Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Lighten Up

     The fire popped and exploded into a nova of sparks. They shot towards the stars before drifting down to blink out on the snowy ground. Sort of like my thoughts which burst forth full of light and energy, then sort of fizzle.

     I was at Eagleville, burning brush and deadfall at my woodlot. Ideal conditions: no wind and good snow cover but I was still having second thoughts. The Scotch Pine that Lee Wulff had planted many years ago were dying, falling over in a pick-up-sticks jumble that made it hard to walk. Much like what's happening across the arid West, they could provide fuel for wildfire should we get a severe summer drought. They had no economic value but what were the ecological considerations? Did they provide habitat for wildlife? build soil organic matter? sequester carbon?

     Lacking absolute knowledge and conviction, I chose compromise (politicians, are you listening?). I decided to clean-up a few spots where we could park, picnic and camp while leaving the rest to nature. So there I was, on one of the shortest days of the year, waiting for my little bonfire to burn itself out. Just a small circle of flickering illumination amongst somber trees. Beyond, there was nothing but gloom and whatever lurked in it.

     Being alone with fire in the cold darkness is primordial. It connects us with our earliest ancestors. Small comfort in warmth and light. Maybe it's that experience we are trying to recreate when we bring trees into our homes, stringing them aglow. Cheery, colorful lights are my favorite part of the season. As I threw snow onto the last dying embers of my bonfire I was already looking forward to the drive home, to the rainbow scenes of Christmas lights that I'ld see along the way. 


The covered bridge is like a portal to times gone by

A little tree in the window, a big tree in the yard

Color adorns garage and fence


At Argyle Brewing - cheer within and out

The footbridge shimmers

By the library


The library entrance 
Colorful flowers in summer, colorful lights in winter

Red, white and blue and other colors too

A sea of trees 

Big tractors, little lights 


     Jupiter and Mars are the bright Christmas stars (ok, planets) but dimmer Saturn is also visible in early evening and with a little luck you might be able to catch Mercury, Venus and the Moon right after sunset. What a wonderful gift light is ...

From the Sky & Telescope website


     Listening to NPR today (12/22) I heard Brian Mann's story about Wild Lights at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake. A snowy forest filled with color and music. Made me want to go. Check out their Facebook page for neat videos and more info.

From The Wild Center


Thursday, December 1, 2022

Over His Shoulder

Portrait from Cutshall-King's website


     I regret never having met Joseph Cutshall-King. The author and historian died in early October. He grew up in Fort Edward and lived in Cossayuna with his wife Sara. Many knew him from his years at the Chapman Museum in Glens Falls. He also held positions at the Park-McCullough House in North Bennington, Vermont and SUNY Adirondack as well as being the official Washington County Historian for a number of years. He had a self-proclaimed "mania for history".

     From 1994 to 2003 Cutshall-King wrote a column in the Glens Falls Post-Star. It was called 'Over My Shoulder' and many of his essays were subsequently published in three books by the same name. Though the man is gone, some of his vast historical knowledge lives on in these volumes. 

           It's sometimes stated that what distinguishes the human species from all others is our ability to pass on an ever expanding body of knowledge from one generation to the next. On an institutional level that is the function of schools, colleges and libraries. But it is also accomplished one on one as we fulfill our roles as parents and mentors.

     The more we know about a place, the deeper our connection to that place becomes. This relationship can be a rewarding part of a life well lived. To that end I am grateful to those who share their insights into Washington County, the Adirondacks and Vermont. People like Joesph Cutshall-King and his fellow historians, including those I often contact (even pester?) when researching a post. Then there are those who share what they've learned about the natural world on field trips and guided walks. I'm thinking of people like Ed Landing, Kerry Wood, Jerry Jenkins, Sue Van Hook, Laurie LaFond and others.

Ed Landing explaining Taconic geology along the Mettawee River

A birdwalk at the Grasslands

     There's nothing like person to person interaction but books and the web cast a wider net, reaching more people over a greater breath of time. Hardly an evening goes by that I don't pull a volume off the shelf and learn from someone whom I've never met. Cutshall-King's Over My Shoulder collections being a perfect example. 

