Monday, July 29, 2013

By a nose

Let's be honest here. I may be a gray-haired grandma on the outside, but on the inside, I am still a twelve-year-old girl who is crazy for horses.

 So when I received  the general invitation to join some Rotary folks for a day at the track, I said, yes, absolutely!

Being a local, I knew to leave my car in the free NYRA parking area at the Oklahoma Training Track. It's a bit longer of a walk to the main track, but for a horse-lover like me, it also offered a glimpse of the goings on in the backstretch area.
 I don't know if this happens at all race tracks, but at Saratoga, there are lots of opportunities to get pretty close to the horses.

 No doubt this is intended, so that bettors can get a good look at the race entries and be assured that there is nothing wrong with their picks.

Honestly, I care little about the betting, but I do love to look at these amazing animals.

 Today was a gorgeous day to be outdoors and the Saratoga track is a great place to hang out.

The grounds are beautifully kept, there are bands playing here and there, the food is good and plentiful, the bathrooms are clean, the employees are cheerful and helpful. If you prefer, you can bring your own picnic and cooler. For a three dollar admission, it's not a bad place to spend a summer afternoon.

 I did make a few modest bets, but only had a winner in one race. My winner in the seventh race got bumped back to second place because of "interference". Darn.

I've been reading Jane Smiley's pretty good 2003 novel, Horse Heaven, so I kept thinking about that as I watched the horses being readied for their races. Smiley gives a good picture of the many facets of thoroughbred racing.

Saratoga likes to promote a certain glamorous ambience for its summer meet. Hats are a big thing here. I should say, big hats are a big thing here. You can buy one at the track, if you are in the mood.

This is the 150th anniversary of horse racing in Saratoga. If you've never been, there are many ways to explore the track. Check out breakfast at the track  or just bring your own McMuffin and watch the early morning workouts. You can take a tour of the Oklahoma Training Track and backstretch through the National Museum of  Racing. Or just plunk down three bucks and spend a pleasant day among some beautiful animals. And if you decide to take a flutter (make a bet) but are shy about what to do, the friendly guys in the red vests will explain it all to you. You have until September 2, and then it all disappears until next year.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Blueberries and free Shakespeare: Oh, how I love summer!

Every July for a number of years now, my former coworker Eileen has invited a group of teacher friends to come to her neck of the woods to pick blueberries and have lunch together.
Eileen lives near the beautiful Battenkill Valley in Washington County, New York, and we always go to the MacClan Farm with its charming Gardenworks farm store to pick our berries.

After picking my fill of blueberries, I like to have a visit with the chickens...

...and the sheep...

 ... and then browse my way through the shop.

Like me, Eileen, here on the right, is now retired. Her neighbor, Sue, on the left, will retire at the end of this next school year.

Over the years, our conversations have evolved from news of our children to stories about our grandchildren.

But much else remains comfortably the same. We gather our wonderful blueberries, catch up with old friends, and adjourn to Eileen's home overlooking Cossayuna Lake to eat delicious vegetable lasagna and a dessert that always involves fresh blueberries. On this day, a great blue heron posed prettily for us just off shore from Eileen's deck.
When I return home, I always freeze most of the blueberries I've picked. Throughout the coming winter, I will occasionally make Sunday morning blueberry pancakes. On a cold January day, how I will savor the taste of summer blueberries from the Battenkill Valley, picked with friends.
Last night, the Handsome Husband and I headed out to Congress Park in downtown Saratoga Springs.

Our destination was an outdoor performance by the Saratoga Shakespeare Company.

Neither of us had ever seen The Merry Wives of Windsor before, so it was a new experience. This version was set in 1920s Saratoga and they worked in some racetrack elements. Not enough so that it was intrusive, but seemed to me a good choice for a casual summer outdoor audience.
 Many folks brought picnics and everyone seemed relaxed and content.

 Congress Park is itself a lovely spot, with its duck ponds ...

 ... and architectural elements and..

... its well-tended gardens.

