Friday, February 28, 2014


Man, it is COLD!  Below zero this morning, and will be again tomorrow.  Hey, tomorrow's the first of MARCH! It's time to start warming up.  If there weren't so many beautiful places to hike, and the sky hadn't been quite so beautifully blue, I probably would have huddled inside today.  But the river was calling to me to come visit, so that's where I went.  And oh, what a sight awaited me, when I came down through the woods at the end of Potter Road in Moreau, with West Mountain perfectly profiled against a radiant sky, the frozen bays and backwaters brilliant with sparkling snow.

If I stayed away from where streamlets entered the river, I could walk along on the frozen bays, my showshoes barely denting the dense, settled  snow.    The riverbanks were lovely, with bushes studded with Winterberries, the fruit still remarkably red for this late in the season and gorgeous viewed against that blue sky.

High-bush Blueberry twigs and buds vied with those Winterberries for ruddy color.

But the prize for super-saturated redness had to go to this solitary fruit of a spindly single-stemmed Staghorn Sumac.

Not so colorful, but elegantly beautiful still, was this tuft of Meadowsweet and its perfect shadow.

Rounding the point of one of the promontories that thrust into the river here,  I discovered this campsite someone had gone to great pains to furnish with benches and tables made from tree branches.

 I recalled the camp furniture my friends and I used to make as Girl Scouts, except we constructed our tables and benches with lashings of twine that we could dismantle when we broke camp.  These furnishings were put together with screws.  It will take some effort, then, to restore this site to pristine woodland.  This may not be state park land (where such a campsite would definitely  be disallowed), but I don't believe, either,  that such permanent campsites are allowed by the power company that has jurisdiction over the riverbanks in this catchment between their hydroelectric dams.

Many animals use the frozen river as an energy-saving highway, avoiding the deeper snow in the woods whenever possible.  I believe these tracks are those of a coyote, and they led to where many other trails of coyotes converged.

The prize find today was this trail laid down by an otter, scooting along on its belly after pushing off with its big webbed feet.

I followed the trail for quite a while, after the animal left the frozen river and continued pushing and sliding along on the deeper snow in the woods. Deeper for me, anyway, as my snowshoes crunched in as deep as a foot, while the otter blithely skidded along on top of the snow.

When the otter trail entered this area of dense undergrowth, I declined to follow after.  Just a bit further beyond this brushy area lies another bay of the river, which is fed by a stream that probably keeps an area of the water open for the otter to dive into.

As I lifted my sights from the trail I'd been following, I realized I had entered a frozen marsh, thick with Narrow-leaved Cattails, the fruits of which are more slender than those of ordinary cattails.  I was intrigued by the presence of neat little holes drilled into many of the fruits, no doubt the work of some bird.  I have read that Blue Jays will sometimes hide food bits inside the cattail fluff.  I dismantled several hole-drilled fruits, but didn't find any treasures hidden within.  Perhaps they had already been retrieved.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Winter Trudgery

Only one strap of my snowshoe was fastened around my boot today, when suddenly the wind came roaring down the river valley, bringing along a stinging blast of driven snow, so thick the very air was opaque as chalk, and I couldn't breathe without sucking in icy lungfuls.  "Oh, the heck with it!" I grumbled, undoing that strap and throwing my snowshoes back in the car.  I didn't really want to go trudging through those deep heaps, anyway, and although the sun resumed shining brightly only a mile or so later, I didn't turn my car around but continued on home.

I'd had quite a workout the day before, slogging along through thigh-deep drifts in the rolling hills above the Hudson at Moreau.  Not another human soul had ventured along this powerline clearcut, so my snowhoes sank deep with every step, and every footstep was weighted with clumps of heavy snow that clung to the tops of my boots.  I almost gave up before I had gone 20 yards, but I soon found my stride and pushed ahead, happy to have this beautiful windswept height of mountains and forest to myself.

Well, almost to myself.  From the looks of all these animal trails, it appears that many other creatures travel these heights.  Most of the trails were made by deer, and I pitied them for how their small pointed hooves plunged deep, deep down in the snow.  The foxes and fishers and porcupines managed to mostly cruise along on top of the drifts, but the coyotes also must have found it hard going, to judge from the depth of their tracks.  There were turkey tracks, too, and these hardly dented the crusted snow around a thicket of hawthorns.

