Friday, August 28, 2009

Weekly Adirondack Blogging Round-Up


Friday, August 28, 2009

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories


Friday, August 28, 2009

Wicked Plants – Even in the Adirondacks

Who could pass up a book titled Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities? Certainly not I! Not only is the title attention-getting, but the book is a bilious acid green, the perfect color for poisonings!

I first heard about this book on the radio, and after about a month of waiting, I was able to borrow a copy from the library. After reading it, I had to get a copy for myself; no self-respecting naturalist’s arsenal of natural history reference books would be complete without it!

This tiny tome is chocked full of interesting information about some of nature’s most dangerous plants, many of which surprised me. For example, these days the news is smattered with dire warnings about giant hogweed and wild parsnip (members of the carrot family, yet capable of causing painful blisters and phototoxicity to those who brush up against them), but who knew that cashews could be problematic if not prepared correctly? Yes, cashews are related to poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak. If eaten raw, or if they are contaminated with bits of the nut shells, the person consuming them can break out in a serious rash, which could be exacerbated if one is strongly allergic to urushiol, the irritating oil.

While many of the plants mentioned in this book by Amy Stewart come from lands far from the Adirondacks, there are a fair number that can be found within the Blue Line. Take, for example, elderberry. I remember collecting elderberry blossoms for my grandfather down along the railroad tracks that follow the Mohawk River. He used to make wine from the lacy white flowers. Well, it turns out that most of the plant’s parts (leaves, roots, stems, etc.) contain cyanide. This is especially true of the raw fruits. Cooked, the fruits are rendered more or less harmless, but when consumed raw they could send one to the hospital in a great deal of pain and discomfort.

How about cardinal flower? This brilliantly scarlet member of the genus Lobelia is found fairly commonly along waterways within the Park. As lovely as it is, the red color should be a warning. It contains poisons that are similar to nicotine, and if one were to eat it (although I don’t know why one would), one would likely suffer from tremors, nausea and vomiting, paralysis, and heart problems.

Not only does Ms. Stewart point out plants that are deadly, she includes those that are destructive (like purple loosestrife and kudzu), those that are offensive to the nose (purple trillium and skunk cabbage, among others), and those that actively cause problems (killer algae and gas plant).

I was so surprised at some of the nastiness that Mother Nature has in store for us that I was hesitant to burn the invasive honeysuckles we cut down last year. What if this aggressive non-native plant harbored some sort of chemical that was dangerous when set on fire? Nonetheless, burn it we did (the cut logs had started to sprout and had to be destroyed), and I can report that although I got a snoot full of smoke on several occasions, I have not suffered any ill effects.

Whether you are a plant aficionado, or a nature enthusiast in general, you will not want to pass up this delightful little book.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Adirondack Music Scene: Bagpipes and Folk to Rock, Blues, Jam Festival

As summer is winding down the music scene is still hopping. This weekend the big event is the Mountain Music Meltdown. However, there are bunches of good musical events taking place all over — everything from free outdoor concerts to a documentary about the origins of the banjo — starting tonight.

Tonight at LPCA the movie Throw Down your Heart will be shown at 7:30 pm. Banjo player extraordinaire Bela Fleck took a trip through Africa to explore the origins of the banjo. Director Sascha Paladino captured the journey.

Also tonight in Raquette Lake at 7 pm, Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen will be performing at St. Williams Church on Long Point. This is only accessible by boat so call (315) 354-4265 to find out how to get there. These two are wonderful musicians who’ve been performing together for years.

On Friday the 28th there will be a bagpipe and fiddle concert in Keene. This free concert will be held at The Keene Community Center Pavilion starting at 7 pm. Tim Cummings plays the pipes and Pete Sutherland plays the fiddle. Both are extremely accomplished and Keene is very lucky to have them. There will be hotdogs, hamburgers, soda and baked goods for sale starting at 6 pm. For more information about this and upcoming events check out East Branch Friends of The Arts.

