Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Bennett Hill: Winter

(Walking alongside this farm is a beautiful introduction to the trails at Bennett Hill.)

In Spring 2017, I promised you that I would follow the seasons at Bennett Hill, a beautiful hiking spot not far from my Albany home. I was inspired by Jackie Donnelly's ongoing in-depth study of her beloved nature spot, Moreau Lake State Park, which she features often in her blog:

However, after spring and summer, I had let the idea go, but now I'm back and it's winter!

(Now and then, my snowshoes barely made a dent in the packed wind-blown snow.)

We received 15" of beautiful snow last week.  With heavy rain in the forecast, I was itching to get out in the powder while it lasted.  A perfect sunny cold Tuesday passed me by.  Rain inched closer.  I checked and double-checked the forecast.

On Wednesday, the rain was not supposed to arrive until mid-afternoon.  I gathered up snowshoes and boots and headed out early.  I felt desperate for fresh air and some exertion with beauty on the side.  Bennett Hill was close enough that I hoped to drive there and do the 3-mile loop before sleet and freezing rain made an appearance.

(You mean I have to break my own trail from now on through deep powder?)

The sky was dark.  Freezing rain hit my windshield as I drove the short distance.  Ice creeped in from the edges and I turned on the defrost.  This was not fair!  It was far too early in the day for rain (according to my authority weather underground, I was glad it stopped as I pulled into the small parking area at Bennett Hill.

(This tree was made for sitting, but I'll just admire it this time.)

Wind had howled around my house the previous night and it apparently had here also.  Amidst the softer snow, hard patches of trail showed where the wind had banked the snow into concrete.  I didn't mind; being able to walk on top of the snow for a short stretch offered an easy, if sporadic, change from the powder.

I passed a woman coming down the trail as I was going up.  We talked about the impending rain and discussed ski tracks visible alongside the snowshoe trail.  Skiing here would take some skill between the trees.

(Can't you imagine an otter sliding down the hill from the left and doing some aerials, as if on a ski jump, as he flies off to the right?)

I kept a steady pace as the trail climbed.  I needed some sturdy exercise.  I worry that, if I turn into a slug during the winter, I won't be able to hike well in the summer, and I want to continue my hiking career for a long time.  Besides, winter is one of two seasons, along with fall, when I feel at my best physically.

(Wind has been the story of our 2018-2019 winter so far, making swirls around the trees.)

Apparently, the hiking gods heard my plea for exercise, because I hadn't snowshoed too far when the tracked trail ended.  Others before me had turned around and gone back. Even the ski tracks vanished into the woods.  My work was cut out for me, for sure.  Breaking trail in deep snow is not easy!

Suddenly, I felt alone and was reminded of all those ranger reports I read where people get hurt and are often not prepared to wait for help in the cold.  This is not a mindset that I usually feed into.  Clearly, I had been reading too many DEC reports and quickly passed off these thoughts!

(All this view needs is Santa and his reindeer crossing the sky at night: "the children were nestled all snug in their beds," "Mamma in her 'kerchief and I in my cap" )

The summit of Bennett Hill is a reward in any season.  I like the way the trail curves around the low vegetation to the view over the hamlet of Clarksville.  In winter, Clarksville looks like a Christmas village below with streets making lines between the white, and rooftops covered in snow.

But...just as I came to the viewpoint, freezing rain pelted my face and pinged on my jacket in defiance of the forecast.  In minutes, it stopped.  I wasn't any the worse for wear, but, really, what's the deal, wunderground?

(This summit birch tree is a favorite of mine.)

I paid more attention to natural elements, taking winter pictures of the places I had photographed for my spring and summer blog posts back in 2017. I enjoyed being the first person, except for woodland animals, to make tracks in this snow.  The summit was a clean white landscape, without the needles blown by the wind littering the landscape as they had farther down the hill.

(So many small fungi decorate this tree trunk.)

I had seen deer tracks criss-crossing the snow all the way up, and then I came across this deer bed.   I was tempted to put my hand on the earth to see if it were still warm, since it looked like the deer had recently left, but I knew that in today's temperature, the ground would only have stayed warm for a few seconds. I walked on.

(A perfect deer bed -- recently vacated?)

When I first set out today, I had seen numerous dog tracks on the lower trail.  Those tracks came from hikers' best friends who had been here before me.  But now, higher up where no one had broken the pristine snow with human footprints, I knew that these dog-like tracks belonged to a coyote.  A clue is the way that coyotes put their back paws in the tracks of the front paws, one foot stepping where the other had been. This coyote had been traveling at a relaxed trot.

