Thursday, October 30, 2014

Gated Communities of W. C.

     I won't be trick or treating in an Obama mask this year. The risk of scaring to death a Democratic candidate running for office is just too great. Instead my nod to Halloween will be this photo tour of a few Washington County cemeteries.
     Why are graveyards considered frightening? And why do so many of them have fences and gates? For most people in Washington County the thing they fear most is getting their property/school tax bill.   Still, when I'm out for an evening jog on Binninger Road from Eagleville or along River Road in Fort Miller, with dusk settling and a little foggy mist creeping out of the woods, my pace always picks up as I pass the tombstones.


     Here's a peaceful spot on County 61 just up the hill from Battenville.

     Eagleville is an oldie with internments from 1795. It's a simple opening in the surrounding woods. Curiously, the stones are placed perpendicular to the dirt road. And what a wonderful road it is. Binninger is my favorite running route in all of Washington County. Tree shaded and stone walled with classic country homes, a quaint crossing of Steele Brook and the cemetery, of course. Park down by the covered bridge and enjoy this outing on foot. Extra points if you walk it after dark on a full moon night.

     The Moravian Cemetery is a pastoral gem, with its enclosing stone wall and (missing) gate. Being located in beautiful Camden Valley doesn't hurt. The sheep in the pasture across the road add to the charm. Philip Embury, the father of American Methodism, was interred here in 1773 then moved several times until he ended up in Cambridge. The Moravians are a protestant sect that came to America from Germany around 1735. Abraham Bininger established a mission of the church, and this cemetery on his farm here in Camden near the Vermont border.

     A small group of stones commands this knoll along County 62 near the intersection of Kenyon Hill Road in the Town of Jackson.

     Fort Miller's Riverside is a personal favorite. I've logged a lot of miles from the Rt. 4 bridge up
River Road thru the hamlet and past the cemetery. It's lovely during the day with two large catalpa trees along the road and tall pines towards the back. But I always seem to hit it at dusk when it spooks me out. It's aptly named because the Hudson is right behind it. Always wanted waterfront property? My advice is to walk to the back of Riverside and be careful what you wish for.

Jane McCrea - How not to rest in peace

     Jane   McCrea is the diva of local historical lore. She was a young woman who died during a skirmish between American patriots and Indians attached to British General Burgoyne's army. There is some uncertainty but she was probably murdered by the Indians and was definitely scalped by them. Her death incited many in the colonies to fight the British and was a factor in Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga several months later.
     For Jane, her violent death on July 25, 1777 was the beginning of a long, strange journey. Depending on the accuracy of various accounts she was buried and dug up four or five times and not all of her made it to her final grave. You can visit the sites of this macabre story in and around Fort Edward and Halloween seems like the perfect time to do it.

     This was Jane's brother's house on the west side of the river below Fort Edward. She was staying here in relative safety until family discord over the war caused her to leave.

     The historical marker calls this the Jane McCrea House. Was this where she was staying with Sarah McNeil when they were abducted? They were taken towards the hill where the high school is today. Somewhere in what was then a wooded area she was killed and perhaps buried for a short time. Presumably the Stewarts Shop next to the house wasn't there in 1777.

A short time after her death she was apparently dug up and floated down the Hudson with the intent of burying her on her brother's farm. The family didn't agree to this so she was interred on the east side of the river near where Blackhouse Road joins Rt. 4. There is a marker here beside the road and a small enclosed lot with a monument to an American soldier who died on the same day as McCrea. His name was Tobias Van Veghten.

     In 1822 McCrea was exhumed and moved to the State Street Cemetery in Fort Edward. Supposedly her remains were placed on top of her old friend Sarah McNeil's vault. Eventually she was dug up again in 1852 to make room for the Champlain Canal then under construction. This time she moved up the hill beyond her murder and original burial site to Union Cemetery along Rt. 4 across from the Washington County offices.

     In 2003 a forensic exhumation was conducted by archeologist David Starbuck. Although there were few remains left it was discovered that two bodies had been buried together, presumably McCrea and McNeil. McCrea's skull and many bones were missing, probably taken by souvenir hunters at a previous disinterment. Today you can see the monuments within an iron fence enclosure, gated and padlocked, just inside the entrance to Union Cemetery. Side by side are stones honoring Jane McCrea,  Sarah McNeil and Duncan Campbell.

