Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Name is Hollow...Black Hole Hollow

     Blame it on the tilt of the Earth's axis (23.5 degrees in case you're wondering). In late fall, daylight hours grow short and evening darkness settles early. Last time I checked farming was still married to natural cycles (although I've heard rumors of cheating). This means I quit a little earlier in winter, have a few more hours in the house. Therein lies the problem. I spend most of my free time reading but my tired old eyes can only take so much. What to do until bedtime? 
     Why of course! I'll watch all the James Bond films. There are 24 of them running several hours each. At one or two a week the long winter evenings will slip away in a blur of cool gadgets, outrageous stunts, gorgeous 'Bond' girls and triple figure body counts. Now I'm aware that my sophisticated readers may be inclined to question my taste in movies. But you need not bother. I have a wife for that.

     It is probably a function of getting older but I've developed an appreciation for simply hanging in there. Maybe that's why I like Bob Dylan, Saturday Night Live and National Public Radio. They have all been around pretty much my entire life. And so has James Bond. Ian Fleming created the British secret agent character in 1952 with the publication of Casino Royale. Eleven more novels and two short story collections followed before the authors passing in 1964.

     In one memorable summer, when I was in my early teens, I went from comic books to the Hardy Boys to James Bond novels in a few page turning months. Coming of age, indeed. The first book to be made into a film was 1962's Dr. No. In my family, money was so tight and we worked such long hours that going to the movies was out of the question. I didn't see Dr. No until a few months ago as a DVD from the library.

     You may be wondering "What does a secret agent with a license to kill have to do with Washington County?" As I was watching the movies and re-reading some of the books I developed a curiosity for Bond's creator. Tantalizing hints of Fleming's connections to our area kept turning up. Here's a little of what I've learned. 
     It's 1917. Several boys are playing on the beach at Cornwall on the English coast. Ian Fleming and his brothers. Another boy comes along and joins them. His name is Ivar Bryce. On this day a life-long friendship was born. It's a friendship that will eventually bring Fleming to Vermont, Saratoga and Lake George, providing the setting for three action packed Bond adventures. Beyond that, Ivar Bryce may have provided Fleming with a role model for the dashing hero he was destined to create.

Fleming right, Bryce left

     The two men attended Eton College together and then, with the advent of WW II, both worked for British intelligence. Bryce's wife Sheila owned Bellevue estate on the island of Jamaica. Fleming visited and decided he wanted a place on the island "once we've won this blasted war." Bryce found him a 12 acre parcel on the north shore replete with a rocky cliff, sandy beach and tiny island in the bay. Fleming bought the land and built a house he called Goldeneye. He spent several months of every winter here for the rest of his life. It was in Jamaica, at Goldeneye, where Ian Fleming wrote his Bond stories. 


     Bryce was something of a ladies man and by 1950 he had switched ladies, marrying Josephine Hartford. She was quite a catch. Hartford was a concert pianist, an airline pilot and an accomplished tennis player. She owned thoroughbred stables as well as racing yachts. Perhaps not coincidentally, she was very wealthy. Her family had founded the A&P grocery store chain and she was the heiress. Hartford had several luxury houses including the lovely Black Hole Hollow Farm straddling the Vermont/ New York border with access from Cambridge. Apparently this was her summer place where she kept horses and could easily race them at nearby Saratoga.

Black Hole Hollow Farm

      During the 1950's Ian Fleming was a frequent guest of the Bryce's at Black Hole Hollow. He loved the place and spent his days wandering the woods, frequently climbing Big Spruce Mountain. He also visited the track at Saratoga and took driving tours into the Adirondacks from here. Some claim he wrote Bond novels while at the Farm but that's questionable. He kept a notebook recording names, ideas and impressions - a common practice for a writer. Most likely he researched and plotted his next project while in our area and did the actual writing at Goldeneye during the winter. You Only Live Once: Memories of Ian Fleming is Ivar Bryce's 1975 autobiography. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a copy. It's a book that I'ld like to see available to the community, perhaps in the Cambridge Library. I'm sure there are many local people with memories and interest in Black Hole Hollow Farm, its owners and visitors.

