Saturday, May 12, 2018

Drumlin Circle

     Glacial. A good word for my early season biking pace. It also describes the landscape I recently cycled thru. Starting from the Green in the hamlet of Kingsbury I pedaled across Rt. 4 heading south on a town road. Almost immediately I was faced with a steep hill that rose about fifty feet to a crest and then dropped down the other side. A little out of breath (only because it was early in the season and early in the ride, of course) I paused on top to take stock of my situation. I had just climbed a drumlin, the highest in a cluster of such features that rise out of the Hudson - Champlain lowlands in this part of Washington County.

Going up?

On top - this pretty red barn is king of the drumlin hill

Looking downhill towards the Green - the stones in the wall must have come from the drumlin

     Drumlins are low elongated hills variously described as shaped like a whale, a submarine, a fat cigar or an overturned spoon. One end usually has a steeper slope and the other end is more gradually tapered. They are formed underneath glaciers from till, which is a mix of rock, gravel, sand and clay. 

Image from the web

     When I was a kid I remember riding my bike until late in the fall when the first snowstorm hit. The bike then got left wherever my interest had suddenly turned to sledding (I was a problem child, as you've probably surmised). Come the first warm days of spring the bike would magically appear from beneath the melting snow just as I got the urge to start riding again. Drumlins are sort of like the bikes of my youth. They appeared when the glacier melted but soon became islands in the huge lakes that formed as the ice retreated. 

     The drumlins that encircle Kingsbury (there are a dozen of them) are isolated mounds of till in a clay lowland. The clay soils formed from fine sediments that settled out of the muddy post-glacial lake waters. I'm not sure whether the drumlins stood above or below the surface level of Lake Albany. Eventually the lake emptied and its bed was exposed to erosion. Drainage patterns developed, producing an undulating topography incised by the small valleys of Bond Creek and several tributaries of Halfway and Woods Creeks. Above this landscape stand the higher ridges of the drumlins.

The ovals are drumlins, the lavender shades are areas of till and the tan denotes lake clay

In this 1915 geologic map the red dashed line marks the highest shoreline elevation of Lake Albany

This small tributary of Halfway Creek has cut deeply into the lake clays

     Drumlins can be found wherever land has been glaciated. New York State is certainly blessed with them. The Ontario lowlands between Syracuse and Batavia has a world renowned display of the molded hills - an estimated 10,000 or more! You can see many of them from the Thruway. They are also fairly common in other parts of Washington County. In Argyle look for a nice one on the north side of Kinney Road. There's what appears to be a double-barreled drumlin near the hamlet of Coila. Notice the two side by side hills where Content Farm Road makes a sharp turn just north of Rt. 372. In the Kingsbury group others can be seen from Geer, Dubes, Hendee and Hartman Roads.

Two for the price of one! Coila's double drumlin

Trees partially obscure the north end of the Kinney Road drumlin

     Underlying bedrock combines with surficial deposits to give a 
landscape its character. The outer crust of the Earth is mapped by rock type and structural features such as folds and faults. Bedrock information is gathered from outcrops, road cuts, quarries and well logs.  Surficial deposits might be thought of as the Earth's thin skin. Most of us think of it as the dirt we dig, build upon and grow food in. Geologist will note how it developed and various shapes and features seen at the surface - such things as drumlins, eskers and outwash plains. Soil scientists further differentiate surficial deposits into series and phases based on parent material, horizons and other factors. Around Kingsbury much of the bedrock is carbonates such as limestone and dolostone. These are poorly exposed because they lay in low, flat, horizontal layers covered by the surficial deposits leftover from glaciation: till, outwash and lake clays. Interesting fact: the dolostone used to build the 306 foot tall Bennington Battle Monument was quarried and cut in Kingsbury, an estimated 100,000 tons of it, that was then hauled to Vermont in the 1880's!

Out of Kingsbury - the Bennington Battle Monument
Web image

What lies below - Google Earth screen shot of Kingsbury stone quarry


     While Rt. 4 has wide shoulders and is a designated bike route, it also has lots of high speed traffic. I prefer the quieter country roads to the north and south. With a county road map it is easy to find some nice loops. While you pedal you'll be treated to scenic views of all three of Washington County's physiographic regions: the Adirondack Mountains, the Hudson - Champlain lowlands and the Taconic hills.

This charming 1825 schoolhouse along Rt. 4 was built from the stone that underlies it 


     The Kingsbury Green is a good place to begin biking. While there, take a minute to look around. In the past this was a substantial settlement on the Great Northern Turnpike. Now it's a quiet drive-by on busy Rt. 4. Facing the Green is the stately Baptist Church, built around 1840. The nearby Parish House was moved here from Fort Ann. It has served Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists. It has even served me! I remember when they used to have Sunday evening folk concerts in the building. As a fundraiser, the congregation baked delicious pies that could be enjoyed with coffee during the show. People say there was a guy who often ordered two slices. Can't imagine who that could be...
     There are several historical markers by the green.  Across the road you can stroll thru the Kingsbury Cemetery where you'll find many old stones with interesting inscriptions. Also note the former Floyd's General Store in a building that's probably over 200 years old. It's closed now and for sale. There's your opportunity to ditch the 9 to 5 and be an independent shop keeper...where you'll get to work 12 to 14 hours seven days a week.

     For more historical background and help in planning a tour of the area you can check out Warpaths, Wildcats and Waterfalls, a 1984 publication of the Town of Kingsbury Bicentennial Committee. I'ld also recommend An Introduction to Historic Resources in Washington County, New York as well as the Kingsbury volume in the Images of America series published by Arcadia.


