Thursday, October 8, 2015

Beauty and cruelty, all in the same place

(Warning to my sister Mary: This post contains a photo of a snake.)
It has been some time since I have been able to join in an outing of the Thursday Naturalists, those intrepid and knowledgeable trekkers of our local woods and fields.
But today, the schedule worked out for me and the planned outing was near by in Malta's 100 Acre Wood. With Ed Miller in the lead, we set off to see what we might find and identify along the woodland trails.
Wildflowers are nearly all gone by October, but a few berries and many fungi were spotted throughout our walk. Fungi are tricky to identify and I am not an expert. However, I am happy just to admire the varied colors and shapes we find.

Above, Jackie Donnelly, of Saratoga Woods and Waterways, was photographing some of the fungi to identify when she returned home. 
We encountered some plants that are familiar to me, like the partridge berry, above. I am especially fond of partridge berries, a cheerful and diminutive denizen of the northern woods in winter.
But this plant, above, I did not know before. It is Pipsissewa, a Cree name, or Chimaphila umbellate. "Chimaphila" from Greek means: cheima 'winter' and philos 'lover', hence 'winter lover'.  What a great name.
Another new-to-me plant was this rattlesnake plantain, which is actually a native orchid: Goodyera pubescens. Online sources tell me it is one of the most common orchids native to eastern North America. The flowers were long gone this day, but oh how the leaves glowed in the filtered light of the woods. Such pretty leaves.  "Pubescens" in Latin means "downy". 
And speaking of snakes ...
Our group of eleven was making our way back to our cars, with me scuffing along toward the back when I suddenly spotted this snake lying very still near the side of the trail. It was a pretty chilly morning to see a snake about and I didn't recognize this one. I called the group back and we circled around. What was it? Was it dead or just in a cold-induced stupor?

None of the eleven of us could identify the species. There are only seventeen species of snakes native to New York, and among this group are decades-worth of woods and gardening experience. That we couldn't name it seemed odd. Jackie wondered if it could be an exotic species that someone had let loose and suddenly, that seemed like the right explanation. Gently, she moved the snake to a sunny spot so that it could warm itself. Not knowing for certain what the snake was, we left it safely off the trail and continued on.

Once home, I googled "exotic pets" and quickly found an answer. I am pretty certain our poor snake is an abandoned ball python. Ball pythons are native to central and western Africa and thrive in warm, tropical areas. The Internet tells me that pythons like basking temperatures of 88 to 96 degrees and that pet owners should never let the temperature in a python's enclosure fall below 75 degrees. Sadly, our guy is probably a goner by now.

While I am not a huge fan of snakes, I don't approve of animal cruelty. Shame on the pet owner who left this poor creature to die of cold in the woods. Surely, the SPCA (or even Craig's List!) could have found a home for it.

Rest in peace, Mr. Python. I am sorry some humans are such jerks.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Train to North Creek

Our friend Val had a coupon.

 So she rounded up some of the usual suspects and off we went.
 We boarded the train at the Saratoga station around 10:00 am. Our conductor was suitably "on". He might have a future with Southwest if this gig doesn't work out for him.
 Heading north, the train slows at Hadley for those who wish to take photos.
 It is here that the Sacandaga River meets the Hudson.
 The tracks continue to follow the Hudson northward.
 Passengers are allowed to hang out in the vestibules between the cars. The windows there are left down, for both awesome views and photo ops.

The station in Thurman.
 Around 12:30, we arrived in North Creek. There were free shuttles for those who wished to visit sights further from town, such as the Gore Mountain gondola ride or the Barton Garnet mine.
But we chose to stay in town, find a spot for lunch, then stroll around and check out the shops. We enjoyed seeing the North Creek Mosaic Project in progress, a huge community mural being created with the guidance of artist Kate Hartley.
 By 3:30, we were back at the station, where there is a small museum.
 By 3:45 we were back on board, following the Hudson south toward home..

We arrived back at the Saratoga station just before 6:00 pm, happily tired from our day away.

The Saratoga and North Creek Railway offers lots of options for trips, depending on the season and the day of the week. There is food and beverage service available on the train. Passengers may leave their extra belongings on board while they are exploring North Creek, because you take the same train home. Check out the railway and its trip options here. We really enjoyed our day on the railway with their friendly, helpful staff. The folks in North Creek were very welcoming, too. I wouldn't mind going again.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sixty-six kids on a roof

Last Friday night, the Handsome Husband and I hied ourselves over to Skidmore College for the first of their free summer concerts on the roof of the Tang Museum.

 This first concert featured sixty-six musicians, all high school students who were participating in the Skidmore Jazz Institute.
 Lest you be thinking dismissively about the likely quality of this concert - don't.

