Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Month of Two Moons

     October is the best of months. Neon leaves against a deep blue sky. Crisp cool air and warm sunshine. Time for both outdoor campfires and indoor wood stoves. The smell of wood smoke. Paddling, biking, hiking. Maybe even one last swim. Oktoberfests with sausage and beer!

     Well, maybe no Oktoberfests this strange year. How about a lunarfest instead? Actually two of them because this October hosts two full Moons, one on the first and one on the thirty-first. I plan on toasting both of them with a beer and maybe even a sausage.

     In honor of this two Moon month I've dug up a few interesting facts about our closest celestial neighbor along with a few neat images gleaned from the web.

🌕   At the beginning of this month we have the Harvest Moon and at the end is the Hunters Moon. The names originated with Native Americans. The second of two full Moons in a month is also sometimes called a Blue Moon. Only happens every couple of years, thus "Once in a Blue Moon". 

Tim McCord photo

🌕   The Moon takes about 29.5 days to orbit the Earth. This is called the synodic month. It is directly opposite the Sun and fully illuminated once every orbital cycle. Thus every month except February could occasionally host a 'Blue Moon'.

The Earth on left and the Moon on right to scale in size and distance
From wikipedia

🌕   It takes 1.28 seconds for light to travel from the Moon to Earth.  All of that light originated from the Sun. While appearing very bright against the dark night sky, the Moon's reflectance is only a little more than that of asphalt.

Same Moon, different side

🌕   The Moon rotates on its axis in the same amount of time it takes to orbit around the Earth. That's the reason it always shows the same side to us. Until spacecraft visited no one had ever seen the far side.

🌕   In a serendipitous coincidence the Sun and the Moon appear to be the same size as seen from Earth. In fact, the Sun is much larger but also much farther away. Solar eclipses are possible because the Moon can cover the Sun when they align perfectly. Since the Moon is very slowly (inches per year) moving away from us, at some point in the distant future eclipses will all be annular with a bright ring of the Sun showing around the Moon, rather than total with the Sun's disk completely blocked.  


Looking East

🌕   While the Moon is full on Thursday, October 1 be sure to watch on Friday night to see the Moon and Mars right next to each other.

It may be a starry night but the Moon is prominent in the upper right of
Vincent van Gogh's famous painting

  🌕   It seems like the Moon shows up more in arts and culture than it does in the sky. Moonstruck is the 1987 romantic comedy starring Cher and Nick Cage, while Moonlight won the 2016 Best Picture Award and Moonlighting was a popular TV show of the 1980's. Moonshine refers to corn liquor made in the hollows of Appalachia. It was done late at night, under the cover of darkness with only the Moon for illumination, thus the name. Always brings to mind Steve Earle's Copperhead Road song. And speaking of songs, how about Moonriver from Breakfast at Tiffany's and Van Morrison's Moondance. Finally, what parent hasn't lulled their little one to sleep reading the classic Goodnight Moon?  


🌕   I'll close with one last memory. In my younger days I spent some time (probably too much time) over at the Oasis, a roadhouse bar near Hedges Lake. When the Moon was bright I'd often go up over Shields Road to take in the view of the Taconics folds and ridges. Then it was down to the 'O' for beer and rock 'n roll. When the band went on break the crowd would empty out into the parking lot to cool off and get some fresh air. Invariably we got something else. A car would drive by on Rt. 22 honking its horn and sticking out the back window would be the bare part of someone's anatomy that should never see the light of day (or the dark of night for that matter). Ah, 'Mooning', idle pastime of a lost generation... 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Swim Story

      Water. It won't let me be. With summer winding down I've got a long list of jobs to do, work to finish. But there are days when I hear a seductive voice beckoning, "Come to me. Let me sooth you." And I can't resist. Usually it's the Hudson, the Battenkill or Lake George calling. All are old friends, easy to be with. Then there's the occasional flirtation with someplace new. This year it was Sunset Lake in Vermont. Charming but a little scary in its weed free clarity. I think Sunset has been hitting the aquatic herbicide bottle a little hard.

     I'd like to tell you that I dive in and swim great distances. Graceful, one with the water. But I'd be lying. My style tends more toward some splashing, a little dog paddling and a lot of floating on my back. Then it's dripping wet naturalist time, wading in the shallows, becoming once again just a curious kid looking for snails and clams, frogs and turtles.

