Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Classy

     I know it's unseemly to boast. I know and still I can't help but tell you about my brilliant academic career. It consisted of one continuing education night course some 35 or 40 years ago. It was offered by Adirondack Community College and entitled "History of Washington County". It was taught by an older gentleman whose name I can't recall. I do remember him inviting the class up to his Hogtown camp for a "graduation" party. That was fun - a group of friendly people brought together by their shared curiosity for a place. 

Hogtown Highway

     Truth is, I'm more of a cover-alls and Carhartts guy than cap and gown type. But I still have the final paper I wrote for that course. Its pompous title: "History and the Landscape - A view across Washington County over the years". It's pretty lame - no footnotes, a skeletal bibliography, handwritten. This, in a class where others handed in work so original and well researched that it was destined for publication.


My paper - notice the high quality graphics

     My scholar-less little thesis was more like a seed than a fully developed flower. Mostly I just wandered around the county trying to see how the natural landscape had influenced what people had done here. Now, all these years later, technology has changed but my inquisitiveness remains the same. Looking back - at that course, at that paper - I see the genesis of my wash wild blog. I still like to wander the backroads, to wonder about all the things that have happened here, from over a billion years ago up to today. And wonder where we're headed tomorrow.



     Speaking of tomorrow, I want to tell you about a few upcoming opportunities. The college, now known as SUNY Adirondack, has some fall classes that may be of interest. I see in their catalog that they still offer a full semester "History of Warren and Washington Counties - His 270". It covers Native American occupation up to the present. I'm still waiting for a Big History type of course. That would start from the very beginning, the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. Then (once the sun and earth have arrived on the scene) it would detail the various orogenies and other geologic events that have lead to the landscape we see today. We'd learn how the slates, limestones and iron ores that have influenced the county's economic history were created. Glaciation and the development of soils would be covered. Finally, there would be a segment on the botanical colonization that produced the plant communities and ecosystems we see today. Also a brief look at how the animals, including one we're particularly fond of, came here. Lots of field trips and a deeper understanding of the natural stage that has shaped the human story. If Professor Donald Minkel and colleagues ever develop such a course I'll be the first to enroll. 




     In the meantime, here are some items from the current Continuing Education catalog relating to Washington County:

     * Adirondack Lavender 101 - Tour their Whitehall lavender farm with the Allens and learn all about this beautiful and useful herb. Friday, September 22 from 1 to 3pm.

     * Fort Miller walking tour - Paul McCarty will guide the group in visiting this historic hamlet. Wednesday, September 27 from 1 to 3 pm.




     * Bakers Falls walking tour - Learn how Hudson River waterpower lead to early industrial development. Wednesday, October 11 from 1 to 3 pm.



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     * New Skete Monasteries Tour - Unique architecture in a peaceful mountain setting. Friday, October 13 from 1:30 to 3:30 pm.




     * Slate Valley Quarry Tour - Stops at the Slate Valley Museum and a quarry in the Granville area. Saturday, October 14 from 9 to 11 am.



     * Tour and lunch at the Skene Manor - Enjoy a visit to Whitehall's very own castle. Friday, November 3 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.


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     * SUNY Adirondack also has a Lecture and Lunch Series with talks on the Feeder Canal, the Battenkill and the Slate Valley. 

     * Find out more about these and other offerings here.

     * Also of interest: Lake Champlain Bridge Guided Walk on Sunday, September 24 from 1 to 3 pm. Meet at Chimney Point State Historic Site, Vermont. A Vermont Archeology Month event.




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Monday, September 11, 2017

Coot's a Hoot

     It came down to the wire this year, but I finally managed to squeeze in a summer vacation. Several whole hours of vacation on Labor Day afternoon. Call it my sandwich escape. Sunday it rained heavily and showers were predicted for Tuesday. But  Monday was sunny and nice. You can't do much farming with just one dry day between slices of storm. Might as well turn the day into a serendipitous get-away sandwiched in at the end of summer.
     Not as easy as it sounds. First there was a Dutch Belted heifer who decided Labor Day was a good time to go into labor. Fortunately she delivered her little miracle without a problem and somewhat reluctantly agreed to be milked for the first time. Gwenne fed the calf his first meal and got him off to a good start on life's journey. After the rest of the herd was milked, I cut a load of green-chop and by noon we were done. 