     UPDATE: Shortly after posting this I came across another book that might appeal to anyone with an interest in Black Hole Hollow Farm. Solange Batsell Herter's 2011 autobiography is titled No More Tiaras (A Memoir of Eight Decades). Again I couldn't find it in local libraries but the folks at Battenkill Books in Cambridge do have a copy on the shelf.


     Looking for Bond in local places? Start with the 1956 novel Diamonds are Forever. No surprise - it's about diamond smuggling.
007 goes undercover and hooks up with beautiful Tiffany Case to bring a shipment of stones from Europe to America. His mission is to work as far up the supply chain as he can and put a stop to this drain on the British Empire's coffers. After delivering the goods in New York City he's told to go to Saratoga where he'll get paid for his services via a fixed race. But even the mob has bad days and when the Perpetuity Stakes results aren't what they expected, there is hell to pay.

     Bond soon finds himself in the Acme Mud and Sulphur Baths where the action, quite literally, heats up. Now I've lived within a few miles of Saratoga my entire life and I've never heard of mud baths. Mineral baths for sure. But mud baths!? Supposedly Fleming, while researching the book, had actually visited a mud bath near Saratoga in the summer of 1954. Can anyone shed light on mud vs. mineral baths?

An old post-card image of Saratoga mud baths

     In any case, it's clear that Bond, and by extension Fleming, liked Saratoga (sans the mud baths). It's fun to read his descriptions of the track and its unique culture. He devotes a number of chapters to the town before the action inevitably moves to Las Vegas - the story is about organized crime, after all. The novel was made into a movie in 1971. It was towards the end of Sean Connery's run as 007. Jill St. John played Tiffany Case as a slightly air-headed pawn of the bad guys. Sadly, Saratoga got dropped between book and film. Apparently the director and screenwriter didn't spend their summers at an exotic hideaway in the mountains bordering Washington County.

     For Your Eyes Only is a short story included in a 1960 collection. It begins with the brutal murder of a British couple on the island of Jamaica. Afterwards, the killers - an ex-Gestapo German Nazi and his Cuban henchmen - decide to lie low in northern Vermont. But not low enough. Bond has been assigned to mete out justice and with the help of the Mounties he finds them and sneaks across the border at night, heading south thru the woods. Back then (in the 1950's) this was challenging but doable for a hardman like Bond. Now, so many people are trying to escape north that Canada may have to build a wall. And make America pay for it.

Black Hole Hollow Farm looking west into Washington County with Goose Egg Ridge in the background

     Bond arrives at his target by dawn and what's striking is how much the gangs liar resembles the grounds of Black Hole Hollow Farm. Do you think Fleming used his summer getaway spot near Cambridge as a model for fictitious Echo Lake, where the story unfolds? As Bond prepares to carry out his mission a complication arises in the form of a stunning girl with a bow and arrow. Let's just say that she's not there to play Cupid. 

     I liked For Your Eyes Only. It's good, taunt storytelling while also delving into the moral implications of vengeance: "If you're set on revenge, first dig two graves." Plus, the terrain Bond navigates has a familiar feel. I've hiked the slopes of Grass Mountain above Black Hole Hollow. So has Fleming and I'm convinced this is the ground his hero is traversing in the story. 

     The film version came out in 1981. Roger Moore had taken over as James Bond and the plot expanded to focus on a device that controls nuclear submarines. Wouldn't want that to fall into the wrong hands now, would we. Vermont, like Saratoga before it, has been replaced by more glamorous locations around the Mediterranean. There are furious (but fun) chases thru small villages and olive groves in Spain and at a ski resort in the Italian Alps. Later the scene shifts to the Aegean with lyrical underwater sequences. I found For Your Eyes Only to be among the most beautiful of all the Bond films. 

     Retained from the original story is the lady archer avenging her parents. Here she is a Greek beauty named Melina played by Carole Bouquet. The film also features an exciting rock climbing set-piece as Bond must get to the top of an impregnable limestone tower before the Russians whisk the sub device away. Also of note is the title song sung by Sheena Easton. Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger usually garners top honors for Bond songs but For Your Eyes Only is still one of my favorites. Listen to it here. 