So here we are, Saturday’s Mountain Music Meltdown day. The festival takes place near Saranac Lake off of Rt. 3 on the way to Bloomingdale. Featuring nine bands, this all-day event is sure to be worth the $25+ it’ll cost you to get in. Here are just a few of the acts that are going to be there; the day starts at 11 am with Roy Hurd, and ends with Leon Russell who takes the stage at 8 pm. In between you have Raisinhead and my favorite “not to be missed” act is Joe Costa and his band Kikazaru who will be playing at 2 pm. Joe is a resident of Rainbow Lake. He plays banjo and sings traditional songs with a contemporary flair. You can pick up their excellent CD at Ampersound in Saranac Lake, the only music store left in the Tri-Lakes region. If you buy the CD there not only are you giving yourself great music but you’re supporting a local business as well. Also a cool bit of local trivia is that the cover of the CD was created by resident photographer Aaron Hobson.

On Saturday at the Village Green in Jay locals Drew and Annie Sprague are giving a free concert with their friends Suave and Maddy from The Blindspots. It starts at 6:30 pm. Drew is a great guitarist and singer who’s been performing in and around the Adirondacks for years. He was with The South Catherine Street Jug Band and is now with The Stoneman Blues Band. Annie plays the violin beautifully and enhances any music project she participates in. This is a JEMS production.

Later, at the Waterhole in Saranac Lake, Mike Suave and The Blindspots ride again. Doors open at 9 pm for cocktails and the show usually starts at 10 pm. You might recognize Mike from The South Catherine Street Jug Band and The Nitecrawlers, both North Country favorites. Their female vocalist Maddy Walsh is a native of Ithaca, NY.

Open Mic at Quackenbush’s Long View Wilderness Lodge in Long Lake this Saturday starts around 8-8:30pm. This is a great opportunity to get together with musicians who live way out there and don’t usually make it in for the regular open mics in the larger towns.

Other open mic news: the open jam that I speak so highly of at The Shamrock is taking a break for the next two weeks as the Shamrock does some renovating to their kitchen. If all goes well the jam will resume on the 16th of September.


photo: Joe Costa’s CD Cover by Aaron Hobson


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Asgaard Dairy Takes National and State Honors

Goat’s milk cheeses from Asgaard Dairy of Au Sable Forks collected second place awards in National and New York State competitions earlier this month. Such achievements in the first full year of production took owners Rhonda Butler and David Brunner and cheesemaker Kirsten Sandler by surprise.

At the National Cheese Society annual meeting in Austin, Texas, August 7, the dairy took silver for its goat’s milk feta. “It’s kind of like the Academy Awards of cheese,” said Butler. Last week at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, the placing entry was a fresh chevre with cilantro, hot pepper and garlic—all from the Asgaard garden.

Butler and Brunner, with help from daughter Johanna operate the dairy from the iconic Adirondack farm once owned by artist and political activist Rockwell Kent. They retail their cheeses and a new line of goat’s milk soap direct from the farm, at farm markets in Elizabethtown, Keene and Lake Placid, and at natural food markets in Keene, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. Lake Placid Lodge also features Asgaard’s “Whiteface” chevre on its menu.

Looking forward, this year the family plans to add ten more milking goats to their herd of twenty. The sudden success arrives at a bittersweet moment: the family lost one of their original two goats—Kelly (pictured above with Johanna)—this spring.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

GOP vs GOP in Essex County District Attorney Debate Tonight

A debate between candidates in the Essex County District Attorney election will be held tonight at the Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School in Elizabethtown beginning at 6 pm. The race between Kristy Sprague and Julie Garcia has heated up after a failed attempt by some local pols to have Sprague removed from the ballot. Sprague, who is endorsed by the Republican committee, and Garcia, the incumbent who was elected as a Republican in 2005, will square off in the Republican primary September 15th. Garcia has raised thousands more then her opponent, and if she wins, it’s likely she’ll have both party lines in the November election.