     But there are people who actually swim. Long and strong. They have my admiration and also a little envy. Here in the Adirondacks we are awash with clear, inviting water. Swimming is a natural way to relate to this place. In this post we'll meet some of the interesting individuals who are at home in the water.

Wife, mother, farmer, author 
Gwenne photographed by her daughter Holly

     Lest I be relegated to sleeping on the coach, we'd better start with my wife. While Gwenne is certainly a graceful swimmer, she may be even better at writing about swimming. In a new book titled Called by the Water - When Diane Struble Swam Lake George, she has a great story to tell. 

     It was 1958 when Struble, a single mother of three young girls (Gwenne was the middle kid) became an instant celebrity by being the first person to swim the 32 mile length of Lake George. The book recounts that swim while reminiscing about what it was like to be the daughter of such a strong, driven woman. Also included are profiles of the diverse crew of characters drawn in by Struble's energy as well as a chronology of other swimmers who have challenged the length of the lake.

     Carl Heilman striking cover photo invites you into the book capturing both the beauty of Lake George and seeming impossibility of swimming it. It's particularly poignant because Diane greatly admired Carl's art and they were friends till her 2006 passing. The reader will also find lots of older family and newspaper photos that complement the text, painting an intimate portrait of Struble, her family and her lake.

     It's been a fascinating experience watching a book come into being. On days when I want to flirt with danger I kid Gwenne that it took her almost a year to write about something her Mom did in a little over 35 hours! In truth, it's a lot of work to research, write and get published even a small book. It wouldn't have happened without a grant from the Touba Family Foundation and partnership with the Lake George Historical Association. You can listen to Gwenne talk about the project in conversation with Teri Rogers on Thursday, September 24 at 7pm on the LGHA site. There will also be an actual live book launch event (outdoors, masks, distancing, etc.) at the LGHA Courthouse on Canada Street in the Village from 10am to 3pm on Saturday, September 26. Several people who have recently completed Lake George swims plan to attend. I know Gwenne would love to see everybody; to hear your memories of swimming, of her Mom and of the lake we all love.

Old Courthouse - Lake George Village
web image



     Gwenne's book is the first in a Called by the Water series planned by the LGHA. The second will be by Louise Rourke chronicling her 2018 relay swim of the lake with Bridget Simpson. Rourke was a victim of polio at a young age but she has overcome the disease's lasting effects to live a vibrant, active life. Swimming and Lake George have been a big part of that life. I was privileged to read an early draft of Louise's story and found it emotionally inspiring. Look for Rourke's book in the near future.

     Bridget Simpson partnered with Rourke in the 2018 relay swim as well as completing her own solo effort in 2017. Recently she's become interested in doing an 'Ice Mile'. Simpson talks about these accomplishments in a program recorded and archived on the LGHA site. She also has a blog that will appeal to anyone interested in swimming and the lake.


A happy Bridget Simpson after completing 
her swim at Diane's Rock


     While Diane Struble was the first, there have been many other landmark swims since. Just this summer Charlotte Brynn of Vermont set multiple records becoming the oldest at 54 years and also the fastest in just under 18 hours, a little over half the time of Struble's original effort. Then, as I was putting this post together, came word that Caroline Block had done a 'double crossing', swimming the length of the lake and then turning around to swim back to her starting point, an incredible 64+ miles! It may be an overused word but these are truly 'world class' feats. Both women hope to be at the September 26 book launch, a great opportunity to meet and congratulate two amazing athletes.

Charlotte Brynn on her way to a record
web image

     Lake George may be the crown jewel but it's just one of thousands of lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks. For open water swimmers this place is like being a kid in a candy store. Sometimes thought of as primarily a hiking destination, now people are talking of being a 'ADK 46 Laker', the swimmers equivalent of climbing all the High Peaks. Those who want to join in the fun might try the Adirondack District Masters Swimming site where you can get in touch with Bob Singer and others who can help you get started.


