Monday, January 3, 2011

2010 Retrospective

2010 was a year of many changes in my life.

In January we found out that the state's financial crisis was such that environmental education was no longer a going concern. The staff at the two Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers were the first to feel the headman's axe, but we wouldn't be the last. By December twelve of NY's sixteen environmental educators, and four outdoor education centers, were cut from the system.

Thus began a year of uncertainty. I spent many hours traveling to job interviews. I drove to one interview in a blizzard,

and another in a heatwave.

From Maine,

to Maryland and finally Michigan, I put hundreds of miles on my car. There were phone interviews in Texas, Wisconsin, and Indiana, and applications sent to Washington, Montana, Illinois, and more. Luck was finally with me this fall in Michigan.

Yet despite the dread that comes with pending unemployment, there was a lot of joy in my life this last year. Much of that was due to one special lady:

Jackie is one of those rare people you meet if you are very lucky in life. When Rachel Carson wrote how if she could have a word with the good fairy who blesses all children at birth she'd ask her to give them a sense of wonder that would never go away, she never knew that the good fairy followed through on this wish in the person pictured above. I met Jackie a couple years ago and found in her a botanizing friend whose keen interested and love of plants (and nature in general) left me in awe. Thanks to her enthusiasm and joy in sharing her finds, I added many, many new plants to my life list.

green violet

maidenhair fern (not new, but delightful at any time)

nodding trillium

yellow ladies slipper


dwarf sand cherry

star-flowered solomon's seal

spiked nutrush

tubercled orchid

and racemed milkwort, to name but a few.

Wildlife also came into my life. Every spring I watched for the wood turtles as they crept from the woods to lay their eggs by the sides of the roads. I've never seen a single nest hatch out babies, but perhaps one day they will.

I delight in snakes, and red-bellied snakes are among my favorites. This darling guarded my vegetable garden.

I've seen but a very few porcupines in my life, and each one has taken me by surprise. This one was ambling along the road one afternoon as I drove home from The City. I slammed on the brakes and backed up, grabbed my camera, and leapt from the car only in time to get a quick shot before it disappeared into the wetland.

I watched this delightfully fluffy peep as it scurried among the rocks of the Ice Meadows in search of its mother, who was flying nearby.

I also spent some time with another Adirondack botanical legend: my friend Evelyn. Evelyn is a botanist of the old school variety, who knows her plants like the back of her hand. Bryophytes are a special favorite of hers, but she also knows the secret places where rare wildflowers grow.

showy ladies slipper

northern green orchid

pink pyrola

Evelyn discovered a "field of boulders" that has confounded many a geologist. Tafoni, they are called, and are stunning in their formations, which are riddled with holes that defy the imagination.

I watched a bumblebee seeking pollen in the confines of gentian, buzzing that special buzz that shakes the pollen loose.

Jackie showed me skunk cabbage "fruits" - something I'd never seen before. These woody formation boggle the imagination.

She also added fringed gentians to my life list, at Orra Phelps Preserve, a small park I've wanted to visit for several years but never knew how to find!

Giant lobelia were also new to me. Odd, isn't it, how many of these flowers are a purple-blue color?

We had some great rains this fall, swelling the Hudson River to levels usually reserved for spring runoff!

And as the fall drew to a close, I harvested the last of the produce from the garden - dried beans. I covered the garden in black plastic, to help kill off the weeds should I be there the following summer, yet somehow knowing that this would be my final harvest from Newcomb.

November found me driving back and forth to Michigan in search of a new place to live.

Moving day arrived in mid-December. Thanks to the efforts of friends and family, we got the Uhaul loaded and were on our way.

Many "props" from my old office have found a new home at the Dahlem Center. Some other items have migrated here, too, like my giant house plants and my fox.

It wasn't long before I started to add new sightings to my life lists. A new mammal took first place: the fox squirrel.

New plants soon followed suit: wild yam,

and bittersweet.

And even though I have often lived where opossums are present, they remain a rare animal for me to see.

2010 was indeed a year of highs and lows, of endings and beginnings. And while some people in my shoes might sigh at the losses I've faced, I have chosen instead to see the glass as half full. Instead of sobbing "I have to leave the Adirondacks" (and I did do plenty of that), I choose to say "I got to spend ten years in the Adirondacks," which is more than a lot of folks get.

And now the adventure called life continues in a whole new setting. There's no dust forming on this naturalist. It's onwards and upwards for me, with a whole new state to explore.

I hope 2011 is as full of promise for all of you as well.


  1. I enjoyed your retrospect. You certainly did face a year of change, and did it with a smile, and a sense of wonder.

    You asked about those weird prints I found. They were both in the same area, but not in a line, so I don't know if they came from the same animal or not. I think that there had been a melt in between the time they were made, and when I saw them, so they may be wildly distorted. This is a trail that many people walk their dogs on (I met the most exuberant Golden yesterday, a real cutie), but I know that there are also coyote in the area.

  2. Ellen - we are sorry to see you go - but I'm sure the Dahlem Center and MI will provide you with many upcoming adventures as well.

  3. Good Luck and Happy New Year Ellen.... we miss you.

  4. My dear friend, I am so touched by your tribute. Believe me, everything you said about me I would say right back to you. How I treasure my memories of our adventures together, and I delight in seeing your photographs that remind me of our wonderful finds. Quite a catalogue of Adirondack rarities! Now I wait to learn what you find to amaze you in Michigan, my home state and the place where I first came to love nature. Happy hunting!

  5. A wonderful collection of sightings - and that fringed gentian is exquisite. All good wishes for 2011....

  6. 'Some great sitings I'd love to see!! 'Hope 2011 is a great year for you!

  7. Congratulations on your new job. After a long absence, I saw that you had moved on to Michigan, but wasn't sure why. This post pieced it all together nicely for me. Thx.

  8. Wow, what a year. I'm glad your job search was fruitful. Nice retrospective on the botanical year too.

  9. I admire your outlook and hope your 2011 is both more settled and full of new discoveries.