Sunday, August 14, 2016

Fort Found

     No one said storming a fort would be easy. Still, this was starting to get ridiculous. Upstream the river was blocked by a thick cable and buoys. Off my stern the current was sweeping over a dam and crashing onto the rocks below. To the right the bank was guarded by patches of poison ivy. Then it got worse. Much worse. There in the bow seat of the canoe, just a couple of feet away, sat a very unhappy wife.

     Unhappy but resourceful. She looked the situation over and thought that maybe, just maybe, we could slip under the cable right near shore. Inching slowly forward we each in our turn laid all the way back horizontal, imagined ourselves young and thin and squeezed beneath the barrier with a cat's whisker to spare.
     Sneaking beneath the cable was like Alice stepping through the looking glass. Just like that we were in a different world. The river above was calm, even serene. To our right a shale ledge hosted its own little rock garden. Perched on top of the bank were the back porches of village homes. People out enjoying the evening gave us a friendly wave. Ducks flew overhead and looking across the water a point of land beckoned. That was our destination.

Fort Miller hamlet from the river

     Our ill-advised launch had started in the hamlet of Fort Miller. We parked across from the Fire Department and carried thru Mill Park to the Hudson River. If you zip by on Rt. 4 you'll hardly know there is a Fort Miller. You have to turn off the highway, slow down and ideally give the car a rest. This is a place best appreciated on foot, from a bike or (maybe?!?) in a canoe.

     Think of ribbon candy with stripes running side by side. The Hudson is the biggest stripe with River Road, the Barge Canal, Rt. 4, what's left of the old Champlain Canal, and a long abandoned trolley line all paralleling it.

     In and around the hamlet you'll find historic homes, the classic Reformed Church, a tree shaded Riverside Cemetery and both well kept contemporary and old, but well preserved canal locks. There's also a ball field park on a former industrial site, an osprey nest or two and places to fish in the river. What you won't find in Fort Miller is a fort.

     Historical sources suggest that the site of the fort was actually on the west side of the river. Paddling across the Hudson we made a border crossing from Washington County into Saratoga County somewhere out in the middle. Then we approached a level, open peninsula that forced the water to flow in a lazy bend around it. For the last several years this has been used as a staging area for the PCB dredging project. Prior to that it was a farm field and long before that, the site of Fort Miller.

Gone but not forgotten - the site of Fort Miller

     The fort was built by an English Col. Miller in 1755. The purpose was to defend against French and Indian attack. It is thought that there was a small earth covered timber wall with a ditch in front. Having the river on three sides added to the locations security. I'm wondering if there has ever been an archeological dig here. Anybody out there know?
     The site is private property and there's certainly nothing left of the fort so it's best to tour from the water. On the upstream side of the peninsula Tuttle Brook flows into the river and it's possible to paddle a little ways up the creek. Several miles away, near its headwaters, this stream flows thru our farm. I've been hopping across it since I was a boy. Now days we have a small grassy area next to the brook where we spend some evenings watching birds, frogs, turtles and minnows.

Take a seat - my chair on Tuttle Brook

     On our paddle we saw a huge fish stir up the mud beneath our canoe. Probably a carp or catfish. There was also a variety of birds attracted by the diverse habitats of riverbank, overgrown field and lowland woods. Eagles, ospreys and all kinds of waterfowl are often seen here. Mostly we experienced a sense of peaceful serenity. This section of the river is an isolated pool between the Fort Miller hydro dam and another low dam at the upper end of Thompson Island. Boat traffic is diverted thru the canal and there are no launch sites so it's very quiet here. 

Fort Miller Hydro Dam

     I can't recommend putting in at Fort Miller - it's awkward and potentially dangerous. The best access may be along West River Road on the Saratoga County side. There is a small pull-off on a sweeping S bend with room for a car or two. This is mostly used as a fishing spot but it's easy to carry a canoe down to the water. Thompson Island splits the river into two channels and it's possible to go upstream a short distance to the dam on either side of the island. You can go downstream several miles until you encounter the warning cable and buoys above the Fort Miller hydro dam. 

     Hope you get to paddle here soon. Watch closely and you may see a variety of wildlife, the site of a long gone fort and maybe even a happy wife in a canoe.    


Thursday, August 11, 2016

30 Minutes

     A lot can happen in half an hour. It started with a reddened Sun. Going, going, gone. I was in the skid steer, cleaning up the yard where the cows eat their green chop. Somehow I managed to watch another hot summer day slip into evening and still get my work done. All without running into anything! Then, while out in the field spreading the load of manure, I was treated to a fluorescent display as one little wisp of cloud gaudily lite up. I emptied the spreader and enjoyed the sky show, grateful for this surprise gift of beauty at the end of the day. 
     Heading towards done, I was checking the last few things when I noticed the slenderest of crescent moons in the ruddy twilight. I slipped into the house just long enough to grab binoculars. Then it was out past the strawberry patch and the apple trees to a clear view west across the clover field. A quick scan lead me to Venus, very low and just a few minutes away from following the Sun below the horizon. The Moon was just a little higher up and tooth pick thin, but still impressive through the glasses. Then a real "Yes!" moment when I spotted Mercury a little above and to the right of the Moon. I love catching a glimpse of the hot little speedster who never gets too far from the Sun. Always brings a smile.

     By now the sky was deeper blue and it was easy to round up the rest of the gang. Jupiter was due west, just high enough to escape the bright afterglow of the Sun. Mars (orange) and Saturn (golden) were south by southwest and drawing closer together each passing day. 
     Finally I swung from celestial to terrestrial. Mt. McGregor, the Lake George mountains and Equinox were all out there in the fading twilight. These are the landmarks that tell me where I am on the home planet. 
     The evening was starting to feel like a round of speed dating. My final score: the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, all in less than 30 minutes. Doesn't take long to catch up with a bunch of old friends and clean up after some friendly but high maintenance cows. 

Sky and Telescope illustration

Long Bad Day
     Later that evening I spent a few minutes on-line and made the mistake of Goggling "Log Bay Day". I, like perhaps too many others, love the Lake George shoreline down at the end of Shelving Rock Road. Lots of memories here - taking kids for picnic/swims, bringing the X-C team up for some trail running followed by snacks and a swim, the delicious shock of the ice cold lake after sweaty-gritty rock climbing, skinny dipping in the "just right" moonlight. This is our Lake George, forest preserve open to all to freely enjoy. But what does that mean, what responsibilities does it entail? I'm no puritan but this Log Bay thing makes me feel sad and ashamed. Lake George is sacred ground to many of us, not a place to be trashed with drunken orgies, turned into a dump and a sewer. The kids think they're celebrating freedom while they actually appear to be caught in the shackles of the alcohol industry, handed the keys to Daddy's big boat and let off the leash way before they're ready.
     Authorities say they can't do anything. I wonder if it's because some of those at the party are the sons and daughters of the rich, the powerful and the politically connected? Do freedom loving Americans want someone telling them how to enjoy our shared public places? Hell no. Have we abused these places and other people's rights to them? Watch the Log Bay Day videos and decide for yourself. 

The Good - Lake George serene

The Bad - Log Bay Day

 The Ugly - Fuel for disaster

     Thanks for allowing me my rant. I do hope you enjoy the rest of the summer (quietly, safely) including our lovely lakes and the glories of the night sky. Saw a couple of Perseids last night! Lots of fun and no beer required.