Spotted on Labor Day


     With chores finished it was time to head for our vacation destination.... Coot Hill here we come! You know Coot Hill, right?
Well, maybe not, so let me introduce you. It's up in the North Country above Crown Point, not too far from Port Henry, and sort of between Moriah and Ironville. It might be easier to just say it's way out there in the sticks. And that's just part of its charm.


CAT Trail Map

     Coot Hill is in the Adirondacks, but just barely. It's on the eastern edge of the mountains overlooking Lake Champlain and Vermont. From its summit you can sense how the hard metamorphic rock (mostly gneiss) has been pushed up to where it stands above the eroded limestones and shales of the foreground lowlands. Beyond the sinuous lake and its broad valley lies Snake Ridge with the more distant Green Mountains forming the eastern horizon. They are features created by the Taconic Orogeny some 450 million years ago when a volcanic island arc collided with the ancient North American crustal plate.


     That event and other tectonic activity over many eons has left its mark in the form of faults and fracture zones in the bedrock. When rock is cracked and broken it is more susceptible to erosion and that is the probable explanation for the deep cleft between Coot Hill and Bulwagga Mountain just to the south. This is called Big Hollow and it drops off so precipitously that it's hard to see the bottom. This hill and hollow has been the site of "mishaps". Locals like to tell of an amorous rendezvous that went downhill when the busy couple felt their parked vehicle suddenly rolling down the steep slope. Talk about your rocky relationships...




     Thankfully, our visit was less eventful. We found a place to pull off Lang Road about a mile in from Essex CR7. The dirt road makes for pleasant walking. It threads thru a young mixed forest where some unusually tall and straight locust and a few cedar trees added interest. We soon crossed Grove Brook with its scenic cascades on either side of the road. Also evident were stone walls and several large "wolf" trees that speak to a time when the land was mostly open and farmed. Some of the early settlers rest in the Lang Cemetery where we stopped to read the inscriptions. Lang Road may be the trunk but as you climb higher there's a dendritic pattern of paths used by ATV's, snowmobiles and the lovestruck equipped with hi-clearance 4X4's. Just follow the CAT trail markers and you'll soon come to the open summit area. 




     Notice the pinkish colored ledges. This was iron mining country in the past and I wonder if the hue comes from magnetite/hematite ore? Not sure, but the geologist, botanist and ornithologist will find much of interest here. The bare rock is being colonized by lichens and mosses. Between outcrops there is a ground cover of bearberry, blueberry, various grasses and clumps of dwarf juniper. Late in the summer there were still numerous flowers including a sprinkling of Ladies'-Tresses orchid. Soaring overhead were Turkey Vultures and crows. The updrafts along the steep escarpment make it a favorite site for migrating raptors with eagles and various hawks often seen.


     We spent a relaxing hour on top and enjoyed a conversation with a woman who told stories of Whitehall and canalling days...she had a relative born on a canal boat in New York harbor! Finally, Holly and Ethan needed to be back north while Gwenne and I wanted to head home via the scenic west side of Lake George while it was still light. With a dip in the lake, dinner and a stop for ice cream my summer vacation was history. Now this old coot has to get back to work. At least till next Labor Day.





NICE KITTY...

     "CATS invites you to get out on the trails and share the
     vision of New York's Champlain Valley where productive
     forests and farms surround vibrant hamlets and people
     hike, snowshoe, and ski on a network of public trails."
- from the CATS Trail Map

     Champlain Area Trails (CATS) is a non-profit located in Westport, Essex County on the shore of Lake Champlain. The trail map and brochure that I used to visit Coot Hill lists over 50 places to explore. Most are located between the Northway corridor and the lake. This is east of the vast public Forest Preserve lands of the central Adirondack Park with their extensive trail system. The CATS trails tend to be shorter and less demanding because the topography here is gentler. That makes them appealing to folks who aren't hard-core hikers. They lead to scenic destinations with no death march required. Of particular interest is the ownership profile of the lands the trails traverse. A few are owned by New York State, some by various land trusts and others are privately held but permission has been granted for the public to park and walk within defined areas.


