Thursday, October 1, 2009

Helping Visitors Stop and Enjoy the Culture

As much as people in the Adirondacks go on and on about canoeing, hiking and skiing, a lot of visitors’ favorite thing to do here is drive around and look at the scenery.

In recognition of this, the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) has released the first travel brochure dedicated to things to do along a single road route: the four-county, 188-mile Adirondack Trail scenic byway on Route 30 between Malone and Fonda. ANCA is also seeking grants to design brochures for some of the region’s 11 other designated “byways.”

Since its founding in the 1960s, ANCA has promoted what it called “touring routes” as a means to encourage tourism and economic development, says program coordinator Sharon O’Brien. When New York State instituted a Scenic Byways program in the 1990s, the independent agency changed its labeling but kept encouraging motorists to visit small North Country towns and spend some time and money.

ANCA’s June 2009 “Adirondack North Country Scenic Byways Market Trend Assessment,” a survey of 300 motorists visiting the area, found, “When rating the activities most important to their overall experience and enjoyment, respondents said that driving through the areas, and enjoying the scenery, views of lakes, forest, and mountains were the most important activities while traveling in the Adirondack North Country region, and the reasons they have memorable visits.”

ANCA’s survey also found visitors generally like outdoor recreation; enjoying scenic views of lakes, forests, and mountains; visiting museums or historic sites; and getting out on the water. They also like “activities that take place outdoors, are relaxing, are family-oriented and that offer a change of pace.”

The new four-season Route 30 guide gives visitors ideas and directions on how to find “easy access to nature, history, and culture,” ANCA said in a press release. It suggests stops at obvious attractions like the Wild Center in Tupper Lake as well as local-knowledge places like the South Main Street Fishing Area in Northville or Arsenal Green Park in Malone. “It promotes something unique for visitors to stop and do in each community, thus providing new visibility for those locales with limited marketing budgets,” ANCA said.

The promotional piece complements ANCA’s new Scenic Byways website, which so far profiles individual communities in ten counties along three byways. The contents of the brochure and website are based on “travelers’ interests such as their desire for authentic/real experiences as documented in the 2009 Byway Market Trend Assessment.”

34,000 brochures will be distributed to visitor centers, museums, Chambers of Commerce and other tourist stops across the North Country. The project was funded by the New York State Department of Transportation’s Scenic Byways Program through the Federal Highway Administration and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. For further information on ANCA’s Scenic Byway Program contact Sharon O’Brien at anca-obrien@northnet.org or 518-891-6200.

Photograph courtesy of ANCA


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lycopodium – The Moss That Isn’t

Language. It’s supposed to make communication easier, but sometimes it ends up just confusing issues more. Take plant names, for example, specifically mosses. If I say “moss” to you, you probably picture some dark green, low-growing, soft groundcover in the woods. And for the most part, you’d be right. But what about reindeer moss? It’s not a moss at all; it’s a lichen. Clubmoss is another misnomer – the plant may actually look like a large moss, but it isn’t. In fact, it is more closely related to ferns than it is to true mosses.

Clubmosses, which belong to the family Lycopodiaceae, are vascular plants that do not have flowers and that reproduce sexually by means of spores (like mushrooms, ferns and true mosses). Clubmosses have stems, which true mosses don’t, and the sporophyte, at least, has real roots – true mosses don’t have roots.

Here at the Newcomb Visitor Interpretive Center, we have three very common clubmosses: Princess Pine (Lycopodium obscurum), Shining Clubmoss (L. lucidulum), and Stiff Clubmoss (L. anotinum). You can also find Running Clubmoss (L. clavatum) – this is the one pictured above.

Princess pine, as you might expect, looks a lot like a miniature conifer tree. Also called ground pine, at one time it was harvested extensively for holiday decorations. As with many wild harvesting “programs,” gatherers did not make much money for the time and effort they had to expend. As a result, when patches of the desired plant were found, they were often cleaned out. Such unsustainable harvesting practices resulted in many plants becoming rare. Today clubmosses are among the many native plants that are protected by law.

