Thursday, March 22, 2018

The X-C Files: Crusty Road

"It ain't over till its over."

     Yogi Berra's dugout philosophy isn't just for baseball. It's also an apt description of this year's ski season. Back in February it seemed like an early spring had arrived. White had turned to brown. I leaned my skis in a corner, pumped up the tires on my bike and went for a ride. Even cast a few 'come hither' looks toward the canoe. Just a little harmless flirting that came to nothing. That's because March came lion roaring in, mauling us with three Nor'easters and lots of snow. Then came the cold. Single digit mid-winter cold.

     Might as well make the best of it with a (one last?) tour. After a brief "Who moved my skis!?!" moment, I found them over in the corner, right where I had left them. Then it was a simple matter of throwing stuff into the truck and heading for the hills.
     There's probably a lot of reasons you wouldn't want to go on an outing with me, but the biggest might be that I never go straight to a destination. Drives people crazy. It's just that I see all the intervening space between home and wherever as 'Terra incognita' waiting to be explored. This leads to organic meandering that usually (but not always) gets me where I want to go.
     I made it thru Greenwich with just a few minor distractions but then Cozy Hollow Road beckoned and the H-V canoe access begged a look. A little further there was that unusual tree by the roadside and then "Wow, what a nice view of Colfax Mountain". Finally I came upon a true show-stopper. Just past the farm on Rouse Road was a field full of wild turkeys - maybe a hundred or more - way too many to count. It was quite a sight and silly me got out to snap a photo. This was akin to yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theater. It led to a mass goobling exodus into the nearby hedgerow. No photo but a great memory. As an aside I should mention that friends have been seeing upwards of sixty Bald Eagles up on South Bay and my neighbor recently encountered a flock of fifty plus Bluebirds. The dead of winter? Not around here.
     Further challenges soon arose but I'll spare you the details for the moment. At some point in my ramblings I'd decided that Lake Lauderdale Park would be fun to check out. It's located just off Rt. 22 about four miles north of Cambridge. While the entrance road is gated this time of year there is a small parking area before the gate and you can walk or ski from there. If the hill leading down is snowed in or icy there's room to pull over on the shoulder of the highway.

     The approach to the park/beach area curves around the end of the lake and then runs straight and level thru towering white pines. It's obvious the primary winter activity here is walking dogs. The road looked like they had run the Iditarod here, sans sleds. Dog tracks everywhere and a trodden path where some sort of two legged creatures had tried to keep up. They left a bare booted trough with no signs of snowshoe or ski.

     The first water you encounter is the lake's outlet stream. This is the Owl Kill in its infancy. From here it winds south thru the broad valley, picking up tributaries, slipping thru Cambridge and eventually joining the Hoosic River at Eagle Bridge. It's a pretty little thing, reported to have good fishing but a bit small for paddling. 

Heading for the Hoosic - The Owl Kill on its merry way

     As the road curves left you'll see one of several trails leading into the forest. These form an interconnected network that make the most of the parks 117 acres. On the day I was there the road was encased in crusty snow. It was fast skiing and soon I was treated to views of the lake. The site features tree shaded picnic areas, a large covered pavilion and a charming lake side log cabin. The beach must be a Godsend to harried mothers on sweltering summer days. Close your eyes and you can almost hear the splash and laughter of kids in the warm sunshine to come. But today the only sound is a cold wind in the pines. It stings my face, makes my eyes water and chases me into the woods for shelter.

Reluctantly I obeyed the sign

     I skied up a trail on the far side of a small stream. It lead thru trees and past ledges. The way was level which was a good thing given the granular snow that made turns a challenge. There were several intersections and from previous visits I remember connections to a RV campground up the hill. With deeper, softer snow you could do a series of loops. Conversely, with no snow these would be good for trail running and short hikes. I crossed the stream on a low plank bridge and soon came back to the picnic grounds. From there it was a short, quick glide out the road to end a pleasant late winter tour.

Closing Notes...

     Lauderdale is one of a string of ponds on either side of Rt. 22. It's thought that these are kettles, created when large blocks of ice detached from the wasting front of the last glacier. Sediments were deposited around them and when the blocks finally melted they left depressions filled with water. These have been popular with people ever since.

Google Earth screen shot

The schoolhouse on Schoolhouse Lake...

...and the view from the school yard

     One curiosity about the lake is that it may have been the birthplace of the Washington County Fair. Something called the Lauderdale Fair was popular here in the 1880's. In the 1890's it moved south a short distance to Cambridge where it drew crowds for over fifty years. Today the fair is still a big deal but is now located between Greenwich and Schuylerville in the Town of Easton. 
     There was a time when a side-wheel steamboat cruised the lake! Now you can launch your canoe/kayak at the park and provide your own steam. Be sure to bring a clean boat to avoid introducing invasives.
     While Washington County administers the park, the land here is owned by New York State. The County, strapped with high social service costs and a small tax base, has occasionally proposed closing its parks (the other one is at Huletts Landing on Lake George). Seen as a cost cutting measure. Who knows what the future holds? Better visit while you can.