Never met Captain Godfrey 
but learned a lot from his book

Here's someone I have met...
my wife's book about her Mom

     The thing is, we all can and should play a role in this grand enterprise of passing on knowledge. Don't think of yourself as an author? Neither did my wife but with encouragement she leaned into the task and produced a little gem of a book about growing up while her Mom made history with record breaking swims of Lake George and Lake Champlain. You can share what you know via a blog or podcast, by live or recorded story telling (oral history) and thru self-publishing. Or you can simply take a youngster for a walk in the woods, pointing out an abandoned cellar hole, the place where Natives once camped, how the glaciers molded a drumlin. Who knows? you might just be inspiring a future historian. 

     * Joesph Cutshall-King's books are available from local libraries and booksellers. He also did a few podcasts of his columns that you can listen to here. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022


     This may sound strange, even a little un-American, but I belong to a cult that doesn't watch football on Sunday afternoons. Instead, we have our own autumn rituals. Things like going for a hike, a bike ride or a late season paddle. Sometimes we even spend the day (gasp!) visiting art museums.

     That's what Gwenne, Holly and I did recently. Took the short drive to Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. The campus is a pleasure in itself. Usually I come here to walk and botanize in the North Woods. There you'll find a network of trails in a forested area adjacent to the college. But in early fall it's enjoyable to stroll on the more manicured grounds amongst the classrooms and dorms. Something about the start of a new academic year and the fresh energy of students from all over the world... 

Holly's photos of Skidmore campus

     But the real focus of our outing was the Tang Teaching Museum and a new exhibit called Parallax. I'm a sucker for anything about astronomy (or its more down to earth cousin - geology). That's why I wanted to see the show. I'ld heard it was about stars. Well, it sort of is. Just not quite in the way I had anticipated. Artists see things differently, and seeing things from a different perspective is what the installation is all about.

The Tang Teaching Museum

     Our understanding of the universe is expanding as fast as, well, as fast as the universe itself is expanding. I'm fascinated by Hubble and Webb images, intrigued by the latest research and discoveries and baffled and amused by the ideas of those 'out-there' theoretical physicists (worm holes, multiverses, stars with consciousness!).

Hubble image

     There's scientific study of the heavens and then there is simple wonder. Every clear night I go outside and look up. No tech, no magnification, no thought to spectral analysis or red shift. Just the Moon, the stars and the planets working their magic on me as they have on others since the very beginning.

At the Tang

     The question theTang exhibit poses is whether we all see the same thing when we look up. An introduction calls parallax "a metaphor for shifting perspective" that "reminds us that no two cultures, nations or minds perceive the apparently 'universal' universe in the same way." It seems our relationships with the cosmos, the ultimate 'place' is as diverse as our relationships with more plebeian places: our town, county, region. I have to admit, not all of the art spoke to me. Some of it seemed odd, strained, indecipherable. I'm happy checking out the APOD, reading Sky and Telescope and simply looking up at night, just like I've always done. But that's me and you may react differently. See how your perspective matches others at the Tang, where Parallax: Framing the Cosmos is on view till next June. 



     * I believe students lead tours every Sunday afternoon, making that a good time to visit. Unfortunately, I didn't get the name of the young lady who gave our tour. She was great. Her insights plus the comments of others on the tour enhanced my appreciation of the art. Go to the Tang's website for more info.


     * Artist Alyson Shotz (Entanglement) will talk with several Skidmore faculty in the Dunkerley Dialogue at 6pm on Thursday, November 17 in the Billie Tisch Center for Integrated Sciences.

    * It's a good week for skywatching with Jupiter and Mars dominating the evening scene. You'll also want to keep an eye out for meteors. The Taurids are noted for the occasional fireball and the Leonids should peak early Friday morning, November 18th.

Web image

     * Also wanted to share Carl Heilman's photo of the lunar eclipse from earlier this month:

Carl Heilman photo

Finally, todays double take...

I heard NASA was going back to the Moon but didn't know 
they were launching from Fort Edward. Seen along Rt. 4 south of the village.


Saturday, October 29, 2022

Gone Girls


     Pauline Kael explained the title of a collection of her film reviews thus:

"perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies. This appeal is what attracts us, and ultimately what makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this."

