Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Do you see what I see?

     Christmas carols just can't let the season go. They linger on, playing over and over in my head. And while Do you hear what I hear / Do you see what I see is one of my favorites, this post is about the sky, not the song. On the 25th I woke up to a mackerel morning. Banded rows of clouds resembling the scales of a fish...the name may have originated with ancient mariners who spent whole lives between sea and sky.

          Altostratus, altocumulus, cirrocumulus? Only a meteorologist knows for sure. The general idea is of a large, moist air mass lifting and being shaped by instability. This pattern was in the east, catching the colors of the rising sun while to the northwest blue sky hosted a train of small, isolated white clouds, something like rungs of an overarching ladder. As I went about my morning chores I was treated to an evolving, colorful show. A Christmas gift not under a tree but above them all.

     December gives us light only grudgingly and then only during work hours. It's a situation that I can whine about with the best of them. My beset wife is all too familiar with the complaints:

     "The Sun went down before I could even wax my skis, let alone
     use them."

     "Running on icy ground in the dark? It's like begging for a trip
     to the emergency room."

     "Biking at dusk? Only if you want to bypass the doctors
     altogether and go straight to the undertaker."           

My sad litany goes on and on. But for every yin there's a yang and the winter sky compensates for its stingy light with a fascinating variety of clouds, subtle colors and entrancing starscapes. 

Cows and clouds

     Online sources list over a dozen different cloud types. It could be a fun winter project to learn to identify them and understand how they form. And all those water droplets and ice crystals - that's what clouds are after all - play games with sunlight resulting in a host of colorful optical effects. Rainbows are the most familiar but there are pillars and sundogs, halos and coronas, iridescence and crepuscular rays. Each has its own particular physics, a certain arrangement of incoming photons and atmospheric moisture that produces eye catching phenomenon.

Stephane Vetter's beautiful shot of Icelandic aurora was the January 5, 2020 
Astronomy Picture of the Day

     After dark it's time to look for meteors and the northern lights. The Quadrantid  shower is predicted for the night of January 3-4    (Friday night into Saturday morning). Even though the Sun is in a quiet phase there's always a chance the Aurora Borealis will put on a shimmering, dancing show. More muted but still worth watching for is the zodiacal light, a faint glow along the ecliptic best seen in late winter or early spring.
     One good thing about the long hours of darkness is being able to stargaze in both evening and morning and still get a good nights sleep in between. The planet Venus is the 'star' of the show in the southwest after sunset. It will be dazzling all winter and hopefully there will be repeats of last Saturday night's beautiful pairing with the crescent moon.

From Sky and Telescope's website

          Winter constellations are the brightest and most recognizable of the year. Gemini and Orion lie prone on the eastern horizon as the new year's dusk fades to darkness. Climbing higher over the early evening hours, they are surrounded by the hunting dogs, anchored by sparkling Sirius and Procyon, while being challenged by Taurus the bull with its two star clusters: the Pleiades and the Hyades.

From Sky and Telescope website

     You might want to keep an eye on misbehaving Betelgeuse. The pulsating red supergiant that marks Orion's shoulder has been dimming over recent months. This puffed up gas ball is so large it would engulf the orbit of Jupiter if centered in our solar system. It's going to explode as a supernova at some point and the current change in magnitude has astronomers wondering if it might blow sooner rather than latter. 'Do you see what I see' indeed...

More interested in breakfast than clouds or supernova

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Postcards from the Queen

     Ready for someplace, anyplace that's not Ukraine? I thought so. That's why I put together this portfolio of old postcards from the Queen of American lakes. They are part of the Lake George Historical Association's collection that Gwenne has been sorting and organizing. You can look thru hundreds of them at the Museum in the heart of the village and I urge you to do so. This post offers an eclectic sampling, with a little bias towards views of the east (Washington County) side of the lake. In a country that's beginning to feel like a piece of firewood being cleaved by a splitting maul, there's one thing we can all agree on...Lake George's scenic beauty is unimpeachable.

     A sure way to get the ladies attention...walk your pony on the beach. And notice the women's bathing suits, get them wet and you'd sink to the bottom. 

Fun at Camp Chingachgook

     The next two scenes are of Glenburnie on the northeastern side of the lake. Profile Rocks, Anthonys Nose and Record Hill form a picturesque backdrop to Blairs Bay. Camp Adirondack is on the peninsula in the foreground. Steamboats used to stop a many points along the shore.

Lake of many islands...

     I have fond memories of running up the trail from the end of Shelving Rock Road to Paradise Bay for an evening swim, then coming back in moonlight. It's a place out of a dream. 

Black Mountain towers above the Narrows, the highest point around Lake George, and a favorite of photographers and artists. Here are three views...