     I usually wait until after Labor Day to dip my toes in Lake George. The water is still (relatively) warm and the crowds have (sort of) thinned out. My go-to is a hike along the Shelving Rock shoreline followed by a jump in the lake. This year was a little different. We wanted to combine some paddling with swimming and opted for a family outing to Northwest Bay. The channel leading to the lake makes for sheltered canoeing and there's a great knee-deep sandbar for wading right at the head of the bay. That's where we found these neat spiral tracks made by mussels in the sand. They sure put a big smile on the face of this nature boy.

Northwest Bay below the Tongue Range


     I want to mention another book that will appeal to anyone interested in Adirondack waters. Sally Friedman's Swimming the Channel takes the reader with her as she crosses Paradox  and Pharaoh Lakes, Gooseneck and Chapel Ponds. Friedman's themes are of love, loss and healing told by a woman whose strength and solace are found in water. 

Where Sally swims - Paradox Lake on a rainy day

     Like the rest of the natural world, Lake George faces many challenges. It needs ongoing protection and stewardship if it is to remain an idyllic place to swim, recreate and rejuvenate. Gwenne has been floating the idea of an annual 'Honor the Lake Day' to celebrate this irreplaceable treasure. Maybe you have some ideas of your own or would like to help make it happen...


Where it all began - Gwenne at Diane's Rock
the starting point of her Mom's swim


Friday, September 4, 2020

Ménage à Trois

     I tend to favor beer over wine. Maybe that's because (our despite the fact) there was a lot of cheap swill available when I was of a certain age. You could get a six pack of Genesee, Utica Club or Rheingold for 89 cents. That was a price even a poor farmer could afford (and regret the following morning). I'm not sure if any of those brands have survived the craft beer craze. We can only hope not.
     But I do drink a little wine on occasion. That's because Gwenne likes a glass now and then. Since she does the shopping and sets the table, who am I to argue? In truth, what I really like about wines are the names and labels. They're such a hoot. Take Ménage à Trois. It's a blend of three varieties, thus the suggestive name. Epicures would probably consider it to be the Utica Club of wines but it works for those of us with less refined tastes. Does it deliver on the labels promise to "...caress you with every sip..." and to be "...the lavish, luxurious experience you've been craving..."? 

     Lest you be mislead, this post is not about cheap alcohol or 'alternative' relationships. Rather, it covers three paddle spots on the Battenkill River that can be done separately or together. Long time readers of this blog (if there are any) will recall that I have been profiling the flatwater pools of the lower river starting from its confluence with the Hudson and working back upstream. If my math serves me, there are seven you can do without a shuttle ... launching your boat, enjoying a cruise and then taking out where you put in. Now it's time to wrap this project with a look at the last three sections. All are accessed from the Village of Greenwich in close proximity to each other and I'm guessing none will appeal to the connoisseur. Ménage à Trois...


     Before any boats hit the water there's something that needs to be said. Two of these pools are dangerous. There should be skull and crossbones signs at the put in. It's not because of raging whitewater. There is none. Rather the menace lies in unmarked downstream dams. The dams are what create the flatwater paddling but when approached from above they are all but invisible and the unwary could easily be swept over them with disastrous results. There should be some kind of warning signage on the river but there isn't. I'll point out these hazards in map and description but if you're not comfortable with the risk it may be best to avoid paddling here.

Three dams back up three pools in this Google Earth image of the Battenkill 
sketching a big S around the Village of Greenwich

     The first pool has two access points. The best is off Elbow Street near a wastewater pump station. Here the Village of Greenwich has opened up a short path down to the water with room to park a couple of cars nearby. It's convenient and I'm grateful to the Village.

This grassy path leads to the river

    The first thing you'll notice are the piers that used to carry the Greenwich and Johnsonville railroad tracks across the stream.
The trestle here was originally built in 1870 and eventually dismantled in 1932. David Nestle's Rails along the Battenkill is a good source for historical information and old photos. Directly across the river is where Fly Creek joins the Battenkill. It's just a trickle at the end of a dry summer but notice the gravel bar island at its mouth, apparently built up from sediments carried during time of flood.