When I started my career as a naturalist, one of the first things I learned about lycopodium was that the spores were used historically for flash powder. We’ve all seen westerns, or other movies that portray life in the 1800s. Whenever you saw a photograph being taken in that time period, there was a guy (usually) with a big box camera draped in black cloth. He would hold up a t-shaped bar, tell everyone to hold really still, and then flash! bang! the cross bar would explode and the photograph was taken. The stuff that flashed was clubmoss spores. Like flour in a mill, the fine dust-like spores, which are very rich in oil, are highly flammable. Unlike flour, however, the spores burn fast and bright, but with little heat. No theater stages (flash powder was used to simulate lightning) or photo studios burned to the ground because of flash powder.

It turns out, however, that clubmosses had many more historical uses. According to a couple sources I found, the Woodland Crees would rub raw fish eggs into stiff clubmoss to separate them from their gelatinous membranes. After they were separated, the eggs were used to make fish-egg bread. It doesn’t appeal to me, but then I’ve never tried it – maybe it’s pretty good.

Clubmoss spores found their way into surgery as a dusting powder, and were even used to treat conditions like eczema. At one time the spores were popular as baby powder. This might be because they are water repellent. Apparently if you cover your hand with the spores and then submerge it in water, it will not get wet!

But that’s not all. Spores from L. complanatum, commonly called groundcedar, were used by the Blackfoot people as an antiseptic and to stop nosebleeds. They also used the entire plant as a mordant, which is a compound used to set dyes.

What about mystical powers? The Dakelh people of British Columbia at one time used clubmoss spores to determine if the sick would survive their illnesses. The divination process was simple: spores were dropped into a container of water. If they drifted in the direction of the sun, the patient had a good chance of survival. I’m not sure I’d want to rely on this for my own survival, but in a time when penicillin was unheard of and belief in the spirit world was strong, it might’ve made all the difference in a person’s will to live.

If you’d like to learn how to identify some of our local clubmosses, stop by the VIC and take the Browsing Botanist tour of the Rich Lake Trail. The guide booklet, which you can pick up at the front desk, will introduce you to these groundcovers. Once you’ve made their acquaintances, you will start to see them everywhere as a new window into the wild opens before your eyes.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Existentialism in the 23rd Congressional District

Consider the Existentialist dilemma of the candidates seeking New York’s 23rd Congressional District seat. You may recall Existentialism from high school French class or a movie date in college: the hard-to-pin-down philosophy supported largely on the precepts that 1) Orthodoxies and doctrines are meaningless 2) We all live for the moment and determine our fate by our choices, and 3) We’re all doomed anyway, so what the heck. Toss in words like “ennui” and “angst” and you’ve pretty much covered it.

Anyway, on June 2nd, when John McHugh accepted President Obama’s nomination to become Secretary of the Army, he triggered a five-month-long campaign to fill his House seat, a campaign which will end at the polls on November 3rd.

The abbreviated schedule means that the traditional binary and sequential format of American campaigns—an ideological race (left v. right) in the primaries followed by a partisan race (R v. D) in the general election—must be fought concurrently. As a consequence, the race for the 23rd features a pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage Republican who falls somewhere to the left of the opposing “centrist” Democrat, who was never really a Democrat before and doesn’t even mention the word all that often, and a Conservative who falls just to the left of a Viking on social issues. Contemporary political dogma will not help the disoriented voter in this election.

The foreshortened calendar has also served to concentrate the negative advertising in the race. While the regionally-recognized candidates need to define themselves (more by their actions than their party affiliations) across the sprawling district, they (and their surrogates) are already spending more time and money undefining each other—complete with ominous tones, distorted voting records and unflattering likenesses.

Perhaps the most resonant existential element of the 23rd CD race is the utter futility of the goal itself. Whoever wins the right to represent New York’s northernmost citizens will immediately have to gear up a defense of the seat in 2010, a tough job, with or without an extended recount. The 2010 election coincides with the decennial census, and the expected loss of two New York congressional seats in the ensuing redistribution. The choice of which districts to eliminate during reapportionment will fall to a state legislature that owes nothing to whichever rookie legislator occupies the seat.

