Thursday, April 23, 2020

My "Hiking Local" Evolution

What a period this has been.  Anxiety abounds in this time of the COVID-19 crisis.  Early on, New York State recognized that people need natural areas for both physical and mental well-being. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) suggested that people visit our state parks.

In response, the Adirondacks requested that people not drive long distances from other areas, carrying the virus with them to small rural communities where there are limited health care systems.  In the Catskills, some trails have closed because of overcrowding when resources could not handle the possibility of injured hikers as well as COVID cases.

(Bozen Kill Preserve, a Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy property)

Along with those statements came the dictate to "hike local."  DEC has not said what staying local means so people have defined the term for themselves.  Like many hikers I know, I have ascribed to the policy of the Adirondack Mountain Club which says that "hiking local" means not driving more than 30 minutes from your home.  We are fortunate to have an abundance of local parks, conservancies, and preserves to explore. 

(My friend, Karen, and I saw no one while we were at the Bozen Kill Preserve.)

For me, local hiking began casually.  One late-March day, I went to the Pine Bush alone.  The next time I enjoyed the company of my friend, Deb.  Besides staying local, social distancing had become buzz words that required people to stay 6 feet apart so as not to share air space and possible virus molecules with others.  Deb and I were careful to maintain some distance, but we were not overly vigilant.

(Old stone walls remind us that the Bozen Kill area was farmed not long ago)

Every day, new protocols made the news. Social distancing had taken on a sense of urgency.  The third time I went to the Pine Bush, my friend, Linda, was with me.   Linda and I were more strict than Deb and I had been. We considered where we walked with every step.  And, as if the virus were not enough to worry about, we needed to protect ourselves from ticks.  Despite all, Linda and I enjoyed the woods and fields, small brooks and waterfalls, had a good workout and a visit to boot, while still staying within the social distancing directive.

(The Albany Pine Bush Great Dune area has miles of trails)

When Governor Cuomo declared that everyone must work from home if at all possible, my husband, Bill, settled into his office in our basement.  He had plenty of work to do.  Days went by without him getting a breath of fresh air or exercise since he was no longer biking to work. We made a point of going out together for a few hours each weekend.  At least, as housemates, we didn't have to be concerned about social distancing!

(Lichen and fungi add color and texture to the Great Dune Trails)

We began with Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, just 15 minutes from home.  Five Rivers is an old favorite and we know the trails well.  Mud season lasts a long time in the Northeast so we skipped our usual route for a dryer one.  I heard a high-pitched noise that got louder as we walked -- peepers!  The sound of these little frogs in chorus signals the beginning of spring.  We sat on a bench by a pond for a few minutes and listened.

(Peepers at Five Rivers Environmental Education Center)

When protocols first attempted to curb the spread of COVID-19 and adults and children all suddenly stayed at home, it seemed that weekdays and weekends were the same.  But, as people settled into Monday through Friday work lives and homeschooling, weekends got busier.  On our second weekend, Bill and I went to Thacher Park and were surprised to see that all the parking spots near the overlook were full. 

(A lot of people wanted to see the view from the Thacher Park Overlook, so we stayed only a few moments.)

We parked in the Paint Mine area where we saw few people and where even the cars practiced social distancing.  We headed out on the nature trail with its immediate ascent.  As we went uphill, we left families behind.  By the time we hit muddy bogs, we lost adults as well.  Small streams and brooks tumbled with snow melt under a bright sky -- a perfect day to be outdoors.

(Mine Lot Creek rushes through Thacher Park)

An Adirondack Mountain Club acquaintance, Terry, and I went to the Saratoga National Historic Park (Saratoga Battlefield) on a weekday.  The sky was a deep blue.  I love the battlefield, a place I have visited in all seasons since I was a child.  Terry and I chose to hike the 4.6 mile Wilkinson Trail that meanders through fields and woods along the battle lines of the Revolutionary Battle of Saratoga.

