Thursday, February 26, 2015

Place at the Table - Round House Bakery Cafe

     I've finally found a bank I like. You know about banks, where they cheerily proclaim, "We're so happy you've trusted your savings with us that we'd like to offer an interest rate of .00001%." And "We'll put those dollars to work in the community giving people mortgages we know they can't afford. They'll get to enjoy their homes for six months before we foreclose and put them on the street. There's so many cozy homeless shelters out there, they'll be just fine."
     The foreclosed will be fine and bank customers will most assuredly be fined. If they don't like the way you part your hair, they've got a fine for that. "Now sir, page 297 of the fine print bank policy encyclopedia clearly states..."
     Ok, todays rant is over. Now back to that bank I like. Actually it's a building that used to be a bank. Now it's the home of the Round House Bakery Cafe in Cambridge. This is Scott and Lisa Carrino's coffeehouse/bistro/bakery at the corner of Washington and Main Streets next to Hubbard Hall.

     It's a comfortable place with natural woodwork, a tin ceiling and big sunny windows. There's a scattering of tables and a counter to place your order. Local art work hangs on the walls with Ian Creitz's photos currently on display. Any doubts about the spaces former use are dispelled by the massive vault door in the corner, now kept wide open and inviting.
     You can get breakfast all day along with soups, salads, sandwiches and chili. There's always a  selection of tempting baked goods - breads, muffins, scones, cookies and cupcakes - along with an array of coffees, teas and cold drinks.
     There's occasional live music and dinner is offered on Friday and Sunday evenings till 7:00pm. Hours and menus may reflect the weather and what's available so check their facebook page or call
(677-2233) if you plan a visit. Most days they open at 8:00am and close at 3:00pm. The Cafe is dark on Tuesdays, at least thru the winter.
     The Roundhouse Cafe is a great addition to the Washington County food scene. The Carrinos have a legacy of community building at Pompanuck Farm, the Roundhouse Bakery and now at their restaurant. They create jobs for their neighbors, use local products and offer tasty, handcrafted fare in a fun, welcoming space. You can bank on that.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Now Look Here

     To paraphrase Will Rogers, "I never met a river that I didn't like." Rivers have energy, they have purpose, they have life. Rivers come from somewhere and they are going somewhere. They're never the same, always full of surprises. ("No man ever steps in the same river twice." - Heraclitus)
     The Battenkill is just such a river. It comes from Vermont, rising in the mountains on both sides of the marble valley near Dorset and Manchester. It takes a curious turn at Arlington, cutting a scenic slice thru the high Taconic Range and then threads the hills of southern Washington County before joining the Hudson near Schuylerville.
     The river is a unifying presence defining a geographical area and freely sharing its name (Battenkill Appliances - Battenkill Motors - Battenkill Veterinary - etc. - etc.) Yet despite its ubiquity I wonder how many of us actually spend much time with the river, really getting to know it. We're all busy; working, running errands, surfing the web, reading or writing silly blogs.
     Fly fishermen have always had an intimate connection with the Battenkill. They immerse themselves in its rhythm and flow, for a few hours becoming almost a part of it. And then there are the artists, a surprising number of them, who see something here that they want to share. It's a process of distilling a places essence and offering your vision to others. You could call the Battenkill a model river, it has posed for so many sketches, paintings and photographs.
     These works of art make up a big part of an exhibit called Battenkill Inspired which you can see at the Folklife Center in Crandall Public Library, Glens Falls. Shushan resident Todd DeGarmo is the Centers director and he has cast a wide net in pulling the show together. I counted nearly two dozen contributors in a variety of media. Those who browse the area's galleries or attend the annual Landscapes for Landsakes event will find familiar names here: George Van Hook, Harry Orlyk and Leslie Parke for example. But Ian Creitz and Herbert Eriksson's photos were a new discovery for me as was the carvings and decoys of Steven Jay Sanford and C.J. Lyttle.

     You'll see lots of traditional scenes - think covered bridges and fly casting for trout - alongside more personal and whimsical images. Clifford Oliver's photo of girls tubing captures the Battenkill summer rite of showing and enjoying a little skin. There's also mini-photo essays of the Buffum's Bridge Farewell Party (4/28/13) and the 4th of July homemade boat races that were popular in the 1960's (I think they got a little too rowdy and had to be discontinued).
     A Battenkill Conservancy display, topographic maps of the watershed, and memorabilia of the park at Dionondahowa Falls round out the exhibit. Be sure to read some of the artist's statements, it's enlightening to see how creative, thoughtful people view their relationship with place.
     You can check out Battenkill Inspired  anytime the library is open and plan on attending a Gallery Reception on Thursday, March 12 from 5 to 7pm. That'll be a good time to thank Todd for a great exhibit.

More to see...

     While in Glens Falls you can also visit the Hyde Museum where the current exhibit is called
Wild Nature. There's over sixty landscapes from the Adirondack Museum collection that chronicle changing attitudes toward wilderness. With thoughtful layout and interpretation the curators tell a story of an evolving relationship between people and wild places. Notice how artist's response to nature both reflected and shaped societies views. You'll see memorable images by Winslow Homer, Frederic Remington, Asher Durand and Thomas Cole amongst many others.
     What struck me was the darkness of many scenes suggesting what? - fear, intimidation, mystery?
Also, how insignificant human figures appear beneath impenetrable forests and towering mountain walls.
     The many paintings of Lake George left me longing for the days before power boats and commercial development sullied the natural beauty and quiet serenity. In several of these Black Mountain and even little Shelving Rock appear more rugged than real. Either there's been a lot of erosion since the scenes were captured or there's some artistic license and cultural bias at work. And that seems to be the exhibit's point: what we see is often colored by preconceptions and expectations. Both Wild Nature and Battenkill Inspired left me reflecting on how I perceive nature and place.
Hope you get to visit and find them equally rewarding.

