Showing posts with label Saratoga County. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saratoga County. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Eye of the Beholder

Ugh. This is not the time of year when the Northeast looks its best. It is grumpy season here, when winter has held on just a little too long, when mud is the dominant feature of our backyard.

And yet, this morning, when I looked out the back door, there it was, that yellowing up of the forsythia bark, especially noticeable against the still-gray woods. I ventured out with my camera and sure enough, there are fat green forsythia buds just waiting for a warm spell.

The small dogwood tree near the house has plumped up buds, too. Like a good gardener, I continue my inspection. While a casual observer may see only mud and mess, I know where to look for signs of promise and to me, beauty.

A hydrangea shrub still has a few flowers clinging on from last fall. Delicate chestnut-colored shad-bush buds are lengthening. The soundtrack for my walk around the yard was birdsong and babbling brook.

Under the shelter of a limbed-up spruce tree, the rhododendron is also sporting thickening flower buds.

Around in front, the bark of red-twig dogwoods is aglow. There are still some red blossoms left from the winter's bloom of the witch hazel. In a sunny spot, early daffodils are inching up.

Now is the time of year when I appreciate evergreen shrubs and hardy lavenders. I have made a mental note to plant more.  We need more plants for winter interest, I often think in March. But flibbertigibbet that I am, I lose that thought come May and June, when iris and peonies and such are filling up the spaces that look so empty now.

We recently had two ailing Norway maples cut down. I was glad to have that taken care of before birds could start building nests there. We have lived in this house for eleven years now, and for all of that time, two weathered soccer balls have been stuck in the top branches of one of those maples. They were artifacts left from the three boys who lived here before us. When the tree guys took that maple down, the balls were finally freed, and the young men in the work crew began kicking the soccer balls around to each other. It was a funny moment.

After the crew left, I found the soccer balls set neatly at the edge of the garden. I can't quite bring myself to throw them away just yet.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Thursday's walk through Malta woods, while there still are some.

I once thought that I had a pretty good accumulation of knowledge about the woods of the Northeast. I certainly played in them as a child, and enjoyed hiking and occasionally camping in them as an adult. 

But a few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet and link up with a venerable group of experts who call themselves the Thursday Naturalists (or TNs, for short). Ed Miller, who recently turned 92, still leads this group most Thursdays. Spending time in the outdoors with Ed and folks like Jackie Donnelly and her friend Sue is always a joy, as they are able to share so much collective knowledge. Ruth Schottman was not with us on this particular outing, but she is one of the founders of this group and a learned lady who has amassed decades of woodland knowledge. 

Our outing this day was a woodland trail along the Ballston Creek. The trail starts at the back of a playground area in Malta's Shenantaha Creek Park, off Eastline Road, and runs roughly parallel to the Malta section of Saratoga County's Zim Smith Trail

Ed pointed out lots of native yews, " ... all low enough to have survived browsing (it is deer candy)".

We saw evergreen woodferns, like this one, an intermediate fern.

While so much looks brown in the November woods, there is always a surprising amount of color when you look for it. I like the pale green of this lichen.

Along the creek, this tree was well-decorated for the season with turkey tail fungus.

The colors are so rich and earthy. It is easy to see where it gets its common name.

Someone pointed out this tree stump and how it looks like an eerie human hand.

Some of the under-story shrubs had caught falling pine needles, making them look purposely decorated, as if with nature's tinsel.

We speculated about the habit of native shadblow shrubs putting out tiny leaves at this time of year. Is it hope? Is it an attempt to gather just a tad more energy for the winter, now that the shade of the tree canopy is gone?
Here and there, we saw lots of yellow jelly mold fungus, spots of impossibly bright yellow.

I looked for one of my favorite winter woodland plants, partridgeberry, but didn't find any in fruit. We did find this wintergreen with some fruits, however.

The real surprise Thursday was finding this spotted salamander. Although they are supposedly common, I have never seen one in the woods before. We wondered why this one was out and about on this chilly morning. It was alive and moving, but we wondered why it wasn't hibernating. This one looked healthy; it was about six inches long. What disturbed it?

Native witch hazel was in bloom, as it should be at this time of year. 

There is something wonderful about old stone walls in the woods. They make one think of Robert Frost.

There is so much to appreciate and learn from a walk in the woods at any time of the year. I am so grateful to open space advocates who work to preserve such places for public use.

