Monday, September 28, 2015

Blog off...and on

     Remember that movie where Brad Pitt snarls "The first rule of Fight Club is..."? I hope Angelina pays closer attention to Brad than I do because I don't remember the first rule or much else about the film. I was never very good with rules anyway.
     I do remember the first rule of blogging: POST OFTEN! The idea being that the two or three people who find your site interesting and take the time to visit it want something fresh. I totally understand this. Like many people I'm hooked on Jacqueline Donnelly's blog Saratoga woods and waterways. My mornings usually  include scanning NOAA Weather for a sky update and a visit to Donnelly's site to see what's in bloom. Donnelly had an unfortunate accident earlier this summer that's compromised her mobility and led to less frequent posts. Normally she's prolific, putting up her exquisite flower photos almost every day. Now there's a whole bunch of us nature lovers showing withdrawal symptoms. Get better soon Jacqueline because we crave the dose of beauty you capture so well.

Jacqueline Donnelly at Rockwell Falls in Lake Luzerne
photo from her blog Saratoga woods and waterways

           And then there's a blog called Written In Stone...seen through my lens by geologist Dr. Jack Share. He breaks the "post often" rule big time, but I couldn't be happier. The reason is that his posts are amazing creations of specialized knowledge, research, travel and insight that require a great deal of time and effort. Written in Stone is like having free access to a college geology department. This is the opposite of the vapid internet chatter that can waste so much of your time. If you're interested in the earth sciences, reading Dr. Jack's posts will leave you satisfied with its deep thoughtful substance. Of particular interest to our area are entries on the Adirondacks and Taconics which you should be able to find in his archives.

     Dr. Jack Share on Wright Peak in the Adirondacks. From his blog Written in Stone

     I also enjoy Off on Adventure where Telemarkmike posts trip reports with lots of photos. Mike and Leesa are avid hikers, skiers and paddlers exploring every nook and cranny of the Adirondacks and points beyond. He likes the wild forest on the east side of Lake George in Washington County, as do I and many others. His detailed notes, maps and logistics are useful for planning your own adventures. This is a valuable site that inspires you to get up and go while giving you information to do it.
Mike on Anthony's Nose looking south up Lake George. From Off on Adventure.

     Gwenne finds it (perhaps excessively) amusing that she's married to a "flailer" and a "blogger". "Flailing" refers to harvesting green-chop grass for feeding the cows with a machine called a 
flail-chopper. I usually "flail" twice a day. Blogging is a contraction of web-logging. Blogs are 
on-line journals that can include text, photos, maps, audio and video. Something about the word tickles my wife's funny bone. We won't even mention her reaction when I go"bush-hogging".
     We bloggers are really just the heirs of pre-historic cave painters. It's an innately human urge to record what we've seen or thought or felt, to solidify our experience and knowledge in a form that's accessible to ourselves and others. Each individual doesn't have to re-discover fire or invent the wheel again. Sharing what we've learned is our species at its best.
     Carving and painting, paper and writing, the printing press and the I-pad mini are all just tools to a common end, ways to remember and share. Some evenings I'll read from a tattered paper copy of Lewis and Clarks journals before switching to the computer to see what trails Telemarkmike has recently hiked. Adventurers, separated by many years, communicating with the means available to them.
     At the risk of sounding like your high school English teacher, I'll suggest that writing about something is the best way to discover what we think and know about it. The discipline of recording, whether in words or images, is how people make sense of the world and pass on what they've learned to others.
     If I believe writing and sharing thru a blog is an act worthy of sainthood (or at least a gold star), then why don't I POST OFTEN? That's easy. It's because I need to eat, keep a roof over my family's head, and pay taxes. Lots and lots of taxes. Making a living has to be a priority for most of us. We can only indulge our interests in the time left. In my world, cows and crops and an intimidating queue of broken equipment clamor "me next". But I still take a few minutes out of the day to look at the stars (and the lunar eclipse happening right now!), watch the parade of clouds and weather patterns, enjoy what's in bloom and be surprised by the variety of wildlife you can see from a tractor seat. With a rag tag bunch of spiral notebooks lying around it's easy to jot down observations and ideas, including a few that may be blogable. It's the research, organization and transfer to the blog site that can seem a bit daunting at times. So the reality is more like POST OCCASIONALLY no matter what some rule says.
     In the meantime, I hope you get out into the world, write or sketch a little and nourish your relationship with whatever place you call home. Do visit Saratoga woods and waterways, Written in Stone and Off on Adventure for their beauty, information and inspiration. And there's no harm in checking in with that Wash Wild guy once in awhile. Maybe he'll do less flailing and more blogging. You never know. 

