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.