The Town of Malta is growing rapidly, which I guess was inevitable. First the Northway, Interstate Route 87, was built straight through it several decades ago. Then the powers-that-be brought in a computer chip plant. What did we think was going to happen here? Development is what happened, is STILL happening.

Two recent headlines in the Albany Business Review tell the continuing tale:

 Apartment developer preparing to buy 16 acres in Malta 

 ~ Real estate developer acquires 71 acres in Malta

I hope that elected officials and open space advocates at both the Saratoga County level and in the Town of Malta will start to recognize that creating more parks and trails and preserving open space through PDRs (purchase of development rights) is an urgent priority. I worry that we're quickly running out of time. And space.


Friday, May 6, 2016

A Saratoga County day afoot and on horseback

First: Apologies to readers of All Over Albany's What's Up in the Neighborhood. The post they linked to here regarding the Albany History Fair was accidentally deleted by me whilst trying to make a completely unrelated change to a post. I have not been successful in retrieving it. I am sorry. But since that post was snarky, maybe it was karma. I will try to be kinder in future.

It has been a good long while since I have been able to go out botanizing with the Thursday Naturalists. But yesterday brought a free day for me and a nearby outing planned by them in the Boice Family Park.
Along the Kayaderosseras Creek in Milton, spring hasn't yet quite caught up to some of the other woods and waterways of Saratoga County. We saw a lovely crop of Red trillium, pictured above.
More subtle and easier to miss were the delicate white wood anemones. 

The Thursday Naturalists are an intrepid group of mostly retired folks of a certain age. Their collected wealth of knowledge about the natural world makes a simple stroll through the woods into an educational experience I am always grateful to share. 
And so I wish to address here a lesson about getting into the woods,  with preventative measures, yes, but not with fear. Do you see that small insect perched on the leaf's edge above? It is a tick. There it sits, just waiting for something to brush past it so it can grab on. 
Please do what these venerable naturalists do: take precautions but don't let ticks keep you out of the woods. Wear long white socks and tuck your pant legs into the socks. Get a good bug spray and spray the outside of your pant legs. Check yourself carefully when you get home.

I have been on many a Thursday Naturalist hike into "ticky" areas and have never gotten a tick bite. The few tick bites I have received came after working in my own garden and when I have not been careful. 

So don't avoid the woods. There is so much to see and enjoy there. 

These fiddleheads charmed me yesterday. Those above are the unfurling fronds of a Christmas fern.

I am not certain what kind of ferns these reddish fiddleheads above will become, but they looked lovely against the bright green leaves of false hellebore. 
One sad find was this beautiful blue thrush egg, fallen from a nest we couldn't locate. The egg had probably been left too long unheated to save, but one of our group planned to take it home to try to do so.

The list of plants and flowers identified yesterday is a lengthy one. The Thursday Naturalists have kept records of their walks through many seasons, over many years. I treasure my times tagging along with them.

Late yesterday afternoon, I had my final riding lesson for this spring. Here is sweet Dolly, a rescue horse I rode my last two times at Rolling Oaks.
Dolly is a Morgan mare who spent the first 15 years or so of her life as a buggy horse. Under owner Sue Friday's tutelage, I got to help "re-school" Dolly to be a riding horse. She is very sweet mare and I am happy to report that she is making great progress. 

Although I won't be taking any more riding lessons for a while, I am planning to spend some time at the farm this summer in a different capacity. It turns out that owner Sue Friday is a Certified Special Olympics coach and she will be coaching some aspiring Olympians this summer. This program needs volunteers. I am a retired special ed teacher who loves horses. Hmmm, seems like a pretty good fit for me, eh? 

How about you? Do you have any experience around horses? Have any free time this summer? Here's the scoop:

The program begins June 2 and will run Mondays and Thursdays from about 4-6 pm. (You don't have to commit to coming every single time.)

Duties: Walk alongside a rider and help groom and tack up the horse.

Rolling Oaks is located just north of Saratoga Springs, not far off of Northway Exit 16. Interested in volunteering? Contact: Sue Friday at
 or at for more information.


Saturday, April 9, 2016

Friday with Minions and munchkins

A few weeks ago, I started doing some volunteer tutoring in Clifton Park. CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services offers a number of programs and services through its outreach center at Cheryl's Lodge. After school tutoring is only one of them, but it is where I felt qualified to offer my services. 

