Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thoughts for a Snowy Day

The storm came...and the storm went (see new header photo, taken this morning). By 1:00 yesterday afternoon we heard rumors that Raquette Lake already had six inches of snow. This morning schools to the west of us and schools to the north of us are closed. Newcomb got about five inches of snow, some fluffy, some heavy and wet. As I suspected, most of the storm missed us.

Which is fine with me! Who wants to be schlepping heavy wet snow in October?

The bad news is that half of our Hallowe'en Program has been cancelled. Every year we do a special Hallowe'en Program for the K-4th graders in Newcomb and Long Lake, but thanks to the weather, this year it will only be Newcomb. It's a neat program, which is on a five-year cycle. Each year we feature three animals that have bad reputations or are somehow related to Hallowe'en, and we do mini-programs on them. Afterwards the kids all get home-made snacks. This year the segments are on bats, owls and skeletons. The bats, of course, are done by yours truly. I've transformed the exhibit hall into a bat cave, draping the exhibit panels with black felt and hanging some of my bats strategically about. The kids have to don hardhats before entering the cave, and we have to be very very quite so that we don't disturb the bats. I also feature a lot of bat books, of which there are many these days just for kids.

AND SPEAKING OF WHICH! If you are a bat-lover like I, then you will want to check out the two bat books by Brian Lies: Bats at the Beach and Bats in the Library. My eye was caught by the latter as I was walking by the bookstore in Lake Placid last week. Being a collector of all things batty, I had to add it to my collection. The illustrations are priceless, and the rhyming story is delightful! I will be getting Bats at the Beach soon.

I've finally got my winter feeder up at my office window - birdseed instead of nectar. It certainly doesn't take the chickadees long to find it. Sometimes I think they have scouts posted, ready to spread the word when it finally appears full of food.

I also put out my feeders at home, but I'm sans seed at the present time. Which is fine, because I suspect the bears are still out and about and wouldn't be adverse to helping themselves to some fat-rich seeds. Still, many of the sunflowers I grew this summer remain upright and sporting their seedheads, so the birds are welcome to those!

Toby had a great time out in the snow yesterday evening - we had about an inch or so by 5:00. He ran around and around in darting circles, scooping up mouthfuls of snow and eager to play. I think we all love the first snowfall of the year - it adds something exciting to the dull greyness of late fall.

Monday, October 27, 2008

NYSOEA and the Chubb River

I am back from the NYSOEA conference (New York State Outdoor Education Association) and am rarin' to go!

It was a very good conference, and I added some new skills to my lexicon (such as making slate tools using stone age technology) and expanded my horizons (how to work with Generation Y). And I did indeed see many familiar faces - some of whom I knew and many others who looked very familiar but I just couldn't place them! The weekend was capped off with a wonderful paddle on the Chubb River with a group of four - what could be better!

The Chubb River
Things were looking rocky weatherwise on Saturday as we peered ahead towards a Sunday morning paddle. Newcomb was hit with over 2" of rain, gale force winds were whipping up the western portions of the Park. But Sunday morning dawned clear! As I was out putting the canoe on my car a o-dark-thirty (okay, it was about 6:00 AM), the stars overhead were glittering at their most spectacular. Orion, the Big Dipper - all my celestial friends were there. This boded well.

I drove into Lake Placid as the sun came up - blinding me as I crested the hill into town. With the fog still settled over the village, it was really quite pretty. I pulled in early, so I curled up with my book by the fireplace of the hotel. At 8:40 we rolled out of the parking lot and headed for the river.

The Chubb River flows through Lake Placid, coming in near the railroad tracks, flowing through the mill pond next to Placid Boatworks, under the road that heads out towards the ski jumps, and on out of town. Access is down a side road (Averyville Road) and is not marked. If you slow down and look carefully, on the south side of the road there is an itty bitty pull-off and a DEC sign tacked to a tree. From here it is about a 120 yard carry down the hill and through the woods to the water's edge.

We launched our two boats and piled in. The fog had things pretty well covered still, making us all glad for an extra layer of warm clothes. Upstream we headed. Chickadees (black-capped), nuthatches (red-breasted) and kinglets (golden-crowned) greeted us from the shores as we paddled along the slow-moving water and into the first marshy bit (noted for the very large home perched on the shoreline slope to our right as we rounded a bend). The first mile and a half is a very pleasant paddle. Pine siskins joined in the early morning song- and feeding-fest, and ubiquitous blue jays called from the trees.

All too soon we could hear the rapids. After searching the shoreline, we found the carry, and thanks to all the rain the day before, it was a very wet carry, as in large sections of the trail were up to a foot or more under water! Cheers to our paddlers who carried the boats and slogged through the water! The carry is about a quarter mile long, according to Paul Jamieson in his book The North Flow. After putting back in, there is supposedly a three-mile stretch of easy paddling. We maybe did another mile when we encountered a beaver dam (lots of beaver activity all over). While it was a small dam and still in the making, it would've required another carry to get around it (or ramming speed and two strong paddlers), and we opted to turn back instead.

On the paddle back (more of a float and steer, actually), the sun was mostly behind us, and the fog was completely gone. Wild clematis (Clematis virginiana), aka: virgin's bower, was everywhere! We didn't see it on the way out, no doubt due to the fog and the sun in our eyes, but on the way back everything seemed to be draped in the long-haired flowerheads. Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) was fruited out and still had green leaves. Speckled Alder (Alnus incana), however, was THE dominant plant along the water's edge.

