Saturday, December 30, 2017

Be it Resolved...

     Let's get the obvious out of the way:

     I'm probably not going to lose weight in 2018. Doubt if I'll even try.
     Eating better is equally questionable. I've gotten this far without any kale passing my lips. Why take a chance now?
     Yoga or a gym membership aren't going to happen either. Not when there's a big, beautiful world to walk, run, hike, climb, ski, bike, swim and paddle in.

     So where does that leave me for resolutions? How about this one: Read more John Lubbock. Maybe adopt a bit of his outlook. You know Sir John? 1st Baron Avebury, 4th Baronet. Lived from 1834 to 1913. English banker, politician, scientist, and author. Friend to Charles Darwin. Archaeologist and preservationist. Amateur biologist. Endlessly, enjoyably quotable. So much so that a whole cottage industry has grown up around pairing his words with inspiring images. Let me share a few I've come across:

     And here's the cover of one of Lubbock's books:

     There's my New Year's resolution. To immerse in "the beauties of nature and the wonders of the world we live in". Who knows? Maybe I'll come across that stream on the books cover. Maybe she'll be there. 2018 is starting to look like a very good year. As long as there's no kale in it. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


     No, not that Bigfoot. Not the one who's so ubiquitous around Whitehall that you expect to see him walk into Stewarts for a couple dozen deli dogs and five or six shakes. The Bigfoot of my title isn't particularly elusive, mysterious or scary. It's just little, old me with my snowshoes strapped on. I played Bigfoot for the first time this season on a Sunday hike up Hogtown way. Here's a little of what I saw.

     We've had snow for about a week. Just a few inches down in the lowlands, but I'd heard there was a foot or so in the mountains. Time for a fun date, but "What to wear?" - bare boots, micro-spikes, snowshoes, skis? I have no fashion sense and usually make the wrong choice. My thought for this outing was that there wasn't enough snow for backcountry skiing but too much for a simple walk. Snowshoes got the call.
     Just before the season's first snow Gwenne and I had planned a hike up Pilot Knob from the lake side. Our schedule didn't have us leaving the Buck Mountain parking lot until 1:30 pm. Unfortunately, the Sun has its own schedule this time of year and we walked out of the woods in 5:00 pm darkness. We made it up and over the bald ridge but didn't have time to go to the true summit.

     This time my idea was to try for the top from the east. The approach is a little shorter with less elevation gain. I started up the Inman Pond/Pilot Knob trail about 1:00 pm but right away I could tell the pace would be slower ... the snowshoe handicap effect. I'm many years beyond charging up a mountain so I just settled into a 
'patience and gratitude' shuffle. I was grateful to be out in the woods on this cold, blue day and just needed the patience to see how far I could go.

     I got my answer in a little over an hour. That's how long it took to reach a height of land in an open notch. This is the divide between Butternut Brook, which tumbles down to Lake George, and the headwaters of Bishop Brook whose waters flow thru Hadlock Pond on their circuitous route to Lake Champlain. To the north was a steep ridge (with a good climbing ledge) between me and Crossett Pond. Higher and further was the summit of Buck Mountain. My destination was in the opposite direction, south of the trail. But it would be a trail-less bushwhack of a little over half a mile with 750' of climbing to the top of Pilot Knob. Not far unless you consider that it was mid-afternoon on one of the shortest, coldest days of the year. Here was the equation: .6 miles + 750' of elevation x 10ยบ F. - 2:30 pm ÷ (old + slow+ tired) = turn around and enjoy the hike back to the truck. In daylight. No search and rescue required. I was never good at math but solving this problem was easy.

     Heading down gave me time to explore a connected set of beaver ponds on the upper reaches of the east flowing brook. The hiking trail winds thru a string of pools created by several dams. I saw at least two mounded stick houses rising above the frozen surface. Beavers are large (50 - 60 lbs.) rodents in the order that includes squirrels, woodchucks, rats, mice and porcupines. They are characterized by two upper and two lower incisors which they use to gnaw. This propensity was obvious in the numerous cut-off shrub and tree stumps along the trail. Hidden beneath the snow, they would snag my snowshoes and were sharp enough to impale if you fell on one. A field of pickets to be carefully negotiated.

     Beech seemed to be the preferred menu item for the Pilot Knob beavers. I think of beech as the precious metal of trees. The bark has a silvery sheen while the winter leaves, buds and nuts are shades of bronze, copper and gold. Leaves on young trees tend to hang on late. The open woods here look like they've been sprinkled with glitter - beech leaf glitter. The bristly husks of beechnuts decorated the snow but very few of the edible nuts could be found. They are prized by all types of wildlife and probably helped give this area its name. Back in 1816 (the year without a summer) desperate farmers let their stock forage in these woods. It's been Hogtown ever since.

     Pigs and beavers may be the least of the tree's problems. Beech bark disease starts when a scale insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga) creates an opening that allows fungi to enter the wood. This eventually leads to the plant's death. With climate change and invasive insects and disease our northern forests feel like they are under siege. 