(Out for a stroll, or hoping for a hunt?)

And what about this mound?  The attractive-meditation-shrine-turned-messy-rock-cairn had to be underneath the smooth white covering.  Perhaps buried stones and sticks provided a cozy winter hibernation nest for someone small. 

(Burial mound for a rock cairn)

And what was that? Blue sky?  Feeble shadows came and went across the forest floor as the sun struggled to break through the dark clouds...until it won with a splash of blue.

(A fabulous surprise!)
Shadows acquired a sharp definition and deepened in contrast to the now bright white.  As I began the descent from Bennett Hill's plateau, my scene changed entirely.

(Sun offers a whole new dimension to the trail.)

I knew I was getting hungry when I saw this log in the woods and was reminded of a roll of cake with white buttercream frosting.  I began to think about what I would have as a snack on my way home.  A tiny grocery would be a nearby shopping option.  My longtime favorite lunch of an apple and cheese awaited me at home, but I longed for something sweeter.


How different the farm scene looked in the sun compared to it's dark appearance when I had arrived.  But even as the sun glistened in the foreground, the sky and hills beyond grew dark.  I was glad I was almost to the car.  I had had enough brushes with freezing rain and preferred to carry the burst of blue sky and sunshine home with me.

(Two moods on the farm.)

It had taken me two hours to hike Bennett Hill, longer than usual.  Breaking trail in deep powder had slowed me down, but I felt good.  I had breathed deep and worked hard. 

The car seemed drawn to snack options on my way home.  I prefer ice cream sandwiches made with two chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice cream, which I didn't find in the case today, but I bought the next best thing and it tasted pretty good.  That apple and cheese wouldn't be too bad when I got home, either.
Here are links to my Spring and Summer 2017 blog posts about Bennett Hill:

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Diary of the Great War

(Lauriston Berdan Goetschius, 1918)

I have been prompted by this year's interest in World War I to share a portion of my grandfather's war diary with you.  In April 2012, I gave a presentation on the diary to a French class at The College of St. Rose.  At that time, I borrowed the diary from my mother and photographed many of its pages and memorabilia, which are the basis for this post.

(Journal de Grand Guerre [sic] 1918)

My grandfather, Lauriston Goetschius, spent most of his youth on a farm in the western Catskill hamlet of Downsville.  Lauriston's father was a noted historian, who named his son after Jacques Alexandre Bernard Law, marquis de Lauriston, a general in the Napoleonic Wars.  Brought up with a sense of history and patriotism, my grandfather volunteered to join the army as his honorable duty.  Serving his country during The Great War was for him and for many, a coming-of-age experience.

Laul, as Lauriston's family called him, left Camp Dix, where he was trained, and sailed for France out of New York Harbor on May 27, 1918, at the age of 22.

(Despite harsh conditions, Laul's beautiful penmanship prevailed)

Writing a war diary was not an unusual practice during World War I.  Not only did soldiers write, but they wrote with the idea that their diaries might be read by others, perhaps even future generations.  We certainly feel this when reading Laul's diary.  His writing is sometimes poetic or grandiose by our standards.  Thanks to Laul's artistic ability, his diary is sprinkled with drawings as well.  I have chosen to share entries with you that I think are particularly interesting or descriptive.

(The formidable cootie)

By the time summer arrived in France, Laul's nostalgia for his native farm country becomes evident.

"August 7, 1918 --  A beautiful summer morning out on a reconnaissance march up the valley.  Everywhere there was the smell of newly cut grain and smell of buckwheat and a humming of the honey bee. "

Laul's job was to take care of the horses in the cavalry.

"August 23 -- Formation, stables, foot drill, clean pistols.  Women come around and peddle nuts and plums. Men go to the Moselle River for bath in the p.m.  Half of men have cooties.  Bury horses.  Extremely poor food and scant.  French children beg for food at mess."

When I read these passages to St. Rose students, I had to define words like "mess," and later, "drive."  To my surprise, they also needed me to tell them what "cooties" were.

(Detailed drawings of various cemetery crosses)

September brought the horrors of war.  Here are excerpts from September 3 and 16.

"Stormy.  All night changing position of guns.  Germans shelling us.  Hear them whistling and singing just over our head and crashing through the trees just behind, and throwing dirt and wood for hundreds of yards.  No loss in men, however.

Advanced into territory occupied by Germans previous to drive.  Very bad odor of dead Germans and horses.  Forts completely torn down, nothing but stubs left.  Shells holes every two feet and dugouts torn to pieces."

