Category Archives: Outdoors

Unleashed

My dog Maddy gets a bad rap.

She has a reputation for being lazy, especially when compared to her older sister, Scarlett. It’s hardly fair. Scarlett is a high energy dog driven by the impulse to work. Next to her, anyone would look like a slacker.

For example, if we go to an empty field and throw a ball, Scarlett would keep going until she dropped. Maddy? She might run after Scarlett a few times, but after that, she’d prefer to roam around, relax, and eat the occasional bit of goose poop. Goose poop is the foie gras of the dog world.

This all changes when I take them to Thacher Park. There’s something about the woods that makes Maddy go bonkers. She’ll tear up and down the trails and race around the trees, leaping over logs, chasing after something only she can see. Then when we get to a stream, she plunges into the water.

Maddy

There’s something so gratifying about seeing her like that; there’s a pure joy to it. Out of the house, away from the yard, off the leash.

Do the dogs remember these good times? I’d like to imagine that they do, and later in the day as they drift tiredly off to sleep they think about how much fun we had — and then they dream about the next time.

Farewell to Woodworth Lake

You don’t have to drive far into the hills outside Gloversville to be in the Adirondack Park — and just within the park’s boundaries is Woodworth Lake Scout Reservation.

Woodworth Sign

 I’ve spent many chilly nights in cabins at Woodworth, nights punctuated by breathtaking trips to even chillier latrines. The days were filled with sledding, hikes, games of Risk and meals prepared by the scouts. Some adult leaders — and I’m not naming names — would bring their own food to avoid the scout cuisine. O ye of little faith!

DSC_1582

Those winter weekends are a thing of the past now, as the Twin Rivers Council has quietly sold the 1200 acre camp to an undisclosed buyer. And I can’t say I blame them.

Nationwide, scouting has faced declining membership and skyrocketing expenses. Add to this the damage the Boy Scout’s public image has suffered in recent years, and you’ve got a tough situation. When Woodworth opened in 1949, scouting was in its heyday. Today, they have too much property and not enough scouts.

Consolidation like this, while painful, will help the council survive.

In the cabins and dining hall at Woodworth, generations of Boy Scouts have left their mark and memorialized their visit with inscribed plaques. Some are very elaborate, and others crudely etched in scraps of wood and bark. Many of those scouts are now grown men who have children of their own; I hope that their kids get to experience the same great things as the thousands of children who have passed through the gates at Woodworth.

All Wet

After nearly 30 years living in the Capital Region, I’ve never taken a swim in the Hudson River. We’re not talking about the Upper Hudson, way the hell up around North Creek, no, I mean the Hudson River just a few miles from my house.

Growing up on Long Island, we were always at the beach — and easy access to the water and swimming is something I’ve always missed here. So a few years ago, I started looking at the river and thinking, “Why doesn’t anybody swim in there?”

I think I now know one reason after reading this headline, Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Widespread in Hudson River, Study Finds.

For years people have just assumed that the river is dirty, but the item in Infection Control Today sort of confirms the suspicions. While the study focused on the area between the Tappan Zee Bridge to lower Manhattan, I’m not sure that makes me feel better. Why so dirty you ask? This from the story:

“If you find antibiotic-resistant bacteria in an ecosystem, it’s hard to know where they’re coming from,” says study co-author Andrew Juhl, a microbiologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “In the Hudson, we have a strong case to make that it’s coming from untreated sewage.”

What? Sewage in the Hudson? There couldn’t be sewage in the river… except for sewage like this, I guess.

In light of all this, I’m leary of taking the plunge. Unless there’s going to be a giant container of hand sanitizer waiting for me when I get out.

Spring Has Sprung

Around here, spring comes in fits and starts. Everybody has a different idea on when it begins, but me? I was finally convinced that spring is here this morning during my run, when I noted three indisputable signs of the season:

1. Peepers According to my research department (Wikipedia), peepers “are heard early in spring not long after the ice melts on the wetlands.” This morning I noted that the peepers are peeping — and while the wetlands near my house are diminishing, thanks mostly to hideous and ill conceived residential development, the peepers still peep.

2. Skunks I don’t know where the skunks go in the winter, but in the spring they emerge from their hidey holes and stink up the neighborhood. Never champs at crossing busy roadways, I found one this morning that had become the proverbial dead skunk in the middle of the road, as imortalized by Loudon Wainwright III.

3. Worms Another mystery of nature, the spring brings worms who slither out onto the sidewalks and driveways after rain. There were many of them this morning, albeit very skinny ones, for it has been a long winter. It is my observation that they do not stick to running shoes. Could squished worms be used to improve a product or process? Perhaps.