The temperature rose to almost 50 degrees yesterday,  and that warmth -- along with the heavy work of breaking deep snow -- soon found me stripping down to my longjohn shirt.  After less than an hour, I figured I'd had enough exercise and looked for the streambed that I would follow down the mountainside to where it joined the Hudson.

I found the river wide open below the Spier Falls Dam, its wind-rumpled waters a dazzling blue beneath a clearing sky.   There were bright-white dots of American Merganser drakes out on the water as I approached, but of course they flew away before I could take their photo.  I sat on the riverbank a while, hoping to maybe catch sight of a Bald Eagle fishing, but not today.

On Sunday, Sue and I had visited a stretch of the Hudson further downstream, at South Glens Falls.  There, the river was still solidly frozen from shore to shore, so we didn't see any eagles fishing there, either.  We did see dozens of Robins, though, flocking in Staghorn Sumac trees to eat the persistent fuzzy red fruits.   More and more often, we are seeing Robins all winter long, so we can't consider them harbingers of spring anymore.

Although we're just beginning to hear the Cardinals and Black-capped Chickadees start to sing their spring songs, we know that winter still holds us in its grip.  In fact, the weatherman is forecasting a return of polar cold this coming week.  Sometimes, just to keep my spirits up, I look through my photo files to remind me of the delights that lie in wait, in not too many more weeks.  Spring Beauty and Bloodroot are two of our earliest flowers to bloom.  How I will welcome them!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cooking Up a Cure for Cabin Fever

Yeah, I admit it.  Winter starts to feel a little old, come late February, even for folks like me who love to get out and play in the snow.  But that snow is getting soggy now, and muddy around the edges, and more often it's a sense of duty, rather than pleasant anticipation, that pushes my long-johned, rubber-booted person out the door.  Some days I just don't bother.  It's cabin fever time.

One of my favorite cures for this late-winter malady is to fill my cabin with the wonderful smells of long-braised pots of comfort food.  Here are a couple I cooked up recently.

Braised Oxtail

 I could hardly believe it when my husband brought me this recipe from The New York Times food section, because he just won't eat red meat, usually, and oxtail is not only red, it's also pretty fatty.  Lusciously, wonderfully, melt-in-your-mouth fatty, with lots of gelatinous tissue and deep-meaty marrow to add incredible flavor to the sauce.  This recipe called for chunks of celery root, carrots and onions,  as well as red wine and beef broth.  Just before serving, a handful of gremolata (chopped parsley, minced raw garlic, and shredded lemon rind) is scattered over the dish.  I doubled the amount of beef stock so as to have lots of gravy to ladle over mashed potatoes, and I baked the stew for  nearly six hours at 250 degrees, instead of three hours at 325, as the recipe directed.  Braised that slowly, the meat becomes so soft you could eat it with a spoon -- although I preferred to use my hands and suck every savory morsel from all the convoluted nooks and crannies of the bones.  Heavenly!

To lessen the artery-clogging aspect of this dish, I made it the day before we ate it, then skimmed the cold-hardened fat off the top.  It was still deliciously rich.

Chicken and Dumplings

I think that chicken and dumplings has got to be the ultimate comfort food.  And the way I make this dish, it's actually pretty healthy.  I pull off the skin and scissor-trim all visible fat from chicken thighs, using just a bit of that fat to saute onions, celery, and lots of carrots, before adding the chicken, a dash of thyme, and a quart of chicken broth to the pot and simmering all for a half an hour or so.  Then for the dumplings, I stir up a soft biscuit dough using whole-grain King Arthur white whole-wheat flour and olive oil instead of butter.  The dumplings steam, covered,  on top of the broth for 20 minutes or so, rising up into plump little pillows of tender fluffy deliciousness.  The dumplings also serve to slightly thicken the broth, so it seems almost creamy when ladled over the dumplings in the soup plates.  Fresh parsley goes on top.  Oh yum!

Winter Pleasures at Spa Park

We had another pretty snowfall today, just enough to turn every woodlot into a fairy forest.  I had planned to go for a walk in Saratoga Spa State Park, but by the time I cleared our walk and cleaned off my car, it started to rain.  Darn!  I can enjoy a winter walk at sub-zero temperatures, but I sure don't like to go for a walk in freezing rain.  So today I stayed home.