     Bond last visited our area in 1962's The Spy who Loved Me. He only stayed for a few busy hours. In the novel Fleming tried something different: writing from a female perspective. I think it's safe to say he regretted it. The Spy who Loved Me was the least popular of the series, probably because Bond is hardly in it. It is Vivienne Michel's story. She is a Canadian girl who has been educated, in more ways than one, in England. She returns home and begins an adventurous scooter ride south - her destination might have been Florida but I'm not sure. For a little extra cash she takes a job at a motel in the Adirondacks near Lake George. Readers have tried mightily to pinpoint its exact location. Fleming gives several conflicting clues but I'm of the opinion that the Dreamy Pines Motor Court is simply a creation of the author's imagination. In any case, Fleming was quite familiar with the area and refers disparagingly to a number of local attractions from the era, including Animal Land, Gaslight Village and Storytown.

Has Bond been here?

     The Spy who Loved Me is basically a 'damsel in distress' story. Vivienne, on her last night at Dreamy Pines is terrorized by a couple of thugs named Horror and Slugsy. Just when things look most dire, who should show up looking for a place to stay but the world's greatest secret agent. You'd think a man licensed to kill and used to dealing with indestructible Russians, megalomaniac billionaires bent on world conquest (no, this was before Donald Trump) and deadly black widow femme-fatales would make quick work of a couple of garden variety hoodlums. But Bond seems to be off his game and the battle goes on interminably, interspersed with some 'Spy Loving'. It's easy to see why fans were disappointed with the book and today its sexist attitudes seem a little creepy. Read it to imagine Fleming cruising the area, absorbing local flavor, and not for much else. 

     To say that The Spy who Loved Me was made into a movie is not quite true. There was a 1977 Bond film by that title. But the filmmakers, to their credit, came up with a completely different story. Once again, most of the action takes place in and around the Mediterranean. Like the previous pictures, there is no mention of our area at all. In the movie gorgeous Russian Agent XXX, played by Barbra Bach, must work with Bond to stop a common threat to their respective countries - even though she wants to kill him. Spoiler alert, but no real surprise: she becomes the spy who loved him. 

     There is one last story about The Spy who Loved Me that I want to share. It's totally not fact checked but kind of fun, so here goes. Bond films typically begin with an opening segment of jaw-dropping action. But the producers couldn't find any stuntmen willing to do what they had in mind for this one. On a hunch they posted a 'Help Wanted' notice on the bulletin board at the Camp Four climbers hangout in Yosemite. And soon they had their man - I believe his name was Rick Sylvester. Watch in awe as he (as Bond) blithely skies off a vertiginous  cliff and into legend. I've heard there was a memorable party when he got his paycheck and returned to his dirt bag friends back in the Valley.


     Cambridge is the starting point for a visit to Black Hole Hollow. It's five or six scenic miles up thru the White Creek valley to reach the Hollow. You can drive, of course, but this makes a nice out and back bike ride with the Round House Bakery or Kings Donut Cart (on Sunday mornings) as your reward at the end. Fit runners can use this as a distance work out and the ultra-fit could conceivably run to the top of Grass Mountain from Cambridge - with a trip to the Emergency Room as their reward at the end!

     From the Rt. 22 traffic light in the village go east a block and cross Rt. 313 on to Co. 67, also called Ash Grove Road. Look for a large, historic house on the left. A little ways out stop and say "Hi" to a couple of shaggy Scotch Highland beasts that look like they've been here since the last Ice Age. A short distance on is the lane leading up to the Nuns of New Skete where they bake those heavenly cheesecakes. The road here shares the narrow valley with sparkling White Creek which flows into the Owl Kill, then the Hoosic and eventually the Hudson. Look for ghostly white trees lining the stream. They're sycamores - a southern tree that seems quite happy here. 

     In Ash Grove, Chestnut Hill Road goes off to the right. Trees were obviously so important to early settlers that they named many roads and communities after them. Chestnut Hill Road deserves a separate trip. Along it you will find the monastery of the Monks of New Skete, the falls of Pumpkin Hook Creek, the Pompanuck Farm Institute and access to a couple of State Forests. 