In short, the best scenario that the victor of the November 3rd special election can hope for goes something like this: Beneath heavy Washington skies, following swearing in to the remainder of the 111th Congress, the Distinguished Representative, along with a few other members from terminal districts in Ohio and Pennsylvania will convoke the Jean-Paul Sartre Caucus at a cafe somewhere off DuPont Circle. Over espressos and Gauloises they will grimly deconstruct the lyrics of “Born to Run,” shrug twice, then disappear forever. C’est la vie.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Potato News: Late Blight Spares Some Crops

Tucker Farms in Gabriels is in the midst of what’s being described as a good potato harvest. According to co-proprietors Steve and Tom Tucker, the 300-acre farm’s crop seems to have escaped late blight.

Less important but surprising: the tomatoes in a shared Saranac Lake garden plot were turned to brown mush by the blight, but untreated potatoes in a mound surrounded by those plants produced lots of apparently healthy tubers.

Steve Tucker has heard similar reports from other gardeners. “Tomatoes are a little more tender to the blight apparently,” the farmer says. The airborne fungal pathogen has destroyed fields of tomatoes and potatoes around the Northeast this year, introduced on shipments of tomato plants to big box stores. Cornell Cooperative Extension reported in July that an unidentified commercial field of potatoes in Franklin County “was completely lost and has been mowed down.”

The Tucker brothers took precautions, spraying the foliage as often as once a week with fungicide. If invisible late blight spores ever reached the Gabriels farm, the fungicide probably killed them. Once the blight enters the plant, however, fungicide won’t help, Steve says.

Because this region is remote, high and relatively pest free, the Adirondacks is a source of seed potatoes for the rest of the state. Tucker Farms sells seed potatoes as well as table stock. Tom Tucker explained that Tuckers’ eating potatoes can also be planted because, unlike most supermarket potatoes, they’re not treated with sprout nip, a chemical that inhibits eye growth. The potatoes in the Saranac Lake garden, by the way, were Tucker Farms’ Adirondack Blue variety, and they were delicious.

Photograph courtesy of Richard Tucker


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Adirondack Family Activities: The Corn Maze

This year we will be hunting space aliens in Gabriels. Yes, crop circles have been found in the Adirondacks, though this time they can be proven the direct result of human effort, not the paranormal. For the fourth year in a row the design for the maze at Tucker Farms is from the artistic work of Scott Rohe. He didn’t even have to perpetuate any crop circle myth by going out in the dead of night to complete the large-scale land art. He just came up with the design so the Tuckers could plant the corn in a grid-like pattern. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Curious Tales of Lake Champlain Towns

One of the most creative contributors to Adirondack Life is Tom Henry. You never know where one of his travelogues is going to go, and I don’t think he knows, either, until the trip is done and the story finished.

Henry teaches music in Charlotte, Vermont, and is a writer and historian by avocation. A Port Henry Henry, he has made a specialty of exploring the recreation and past of the eastern Adirondacks, often at the same time. He wrote a chapter for Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History (2009, Adirondack Life) and will deliver a slide presentation Saturday, October 3 at Northwoods Inn, in Lake Placid, entitled “Exploring Old Port Towns Along Lake Champlain: Curious Stories Behind Their Relics.”

The following details are from a press release describing the event:

From Shelburne’s elegant passenger steamships to Bridport’s world-famous 19th-century racehorses to Moriah’s strange subterranean world of railroads and iron mines, this slideshow of now and then images from old port towns around Lake Champlain will help us visualize many of the 400-square-mile lake’s unusual early enterprises.

2009 marks the 400th anniversary of European discovery of the lake with the arrival of Samuel de Champlain. Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History celebrates America’s most historic lake and offers stunning photos, vintage postcards, paintings, maps and military history. Tom Henry’s portion of the book, “Towns Along the Lake,” provides some of the book’s most interesting writing. He highlights each of Lake Champlain’s principle shoreline communities and describes their link to the lake’s history.

The evening begins at 6:30 with a half hour cash bar cocktail reception. Mr. Henry will deliver his presentation at approximately 7 p.m. Following, we invite any of our guests to join us in our Northern Exposure restaurant for dinner with Mr. Henry. More information is available at www.northwoodsinn.com.
 
The Northwoods Inn is a 92-room hotel located at 2520 Main Street, the heart of downtown Lake Placid. The hotel includes a sidewalk café, two restaurants and “The Cabin,” a cozy fireplace bar overlooking Main Street. A rooftop deck offers views of town plus the High Peaks and Whiteface Mountain.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New Study: Coy-Wolves Evolved To Hunt Local Deer

A new study by scientists from the New York State Museum shows how local coyotes have evolved to be bigger and stronger over the last 90 years, both expanding their geographic range and becoming the top predator in the Northeast – by interbreeding with wolves.