The debate is being sponsored by local media outlets and moderated by the following three men, who are all accepting questions via e-mail. “These journalists are inviting their readers and listeners to suggest questions to them any time before the event, instead of letting people ask or submit questions at the event,” according to the media’s media release.

Send your questions to:

Lohr McKinstry of the Press Republican (lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com)
John Gereau of Denton Publications (johng@denpubs.com)
Peter Crowley of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (pcrowley@adirondackdailyenterprise.com)
Chris Morris of Mountain Communications Radio News (chrjmorris@gmail.com)


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Macro Photography: Appreciating The Little Things

I really love macro photography. You need a good lens, you need a good tripod, and you need to be willing to get dirty and wet. But when you get right down to it, you discover some of the most interesting things.

Anyone can take a photo of a landscape, or of Billy with jam on his face. But it takes a special kind of person to get up-close photographs of Mother Nature. This person needs patience and a whole lot of determination.

What I love most about close-up shots of tiny things is that it opens up a whole new world. Take this photo, for example. It’s a catmint flower from my garden. Catmint has pale green leaves and a bright aromatic scent. The flowers are small and purple. But until I took this photo and enlarged it on the computer, I had no idea just how beautiful the flowers are. Why, it practically looks like an orchid!

Now that I have a camera available 24/7, I find myself lurking in the gardens, stalking roadside ditches, crawling along the forest floor on my belly – all in search of tiny things to photograph.

Macrophotography can also make identification easier, at least with things like insects. Insects rarely hold still for very long, making field ID difficult. A close-up photograph and enlargement capabilities can tip the scales in the naturalist’s favor. And it’s a nice alternative to the old naturalist’s standby: capture and preserve for later ID. True, there are times when having the specimen on hand is important, but for most of us, a photograph is all we need.

Spiders are another great subject for the close-up photographer. I find that most spiders up close are really rather beautiful. Okay, maybe most of you don’t feel this way, but you’ve got to admit that up close they are, at the very least, interesting. And photographs don’t bite, or sting, or jump!

Every naturalist needs a field kit, and in amongst the field guides and rulers, hand lenses and note paper, it should include a camera with close-up capabilities. Get yourself one of these and you won’t regret it (once you learn how to use it).


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Odd Outposts in the Forest

In keeping with yesterday’s noontime post on cairns, today a word on other random structures in the woods, what for lack of a better term I’ve come to call hider huts.

People who spend time off-trail in the Adirondacks occasionally stumble across signs that others have walked there before them: old bottles, fire rings, chewing gum wrappers. Maybe a hunter kept watch in that spot years ago or as recently as last fall. A few people I know have also found simple structures in the middle of nowhere, usually on Forest Preserve. Maybe some of these were left by hunters too and used as shelters or blinds. Some are clearly kids’ forts constructed of downed branches. But others have more permanence.

The cabin in this picture is on Blood Hill, within earshot of downtown Saranac Lake traffic. The ground is littered with beer cans and a mildewed old blanket. As hidden huts go, this is one is detailed, with planed floorboards and a glassed door, easily imported because of its proximity to town. Probably just a party spot, but a sturdy one and startling to come across on a bushwhack.

On nearby Dewey Mountain a freshly built cabana, I guess, appeared this spring, walled and camouflaged with logs and balsam. The door was a bedspring woven with evergreen branches. The structure was notable for its size (big enough to garage a truck) and for a David Lynchian sparsity of amenities: a blue tarp, two tubs of Vaseline, and a fire ring beneath a central ceiling hole. It’s falling down now.

Last summer between Blood and Dewey there was a bivouac next to a log in the forest where some poor guy (?) was sleeping out nightly. He kept his sleeping bag and clothes in a trash bag and hung other accessories on a tree. He got up early each morning, maybe to go to a job, and I never saw him. He’s not there this year.

Here is a Flickr photo album of the Blood Hill and Dewey Mountain huts, shot this summer.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Best Summer Job Everrrrr!