     In particular, she was referring to the ever popular James Bond movies. All about action and adventure with some KISS KISS once the bad guy has been 'given the boot' (see, for example, The Living Daylights). Now, I've got nothing against spending a few hours with 007, especially if popcorn and cold beer are involved. But what if we want something a little deeper? What if we want something that challenges our sense of relationship with the natural world? Then it might be time to watch the 1975 Australian film Picnic at Hanging Rock

      Paradoxically, Peter Weir's haunting story of a Valentines Day outing gone awry seems perfect around Halloween. In the beginning, we hear a young woman reciting lines from an Edgar Allan Poe poem: "All that we see or seem, Is but a dream within a dream." These words set the mood for all that follows. It's 1900 and the girls of Mrs. Appleyard School are preparing for a day trip to the volcanic landmark known as Hanging Rock. But first they exchange Valentine cards and looks of longing. The young women are seen thru a gauze of sensuality and repressed desire. Our eyes are drawn to Miranda, later described as a 'Botticelli Angel'. In some scenes the stern visage of Queen Victoria looks down from a picture on the wall.

     Later, the students and their chaperones picnic at the base of the cliff. But Weir's camera turns Hanging Rock into something more than geologic scenery. We believe nature is there for our use, our enjoyment. But what if the natural world has a will of its own? Miranda and several other girls are drawn to explore the 'dangerous' rock and what happens to them up there is the mysterious heart of the story.

     Like all good films, this one unfolds in memorable images. The stolid rigidity of the Appleyard School balanced by the ragged wildness of Hanging Rock. Turkeys in a flock and a solitary swan. Corsets as symbols of repression and escaping them as freedom. The girls pure white dresses vs. the somber colors the adults wear. Miss McCraw's stoic mask of a face telling of 'eruptions from below'.

     The inexplicable makes us uneasy. We turn to religion or Fox News for 'truth' and assured answers. But isn't there something deep within us drawn to the unknowable? Halloween brings the kitsch of ghosts and goblins, witches and werewolves. Haunted Houses can be fun this time of year but I think I'd rather watch Picnic at Hanging Rock again. Then do a little wild wandering. Maybe beneath craggy Sleeping Beauty Mountain or at the bottom of the Shelving Rock cliffs. Maybe spend a moonlight evening on Starks Knob. Just let the landscape work its own scary magic. 


     Note that Hanging Rock is a real place a little north of Melbourne, Australia. And, yes, it's said to have some weird vibes. If I had tons of money and a butt that could take a very long plane ride I'ld be spending Halloween there. Fortunately, I can ride my bike to Starks Knob for free so that will have to do.


Monday, October 10, 2022

Let's Visit

     My new-found popularity takes some getting used to. Seems like everybody wants me to stop by for a visit. Just recently I've received invitations from Florida and Puerto Rico (or what's left of them), from New Hampshire (something about colored leaves) and even Nebraska where they claim "We'd install mountains, but they'd just block the view." I'm guessing you've gotten the same invites. You can't thumb thru a magazine or surf the web without being inundated with ads to travel here and tour there. 

     So there are places ready for us, but are we ready for them? We get out of a place what we put into it. It doesn't matter if it's where we live or where we visit. Knowledge of the nature, the culture, the history of a place enriches the experience of being there. There are guidebooks of various sorts to just about everywhere. And there is the internet with its infinite flood of information, some useful and some suspect. But there's another alternative that's caught my attention recently. It's the Visitors Center and there are several new ones in our area.

Battlefield Visitors Center
(web image)

     Probably most familiar to travelers are the buildings you encounter as you enter a national park. We have one at the Saratoga National Historical Park that's well worth a tour. A short distance away, in nearby Schuylerville, the Champlain Canal Region Gateway Visitors Center is due to have its grand opening on Saturday, October 8. It's an impressive post and beam building built by the Timber Framers Guild.


     The Gateway is the creation of the Historic Hudson/Hoosic Rivers Partnership, but Lakes to Locks is also involved and all manner of local organizations and government entities have contributed. It's claimed that over 10,000 cars pass by everyday on Rt. 29. The Empire State Trail brings cyclists and pedestrians right to the building and it's a short walk up from the Schuyler Yacht Basin where those cruising the canal often dock.

     Inside you'll find a nice mix of displays, everything from the geology of the area to industry and commerce. When I stopped by last week there was still some ongoing work but I could easily have spent hours taking it all in. It has been open Thursday thru Sunday from 10am to 3pm for several months now. That probably won't continue into winter so stop by in the next few weeks or wait till next spring. One thing I really liked about the Gateway Visitors Center is that it's staffed by friendly, knowledgeable people. I enjoyed talking to a guy from Salem who was brimming with information and enthusiasm for our area. He'll turn visitors into residents in no time.

This towpath mule looks like he could use some oats and hay
Alongside the new Gateway Visitors Center

     The Adirondack Welcome Center between exits 17 and 18 of the Northway has been open for several years now but I swung in for the first time just a few days ago. It's the Taj Mahal of local visitors centers, somewhat notorious for costing many millions to build. Whether it's more than a fancy place to stop and pee is an open question. 