This view of Pilot Knob is interesting because it shows the ridge to the left before it was denuded by the 1973 forest fire.

Anthonys Nose and Rogers Rock face each other across the northern end of the lake. The bare slab of Rogers Rock is popular with climbers. I'm not sure if the cliffs on the Nose have been explored and routes established.

History, archaeology and architecture...

Ruins of Fort George in Battlefield Park, Lake George Village

Compare the grace and charm of a stone arch bridge with the bland culvert/concrete
 constructions of today  

Diamond Point Chapel

     Lake George is garlanded with many lovely churches. You could easily spend several summers attending services at a different one each Sunday. Follow a morning sermon with an afternoon lakeside picnic for an appealing 'yesteryear' day of inspiration and relaxation.

Accommodations plain and simple...  

Private toilets! Hot and cold showers! Inner spring mattresses! 
What more could you ask for?

When I was a kid we used to camp at Hearthstone, just north of 
Lake George Village. We had a huge army surplus canvas tent
that someone had given us. Dad had cut down a small tree on
the farm to use for a center pole! At first I was embarrassed by
our outdated accommodations but pretty soon every kid at the
campsite wanted to join the army and check out our tent...giving 
me a platoon of new friends and playmates. 

The fun doesn't stop when the water freezes

Island camping...the iconic Lake George experience

Wish you were here?

     Some Lake George resources you might find helpful:

* The Lake George Historical Association...museum exhibits, bookstore, postcards! More info here.

* The Lake George Land Conservancy's Round the Lake Challenge will have you visiting natural, scenic, historic and cultural resources. Get started here. 

* Become a 12ster by bagging a dozen peaks surrounding the lake. Find out which ones here.

* Watch Crandall Library/Folklife Center's video series - Lake George on the Water here. 

* Learn about the Jefferson Project to study Lake George here. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Reading Season

     Seasons come, seasons go.
     In my world haying season seems to go on forever but I think 'forever' is about to end. I have one field of clover that was green, then white with snow and has now melted out to a bedraggled brown. But the cows still seem to like it so I'll feed them their daily freeze dried salad for a few more days. Then haying is done for the year. 
     Gwenne and I finished up paddling season with a couple of nice trips to Vermont when the fall foliage was at its peak. Grout Pond and Lake Hortonia were both scenic spots that we enjoyed. Now our merry little flotilla of canoes and kayaks sit in hibernation awaiting spring.

Paddling season finale - Grout Pond

     My swimming season ended with a last splash in the Battenkill months ago. But I do have to tell you about a surreal swimming experience Gwenne witnessed recently. On November 15th she and Louise Rourke watched as Bridget Simpson waded into Lake George up by Tioga Beach in far northern Washington County. Bridget first checked the water temperature with a thermometer. It was 45 degrees. Darn! Not cold enough! But it would have to do, so she proceeded to dive in and swim for fifteen or twenty minutes. This at a time when many small ponds are already frozen solid, snow was on the ground and a brisk, cold wind whipped the surface of the lake. No wetsuit...just her summer swimsuit. 

Gwenne's photos of Bridget 'brrrr' Simpson enjoying a Lake George swim on November 15

     Simpson is training for something called an 'Ice Mile'. It's actually an internationally popular thing, with an association, lists and records. The goal is to swim a mile in water that's 41 degrees or less with nothing other than your regular suit, cap and goggles (presumably to keep your eyelids from freezing shut). You need at least one witness...otherwise who would believe you? It seems to take either side of thirty minutes for most of the people who do it. As I was saying, my (and most others) swimming season is over. But not everyones.
     With warm weather seasonally activities coming to a close, it's time for their winter replacements. For this farmer that would be things like 'thawing frozen water pipe season' and 'starting gelled diesel engine season'. Which could be kind of disheartening except that it's also my reading season. Short days and long nights mean more time to spend with good books. In this post I'll share my list for the upcoming months. These aren't reviews, really not even recommendations - just some reading that looks interesting to me. And hopefully, to you too.

     Let's begin with two books that have a surficial connection, in that their subject matter meets at the surface of the Earth. Underland: A Deep Time Journey is by Robert Macfarlane, an English author with several other well regarded titles to his credit. It tells of his explorations below ground - in caves, catacombs and subterranean rivers - a realm fraught with the baggage of superstition and spookiness, a place where our imaginations conjure things that should never see the light of day. Another book that seems ready made to temper this darkness is Heaven's Breath - A Natural History of the Wind by Lyall Watson. Originally published in 1984, there's a new edition out this summer with an introduction by Nick Hunt. Here we're above ground and immersed in the movement of air all the way up to the stratosphere and beyond. You're probably wondering...is there really that much to say about something you can't even see? When, as Watson does, you look at the wind's role not just in meteorology, but in history, art, psychology and even philosophy, the answer is a resounding 'Yes'.