New Skete

       For now we'll continue straight on Ash Grove Road. A short ways beyond you'll see a small cemetery on a knoll to the left. The Methodist leader Philip Embury spent some time here, before he was dug up and moved to Cambridge. It's worth a stop to read the historical markers and the inscriptions on the stones. Further on McKie Hollow Road goes off to the right at Clark's dairy farm. Around the next bend you're treated to a dramatic view of Goose Egg Ridge. To hike the State Forest here take a left on to Bates Road where there's parking at the end.

     A little further and you'll see a charming, stone walled cemetery on the left. This sits on the New York/Vermont border and you can find a monument marking the line on the right side of the road. Black Hole Hollow Farm is all around you. The sprawling stone house, built in the 1770's, is off to the right. Several other houses and barns, all part of the farm, are on either side of the road. This might be a good time to check your pockets. If you find a spare 
$4 million in change why not consider buying the property? It's for sale and you can get a nice photo tour at Christie's site here. 
For Well-heeled Eyes Only.

     About a half mile into Vermont the road bends left. There's an old and apparently abandoned road that goes straight. Some maps call this Stagecoach Road and show it heading down towards Shaftsbury Hollow. Black Hole Hollow Road goes another half mile north thru open fields, with views back towards Two Tops, before going down a steep hill to a stream crossing where it sort of dead ends. I say 'sort of' because a road continues straight ahead but appears to be private. Off to the right is what Vermont calls a Trail. That's a public right of way but without any maintenance. Before the last snowstorm Gwenne and I parked here and walked a ways on the Trail into what I call "the land that Uncle Sam forgot".

The lighter area is Green Mountain National Forest on this National Geographic map

     There is a large chunk of the Green Mountain National Forest here that extends up and over the summit of Grass Mountain. It's public land owned by the United States of America. If you're a hard working, taxpaying upright citizen (and I know you are) then this is yours. Except that you'd never know it. There are no signs and no good place to park. Detailed maps of the area are hard to find. To their credit, the Forest Service office in Manchester was encouraging and helpful, maybe even excited that somebody was interested in visiting the place. Amy Tilley suggested possible approaches from Benedict Hollow off River Road in Arlington and from Shaftsbury Hollow to the south. I haven't had time to follow up on these suggestions and my knee has been bothering me, pretty much precluding any rough bushwhacking. I do remember hiking to the top of Grass Mountain years ago. Don't recall it as having been particularly hard but I was a lot younger then. 

Grass Mountain from Goose Egg Ridge
     It wouldn't take much to make this a nice destination. Little more than a place to park, a small sign, some trail markers and a few printed maps. Think about what our supposedly conservative, cost-cutting government spends to provide security for a billionaires globe trotting kids. Just a few of those dollars would go a long way towards making the wooded hills that Ian Fleming so loved accessible for all to enjoy. One small way to make America great again. 


Friday, March 10, 2017

The Facts of Life

     "To know him is to love him."
- Phil Spector

     Hmmm...I'm not so sure. Seems like there's one "him" we're getting to know and finding hard to love. Still, the 1958 song by the Teddy Bears (really their name!) has a sweet sentiment. And the idea that knowing is the path to loving is true of places as well as people. 

     So let's get back to my Thank You note. In an earlier post I spoke of my gratitude to those who've helped me understand Washington County a little better. I touched on rocks and landforms, weather and climate, and the sky above - the natural architecture of our world - and the geology, meteorology and astronomy resources that have opened my eyes to that world. In this post we'll look at what's available to make sense of the garden that blooms here, the flora and fauna of the place. Think of it as help with the facts of life. 
     What the *&#! is that? The need to attach a word to a thing - it's the essence of who we are. Most of us who spend time in nature have a few field guides. Some have more than a few and suffer lower back pain because of it. I've climbed mountains and waded thru swamps hauling more books than your typical college freshman carries across campus. As people who know me like to point out, I get a lot of value out of my identification guides. That's because I'll use them to figure out what some cute trailside flower is and then promptly forget its name. When I encounter the same flower a week later I get to repeat the whole gratifying process all over again.