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined the rooftop highway road crew this summer, requesting $150 million for the proposed four-lane divided highway north of the Adirondack Park — newly renamed I-98 by supporters who argue that it will prevent the mass migration of jobs and humans away from the region. Environmentalists counter that it will cut off north-south migration routes in and out of the Adirondacks for many other species.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Adirondack Family Activities: Producer-Only Farmers’ Markets

Tis the season for zucchini. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. It is only the closest of friends that can continue to pass out fresh zucchini like it’s a present rather than penance. Since I am in transition, my own garden has been put on hold and I rely on the kindness of others for my fresh veggies. Zucchini, on the other hand, has become the garden growers “gift with purchase.”

I was just given a secret at a recent trip to the Farmers’ Market that if I de-seed the giant green squash first and then chop, it will retain its sweet flavor without having to attempt to swallow seeds the size of cherry pips.

For my children a trip to the Farmers’ Market is a day out on the town. Not because it is errand day. More so because most open-air markets are designed for just that purpose, for people to stroll, smell and experience where food comes from. Sadly and not surprisingly some kids never know the vast amount of travel some of their vegetables have taken before reaching the table.

Lake Placid’s Green Market Wednesday is one of many “producer-only” farmers’ markets. The requirement is simple. The product is either grown at the vendor’s location or made from scratch. Vendors are not allowed to purchase products to resell to customers. This policy provides a creative atmosphere for local farmers and artisans to explore new possibilities with their produce and merchandise.

For us, we show up with little more than water bottles and pick our lunch like it’s right off the vine. Oh wait, it is! The kids weave around the various booths choosing a piece of fruit here and a piece of cheese there.

August 26 will be the last Wednesday Young and Fun series located at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts that runs in conjunction with this particular outdoor market. This is a Salute to Art Day! Clowns, musicians, face painting and crafts are just part of the family-friendly activities available.

Enjoy the market while the children are entertained. Buy a fresh meal while figuring out whether your zucchini toting neighbor is friend or foe.

For a complete list of all Adirondack and beyond Farmers’ Markets check out www.adirondackharvest.com. For a list of producer-only venues, see below.

Lake Placid Green Market on Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Schroon Lake on Mondays from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Plattsburgh Farmers Green Market on Thursdays from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Essex on Sundays from noon – 4:00 p.m.
Saranac Lake on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Queensbury on Mondays from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Glens Falls on Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. – noon
Saratoga Springs on Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Meaning of Cairns

Cairns, the rock pyramids that hikers amass to show the way across treeless summits, are turning up in other Adirondack settings — as memorials, as anonymous art, and as markers of unknown significance.

When Howard “Mac” Fish II died on a trail by Lake Placid on a summer day a few years ago, his family piled stones at the place where he fell. Today the mound stands taller than ever, thanks in part to the superstition that it’s bad luck for a hiker to pass a cairn without adding at least a pebble. Every time I set a new stone I remember the Reverend Fish, who married and blessed many friends in his lifetime and still seems to give guidance through this monument. Ancient cultures are said to have used cairns similarly, to mark burial sites.

At the Wild Center’s opening ceremony in Tupper Lake in 2006 the staff asked attendees each to bring a stone to start a cairn at the entrance to its trail system. “So many people helped make the Wild Center a reality and we want everyone to have a part in the monument,” then executive director Betsy Lowe said at the time. The Wild Center’s cairn is atypical in that it includes rocks not just from the immediate area (one came from the Great Wall of China), and the foundation was built by a stonesmith, Mike Donah of Tupper Lake. Most trail cairns are more haphazard and assembled by many hands over many years.

The cute stone statues that popped up beside Route 73 between the Ski Jumps and the Adirondak Loj Road this year are little more than sand paintings, sure to be knocked over by snowplows if they haven’t toppled already.

On a trip around Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula last fall we saw inunnguaqs: cairns in human form for miles along the coastline near the Irish Memorial national historic site. Adirondack granite breaks rounder than the rock up there and is not so well suited to simulating arms and legs, so our cairns are usually pyramidal.