Terry and I very very carefully maintained distance while still soaking in the beauty and serenity of the area.  After a while, though, this diligence felt stressful and exhausting...and we hadn't even seen anyone else on the trail!  By the time I got back to my car, I decided that, as much as I enjoy my friends, I would hike alone now and then. 

(At the Saratoga Battlefield, the Wilkinson Trail goes through woods and fields)

On our third weekend, Bill and I chose to visit Hollyhock Hollow in Feura Bush, just a few miles south of Albany.  Hollyhock Hollow is a charming Audubon property with trails up a hillside riddled with stone walls, and back down to the Onesquethaw Creek.

(Sun filters through the trees at the Saratoga Battlefield)

I was on the lookout for wildflowers.  I had seen pictures that other people posted on Facebook of little forest flowers, yet I had seen none.  On this day, I finally saw a little hepatica blooming through the brown leaves.

When we reached the creek, we sat on rocks and watched the water. Even on a Saturday, we saw no one the entire time we were at Hollyhock Hollow.  I almost forgot about COVID-19.

(Some of the stone for the Brooklyn Bridge is said to have come from this quarry at Hollyhock Hollow)

All of these short outings were great, each in their own way, but I began to worry that my muscles would turn to mush before I ever got the chance to go back to the Adirondacks.  I reserved the nicest day of the following week to head south of Albany and slightly beyond my 30-minute driving restriction for a more strenuous adventure.

Hiking gear now included a mask.  During the first half on my hike, I saw no one.  On my return, only 6 people, 3 groups of 2, passed me, heading in the opposite direction.  As soon as I heard them in the distance, I pulled my mask out of my pocket, put it on, and stepped off the trail so that they could go on by with lots of distance.  I kept my mask on for 30 feet or more while I thought I might still be in their air space.  Once sure I was well past, I took the mask off and put it away.  I thoroughly enjoyed being by myself in beautiful surroundings, keeping to my own stride, and still maintaining safe directives.

(A lonely but cheerful spring hepatica)

Back at the car, I reached for my antibacterial cloths and hand sanitizer.  I realized that, if I got in my car in my own driveway, drove to a trailhead, came in close contact with no one, took precautions when necessary, touched nothing beyond my own backpack and its contents, and drove back to my own driveway, I was not at risk of COVID-19 either to myself or others.  I was satisfied with my efforts and with my solo experience.

(The Onesquethaw Creek runs through Hollyhock Hollow)

I knew, when Bill and I chose Peebles Island State Park for our next weekend excursion, that we would probably not be alone even though we were out early.  A volunteer gave us a map, not passed hand-to-hand mind you but instead dropped onto the ground and picked up, with the location of an eagle's next marked in pen.

(Peebles Island has wide sandy trails and great views)

Peebles Island is at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers where cliffs rise above fast and raging water.  It has historical and natural significance.  Bill and I took a trail that crossed the island until it met with the perimeter trail.

Just a couple of days previous, Governor Cuomo had made the wearing of masks mandatory in close situations. We saw a couple of families, put our masks on when we passed them, and then took our masks off.  At times there were long distances between other hikers.

(Blooming shadblow hangs onto cliff edges at Peebles Island)

We got a great view of the eagle's nest with an adult eagle clearly visible.  Even though eagles are more common now, I am always thrilled to see one.  No longer early morning, lots of other people had arrived and were excited about the eagles too.  We put our masks on.  From there back to the parking lot, we never took our masks off.

We had had a beautiful morning walking quiet sandy trails through grasses and airy woodlands, and we had seen the eagle on its nest.  Still, it felt good to get in our car and take our masks off.

(Eagle on the left in the nest, second eagle on the right in the tree.)

Whether hiking with a friend, with Bill, or on my own, each outing has been a learning experience.  I and my companions always complied with the ever-changing and ever-more stringent protocol and will continue to do so if more restrictions occur.

Nevertheless, each location has had its own beauty at a time of year when everything is new under a spring sun.  And, while I miss the mountains and can't wait to head north someday, there's a lot to be said for re-visiting so many nearby natural areas.