 These kids were awesome. All that energy and enthusiasm made for a lively evening of music, with a wide variety of jazz selections from varying decades and styles.
 When they first announced that all sixty-six students would be playing, my heart sank. I thought, we are going to be here all night!

 But that turned out NOT to be my complaint (since I have to have one.)

 Varying groups (ensembles? combos?) each played only one selection, and their organizers got them on and off stage with alacrity. Too much so, in my opinion. It would have taken only a minute to mention each student's name and quickly tell where they were from. As a retired teacher, I wanted to know which high schools were producing such talented musicians. Somewhere out there, there are a bunch of unsung jazz band directors who should be very proud of these young men and women.
Now TONIGHT, July 9, you can go to a different Skidmore venue, the Zankel Music Center, and pay to see the Skidmore Jazz Institute Faculty Septet at 8 pm. They will be featuring Sean Jones (trumpet), Jimmy Greene (tenor saxophone), James Burton III (trombone), Bill Cunliffe (piano), Paul Bollenback (guitar), Doug Weiss (bass), and Dennis Mackrel (drums). Admission is: $8 adults, $5 seniors/Skidmore community, free for students and children. Check out the Skidmore website for tickets here. 

But if you want totally free music, you still have another shot at hearing these sixty-six high school jazzists on Friday, July 10, at 1:00 PM, also at the Zankell Center. They were really good last week. Imagine how much better they will be this Friday, after an additional seven days of intensive work with the Jazz Institute faculty. 

You can find more info about the free UpBeat on the Roof concert series at the Tang site. 

Check out what other artsy/academic events at Skidmore are open to the public this summer at the main Skidmore site. Their campus is a lovely, lively place to visit.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Small Town Fourth of July, Londonderry, Vermont, 2015

My cousin Tad owns the only pub in Londonderry, Vermont. So when he invited us to come over for the Fourth of July weekend, I figured it would be a lively time.
Despite the rain, the good folks of Londonderry put on a patriotic parade that was emblematic of all that is wonderful about small town living.
 From a decked-out miniature horse (who turned out to be very sweet when I met him later) ...
 ... to honoring the town's oldest citizen, Londonderry had it covered.
 The rain was heavy at times, but people braved the elements and remained happily standing along the parade route.
 There were lots of flags and ....
 ... talented pipers and ...
 ... other cheerful musicians of all sorts.
 Junk is good. I was quite taken by Junking Johnson's float, below.
It's Vermont. Why not celebrate recycling?
And always a favorite, the firefighters and their trucks. Here, as in so many small towns, these men and women are volunteers. God bless them all.
It is my cousin's good fortune that every year, the parade ends in his restaurant's parking lot. Truly. So Tad books a band and has pizza and hot dogs and free watermelon all ready to go. Here above is Tad's niece Sarah, our cousin Laurie's daughter, helping to serve food to the hungry crowd. In the dining room, they were doing regular lunch and dinner service, as well. It was a busy place.
This year, the band was a local bluegrass group of  Ida Mae Specker (vocals, fiddle, washboard) and Faith Wood (guitar, vocals) and Rio Mueller on washtub bass. Sitting in with them was John Specker, father of Ida Mae, on fiddle and banjo. They were terrific. Check out Ida Mae's Facebook page.
You could hardly have squeezed another soul into the audience. The place was packed.
 Those who found no room inside hung out on the deck under tarps and canopies. The rain didn't seem to bother them.
 We managed to score seats at the bar. Here is my Handsome Husband with my cousin Laurie.
And here is Mr. Fourth of July himself, my cousin Tad, proprietor of Jake's.  He was up cooking breakfast for us at the restaurant this morning, despite a very long day yesterday. If you ever find yourself in Londonderry, you should check out Jake's. Their website is here and they also have a Facebook page. Please tell Tad his cousin Barbara sent you.
On our way home today, it seemed fitting for Independence Day weekend that we make a quick stop at the Bennington Battlefield on Route 67 in Walloomsac, NY.
This State Historic Site is the location of a Revolutionary War battle between the British forces of General John Burgoyne and Colonel Friedrich Baum against the American forces under Brigadier General John Stark and Colonel Seth Warner. 
It was a peaceful place today but in August of 1777,  British troops were trying to capture American storehouses in Bennington to restock their depleting provisions.                   
 The British forces had underestimated the strength of their enemy and most of their men were killed or taken prisoner. The Americans sustained smaller losses. 

Blooming milkweed, ripening berries, and shy deer now live where brave men once fought and died for their respective countries. I think it is a good thing to remember this once in a while, after all of the sparklers and fireworks and watermelon. 

Let us have peace. 

Find more information about the Bennington Battlefield  here