This spring Adirondack Life ran a beautiful photo feature on summit cairns, by aptly named photographer Stewart Cairns, followed shortly by an essay on “Zen and the Art of Cairns” in the July Adirondack Explorer by publisher Tom Woodman. Woodman wonders about the unnamed makers of rock-piles in a field near his Keene home as well as the sculptors whose work guides the hiker: “Even the simple trail-marking cairns embody values worth reflecting on. We place our trust in them and whoever stacked them as we scramble from one to the other. Maybe we can feel a sense of community and solidarity with those who came before us. Surely, if through mistake or mischief, a set of cairns would lead us over a cliff, someone would have set things right by the time we got there. We look out for each other.”

Photograph of children adding stones to the Wild Center cairn in Tupper Lake.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Northern NY to Host New York State Maple Tour

The Adirondack Maple Producers Association is hosting the September 27-29 New York State Maple Tour with speakers and sugarhouse tours starting from the Lake Placid Horseshow Grounds that will highlight the potentially great economic impact of growing the region’s sugaring industry. Cornell University Uihlein Maple Forest Director Michael Farrell has conducted a comprehensive survey of the maple industry in Northern New York and reports that his research shows the potential for the region to grow its maple production resources into a $9 million annual industry. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, Northern NY has 347 maple farms: 55 producers in Clinton County, 22 in Essex County, 36 in Franklin County, 26 in Jefferson County, 112 in Lewis County, and 96 in St. Lawrence County.

Here is the event’s schedule from the full announcement:

Dr. Timothy Perkins, director of the Proctor Maple Research Center at the University of Vermont, Underhill, Vermont, will open the program at a Sunday, September 27th evening reception with a discussion of the latest research on check-valve adapters. Those attending the Sunday evening program will learn about Get Involved with Maple opportunities to lease trees to a maple producer, tap themselves and sell sap to producers, or how to become a full-fledged maple producer. There is a $10 fee for the Sunday reception.

At the Monday, September 28th evening awards banquet, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Patrick Hooker and his staff will offer a report on the work of the new state Maple Task Force. The Maple Task Force was formed in March 2009 to identify the programmatic and regulatory measures needed to enhance the vitality of New York’s maple industry.

On Monday, September 28th, the New York State Maple Tour will visit sugarhouses in the Lake Placid area including:

North Country School, a co-ed boarding and day school for grade 4-9 children – the school operates a wood-fired evaporator to boil 400 buckets’ worth of sap collected by students. The school also leases several thousand taps to Tony Corwin, whose South Meadow Farm Maple Sugarworks is located across the road from the school. The school is currently thinning a newly-acquired forest for Corwin to tap.

Uihlein Maple Forest is a 200-plus acre Sugar Maple Research and Extension Field Station of Cornell University. Farrell will lead a tour of the 4,000-tap sugarbush, a sweet tree plantation, and newly-built education center and community garden. New York State Extension Forester and Cornell Maple Program Director Peter Smallidge will demonstrate proper tree felling and chainsaw safety techniques and a method for controlling beech understory sapling encroachment.

At Heaven Hill Farm, Henry Uihlein’s old sugarhouse has been renovated as a site for teaching local students about syrup production. Tour participants will learn about two research projects supported by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program and Cornel University here – the timing of tapping for optimal sap flow and the effects of different thinning treatments on sugar maple tree growth and sap production.

The Tuesday, September 29th sugarhouse tour will travel one hour northeast to the Chazy, NY, area to visit:

Parker Family Maple Farm, a sugaring and dairy farm established in 1889 by Earl Parker’s grandparents. The modern wood sugarhouse has an attached candy kitchen, bottling room and restroom facilities. The Parkers tap between 18,000 and 20,000 trees, some rented from the neighboring WH Miner Agricultural Research Institute. William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute operates a demonstration dairy and equine farm and offers educational programs in dairy and equine management and environmental science. The Parker family has practiced sugarbush thinning for more than 40 years and is a collaborator on the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program/Cornell University sugarbush thinning research project.

