Friday, September 15, 2017

Biking Burlington

Bill and I generally take a few days in early August for a trip to nearby Vermont. We hadn't given much thought to where in the state we would go this year.

We ended up being prompted to go to Burlington by Bill's purchase of a new bicycle in July.  While riding in Albany is fine, his 1.5 mile route to the College of St. Rose has lights every few blocks and traffic.  Two of my friends had told me with great enthusiasm about the rail trail out of Burlington.  Not only that, another friend had raved about an airbnb there.  We hadn't been to Burlington in a long time...and Vermont's plethora of craft breweries were always high on Bill's list.  It didn't take us long to make a reservation.

After the scenic trip from Albany, we had two full days in Burlington and chose the best one for our bike ride.  We easily bicycled through our neighborhood, down the hill to Lake Champlain, and to the start of the rail trail.

With the whole day ahead of us and lunch packed, we could take our time, stopping for scenery all along the way.  Our first scenic pull-off had benches, a beach, and white sand.  We stopped for a few minutes and then continued on.

We often caught glimpses of the lake and houses beyond the trees.  The houses varied.  Sometimes they were large and expensive, likely summer homes for people who spent much of the year in cities.  Other neighborhoods appeared humble, poorly kept, and struggling.

A few miles along, we came upon a detour and had to leave the trail due to repaving. I remembered that the two friends I knew who had biked here had both gotten flat tires on this trail.  Nice new black top would be a good thing, but we were disappointed to have to leave the bike trail and its scenic relaxed mood, substituting traffic and noise.  The detour felt long.  With the return to lake views and beaches, our easygoing vacation mood came back also.

Occasional plaques and Bill's iPhone described the fascinating history of the unusual train route that later became this recreational path.  In 1899, the Rutland-Canadian Railroad built the Island Line. The incentive to create this spectacular stretch of railbed was to provide a direct connection from southern New England to Lake Ontario.


The most famous part of the rail line was the three-mile Colchester Causeway that went directly across the water through Mallet’s Bay and Lake Champlain.  A feat of railway technical evolution at the time, this causeway was kept open for freight trains all year round.  

(the trail is raised over wetlands)

The Island Line served the New England communities well until moving freight by other means became cheaper. The last passenger and freight trains ran in 1955 and 1961 respectively. Not until the early 1980s did Burlington citizens begin to consider the idea of a recreational trail on the abandoned train line. 

(new bridge over the Winooski River)

Much renovation and rebuilding had to be done before the public could use the trail.  The former railroad bridge over the Winooski River had been dismantled in 1972.  A new bridge finally opened on August 1, 2004. The bridge, with its connected half-mile of elevated boardwalk, joined the Burlington Bike Path with the Colchester Causeway.

(we took pictures of others, and they took a pictures of us)

As we rode over the river and through the woods, the trail came to a small park, where signs and arrows pointed "to Causeway."  In minutes the vegetation opened to Lake Champlain, and the paved trail changed to fine packed stone gravel. What a treat to ride surrounded by water on both sides!

Families suddenly appeared for summer bike rides. They could conveniently leave their cars at the park we had just passed through, and spend their time riding the three-mile causeway.  It was great to see children enjoying this day exercising outdoors with their parents.

(with binoculars an estate is visible on the point)

We chose to sit on rocks in the shade for our lunch stop.  With my binoculars, I brought large and small boats into view as they cruised in the distance.  We peered through the lenses across to a large estate nestled in the trees on a point as well.

(a lone elm trees looks healthy and strong along the causeway)

An osprey circled above.  All of a sudden, it took a straight-down dive at rocket speed, vanishing into the water with barely a splash.  Its efforts proved fruitless, however, when we saw it fly back up without a fish.  It continued to circle above, but then flew away to another part of the lake.

(A gnarly white birch has seen some harsh weather)

To my surprise, swimming is allowed all along the causeway.  On a hotter day, a bike ride and a dip before the return could be very inviting.  We saw only one person in the water.

(Bikers roll their bikes down the ramp onto the Bike Ferry)

In the spring of 2011, the water in Lake Champlain rose to a record high, severely damaging the causeway.  Fearing that the causeway would be lost, the surrounding towns came together and raised funds to match FEMA's contribution for disaster relief.  Rebuilding the causeway became known as The Big Fix.  After reading plaques describing the railroad's struggles with weather long ago, we learned about and appreciated the causeway's ongoing vulnerability. 

(The Cut is open for boats to pass through)

Our destination was "The Cut."  Back in the day when the Island Line Railroad ran from Rutland to Montreal, a swing bridge was built at the north end of the line, cutting the track in two. Employees opened and closed the bridge to boat traffic as needed to allow passage to and from Mallet’s Bay and Lake Champlain.

When the railroad was dismantled, the bridge also came down, leaving a 200-foot gap, or cut, in the line. Until the bike ferry came to carry people around the gap in 2005, cyclists and pedestrians  could not pass to the other side.  Now bikers pay $8 round-trip to ride through The Cut on the bike ferry. 