Bill and I have already chosen next weekend's walking location -- a preserve slightly off the public's radar.  

(Wolf Creek Falls Preserve, Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy)

Saturday, February 8, 2020

"Home Clearance Distribution"

In 2007, my parents moved from their Saratoga Springs home of 45 years where I grew up to a one-story ranch.  Ranch houses are not common in Saratoga and they were pleased to find one they liked.  A bigger house than they needed, it enabled them to take almost all of their possessions.  This especially pleased my father, who didn't want to get rid of anything. After he died in 2018, my 94 year-old mother began to give the place a once-over.

She started by asking me to find homes for five sets of cross-country skis. "Someone could be using them," my mother said.  At that time, she found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that well-used outdated gear, even if in good condition, would not bring much money. Just finding someone who might continue to use and enjoy various items was my priority and that eventually became hers.

After I lugged all the skis, boots, and other smaller items to the Adirondack Mountain Club winter gear sale and brought them all home unsold, I tried the online gear swap sponsored by my father's favorite hiking group.  I got instant response.  I only made $35 for my mother, but recipients had plenty of enthusiasm.

Usually a few emails were exchanged with gear shoppers to find a meeting location.  Eventually, we could set up a time and place, often in the Yaddo Gardens parking lot.  One man said, "I used to ski and I want to see if I will want to get back into it now that I'm retired.  These will be just right and the boots fit!"  Another explained, "I just bought a camp up north.  I want a collection of gear for people to use who come to visit."  I told him that all of the items I had brought were free.  As he considered every one, he asked, "is this at the same good price?"  He was thrilled.

(After emailing the Historical Society director, I sent this set of prints featuring Bergen County, New Jersey, Colonial buildings as a donation to the Bergen County Historical Society)

Over quite a few months, I have given gaiters to the Sierra Club silent auction, many many clothes to the RISSE, our local refugee center, knitting needles and supplies to UpStitch, a shop that sells donated yarn and fabric for a minimal price. Grassroots Givers accepts any housewares and has a huge library of used books, to which I have contributed.

Sometimes I have had to dispose of things such as toxic automotive fluids and paint cans that I took to our landfill's toxic waste day. And I have thrown some things out like curtain rods that no place that I have found accepts.  I've recycled AAA travel guides from the 1980s and 90s.

Still, I am convinced that, for most things, there is someone somewhere who can use my mother's no-longer-wanted possessions.  She agrees.

(When I learned that a man who lives just a mile from me has such a huge post card collection that he built an addition on his house, I invited him over.  He bought 30 post cards.)

Selling a couple of my father's old rifles tops the sales adventure list.  Online, I found a gun shop not too far from Saratoga in the southern Adirondacks. I called the shop and made an appointment to visit.

(I thought this 1939 original program from the Gone With the Wind movie would be special, but there are already plenty of them for sale on ebay and Craigslist)

On a nice late-summer day, my mother and I struck out for the back of beyond, guns on the backseat of the car.  The ride was very pretty as I drove a winding road through wooded terrain looking for the house number on a mailbox.  When I found an opening in the landscape with cell service, I called the shop from the car and stated that I was having no luck finding the shop. "But you are almost here!" the kind voice on the other end said. He gave me a few specific landmarks which led us up a wooded dirt lane to the house with its upstairs gun shop.

(This 1963 Saratoga Springs Centennial booklet is fascinating, but too common to be marketable)

I parked the car, opened the back, and took out the rifles.  Then I walked to the other side of the car to help  my mother negotiate the uneven ground.  I held her arm with one hand and carried the rifles in the other.  A man in a pick-up truck parked next to me, opened his window and said,  "You ladies look great!"  Two white-haired women walking arm-in-arm, one with a cane and the other carrying guns -- quite the picture.

Inside, three older men, two behind two different counters, and one sitting on a stool working with hand tools, occupied the tiny but totally packed room. A glass case was filled with pistols, books lined a shelf, gun supplies and equipment were everywhere, along with a poster of Donald Trump and a picture of Andrew Cuomo with a red X across his face.  No sympathy for the Safe Act here.

