Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Toeing the Towpath

Monday I met with my friend Jackie for a beautiful day in the country. It was a gorgeous day, a true Indian Summer day, and we headed for the Saratoga Apple Orchard over near Schuylerville, in the foothills of the Adirondacks.

I wanted to stop here for apples because I knew they had Northern Spies, they don't spray any more than they must, and they even grow a few apples organically. Well, I loaded up a bag with Spies, then another with Ida Reds. A few Crispins and Honeycrisps filled out my purchase, as did some local tomatoes (Mmm). Jackie treated us to an apple cider donut and a cup of cider each. I am not a huge cider fan, but this was THE BEST cider I have ever had!!! I wonder if that's because they don't use fallen and damaged apples when they make it? Whatever the reason, it was very very yummy. And the donut was crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and not greasy at all! Gastronomically, I'd say this was the best cider and donut I've had in my life.

After we supped (dodging hungry yellowjackets the entire time), we drove to the canal down in Schuylerville to walk along the towpath.

This canal, built around 1905, runs right along the Hudson River. We wondered why they put a canal here when there was a perfectly good river right next to it. We encountered plenty of interpretive signs, but none answered this question. There must've been some characteristic of the river that made a slow-moving, mule-powered canal a better option for moving boats, but they weren't tellin' us.

The temps soared into the 60s, the trees were near peak in color. Cedar waxwings flitted through the tree branches, and we peered at plants and insects along the way.

Pokeweed (Phytolaca americana) was a surprise for me. I've always considered it a Southern plant, as in Virginia and Georgia. But here it was just south of the (Adirondack) border. The berries are simply one of the richest colors in the plant world palette.

And who knew that asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) grew berries when it goes to seed? My folks grew asparagus, and often it grew tall, leggy and ferny, but I never never never saw any berries on it. You learn something new every day.

One family living along the canal built this nice little bridge over it so they could cross easily to the towpath and the river. Another family had a little raft to ferry across by pulling the raft along a rope strung from one side to the other.

We came out at the lock, I think it was/is Lock #5, on our right. This was odd because the canal we were following was on our left.

We scrambled up the bank and crossed the road. A footbridge crosses the top of the lock (when the doors are closed). I was a little nervous crossing it - being able to see the water down below through the treads was a bit disconcerting. We didn't get to see any boats go through, but one had used the lock about fifteen minutes before we got there.

An official NYS boat was docked at the lock (locked at the dock?). It might be the lock-keeper's boat. It looks like something from many decades ago, doesn't it? There was also a small paddlewheel boat docked just upstream from the lock. Apparently they use it for canal tours.

The original channel of the canal that we'd been following (on our left) suddenly ended here. Literally. A dead end. It was very puzzling. The canal where the boats were docked ran next to this bit (to our right). What happened to cause the schism?

I liked these old (and crumbling) stairs that were next to the end of the canal. I wonder when they were built. Certainly not in the 17- or 1800s, but they had an ancient sort of look about them.

Because the towpath was gone here, we now followed a road that led from the lock towards the river, coming out along the way at a lovely little park.

An arbor of willows leads you to a good-sized stone labyrinth, which is flanked by the bow of a boat,

a hobbit hole (?),

a path with some lovely tiled stepping stones, and some interesting architecture.

This park was recently reclaimed from what apparently had been a dumping grounds for local people. Those who made the park have done a lovely job with it and should be commended in their efforts.

Our goal was this bridge, which crosses the Hudson River.

Plenty of Canada geese were taking their rest on the river upstream.

And there, maybe a quarter mile further upstream, was the possible reason for the canal: rapids.

It was now after 3:00 and I needed to be headed back north. We followed a footpath back towards the lock, passing some lovely virgin's bower (Clematis virginiana) along the way. This is one of my all-time favorite plants. It was the first plant I learned as a naturalist intern right out of college, although at that time I was taught it was called Old Man's Beard.

All in all, it was a perfect day. Thank you, Jackie, for another great tour around your neck of the woods!


Every year near Hallowe'en, we (the Visitor Interpretive Center here in Newcomb) do a Hallowe'en program for the two local schools (Newcomb and Long Lake). Students in grades K through 4 are invited to learn about three animals that are associated with Hallowe'en. Our staff of three (boss, seasonal, and me) each get a topic and a station. The kids are divided into three groups and rotate through each station, spending about a half hour at each one. Afterwards, we all feast on seasonally appropriate snacks. It's a good time.