(Anything is possible once you cross The Cut)

We watched the bike ferry make its way around The Cut, drop its passengers off and come back with a new group of bicyclists.  Options on the other side were limitless.  Besides the Champlain Islands with their beauty and amenities, bicyclists on a multi-day trip could ride over to the Plattsburgh ferry and head into the Adirondacks to the west, or Montreal to the north.  Many bikers with small children were satisfied with just the short round-trip on the causeway, and others, like us, made a longer relaxed day outing.

On our return trip, we stopped again at a beach.  The atmosphere had cleared and we had good views of the Adirondacks on the New York side of Lake Champlain.  When we reached the detour, I planned to take a picture of the unpleasant ride on the busy road for this blog post, but the miles didn't feel so long this time.  It seemed better to keep going than to stop for photos.

At our final beach stop, I took off my shoes and waded in the clear pebbly water.  I sat in the sand and buried my feet to dry before going back up a stairway to the top of a bluff where Bill enjoyed the view from a shady spot.

(Time for a beer on the deck of our airbnb)

We decided that we would continue along Lake Champlain south to the very end of the bike trail, but it kept going.  Every time we reached a place where we thought the trail must end, it continued on.  After a few miles, we concluded that 28 miles for the day was enough and turned back. We rode up the hill to Winooski Street and back to our lodging.  Our biggest evening challenge would be to decide where we should have dinner, given Burlington's myriad restaurants, all just a mile walk from our place.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Bennett Hill: Summer

(the trail is narrow with surrounding foliage)

The last of our guests have gone, and it is still only 10:30 on Sunday morning.  We had perfect weather for our family picnic the previous day and lots of quality visiting.  Now it is time to get out of the kitchen, and go for a walk.  I remember my plan to go to nearby Bennett Hill in every season of 2017, and summer is in full swing.

(leaves frame the farm scene)

Temperatures in the 70s and low humidity beckon.  I say to Bill, "I'm going to go to Bennett Hill.  You're welcome to join me."  Bill can be a reluctant hiking companion, so it's helpful if I put the idea out there without any pressure. 

(the corn looks good from here, although it may not be high as an elephant's eye)

I hear Bill upstairs in his sock drawer, as I go up to get my own hiking socks, but when I arrive his whole drawer has fallen onto the floor and dumped its contents.  Not the best start.  Still, a few minutes later, he comes up the cellar stairs with his hiking boots in hand, socks from upstairs in the other.  I know he is on board with my plan.  Sometimes we operate like this -- say little and watch.

(a new bridge since Spring)

In fact, this is the perfect day for Bill to go along.  He is a very leisurely hiker, but, if I have camera in hand to take pictures for a blog post, I become the one lagging behind and his pace is just fine.

(jewelweed, poison ivy's companion)

 As we approach the trail's beginning and I see how this year's rains have made all the growth huge and lush, I realize that I have never before been to Bennett Hill in the height of summer.

(all the rain we've had and not a drop in the tub?!)

As always, I take time to look through the trees at the farms along the way.  They never disappoint -- always a few heifers in the field, and a pastoral view to the hills beyond.  I think of my mother who, remembering that I get my milk from our food co-op, has asked me,  "Do the cows that produce your milk go outside?"  It bothers her to see cows in barns all day, never walking the hills.  My milk comes from here at Meadowbrook Farm, and I answer, "yes."  Nevertheless, I always only see heifers outdoors on this hike. Maybe I should confirm that the milkers actually do go outside.

(Was there an open farm field here when this tree was young and spread its branches far and wide?)

As the trail enters the woods, evidence of our very rainy spring and summer shows in the abundance of fungi.  I have mushrooms in my own backyard, so I should not be surprised that there are lots of them in the woods.  I scan the ground as we walk.

(lots of tiny orange mushrooms)

I don't know anything about fungi. There are lots of things that I don't know about in the woods.  When Thomas was 13 and went to Merck Forest for a week of camping, counselors taught the kids all about edible woodland plants.  Later, he pointed them out to me there. If any of these fungi are edible, I wouldn't know.

(such a pretty smooth white against the purslane)

(and this one all notched as if in petals)

I raise my eyes as we approach the summit plateau.  The flat top of Bennett Hill is my favorite part of this hike.  I love the winding trail along the plateau's edge, through ground covers, scrub pine, and the occasional white birch.

(the summit plateau trail offers variety and views)

In two locations the trees open to a view to Clarksville below.  But where has the town's defining road gone?  Have the lush greens of summer hardwood trees arched over signs of man so much that the road and most of the buildings are invisible from above?  Such a green season! 

(the view of Clarksville is almost obscured by foliage)

Along with the birch tree hugging the edge the of the hill, I am attracted to the young oak in the foreground.  Then I notice the bright yellow of goldenrod.  Goldenrod is beautiful, with numerous tiny flowers on arching stems.  It gets a bad rap because people confuse it with highly allergenic rag weed, and because it signifies that August is on the summer horizon.