Done flailing, time to blog.

     A gallery of photos from Saratoga woods and waterways, Written in Stone and Off on Adventure.
Used with gracious permission of Jacki, Dr. Jack and Mike. Thanks to all.

Canoeing the Hudson River at Spier Falls. Saratoga woods and waterways

Heart Lake and the Adirondack High Peaks. From Written in Stone

Lake George and Washington County skyline from the Pinnacle
in Bolton Landing. Courtesy Off on Adventure.

Leesa and Rev admire Lake George. Off on Adventure.

Kayaking Lake George/Washington County shore. Off on Adventure.

Jerusalem Artichoke flower hosting a Candystripe Leafhopper. Saratoga woods and waterways.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hill and Vale

     Sunday was such a gorgeous late summer day. Blue sky above, still green below but with hints of the color to come. Pity those poor souls who had to stay inside and watch football on TV. At least they have alcohol to take the sting out of their suffering.
     Holly and I managed to sneak away for a few hours and a little bike loop in Easton. Parked at
Christ the King and took Burton Road to Mountain Road, with its grand vistas and tree-shaded coolness. We were riding on top of the Taconic frontal thrust fault, quiet today as it has been for the last 450 million years. Snuck around the south side of Willard Mountain, climbing up past the ski resort (no snow yet!) and then back on Intervale with its charming little cemetery, breathtaking views and eye-watering descent. Finally turned onto Birch Hollow for one last woodsy dirt road before rolling back to the truck. It was an hour of hill country scenery at its finest and we even left enough time to stop at the Ice Cream Man on the way home. Great way to spend a Sunday afternoon since there's nothing worth watching on television...
     Here's a few photos Holly took (while talking to a friend on her I-phone, pretending to listen to her dad, and biking up and down hills):

Wild Watch
     This will be a good week for sky watchers with three planets in the east before dawn. On Thursday and Friday mornings (September 24 & 25) dazzling Venus will be easy to spot. Lower and to the left will be Mars (much fainter) very close to Regulus, a star in the constellation Leo. Lower yet and near the reddening horizon will be Jupiter.
     Sunday evening, September 27, offers a real treat. There will be a total lunar eclipse starting shortly after 10pm and lasting till about 11:30pm. This will be the last one for several years so let's hope for clear skies.
     Also a good time to watch busy wildlife fattening up before winter. On our bike ride we came close to being hit and run victims as turkeys, chipmunks and squirrels scooted across the road in front of us. Apple trees are having a very good year and we encountered places where there were so many drops that it posed a danger on the bikes. Butternuts were falling from above as well. The wild harvest is happening.

Google eye view of Easton. It looks a little different from a bike seat.

No snow on Willard but there was plenty at Inman Pond up near Hogtown when Jim Appleyard took this winter shot. "Apples" is an old hiking buddy and gifted photographer of weddings and wilderness

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Rocks and 'Rooms

     That sucking sound you hear this time of's not a natural phenomenon. It's our children being vacuumed up by the educational - industrial complex. Public schools are back in session and I hope the poor little tykes survive with some of their natural love of learning intact. For students of any age this weekend offers a couple of unique opportunities to learn about our little corner of the world.
     The New York State Geological Association will be holding its annual meeting at SUNY Plattsburg on Saturday and Sunday, September 12 & 13. There's a full slate of field trips in the Adirondacks, Champlain Valley and Vermont. Of particular interest is a Sunday morning outing to view outcrops along Rt. 22 in northern Washington County and discuss recent research on the history of the Adirondacks. Nothing like looking at rocks with a bunch of geologists to totally intimidate and confuse! My idea of big fun and I hope to be there. Check out the schedule here.

     If rocks seem too hard (very punny) then how about some fun fungi. Sue Van Hook, our
(unofficial but much treasured) County Mycologist will lead a mushroom walk at Merck Forest on Saturday, September 12 from 10am to 1pm. It's been a dry summer for mushrooms but that could change by this weekend and Sue's always good at finding interesting stuff. No child will be left behind on these outings.