A final look...

     Seneca Ray Stoddard's albumen prints are prominent in the Hyde's Wild Nature gallery. If you want to see more of the pioneering Adirondack photographers work the Chapman Museum, also in Glens Falls, has some on display in an exhibit called Winter Views.
     Some helpful links to plan a tour: Crandall Library - Hyde Collection - Chapman Museum

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

To Ski or Not to Ski

     Poor Hamlet. He's got yet another question to ponder. This one's about his winter recreation options in Washington County. If "To ski" is his choice then he's headed for Willard Mountain. It's our one and only downhill spot.
     "Not to ski" might lead him to the next hill east of Willard. It once was the site of the Easton Valley Ski Area until the lifts shut down over forty years ago.
     Jeremy Davis's website NELSAP (New England Lost Ski Areas Project) has information about Easton Valley and several other locations in the county where people once skied but are now all but forgotten. His site and books involve some great detective work and I urge you to check them out.
     Both current and former ski areas are located in the Town of Easton in the southwestern corner of Washington County. Route 40 runs north-south here bisecting the town and marking the boundary between the Hudson Valley to the west and the Taconics to the east. From Greenwich south to Schaghticoke is a rumpled swath of hills with relief up to 1000 feet. This is the leading edge of the Taconic klippe and Willard, at 1421 feet, is the highest of the bunch. It has always been a prominent local landmark. Easton Valley was located on a slightly lower hill about a mile to the east.

Willard Mountain

     As ski mountains go these are mere bumps but people have always found big fun on these little hills. I don't downhill ski but I'll still swing by Willard occasionally to feel the energy and listen to the happy shrieks of kids and gravity mixing. Holly raced here on the school team and we've had downstate friends stay with us over winter break so they could shuttle their kids to these slopes everyday. I used to climb up along side Bunny Hop to watch the races and explore the summit. When the snow melts people hike up for the views and runners use the mountain for hard workouts.  
     Willard may be a private (fantasizing about profit) business but it's also a community resource. It can't be easy dealing with fickle weather, high taxes and insurance, and competition from both New York State (Gore and Whiteface) and supersized ski corporations with their mega-resorts. How do they do it? They're friendly, hard working, creative and care about their customers. Pretty much what you need for success in any business.

                                                       To ski - Willard late on a Sunday afternoon

     Easton Valley shut down sometime in the late `60's or early `70's. I don't know why one mountain stayed open and one closed. Easton transitioned to a nudist colony for awhile and is now a men's spiritual retreat (all this in conservative but tolerant Washington County). A short lane leads off Herrington Hill Road over the crest of a hill and into an enclosed valley. There's a pond and an eclectic melange of buildings with the overgrown ski slope seemingly inaccessible across a marshy area. This wetland is the headwaters of Fly Creek and it looks to be great wildlife habitat up here. The place has a Shangrila feel of being set apart from the rest of the world. Evolving from ski area to nude resort to spiritual retreat seems like a natural progression towards its best use. You can get a feel for the place at Easton Mountain's website.

Not to ski - looking across the wetland to where Easton Valley's trails used to be

     What can Willard and Easton Valley tell us about the business of outdoor recreation? That you have a 50/50 chance of success? It's a small sample to draw that conclusion but certainly nothing is guaranteed. One obvious point is the seasonality of sports here and the challenges that poses. Ski season is short and expenses pile up even when the snow doesn't. I recall a couple of short-lived cross-country ski operations: Thunder Mountain in Greenwich and another on Craig Road in Putnam. Apparently there wasn't enough snow or skiers or profits for them to hang on.
     Washington County doesn't have the cachet of Vermont, Saratoga or the west side of Lake George. It may never be a major destination and maybe that's ok. It's appeal lies in a certain low-key, bucolic feel. Visit here and you'll find a dispersed, small-scale family of businesses offering outdoor fun. Here's hoping they grow (a little) and prosper while industrial scale recreation meta-sizes elsewhere.

Fun for Sale
     A brief look at WC's outdoor recreation business scene...

     Near the Vermont border we have the Storc family's Battenkill Lodge on Hickory Hill Road which caters to fly fishermen with accommodations, river access and guiding. Also there's Battenkill Valley Outdoors, Don and Lisa Otey's establishment on Rt. 313 that offers paddling rentals, lodging, a retail shop and other services to enjoy the river. Downstream is Battenkill Riversports and Campground with sites along the water and everything you need for river trips. I think there's another campground on the lower river below Middle Falls off Fiddlers Elbow Road as well.
This looks like fun

     Lake George sees every water based activity imaginable and some unimaginable but most businesses seem to be based on the Warren County side. Anything in Pilot Knob, Huletts, Gull Bay or Glenburnie? I'm not sure.
     Dieter Drake's Anthem Sports stages the Tour of the Battenkill and other bike races bringing economic benefits to southern Washington County. There are also running, triathlon and obstacle races, some professionally organized and others the work of local volunteers.
     Hunting is huge and I've heard of a few places that host sportsmen including: Pheasant Ridge in Greenwich, Easton View Outfitters in South Cambridge, Battenkill Hunting Preserve in Salem and the Battenkill Lodge near Shushan.

                                                           Battenkill Lodge - Gone ice fishing?

 We've got more horses than a John Wayne movie with stables and arenas scattered across the county. Walkers in Fort Ann has an attractive store filled with merchandise for cowboys and cowgirls.
     Finally, you can charter a ballon flight where you'll probably spot some outdoor businesses I overlooked!
     All this talk of fun and games has got me antsy. I'm going outside to play. See you there.