I did go out to Spa Park on Monday, though, a beautiful blue-sky day, frosty cold but with a bright sun that warmed my back and spangled the marshmallow billows of snow with sparkles.  Sometimes I just don't feel like struggling through heaps of snow on my snowshoes, and that's when a walk along the Avenue of Pines is just the ticket.  There, I can be surrounded by tall pines and snowy forest, while freely swinging my legs on cleanly plowed paths.  Nice!

About midway along my planned route, I stopped off at the Gideon Putnam Hotel in the heart of the park to warm my face and visit the ladies' room just off the lobby. 

 Not a rustic Adirondack-style lodge but rather an elegant luxury hotel, the Gideon Putnam is leased by the state park to a private company, which operates the hotel year-round.  It makes a great place to stop for lunch or drinks after golfing or skiing or skating or swimming at nearby swimming pools.  Or just walking around this beautiful park or attending a concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center or a stage play at the Little Theater.  Spa Park has lots to offer.  And let me tell you, that ladies' room is REALLY nice!

So is the Gideon Putnam's lobby, with its comfortable furniture and blazing fireplaces.  These ladies were enjoying an after-lunch cocktail to celebrate the birthday of one of them.  Teresa, in the blue coat, had just turned 97!  Isn't it wonderful that she is still enjoying her life?

This trio looked so happy I just had to stop to chat with them.  And I'm so glad I did!  Turns out, the lady seated at left is the mother of two of my son's favorite high-school buddies, so we had a grand time catching up on what our respective kids are doing.  One of hers, she told me several times, is now a doctor.

(Personal to my son Steve:  Do you recognize Mark and Marty's mom?  She sure remembers you.)

I love living in this wonderful town.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fun in the Snow

 A perfect day to play in the snow:  deep, fluffy snow, bright blue sky, and good friends Sue and Laurie to help break the snowshoe trail around Mud Pond in Moreau Lake State Park.  Lucky for us, others had hiked the trails before us, so the snow was well-packed for most of the way.

It wasn't until we decided to bushwhack down the bank to the frozen pond that we discovered just how deep that snow was.  And how much work it took to make our way through it.

If we'd thought it was deep under our snowshoes, I found out how much deeper we could go when I walked out of one of mine.   It wasn't easy, trying to reach my foot to strap my snowshoe back on.

(Sue snapped this photo of me, commenting on how hip I looked in my cold-weather garb.  "Just like the slope-style snowboarders in Sochi," she laughed, referring to the Olympic snowboarders' decidedly baggy outfits.  I had told her about meeting a friend while snowshoeing recently, this friend all slim and chic in her skin-tight pants and form-fitting jacket and trim little soft-leather boots, and how I thought I must look like a grizzly, compared to her looking as graceful as a gazelle.  But hey, I dress to stay warm!)

Whew!  That was fun!  But also, kind of tiring.  When we reached the east bank of the pond, it felt good to just lie back in the snow and soak up the warming rays of the sun.  Nothing like it!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Snow Day!

 This time, they really meant it!  Again and again this winter, weather forecasters have threatened us here in Saratoga Springs with huge snowstorms, only to have them pass by us completely or bring us only a meager two or three inches of snow.   Well, this time the forecasts came true!

 We're lucky we have only 40 feet of sidewalk to shovel, although the snowplow heaps between the sidewalk and street were heavy as concrete and nearly waist deep.  A very kind neighbor brought over his snowblower to help us carve a path through them, for which I was very grateful.  I actually love to shovel our front walk, greeting our fellow shovel-wielding neighbors  and sharing stories of snowfalls past.

I had a doctor's appointment this morning and in the waiting room started a conversation with one of the other patients.  What fun we had, recalling our winter adventures of 40 years ago, when winters in Saratoga were far colder and snowier than they've been in many years.  I told him of how my breath once turned to snowflakes inside my car when the radiator froze up at 40 below, and he told me of how his car engine died on a desolate road because the whole area under the hood had become packed with snow from him trying to push his way along drifted roads.  He recalled the gooseneck of frozen cream that protruded from milkbottles set on the porch, and I told him of how our five-year-old daughter would disappear behind snowbanks while walking to school, or how a garbage sack froze to the floor while waiting to be carried out.  And on and on, one story after another of how we made it through old-fashioned Saratoga winters.  What could be more fun than tales of past adversity told from the prospect of present-day comfort and safety?