     Cemeteries are where we remember those who've come and gone before us. But they also serve as visible landscape reminders of deeper truths about the human condition, about how grateful we should be for this blessed, fragile gift. Life itself is the real trick or treat. Happy Halloween to you all.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Beauty and her beasties

     It was dogs by the dozens on Sleeping Beauty recently. The pooches had brought their people out to enjoy a classic fall hiking day with warm sunshine and dazzling foliage. This outing may be Washington County's most popular for its relative ease and dramatic cliff-top views (I hope Buck Mountain didn't hear me say that!)
     Sleeping Beauty Mountain is located on the east side of Lake George straddling the Fort Ann/Dresden town line. This is part of the Lake George Wild Forest, a unit of the forever wild forest preserve lands owned by the people of New York. It's in the southeastern corner of the Adirondack Park easily accessible from the Northway via Route 149 to Buttermilk Falls, Sly Pond then Shelving Rock Roads.
     Gwenne and I opted for the unabridged edition hike starting from the outer parking lot. It seems most people, ever reluctant to give up their wheels, choose to drive one and a haft miles in to Dacy Clearing to begin their climb. Better to savor this shaded lane at walking pace as an appetizer to the trail up the mountain.

      On the way in we saw a big red oak with a six inch wide strip blown out of it from crown to ground. There were shards of fresh wood scattered some distance into the surrounding forest. Apparently the tree was the unfortunate victim of a lightning strike that superheated its sap to the boiling point causing explosive expansion. Just a little reminder of Mother's power out here.
     There are a number of free walk-in campsites along the road and horse mounting platforms allowing people with disabilities to enjoy a ride. The road is an easy ski tour in winter and mountain bikers use it. Something for everyone.
     It's also a stroll thru the past with cellar holes, stone walls and a small rock dam of the old Dacy farm visible. Jack Dacy was legendary for his strength and ability to coax crops out of the thin rocky soil. More than a hundred years ago, when this area was cleared fields and pastures, his farm supplied the hotels along the east shore of Lake George and the Knapp Estate with much of their food. Eating local was in vogue then as now.

      For the tale of Dacy being treed by a bear and other great stories set in these hills check out Fred Tracy Stile's book From Then Till Now  and Elsa Kny Steinback's  Sweet Peas and a White Bridge
which is illustrated with the author's drawings and paintings.
     Beyond Dacy Clearing the real hiking and tail-wagging began. The trail is an old carriage path from the Knapp Estate era that is now eroded and rough, typical Adirondack rock and roots. Every few minutes we met groups descending with setters and retrievers, huskies and collies leading the way. Some pets were all business, straight down the trail types while others stopped to say "hi" and socialize. All seemed joyously absorbed in the place and the moment.
     While I love dogs, I also have a thing for rocks. I'ld have to call this a gneiss neighborhood because that metamorphic rock seems most common but geologic maps also show bands of marble, quartzite and metamorphosized gabbros and anorthosites.

     Perhaps more notable than the types of rock are the forms they take. The trail winds beneath a towering cliff (with some climbing routes) eventually switchbacking up its southeastern end towards the top. The eastern Adirondacks are riddled with faults from past tectonic activity and movement along these breaks in the crust create the rugged mountainous terrain that people find so enchanting.
     Lake George occupies a graben where a block of crust has dropped down along parallel faults resulting in a long narrow valley. In this part of Washington County three prominent northeast trending ridges with Buck, Putnam and Vanderburg as their respective defining peaks, appear to be tilt block mountains with steep west faces and more gentle slopes to the east. The Diameter at South Bay, just a few miles from Sleeping Beauty, faces to the southeast forming one side of another narrow graben. Cliffs, like people, can have different orientations. Keeps life interesting.

     Other geologic features you'll see are talus blocks the size of houses, a coarse crystalline pegmatite filling a crack on the summit and the curious reddish tinge of the rocks and soil up top. It's also easy to indulge your botanical side here. Every ledge hosts a vertical garden of lichen, moss  and ferns which can be viewed up close for detail or from a distance as an abstract  work of art. No bending or kneeling required.
     There are a variety of forest community types from piney successional on the old fields, to northern hardwoods and then mixed conifers on the higher, wetter back side. The rocky summit ridge burned a few years ago and charcoaled stumps are still seen.
     A low growing heath, maybe blueberry, was bright red when we visited and there are enough grasses and small forbs to push a naturalist into identification frenzy.
     The Sleeping Beauty must have sweet dreams given the views that surround her. To the west is Lake George backed by range upon range. Vermont mountains define the eastern horizon with Washington County, rugged nearby then rolling into the distance, tucked in between.