Today, Sunday afternoon, is the final performance of Merry Wives, but the company plans to return next year. If you've never been, make a note to check them out next summer. And don't forget to bring a picnic supper. It truly makes for a lovely, elegant way to spend a summer evening.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A magical day

Pickerelweed at the outflow of Lake Desolation, Middle Grove, NY.
I met up this morning with a group of intrepid adventurers, the Thursday Naturalists, to explore a bog in western Saratoga County, near Lake Desolation. Now when I say a "bog", I mean a place that in parts had boot-sucking mud, no trails, fallen trees to climb over, and thickets of dense vegetation to push through.
There were fourteen of us and I would guess that the average age of these hardy explorers was at least 72.  I know for certain that one of our most experienced leaders is 86. No rocking chairs for these folks, not while there are adventures in the wild to be had!
Today, we were in search of this lovely plant, below, and we found a good number of them. It's the Virginia Chain Fern.   
According to the USDA website, this plant has not yet been documented in Saratoga County, but here they were!

This fern can be identified by the "chains" on the underside of the fronds, which are the sori or spore-producing bodies. To me, this looks like beautiful, careful embroidery stitches.

Further into this enchanted bog, we saw witches' brooms. Witches’ broom is actually a disease of highbush blueberries caused by a rust fungus.
The diseased plants grow these broom-like masses of shoots, which then wither to twigs.

There were also many healthy and heavily laden blueberry bushes and we all helped ourselves as we bushwhacked our way along.

Mountain holly was here, too, although I did not sample these berries,

And here below was sundew, a carnivorous plant. Would I ever have noticed this on my own? I fear not.

Here was Labrador tea, a friendlier plant, which I am told makes a pleasant, spicy drink if picked before it flowers.

Now, here at last, below, was what I had hoped to see today: a native orchid. This one is the green wood orchid. Until recently, I did not know that there are about 60 species of orchids that are native to New York. Again, on my own, I would have walked right by it. (Those leaves in the photo are not part of the orchid.)

There were pitcher plants aplenty, many in bloom. This, too, is a carnivorous plant. 

The flower hangs downward but when I looked below, the fruit of the plant was already formed.

We finally reached the shore of the lake, where lovely water lilies continued the fairy tale feel of the place.

Walking back, we saw buttonbush ...

... and meadow sweet...

... and the large tropical-looking leaves of green arrow arum.

Emerging from the bog, all I could think was, Where are we going next week?

Fritillary butterfly

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dog Days

It's about a thousand degrees out today, with humidity at five hundred percent, at least. So where does our auxiliary dog, Shea, wish to hang out? Outdoors in the full, blazing noontime sun.

This Puerto Rican import (adopted from Adirondack Save-A-Stray seven years ago) eschews all shade and prefers to bake in the sun, no matter how hot. Please notice, she's not even panting.

Our primary dog, however, comes from northern Germanic roots (she's a Spitz, now called an American Eskimo Dog.) And while her foolish friend bakes outside, Daisy wisely seeks out a cool bare wood floor indoors, near an air conditioning vent.

Different strokes for different folks.

Today, I'm sticking with Daisy.

Daisy was adopted from the good folks at the SPCA of Upstate New York in Queensbury about eight years ago.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I'm old fashioned (I hope)


Am I old fashioned, environmentally conscious, or just déclassé?  Whatever the answer is, come "good drying weather", out goes my laundry to soak up the sun's rays and the fresh air. I can't help it; I swear it's in my blood.

When I was a child, our mother would be up doing laundry at the crack of dawn. Before any of the rest of us stirred, she would have a load or two of clothes already hung out on the clothesline.  Mom eschewed electric dryers as wasteful and didn't own one for most of her life. Since she was the daughter of a dentist and the wife of an IBM engineer, I choose not to see this as a class thing. Perhaps her background was the very thing that gave her the confidence to keep using a clothesline long after most homemakers had abandoned them. Mom was also, however, a child of the Depression and frugality stuck to her like superglue.

I do own a dryer and confess that for most of the year, that is what I use.  But come a hot July morn, I feel the call to get out there and let the sun dry our sheets and towels for free. Hanging out laundry is a peaceful, quiet, satisfying way to start a day.  I guess that was what my mother discovered, too.
My friend Anne has been posting some lovely photos of the varied daylilies and other flora in her July garden. For her, I send back this, a photo from my own garden. This yellow daylily was glowing neon-like against the darker foliage in the early morning light today. Another perk of being out and about early, hanging up laundry: you see things in a different light.

Our resident chipmunk was up early today, too, already mulling things over in the flowering plum tree near our front door. He (she?) likes to survey the neighborhood from this low horizontal branch. Yup, it's summertime and the livin' is easy, isn't it, Mr. Munk?