Thursday, April 21, 2022

Eat Slay Love?

     Knock knock.

     Who's there?


     Hungry who?

     Hungry wolves, bears and mountain lions. And this 

     is no joke.


     Obviously, 'Knock Knock' jokes aren't my forte. But my point is that if you live in a cosy village where the most feared animal is your neighbors toy poodle, it can be hard to identify with the circumstances of the first colonists in our area.

     In Their Own Voices - Oral Accounts of Early Settlers In Washington County, New York Winston Adler has edited stories originally collected by Dr. Asa Fitch in the mid 1800's. Some of the elderly that Fitch spoke with had memories stretching back before the Revolution, to the times of first settlement. Wild animal encounters are among those memories. One, from the 1700's, is the time Hamilton McCollister entered his rough cabin in Salem to find a dead catamount lying on the floor, apparently the victim of ingesting unguentum kept there. Later that night McCollister saw two gleaming eyes peering thru the hole the big cat had gnawed in his door. Eventually he took a shot at the eyes and in the morning found a second lion, perhaps the mate of the first, dead at his door. Then, a few years later, his wife watched helplessly as a bear carried away their sow pig from in front of the same cabin.

     In 1789 Moses Harris of Queensbury killed another panther with a trip wire to a gun pointed at a hog carcass the animal was feeding on. Then there was the 1801 wolf hunt in the Kingsbury Swamp which eliminated ten or eleven of the large predators. Stories were told of sheep being chased by wolves where the terrified flock ran into homes for protection. Over in the eastern hills, John McEachron remembered the time a steer turned up missing. After some searching they found a bear feeding on the animal. Neighbors were called to help but when their dogs attached, the bruin just swatted them away like they were flies. It took 13 bullets pumped into him before the beast was finally subdued. It was claimed that the bear weighted 1200 - 1300 pounds!

     In our area (the upper Hudson Valley) the relationship between humans and wild animals has been evolving since the last glacier receded some 13,000 years ago. As the land warmed and vegetation returned, grazing animals moved in. Wooly mammoths, mastodons, moose-elk, giant longhorn bison, caribou and musk oxen were followed and hunted by Paleo-Indians. It's theorized that some of the big mammals were actually hunted to extinction. As the climate warmed and fluctuated the connection between game and people morphed. Moose, deer, bear and smaller prey were killed and eaten but they were also respected, becoming an important part of the civilizations mythology and culture. To the Iroquois turtles, bears and wolves were highly revered.

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     As we've already noted, the early European settlers, with their domestic livestock and agricultural traditions, saw wild animals as a threat. Over time and with increasing security and leisure, the idea of hunting as sport took hold. Today, hunting is still popular in Washington County with white tailed deer being the most sought quarry. While blood sports are a cherished tradition among some, they are not without controversy, with others considering them as outdated and barbaric as slavery and child beating.

     Particularly controversial is the practice of hunting coyotes with dogs. This involves releasing hounds with GPS collars in an area where coyotes might be. The handler remains parked in his pickup truck, tracking the dogs until they stop, indicating that they have cornered something. He then follows the signal to the dogs and shoots the coyote. In New York the season runs from October 1 to March 27 with no bag limits while in neighboring Vermont there are currently no regulations whatsoever, although public outcry has resulted in proposed legislation. Even some ardent sportsmen/hunters seem uncomfortable with the activity.

The caption on this web image reads:
"Great fun today for these predator hunters."

     My experience here on the farm is that coyote hunters never ask for permission. The dogs are, of course, oblivious to property lines. You can tell where the hunters sit and wait by the Stewarts coffee cups they throw out the window. Once the hounds have circled their prey the hunters feel they have an absolute right to recover their dogs and kill the coyote whose body has no use and is left to lay where it falls.

     This is considered sport by some but it's not hard to see why it's repulsive to others. There seems to be an arc to our killing of other living things. Initially it was for food and survival, then to eliminate threats and now just for idle amusement. Everyone will have their own take on the social and ethical issues involved but man's propensity for violence, whether to our own or to other species, is hard to deny and harder to justify.

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Wily's World...

     Coyotes are one of 37 species in the canid family of mammals. Found world wide, these carnivores range from the over six foot long gray wolf to the diminutive fennec fox at less than a foot. Of course, the most familiar member of the family is the domestic dog with an estimated billion plus 'Fidos' worldwide. Wild canids found in our area include the red fox, the gray fox and the coyote. Wolves were once common but are now gone from the state.