     From the Lauderdale Beach looking across the lake you see a long, high ridge. This is Mt. Colfax. While it might seem that it would be a nice hiking destination, that is not the case. It's all in privately owned lots with several roads and quite a few houses clinging to its flanks. There is even a fire tower perched on one high knob.Years ago I used its steep roads for hill workouts and training runs. I vaguely recall climbing the tower. On my drive over to Lauderdale I made a nostalgic detour up and over the mountain. I found lots more houses than I remembered and a fenced off firetower. You can hardly see the trees for all the POSTED signs around it.

     Firetowers are currently having a 'moment'. There are guidebooks and a checklist challenge (with a finishing patch!) for those who climb them. Some of the structures that were slated for removal have been adopted by 'Friends of...' organizations and saved. But neither of the towers in Washington County (Black Mountain and Colfax) are open and climbable. With the County spending tax dollars to attract tourism there's a missed opportunity here. A trail and open tower on Colfax would compliment other attractions in the area, drawing visitors who could marvel at the view and then enjoy a nice meal at a local restaurant. 

The view beneath the tower - it would be better above the trees

     As if to prove my point, I was in need of refreshment after my Lauderdale ski. Found it in Cambridge with a delicious chicken gyro from Iggy's Wicked Good Eats and an Oatmeal Stout at Argyle Brewing Company. Perfect way to cap the day. 


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Real Cool Guy

To everything
There is a season
And a time to every purpose, under heaven...
- from Turn, Turn, Turn by Pete Seeger

     When the season is winter it's my time to revisit the books of Peter J. Marchand. I spend most afternoons working in the woods. Opening trails, doing timber stand improvement, cutting next years firewood. Some days I don't feel like working. Can anyone relate to that? But on those days I'm often still in the woods - skiing, snowshoeing or just poking around. And when evening darkness sends me inside, I use what little energy I've got left to pull North Woods or Life in the Cold off the shelf. Time to settle into the chair by the stove and read up on the snowy world I've spent the day in.

Peter Marchand

     Peter Marchand grew up in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts. Hard wood country that he loved to explore. Then he had a chance to climb nearby Mt. Greylock. At 3491 feet it was high enough to have some spruce-fir forest up top. He was struck by the difference and it became his new obsession. So obsessed that he spent fifteen years at the University of New Hampshire culminating in a botany doctorate, specializing in northern forest ecology.

Mt. Greylock Spruce-Fir Forest - Web image

     For many years he lived in Vermont where he continued to research, teach and write. While there he was associated with the Center for Northern Studies and Johnson State College. Then he went over to the west side. Colorado to be exact. As far as I know he's still there, still writing and still a skillful observer of all things natural. But it's some of his early works that I find particularly relevant to this time of year, to our Northeastern ecosystems.


       North Woods was published by the Appalachian Mountain Club in 1987. Its focus is the ecology of the northern forest and mountain environments. This is a book on natural processes and the landscapes they produce. It is not a field guide for identification of individual plants and animals. North Woods has taught me a great deal and I refer to it often but I don't recommend that you buy it. That's because it was updated in 2010 and retitled Nature Guide to the Northeastern Forest. New and improved! with expanded text and color photos - this is the one you'll want in your library and your daypack.

     Also by Marchand is Life in the Cold - An Introduction to Winter Ecology. Originally published in 1987, I believe it is currently in a 4th edition. It's about both season and place, focusing on higher elevations and latitudes where cold and snow define a substantial part of the year. That certainly applies to Washington County, the Adirondacks and Vermont - all my favorite haunts. That's why I often refer to this book to understand what I've seen after a day of winter exploring. It's a little heavier on the science with charts, graphs and equations, while still being accessible to those of us without multiple Ph.D.'s. Chapters cover the changing snowpack, the ecology of iced over lakes and ponds and plant, animal and human adaptations to the cold.

Lake George from Black Mountain with a human adapted to the cold (aka my wife)

     You might also look for Autumn, A Season of Change. I haven't read it but it would seem to compliment the previously mentioned titles. For more on Marchand and his more recent work here is a link to his website.


     A few other snow season books that you might enjoy:

Bernd Heinrich - Web image

     - It's hard not to be envious of Bernd Heinrich. Biologist and naturalist, record breaking endurance athlete, lyrically gifted writer who illustrates his own books. Lives in a remote cabin in the Maine woods. Shares it with Lynn Jennings, the great middle-distance and cross country champion, where they spend their days observing nature, homesteading, trail running and enjoying an evening beer and each other. His Winter World - the ingenuity of animal survival is one of my favorites for this time of year. It will leave you in awe of golden crowned kinglets. And of Bernd Heinrich.

     - A Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes is an eclectic book that covers everything from snow crystals to birds nests to animal tracks. It's filled with simple line drawings and natural history descriptions. Not glitzy but highly useful.

     - Another book that brings me back for a chapter or two every year is Wintering by Diana Kappel-Smith. It falls in the personal relationship with nature genre. Reminds me of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Set in '70's era Vermont, it's beautifully written and a source of inspiration to get out there and see what our wild friends are up to. 

     - Adirondack Ice - a cultural and natural history by Caperton Tissot is a local/seasonal book that's full of stories about all things icy and cold. Fun and informative.

     The black flies of spring will be biting before you know it. Till then might as well embrace winter and its literature. Also a good time to listen to the Byrds singing Turn, Turn, Turn. Pete Seeger set verses from the Book of Ecclesiastes to music and the Byrds rendition was a hit in 1965. People have cherished its timeless wisdom ever since.

Pete Seeger - An American treasure