Sunday, November 29, 2009

Party Time at Home

It's very quiet at my house tonight, since 12 of my 13 weekend guests have gone home. But as these photos demonstrate, the joint sure was jumping while they were here. All of my grown children with all of their children, two spouses, one au pair, one mother-in-law, and one very large granddog came to celebrate my husband's birthday Friday through Sunday. And a grand time was had by all. My husband had some new speakers that worked with one son's Ipod, so all kinds of great dance music from Salsa to Hip Hop to Swing to good old rowdy Rock 'n Roll filled the room as everybody danced. The dance party continued both Friday and Saturday nights after dinner, helping us all work off our extra Thanksgiving calories. There's nothing like moving to music to amp up family happiness. Sure beats sitting around watching football games.

Even grandbaby Sean got out on the floor with his Aunt Jane (my daughter).

Son Steve (brown T) found a fine Salsa partner in Teresa, who is visiting the U.S. this year from Costa Rica to work as a live-in babysitter for my son Peter's children.

Peter's three-year-old Maya entertained us all by singing along to one of her daddy's latest records. One of our three cats joined the party at this point (they tended to hide out for most of the weekend, avoiding the attention of very small children and that very large dog).

On Sunday everyone rested up for the long drives home to Mount Kisco and New York City.

Son Steve stayed on for one more day, and I'm hoping we can get out to some Saratoga woods or waterways tomorrow.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving in Vermont

What a place to spend Thanksgiving Day! My daughter's in-laws own this spectacular property in West Dover, Vermont, an old house and barn and several hundred acres overlooking Mount Snow. And they also have a sense of hospitality as grand as this setting. I didn't take a count, but there were lots of us of all ages from all sides of the family and we were royally entertained. The old barn near the house has been renovated to function as a gathering place for just such occasions as this. That's where our feast took place and where I took these photos. May all our Thanksgiving feasts be as joy-filled and harmonious as this was, wherever we happen to be.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Home Cooking

I won't be out wandering Saratoga's woods and waterways until at least next Monday. Home duties are keeping me close to my stove getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner at in-laws over in Vermont, then home Thursday night with eight extra family members in tow. Five more arrive on Saturday, when we'll all celebrate my husband's birthday. The birthday cake I made is in the freezer, along with the birthday dinner. Now I have to round up sheets and blankets and pillows and towels for 13 overnight guests. Luckily we all love each other and don't mind snuggling up close. Even our grand-dog gets along well with our three cats. (But the cats definitely do NOT snuggle up with the dog!)

Today I made five pies: cherry, cherry-apricot, pumpkin, and two rustic apple-raisin tarts. Aren't they pretty? (But you should see the mess in the rest of the kitchen!)

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Grave Matters

I was feeling really grumpy today. The new lens in my left eye has not yet corrected my nearsightedness, but has definitely robbed me of my close-up vision, so I can't read fine print anymore without a magnifier. It has improved my middle-distance vision, so now I can clearly see all my wrinkles and all the toothpaste spatters on the bathroom sink and all the cat hair all over my clothes -- all things I was blithely oblivious of before. Of course, my old glasses just give me a headache, now, but I can't see through my right eye without them. So yeah, I was feeling cranky. I should have gone for a hike somewhere, but the day got away from me, and soon there wasn't time for anything more than a walk around town. So where did I go to cheer up? I went to the cemetery!

Actually, it's a beautiful cemetery, with rolling hills and ancient trees, stately obelisks rising toward the sky, stone monuments carved with angels and weeping willows, and elaborate mausoleums like miniature Greek temples or Gothic churches. And it's just a short walk from my home.

One of the mausoleums has exquisite stained-glass windows, perhaps by the master Tiffany himself. I could barely see a part of one window through the protective panes that had been installed to protect the stained glass from vandals. I thought this photo was interesting for how the reflected tree branches merged with the outlines of the angel's wings.

Here's another angel, one left on a grave, along with a cat named Moe.

I found it fascinating to see the mementos left on the graves by family members and friends. Angels and flags and pebbles and plastic flowers were the most frequent offerings, but I can't recall ever seeing an offering of Scooby Doo dressed up like Santa, or figurines from the Wizard of Oz. This grave had it all. Even a banner saying Ho Ho Ho!

I just had to laugh out loud.