My husband, Denis, was looking after the comfort and safety of all the wild animals that come to our backyard feeders and heated birdbath.   The birdbath was totally engulfed by snow until my kind-hearted hubby cleared it away.  Bless his heart.  And bless our helpful neighbors and all who  have to cope with whatever winter brings.  I hope you all are safe and warm.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Walking the Snowy Woods

It's been just like old times, like winters I remember from the 1970s.  The snow falls, deep and soft, the temperature plummets and barely ventures into the teens by afternoon, keeping that snow light and dry and sparkly under clear blue skies.  Perfect kind of conditions for winter hiking.   And aren't we lucky to have so many beautiful woods to hike in?  Last Sunday, Sue and I enjoyed a snowshoe walk in Cole's Woods in downtown Glens Falls, avoiding the carefully groomed ski trails and keeping to trails specifically marked for showshoers.  And sometimes we left the trail altogether to wander under groves of stately pines.

 Snow clung thick in the branches of trees, but now and then a light breeze would jostle a branch and cascades of sequin sparkle would fill the air.  Our cheeks would tingle from pinpricks of snow, and we'd then lift our faces to feel the warmth of the sun.

Where a bridge crossed a rushing creek, the bankside bushes were all aglitter with hoarfrost.

At one point, a rushing wind arose and the air became clouded with blowing snow.  This little squall lasted only a moment, transforming the forest with a beautiful misty light.

Today (Tuesday) was another fine day for a walk in the woods, and this time I ventured out alone to explore the banks of the Hudson River at Moreau.  The river was frozen all the way across, with ice shelves grown thick along the banks.  I planned to walk out on that ice close to shore, observing the tracks of animals who employ the frozen river as an energy-saving highway for their travels.

But I quickly changed my plans when my snowshoed foot plunged through some rotten ice up to my thigh.  Oops! 

  I had a moment's panic when I could not withdraw my foot from the icy water.  The ice had trapped the back of my snowshoe, and I sure didn't fancy reaching down into that icy water to release the bindings and let my snowshoe drop to where I could not retrieve it.  But eventually I managed to kick hard enough at the ice to release the back of my snowshoe and I was freed.  Luckily, my waterproof boots were laced tight enough around my snowpants that no water got into my boot and I could continue my walk.  Only this time, on dry land.

 I love this stretch of forest along the river,  especially when the path lies deeps with pristine untrodden snow.  Not a breath of wind was stirring the trees and the silence here in the woods was profound.

Out on the snow-covered river, I could see many trails of traveling animals.  These tracks were probably made by a coyote, although I did not venture near enough to examine them for certain.

These ruffly lichens were such a pretty color.

Here was carefully woven nest secured in a Witch Hazel shrub.  Any guesses which bird might have made it?

I walked until I came to a little cove where a tiny creek emptied into the river.  It's here that I find an abundance of Leatherwood shrubs, quite an unusual sight in these particular woods and an indication that a source of lime must exist nearby, since this shrub will only grow in calcareous soils.

Perhaps there is limestone or marble in these boulders that have tumbled down from the mountain that rises above them.  I remember that this particular boulder was overgrown with Hepatica and Red Trillium last spring.

I follow the course of a brook back to where I had parked my car, enjoying both the sight and the sound of its rippling water.

Where that brook empties into the Hudson, I sat for a while to enjoy the golden sunlight and the blue shadows slanting across the snow.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Snow, Beautiful Snow!

This graceful statue is "The Spirit of Life," which stands in a fountain in Congress Park, in downtown Saratoga Springs.  But it could have been me yesterday, arms raised in joy to welcome the beautiful snow that just kept falling, falling, falling.  It fell and fell, all day long, in big soft flakes, until we had just exactly the right amount: enough to cushion the earth with pillowy mounds, but not so much that shoveling was any more than a few minutes' effort.

And then, today dawned clear and cold, so the snow stayed light and downy and sparkling in the sunlight.  This made for a perfect day to walk around in the woods at Saratoga Spa State Park, where I took these photos.

I just happened to discover this video of a tiny child delighting in her first experience of rain.

Again, this child could have been me, exulting in the marvelous gifts that Mother Nature showers on us, whether a warm summer rain or a soft sparkly snowfall.  My age and upbringing now restrain me from shrieking with glee as this little girl does, but I certainly still relate to her joy.  May it always be so.