The writing, which seems somewhat detached, forces us to use our imaginations to conjure up pictures of soldiers in trenches or trudging through gruesome scenes.

(Mama and Papa)

In this excerpt from September 17, we move from discomfort, to the beauty of the countryside, and finally to horror and back to general discomfort -- a fascinating juxtaposition that offers a glimpse into the turmoil Laul may have been feeling.

"Pick cooties off undershirt and drawers.  Meals terrible.  Wonderful view from here over the Lorraine country and the beautiful Moselle valley.  Very fertile valley.  Beautiful cathedral.  City partially destroyed by shelling every hour of the day.  Old stone bridge across Moselle destroyed.  Hills much like Catskills.  French fort to east of city, also statue of Joan of Arc.  Ran across a dead German in the wire entanglement.  Have not had dry feet for two weeks and no water to wash in for more than that long."

(Laul loved children; here are three of his nieces with strands of baby hair taped to the page)

By October, Laul was getting sick and times were harsh.

"October 5 -- Sergeant Crowe of my gun killed. A great loss.  Men demoralized over it.  I helped take off his personal property.  Roads full of dead men and horses, torn wagons and caissons.  Have a heavy cold and dysentery very bad.  Shed my clothes and slaughtered cooties--big catch.  We are nearly exhausted.  We lay down in muddy roads where we stopped to sleep."

(The diary has a back pocket with money and mementos)

Illness hit hard by October 17 and Laul lets us know how he feels.

"I got up but could not stand on my legs.  Had been up every 15 minutes all night with dysentery.  Had to lie down.  Boys wrapped me in blankets.  Sergeant found me in this condition and gave me hell and told me I must work since I hadn't sense to go on sick report.  Doctor comes and marks me "influenza" and to be evacuated, against my wishes.  Major tells me if I stay another night I will contract pneumonia.  Leave by ambulance at 7 p.m.  Red Cross right on job with hot chocolate, crackers, cigarettes, and chewing gum.  On American R&R and nearly dead.  Spirits low and disappointed.  Think of home."

Influenza was especially frightening at this time during the pandemic of 1918.

(French francs)

Finding and re-joining his unit after his convalesence proved difficult.  How communication and travel has changed in 100 years!  Laul was with soldiers of a different unit on November 11.  His writing becomes flowery as he describes the dramatic historical moments taking place, evoking the strong possibility that others might read what he wrote.

"At 4 p.m. the news of the armistice signing arrived. Hostilities ceased at 11 a.m. and once more the world is at peace though thousands of boys were at rest and peace on the battle fields months ago.  The camp and town were in a wild uproar.  I went into town.  One old man cried with joy.  Noise kept up way into the night. The war is over.  How queer it all seems to me to picture the front no more with the roar of incessant gunfire or aeroplane motors or the spatter of hundreds of machine gun bullets in the mud like a heavy hailstorm.  Two things remain and remain always, the lonely soldier graves and the scars of battle on the fields and hills of Europe and on the hearts of every mother, father, sister, brother, wife or sweetheart who has sacrificed all that God can require of them, a heart and soul on the battlefield.  God be with them all, and a curse on every German who is directly responsible for the sacrifices of this war."

(a photo, pressed flowers and leaves)

Months plodded on after the armistice, but, on New Year's Eve, Laul writes:

"Last day of the year.  Drilled all morning.  Took cross-country walk in the afternoon.  At night we built a great fire in the fireplace which was roaring all night.  Conway and I sent the old year out playing chess.  Had great time as the new year came in.  Much wine, everyone happy.  Sang songs and raised the deuce in general.  All men formed a circle and drank a cup of wine to the health of all our people home, and the hopes of seeing them and God's Country in the very near future.  And so the year of 1918 passes behind us a year of history all the world will carry as long as this old globe continues to travel about the sun making its years of wars and peace.  A year which has left sorrow and then peace in all the hearts of everyone.  Now America bring us home."

(Armistice Day)

The diary continues with notes about drills, bad food, cold, homesickness, and horses.  Laul did not arrive in New York until May 14, 1919.  During those post-war months in France, he did have three days of of leave and went to Paris.

When I was a child, my grandfather told stories about his fellow soldiers and the pranks they pulled.  The horrors were left to his diary.  However, for the rest of his long life of 97 years, my grandfather suffered from a mustard gas burn behind his shoulder.  My grandmother rubbed cream on it.  After she died, he fashioned a tool to spread the cream himself, reaching awkwardly behind him to find the spot.  When we visited, he always asked us to do this for him. 