     On the wild watch beat I've heard people have been seeing eagles along the river at Hudson Falls. Also ospreys down by Hudson Crossing. What a treat to have these magnificent birds of prey in our midst. Speaking of magnificent, how about this photo by Gordon Ellmers? I found it on his Fort Edward Chamber of Commerce site where you can learn about his veterinary practice and see a gallery of his bird portraits. Click here and be amazed.

Gordon Ellmers Photo

     Venus and Jupiter had a hot little affair in the evening sky back in June. But they've gone their separate ways and now she's flirting with Mars above the eastern horizon as night fades. On Thursday morning, September 10 look for Venus, the crescent moon and Mars close together before sunrise. 
     I know it's way late but did anybody see the Perseid meteors about a month ago? I woke up about 1:30 am on August 12 and went out to a dark, clear sky. Perseus was high in the northeast with Cassiopeia's familiar W above and bright Capella below. The Pleiades were prominent off to the side. The summer triangle of Vega, Deneb and Altair were high overhead. There were just a few clouds illuminated with a faint glow, probably from Saratoga, which doesn't know when to turn the lights off. 
     As soon as my eyes adjusted I saw a few little zips and one bright streak that left a faint trail. Tree frogs and crickets provided the soundtrack, surprisingly loud in the dead of night. Our world is so full of energy, movement, and life, even in its quietest hour. Standing naked under the stars, looking and listening, feeling dew beneath your feet and the night chill on your skin is a primal "relationship with place"
experience. Just don't do it in front of a neighbors window or near a street light...    

Monday, September 7, 2015

My Fair Delta

     Around here it's God, Country and the Washington County Fair, not necessarily  in that order.
The Fair is the Big Kahuna of local events in this quiet, mostly rural place and many people plan their entire year around fair week in late August.
     Many people, but not all. With a dry, sunny stretch I was too busy doing agriculture to spend time at a fair that celebrates agriculture. Not that I'm complaining. After a frustrating early season it felt good to get a bunch of hay baled, cleaning up most of my fields before it was time to chop corn.
     Truth is, I haven't been to the fair in many years. Too risky. All those Monster Trucks on the prowl. And you never know when a tsunami of bloomin' onions and fried dough carried on a rogue Slushy wave could sweep you away. Besides I'm prone to panic attacks around population densities that would put Shanghai or Singapore to shame. Just not my thing. Still, I do miss seeing the loving attention the kids dote on their animals and the Alice in Wonderland feel of strolling thru the Fowl Barn. Are these birds real or am I dreaming?

     What really interests me is what lies beneath all those cows, under the whirligig midway and the thundering tractor pulls. Dirt, of course, but not just any dirt. This is post-glacial, deltaic deposits from the late Pleistocene. Sands and gravels put here by a young and muscular Battenkill working overtime to flush away the melting glacier and haul off the mess it had left behind.
     This happened about 13,000 years ago when the Hudson Valley from down where New York City would be all the way north to the snout of the receding glacier held not a river but a huge lake. Morainal deposits to the south formed a dam that backed up the cold, muddy meltwater for hundreds of years. Tributary streams loaded with sediments built up deltas where they entered this lake. Some examples are the Mohawk's delta beneath Schenectady, the Hoosic's near Schaghticoke, a small delta built by the Mettawee near North Granville and the Battenkill's fan shaped creation between Greenwich and Schuylerville.

     As a fast moving, high energy river empties into quiet water it loses the ability to carry a load. Heavy gravels settle out first, then sands and finally silt and clay further out. The Battenkill's delta was built in a dynamic environment of glacial recession and readvance, along with fluctuating lake levels and rebounding topography as the earth's crust slowly sprang back from the incredible weight of the ice.
     The delta deposits are level and very well drained making them ideal for a fairground. It's no coincidence that early in its history the fair was located on glacial outwash in Cambridge where similar conditions prevail. Or that the Schaghticoke Fair is on the Hoosic River's delta.
     The sands and gravels have been mined by Tracys on Windy Hill Road and used by BJs and the Fort Miller Company. While the soils can be droughty, there is a lot of agriculture on the delta with Hands and BJs to the south of Rt. 29 and large fields of corn and alfalfa in the Bald Mountain area.