Beech Scale Insects

Fungus Fruiting Bodies

     Hiking both sides of the Pilot Knob ridge within a matter of days was revealing. The west side that faces Lake George is steep and rocky with ledges and views. The east side slopes gradually down to where the next range - the Putnam Mountains - rear up. There's a geological explanation, of course. These are tilt block mountains formed by vertical movement along northeast trending faults. Adirondack rock is very old - in the billion year range - and over the eons it has been subject to both compression and tension as the earth's crustal plates collide and pull apart. These forces crack the rock and then, with further tectonic pressure, movement occurs along the faults to relieve stress. Eastward from Lake George are three distinct ranges: the Pilot Knob ridge, the Putnams and the Fort Ann Mountains. They all show steep, cliffy west faces where blocks of crust have pivoted up along faults.

Goggle Earth screen shot of Lake George, Pilot Knob range, Putnams (center), Welch Hollow and Fort Ann Mountains (left to right)

     But don't take my word for it. The thing to do is get your feet 
(big or otherwise) out on the trail. Feel the geology in your legs and lungs. Maybe you'll run into me. Trying to climb Pilot Knob. Again. 

Pilot Knob summit


     After twice backing off a small, easy mountain I was in need of some encouragement. Tom Petty's I won't back down was it. 
I was sad to hear of Tom's passing earlier this year. His was a life that brought joy and inspiration to so many people. Can there be any better way to live? Surely he's up there with the angels Learning to Fly. 


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Page Turner

     It's here. The season of snow, cold and a weary Sun that's late to rise and early to bed. For 'outsiders' like myself these are hard times. Long hours of darkness that would test even Rip Van Winkle's need to sleep. Might as well settle into a cushy chair with a good book. A hard working woodstove and a couple of furry friends complete the scene. Time to turn some pages until spring.  This post features some local interest books I plan to spend the winter with.

          Shays Settlement in Vermont: A Story of Revolt and Archaeology                        
          by Steve Butz
          I've wandered the border hills for many years. I've heard Steve talk about what he and his students have been finding up on Egg Mountain. Now I'm looking forward to reading his book about Shays and a bit of lost history.

          Untold Stories of the Battenkill
          by Elizabeth and Barton Conkey

          If you grew up in Greenwich, you grew up with memories of the Battenkill. Lucky for us, Betsy share's her memories in this coffee table book of art, photos, oral histories and stories.

          Teaching Trout to Talk: the zen of small stream fly fishing
          by Stuart Bartow

          Bartow knows and loves the Battenkill. He's a poet, author, educator and passionate advocate for his hometown stream. He also likes to wet a line on occasion. A mid-winter reminder of how wonderful clear running water is.

          Images of America

         There must be thousands of volumes in Arcadia's Images of America series. They feature old photos with accompanying text by local historians. There are several focused on Washington County and many more of surrounding areas: Lake George, Vermont and Saratoga. Fun to see what's the same and what has changed.

          A Guide to Architecture in the Adirondacks
          by Richard Longstreth

          One of the joys of wandering Washington County is the beautiful (sometimes bizarre and even ghastly) architecture you come across. This book looks like it would be a fun and informative companion on road trips in the Adirondacks.

           In the Bleak Midwinter
          by Julia Spencer-Fleming

          This 2002 murder mystery was the first in a series that now numbers seven or eight novels. It's set in the upstate community of Millers Kill, and features Clare - Episcopal priest/tough cookie and Russ - the Chief of Police. The author lives in Maine but I have a sense that she has a Washington County connection. Can anyone fill me in?

          The Harrows of Spring
          by James Howard Kunstler
          The fourth and final volume in the authors World Made by Hand series. They're set in the disrupted future but feel like tales out of the past. Recognizable locales add to the appeal.

          There you have my chosen company for this years reading season. Cat and dog are optional but highly recommended.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Wash Day - 12/4/17

     Shiver me timbers! Woke up to a blanket of freezing fog this morning. The meteorologic term is radiation fog. It occurs when clear skies and no wind during the night allow enough heat to escape for the air to reach its dew point. Then water vapor condenses into liquid water. The droplets in fog are tiny but there are enough of them to dramatically reduce visibility. It's like a stratus cloud at ground level.

     Yesterday was warm, calm and damp. Last night a super-moon peeped thru clouds that gradually dissipated. Perfect conditions for the cooling that produces fog. With the temperature right around freezing this morning, the moisture also gilded leaves and branches with frost. A vivid demonstration of water in three physical states - solid, liquid and gas.

     I love to wander Washington County taking in what makes it special - geology and landforms, plants and animals, architecture and all that people have created. But I also like to eat and have a roof over my head. Seems like providing those basic necessities takes ever more time and labor. The result is long stretches with little opportunity for the exploration I so enjoy.
     But even when work-shackled, you can still enjoy the sky show. Late fall, with its shifting weather, colorful sunsets and early evening stargazing is a gift. We're so lucky to have the circle of seasons and the variety they offer. Pity the poor folks in Hawaii with their monotonously perfect weather patterns. If anyone would like to contribute to my airfare, I'll volunteer to go there and offer our condolences...