     Earlier this fall Ken Ilgunas spoke at Skidmore College in Saratoga. A few weeks later there was a Conference on Private Property Rights in Latham just twenty miles away. Whew! that was a close call. I have a sense that the Conference attendees might not care for Ilgunas's This Land is Our Land - How we lost the right to Roam and how to take it back. Besides, they're probably too busy tacking up POSTED signs to have time to read anyway. Around here, as in many rural parts of the country, owning land and doing what you want with it is right up there with God and guns as something not to be messed with. Which, of course, makes me want to read This Land is Our Land for its courage to look at our property laws in the context of history and tradition in the rest of the world. 

Look what Ken Ilgunas found while roaming - web image

     'The right to roam' reminds me of when I was a kid. I had a horse, a strikingly marked pinto named Flicka. Used to ride that mare everywhere, sometimes going from Gansevoort up towards South Glens Falls and other times down almost into Saratoga. Of course, that was before every dirt road was 'improved' to high speed pavement and every woodsy path became a cul-de-sac in a ritzy development of executive estates. Our area still has many people who love horses, people who want to go beyond circles in an indoor arena to trail rides across open country. I've heard of a group hoping to create an equestrian trail system in Washington County. God bless them and good luck but they'd better move quickly before the hand of progress that ruined the quiet trails of my youth steals their dream as well. 
     Ok, that's my rant for this post but it does lead me to a remarkable woman and her new book. Lady Long Rider is Bernice Ende's tale of over 29,000 miles in the saddle. It chronicles a series of horseback adventures across the U.S. and Canada. In our area she became well known and much loved when she spent the winter of 2014-2015 in Fort Edward. We visited Bernice and her two Fjords, Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit, several times during those long, cold months. Reading Lady Long Rider will be like catching up with an old friend. 

Bernice and...

web images

     I have some other old friends that are a bit more sedentary than Bernice Ende. Scattered across Washington County are rock outcrops that I like to visit now and again. Exposures whose fossils, intrusions and twisted layers tell a good story. Russell Dunn seems to be a kindred spirit in his love of geologic oddities. His latest book is Boulders Beyond Belief, a guide to Adirondack behemoths waiting to amaze you. 

       Dunn and his wife, Barbara Delaney, are a well-oiled publishing machine with dozens of books between them. Notable are waterfall guides to much of the Northeast and a Trails with Tales series. Slowing down, taking the time to discover the stories, the hidden treasures, the uniqueness of a place is what appeals to me about the Dunn/Delaney oeuvre. It's a little like what I try to do in this blog. Which gets me thinking...how about a Trees Totally Terrific post? I could feature that amazing sycamore down by the Hoosic River and those towering white pines up on Shelving Rock and... 
ATLAS on a roll...

     Some time ago I did a post on the Northern Forest Atlas.  Since then Jerry Jenkins and colleagues  have been busy developing a series of charts, photographic guides, digital atlases and field guides. Sedges of the Northern Forest and Woody Plants of the Northern Forest are two guides that combine Jenkins deep botanical knowledge presented in his inimitable style with state of the art photography. I believe a volume on mosses is coming soon. Great stuff but I still long for a return of the White Creek Field School. There's just nothing like spending time out in the woods botanizing with Jerry.        

Does this guy ever sleep?

     Last month the Battenkill Conservancy hosted a program featuring John Bowermaster and a screening of his documentary film A Living River. I couldn't make it, the cows had other plans for me, but I was intrigued by the man and the movie so I checked out his website. He lives in the Hudson Valley but adventures around the world. He's host of a radio show/podcast, has created more than thirty films and authored eleven books. Oceans have been a long time focus but recently he's produced a series of Hudson River Stories. I love the Hudson and spending time paddling it so I think that's where I'll start in sampling Bowermaster's work.

Looking out on the Hudson


     The September/October issue of Archaeology magazine had an article by Jason Urbanus entitled 'Exploring the Great Warpath'. It covered some of David Starbuck's digs around Fort Edward which was home base for soldiers preparing to fight to the north. This was in the 1754-1763 pre-Revolutionary French and Indian wars. The magazine is available in the local library system where you can also find books by both Starbuck and Russell Bellico that go much deeper into the history of that period.

     There's my list. It should keep me occupied thru the winter and maybe beyond. Don't be alarmed if, come next spring, you see some oddball in a canoe focused more on the book in his hand than the water around him. That will be me and you'll know that I didn't finish my reading season list by the time a new paddling season began.