- John Brown Farm Siding Restoration
- 1929 Film Shows Champlain Bridge Opening
- ORDA Budget: Losses Expected to Continue
- State Settles With Plant Polluting Region’s Air
- Gore Parking Policy Angers Skiers
- Family: We Were Sickened By IP Tire Burn
- Champlain Bridge Demolition Delayed
- Paul Smiths’ Tim Burke Headed to Olympics?
- Law Would Target Boaters Spreading Invasives
- Minus-25 Temp Sets State Low
- Climate Deal Announced
In Saranac Lake in December 1887, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote to a friend about the difficulties of reading a thermometer at below-zero, describing “the mercury, which curls up into the bulb like a hibernating bear.” The Scotsman spent that winter in the care of Dr. E. L. Trudeau, convalescing from a lung ailment. He complained endlessly of the weather. He called it “tragic,” “glum,” “exceedingly sharp,” “grey and harsh,” “doleful,” “bleak” and “blackguardly.” Yet, he conceded, “The climate has done me good.”
He wrote most of The Master of Ballantrae here (if you have not read it, spare yourself and rent the Errol Flynn version instead; it omits the Adirondack parts but ends more happily and speedily). And he composed several thoughtful essays, among them “A Christmas Sermon,” published in Scribner’s magazine in December 1888.
The “sermon” asks moralists and the judgmental to focus less on their neighbors’ conduct and more on their own: “If your morals make you dreary, depend upon it they are wrong. I do not say ‘give them up,’ for they may be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better and simpler people.”
A man’s main task is, “To be honest, to be kind—to earn a little and to spend a little less, to make upon the whole a family happier for his presence,” he wrote.
“But Christmas is not only the mile-mark of another year, moving us to thoughts of self-examination: it is a season, from all its associations, whether domestic or religious, suggesting thoughts of joy.”
Stevenson was a charismatic figure and a thinker who wrote more than pirate adventures. His letters, especially the (apparently) carelessly written ones, still make good reading. His Adirondack letters are online at Google Books, and “A Christmas Sermon” is online at gutenberg.org.
There are two places in Saranac Lake where visitors can learn about Stevenson: the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage and Museum, and the Robert Louis Stevenson Tea Room; the latter is also a good place to eat.
Photograph of Robert Louis Stevenson, 1880
Tradition can be difficult to refute. And as often as we may disagree with our families, we tend to cling to those things that “grandpa always said,” like calling those wild canids coydogs, and referring to deer antlers as horns. One of the very common misnomers around the Adirondacks is the snowshoe rabbit. I hate to say it, but there’s no such beast; what we have is a snowshoe hare.
Now some folks may think this is splitting hairs (no pun intended), but rabbits and hares, despite looking the same, are different animals. And it’s not merely a case of one having longer (or shorter) ears than the other, or one changing color and the other not. Nope, the differences are extensive, and they include biology, physiology and behavior.
Before you get all flustered, you can rest assured that there are cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridans) in the Adirondacks, but not throughout the whole Park. The cottontail can be found in the southern, eastern and northern lowland parts of the Park. It is not a cold-hardy animal. In fact, like the opossum, it only arrived relatively recently in the Adirondack region, believed to have moved northward as agriculture opened up wilderness areas.
On the other hand, the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) has been around forever and can be found throughout the Park, at all elevations, wherever conifers are present (in wetlands, lowlands, or on mountains). It is an animal designed for the cold, from its large furry feet feet to its varying fur. But the differences are more than skin deep.
For ease of discussion, here’s a list of differences:
• Rabbits have large back feet. The snowshoe hare has enormous back feet (on significantly longer back legs).
• Rabbits live in borrows or dens underground, complete with fur-lined nests. Hares build small depressions on top of the ground for their nests; otherwise, they shelter in dense stands of conifers.
• Cottontails are always brown-ish (unless you have an albino). Snowshoe hares change color: white in winter (with black tips on their ears), and brown in summer.
• Baby rabbits are called bunnies, and they are born naked, blind, and totally helpless (altricial). Baby hares are called leverets and are born fully-furred and with their eyes open; shortly after birth they are ready to explore their surroundings (precocial).