The study of eastern coyote genetics and skull morphology demonstrates that remnant wolf populations in Canada hybridized with coyotes expanding north of the Great Lakes, and helped turn coyotes from mousers of western grasslands to deer hunters of eastern forests. The resulting coy-wolves are larger, with wider skulls better adapted to killing lager animals like whitetail deer.

Dr. Roland Kays, the state museum’s curator of mammals, and Dr. Jeremy Kirchman, curator of birds, co-authored an article on their research that appears in the peer-reviewed journal Biology Letters. The other author was Abigail Curtis, who conducted the study an undergraduate at SUNY Albany, and is now a graduate student at UCLA.

According to the study’s authors “the North American coyote evolved as a hunter of small prey in the Great Plains, but rapidly colonized all of eastern North America over the last half-century.” Earlier research had suggested that the spread of agriculture and the extinction of wolves aided coyote expansion, but the question of as to whether remnant wolves and coyotes interbred remained unanswered until now.

A media release form the State Museum notes that “Historical records of the coyote population expansion indicated that movement along the northern route was five times faster than along the route south of the Great Lakes. Populations of pure western coyote and coy-wolf hybrids are presently coming into contact in areas of western New York and Pennsylvania.”

The study was based on DNA from 696 eastern coyotes and the measurements of 196 skulls from State Museum specimens. According to State Museum officials “they also tested three very large animals that looked more like large, full-blooded grey wolves. Two of the animals had the western grey wolf genetic signature and one had a Great Lakes wolf signature, suggesting that a few full-sized wolves have recently migrated into New York and Vermont, but are not breeding here. Only one of the 696 coyote samples was closely related to domestic dogs, showing that coyotes are not frequently breeding with domestic dogs in the region and the popular moniker ‘coydog’ is technically inaccurate.”

The research also indicates that whitetail deer accounted for about a third of the coyote’s diet and they have made extensive use of forested areas.

The State Museum has the longest continuously operating state natural history research and collection survey in the United States, It was begin in 1836 – you can read more about that here.

NCPR addressed the issue of coy-wolves in the Adirondacks back in June, but this is the first study to parse out the local genetics.

Photo: A coy-wolf, courtesy Eastern Coyote Research.


Monday, September 28, 2009

St. Lawrence’s Peak Weekend: High Peaks Tradition

I crossed paths with a group of hikers on September 27, 2003 while traversing the High Peaks of the Dix Range near Keene Valley. The cloud ceiling that day was hanging at about 3500’ which put it well below the altitude of the herd paths and the rain was blowing sideways under heavy winds. There were no views, but the enthusiastic hikers were focused on a different goal. They were students from St. Lawrence University and comprised one of many groups scattered throughout the Adirondacks at that time.

Each was playing a role in a collaborative effort to put at least one St. Lawrence student on the summit of all forty-six High Peaks over the course of three days.

The annual tradition called Peak Weekend was initiated by the university’s Outing Club in 1982. and coincides closely with autumn’s foliage peak, either the last week of September or the first week of October (though their first effort was attempted in the spring of 1982). An Outing Club meeting held the week prior enables all the participants to choose their objective, meet the group leaders and discuss logistics.

While autumn’s peak foliage hadn’t quite reached its full spectrum, September 25th marked the beginning of this year’s St. Lawrence University Peak Weekend. The weather during the end of last week made for the perfect autumn hiking conditions with most of the adventure taking place on Saturday. Crisp Adirondack blue skies free of summer’s humidity enunciated the splendor of autumn’s colors. Group sizes this year ranged from two to the DEC limit of sixteen, including some staff and faculty. The total participation was roughly 260 including three St. Lawrence athletic teams. Several groups camped Friday night in conditions below freezing while others met early Saturday morning to day-hike their objectives. Routes included both maintained trails and some less traveled routes including Mt. Colden’s Trap Dike which was ascended by a large group of first-year students. The coordinated effort has not always achieved its goal, though according to the Outing Club’s website, 2009 marked success for the fifth consecutive year.