(Bicycle gun)

I laid the rifles on the counter.  One of the men turned them over and studied the inscriptions.  Then he pulled a Blue Book of Gun Values off the shelf.  "Come on over here, and look at these rifles," the man called to another.  Turning to us, he said, "He's our history guy."

The second man said right away, "That one's a bicycle gun." We looked puzzled.  He told us, "A bicycle gun is the kind of gun a kid used to carry on his bike. He would shoot squirrels or other small animals from the bike."  I was struck by the vision of small groups of boys riding bikes one-handed holding loaded rifles in the other, but that sure sounded like my father.  In the 1930s, my father and his friends shot squirrels and rabbits near their childhood farms in Ontario.  They would take their bag of game to a fox farmer who paid the boys for any small animal that could be used as fox food.

The first man made my mother an offer.  I started to respond, but she said, "I'll take care of this."  This new assertive side of my mother amused me.  She quizzed him a little about the price, making it clear that she might be old but she wasn't a pushover.  We walked away with $220 for the two guns.  My mother was very happy.

(I have been given advice from a friend at the Fashion Institute of Technology in my efforts to find a home for this exquisite 1927 metallic thread shawl)

We took a hiatus from sorting for the holiday season.  But when January came, my mother took me back down to the basement.  "What can we do with these rugs? " she said.  Rolls of rug remnants lined an upper shelf.  I pulled a few down. When I came upon a piece of carpet from the old house that had been moved across town to the new house, I couldn't help exclaiming, incredulous, "You moved this with you?" 

I emailed a friend who volunteers at the ReStore.  She responded that the store would not take rug remnants.  I left the rugs and moved deeper into the basement, poking around a closet.  I started hauling suitcases.  Turning to my mother, I said, "One time you said you wanted to get rid of these."  "Oh yes!" she said, "But do you want to get into that now?  That's lot to carry."  I turned to her with a sheepish grin, "I guess you caught me on a good day."

I filled my car with myriad suitcases and luggage, a small board for ironing sleeves, VCR tapes, a carton of drapes and curtains, and more.  On my phone, I looked up the hours of the Goodwill.  I could leave Saratoga and still stop there before they closed at 8 p.m.  With luck I would unload my car without the things ever ending up in my basement!

(Shelves of rug remnants)

I was excited that Goodwill took everything I had brought. I called my mother when I got home.  "You are really a Volunteer Home Clearance Distributor," she said.  I laughed.  "No, you really are," she said emphatically. "It's amazing the way you find places for so many things.  You're a pro."

The next day when I talked to her again, she had had a call from a friend.  They had chatted about cleaning out.  "I want to tell her the names of some of the places where you take things. You really are a professional home clearance distributor,"  she said with a tone of great respect.

In just 24 hours I had risen from volunteer to professional.  Although the job doesn't pay and the work is very time-consuming, the reward is seeing a few empty spaces in a full house, and knowing that someone will use the things we are passing along.  Before you know it, I'll be driving a van  and wearing a bright yellow t-shirt with a business logo!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

My Christmas Card Evolution

(Christmas card, 2019)

As kids, my sister and I made lots of cards.  Relatives' birthdays, Christmas, and other special occasions meant bringing out the colored pencils, crayons and paint.  I remember afternoons spent at the kitchen table choosing special paper from my mother's collection and personalizing it with colored pencil drawings under my mother's guiding eye.

I stopped making cards by the time I was in college.  I didn't have the time or inclination to send my friends individually made cards.  It took a postage increase, rising to 15 cents in 1980 when Bill and I were early married and counting pennies, that prompted me to remember how economical homemade Christmas cards could be, drawing one original and making any number of xerox copies.


With pen and ink, I drew my original including an inside "Merry Christmas" done with the swirl of a calligraphy pen.  I took the picture on its 8.5 x 11 paper to my copy center.  In the 80s, copying meant black and white on "xerox" paper.