So, welcome spring! None of us will be here forever, so don’t take it for granted.

True Stories of Survival #237

They knew nothing of the mountains or how to deal with an emergency, but one thing was certain: they’d heard tales of people surviving by utilizing their own urine. Unfortunately, none in their desperate little band could remember exactly what it was that you were supposed to do with the urine:

The group tried to keep warm by urinating on each other, they told rescuers. The technique is not a standard survival technique and apparently provided limited relief.

Informed that people lost in the wilderness will sometimes drink their urine to remain hydrated, one of the hikers remarked, “That’s gross!”

Oswego Tea

Also known as bee balm, the Native Americans understood that this is a potent flower.

Oswego Tea: rub it on, chew it, drink it. It's all good.

They used it as an antiseptic to treat infections and wounds, took it for headaches and fevers, and believed that brewing it as a tea would ease flatulence. Perhaps I will give that a try.

When I was trying to shoot this a hummingbird buzzed down and lighted briefly on one of the nearby flowers. She saw me and bolted — before I could take a picture — off to find a less crowded spot in the neighborhood.

The Long Trail

I judge my winter camping trips with the Boy Scouts by the condition of the outhouse. This year it was pretty darn good. The smell was tolerable, probably because it’s been so cold, and besides a little ice on the seat, it was not bad at all. I took a picture, of course.

The cabins at Woodworth Lake are cold and rough around the edges, but warm up nicely when the stove’s well stoked. There’s a peculiar smell to these weekends, a mix of dirty socks, wood smoke, and grilled cheese that clings to your clothes when you leave. It’s a reminder of your adventure.

Many scouts have come before, and a lot of them inscribed signs that ring the cabin. Mostly they’re simple, but others look like they had some parental input, with neat lettering and a gleaming coat of polyurethane.

The oldest one I could find was dated 1994, from Cub Scout Pack 40 in Amsterdam.

That doesn’t sound like long ago, but a lot can happen in seventeen years. The boys would be in their twenties now, setting off down the road of life. Some will be businessmen, some work with their hands. Some will find success, others trouble. But long ago they all shared a cold winter weekend in the woods. They may not remember every detail, but I’d bet they would recognize the smell of that cabin.

The Trouble with Turtles

Holy, crap! What was that in the middle of the road?

I pulled over on the side of Airline Drive in Colonie this morning after nearly running over a huge snapping turtle. By huge I mean its shell was larger in diameter than a good sized dinner plate. Why was it crossing the road? Apparently, to get to the other side.

As a citizen of the great state of New York, I saw it as my duty to remove our official reptile from the road before it was flattened by a careless driver. First let me say that you should be prepared for a fight if you ever decide to pick up a snapping turtle.

I approached it from the rear, grasped it firmly by the sides of the shell, and lifted. The turtle writhed in my hands and tried to twist its head around to bite me.

Wouldn’t that be a fine headline in the TU: “Local man saves turtle, loses finger.”

Snapping turtle in Colonie

By the way, here’s what DEC says about snapping turtles:

These turtles will snap at anything they find threatening. Their snap is so powerful that it can easily shear fingers – so stay a safe distance away!

This is why I need an iPhone, so I can do research before, not after.

Anyway, with the help of a ski pole (yes, I’m aware it’s May) from the back of the car, I guided the turtle to safety.

It’s a good day. The turtle is safe, I’ve got all my fingers, and a number of drivers have a funny story to tell, about how they saw some nut with a ski pole herding a turtle on the way to work.

Thacher Park (barely) Open

My favorite picnic spot at Thacher Park was quiet and uncrowded on Saturday. That’s because it was closed.

Several of the park’s roads and parking areas were barricaded, blocking access to many of the picnic areas, fields, and special spots that make Thacher Park a local treasure. The ground was strewn with broken tree limbs and branches, the sort of stuff that would normally be removed during routine clean-up.

We were able to park in the Hop Field area and managed to find a picnic table and grill that weren’t broken. It was important to be extra careful with our charcoal cooking fire, because the ground was carpeted with piles of dried leaves and pine needles.

The rest rooms? Locked. Not a big problem for me and the boys, but it’s something my wife finds inconvenient. Without going into detail, it appears that the area behind the bathrooms is being used as an open air latrine.

The State Senate and Assembly have proposed restoring enough funding to keep Thacher Park open, but as detailed in this statement from Parks Commissioner Carol Ash, funding cuts will mean a crippling reduction in services.

Depressing? Shameful? Disgraceful? Take your pick, they all apply.