     My books are a motley crew. Most of them are old enough to collect Social Security but are still hard at work. If you're building a library, Peterson and Audubon are the heavyweights with dozens of titles between them. But don't overlook interesting local and regional volumes. Bird and wildflower guides are ubiquitous but there are more esoteric offerings - mosses and lichens, dragonflies, etc. I've heard about identification "apps" but I remain smart phone celibate and can't help with those. Just this advice: if you stick with paper and ink take only one book at a time, something you can stick in a pocket. Saves on torn pack straps and chiropractic fees. 
     I've got a bunch of name brand field guides and use them all the time. In the library the other night I saw many more shelved in the biology section. The following is a list of smaller, more idiosyncratic sources I like:
 - Golden Guides: slim, 4" x 6", 160 pages each and just $2 apiece (a long time ago), I've got a collection of these that easily slip into a pocket and while not comprehensive, they're light, compact and get used. I particularly like Weeds, Pond Life and Non-Flowering Plants
 - Two books by Marilyn Dwelley covering wildflowers of New England - with colorful drawings and solid information - favorites for many years.

 - Freshwater Fishes of New York State, a slender guide produced by Cornell that comes in a zip lock bag, fits in a fanny pack and likes to go canoeing.
 - Invasive species: recognize the enemy with these booklets - The Lake Champlain Basin Aquatic Invasive Species Guide and Invasive Plants of the Adirondacks. Also handy both for information and as bookmarks are a series of business card sized resources on invasives.
 - Rare Plants of New York State - a State Museum publication with line drawings, text and lists.
 - Grasses-An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown. Simple line drawings and a key help with knowing this neglected group of plants. Grasses and hay are a big part of my life so I use this one a lot.

- Trees: Two volumes (one for trees and one for shrubs) by George Symonds use photographs for identification. Large format, they are a little awkward to carry but worth the effort. Small and delightful is Rutherford Platt's A Pocket Guide to Trees. I've had this little paperback since I was a kid and what's left of it is literally held together with masking tape. Good for identification, but it's so much more. A beautifully written love letter to trees filled with  fascinating tidbits.

     One things for sure, a teacher by your side is worth ten books on the shelf (or in your pack). If you get a chance to explore with an expert, don't miss it. I've been fortunate to go on field trips with Sue Van Hook (fungus and lichens), Laurie LaFond (birds), Jerry Jenkins (all things botanical) and Greg Edinger (plant communities). When on organized outings, the other participants are invariably knowledgeable, often complementing (even challenging) the leaders expertise. Check the following for guided outings: the Battenkill Conservancy, the Agricultural Stewardship Association, the Lake George Land Conservancy, the Southern Adirondack Audubon, the Pember Museum, the Friends of the IBA and the Nature Conservancy.

      You're introduced to someone, learn their name, shake their hand. A good start but really just the first step in building a relationship. Same with plants and animals. The real reward comes in getting to know what their life is like, their habits and the community they live in. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior ventures into the territory beyond basic identification. Its first section covers everything you might possibly want to know about birds (and a dozen other things as well). There are chapters on flight and feathers, bird intelligence (not an oxymoron!), evolution and classification, nests and eggs, range and habitat. The second section looks closely at 80 bird families found in North America. At nearly 600 hefty pages it is not a book to take into the field. Instead, read it at home as a hors d'oeuvre or dessert to days spent birding with a standard field guide (David Allen Sibley has written a fine one of those as well). There are similar books for just about any group of living things you might be interested in. Browse the library shelves or check the 'References' section of your field guide to find them. 

     No man is an island and neither is any species of plant or animal. To understand the ecological ties that bind the web of life I've found the following valuable:
 - Eastern Forests by John Kricher/Gordon Morrison. In the Peterson Field Guide series, lots of illustrations, sections on ecological patterns.

 - Wetland, Woodland, Wildland by Elizabeth Thompson and Eric Sorenson. Introduces the concept of natural communities with descriptions of over 80 types (Dry Oak Forest, Vernal Pool, Alder Swamp, etc.). Covers Vermont but applicable to Washington County, N. Y.