Monday, September 28, 2009

The Last Days of John Brown: North Elba

One of the familiar attacks on John Brown (and by extension his anti-slavery legacy) involves his failed business ventures and accusations that he was a swindler and a drifter, roaming from place to place – only briefly and uneventfully staying in North Elba. “Over the years before his Kansas escapade Brown had been a drifter, horse thief and swindler,” Columbia University historian John Garraty once wrote. Garraty served as the president of the Society of American Historians and was co-author of the high school history textbook The American Nation (he died in 2007). A closer look at Brown and the his family, however, reveals an experience typical of many Americans, then and today, and the importance of North Elba on Brown’s plans for a raid into Virginia. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Welcome Kevin MacKenzie, Outdoor Recreation Writer

Beginning tomorrow the list of Adirondack Almanack contributors will grow once again with the addition of our first dedicated outdoor recreation writer – Kevin MacKenzie, known as “MudRat” at several hiking forums where he is active (including Summitpost and ADK High Peaks Forum).

MacKenzie will be offering a weekly contribution on a variety of outdoor sports topics, including covering issues around access, events, sensitive flora and fauna issues for the back country, DEC camping policy, and more. His regular reports will appear on Monday afternoon at 3 pm.

Kevin’s love of the Adirondacks began, he says, “even before I was born, when my family bought a small bit of property across from the Ausable’s East Branch.” Only a half day’s drive away from where he grew up, the Adirondacks became a central theme to all his family vacations. Time spent in “the mountains,” MacKenzie told me, made an impression that intensified throughout his childhood and into his adult years. “The only problem was,” he said, “by that point, I’d lived on west coast of Florida for nearly twenty
years and was pretty entrenched.”

Kevin finally returned for good to the Lake Placid area in 2003 after encouragement from a Lake Placid friend (who he now calls his wife); he is Assistant Registrar at St. Lawrence University in Canton.

Kevin’s focus is on exploring the High Peaks back-country and slides, always with a camera in hand. He has been combining his photography and writing and describes his explorations at http://www.mackenziefamily.com/46/46r.html; he constantly adds pictures to the archives of his photography business Creative Nature Photography.

Please join all of us at the Almanack in welcoming Kevin MacKenzie.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

When is it Apple-picking Time?

For the first time, I have apples that are perfect! Admittedly, I only have a few (okay, four), but that’s more than I’ve had in the past. I’ve been on the fence, however, about picking them. Last year I finally picked my Northern Spies out of desperation—we were expecting snow. I made tarts and took them to our Book Club meeting, but they really weren’t ripe. Unlike most people I know, I do not like green fruit (green as in “unripe”, not green as in color, although the two can be synonymous).

This year there was enough rain that the apples grew well. The sunny days of late August and September made the fruit grow. No scab appeared, and only a few were attacked by insects. But each day the fruits remain on the tree is one more day for something to happen. When should I pick the apples?

It all depends on what type of apples you have. Some varieties ripen early in the season (some, I’ve read, as early as July), while others linger until almost Thanksgiving. Up here in the North Country, that can be a problem; by Thanksgiving the tree could be buried in snow!

Your best bet is to find a local orchard and find out what apples are being picked and when. Sure, you could go on-line and find picking dates, but unless the orchard you select is in the same climate as you, you cannot count on the accuracy of those dates.

But suppose you don’t have any local orchards. There are certainly plenty of orchards along the Champlain Valley, but that’s the banana belt compared to the central Adirondacks. No one in his right mind has an orchard in our neck of the woods. Sure, there are lots of “wild” apple trees, but you can’t necessarily go by them. These were likely planted by early settlers as a source of fruit for making apple jack, a fermented tangy cider (not the sweet cider that you get with your donuts when you go pumpkin picking). They didn’t care what the apples tasted like or what condition they were in. No, you can’t go by these wild apples. The bears may like them, and the deer, but most of them are not for the likes of you and me.

So you stand there staring at the fruit on your tree. Do you go by color? If it’s red, is it ripe? Well, suppose your tree doesn’t bear red apples – what if they are yellow, or green? Can you trust color?

The answer is yes, sort of. First, you need to know what color your apples are supposed to be. Unless they are green apples, you can use color as a guideline. You want to look at the color of the skin near the base of the stem. If this area is green, the apple isn’t ripe yet. Once it turns red, or yellowish, then it is probably safe to pick.