     The Champlain Valley seems to have a buzz to it right now. Young people see it as a good place to farm or start a business and to raise a family. Seniors like it as a quiet, scenic place to retire or own a second home. Even former Governor George Pataki, who used to have a farm in Washington County, has moved up this way. The CAT trails are one component to the quality of life that attracts people to the region.
     On Coot Hill my thoughts drifted south to Washington County. Can we learn anything from CAT that is relevant here? Growing populations inevitably lead to increased demand on natural resources. Can we build a relationship with the landscape that provides the timber, mineral and energy resources we need while leaving enough land for food production, building and infrastructure? Will there still be clean water and room for wildlife? Do we care enough about our historical legacy to preserve some of it? And finally, will there be quiet, natural places to recreate and rejuvenate? Big challenges but a lot of good people are working on solutions. I came back from the CAT trail on Coot Hill filled with hope. 




     Finally thoughts...

     - Check out the September/October 2017 issue of the Adirondack Explorer magazine for an article about Coot Hill

     - Find out more about Champlain Area Trails here

     - Bill McKibben's Wandering Home is inspired by the landscape that that you see from Coot Hill. A good read.
       


     - A Farm-to-Fest hike and Adirondack Harvest Festival are scheduled for Saturday, September 16 at the Essex County Fairgrounds in Westport. Check the CAT website for full details.



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Birdseye View




     "Want to climb it?"
     Silly question. Back then we wanted to climb everything. That was some 30 years ago. Gwenne and I were on our way to visit family, driving east into Vermont on Rt. 4. We were running a little early with plenty of time to bolt up a small mountain. 
     But this wasn't just any small mountain. It was called Birdseye and it was pretty good at dishing up humility. Its roller coaster profile is a familiar landmark in these parts.  The mountain is oriented north-south, perpendicular to east-west Rt. 4.
It rises steeply from the road to a mile long ridge-line with several humps and dips before reaching a 2216 foot summit surrounded on three sides by imposing cliffs. It's reminiscent of a western butte - an isolated chunk of rock precipitous on all sides. Therein lies the challenge of climbing it.

Birdseye Mountain  - web image

     I can't recall the details of our ascent but I think we went for the direct approach. Parked along Rt. 4A and headed up the slopes of a defunct ski area that were still somewhat open. Then we wandered along the ridge gaining elevation till we found the summit and a vantage point atop the south facing cliff. Easier said than done. This is rough country and I don't remember any marked trails. But that's the charm of this tough little peak. From our perch it felt like we had discovered a lost world as we gazed out over unbroken forest draping a rugged mountain landscape.


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     Recently, most of the vista we enjoyed became public land. It's now part of Bird Mountain Wildlife Management Area. The WMA originated with a 770 acre purchase in 1976. This included the summit, cliffs and talus slope. Nearly 3000 acres were added this year, enlarging the parcel to the south towards Herrick Mountain and Spruce Knob. I have yet to see a map of the new holdings but I'm guessing Vermont Fish and Wildlife will update their website soon. 



This is a map of the Bird Mountain WMA before the recent addition


     These lands were slated for wind turbine development but that project met stiff headwinds in the form of citizen opposition. Vermonters cherish their mountains and don't want to see them scarred by ugly industrial-scale structures. It took many organizations and individuals working together over a number of years but eventually their efforts came to fruition with the new acquisition.



     Want to explore here? Better bring a sense of adventure and some navigation skills. There are roads that head south from Rt. 4A on both the east and west sides of the mountain. Drive east from Castleton for 3 to 4 miles and look for right hand turns. Just to confuse you, they are both referred to as Birdseye Road.  Supposedly there is a hiking trail on the eastern side (towards Rutland) that is mentioned in the Green Mountain Club guidebook. I haven't seen the guidebook or the trail, so you're on your own.




     The western Birdseye Road does lead to an entrance to the WMA. I've been there but didn't have time to hike. You could conceivably reach the summit from here but it would be a very steep, perhaps dangerous, bushwhack. You can also access nearby Gully Brook - a pretty mountain stream that runs thru the WMA. Presumably this will be the starting point for trips into the newly acquired lands as well.