     Returning via the Bumps Pond loop will take some of the sting out of leaving these views behind. The pond and its outlet have a wild, ragged feel and there's even architectural interest nearby. On descent you'll skirt the Beauty's cliffs thru a ledgy gorge soon joining the trail back to Dacy Clearing.
     There's satisfaction in engaging with multiple facets of a place: its geology and weather, its life and history. But there's also the simple pleasure of romping thru it, all senses humming, as our dogs love to do. If open to both ways and up on Sleeping Beauty, you're a happy camper.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Another Roadside Attraction

     We all have a story. You, me, rocks.  Go ahead and tell your story, it's important.  Mine still needs a little editing.  That leaves rocks.  Let's talk about the life of rocks.  They're born, things happen to them and then (how to put this?) they're recycled.  It's a fascinating tale of sedimentation, lithification, volcanism, tectonics, orogeny, metamorphism, subduction, erosion and quarrying.
     Washington County (W. C.) has an intriguing mix of rocks.  There is the very old, metamorphosized Adirondack basement suite:  gneisses, marbles, meta-gabbros and quartzites found in the northwest part of the county.  In the central Hudson/Champlain lowlands we find sedimentary deposits of limestone, dolostone, sandstone and shale.  Rising above the valley and extending into
Vermont are the Taconic hills with their peripatetic slates and mudstones that moved into the neighborhood from further east.
     While the county is completely underlain by bedrock, it's not always easy to see.  Much of it is covered by soil, water and vegetation.  Think of a beautiful woman:  her clothes may be fabulous but they also hide interesting things. Here in WC we have more exposed rock than Iowa but less than Arizona.
     Geology and the American way of life intersect at the road cut.  It's where construction crews have blasted and bulldozed whatever got in the way of their straight and level creations.  Not only does this make travel faster and safer, it gives us little peeks into the earth's crust, all from the comfort of our cars. With apologies to Tom Robbins for my title, I want to look at some of these easily accessible outcrops in this and future posts.
     The twisted sister of road cuts is located on County Road 61 about 1 1/2 miles east of Shushan in the Town of Salem.  One look at this small, south-facing exposure and you know the rocks have a story to tell; dramatic, even violent.  What you see is many thin layers of black fine-grained mudstone bent, folded and broken.  After consulting various geological sources,  I came up with the following biography.
     This outcrop is located in the Taconic Mountains, so we know that it's more than 450 million years old.  The rocks originated when sediments from an early incarnation of North America were eroded and washed into the sea where they finally settled to the bottom on the slope/rise edge of the continent. This would place them in what is now eastern Vermont.  As this mud piled up, its weight pressed out water and cemented the clay particles together to form solid rock (lithification).  Following our story analogy, you could say the rock was "born."  Life was ho-hum for many millions of years with continued deposition burying the layers deeper beneath the sea.
     Eventually there came a pressure from the east.  This compression resulted as two of earth's tectonic plates came together with one subducting under the other.  The plate drifting in from the east carried a string of large islands (think something like Japan or Indonesia) and there was a very slow motion collision lasting 10 to 20 million years that built up a huge mountain range along the edge of the continent.  This event is called the Taconic orogeny and our little outcrop got caught in the middle of it.
     As the island arc slid up onto the edge of proto-North America it bulldozed a huge pile of crust ahead of it.  Deep in this accretionary prism, heat and pressure were high enough to soften and deform what had been hard, horizontal layers.  Strata folded, faulted and slid past each other.  It was a huge mess.
     Gradually the collision used up its energy and mountain building came to an end.  Then erosion took over.  Lots and lots of erosion over hundreds of millions of years stripping away vertical miles of the Taconics until we are left with today's scenic but modest range.  Driving along Rt. 313 from Cambridge, NY to Arlington, VT takes you into the carved out core of the Taconics, courtesy of the Battenkill River's relentless downcutting. The twisted sister outcrop shows us what it's like to be pushed fifty miles west with the weight of the world on your shoulders.  Stop sometime and listen to her story.