You can also go by firmness. If your apple is hard as a rock, it isn’t ripe. If, however, it has a little bit of give to it when you give it a gentle squeeze, go ahead and pick.

You can test readiness by the ease of of the apple’s release from the tree. When you pick an apple, it should pluck easily, almost falling into your hand. If you have to tug and wrench it off, it’s not ripe.

Now, suppose a heavy killer frost is coming, and your apples are still on the tree. What do you do? You have to make a decision. Are they ripe enough that if you pick them and place them in a cool, dark place they will continue to ripen? If so, pick away. If not, then you might want to cover your tree, just like you would your pumpkins and squash.

Up here in the mountains growing perfect apples can be frustrating. Some years you might succeed, and other years your crop may be a complete failure. The best thing you can do it relax; after all, there isn’t much you can do about the weather. Get to know your trees, learn what varieties you have, and check the picking dates at the nearest orchard(s). From there you can only use common sense. With a little luck, you will have apples to enjoy throughout the cold and grey days of winter – a little taste of fall.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Adirondack Harvest Benefit Dinner Announced

The Lake Placid Lodge’s Chef Kevin McCarthy and DaCy Meadow Farm will be hosting an Adirondack Harvest Dinner on Tuesday, September 29th at 6:00pm at the St. Agnes School Auditorium in Lake Placid. This unique dining experience will feature ingredients supplied by local Essex County farmers. According to the official event announcement, “dinner will feature beverages, an appetizer, Dogwood Bread Company bread, soup, garden salad with maple balsamic vinaigrette, an entree featuring a selection of local, pasture-raised meats and fresh vegetables, and a dessert created with pure maple sugar.”

A keynote speaker, noted food and restaurant consultant Clark Wolf, will discuss developments in the local and healthy food movements and how the Adirondack region can move towards a more sustainable agricultural-based economy.

Ticket prices are $30 for adults and $15 for students and all proceeds will benefit Adirondack Harvest and Heifer International. Seating is limited to 150 people and reservations are required (call Dave Johnston at (518) 962-2350 or email djohnston [AT] dacymeadowfarm [DOT] com. Checks should be made payable and mailed to: DaCy Meadow Farm, Box 323, Westport, NY 12993


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Appreciating Adirondack Grasses

Are you one of those people who, when driving down the Northway, notices the various colors of the grasses growing in the median? If you aren’t, then you should slow down a bit and take a peek, for this time of year, especially in the early morning sunshine, they are quite beautiful: clouds of delicate purples, patches of russet oranges. I find it very tempting to pull over, get out of the car, and wade in amongst them. Since I’m sure the state troopers are not as likely to share my enthusiasm, I never have.

Grasses have caught my attention for years. They have wonderful flowerheads (inflorescences) that come in a great many varieties, and the colors, when seen en masse, can be quite the delight for the eye. I actually love to see lawns that have been allowed to go wild, for they fill an otherwise boring green expanse with delightful colors and textures.

Recently I was out botanizing with a friend who, among other things, really knows her grasses and sedges. Most of us wouldn’t know the difference between a grass, a sedge, or a rush if our lives depended on it. Sure, perhaps we recall the rhyme “Sedges have edges and rushes are round, and grasses have nodules where elbows are found” (or some variation thereof), but in practice, they all look like “grass” to the untrained eye. I asked my botanically-inclined friend if she knew of any good books for grass ID, but she said no.

I, however, have two grass ID books in my rather large collection of natural history books. One I’ve had in my Naturalist Daypack for quite some time, but I’ve never taken the time to actually read it. Until now. Inspired by my friend’s knowledge, and never one to want to be left behind in the proverbial dust, I decided to crack the book and learn me some grasses.

As with many natural history and species ID adventures, at first it seemed intimidating, an almost insurmountable task. They all look the same! I’ll never be able to tell them apart! But by taking the time to actually read the text, the small details, those clues that tell one species from the next, soon become apparent.