Eventually, I decided to add a little color.  Going back to my childhood tools, I bought some art pencils and individually colored each of the roughly 35 black-and-white pen-and-ink copies that I would send.

As time went on, color copying became available, but it was very expensive. By 1990, postage had gone up to 25 cents!   I wasn't about to go crazy making costly color copies.  I continued to color my own for a few more years until the price came down.

As with most technology, the cost of color copies eventually became competitive.  Bill bought me watercolor paints for my birthday, and I was off and running in full color!


My cards became less about cost and more about tradition. I had fun finding a coordinating quote for the inside of the card which I began including along with the painted "Merry Christmas" greeting in a swirl of red.


Coming up with a subject for the card picture became my biggest challenge.  Ideas came from books, magazines, cards I received, or my own photographs.  One year, I didn't have a subject that interested me.  I decided to buy cards for a change.  I was surprised by the response. "I missed your homemade card" or "You didn't make a card this year," friends said in dismay.  Finding a new idea that pleases me continues to be a challenge but I haven't taken a year off since.


Best is when I have a subject in mind long before the holiday season arrives.  Ideally, I paint the picture in the fall, while sitting at the porch table. It's nice to know that it's ready when I need it.


One year I painted my card original but wasn't happy with it.  I didn't have another idea, and I didn't want to spend time drawing something else, so I took the painted original to the copy shop and had it printed even though I didn't like it.  When the time came to address the envelopes, I couldn't send the card out. It just wasn't good enough. I cut all of the cards up for scrap paper.

But I still needed a card to send.  I looked through my drawings from previous years, and sent out copies of them. No one said, "Didn't I receive that card one other year?"  Anyway, how bad is a repeat?  Bringing out past favorites is now my back-up plan, should Christmas-card-painter's-block ever haunt me again.


I made another change a few years ago.  Instead of painting a watercolor background on the paper, I decided to layer colored paper.  This was such a simple idea, but something I hadn't thought of doing before.

(black paper, white paper, and paint -- couldn't be easier)

With multiple layers as in the card below, I challenge the copy center's machine. A staff member will help me by adjusting the color and intensity levels until the tones are strong and even.  Sometimes the staff even gets excited by my project.  I think I'm a diversion in the copy shop's day.


I like finding quotes to put on the inside of the cards, but my painting skills fail me when I write sentences with a paint brush, such as in the blue one above.  "Merry Christmas" is one thing, but a whole stanza, not so good.

(inside quote, 2019)

This year, I found a quote that I liked.  I showed my mother how I had painted it on the inside of the card.  As usual, I had found writing so many words with a paint brush difficult, and they didn't look good.  My non-digital, non-computerized 94 year-old mother said, "Why don't you just use your computer, pick a font, and type it?"  Why not, indeed.  I still painted "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year," but next year, I'm going to type that too, with a pretty font, in red!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Pitney Meadows Community Farm

I have driven past the Pitney Farm for years.  It looked so beautiful one time that I took the photo below in the late-afternoon light, but I knew as I admired it that a farm that is not farmed is a bad thing.

Fortunately, others saw its vulnerability and took action.  In 2016, Saratoga Springs city voters and the Pitney family collaborated to create the Pitney Meadows Community Farm to preserve farming and education on the last remaining farm within the city limits of Saratoga.

(lovely but lonely a few years ago)

What a treat when my former high school classmate, Jody Terry, a member the farm's Board of Directors as Education and Program Chair, offered to give me a tour of the property.  "I'll show you around the farm first," Jody said.  "Then we'll walk out into the field."

(an active place brought back to life!)

Community gardens are a big part of the Pitney farm.  I've seen very large lush community gardens where I live in Albany, but these gardens were new to me.  Many are in raised beds.

I was baffled by the vegetables growing in high metal frames.  "People with mobility issues plant vegetables in them," Jody said. "It's very exciting for someone in a wheelchair to be able to have a garden here."