This person's survivors are ready for Christmas already. What a great idea, to install a bench instead of a headstone! A nice way to accommodate graveside visitors who want to just sit and remember someone they loved.

Readers of my blog will know why I stopped to study this gravestone. His family has engraved it with what must have been his idea of heaven (and mine!). Even (or especially!) without the angels.

All these grave decorations brought a big smile to my face, so I went to sit on my own grave site in a happier mood (my husband and I own plots on a pretty hillside surrounded by tall White Pines and Norway Spruce). I lay back on the grass, which was mixed with Wild Thyme perfuming the ground where I lay. I gazed up into the trees above me and saw this beautiful crescent moon. That moon was telling me, "See now, Jackie, it's not so bad. Have patience, and everything will work out fine."

There's nothing like lying -- alive! -- among graves to help put things in perspective.

Then along came these geese with their haunting calls, passing between myself and the moon. I breathed a big Thank You out to the cosmos. All shall indeed be well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Farewell to the River for Now

It wasn't the nicest day for a paddle: leaden sky, chilly, with most of the autumn color long gone, and the water cold enough to paralyze me in seconds, should I capsize. But hey, it wasn't snowing! Forty years living in Saratoga County have taught me that we could be dumped with a couple of feet any day. So before I store my canoe for the winter, I had to take one last trip to my beautiful Hudson River, revisiting all my favorite spots.

I came down through the woods to put in at a place I call Beaver Island Pond, a sheltered area where the river runs behind a large island and spreads out to form what looks like a quiet pond. Three rocky promontories jut out into the water here, and I've given a name to each: Bear's Bathtub, where a deep depression in the rocks fills up with water; Picnic Point, with flat rocks that serve for comfortable riverside dining; and Pond's End Point, which marks the point where the quiet pond joins the larger flow of the river. This is a photo of Picnic Point.

I paddle especially close to the shore when the water gets this cold, rounding each promontory and gliding back into the quiet bays that separate them. The reflections today were as lovely as ever, with the sun emerging briefly to light up the mountains across the river.

With all of the trees now bare and grey, the bright red Winterberry bushes sure stand out.

I'm sure what I call Beaver Island has another, official, name. But beavers certainly live there, and have for many years. Lots of old stumps line the banks, and a big lodge is built against one shore, with newly cut branches revealing recent activity there. (I took a photo of the lodge, but this old stump made for a prettier picture.)

Emerging from the shelter of Beaver Island, I headed through open water to Rippled Rocks Point. Here young White Pines bend their boughs to the wind and remind me of figureheads at the prow of a ship. Wind and water and geologic forces have carved these rocks into fantastic swirling shapes. I know other folks have other names for this spot, but I think Rippled Rocks is very descriptive.

In a bay across from Rippled Rocks stands Three Pine Island, a small rocky island with many more than three pines, but three tall ones stand out against the sky.

Behind this island lies what used to be a marsh, but with water levels so high these last few years, the marsh is now more like a lake. It's a very shallow lake, however, with many emergent plants like Pickerel Weed and Arrow Arum, now gone to sleep for the season. But here's Tussock Sedge, bravely facing the coming winter. This is one of my favorite places to showshoe, when the snow-covered ice is criss-crossed with the tracks of otters, minks, fishers, foxes, and coyotes, plus the wing-prints of ravens and eagles.

Heading back toward where I put in, I enter a lovely place of calm I call Shelter Cove.

Whatever the weather, it's almost always quiet back here, with still water reflecting the trees and boulders that line the shore.

Many of the rocks here have swirls of color, evidence (I'm guessing) of their molten past. I hope someday to learn the geology of this area. I have heard the rocks called "metamorphic" and "gneiss," but even after reading the definitions, I'm not really clear about how they were formed.

The rocky banks share their space with all kinds of living things: Trees, shrubs, lichens, mosses, fungi, flowers, and all the organisms that feed upon them.

When I reach my landing area, I just sit and drift for quite a while before hauling out. Who wouldn't be loathe to leave a place of such exquisite beauty?

Not that I won't be back on foot, hiking along the shore until ice forms, then wandering the frozen bays and snowy woods. But for drifting and dreaming and gliding along and feeling I truly belong to this wonder-filled world, there is nothing like lying back in my canoe.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hiking the Top of Red Oak Ridge

Yet another late-autumn day to treasure: clear and cool with a high blue sky, the kind of day that demands that you get outside before the nastier weather sets in. Well, my friend Linda didn't demand that I join her for another guided hike at Moreau Lake State Park, but she did invite me, and I was only too glad to come along. The hike was to follow a new access route to the Red Oak Ridge Trail, led by park naturalist Gary Hill, assisted by staff intern Ben Snyder.

