Thursday, February 23, 2017

0 for 3?

     Some think this business of being a naturalist is a walk in the park. They picture retired school marms "Oh-ing" and "Ah-ing" over some dainty botanical specimen. Or birders who see whole life-lists fly by every time they raise their Hubble powered binoculars. Rockhounds unearthing entire T-rex fossils with one swing of their hammer. Maybe it is like that for some people. But not for everyone. Not for me. 
     Here's a little story about eskers, owls and eclipses. About life that doesn't always go as planned. The day got off to a rough start. The early morning phone call that no one wants to get. An accident. A beloved family member. Tragedy and tears. Hard as it can be, life goes on. Especially on a farm where, no matter what, animals must be cared for.  Gwenne, Holly and I talked, consoled and kept busy. We feed the herd, cleaned barns and got a maternity pen ready for a cow soon to calve. 
     By mid-afternoon we were momentarily caught up. It was sunny, nice, not real cold. I thought a little get away might do our battered spirits good. 
     "Anybody want to go look for eskers?"
     "Sure, why not?"
    Now I doubt either of them knew or cared what an esker was. The operative word was "go". I could have said "Anybody want to go look for rabid dogs? the smallpox virus?" and the response would have been equally enthusiastic. We just needed to be together and a change of scenery wouldn't hurt.
     That's how we ended up in North Argyle. I have a surficial geology map that shows a number of eskers on either side of Rt. 40. An esker is a long, narrow ridge formed from deposits of a meltwater stream flowing beneath a glacier. Blessed with a vivid imagination, I anticipated a landscape squirming with something like the mole tunnels that adorn my lawn...supersized mole tunnels! 

Web image of glacier on left and esker on right

The arrowed lines are eskers, the oval with line in lower left corner is a drumlin

The map showed a long esker angling from above the sharp bend on Mahaffy Road down across Co. 44 all the way to Kinney Road. Very prominent on the map, totally invisible on the ground. Another one was shown crossing Co. 45, parallel and just east of the Moses Kill. No trouble finding the road or the stream, no luck finding the esker. A couple of small ones were mapped along Safford/Pope Hill Road. So small that I couldn't see a trace of them on the ground. Then it was back along Coach Road and across Tripp where we felt something like an anorexic speed bump where there was supposed to be an esker. Just beyond is the view across open fields to the old Presbyterian Church and Cemetery ... a soothing, timeless scene. My source indicates both are on top of an esker. Guess that places them a little closer to heaven. 



      A  little zig zag took us down Rt. 40 (supposedly on an esker) to Kinney Road where we finally hit the jackpot. Not one of those figments of a geologist's imagination that we'd been chasing all afternoon but a big, beautiful drumlin with the road hopping over its tail end. Another relic of glaciation, drumlins are long narrow hills. Their steep sided shape reminds me of a whale or submarine breaking the surface. Rising up to a hundred feet above the surrounding level, they can be quite imposing. But remember, they were mere bumps molded at the bottom of ice that towered as much as a mile above them!

South end of Drumlin with Kinney Road on left

North end of drumlin sloping down in wooded area to right

     Drawing a blank on eskers, we decided to look for owls. It was getting late in the day, the time when these big birds of prey become active. We wound back thru Durkeetown, imaging the huge meltwater lake that filled the valley before us 13,000 years ago. The same waning glacier that formed eskers poured out torrents of muddy water flooding the basin from here to the terminal moraine far to the south. 

     Eventually the lake drained and what we call the Fort Edward Grasslands became established on the former lakebed. It's great habitat for a variety of birds with sightings of short-earred and snowy owls in winter. Often seen by Gordie Ellmers and his camera, occasionally seen by competent birders and not seen at all by us. 

Web image

                                                                                                                 We cruised back roads, stopped at viewpoints and scanned with my poor excuse for binoculars. The days tally: one distant northern harrier, too many crows to count and a disheartening flock of "Building Lots For Sale - Will Finance" signs.
     We naturalists are made of stern stuff and it wasn't time to admit defeat just yet. I knew there was a full Moon tonight and that it was supposed to pass thru Earth's penumbra. That's the fainter part of the shadow our planet projects into space. When the Moon aligns with the inner, darker umbra we see an eclipse. But close calls with the outer penumbra can produce interesting shading effects. 

 It was sunset so by definition the Moon should rise at any moment. But the minutes ticked away. We were at the bird blind on Co. 42. I alternately looked low across the meadow for owls and up to the Argyle hills for sign of the Moon. It grew colder and the wind picked up. My family retreated to the truck. I knew they were hungry, that we had evening chores to do. A reluctant "OK", now it's time to admit defeat. No eskers, no owls, no Moon. 

     A short while later we were driving thru Hudson Falls. Looking east we caught  a few blurred glimpses of the Moon rising behind houses and trees. That was about it. Expectations can trip you up. It's the difference between what we want and what we get. It's easy to fall into the disappointment trap. But that isn't how I remember our day. Maybe we didn't find what we were looking for. Instead we saw the parade of hills marching above the Taconic Thrust fault. In front of the hills and beyond stretched the rolling Hudson/Champlain lowlands, finally giving way to the Adirondack Mountains to the west. Beautiful country full of life. A fox trotting across the road in front of us, a field speckled with turkeys and all those crazy crows - loud and mischievous. Looking up there was color in the sky - two multi-hued sundogs - what a treat. 

Web image

     You can dwell on what you missed or revel in what you've been given. And when you lose someone, you need to grieve for the life lost but also celebrate the precious time you had together.   
Nikos Lukaris - (January 4, 1974-February 9, 2017)
pictured with his dear, sweet Rosie

The center of much attention
This little charmer began her life journey on the 
night of our esker/owl/Moon outing
We named her Nikki

1 comment:

  1. Don - It used to be there were several open sand and gravel pits/quarries that took advantage of the sandy esker sediments along Rte 40, from the old NAUP church down to about where the Argyle Fire Dept. currently is: one near the entrance to the Argyle Airport (the "Morehouse property") and the other on the south side of the old Lester Lufkin Farm (between it and the AFD; with both pits on the east side of 40). The old 1940s era 7.5-min. topo map shows the Rte 40 esker pretty well. There evidently was a glacial lake delta (perhaps associated with this esker, but when the ice sheet was retreating) around the Argyle Village. There are deltaic/outwash sand and gravel deposits on the SW corner of the Rte 40 and West St. in the village (an old quarry near my parents property). Also, when the Argyle UP church did some excavation prior to building their church addition back a few years ago, I found deltaic foreset beds there, dipping generally to the south and directly on top of Ordovician shale bedrock.