• Bunnies stay in their cozy nests for almost two months before dispersing. Leverets hide in separate locations during the day, only coming together when the mother returns to nurse them; in about four weeks they head out on their own.
• When startled, rabbits tend to freeze, hoping danger will pass them by. When a snowshoe hare is startled, it may briefly sit still, but in a short time it takes off, dashing quickly for safety.
• Rabbits sometimes gather in loose aggregations. Like deer, male rabbits will often fight to determine who is dominant; the winner is the one who usually mates with all the females in the area. Hares, however, are mostly solitary. There is little or no fighting among hares; the males and females just pair up for mating.
Is the world going to grind to a halt if you call a snowshoe hare a rabbit? Probably not, but isn’t it nicer to call a spade a spade? It clarifies things and shows the world that you actually know what you are talking about. Credibility – it’s what it’s all about.
When he sold his old Honda and bought a Prism, he pulled the greasy leather cover off the old steering wheel to reuse. It took hours to de-thread the old cover, and hours more to fasten it, using the same thread, to the steering wheel of his new car. But the thread broke partway through, so he had to use other things to attach it.
“You know,” I told him. “A new cover only costs about $10.”
“Why should I get a new one? This one works fine.”
“But look at it. You’ve got thread, black electrical tape and what’s that white stuff?”
I shook my head. “If I was a girl going out with you, and I saw that steering wheel, there wouldn’t be a second date.”
“That’s not the worst of it,” Jim said.
“Why? What’s worse?”
“It’s used dental floss.”
The reason I bring this up is I was afraid Jim wouldn’t be skiing in the Adirondacks this year. His 30-year-old wooden L.L. Bean skis were just about too worn to be used, and a binding had broken last year. Jim lives in Saratoga County, and we usually go out on three or four backcountry ski adventures in the Adirondacks each winter – Siamese Ponds, Pharaoh Lake, the High Peaks, Hoffman Notch, the Jackrabbit Trail.
I kept encouraging him to buy new gear, but he wouldn’t have it. Usually the only time he buys new equipment is when he’s forced to.
Like the time he brought what he thought was a 20-degree sleeping bag for a late-winter backpacking trip in the Smokey Mountains. The borrowed bag, which he had never tried out before the trip, turned out to be only a nylon cover. He shivered for two nights before finding a store.
Or the time he went backpacking on the Appalachian Trail with boots (a gift from a girlfriend) that he knew were a half-size too small. He suffered in those devices of torture for several days before reaching a supply store and surrendering his credit card.
But those skis have clearly seen their last snowplow. Even Jim admitted it. And he had a new idea.
“I can bring them back to L.L. Bean and exchange them,” he said.
It was true. L.L. Bean, like many outdoor stores, provided a lifetime warranty for all its products. Just bring it back at any time and say you’re not satisfied, and they’ll give you an even exchange or your money back.
“So what are you going to tell them?” I asked. “That after 30 years, you weren’t satisfied?”
“Well … yeah.”
“After skiing on them hundreds of times, applying pine tar and layers of wax with a blowtorch, bashing them against rocks, replacing the bindings several times, they weren’t good enough?
It’s not that I was amazed at his audacity. I just couldn’t believe he’d want to get rid of something he’d spent so much time on. And I said as much.
“What am I supposed to do with them?” he asked. “Put them over my fireplace?”
“Something like that.”
“I’ll think about it.”
A few days ago I got a call from Jim. Turns out he had decided not to return the skis after all.
“Oh,” I said. “You decided to buy new ones? Or used ones?”
“No,” he said. “A guy I ride the bus with to work says he owns about 30 pairs. He said he’d give me one.”
So it looks like we’ll be skiing together in the Adirondacks after all. Assuming his boots hold up – they’re not in very good shape either.