The program runs on a five-year cycle, so that the kids in Kindergarten have a new program every year through fourth grade. Year 1: Bats, Owls and Skeletons. Year 2: Spiders, Cats, Ravens & Crows. Year 3: Snakes, Coyotes, Frogs & Toads. Year 4: Rats, Vultures, Newts. Year 5: Weasels, Raccoons and Skunks. Our goal is to teach kids the truth about animals who have bad reputations or who have been portrayed poorly due to the Hallowe'en season.

So, this year (Year 7), we were on Year 2 of Cycle 2: Spiders, Cats, Ravens & Crows. I, of course, was Spider Woman! I really do like spiders, and the more I learn about them, the more fascinating they become. For instance, did you know...

* ...spiders have light blue blood?

* ...spiders have special oils on the hairs on their feet so they won't stick to the sticky parts of their webs?

* ...not all spiders build webs, and most spider webs are not the large spokes & spiral contraptions that most of us envision when we think of spider webs?

* ...spiders do not have ears; they "listen" by feeling vibrations with the hairs on their legs?

* ...some spiders spend their entire lives under water?

* ...spider web is antibacterial and excellent to use as a bandage over bleeding wounds?

* ...some spiders are chameleon-like and can change their color to blend into their background?

I could go on and on (and some day I might).

Unfortunately, the only photo I have of the day is this one:

Fresh Graves, one of the snacks we made for the event. These are very tasty (with or without the tombstone), and relatively easy to make.

Dump a box of Devil's Food Cake mix into a bowl.

Add one cup sour cream.

Add one egg.

Mix until it looks like chocolate mousse.

Now comes the hard part. Scoop up some batter in your hand (I recommend using three fingers, like poi), and "shape" into a rectangle about 1"x 4" (good luck). Place on a greased cookie sheet. Make another one. These will really puff up when you cook them, so leave plenty of space between them.

Pre-heat oven 350 and pop these babies in for about 15 minutes. They are done when they spring back to your touch.

Meanwhile, make the headstones. I used Milano cookies, broken in half. The recipe said to pull apart the two cookies and scrape out the frosting, but Pepperidge Farm must've changed their recipe because the cookies are extremely brittle now and they do not pull apart, which is why I just broke them in half. Using black frosting, write your message on the headstone.

When the cake part is cool, cut a slit in the top. Dab a bit of chocolate frosting on the bottom of the cookie and shove it into the slit - the frosting will hold it there like glue. Voila! You are done.

You get 12-16 graves from a box of mix, depending on how big you make them.

Friday, October 23, 2009

You've GOT to Read This!

I am rapidly becoming the biggest fan of BLOGSMONROE (aka: Naturespeak). I just read the woolly bear post ( and found myself laughing the library.

Need a lift for your day? Then read this post. You won't be sorry.

I promise.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Attention Milkweed Aficionados

If you want to read a DELIGHTFUL article about milkweed, you must check out this link:

Our milkweed is only juuuust starting to split and let out its fluff, so I don't have any photos of my own...yet.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Playing with my New Toy, and other miscellaneous shots

I toured the Routes 28 and 28N loop this weekend. Stopped along the Hudson River to read the interpretive signage and look for photo opportunities. These bubbles were formed by the water rushing over rocks, so I tried to capture them "on film." Must've taken over 50 shots, and only about five came out without significant blurring. And look! There's a person in each bubble!

You just never know what you'll find in the woods. Is it a metal toilet? An old hardhat? Perhaps a funky hubcap?

Did you guess this is the inside of a wooden canoe? It was sitting outside a shop in Indian Lake, in the late afternoon sun, just begging to be photographed. I was happy to oblige.

Now, this is what kind of quality close-up (no cropping) you can get with a good macro lens. Yes, I bit the bullet and bought one...the urge was just too strong. But, oh, what a difference it makes! And it would be even sharper if I'd used the tripod. Ditto for the following photos.

Purple vetch flowers touched with frost.

Moss sporophyte, with operculum (the little cap underneath) still attached. Note the frost clinging to the sides of the capsule.

Frosty rosehips. Look sorta' like squids, don't they?

Monkshood with frost.

Hawkweed seed head with frost crystals. I think this is my favorite.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

At Least the Kids had Fun

This fall I agreed to do an aftershool program at one of our local schools. Nature hikes, that's what they wanted, so I said "Sure!" At this time of year, first graders are really just big kindergarteners, and most of the group is in first grade; the oldest is in fourth grade, and there's only one. Needless to say, I have my hands full!

