Wednesday, September 20, 2017


     I know it's unseemly to boast. I know and still I can't help but tell you about my brilliant academic career. It consisted of one continuing education night course some 35 or 40 years ago. It was offered by Adirondack Community College and entitled "History of Washington County". It was taught by an older gentleman whose name I can't recall. I do remember him inviting the class up to his Hogtown camp for a "graduation" party. That was fun - a group of friendly people brought together by their shared curiosity for a place. 

Hogtown Highway

     Truth is, I'm more of a cover-alls and Carhartts guy than cap and gown type. But I still have the final paper I wrote for that course. Its pompous title: "History and the Landscape - A view across Washington County over the years". It's pretty lame - no footnotes, a skeletal bibliography, handwritten. This, in a class where others handed in work so original and well researched that it was destined for publication.

My paper - notice the high quality graphics

     My scholar-less little thesis was more like a seed than a fully developed flower. Mostly I just wandered around the county trying to see how the natural landscape had influenced what people had done here. Now, all these years later, technology has changed but my inquisitiveness remains the same. Looking back - at that course, at that paper - I see the genesis of my wash wild blog. I still like to wander the backroads, to wonder about all the things that have happened here, from over a billion years ago up to today. And wonder where we're headed tomorrow.

     Speaking of tomorrow, I want to tell you about a few upcoming opportunities. The college, now known as SUNY Adirondack, has some fall classes that may be of interest. I see in their catalog that they still offer a full semester "History of Warren and Washington Counties - His 270". It covers Native American occupation up to the present. I'm still waiting for a Big History type of course. That would start from the very beginning, the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. Then (once the sun and earth have arrived on the scene) it would detail the various orogenies and other geologic events that have lead to the landscape we see today. We'd learn how the slates, limestones and iron ores that have influenced the county's economic history were created. Glaciation and the development of soils would be covered. Finally, there would be a segment on the botanical colonization that produced the plant communities and ecosystems we see today. Also a brief look at how the animals, including one we're particularly fond of, came here. Lots of field trips and a deeper understanding of the natural stage that has shaped the human story. If Professor Donald Minkel and colleagues ever develop such a course I'll be the first to enroll. 

     In the meantime, here are some items from the current Continuing Education catalog relating to Washington County:

     * Adirondack Lavender 101 - Tour their Whitehall lavender farm with the Allens and learn all about this beautiful and useful herb. Friday, September 22 from 1 to 3pm.

     * Fort Miller walking tour - Paul McCarty will guide the group in visiting this historic hamlet. Wednesday, September 27 from 1 to 3 pm.

     * Bakers Falls walking tour - Learn how Hudson River waterpower lead to early industrial development. Wednesday, October 11 from 1 to 3 pm.

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     * New Skete Monasteries Tour - Unique architecture in a peaceful mountain setting. Friday, October 13 from 1:30 to 3:30 pm.

     * Slate Valley Quarry Tour - Stops at the Slate Valley Museum and a quarry in the Granville area. Saturday, October 14 from 9 to 11 am.

     * Tour and lunch at the Skene Manor - Enjoy a visit to Whitehall's very own castle. Friday, November 3 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.

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     * SUNY Adirondack also has a Lecture and Lunch Series with talks on the Feeder Canal, the Battenkill and the Slate Valley. 

     * Find out more about these and other offerings here.

     * Also of interest: Lake Champlain Bridge Guided Walk on Sunday, September 24 from 1 to 3 pm. Meet at Chimney Point State Historic Site, Vermont. A Vermont Archeology Month event.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Coot's a Hoot

     It came down to the wire this year, but I finally managed to squeeze in a summer vacation. Several whole hours of vacation on Labor Day afternoon. Call it my sandwich escape. Sunday it rained heavily and showers were predicted for Tuesday. But  Monday was sunny and nice. You can't do much farming with just one dry day between slices of storm. Might as well turn the day into a serendipitous get-away sandwiched in at the end of summer.
     Not as easy as it sounds. First there was a Dutch Belted heifer who decided Labor Day was a good time to go into labor. Fortunately she delivered her little miracle without a problem and somewhat reluctantly agreed to be milked for the first time. Gwenne fed the calf his first meal and got him off to a good start on life's journey. After the rest of the herd was milked, I cut a load of green-chop and by noon we were done. 

Spotted on Labor Day

     With chores finished it was time to head for our vacation destination.... Coot Hill here we come! You know Coot Hill, right?
Well, maybe not, so let me introduce you. It's up in the North Country above Crown Point, not too far from Port Henry, and sort of between Moriah and Ironville. It might be easier to just say it's way out there in the sticks. And that's just part of its charm.

