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 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 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. 

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