In response to last week’s post on leg-hold traps, the wife of the trapper who inadvertently snared a bald eagle earlier this month sent the following comment today, run here in full:
“I’ve made coonskin hats our of hides we tanned ourselves. So now for the rebuttal from the trapper (my husband) who caught the eagle (and in fact played a big part in the rescue). Ranger Eakin cut a pole and with the help of Deputy Wilt lifted the trap drag off the branch so that the eagle could fall to the ground where my husband and I were waiting with the net that we threw over the bird to keep him from flying off again. The bird was so cooperative as to flip over onto his belly on the blanket Eakin provided so that we keep him off the snow, and cover him with the blanket we provided. Having caught his own finger in the same trap we know that it doesn’t break bones or do any damage in and of itself.
“It didn’t even really hurt so the traps are as gentle as is possible. In over 30 yrs. of trapping the only animal he’s ever seen chew off it’s leg was a muskrat that the trap failed to drown. And having caught many rats missing legs – they recover and live just fine without it. He’s never had anything other than a squirrel or rabbit that was caught in the trap become a meal for a predator – and that’s natural. Nobody should be commenting on the trap set because nobody ever looked at it. The carcass was buried, although the coyote that was also caught the same time exposed part of it.
“There are two types of traps, leg grippers and body grippers (conibers). Instead of complaining that leg grippers should be outlawed (leaving only body grippers available for use) you should realize that an animal caught in a body gripper is dead when the trapper arrives – a much worse situation for the dog, cat, eagle who sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. Caught a dog and a cat this year in different leg grippers. They were released without injury to grateful and understanding owners. Dog was off leash, owner accepted responsibility. Cat belonged to a former trapper. Most domestics don’t run off and fight the trap (which causes some pain) rather they lay there and wait for assistance. Ever stepped on your dog’s toe? Probably more painful than the snap of the trap jaws.
“Oh, and the eagle was released two days after being rescued. And the rehabilitator told the ECO on scene that this was the first eagle in a trap she’d seen in 15 yrs as a rehabilitator. So let’s direct that righteous indignation toward all those abused and neglected domestic animals in our communities rather than making such a big deal out of a once in a lifetime mishap that had a happy outcome – no permanent injury and a happy reunion with his mate, who happened to have been waiting nearby while he was in the tree. And an awesome memory to have had my hand a mere few inches from his majestic head.
“A truly magnificent bird with no fear, nor anger toward the humans I’m sure he knew were trying to help. Just an amazing calm and patience in those all-seeing eyes that commanded respect. And to think I’ve heard mention that our national bird was almost the turkey?”
With First Night® Saranac Lake we are getting set to blend our own New Year’s traditions with new ones. Parades, dancing, magicians, refreshments, music and fireworks are becoming an expected part of our beginning year rituals. My children have yet to decide on their New Year’s resolutions. I can certainly think of a few things that would be a welcome change. Their first instinct is not self improvement. The first round of resolutions usually has the word television attached to them.
Each country seems to hold strongly to its own traditions around New Year’s. I always think I will continue to have a lucky year with my first taste of black-eyed peas. My children are “having a feeling” we should stick strictly to the band and bypass the legumes.
To kick off this New Year’s Eve a snowperson building contest will be held at Riverside Park December 31st from 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. This event is open to all children and adults. It is touted as a “bring your own accessories” for your snowperson and prizes will be awarded. Then head over to the Petrova School Gymnasium for a mask-making workshop.
Masked and costumed balls have long been a custom, symbolizing the evil of the past. The goal is to throw off the mask with the old year and any bad spirits with it and count down to the new and start fresh with a kiss. My daughter gets a bit starry-eyed at the mention of the kiss.
The mask-making workshop is being offering to adults and children and being held from 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Using a mixed medium, anyone can decorate a mask in anticipation of the opening ceremonies at 5:30 p.m.
First Night® Saranac Lake is one of 130 events held around the world providing family-oriented, alcohol-free activities while showcasing arts and community.
There is still plenty of time to get your First Night® button ($12 for adults). It can be purchased at Ampersound Music, Price Chopper Supermarket, Books & Baskets, Blue Line Sports, Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce or Lake Placid Visitor Bureau .
Children twelve and under are admitted free but need to display the First Night® button designed especially for them, which is to be available at all venues.
So whatever your traditions are, perhaps new ones can be made here or at one of the other First Night® venues.