Anyone feel left out?


     You enter on something called the Adirondacks Walk of Fame. It features bronze plaques honoring famous(?) ADKers that are  imbedded in the sidewalk. I recognized most but not all of the names. If you were up from New Jersey this would be a head scratcher. Maybe there is more information somewhere about who they are and their claim to fame but I didn't see it.

For many years Grace kept track of all aspiring 46'ers,
but I wonder how many people know that?


     Inside is a huge map of the Adirondack Park laid out in the floor with a soaring, vaulted ceiling rising above. A video screen fit for a movie theatre plays scenes of rivers, lakes and summits. In another corner are vending machines with a selection of 'Made in New York' snack items. I saw a few brochures on racks but nobody that could answer questions. I was left with the impression that the welcome center is more about glorifying New York than being a source of useful information. 

I love NY now playing at a visitors center near you.
This is a shot of the video screen at the Adirondack Welcome Center

     Head up the Northway a few miles and you'll come to Lake George. Here there are two visitors centers worthy of the name. At the corner of Canada Street and Beach Road look for an attractive building nicely landscaped. Sure there is a lot of promotional literature for restaurants, lodging and attractions (this is a tourist town after all) but there's also a neat raised relief map of the lake and surrounding mountains as well as several other interesting displays. Every time I've stopped there's been a staff person who cheerily answers questions and makes the extra effort to find whatever info you need.

      A short scenic walk along Beach to Fort George Road will bring you to the Lake George Battlefield Park Visitor Center. It opened earlier this year in a new building. The interpretive exhibits are on the ground floor accessed from the side facing the lake while offices of the Lake George Park Commission and the DEC are above. A public campground, the Million Dollar Beach and boat launch, and the Lake George Battlefield Park all cluster around the Visitor Center. The Festival Commons and restored Fort William Henry are adjacent to the west.

The view along Beach Road

The Visitor Center

     Most of the history focus's on the mid-1700's during the French and Indian Wars. The Center has an interesting mix of displays that bring the forts, the combatants and the battles to life. It seems to be staffed by volunteers from the Lake George Battlefield Park Alliance and during warmer seasons they offer Saturday morning guided tours of the Park. I tagged along on a tour recently and found the pairing of time spent in the Visitor Center along with the guided walk to be a great way to appreciate the tumultuous events that have taken place on these grounds.


     I'm sure there are others but these are a few visitors centers I've been to or heard of:

* The Rogers Island Visitors Center & Museum is in Fort Edward. Exhibits on this important Colonial Wars site.

* The Mohonk Preserve Visitors Center near New Paltz with interpretation of the unique geology and wildlife of the area.

* SUNY-ESF's Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb has both a building with exhibits and several miles of trails.

* Paul Smiths VIC is located in the northern Adirondacks. There's a lot going on here both inside and out. Many miles of trails to explore and lots of water to canoe. Also a unique Butterfly House.

* The former Cascade Ski Center between Keene and Lake Placid was bought by the Adirondack Mountain Club last year and turned into a year-round Welcome Center. More 'Welcome News' ...  there will still be skiing in the winter.


     When you get your property tax bill in Washington County it includes a break down of how the money is spent. One recent year showed eleven cents out of every hundred dollars going to promote tourism. In this very conservative place even that measly amount is controversial.
     Warren, Washington and Saratoga Counties are sometimes referred to as siblings connected by the umbilical of the upper Hudson River. But Washington seems to be the poor step-sister of the family. Perhaps that's because the other two share another cord, I 87 (aka The Adirondack Northway) an interstate that tends to funnel more business, development and dollars to them. Some of those dollars come from tourism generated by the city of Saratoga Springs and by the natural beauty of Lake George. 
     The impetus for visitors centers and tourism promotion is ultimately economic. Travelers spend money. While there are many individuals and businesses in Washington County that do profit from tourism, the industry doesn't seem to have the recognition and support that it enjoys in neighboring Vermont or the Adirondacks. Indeed, there are many here that embrace a 'Just go away' mentality. I've never seen a place with so many forbidding NO TRESPASSING and POSTED signs. Not exactly rolling out the welcome mat.


    A selection of 'cute' signs. I've seen ones like these all around Washington County but it seems a little safer to take them off the web than to shoot them on site. Something about that word 'shoot' ...