     There's no doubt that people love to poke around these woods. A little research turned up references to geocaches, hang-gliding (from the old ski trails?), various hikes gone wrong and sundry other adventures. Castleton University has used the area for a winter mountaineering course and there are even reports of a haunted cemetery nearby. The Castleton River, which carved out the gap that Rt. 4 winds thru, can be canoed when conditions are right.

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     Peregrine Falcons were part of the impetus for creating the WMA. These amazing birds of prey dive at speeds approaching 200 mph. They nest on the Birdseye cliffs (and shouldn't be disturbed). Bobcat, turkey, deer and maybe even moose can also be seen here. There are vernal pools and wetlands in the headwaters of the Poultney River, a tributary of Lake Champlain. Geologically, most of the rock is a phyllite. The Bird Mountain slice of the High Taconics takes its name from this peak. The mountains shape reminds me somewhat of Camels Hump. Both have a smoothly sculpted north slope with abrupt south facing cliffs. This could be the work of glacial scouring and plucking as the ice flowed over them. For a deeper understanding of the areas bedrock and landforms Castleton University's Helen Mango and Tim Grover are great resources.







   
  



           

     
       Web images of Camels Hump (left) and Birdseye (right).   


     The former ski area that Bill Jenkins built in 1961 has all but faded away. Look at the slope facing Rt. 4. See any trails? For lots of photos and history check out Jeremy Davis's New England Lost Ski Area Project.
     Castleton lies just a few miles west of the old ski hill. This is a classic New England college town with tree lined streets, stately architecture and the Birdseye Diner for refreshments and nostalgia. 







  
             An iconic mountain, a charming village. Want to visit it? Silly question!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Self Serve

          "The nose knows when it has found a member of the 
                 onion tribe."
                                                      - Euell Gibbons





     That line from Stalking the Wild Asparagus came to mind as we pulled into the woods. Even before getting out of the truck we knew it was going to be a productive day. Our noses told us.  Gwenne and I were on our annual ramping outing near the Battenkill. Actually she dug the ramps while I mostly poked around, providing sport and sustenance to the local tick population. We both endured a few hit or miss snow squalls. Ah, spring in the north country.




     That was several months ago and the greens of wild leeks (aka ramps) have now withered. The white bulbs are still there, just below the surface, but much harder to find. It's the end of June or early July before the flowers appear. Look for a bursting cluster of small (quarter to half inch) white blossoms at the end of a bare stalk 8 or 9 inches high. Other Alliums you might find in our area (Meadow Garlic, Field Garlic and Wild Chives) have pink  or lavender flowers in somewhat similar stalk borne arrangements. All waft a strong garlic/onion odor. 



     Wild leeks seem to be having a "moment". That's not necessarily a good thing. They're turning up in trendy restaurants like Vermont's Misery Loves Co. You can buy them in stores and at farmers markets. There are even Ramp Festivals. The problem, of course, is over-harvesting. On our land we dig sparingly and Gwenne cuts off the rootlets from the bulbs, replanting them to develop into new plants. She has also started new patches by transplanting. 



     Collecting wild plants for food or medicine is called foraging. Many find it a very gratifying outdoor activity. We are all descended from hunter/gathers and foraging feels like a return to our roots. It satisfies some deep urge in a way that shopping at Walmart doesn't. 
     Humans have only been practicing agriculture for maybe 10,000 years. Here in the Northeast it wasn't until the Late Woodland Period, about 1000 years ago, that Native Americans began planting the Three Sisters: beans, corn and squash. Before that hunting, fishing and gathering provided everything. Wild animals are still hunter/gathers although domesticated species have trained people like me to provide for them.





     The rebirth of interest in foraging is often traced to Euell Gibbon's Stalking the Wild Asparagus. First published in 1962, it was part of the whole "back to the land" vibe of the 60's. Asparagus is a folksy collection of recipes, identification info, natural history and homespun philosophy. Many other useful volumes are now available (check The Forager Press). They help preserve our accumulated 'living off the land' wisdom. If all we know is 'store bought' what would happen if there weren't any stores?