(Hand-drawn map of path across the Atlantic home to New York with days drawn on longitudinal lines, April 27 - May 14, 1919.)

The St. Rose students had lots of questions about the war experience which I enjoyed answering. They also wanted to hear about my grandfather's life after the war.  In 1921, he married my grandmother and and raised a family of two girls in northern New Jersey, where he was an insurance salesman.  During the depression, when he lost his job, he used his creative talents to make wooden toys which he sold to FAO Schwarz in New York City from 1936 through 1970.  My sister and I still have some of these toys today. The St. Rose students thought that I was very lucky to have had a toy maker for a grandfather!  I assured them that I was indeed.

(letter from General Pershing thanking soldiers for their service)

After I had answered all of the questions, the professor spent the rest of the class time on World War I.  She projected a map of France on a large screen and showed the students where my grandfather had been.  She also showed them pictures of trenches, missiles, and grave markers.

The professor's grandfather had been a mail carrier on a bicycle for the Canadian Army in Belgium during the war.  On the screen, she displayed pictures of Flanders Fields with its poppies and read the famous poem, "In Flanders Fields," by John McCrae.  At The College of St. Rose, students receive poppies on Veteran's Day.  They were fascinated to learn how the tradition came about.

(A news article stipulating the terms of the armistice)

The professor told me later, "The students need to understand how important the Twentieth century was." 

(The book my grandfather bought during his three days in Paris)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

October, Red to Yellow

Haven't the red trees been beautiful?  I've been trying to figure out why reds have been so outstanding in this year's fall foliage.  I have decided that red fights the gray cloudy days better than yellow and orange, which, though lovely, have struggled against this autumn's dark skies.

(Lots of red trees behind us.)

I come by my infatuation with fall color honestly.  I inherited it from both of my parents and from at least one of my grandparents.  In October, I get outdoors whenever I can.

My friend, Deb, and I hiked Giant Mountain in Keene Valley on October 10.  Colors were at peak and the sun was out!  In fact, a photographer from I Love NY hiked alongside of us and took our picture in various locations. He preferred that we look away from the camera while pointing a finger towards something in the distance.  I asked him to take a picture of the two of us with the colorful view behind us.

(Giant's Washbowl)

He took our picture again as we walked across the bridge over the end of the Washbowl, too.  He asked us to look towards the water and its reflection of yellow trees.

The photographer left us after he took photos from this rocky ledge.  He said that he had never been to the summit of Giant, only going as high as he needed for pictures of the valley. He planned to go to other locations for more photos on this day of peak foliage.

(Looking down on the Washbowl from one of Giant's many overlooks)

When people ask me which Adirondack High Peak I recommend, I suggest Giant.  Open views abound.  Every time a hiker needs to stop and catch a breath, there's a viewpoint.  Nowadays, if you go, pick your days to avoid parking issues and crowds on this popular peak.  Deb and I were fortunate to hike on the Wednesday after Columbus Day.  We only ran into about a dozen people all day.

(Looking Southeast through the valley)
We spent time at the summit of Giant having lunch and taking pictures, and we stopped again at every rocky outcropping on our descent.  In fact, we began hiking from the car at 9:30 in the morning and got back to our car at 5:30, almost twice the time Giant usually takes, but, hey, why hurry on a rare day such as this?

(a golden trail near the base) wasn't all leisurely.  We added an unexpected trail run for the last half-mile. In dense woods, I stopped and said, "What's that noise?  It sounds like a whiny truck, but it's not moving on."  Deb listened too.  "I think it's construction noise," she said.  The sound stopped briefly, but when it re-started, it seemed to be just over our right shoulders and it was LOUD.  We stared at one another and gasped, "Bees!"  "Swarming bees!!" "And very close!"  We took those final tenths of a mile as fast as we could, dodging roots and rocks at top speed.

When we reached cell service on the drive home, I googled "swarming bees" on my phone.  Apparently, they are not dangerous and are interesting to watch.  Regardless, the sound of tens of thousands of bees would still send me running.

Exactly a week later, my friend, Linda, and I hiked Moxham Mountain in Minerva.  A dusting of snow and 28 degrees greeted us.  In just these past few days, shorts and t-shirts weather had changed to a need for long underwear and woollies!

Not only that, most of the colored leaves had fallen.  Those hillsides awash in crayon-box color, that Deb and I had seen as we had driven by Warrensburg and farther north the week before, had turned to gray.  The sky was gray too.