 - Pond and Brook - A guide to nature in freshwater environments by Michael Caduto. All about water, both moving and still.
 - A number of regional natural histories place the biology of the Northeast within the context of our physical setting:
 - The Nature of Vermont by Charles Johnson
 - Lake Champlain - A Natural History by Mike Winslow

 - Adirondack Wildguide - A Natural History of the Adirondack  Park by Michael DiNunzio
 - Why the Adirondacks Look the way they do - A Natural History  by Mike Storey
 - A Guide to New England's Landscape by Neil Jorgensen
 - A Sierra Club Naturalist's Guide to Southern New England by  Neil Jorgensen
 - In addition, there's two little books that I've really enjoyed. They focus on places just to the east and west of Washington County:
 - A Natural History of Tinmouth, Vermont by George LeBoutillier
 - Treasure in the North Woods - A guide to the natural campus at  Skidmore College edited by Sue Van Hook

 - I also want to mention a couple of volumes, out of print and  nearly a hundred years old, but still highly useful (Lesson: Respect  your elders).
 - A Biological Survey of the Upper Hudson Watershed
 - A Biological Survey of the Champlain Watershed
 These are products of the State Conservation Department (now the  DEC). They are filled with maps, charts, photos and illustrations of  their respective areas. Rare, but the Owl Pen or Village Booksmith  might be able to find a copy.


     It won't be long before every living thing on Earth has its own website and blogging will be as common as breathing. Unfortunately, I'm not the person to guide you to this bounty. I'm of a certain age that still likes books and real people as sources of information. Still, there are a few sites I'm aware of and can recommend.
 - The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a favorite with birders.
 - The new kid on the block is the Northern Forest Atlas. It's already a treasure trove of photos, videos, diagrams and charts with more being added all the time.
 - The Facebook ship sailed without me but I know many people who start the day with a visit to Gordon Ellmer's page. He features exquisite bird photos, most of them taken in the Fort Edward area. Ellmers shots are the birding equivalent of Hubble's images of the cosmos - breathtaking.
 - Saratoga Woods and Waterways is Jacqueline Donnelly's botanical blog. It dispels the myth that Saratoga County is just a bunch of subdivisions strung together by the Northway. I often visit many of the same wild places as Donnelly but see only a fraction of what she finds - a testament to her deep knowledge of plants, her perceptive eye and sharp photography skills. 

Screen Shot of Donnelly's blog


     Finally, the more we know about the fascinating life a place hosts, the more we want to get out and explore. Here are some suggestions:
 - Carter Pond Wildlife Management Area for upland, wetland, woodland and pond habitats. Accessible nature trail. Canoe and binoculars are helpful.
 - Hebron Nature Preserve with Black Creek, trails and the Porter Schoolhouse nature education center. Part of the Pember Museum in nearby Granville - two of Washington County's treasures.

 - Lake Champlain access at South Bay and Clemons. Bring a
canoe, fishing pole, dip net and binoculars for the abundant aquatic life.

 - The Nature Conservancy's protected lands along the Poultney River. Noted for several species of freshwater mussels but all kinds of wildlife abound here. Also in the same area is the DEC wildlife management area on Co. 10 east of Whitehall. A canoe is the way to go.

 - Several Lake George Land Conservancy properties along with the extensive State Forest Preserve in Fort Ann, Dresden and Putnam. Featuring everything from mountaintops to Lake George shoreline and cedar swamps to cliffs and talus. Moose roam here and peregrine falcons nest.

 - The Hudson River/Champlain Canal. Water attracts life - fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds.

 - The Fort Edward Important Bird Area for hawks, owls and other grassland species.
 - Denton Preserve - diversity in vernal pools, ponds, wetlands and dry shale ridges.

 - Several State Forests in the southeast corner of the county where the Battenkill River, Eldridge Swamp and high, dry forests create a variety of habitats. Noted for bobcats and black bears with eagles along the river.

     What better way to spend these late winter evenings than reading and getting ready to enjoy the burst of life activity that comes with spring in Washington County. There's still one more facet to knowing this place that I hope to delve into. That would be the legacy of you, me and all our ancestors - what people have done here and the resources for understanding that. No promises, but I hope to post on that before the rush of spring farm work (and a few fun outings) takes priority.

     People have been seeing large groups of Bald Eagles congregate near open water on South Bay, just north of Whitehall.