An Almanack reader who likes maps called our attention to one posted last week in the Adirondack Park Agency’s online map room. It shows lakes and ponds encompassed entirely by Forest Preserve. (Click here to see larger map.)
The tally of those lakes and ponds is 1,838, and a series of clickable sidebar charts sorts them by variables. The largest? Lake Lila, at 1,461 acres. (Little Tupper Lake at 2,305 acres would’ve been the largest but there are a couple of small private inholdings. Follensby Pond, at 1,000 acres, would become third largest when New York State acquires it.) But most Forest Preserve waters are little: 1,728 of them are between 1 and 250 acres in surface area. A pie chart shows that there are almost exactly the same number of lakes fully within Wild Forest (862) as Wilderness (860) state land classifications. » Continue Reading.
As editor of the Adirondack Explorer, I interviewed Clarence Petty before every issue over the past five years for our “Questions for Clarence” feature. Several times before his death, at age 104, I asked what piece of wisdom he would like to impart to future generations.
His answer: Let the people vote. He argued that since the Adirondack Park is a state treasure, the residents of the whole state should vote on matters of importance to the Park. He had no doubt that the statewide electorate would favor preservation of the Park’s natural beauty and wild character.
We didn’t discuss the nuts and bolts of how these referendums would work, but it’s an interesting idea. Surely Clarence is right that people in Buffalo, Syracuse, Long Island, and other distant places would be inclined to favor state land acquisition and other measures intended protect the Park’s natural resources.
Of course, in-Park officials would fight tooth and nail to prevent such outside influence on the region. But Clarence often found himself at odds with his fellow Adirondackers.
I got to know Clarence only in the last decade of his life. The Explorer’s founder and erstwhile publisher, Dick Beamish, knew him for nearly forty years. For the newsmagazine’s January/February issue, Dick wrote a lengthy article about Clarence’s life and contributions to the Park. It’s the most comprehensive piece on Clarence I’ve seen since his death in November. You can read it here. You’ll also find a selection of Questions for Clarence.
Photo of Clarence on top of Giant Mountain, at age 70, courtesy of the Adirondack Council.
Lake Placid boasts a rich Olympic history, particularly in speed skating. In 1932 Jack Shea, a Lake Placid native, won the 500 and 1500 meter events. Another local athlete, Charles Jewtraw, trained on the oval, becoming the first gold medalist of the 500 meter event in the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924. Of course, possibly the best known speed skater to deliver a record-breaking performance was Eric Heiden, who won 5 gold medals in the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, the only skater to win 5 individual gold medals in the same Olympics. This week, Lake Placid was host to a different type of speed skating; a long-distance marathon.
The Lake Placid Ice Marathon, sponsored by the Lake Placid Speed Skating Club and Marathon Skating International (MSI), was the second in a series of marathons hosted by MSI, and included three distances; the 10 K, the 25 K, and the 40 K. On the 400 M oval, the 10 K race equals 26 laps; the 25 K is 65 laps, and the 40 K equals 104 laps. At first glance these distances might seem daunting, but in Europe usually the smallest distance is 40 K, while the highest is 200 kilometers, depending on the location and size of the skating oval. Like running, the distances are measured in kilometers; surprisingly, many of the skaters race all three distances.
Speed skating originated in Holland, including the practice of marathon skating. The Dutch race Elfstedentocht (also known as the eleven cities tour), is a famous marathon that started the tradition of skating long distances. Eventually this form of skating took off in Canada and the United States, and now a dedicated group of skaters participate in both Canada and in select parts of the United States. One of the select locations in the US that hosts ice marathons is Lake Placid.
One of the organizations that contribute greatly to marathon skating is Marathon Skating International (MSI). Their mission is to promote the sport of marathon speed skating in North America, and ultimately establish marathon speed skating as a sport in the Olympic Games.
Many of the athletes this weekend were from Canada, although there were some skaters from Rochester, New York City, and New Jersey competing in the marathon. Although the Lake Placid oval hosted a session for the first time of the season the night before, the ice was in good condition for the races.
The organizing committee and MSI were pleased with how the event progressed this weekend. Race Director Linda Sausa was particularly pleased with the outcome. “The ice was beautiful, and even though it was cold Saturday morning (-8 F) the sun was shining and everyone had a positive race experience. We are grateful to ORDA for their determination with ice maintenance”.