The after school program is well-established and the paid staff at Cheryl's Lodge have a good system set up with the support and cooperation of the Shen school district. Elementary kids come in first and work for about an hour. When they leave, middle schoolers arrive, followed later by the high school students.

But on Fridays, the Shen elementary students don't get homework, so the staff at Cheryl's Lodge offer "Fun Friday" to those students who have come to the homework help all week. The students who have worked hard and behaved well get a ticket to attend on Friday.
If I am done with my own work early enough, I try to pop in to help with Fun Friday and then stay on to work with the middle school students, who usually DO have weekend homework. (I also volunteer on Mondays.)
 Can you guess what the theme was for this week's Fun Friday?  My goodness, did we have Minions! Many of the children wore Minion tee shirts and we had one nice Minion costume, perhaps re-purposed from Halloween.

There were Minion cupcakes and yellow juice for snacks, followed by a plethora of Minion activities. I think making Minion slime, above, was the most popular of those.
 When the slime was nicely set up, the kids decorated cups to take their share of the finished product home to play with later.

I have been retired from teaching for four years now. When I first retired, I confess to feeling that I had had enough of youthful angst to last me for a lifetime.  But gradually, I became aware that, despite being grateful for many blessings, maybe, just maybe, there was a little something missing in my life. Perhaps I still had some skills and experience that could be useful somewhere. And I think I have found that somewhere at Cheryl's Lodge.

Make no mistake: working with other people's children can sometimes be challenging. The children are often noisy, antsy, silly, or not perfectly behaved. But they are also often funny and smart and incredibly sweet and happy for adult attention. And when I can actually help an appreciative sixth grader understand her homework, well, that is just about the best feeling in the world.

There is an awful lot that needs to be done in this country. Finding a place where your available time, talents and skills match up well with the needs of an organization or cause can be tricky. But I urge you to try. To keep trying.

Last year, when I read a piece by David Brooks, his phrase about living your eulogy versus living your résumé stuck with me. It's not that I crave a glowing, lengthy obit. What I do need,  for myself, is to know that while I still have the luck of good health, enough time, and the resources, I am trying to do something, and to do it with love.

Ba na naaaaaaaa!*

*Ask any six year old. They will know.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Back in the saddle again

When I was a child, I wanted nothing more than to be around horses. I doodled horse pictures throughout elementary school. I read every children's book about horses, from Misty of Chincoteague to The Black Stallion. I begged for riding lessons and latched on to school friends who were lucky enough to have a horse or even a bad-tempered Shetland pony.

I loved the smells and sounds of a horse barn: the leather, the hay, the quiet munching of a contented horse at his grain.

I never outgrew my dream of having a horse of my own. In my mid-twenties, I finally bought a horse, a chestnut "grade" mare I called Candlewick. (A grade horse is one of mixed breeding and no pedigree, like a mixed breed dog.)

I enjoyed that horse and have always been happy that I was able to have her for a time. But when my first baby came along and there was only so much time, energy, and money, I found the horse an eager new owner and moved on without regret. It was time to grow up.

But decades have now passed and my babies are all grown and gone. I still like horses and, goodness knows, here in Saratoga County, we are virtually surrounded by nearly every type of horse imaginable.

So when a work acquaintance mentioned taking riding lessons through a continuing education program at Saratoga schools, a seed was planted. I had some doubts. I am not young. Could I do this again, I wondered?
Well, the answer is yes. Yes, I can. Tonight, one week shy of my 66th birthday, I got back on a horse. Meet "Cedar Creek Olympia" (aka, "Fudge") a retired show horse from Rolling Oaks Morgans in Gansevoort, just north of Saratoga Springs. She was my lesson horse tonight and we two old broads got along like a house afire.
I tacked her up myself and before I knew it, owner Sue Friday had us trotting and cantering around the lesson ring. I didn't fall off. I did need a few reminders and corrections (it has been years) and I will no doubt have some stiff muscles tomorrow. But wow, I did it! And I had a ball.

The photo below is of Fudge in her prime, being ridden by a more skilled rider than I. We didn't quite make it to that level tonight, but we had fun.

                                                  Fudge — Cedar Creek Olympia

When I thanked Sue at the lesson's end, I confessed that I had worried about taking up riding again at my age. 
Pshaw, she said. She told me that one of her riders is 78. 
Good to know. I guess I can look forward to at least another twelve years of riding. And wouldn't that be awesome.

Happy trails, my friends.