The Red Oak Ridge Trail is one of my favorites in the park. It has just about everything you want when you go for a hike: beautiful woods, tumbling waterfalls, rocky outcroppings, views through the trees across the lake to far-off mountains. Plus enough ups and downs of sufficient steepness to let you know you've had a workout. Especially when Gary leads the hike. That guy can move! (That's Ben down by the stream, taking a photo of the waterfall.)

Today Gary led us on a loop away from the official trail to explore the very top of the ridge. Here we found the remains of what Gary told us were old graphite mines from a hundred years ago or more: deep holes in the bedrock that looked like the entrances to sunken caverns.

I was particularly interested in a clump of Walking Fern growing out of these rocks. (If you click on the photo above, you can see this fern growing on the rock just to the left of the mine entrance.) Now, this is a very uncommon fern, and one that hardly resembles a fern, at that. It's called "walking" fern because it arches those slender pointed leaves, and wherever the point touches the mossy rock, it starts a new plant. I think that's pretty interesting (even if hardly anyone else did). Hey folks, don't you know how unlikely it is that you'll ever see this again?

The group had moved on ahead to where Gary was looking for signs of bucks in rut. It's that time of year when the bucks are moving about in pursuit of does, and they leave their signs and smells all over the woods, hoping the does will come hither. Ben and I were hurrying to catch up with the group when he stopped and sniffed the air, detecting the scent of deer urine. It was then I saw a patch of scuffed dirt -- a "scrape" -- alongside the trail, and right above it, the bark had been rubbed off the trunk of a little tree. We were in deer country, for sure. That news brought Gary and the rest of the group back to see all the deer sign. (See the scraped bark on the tree and the patch of bare earth beneath it?)

The sun sinks quickly these afternoons, so we headed down toward the lake before we reached the end of the trail and hiked along the shore to return to park headquarters. Our path was now in deep shadow as the lowering sun lit up the far shore with golden light.

I found a few interesting fungi along the trail back to our cars.

This beautiful snowy-white shelf fungus looks like it's edged with caramel.

I've never seen shelf fungi curl quite like these orange and white ones, looking like tiny striped petticoats.

Back by the parking lot, Ben showed me the "egg" of a stinkhorn fungus.

And here are two that have sprouted from similar "eggs" and are now in decline.

My friend Sue once told me that Thoreau included drawings of a stinkhorn in his journals, and when the journals came to be published, the publishers refused to print these drawings, calling them "obscene." The Latin name for this particular fungus is Phallus ravenelii.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Testing My New Lens

A brilliantly clear, blue-sky day today, of the kind of clarity that only comes in late fall through the winter. I guess it was that clear yesterday, too, but I spent the morning having cataract surgery and the afternoon sleeping it off. So today I was eager to get outside and see what my new lens could focus on. Not much, as yet, it appears. My eye is still swollen and may take several weeks to settle down, says the doctor. But he also said I was free to take a hike if I liked, so of course, that's what I did. Well, more of a walk than a hike, but at least I got outside and could see well enough through the prescribed dark glasses to see what a beautiful day it was, especially along the river.

I decided to walk along Spier Falls Road, from the dam to the boat launch site, with side jaunts through the woods to the banks of the river. The water was as radiantly blue as the sky, and I found little jolts of bright color here and there among the greys and browns and tans of the late-autumn forest.

A baby Red Oak nestles among Wood Fern.

Asiatic Bittersweet may be an alien aggressor, but it sure is pretty.

Not so colorful from a distance, but Turkey Tail fungus has
multi-colored stripes. Click on the photo to see them.

I found this bush that promises spring, even before the long winter begins. How do these Spicebush buds, arrayed on the branches like clusters of little green beads, manage to last through all the ravages winter will surely throw at them? They look so dainty, but boy, they must be tough!

I hope these photos are in focus. My new lens is supposed to correct my extreme nearsightedness, but the consequence is that I now cannot see close objects. Like the display screen on the back of my camera. So I'll have to start carrying magnifiers. Darn! I had hoped to be done with glasses. We shall see. We hope.