Yesterday was our third program, and thankfully the sun was out (sort of), so we went for our hike (last week we made journals inside, thanks to the rain). As soon as they were out the door, they took off, heading right for the oak tree in front of the school.

Acorns were picked up by the handful and stuffed into pockets, but the big ticket item was the acorn caps. Why? Because one of the most important things you can take into the woods with you is a whistle, and if you forgot your whistle, you can always make one with an acorn cap! I taught them this on our first hike, and once they learned how to do it, well, let's just say it was a big hit.

We walked down the hill to the nature trail behind the local library. The gravel parking area was full of maple keys, and even though they were all dried out, I showed them how to split the seed end and stick them on their noses.

Milkweed pods are still quite green up here, but that didn't stop the kids from pocketing fistsful of them as well. Pods were soon ripped open to expose the not-quite-ripe-yet seeds inside.

Along the creek we encountered a common merganser. As you can probably guess, the kids just couldn't stand there quietly and watch. The poor bird swam upstream as rapdily as it could to escape the screaming horde, then turned tail and ran down stream, much to the shrieking delight of my charges.

We checked out the beaver dams, smelled the wild thyme, and drew in our newly made journals. By 4:00 it had become quite chilly out, so we headed back towards the school to meet the buses.

I find these programs to be very draining - two hours with a dozen little kids fresh out of school is enough to wear anyone out! You have to have eyes on the front, back and sides of your head to keep track of them all, and they all want your attention NOW. They'll ask a question non-stop until you give them your attention to answer, but they won't wait to hear what the answer actually is. At the end of the day I'm usually just glad that we all survived the experience and no one was hurt. But then I hear them the next week talking about what they learned the week before, or they come up to me and say "I can't wait until next week," or "How many more programs do we have, because I want to do this every week," and I realize that even though I can't see it at the time, these kids are really getting something out of these programs.

And, y'know, that makes it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sleigh Bells Ring

We had some fine fall weather this weekend - the sun was actually out and I was finally able to get some gardening done (including planting the garlic).

Crabapple Glow

Toby was happy because we got to play a little soccer! Nothing like a good romp after a soccer ball to fill your afternoon.

Is this a happy-looking dog or what?!?

We had a nice hard frost Monday morning - it lasted until after 9:30 AM! Toby and I were on our walk and I had to dash back home for the camera.

White Pine (Pinus strobus) seedling.

Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) - aka: Bird's Nest

I didn't ID this at the time. I think it's Blackberry, though (Rubus spp.)

But this morning, that all changed. This is what greeted me out the garage door:

Across the street a couple turkeys were taking it all in stride.

I decided to play with the camera and take some black and white shots of the snow. I kind of like the Ansel Adams look it gives to the landscape.

Some neighbors have some old farm equipment out front.
I love the nostalgic look.

Down at the Hudson River.

Of course by now it's all melted away, but it sure made for a pretty morning drive.

Update: according to Dear ol' Dad, the piece of farm equipment pictured above is "an old critter-powered road grader used to smooth dirt and gravel roads when they became rutted and full of holes. Too bad there isn't something similar for asphalt highway potholes!" Thanks, Dad!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Native American Festival

This last weekend was the Native American Festival in Saratoga. It wasn't listed as being a pow wow, but it turned out to be very much like other pow wows that I've attended.

There were many vendors, some with beautiful art work: native pottery, carvings, flutes, paintings, baskets, etc. There were also the cheap "Indian" stuff vendors - tacky colored feathers on leather strings that you clip to your hair, wooden whistles for kids, etc. There were also storytellers, singers and musicians. And, of course, the drummers and dancers.

The dancing is usually the highlight of these events. As usual, it started with a grand entry, wherein the flags enter the dance circle. This was followed by a veteran's dance, honoring those who fought for our country. No photos were to be taken during these dances. Afterwards, however, we were allowed to "shoot at will", photographically speaking. So, here are some of the images I took:

Group of women - note all the different styles of dress.

This gentleman was one of the veterans.
Vietnam, I believe.

This gentleman was/is a WWII vet.

Woman Dancer

This gentleman was one of the veterans. US Navy.

Jingle Dancer. These dancers are named for the jingles
on their dresses. Only women are jingle dancers.

This was the head man dancer, Don.

These two images are of a young man who is doing a Grass Dance.
The Grass Dance, apparently, was done to prepare an area
for an encampment or ceremony; the steps of the dance
are done in a specific way to flatten the grass.
The long yarns on his outfit mimic the tall grass of the prairies.

This man was the fanciest of the men dancers.

Another of the men dancers. I believe he is Oneida.