     In Washington County self-reliance is holding its own. You see pick-ups loaded with firewood all the time - a gathering of warmth for the coming cold. Many people have gardens and a variety of locally grown food is available at farmers markets and roadside stands. Sue Van Hook teaches how to identify edible mushrooms and Barbara Price has a website called Greenwich Meal Time with recipes and foraging advice.
     Not surprisingly, there are even professional foragers. Evan Strusinski is a Vermont native who has become something of a celebrity by providing the best restaurants in New York, Boston and Philadelphia with exotic wild fare for their tables. Take a look at his Instagram page and goggle him for a peek at a culinary world somewhat removed from your local McDonalds.

Photo of Strusinski from the Web

     Few of us will ever 'go native' and meet all our needs as hunter/gathers. But here's a memory I cherish. When I was younger, Dad and I would do the morning milking while Mom walked up the lane gathering wild strawberries. When we came in for breakfast we may have had cereal out of a box but there was fresh milk and just picked strawberries to go on it. 


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     Perhaps it's just the healthy connection to place that is foraging's biggest benefit. There is an older gentleman who has come to my farm for many years to gather hickory nuts. He no longer drives but his granddaughter still brings him each fall for an activity he obviously enjoys. I like talking to him and last time he was here I asked "How do you shell and eat so many nuts? Aren't they bitter?" He laughed. "Oh, I don't eat them. I feed them to the squirrels." 


Foragers (and squirrels) are welcome
         

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Name is Hollow...Black Hole Hollow

     Blame it on the tilt of the Earth's axis (23.5 degrees in case you're wondering). In late fall, daylight hours grow short and evening darkness settles early. Last time I checked farming was still married to natural cycles (although I've heard rumors of cheating). This means I quit a little earlier in winter, have a few more hours in the house. Therein lies the problem. I spend most of my free time reading but my tired old eyes can only take so much. What to do until bedtime? 
     Why of course! I'll watch all the James Bond films. There are 24 of them running several hours each. At one or two a week the long winter evenings will slip away in a blur of cool gadgets, outrageous stunts, gorgeous 'Bond' girls and triple figure body counts. Now I'm aware that my sophisticated readers may be inclined to question my taste in movies. But you need not bother. I have a wife for that.





     It is probably a function of getting older but I've developed an appreciation for simply hanging in there. Maybe that's why I like Bob Dylan, Saturday Night Live and National Public Radio. They have all been around pretty much my entire life. And so has James Bond. Ian Fleming created the British secret agent character in 1952 with the publication of Casino Royale. Eleven more novels and two short story collections followed before the authors passing in 1964.



     In one memorable summer, when I was in my early teens, I went from comic books to the Hardy Boys to James Bond novels in a few page turning months. Coming of age, indeed. The first book to be made into a film was 1962's Dr. No. In my family, money was so tight and we worked such long hours that going to the movies was out of the question. I didn't see Dr. No until a few months ago as a DVD from the library.


     You may be wondering "What does a secret agent with a license to kill have to do with Washington County?" As I was watching the movies and re-reading some of the books I developed a curiosity for Bond's creator. Tantalizing hints of Fleming's connections to our area kept turning up. Here's a little of what I've learned. 
     It's 1917. Several boys are playing on the beach at Cornwall on the English coast. Ian Fleming and his brothers. Another boy comes along and joins them. His name is Ivar Bryce. On this day a life-long friendship was born. It's a friendship that will eventually bring Fleming to Vermont, Saratoga and Lake George, providing the setting for three action packed Bond adventures. Beyond that, Ivar Bryce may have provided Fleming with a role model for the dashing hero he was destined to create.


Fleming right, Bryce left

     The two men attended Eton College together and then, with the advent of WW II, both worked for British intelligence. Bryce's wife Sheila owned Bellevue estate on the island of Jamaica. Fleming visited and decided he wanted a place on the island "once we've won this blasted war." Bryce found him a 12 acre parcel on the north shore replete with a rocky cliff, sandy beach and tiny island in the bay. Fleming bought the land and built a house he called Goldeneye. He spent several months of every winter here for the rest of his life. It was in Jamaica, at Goldeneye, where Ian Fleming wrote his Bond stories. 