Homestead Maple is a smaller sugarbush operation established as a hobby business in 1994. Owner David Swan has 225 taps and 25 display buckets and is upgrading toward making maple sugaring a full-time retirement venture. Swan sells most of his syrup from the sugarhouse, but also uses independent representatives in Missouri and Maryland for sales.

Tour options include discounted tickets for a bird’s eye view of the Adirondack Mountains from the top of the Lake Placid Olympic Ski Jumps on Monday.

For New York State Maple Tour information and registration, contact the Lake Placid/Essex County Visitors Bureau, 49 Parkside Drive, Lake Placid, NY 12946, 518-523-2445 x109. Registration deadline is September 11, 2009. Registration form and details are on the New York State Maple Producers Association website at www.nysmaple.com.

For details on Northern NY maple industry research in regional sugarbushes in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties go to the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at www.nnyagdev.org. Maple production and research information is on the Cornell Maple Program website at http://maple.dnr.cornell.edu.


Monday, August 24, 2009

New General Manager Named For Whiteface Ski Area

Vermontville resident Bruce McCulley, who has worked at the mountain since 1981, has been named the new General Manager for Whiteface Ski Center by the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA). McCulley will replace Jay Rand, who has taken a position as the Executive Director of the New York Ski Educational Foundation (NYSEF) as of September 3.

McCulley began his career as a lift operator and snowmaker, and then moved into supervisory and foreman positions before being promoted to Assistant general Manager of the ski center in 1996. McCulley also serves on the Board of Trustees and Leadership Team at the High Peaks Church in Saranac Lake and has served 17 years as a religious services volunteer in the Federal Bureau of Prisons system at Ray Brook.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Saranac Lake Artists as Art

Photographer and author Phil Gallos has a show of 120 portraits at BluSeed Studios, in Saranac Lake. Known for documenting various aspects of life in his community, Gallos photographed 25 local artists — visual, literary, performing, musical and other — over the past three years. The exhibition includes more than just faces; the artists are depicted at work, or fiddling while the sap boils or floating on their backs in crystal clear water. The show opened Thursday and runs until September 12. If you are curious to see some of the people making art in the area but can’t make it to BluSeed, visit Phil’s Web site here.

In the 1970s Phil shot some fascinating black & white street scenes in Saranac Lake, seen here. So many buildings, bars and people gone. It’s amazing how fast things go from contemporary to historical.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Adirondack Youth Guides Practice Professionalism

Over the weekend of August 8th and 9th three of the more experienced 4-H Adirondack Youth Guides participated in a special trip offered only to active 4-H Guides who have reached Intermediate level or above. This year’s trip included a 14-mile paddle in canoes from Lower Saranac Lake to Middle Saranac Lake and a hike up Ampersand Mountain. The three youth guides spent several weeks preparing for the trip. They met for three weeks to plan the menu, itinerary, and logistics. They secured the camping permit and then acted as the guides for three adults during the entire journey.

The trip began at the Route 3 DEC Ranger Station on Lower Saranac Lake where participants paddled to Bluff Island for lunch and then through the Saranac River to a campsite on the Northwestern edge of Middle Saranac Lake. The Youth Guides planned and facilitated educational programs on aquatic life, wild bird identification and astronomy and used GPS units in a team building exercise. On the second day the group paddled back to Lower Saranac and then climbed Ampersand Mountain.

The 4-H Youth Guide Program is offered to any young person age 12 and over with an interest in acquiring outdoor skills and experience. For more information contact John Bowe or Martina Yngente at Cornell Cooperative Extension at (518) 668-4881.

Photo: 2009 ADK Youth Guide trip participants; Top – Ben Hoffman, Sabrina Fish and Michaela Dunn; Bottom – John Bowe 4-H Team Leader, Martina Yngente 4-H Community Educator and Tabor Dunn- chaperone.