We had some great views of Street and Nye mountains, and the Sawtooth Range in the more open and marshy sections of the river. And as we approached the start/finish of the paddle, we saw a large stick nest in the top of a dead tree. Eagle? Osprey? More likely the latter, but since they've all moved on by now, we had no way to know for sure.

On a scale of one to ten, I'd give the Chubb an eight for ease of paddle, an eight for plant and bird life, and an eight for views. All in all a nice morning (or afternoon) paddle that doesn't require a lot of effort. I recommend going any day but after a heavy rainfall when the carry will be submerged!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

And The Beat Goes On

I haven't forgotten about the blog-o-sphere...I've just been terribly busy. Which is a good thing. It seems almost every day this month we've had a school group in, which is wonderful. Today's group cancelled due to the weather (there was a possibility of snow in the forecast - which so far hasn't happened), so I find I have a few free moments to drop a note on-line.

While "autumn is the season that I like the very best," I find that it doesn't provide a lot of easy nature stuff to write about. It's not like there are new flowers blooming, or new insects flying around, or birds feeding their young. Oh, there are certainly fascinating things happening, but who wants to read another essay about how leaves turn color, or why the birds are migrating southward?

As I look out my office window today, the world is grey and brown. The sky is grey, the tree trunks are grey. The leaves remaining on the trees are tan: American beech, which will hold onto their leaves through the winter. The wind is blowing, making the leaves shiver. And who can blame them - it's in the lower 40s out there and the temp is dropping, it's been raining, and snow is predicted. If I was left standing out there, I think I'd be shivering, too.

Looking back at this fall, it seems like it came and went in a heartbeat. The leaves, when they finally turned, were colorful en mass for about a week and a half, and then they dropped. The shaggy mane mushrooms erupted from the soil and self-digested within two days. Warblers came and warblers went. Even the migrating geese seemed to have consolidated their trips into about a two week window. And now the mountains are holding their collective breath and waiting for that first snowstorm (not counting the snow that has already fallen on the High Peaks).

This weekend I will be at the New York State Outdoor Education Association's annual conference, which this year is in Lake Placid. I'm hoping for good weather for the commute, and for the paddle on Sunday on the Chubb River. And I'm looking forward to making an ulu in one of the workshops! I expect I will see some familiar faces there - people I've worked with in the past. It should be a good time! And when I get back I should have plenty to share.

In the meantime, my brain-tanned and smoked deer hide has arrived and I will be trying to get up the courage to attempt learning quillwork on leather. It's one of those things that looks easy enough, but when you read about others trying it, it seems to be a lot more difficult that you anticipated.

We are also gearing up for our annual Halloween Program for the local schools. I have to start making bat tortillas, owl cookies, bone-shaped breadsticks...and preparing my portion of the program: bats. It's my favorite one of the cycle: I transform the exhibit "maze" into a bat cave, have the kids all don hardhats, and with my headlamp on, we enter to cave to learn about bats. The exhibit is draped in black cloth and I have many of my bats (I've quite the collection) hanging around. They will learn about the cultural as well as the natural history surrounding these animals. Our other staff will be doing similar bits about owls and skeletons. Afterwards, we have homemade Halloween-ish snacks. It's a lot of fun.

So, in case I don't get back to the blog before November (and Election Day), I hope you all have a Happy Hallowe'en!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Autumn Splendor

Just a quickie: the fall colors are GLORIOUS in North Creek and southward. If you have the chance to go out and travel today or tomorrow, while the sun remains out making for a lovley Indian Summer this weekend, then do so! Warrensburg is also spectacular! I'm off to Old Forge tomorrow, and I imagine the colors will be equally nice out that way.

Happy Leaf Peeping!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bluebirds in October?

Last Saturday (4th), while I was out stacking firewood, I could've sworn I heard bluebirds calling. Nah, I told myself - they've all flown south by now. Well, by golly, wouldn't you know that the next day I not only heard them, but I saw them - a small flock of bluebirds flitting about the trees and lawns of the neighborhood!

While part of me wants to believe that these are "my" bluebirds still hanging around, logic dictates that in reality they are probably more northerly birds who are passing through on their way southward. Perhaps our trees and yards are providing them with some much-needed insect meals to give them energy as they wing their way towards balmier climes.

Meanwhile, every day (and night) more and more Canada geese fly over - I hear their calls even if I don't get to see them.

Our autumn colors are now past peak. The rain and wind of the last week have done their work - the leaves are now falling steadily from the trees. The reds have come and gone, and now a gentle golden glow remains where the leaves are still hanging on. The southern portion of the Adirondacks is probably still approaching peak.

For those looking to camp and enjoy the fall foliage and crisp air, be aware that we are getting very hard frosts on a nightly basis now, and snow has been in the High Peaks for over a week now.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Attention Mushroom Maniacs!

Over the course of this summer we had a fair number of folks stopping in with mushroom ID questions, and while I find mushrooms interesting (the shaggy manes emerged overnight last night, by the way), I am hardly a mushroom expert.

Well, now we have an answer for all the mushroom fanciers out there: the new Adirondack Mushroom Club! Thanks to Bernie Carr, a group is now forming to address the needs of the mycological set.

They are having their first meeting this Saturday, 4 October, at 1 PM at the Cantwell Room of the Saranac Lake Library.

So go and check it out! Bring mushrooms to ID. Have a good time.