Goldeneye

     Bryce was something of a ladies man and by 1950 he had switched ladies, marrying Josephine Hartford. She was quite a catch. Hartford was a concert pianist, an airline pilot and an accomplished tennis player. She owned thoroughbred stables as well as racing yachts. Perhaps not coincidentally, she was very wealthy. Her family had founded the A&P grocery store chain and she was the heiress. Hartford had several luxury houses including the lovely Black Hole Hollow Farm straddling the Vermont/ New York border with access from Cambridge. Apparently this was her summer place where she kept horses and could easily race them at nearby Saratoga.

Black Hole Hollow Farm

      During the 1950's Ian Fleming was a frequent guest of the Bryce's at Black Hole Hollow. He loved the place and spent his days wandering the woods, frequently climbing Big Spruce Mountain. He also visited the track at Saratoga and took driving tours into the Adirondacks from here. Some claim he wrote Bond novels while at the Farm but that's questionable. He kept a notebook recording names, ideas and impressions - a common practice for a writer. Most likely he researched and plotted his next project while in our area and did the actual writing at Goldeneye during the winter. You Only Live Once: Memories of Ian Fleming is Ivar Bryce's 1975 autobiography. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a copy. It's a book that I'ld like to see available to the community, perhaps in the Cambridge Library. I'm sure there are many local people with memories and interest in Black Hole Hollow Farm, its owners and visitors.


     UPDATE: Shortly after posting this I came across another book that might appeal to anyone with an interest in Black Hole Hollow Farm. Solange Batsell Herter's 2011 autobiography is titled No More Tiaras (A Memoir of Eight Decades). Again I couldn't find it in local libraries but the folks at Battenkill Books in Cambridge do have a copy on the shelf.




     
THE SPY WHO PASSED BY





     Looking for Bond in local places? Start with the 1956 novel Diamonds are Forever. No surprise - it's about diamond smuggling.
007 goes undercover and hooks up with beautiful Tiffany Case to bring a shipment of stones from Europe to America. His mission is to work as far up the supply chain as he can and put a stop to this drain on the British Empire's coffers. After delivering the goods in New York City he's told to go to Saratoga where he'll get paid for his services via a fixed race. But even the mob has bad days and when the Perpetuity Stakes results aren't what they expected, there is hell to pay.


     Bond soon finds himself in the Acme Mud and Sulphur Baths where the action, quite literally, heats up. Now I've lived within a few miles of Saratoga my entire life and I've never heard of mud baths. Mineral baths for sure. But mud baths!? Supposedly Fleming, while researching the book, had actually visited a mud bath near Saratoga in the summer of 1954. Can anyone shed light on mud vs. mineral baths?

An old post-card image of Saratoga mud baths

     In any case, it's clear that Bond, and by extension Fleming, liked Saratoga (sans the mud baths). It's fun to read his descriptions of the track and its unique culture. He devotes a number of chapters to the town before the action inevitably moves to Las Vegas - the story is about organized crime, after all. The novel was made into a movie in 1971. It was towards the end of Sean Connery's run as 007. Jill St. John played Tiffany Case as a slightly air-headed pawn of the bad guys. Sadly, Saratoga got dropped between book and film. Apparently the director and screenwriter didn't spend their summers at an exotic hideaway in the mountains bordering Washington County.










     For Your Eyes Only is a short story included in a 1960 collection. It begins with the brutal murder of a British couple on the island of Jamaica. Afterwards, the killers - an ex-Gestapo German Nazi and his Cuban henchmen - decide to lie low in northern Vermont. But not low enough. Bond has been assigned to mete out justice and with the help of the Mounties he finds them and sneaks across the border at night, heading south thru the woods. Back then (in the 1950's) this was challenging but doable for a hardman like Bond. Now, so many people are trying to escape north that Canada may have to build a wall. And make America pay for it.

Black Hole Hollow Farm looking west into Washington County with Goose Egg Ridge in the background

     Bond arrives at his target by dawn and what's striking is how much the gangs liar resembles the grounds of Black Hole Hollow Farm. Do you think Fleming used his summer getaway spot near Cambridge as a model for fictitious Echo Lake, where the story unfolds? As Bond prepares to carry out his mission a complication arises in the form of a stunning girl with a bow and arrow. Let's just say that she's not there to play Cupid. 



