Friday, December 4, 2015


     Time for the last First Friday of the year. In Granville two institutions have turned the date into a popular event. The Slate Valley Museum and the Pember Museum and Library open their doors this evening, December 4th, offering a variety of art, music and refreshments along with their usual displays and a chance to socialize.
     The venues sit across the Mettawee River from each other and are connected by an attractive footbridge making it easy to visit both. The Slate Valley Museum is the younger sibling, recently celebrating its 20th anniversary. Inside its attractive building the geology, industry and culture of slate come to life. Here you'll see displays honoring the ingenuity and hard work required to produce a useful product from a places natural resources. The museum exudes a justifiable pride in the areas history and continuing enterprise that's both upbeat and inspiring.

     Part of the SVM's mission is education and they host occasional geology lectures. I've heard Ed Landing (New York State Museum), Helen Mango (Castleton State College) and, most recently, John Van Hosen (Green Mountain College) speak here. Van Hosen's October 17 presentation was called
"Stories in the Landscape". He encouraged us to use our senses, and some commonsense, to see, touch and even taste rocks to figure out their history - how they were made, what has happened to them. His specialty is glaciation and the landforms it leaves behind but he also hopes to write a book on slate in the near future. Mango is also working on a project for general readers about the areas geology. This is exciting news. The Taconics have been extensively studied but most of the findings are in scientific papers that are hard to find and very tough sledding for us non-academics.

     The short course on the New York - Vermont slate district goes something like this: for tens of millions of years a landmass called Laurentia (a precursor to North America) was eroded dumping sediments into the ocean. The finer clay particles settled out on the continental slope and rise, consolidating into shales and mudstones. During this time ocean levels rose and fell and oxygen levels in the seawater varied. This fluctuation resulted in the layers of rock taking on different colors.
     About 450 million years ago the churning of plate tectonics brought an arc of large islands into collision with Laurentia's east coast. The crustal plate carrying the islands pushed the accumulated rock off the seabed and up onto land in a huge mountain range. Using a shovel to push a few inches of snow off the driveway is a good analogy. The snow piles up, slides in stacked slices, or folds and breaks. That's what happened to the rocks with some of them experiencing just the right amount of pressure to align the minute clay minerals resulting in parallel cleavage and creating the metamorphic rock called slate. Subsequent erosion exposed the slates at the surface, people came along and an industry was born.

     Franklin Pember was an entrepreneuer and natural history buff, not necessarily in that order. In 1909 he established a library and museum in a large marble building on the main street of his hometown - Granville, N.Y. His wide ranging collection of mounted birds, animals, insects and just about everything else is housed upstairs in the museum. You can read more in The Pember edited by Delight Gartlein, a former director of the institution.
     The place has long served as a focal point for nature lovers. Many years ago I helped Delight lead a series of outings to places such as the Dorset Bat Cave, South Bay and Lost Pond Bog in Vermont. We always had fun groups of knowledgable naturalists and I remember learning a lot on every trip. First Friday is a great way to get acquainted, and perhaps involved, with the Pember.

     If you want to spend a whole Friday, or any other day, in the Granville area here are a few suggestions:
     - The SVM has pamphlets describing walking tours in the village and driving tours in the valley. Both would be fun. I remember the time I was wandering backroads over towards Lake St. Catherine. I came across a bunch of quarrymen just getting done with work. In short order we were sharing a sixpack and talking rock. I learned more about slate in that half-hour than in a lifetime of reading. Thanks guys, for both the beer and the insight.

     - There's a rail trail that bisects the village offering a nice place to walk, run or bike. Not sure if it connects to a longer route in Vermont that goes from Castleton down to Rupert.

     - The Hebron Nature Preserve is 125 acres of forest and marsh with Black Creek meandering thru it. There are several miles of trails and wildlife is plentiful. It's eight miles south of the village on Rt. 22.

     - Lake St. Catherine State Park is closed for the camping season but still a good place to walk. It's in Vermont on Rt. 30 north of Wells.

     - For a more challenging climb you can't beat Haystack Mountain near Pawlet, Vermont. It pokes up above the Mettawee Valley like a ... haystack! Years ago I asked permission to climb it from a farmer. "Yup, go on up." So I traipsed out thru his pasture and began a bushwhack that turned into a rock climb on the steep south face. Today, the Nature Conservancy owns the peak and there's a safe and sane trail, but the views are just as amazing. Directions here.

Haystack summit view - photo by Jana Mason from mountains website

Place at the Table

     The last time I was at the museums I stopped in Edwards Market for soup and a sandwich that stretched into coffee and a cookie. This is a bright airy place that's a little of everything: deli, bakery, coffee shop and market. There are inside tables and an in-season outside deck high above the Mettawee River. It's right on Main Street just before the bridge with parking across the street. You'll come out smiling and stocked up for more exploration.

 Haystack Mountain - photo by Loretta Taylor from mountains website

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