In addition, one garden plot is a sand box with toys.  What a great way to keep kids entertained while a parent weeds!

A few tables and chairs adorn the gravel pathway beyond the raised beds. Jody told me that some students from nearby Saratoga High, who have off-campus lunch privileges, come over in the middle of the day.  I could imagine that even a few minutes at the farm made a refreshing change from the loud cafeteria. The Pitney Farm is definitely multi-use.

At the end of the garden walkway, Jody pointed out the Fairy Garden, created by a woman who spends hours intermingling plants and small decorative items into a unique fairyland.  Children can spend a long time discovering fairy hide-outs here.

A reading area is tucked in among the sunflowers.  The tall bending early fall stalks made an attractive canopy, but Jody told me that this "sunflower house" is even more appealing earlier in the year when the chairs are barely visible through summer's growth.  On pleasant Saturdays, a reader gathers children amidst the sunflowers for stories in the garden.

Another row of sunflowers made a division between the garden and field.  "We have a contest for the tallest and biggest sunflowers," Jody told me.  Children tend to their plants and watch them grow.  Raising a new generation of gardeners is part of Pitney's mission, at a time when so many children do not know where their food comes from.

We went into a small barn where another of my high school friends, Kim Fonda, dexterously twisted grapevines into baskets just the right size and shape to fit a sunflower head.  These would be sold in the farm store.  Patrons could take them home, hang them outdoors, and watch wild birds congregate.  I was impressed that so many people share their creativity in so many different ways at the Pitney Farm.

(Jody and Kim)

(Kim's sunflower seed creations)

The store was the next stop on my tour.  Even with the growing season on the wane, there was still much to buy here both on the counter and in a refrigerator.

A young couple perusing the shop asked a few questions and Jody explained about the Pitney Farm's unusual CSA.  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular concept worldwide.
For a season fee, the public can become members of a farm and receive weekly boxes of fresh farm produce, usually picked up at a designated location.

The Pitney Meadows Community Farm takes a different spin with its "pick your own" CSA, an experience that brings the consumer even closer to the product.  A CSA member here can go into the field, look for signs that indicate which areas of the main farm garden are open for picking, and harvest the produce they desire.  This eliminates the oft-maligned problem many people have when their CSA has an overabundance of one vegetable.  Of course, much or little is due to the vagaries of a growing season, but 5 lbs. of kale can be difficult to manage before the next box arrives.

The amount of work that has been done here in just two or three years is astounding -- a greenhouse with a pretty door, a flagstone sidewalk, attractive landscaping, all done by a host of volunteers and a few staff members.

Not all volunteers work in the field.  Job options are myriad.  Besides farm work, volunteers help with events, desk work, children's programming, and a mind-boggling list of ways that help bring new ideas to fruition.

(popping corn dries on racks in the Children's Greenhouse)

Jody and I walked beyond the buildings to the fields.  We could not have picked a better day to be outdoors where a sprinkling of bright foliage added color to the browns and tans of October grasses.

The Pitney property is huge, and most of it is not actively being used.  Future plans for the land include trails, more vegetables, and maybe even farm animals.

(posted signs designate vegetables ripe for picking)

Our first stop was a field that supplied the CSA.  When Jody pointed out the signs posts at the ends of vegetable rows, I knew they designated picking availability.  On this day, quite a few pumpkins still lay in neat rows.

We walked over to the high tunnels where plants are started early in the season.  Student volunteers had been instrumental in covering the tunnel frames with massive plastic sheeting. "Community" is the operative word here.

(high tunnels)

At home I went on the Pitney Farm website (  The word "visionary" popped out.  Given how much has been accomplished here in such a short time, Pitney Meadows Community Farm is a place to watch and become a part of.  Since I don't live close enough to come on a regular basis, I still plan to stop by now and then to see what's available in the shop. And maybe, while I'm there, I'll see if I can find a small inhabitant of the fairy garden.

(Fresh vegetables straight from the farm on my kitchen counter)