     I liked For Your Eyes Only. It's good, taunt storytelling while also delving into the moral implications of vengeance: "If you're set on revenge, first dig two graves." Plus, the terrain Bond navigates has a familiar feel. I've hiked the slopes of Grass Mountain above Black Hole Hollow. So has Fleming and I'm convinced this is the ground his hero is traversing in the story. 



     The film version came out in 1981. Roger Moore had taken over as James Bond and the plot expanded to focus on a device that controls nuclear submarines. Wouldn't want that to fall into the wrong hands now, would we. Vermont, like Saratoga before it, has been replaced by more glamorous locations around the Mediterranean. There are furious (but fun) chases thru small villages and olive groves in Spain and at a ski resort in the Italian Alps. Later the scene shifts to the Aegean with lyrical underwater sequences. I found For Your Eyes Only to be among the most beautiful of all the Bond films. 











     Retained from the original story is the lady archer avenging her parents. Here she is a Greek beauty named Melina played by Carole Bouquet. The film also features an exciting rock climbing set-piece as Bond must get to the top of an impregnable limestone tower before the Russians whisk the sub device away. Also of note is the title song sung by Sheena Easton. Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger usually garners top honors for Bond songs but For Your Eyes Only is still one of my favorites. Listen to it here. 




     Bond last visited our area in 1962's The Spy who Loved Me. He only stayed for a few busy hours. In the novel Fleming tried something different: writing from a female perspective. I think it's safe to say he regretted it. The Spy who Loved Me was the least popular of the series, probably because Bond is hardly in it. It is Vivienne Michel's story. She is a Canadian girl who has been educated, in more ways than one, in England. She returns home and begins an adventurous scooter ride south - her destination might have been Florida but I'm not sure. For a little extra cash she takes a job at a motel in the Adirondacks near Lake George. Readers have tried mightily to pinpoint its exact location. Fleming gives several conflicting clues but I'm of the opinion that the Dreamy Pines Motor Court is simply a creation of the author's imagination. In any case, Fleming was quite familiar with the area and refers disparagingly to a number of local attractions from the era, including Animal Land, Gaslight Village and Storytown.


Has Bond been here?

     The Spy who Loved Me is basically a 'damsel in distress' story. Vivienne, on her last night at Dreamy Pines is terrorized by a couple of thugs named Horror and Slugsy. Just when things look most dire, who should show up looking for a place to stay but the world's greatest secret agent. You'd think a man licensed to kill and used to dealing with indestructible Russians, megalomaniac billionaires bent on world conquest (no, this was before Donald Trump) and deadly black widow femme-fatales would make quick work of a couple of garden variety hoodlums. But Bond seems to be off his game and the battle goes on interminably, interspersed with some 'Spy Loving'. It's easy to see why fans were disappointed with the book and today its sexist attitudes seem a little creepy. Read it to imagine Fleming cruising the area, absorbing local flavor, and not for much else. 


     To say that The Spy who Loved Me was made into a movie is not quite true. There was a 1977 Bond film by that title. But the filmmakers, to their credit, came up with a completely different story. Once again, most of the action takes place in and around the Mediterranean. Like the previous pictures, there is no mention of our area at all. In the movie gorgeous Russian Agent XXX, played by Barbra Bach, must work with Bond to stop a common threat to their respective countries - even though she wants to kill him. Spoiler alert, but no real surprise: she becomes the spy who loved him. 




     There is one last story about The Spy who Loved Me that I want to share. It's totally not fact checked but kind of fun, so here goes. Bond films typically begin with an opening segment of jaw-dropping action. But the producers couldn't find any stuntmen willing to do what they had in mind for this one. On a hunch they posted a 'Help Wanted' notice on the bulletin board at the Camp Four climbers hangout in Yosemite. And soon they had their man - I believe his name was Rick Sylvester. Watch in awe as he (as Bond) blithely skies off a vertiginous  cliff and into legend. I've heard there was a memorable party when he got his paycheck and returned to his dirt bag friends back in the Valley.