To begin with, many sedges, but not all, have triangular stems (edges). Many rushes have cylindrical, or round, stems. And grasses, as a whole, have joints, or nodules, where their leaves join the stem. After learning this, you can start to study some of the other distinguishing factors. The book I’m currently reading, Grasses by Lauren Brown, starts off with a dichotomous key, which many people find intimidating, but which I find a relief to use. From there, she’s grouped the plants by visual similarities. The simple pen and ink illustrations point out key traits for quick identification. Unlike many ID guides (try some of the moss or fern books), this one is written for the layperson. Technical jargon is explained – it’s not assumed you are working towards your PhD in botanical sciences.

The only real “work” will be memorizing the scientific names. Most real botanists forego common names and with good reason: they are not standardized. What you may call Indian Paintbrush is known as Hawkweed to someone else, and that person applies Indian Paintbrush to an entirely different plant. But the reason for learning the scientific names goes beyond this, for many grasses (sedges, rushes) and other plants, like mosses and lichens, have no common names. The common man has given most of them very little attention, and if you aren’t paying attention to something, you aren’t going to give it a name. If it weren’t for the scientists, these plants would have no names at all.

I think that for some time now Grasses will join my Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide as a passenger in my car. I’m actually eager, now that I have inspiration, to get out in the field and start getting to know my grassy neighbors. Armed with my field guide and a hand lens, I hope to soon have names like Anthoxanthum ordoratum and Cyperus esculentus tripping off my tongue.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Weekly Adirondack Blogging Round-Up


Friday, September 25, 2009

Can Ralph Lauren Save the Adirondacks?

New York State’s Secretary of State had never been north of Albany until she visited Lake George, a village official told me recently.

State Senator Betty Little likes to tell a story about another state official, who grew alarmed when told that people were living in the park—the Adirondack Park, that is.

“People being forced to sleep in the park? How awful!” the official reportedly said.

No wonder the Association of Adirondack Towns and Villages decided to sponsor the Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Report.

At the very least, it reminds Albany that the Adirondack Park contains 130,000 people living in more than one hundred communities, which need viable economies (and perhaps some additional state aid or at least broad band) if they are to survive. Statistics about the park’s aging population and declining school enrollments are not, however, the only way to tell the story of the Adirondacks.

Walk into a Ralph Lauren Home store in New York or Milan this fall and you’ll see, displayed on a library table or console, portfolios of Lake George paintings and guidebooks by Seneca Ray Stoddard.

You’ll also see rustic Adirondack furniture and plaid fabrics given Adirondack names.
The rooms have been installed in stores throughout the United States and Europe to showcase Ralph Lauren’s new collection of furniture and home furnishings, which the company calls “Indian Cove Lodge,” after a mythical Adirondack camp.

It is, to be sure, an idealized version of the Adirondacks. It’s a backdrop for a story playing in Ralph Lauren’s mind, about what, one can only imagine – how Marjorie Merriweather Post spent August, perhaps.

Nevertheless, whoever created these backdrops wanted them to be as authentic as possible. They even contain copies of the Lake George Mirror to link the collection to the Adirondacks. (Last winter, I was told, Black Bass Antiques owner Henry Caldwell and rustic furniture impresario Ralph Kylloe were visited by a team from Ralph Lauren, who spent hours selecting items that would complement the new collection.)

“Snowshoes, antique skis, fishing creels, canoe paddles: they bought a truckload of things,” said Kylloe, who’s furnished Ralph Lauren’s private homes as well as his showrooms for years.

Attention from retailers like Ralph Lauren helps the Adirondack brand remain vital, said Kylloe.

Lisa Foderaro, who frequently covers the Adirondacks for the New York Times, made a similar contribution to that effort last week with a story about Jay Haws’ and Steve Pounian’s Dartbrook Lodge in Keene.

They’ve converted a roadside cottage colony into a retreat that is, Foderaro said, “at once rustic and hip.”

There may be, as Ralph Kylloe suggests, some economic benefits from this kind of exposure in the form of increased tourism.

Other effects may be more problematic, such as a renewed demand for second homes and hence the rising costs of housing for year-round residents.

Another potential effect – and whether it’s a negative or positive one will depend upon your perspective – is a new constituency for the protection of he Adirondacks.
But at the very least, campaigns like these broaden awareness of the Adirondacks, and if those anecdotes about Albany’s lack of awareness of the region are true, that’s as necessary now as it ever was.

Photo: Indian Cove Lodge bedside table.


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