     Biking, glacial geology and historic architecture always make me hungry. After my explorations I drove up Rt. 4 a short ways and swung into Sally's Hen House. This little roadside diner is a local favorite. I ordered the chicken and biscuits special and it came mounded up on a big oblong plate. Reminded me of... you guessed it... a drumlin. Only a whole lot tastier.


Saturday, April 7, 2018

Terroir de Tune

     The French concept of 'terroir' is having a moment. It's generally defined as all the natural factors of soil, topography and climate that give a wine its characteristic flavor. But the idea has also been applied to coffee, tea and cheese. Even milk and maple syrup! So, do you mind if I take it a step further and speak of the terroir of songs? Maybe that's stretching the meaning to the breaking point but I've always enjoyed songs rich in detail of a particular place/time/event. Songs rooted in a distinct landscape, much like the paintings of the Hudson River School of Art.

Thomas Cole painting from the Web

     There have always been regional styles of music - Appalachian ballads, Western Swing, New Orleans jazz. Then there's the popular 'city songs' of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, celebrating New York, Chicago and San Francisco. John Denver had big hits with 'Rocky Mountain High' and 'Take me Home, Country Roads'. More recently, rap is the style young black men have created to share their urban mean streets experiences. My thought is that pop songs are one more way people have found to make sense of their relationship with place. 
     I've compiled a short playlist of songs in this genre with YouTube links highlighted. Give these a listen, revisit your own personal favorites or, if your more creative than I, consider writing an original about a place that means a lot to you.

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     * I don't know of any Copperhead Roads in Washington County (although there is a Snake Ridge). But we do have lots of backroads that wind up into the hills. Places where it's not a good idea to ask too many questions about what's going on out behind that collapsed barn and those rusted cars. Steve Earle's rocking song from 1988 tells the story of the next-gen in a family of moonshiners. A guy who comes back from 'Nam with "a brand new plan". Every time I hear it I'm taken up into the east Tennessee 'hollers' of the 1970's. 


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     * Another song with a distinctly southern feel is John Anderson's Seminole Wind. This country tune laments what we've done to the Everglades and, by extension, to natural places everywhere. Listen and feel Anderson's love of sawgrass, black water, the eagle and the otter.


Web images

     * In Gordon Lightfoot's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald we're brought north to Lake Superior, or as he sings of it, to Gitche Gumee. Here we feel the frightening power of nature when "the gales of November come early". A wrenching telling of a tragic event with lots of evocative imagery.


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     * Joni Mitchell's Woodstock is a gentle, hopeful counterpoint to the previous songs. I didn't make it to Woodstock...I was baling hay. Neither did Mitchell, but her artists imagination created this poetic celebration of a place, an event and a generation.


Twain and Lawrence images from the Web

     * North of Woodstock and the Catskills are the Adirondacks. Eddy Lawrence's  Just down the road from Shania Twain is a catchy reminder that these mountains aren't just park and playground. People live here. Very diverse people. Lawrence captures the vibe of their lives while slyly poking fun at our infatuation with fame.


     * Dan Berggren grew up in the Adirondack hill town of Minerva. He's gone on to become one of the regions most prolific songwriters with a rich repertoire depicting the hard but rewarding lives of rural folks. Find information on his performance schedule and music here. For a taste of his style, Mountain Air is hard to beat. The pool of Adirondack singer/songwriters runs as deep as a mountain lake. Others you're sure to enjoy include Peggy Lynn, Roy (Poncho) Hurd, Susan Trump and Dan Duggan. 


Bob and friends playing in Saratoga

     * The final act in our concert tour is right here in Washington County. In May of 2004 talented citizens of the village staged 'Greenwich: The Musical'. It was written by hometown favorite, Bob Warren. Bobs a talented guy (who, incidentally, sold me a nice little truck years ago!). Beyond being a songwriter, musician and performer, he has also been a teacher and mentor to young people exploring their musical passions. Find all his CD's and see his concert schedule at this site. 

     Also from Greenwich is Eastbound Jesus, six local guys playing raucous music they call Northern Rock. Visit their site to learn more. They are also known (notorious?!?) for hosting a cow pasture music festival called the Eastbound Throwdown. It will be held on September 7 & 8 at the Irwin farm in East Greenwich (if they can get the cows out of the way).


     Live music is more than mega-stadium sold out concerts and triple figure ticket prices. Take The Oasis for example. It was a funky little Rt. 22 roadhouse right next to Dead Pond. That was where I learned to love live music. I can't recall the names of the bands but I do remember a drummer we knew as Squeaky. That's because we used to crawl in the open window behind his drum kit to avoid the cover charge. The 'O' is long gone, replaced with apartments and self-storage! Kind of sad but nothing lasts forever. Nothing except great memories.

Smokey singing

     Another local music venue/watering hole was Smokey Greene's place in Thompson (near Schuylerville). The bar may be history but I wonder if Smokey is still out there playing? I know Arlin is. Like father, like son.

Illustration from The Strand's site

     Looking for live music in Washington County today? You might try Cambridge's Hubbard Hall or the recently renovated Strand Theater in Hudson Falls, where Jonathon Newell and his crew have got a lot of energy pumping. I'm sure there are also a few bars that host Saturday night bands but I can't really offer suggestions. In my dotage I go to bed too early for that scene. Still, I usually drift off lulled by some kind of music playing in my head.


     One final thought - you might want to read Bruce Chatwin's 1987 book The Songlines. I haven't got to it yet but I understand it's a provocative take on the genesis of songs, language and their relationship to the landscape. Did our ancestors sing the land into existence or did the land first elicit song? Hmmm...


     Hope you welcome spring with a song and a place in your heart.