     
  
HEADING UP THE HOLLOW

     Cambridge is the starting point for a visit to Black Hole Hollow. It's five or six scenic miles up thru the White Creek valley to reach the Hollow. You can drive, of course, but this makes a nice out and back bike ride with the Round House Bakery or Kings Donut Cart (on Sunday mornings) as your reward at the end. Fit runners can use this as a distance work out and the ultra-fit could conceivably run to the top of Grass Mountain from Cambridge - with a trip to the Emergency Room as their reward at the end!


     From the Rt. 22 traffic light in the village go east a block and cross Rt. 313 on to Co. 67, also called Ash Grove Road. Look for a large, historic house on the left. A little ways out stop and say "Hi" to a couple of shaggy Scotch Highland beasts that look like they've been here since the last Ice Age. A short distance on is the lane leading up to the Nuns of New Skete where they bake those heavenly cheesecakes. The road here shares the narrow valley with sparkling White Creek which flows into the Owl Kill, then the Hoosic and eventually the Hudson. Look for ghostly white trees lining the stream. They're sycamores - a southern tree that seems quite happy here. 




     In Ash Grove, Chestnut Hill Road goes off to the right. Trees were obviously so important to early settlers that they named many roads and communities after them. Chestnut Hill Road deserves a separate trip. Along it you will find the monastery of the Monks of New Skete, the falls of Pumpkin Hook Creek, the Pompanuck Farm Institute and access to a couple of State Forests. 






New Skete

       For now we'll continue straight on Ash Grove Road. A short ways beyond you'll see a small cemetery on a knoll to the left. The Methodist leader Philip Embury spent some time here, before he was dug up and moved to Cambridge. It's worth a stop to read the historical markers and the inscriptions on the stones. Further on McKie Hollow Road goes off to the right at Clark's dairy farm. Around the next bend you're treated to a dramatic view of Goose Egg Ridge. To hike the State Forest here take a left on to Bates Road where there's parking at the end.





     A little further and you'll see a charming, stone walled cemetery on the left. This sits on the New York/Vermont border and you can find a monument marking the line on the right side of the road. Black Hole Hollow Farm is all around you. The sprawling stone house, built in the 1770's, is off to the right. Several other houses and barns, all part of the farm, are on either side of the road. This might be a good time to check your pockets. If you find a spare 
$4 million in change why not consider buying the property? It's for sale and you can get a nice photo tour at Christie's site here. 
For Well-heeled Eyes Only.




     About a half mile into Vermont the road bends left. There's an old and apparently abandoned road that goes straight. Some maps call this Stagecoach Road and show it heading down towards Shaftsbury Hollow. Black Hole Hollow Road goes another half mile north thru open fields, with views back towards Two Tops, before going down a steep hill to a stream crossing where it sort of dead ends. I say 'sort of' because a road continues straight ahead but appears to be private. Off to the right is what Vermont calls a Trail. That's a public right of way but without any maintenance. Before the last snowstorm Gwenne and I parked here and walked a ways on the Trail into what I call "the land that Uncle Sam forgot".





The lighter area is Green Mountain National Forest on this National Geographic map

     There is a large chunk of the Green Mountain National Forest here that extends up and over the summit of Grass Mountain. It's public land owned by the United States of America. If you're a hard working, taxpaying upright citizen (and I know you are) then this is yours. Except that you'd never know it. There are no signs and no good place to park. Detailed maps of the area are hard to find. To their credit, the Forest Service office in Manchester was encouraging and helpful, maybe even excited that somebody was interested in visiting the place. Amy Tilley suggested possible approaches from Benedict Hollow off River Road in Arlington and from Shaftsbury Hollow to the south. I haven't had time to follow up on these suggestions and my knee has been bothering me, pretty much precluding any rough bushwhacking. I do remember hiking to the top of Grass Mountain years ago. Don't recall it as having been particularly hard but I was a lot younger then. 


Grass Mountain from Goose Egg Ridge
     
     It wouldn't take much to make this a nice destination. Little more than a place to park, a small sign, some trail markers and a few printed maps. Think about what our supposedly conservative, cost-cutting government spends to provide security for a billionaires globe trotting kids. Just a few of those dollars would go a long way towards making the wooded hills that Ian Fleming so loved accessible for all to enjoy. One small way to make America great again.