Lake Placid will be hosting two more races this season; the Charles Jewtraw All Around race (January 9th and 10th) and the Jack Shea Sprints (February 6th and 7th).
To learn more about Marathon Skating,
A recent discussion of leadership in the Adirondacks, got me thinking about who should be included on a list of the Adirondack region’s most influential people. I’d like to offer a list of the people who have had the greatest impact on the Adirondacks, and I’d like your help.
Clearly they should reflect the environmental, cultural, and political history of the park, and they need not be residents of the region, provided their impact was significantly felt here. I’ve offered some suggestions after the jump, but I’d like to hear your opinions and suggestions.
Theodore Roosevelt comes to mind, but what about Verplanck Colvin, or lumber barons James Caldwell and Daniel Finch? Does the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks’ Paul Schaefer make the list? Clarence Petty? Father of NYS Forest Rangers William F. Fox? Or longtime environmental advocate John Sheehan? Should property rights advocates Carol LaGrasse or Fred Monroe be on the list? What about James Fenimore Cooper or transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson? Environmentalists George Perkins Marsh or Bob Marshall? What about great foresters like Bernhard Fernow or Gifford Pinchot? Ebenezer Emmons, the geologist who named the Adirondacks? Samuel de Champlain? William Johnson? William Gillbrand? John Thurman? Paul Smith? Isaac Jogues? Thomas C. Durant? William H. H. “Adirondack” Murray? Seneca Ray Stoddard? Arto Monaco? Nelson Rockefeller? Anne Labastille? Noah John Rondeau?
Feel free to add your suggestion, or argue for one of those above. We’ll produce a list of the ten most influential on January 18th.
The letter below is from the Adirondack Council calling on the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) to change how it deals with applications for multiple cell towers on the same property. The Council is seeking to have APA amend their tower policy to encourage more co-location, which they say will limit environmental impacts from cell towers.
According to an APA announcement in the fall of 2008, since 1973, nearly 100 new and amended cellular carrier permits have been approved, including about 15 new free standing towers and about 25 tower and/or antenna replacements. About 50 towers have been co-located on free standing existing towers and other structures in that time. » Continue Reading.
Lawrence P. Gooley has published another outstanding chronicle of Adirondack history, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow. The book chronicles the story of Garrow, an abused Dannemora child, turned thief, serial rapist and killer who admitted to seven rapes and four murders, although police believed there were many more. Among his victims were campers near Speculator where Garrow escaped a police dragnet and traveled up Route 30 through Indian Lake and Long Lake and eventually made his way to Witherbee where he was tracked down and shot in the foot. Claiming he was partially paralyzed, Garrow sued the State of New York for $10 million for negligence in his medical care. In exchange for dropping the suit, Garrow was moved to a medium security prison. He was shot and killed during a prison escape in September 1978 – he had faked his paralysis. » Continue Reading.
When I think of lemmings, the first thing that comes to mind is Gary Larson’s FarSide cartoon with all the rodents rushing towards the edge of a cliff, one wearing an inner tube. What I don’t immediately think of is the fact that we have lemmings right here in our own back yards. Yes, Virginia, there are lemmings in the Adirondacks.
Admittedly, our lemmings are a different genus that those of movie and cartoon fame. Adirondack lemmings come in two flavors: the southern bog lemming, Synaptomys cooperi, and the northern bog lemming, Synaptomys borealis. They are small rodents, related to, and looking an awful lot like, voles: chunky bodies, beady little eyes, smallish rounded ears that are mostly hidden by shaggy fur. They have short tails and grooved upper incisors, which are the two characteristics that distinguish them from the other voles that live in our mountains.
But before I get into too much detail about these little guys, I’d like to first address the idea that lemmings, obeying some preordained internal message, make massive migrations to the sea and throw themselves into the churning water at the base of towering cliffs, a furry mass-suicide. Don’t you believe it. This whole lemming suicide thing (there’s no better word for it) is entirely fictitious and we can thank Disney for its creation.