     Coyotes (C. latrans) evolved in the midwest and moved into New York in the 1930's, taking over the niche left by the extirpation of the wolf and the mountain lion. Genetic research finds the eastern coyote to be 64% western coyote, 26% wolf and 10% domestic dog. At one time they were called coy-dogs. They weight between 35# and 45#, being smaller than wolves but larger than foxes, and capable of running for short bursts up to 40mph.

     They are not pack animals but do form family groups. They have a home range, are monogamous and mate for life. Their familiar vocalizations include yelps, howls and yaps often heard at night when the animals are most active. Litters average about six pups and coyotes are most territorial when they are denning in late spring and early summer, at which time they can be a threat to wandering pets. There have been a couple of records of them killing humans but this is extremely rare. By comparison, on average 650 people are hospitalized and one person killed by domestic dogs in New York State every year.

     For a few years there was a three legged coyote who would trot along side me while I was mowing hay. She probably lost one limb in a trap, the same devices that cause havoc with dogs. This gal knew that the mowing machine left field mice exposed and thus an easy meal. She and her family also kept my fields free of woodchucks. Their holes and mounds are a problem that can damage farm equipment. It's also possible that she kept deer in check, a valuable ecological service in the absence of other large predators. It was a sad day when she turned up missing, no doubt the victim of hounds and hunters. Another bit of wild and free nature taken away.  


Wile E. Coyote waiting for Road Runner to deliver his mail?
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Saturday, April 9, 2022

It's Monumental

     "Tell me a story, Mommy".

     Most of us have voiced those words, although for some (like me) it was many years ago. 

     But, "Tell me a story, Mr. Rock"? That's probably less commonly heard, yet that's what I found myself saying just the other day. I was standing alongside busy Rt. 4, looking at a chunk of granite and, while this may surprise you, the rock obliged with a tale of hardship and heroism from the early days of the Revolutionary War.

     Of course, the rock didn't actually speak words. But a bronze plaque affixed to it did tell of the arduous winter journey of General Henry Knox as he and his men hauled sixty tons of captured cannons by ox team some 300 miles from Crown Point to Boston allowing General George Washington to end the British siege of the city.

     The 'Knox Rock' is located at the turn-off to Fort Miller and, as I was soon to discover, it is just one of dozens between here and Hudson Falls. That's a lot of stones and a lot of stories. Such monuments are meant to commemorate a person, a place or an event. Cemeteries are, of course, the most familiar expression of our desire to memorialize. Every headstone bears witness to a precious life and walking amongst them can be a moving experience.

State Street Cemetery in Fort Edward

     Then there are the blue post and plaque signs with yellow lettering that offer an historical tidbit about the spot where they're placed. But there's something about a hefty chunk of rock standing by itself. A gravitas that says, "Stop. Read my words. Remember this."

     I know. We're all in a hurry. Places to go, schedules to keep. I've driven by these markers hundreds of times paying no heed. Until one day I did. Stopped, took notice. I was surprised at how many there were and I probably missed a few as well. I snapped a few photos and took brief notes at each. I hope they're of interest but my real desire is to open your eyes to the monuments of wherever you are. Something happened here. Someone took the time and effort to place a landmark. All that is asked of us is to stop, read and remember.

     Let's begin our tour a little south of Fort Edward where this marble stone marks the first burial site of Jane McCrea along with a soldier named Tobias Van Vechten.

     Entering the Village of Fort Edward you'll see this plaque with historical information about the Old Fort House, seen in the background.

This one takes some searching. It's located at the end of Old Fort Street between Rt. 4 and the Hudson River, literally in someone's backyard. There's a bench here if finding the site of the fort tires you out.


     You could easily spend a day exploring Fort Edward's Rogers Island. There is a museum to visit and grounds to walk where you'll see a number of monuments pictured in the photos below.

     Two stones at the entrance to Underwood Park in the center of Fort Edward Village.


     Jane McCrea again. She's a really big deal in Fort Edward history. This marker is to the right of the school on a bank between spruce trees. Just a short distance up the street is another Knox Trail monument.



       Union Cemetery is across Rt. 4 from the Washington County office complex, midway between Fort Edward and Hudson Falls. Just inside the entrance you'll see three stones in a wrought iron enclosure. They mark the graves of Duncan Campbell,  Sarah McNeil and the (final?) resting place of Jane McCrea.

     Juckett Park is the handsome village green in the center of Hudson Falls. It's home to a number of monuments that recall everything from an early massacre to a recent tragedy.

      Finally, in front of the Hudson Falls Village offices and library is another of the Knox Trail series along with stones remembering two famous sons, a diplomat and a poet. 

     It's only fitting that the poet William Bronk have the last words:

What Foot

We are shoes it wears for the time and then discards.
Nothing wears them again. Memorials,
they show for awhile what foot and where it walked.