     The alternate access point is here at the confluence with Fly Creek on the south side of the river. It's reached by a short, steep lane off Eddy Street (aka Rt. 372, the road to Cambridge). To get there drive thru Greenwich, over the Battenkill and under the RR overpass. As you head up a slight grade look for a fire hydrant on the right and turn down past  a small hydro plant to a grassy parking area with a path to the water below a dam and rock outcrops. This area has a long history of industrial activity fueled by water power. Notice the melted slag on the bank where you put in. I've heard of this spot being called the glassworks. Anybody know what went on here?

     Heading downriver the shores are mostly wooded and seemingly undeveloped even though there is a former mill site on the right bank. Look for sycamore, cottonwood and box elder - typical stream-side trees. There's also a profusion of wildflowers along the bank and plenty of kingfishers, blue and green herons and various waterfowl to keep you company. I've a hunch that the fishing for warm water species would be good also.

     On a recent summer evening I had this stretch all to myself. But, as I went downriver I was somewhat blinded by the setting sun and the only warning of my approach to the top of the dam was the sound of falling water. I turned around well above it and if you do the same you can enjoy a short, scenic outing here.

     To visit the next pool upstream look for a 'Mill Hollow' access sign just before where the highway bridge crosses the river. Park under the RR trestle and slither your boat down a steep bank to the water. Here it's critical to go left (upstream) because a short ways downriver leads to the top of a dam that's nearly impossible to see from your canoe. Again, no signage or buoys to alert you.
     Paddling upriver you quickly pass beneath the road bridge and shortly come to several islands with narrow channels between them. Although you are just behind the Villages main street it feels quite wild here and you'll see lots of birds. You can get out and explore ledges below a 3rd dam and see foundations and stonework of long gone industry. As you head back towards the take-out keep to the right and don't go beyond the RR trestle to be on the safe side.

     The final and most appealing pool is located on Rock Street. This is reached by turning left immediately after crossing the river bridge and before going under the RR overpass. Follow Rock Street a short ways and after a sharp right turn look for a small riverside park on the left. It's an attractive spot with an easy launch. Again, be sure to head upstream, to your right because there's a dam just below the put-in.

     From the park there are several miles of pleasant paddling. Rt. 29 parallels the river and you will see and hear traffic but it's not that distracting. Eagles and ospreys are seen here and rock outcrops provide interest. The water can be shallow in may have to search for a channel deep enough for passage. Past the Greenwich Town Beach on the left you begin to notice more of a current. Water level and ambition will determine how far upstream you go. For those who want to do the entire section it may be a better idea to put-in at H&V's Center Falls access point and come downriver, but remember that you'll need to do a car shuttle with that option. However you approach it, this is an enjoyable part of the river. Just remember to stay left and look for the park as you come downstream.


     From Center Falls well into Vermont the Battenkill is a lovely free flowing river renowned for its clarity and its scenery. But it can also be crowded at times with conflict between fishing, tubing and boating and the water level can be too low or too high for easy paddling. You'll want a plastic boat (because of rocks) and you'll need to shuttle which makes one person trips impractical. For all these reasons and more I'm grateful for the flatwater pools of the lower 'Kill and return to them again and again. They are nothing to 'whine' about. 


     You could put your boat in at Manchester, Vermont and paddle all the way to the Hudson in one push. I'm sure people have done it. In fact, Walter Burmeister describes such a trip in Appalachian Waters 2: The Hudson River and Its Tributaries. I'ld like to hear from anyone else who has completed that adventure. Water levels and getting around some of the lower dams, particularly at Dionondahowa, would be the challenges. Till you're ready for that epic here are links to my day trip posts of the lower pools.

     * Confluence of Battenkill and Hudson.

     * Pulp Mill pool.

     * Below Dionondahowa.

     * Above Middle Falls.  

On the river above Middle Falls.



     The world is a crowded place and it's only going to get more so. That behooves us to make the most of finite resources. There are a lot of demands placed on the Battenkill. Various and sometimes at odds recreational pursuits as well as the need for irrigation, power generation and industrial use. I believe all can be accommodated with careful planning and consideration for others. The H&V mills are a good example. They produce necessary products, provide employment and facilitate other uses of the river. 
     All the dams on the Battenkill are owned by somebody and all are placed on public property - the river and its bed. If they serve a good purpose that's fine but other river activities should be taken into account. Is a warning sign and a way around them too much to ask? 

Ready for a wild ride? This is all you see just before going over a dam.