     As water percolates down thru the sand and gravel it encounters buried layers of clay that act as a barrier. The water then emerges as springs on the steep western face of the landform. Several of these springs used to be tapped for the Village of Schuylerville's water supply. Beneath the unconsolidated deposits is a foundation of shale bedrock that's common in this part of the Hudson Valley.
     A good way to get a feel for the delta is a bike tour. One of my favorites I call "the fairy ring" because it circles the fairgrounds without getting too close, staying out of range of those Monster Trucks. Now that the Dix Bridge is open, Hudson Crossing Park is a good place to start. Alternately, you could begin at the Ice Cream Man because you know what you're going to want at the end of the tour (Almond Joy here I come).

     Here's a brief description of the tour. Park at Hudson Crossing off Rt. 4 north of Schuylerville. Pedal across the Dix Bridge over the Hudson River into Washington County. In post-glacial times you would be under several hundred feet of water here at the bottom of Lake Albany. Look for Revolutionary War historical markers and the site of the former Schuyler Prep School on the left. To the right is a wooded peninsula formed where the Battenkill joins the Hudson. It's possible this could be added to the Hudson Crossing Park.

     The road (Co. 70) divides. Go left a short distance, then right on Co. 113 to another left onto Clarks Mills Road. Get ready for a long climb up the front of the delta. You'll cross old RR tracks, pass a small farm and a few residences. To your right is the notch the Battenkill cut into the delta as the lake level lowered. After about a mile you will have gained a couple of hundred feet in elevation and arrived at a flat tableland of farm fields. The corn shows signs of drought stress from a dry late summer. These soils are very permeable with water dropping below the plants roots. Alfalfa can do well here because it has very deep roots that can access water lower in the soil profile.

     Ride along the top of the delta to a right at the intersection of Co.77. The farm to your left has been preserved by ASA. In a clump of trees across the road is a small brick building that was once a schoolhouse. Heading east the hill in front of you is Bald Mountain. In the 1800's it was quarried for lime and there are still a couple of stone kilns in the woods here. This was a thriving industrial site at the time with the lime being taken a few miles down to the canal at Thompson where it was loaded on barges and shipped to New York City.
     The road goes up a little rise and skirts the southern edge of the mountain. Take a right on Fiddlers Elbow Road and ride towards Middle Falls. Here you're on top of a narrow belt of limestone that was shoved here by the Taconic rocks to the east. There's a long dirt road off to the right that descends to the Battenkill and the Wrek campground. I wouldn't recommend this on a bike but you can drive down to get a sense of how deep the river has excavated into the delta. Plus there's a large gravel bank used as a shooting range. With permission and without live fire this could be a good place to examine the deposits.
     Continue on to Middle Falls, where Rt. 29 crosses the Battenkill. Here you can see the river pour over limestone and begin its final descent to the Hudson. Ride on this busy highway for just a short distance to a left onRt. 40 and then a right on Bulson Road. Notice how flat it is. At Wilbur Avenue take a left and then a quick right onto General Fellows Road.
     Observe how the resource is being put to varied uses. The Fort Miller Company makes precast concrete products while Hand Melons and BJ Farms have fields along either side of Wilbur Avenue beyond the turn off onto General Fellows. As you ride west you will see a large excavated pit on the left that has become a pond. It reveals the level of the water table and illustrates what a hugh aquifer these deposits are.

     At one time both Easton and Greenwich had their landfills on the delta. Times have changed and they are now closed and capped. The rapid percolation of leachate thru sands and gravels created problems.
     Eventually you leave the level top and descend the face towards the Hudson, going past Booth's farm and compost operation to an intersection with Co. 113. Turn right and follow the road back to Clarks Mills with the delta's steep front on one side and views of the river and bottomlands on the other.

     Just past the Rt. 29 intersection (careful here!) is the stately De Ridder House and a charming little stream wending its way towards the river. This may be the stream that originates from the formerly tapped springs. Beware notorious Snake Hill on your right. This dirt road slithers steeply up to the fairground flats. It's where generations of Schuylerville runners (yours truly included) have done their hill repeat workouts. Decades later and I can still feel the pain.

     A little further and you'll cross the Battenkill where a dam and shale gorge mark its last hurrah before confluence with the Hudson. A good place to thank the river for creating a fairly amazing delta.