Those of us of a certain generation grew up with “The Wonderful World of Disney” and “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” as mainstays of our Sunday nights. Looking back on many of the nature programs of that era, it’s kind of amazing what we swallowed as fact. In 1958 (before my time), Disney came out with a movie titled “White Wilderness,” a documentary about some of the animals in the far north. The lemming section was filmed in Alberta, a landlocked portion of Canada. Not only is there no sea in Alberta, there are also no lemmings. So, the film crew bought pet lemmings from nearby Inuit kids, and using fancy camera angles and other tricks of the trade, they made these few animals look like thousands. Then, and here’s the kicker, they put the animals on a snow-covered turntable that flung them off the cliff and into the water (a river, not the sea) below. With the narrator using a dramatic voice and just the right words, the stage for the birth of a myth: lemming suicides.
Fifty-one years later, people still believe it.
As stated above, the lemmings depicted in this erroneous film are a different genus from our bog lemmings, but I just wanted to clear the air ahead of time that lemmings do not make massive migrations to the sea to commit suicide. What we do see, however, in lemming populations all over the world, regardless of species, is dramatic rises and falls in the population. For a few years the numbers climb, and then suddenly they plummet, taking the species to near-extinction, only to start climbing again before they bottom out. This could be a reflection of a predator-prey cycle (more prey means more predators; more predators means fewer prey; fewer prey mean fewer predators; fewer predators means more prey, and so on), or it could be because as the rodent’s numbers increase, they consume more food, and soon food becomes scarce. Then the population declines due to lack of food, food supplies begin to increase, leading once more to an inevitable rise in the rodent population. Either way, it’s a cycle and one that is a natural part of population dynamics everywhere.
Back to our bog lemmings. Both the northern and southern have an historic presence in the Adirondacks, but according to D. Andrew Saunders’ Adirondack Mammals, the northern has only been verified recently (in the ‘80s) by one specimen from Whiteface Mountain. Since, based on this evidence, the northern is not that common here, I’m going to focus strictly on the southern.
The big burning questions is: do bog lemmings really live in bogs? The simple answer is not so much in the Adirondacks. Our southern bog lemmings (henceforth referred to as “SBL”) are found mostly in deciduous and mixed deciduous-conifer forests, hanging out in grassy openings and areas where tall sedges, ferns and shrubs grow, providing good cover and easily accessible food. (I caught one once, back in the summer of ’95, just about a mile from the VIC. It was a momentous event in my graduate advisor’s eyes, and he added the animal to his collection of study skins.) Like other small mammals, the SBL creates a maze of connected trails and tunnels to navigate through its chosen home, the former above ground, the latter just below the surface. A distinguishing part of the SBL’s home is the globular nest it builds of various plant fibers. In the summer these nests are found tucked away on top of the ground, sometimes near stumps, other times hidden in clumps of sedges. In the winter, though, the lemmings build their nests below ground, in a side chamber off their tunnel systems.
One of the things I find fascinating about SBLs in the fact that their scats are green, like goose scat! And like geese, this is because lemmings are herbivores that eat a lot of green material (as opposed to lots of twigs and nuts). Grasses and other green leaves make up the bulk of their diet, although mosses, fungi, fruits and roots are also consumed. I even read that sometimes they’ll eat invertebrates, like snails and slugs, but these are a very minor part of the diet.
SBLs are primarily night-active. This is most likely an adaptation to avoid run-ins with potential predators. Snakes, raptors, weasels, raccoons, foxes and coyotes are all potentially after a nice lemming snack. By moving about mostly at night, the lemming can somewhat hide its movements. On the other hand, many of these predators are well-adapted to hunting after dark. All’s fair in a dog-eat-dog world.
Are you likely to encounter a southern bog lemming in your daily travels around the Adirondacks? Probably not, but if you did, you might easily mistake it for just another vole. But rest assured, they are out there, doing their part to keep the greenery cut back and the bellies of predators full. Life is good.
Photo copyrighted by and used with permission from Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan.
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Each Friday Adirondack Almanack compiles for our readers the week’s best stories and links from the web about the Adirondacks. You can find all our weekly web highlights here.