CAT Trail Map

     Coot Hill is in the Adirondacks, but just barely. It's on the eastern edge of the mountains overlooking Lake Champlain and Vermont. From its summit you can sense how the hard metamorphic rock (mostly gneiss) has been pushed up to where it stands above the eroded limestones and shales of the foreground lowlands. Beyond the sinuous lake and its broad valley lies Snake Ridge with the more distant Green Mountains forming the eastern horizon. They are features created by the Taconic Orogeny some 450 million years ago when a volcanic island arc collided with the ancient North American crustal plate.

     That event and other tectonic activity over many eons has left its mark in the form of faults and fracture zones in the bedrock. When rock is cracked and broken it is more susceptible to erosion and that is the probable explanation for the deep cleft between Coot Hill and Bulwagga Mountain just to the south. This is called Big Hollow and it drops off so precipitously that it's hard to see the bottom. This hill and hollow has been the site of "mishaps". Locals like to tell of an amorous rendezvous that went downhill when the busy couple felt their parked vehicle suddenly rolling down the steep slope. Talk about your rocky relationships...

     Thankfully, our visit was less eventful. We found a place to pull off Lang Road about a mile in from Essex CR7. The dirt road makes for pleasant walking. It threads thru a young mixed forest where some unusually tall and straight locust and a few cedar trees added interest. We soon crossed Grove Brook with its scenic cascades on either side of the road. Also evident were stone walls and several large "wolf" trees that speak to a time when the land was mostly open and farmed. Some of the early settlers rest in the Lang Cemetery where we stopped to read the inscriptions. Lang Road may be the trunk but as you climb higher there's a dendritic pattern of paths used by ATV's, snowmobiles and the lovestruck equipped with hi-clearance 4X4's. Just follow the CAT trail markers and you'll soon come to the open summit area. 

     Notice the pinkish colored ledges. This was iron mining country in the past and I wonder if the hue comes from magnetite/hematite ore? Not sure, but the geologist, botanist and ornithologist will find much of interest here. The bare rock is being colonized by lichens and mosses. Between outcrops there is a ground cover of bearberry, blueberry, various grasses and clumps of dwarf juniper. Late in the summer there were still numerous flowers including a sprinkling of Ladies'-Tresses orchid. Soaring overhead were Turkey Vultures and crows. The updrafts along the steep escarpment make it a favorite site for migrating raptors with eagles and various hawks often seen.

     We spent a relaxing hour on top and enjoyed a conversation with a woman who told stories of Whitehall and canalling days...she had a relative born on a canal boat in New York harbor! Finally, Holly and Ethan needed to be back north while Gwenne and I wanted to head home via the scenic west side of Lake George while it was still light. With a dip in the lake, dinner and a stop for ice cream my summer vacation was history. Now this old coot has to get back to work. At least till next Labor Day.


     "CATS invites you to get out on the trails and share the
     vision of New York's Champlain Valley where productive
     forests and farms surround vibrant hamlets and people
     hike, snowshoe, and ski on a network of public trails."
- from the CATS Trail Map

     Champlain Area Trails (CATS) is a non-profit located in Westport, Essex County on the shore of Lake Champlain. The trail map and brochure that I used to visit Coot Hill lists over 50 places to explore. Most are located between the Northway corridor and the lake. This is east of the vast public Forest Preserve lands of the central Adirondack Park with their extensive trail system. The CATS trails tend to be shorter and less demanding because the topography here is gentler. That makes them appealing to folks who aren't hard-core hikers. They lead to scenic destinations with no death march required. Of particular interest is the ownership profile of the lands the trails traverse. A few are owned by New York State, some by various land trusts and others are privately held but permission has been granted for the public to park and walk within defined areas.

     The Champlain Valley seems to have a buzz to it right now. Young people see it as a good place to farm or start a business and to raise a family. Seniors like it as a quiet, scenic place to retire or own a second home. Even former Governor George Pataki, who used to have a farm in Washington County, has moved up this way. The CAT trails are one component to the quality of life that attracts people to the region.
     On Coot Hill my thoughts drifted south to Washington County. Can we learn anything from CAT that is relevant here? Growing populations inevitably lead to increased demand on natural resources. Can we build a relationship with the landscape that provides the timber, mineral and energy resources we need while leaving enough land for food production, building and infrastructure? Will there still be clean water and room for wildlife? Do we care enough about our historical legacy to preserve some of it? And finally, will there be quiet, natural places to recreate and rejuvenate? Big challenges but a lot of good people are working on solutions. I came back from the CAT trail on Coot Hill filled with hope. 

     Finally thoughts...

     - Check out the September/October 2017 issue of the Adirondack Explorer magazine for an article about Coot Hill

     - Find out more about Champlain Area Trails here

     - Bill McKibben's Wandering Home is inspired by the landscape that that you see from Coot Hill. A good read.

     - A Farm-to-Fest hike and Adirondack Harvest Festival are scheduled for Saturday, September 16 at the Essex County Fairgrounds in Westport. Check the CAT website for full details.