(An oak tree offers color with Gore in the background)

Despite this day's distinct November feel, Moxham is always a fabulous hike.  Although much easier and lower than Giant, it also has overlooks all the way to the summit.  We could see snow on Gore Mountain's ski trails and distant ridges of blue mountains.  Oak and beech trees, that keep their leaves almost into the winter, brightened the foreground. 

(Linda on the trail up Moxham)

The trail curves along a ridge.  Some of the exposed rocky overlooks faced the wind; others were more protected.

We admired lightly snow-dusted trailside ferns and dark hemlocks amidst the hardwoods.  Linda and I hadn't been out together beyond our neighborhood since February. What a treat to be here now.

(Linda looks for a windless lunch spot on the summit.)

Moxham's summit view is grand, expanding to nearly 180 degrees.  And blue sky -- what a surprise! We could see Snowy Mountain in the distance with its rocky face and snowy summit, and a few ponds and marshes immediately below Moxham's cliffs.

Despite the sun's arrival, the wind was brutal at the top.  We headed back down the trail, past the first overlook to the second one, out of the wind and with most of the panorama still in view. We spent an hour relaxing and soaking up the scenery.

(Red stands out on this dark day at the Saratoga Battlefield.)

All month, I had been watching the progression of color on the Northway from my Albany home to my mother's in Saratoga. Everyone I spoke with here or there, had an opinion on the quality of this year's foliage display. Some folks had been critical of the season for weeks: the colors were patchy, some leaves fell while still brown, some colored trees were dull, many were still green.

In many ways, they were right, but when the section of highway between Albany and Clifton Park, the halfway point to Saratoga, turned, it was spectacular.  I know every inch of this road and watch for the parts that will offer huge swaths of color, such as southbound exit 2W, the area near exit 6, and others.  I passed one section with at least six brilliant red trees in a group.  I always wish that I could get a picture of these road views, but driving at highway speed just doesn't allow for that! 

Peak color had arrived close-to-home.

(The sun appears through the trees at the Battlefield)
Recently, I had time, after a music rehearsal in Saratoga, to go to the Saratoga Battlefield before returning to Albany.  Rain hit the windshield, slowing just as I arrived at the Visitor Center parking lot.  Clouds hung heavy.  I kept wishing for sun to "light up the color," as my father always said.

Rain had completely stopped when I headed out on the Wilkinson Trail, a 4.6-mile walk through the Battlefield.  It felt great to get outdoors, and damp fall smells filled the air.  And what happened next?  Sunshine again!

(The sun brings out the yellow, while the red recedes)

I have walked the Wilkinson Trail many times over my entire life.  Something struck me as odd.  I double-checked the trail signs. The entire trail direction had been reversed! When I returned to the Visitor Center, I asked about changes to the trail.  The ranger said, "The trail is the same, just in the opposite direction.  We decided that walkers should see the Battle of Saratoga from its first ambushes to the last in chronological order rather than the other way around.  It seemed to make sense to change the trail's direction."  It did make sense.

When I got home and looked at the pictures I had taken on the Wilkinson Trail, red trees appeared more pronounced in the dark picture.  Yet, on my return, when the sun was out, the yellow overshadowed the red in the same group of trees.  That's when I began to think that red outshines yellow in gray weather.

(The Mohawk River at Colonie Town Park)

Not long after, I had an meeting in Latham, just a mile from Colonie Town Park. October was on the wane and I knew that my days were numbered for catching fall foliage.  Besides, a nor-easter was predicted for the weekend, forecasted to bring a wintry mix of snow, rain, and high winds.  Our leaves would come down.  I couldn't resist taking a quick walking tour of the park.

(Light from the river meets the yellow and dark green in this woodsy view.)
Colonie Town Park is fronted by the Mohawk River.  I walked for an hour along the river and through the woods.  A colored hillside dominated the view across the steel-gray water.  On the trail, the dark sky made deep hemlock forests even darker.

The trail eventually comes out to a narrow inlet and the park road's covered bridge.  Colorful maples and dry grasses framed the water and bridge. A red bench looked inviting where couple of red trees and a large orange tree dotted the curve of land and reflected in the water. On this dark day, the dominance of orange tested my red theory, but so what.  I loved it all.

I drove the short distance home.  The sun came out and disappeared again.  Once at home, I heard rain hitting the windows.  Then a brightness flooded in my kitchen.  The sun had fought its way through the rain, and produced a new view.