk.

And why would you want to? After all, skunks provide a valuable service to those who grow crops, and they do it at night when we are asleep. They eat many grubs and grasshoppers and insects of all stripes that are considered pests to the farmer. True, skunks have been known to chicken eggs and sometimes even a hen, but these instances are considered rare. Skunks are true omnivores, consuming berries and bugs, mice and roadkill all with equal relish. That said, invertebrates make up the greatest portion of the skunk’s diet.
During the 1800s and early 1900s, skunks were routinely trapped and bred in captivity for the fur industry. Believe it or not, their pelts were the second most popular fur in the business. But after about 1915 the demand for skunk fur started to decline, and all the skunk breeders had to find a new outlet. Skunks as pets became the next rage. Today pet skunks are hard to come by, mostly because they are illegal in most states due to the fact that skunks are the number two carrier (in the wild) of rabies. Red foxes, incidentally, are listed as number one.

I have been asked several times by local folks why Newcomb has no skunks. My pat answer has been that it’s simply too cold here for them. However, I have learned from long-time residents that Newcomb used to have a good number of these black and white animals. Pursuing this, we discovered that skunks seemed to disappear about the same time that coyotes moved in. Hm…interesting. Part of me wonders, though, if it has more to do with the lack of open space than it does with the presence of coyotes. Skunks are traditionally animals of open spaces, preferring to live near agricultural lands and open woods. Sometimes they inhabit dense woodlands, and have even been found at elevations over 2000 feet, but this is not where they thrive best. Since Newcomb has reverted back to forest over most of its acreage (believe it or not, at one time most of this area was cleared for farms), I suspect this is what has driven the skunks from our fair village.

We could learn a lot from skunks, who are truly pacifists at heart. They waddle their way through life, minding their own business, consuming pestiferous insects to help out (unintentionally) their human neighbors. We could all use a few more neighbors like this.


Friday, July 31, 2009

Weekly Adirondack Blogging Round-Up


Friday, July 31, 2009

Meet Guest Contributor Jackie Donnelly, Woodswalker

Elen Rathbone will be away on vacation for a couple of weeks so we’ve asked Jackie Donnelly, who writes the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog, to fill in. She’ll be posting Ellen’s columns under the name Woodswalker beginning Sunday.

Jackie is a former editor/writer recently retired after 15 years as a Hospice nursing assistant. She’s not a professional naturalist (she majored in English), but a self-described “lifelong nature enthusiast and wildflower nerd.” She also says she is an admirer of Ellen Rathbone, whose blog inspired her to start her own on January 1 of this year, she says “hoping to document a full year’s cycle of the beautiful wilderness settings and amazing diversity of flora and fauna close to my home in Saratoga Springs.” Liberated from land by her Hornbeck canoe, she primarily haunts the Hudson River where it forms the northern boundary of Saratoga County, with occasional forays into the “genuine” Adirondacks.

Please join us in welcoming her.



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