(a splash of yellow goldenrod peeks from behind a young oak tree)
Still on the plateau, I come upon this dense blueberry patch.  Earlier in July, it would have been laden with wild berries.  Somebody, either wild or domestic, must have eaten every one.

(wild blueberry plants)

I had to email my friend and naturalist, Jackie Donnelly (, about the berries hanging in a loose cluster in the photo below.  I was not surprised when she answered me right away, "That pale aqua color leads me to think they couldn't be anything but deerberries."  Jackie has made a life-long study of nature's flora.  Once I knew the name, I looked online for more information.  As it turns out humans can eat these berries, but they are most often left for the animals.


Eventually, the trail leaves the openness of the plateau, and heads back into the woods. Long stems of purple break the pattern of greens; knapweed's name does not give even a hint of how delicate a flower it is.

(knapweed makes a show of pastel lavender)

Bill waits for me by the rock pile that I pictured in my spring post.  From there, we walk together back down the hill through the forest, past the heifers in the field, and to the car. We both feel relaxed after our woodland walk with all of its gentle beauty and quiet.  Before long, I will return to record the autumn changes at Bennett Hill.

(purple flowering raspberry)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Woodswoman Then and Now

(My collection of Anne La Bastille books)

My friend, Karen, and I had plans to camp in mid-July, when I saw that the Adirondack Museum (now the Adirondack Experience) planned a day of events to celebrate the life of Anne La Bastille, the author of Woodswoman and many other books.  As fans of Anne's books and her lifestyle, Karen and I made a quick change to begin our trip one day earlier in order to go to the museum.

In preparation, I began to re-read Woodswoman, in which Anne begins a new life in her own log cabin on remote Twitchell Lake, far from roads, electricity, and running water, while she also creates a career in wildlife ecology.  I estimate that I read Woodswoman eight times in the 1980s and 90s, but had not read it in 15 or 20 years.

(My father with a heavy load going up a peak in, 1978)

With this current reading, I was initially surprised and disappointed in my sense that the book had aged along with me.  Published in 1976, Woodswoman was contemporary when I first read it.  My father and I were having many of the same experiences in the woods that Anne had.  We backpacked heavy loads over the peaks, camping on or near the summits, cooking over campfires, and drinking water from every stream, trusting its purity.  We knew that we would not see bald eagles or moose, or an abundance of alpine plants, which had been absent from the Adirondacks for many decades.

(My father drinks from a collapsible cup near Avalanche Lake, 1976)

Few people backpack over the tops of the mountains today, most doing day trips or camping at the trail's base.  Camping on high peaks' summits is illegal, as are campfires. Now, we fear giardia and purify any water we drink.  Bald eagles are common, and moose number in the hundreds.  Alpine flowers and vegetation have made the high summits even more beautiful. 

I realized that I had read the book so many times in my 20s, because I was in the Adirondacks so much less than I had been while growing up.  As a young mother, I went with Anne vicariously. I wished to see snow falling softly out of a cabin window, to swim at night under the stars, to see northern lights pulsate over an Adirondack lake, and to pitch my tent where other people were miles away.  In ensuing years, I have done all of those things, but I did not know then that I would have the opportunity later.  Did the decades since I had read Woodswoman indicate that I no longer needed Anne's words and had outgrown her landmark book?

I was half-way through my current re-reading, when Karen and I arrived at the museum before 11 a.m., the time of the first presentation on Anne's life.  Leslie Surprenant, the speaker, told us that, no matter how well we thought we knew Anne, we would learn something, and we did.

(Leslie Surprenant talks about Anne's ancestry)

Anne gives only brief mention of her parents in any of her books. Leslie told about her family over the generations and how different members contributed to who Anne became -- what she gained from them as well as what she chose to leave behind.  As a longtime friend of Anne, Leslie shared stories of Anne's devotion to breaking barriers for women in science, her eccentricities such as always wearing pink lipstick and pink toenail polish even while hiking Adirondack trails barefoot , her passion for the environment, and her love for her friends and her dogs.

The next presentation on the moving of Anne's cabin equally fascinated us.  One of the reasons for this day's celebration was the opening of a large new building at the museum, which included Anne's cabin. An Adirondack Experience spokesperson described how the cabin had been taken apart and moved piece by piece, with sleds and snowmobiles across Twitchell Lake's thick ice in subzero weather.

(The cabin now at the Adirondack Experience museum)

Photographs of the cabin, before the move, showed a place that seemed foreign to the picture I had in my mind of Anne's idyllic abode. Over the decades, Anne had added bits and pieces to the original structure to the extent that small metal roofs and sheds stuck out in every direction.  What had happened to the charming home she had originally built?  For the most part, time and a demanding career had made more space necessary, and Anne had hurriedly constructed new additions without concern for aesthetics.  As part of the presentation, we watched a video showing how the de-construction revealed the original 12x12 cabin that had been the focus of Anne's life in the woods.

(Anne's 12x12 space)

After the second presentation, Karen and I walked across the museum campus to see the cabin in its new home.  It was just as we imagined, with Anne's colorful rugs brought back from her consulting work in Guatemala, her writing desk in front of the window and rocking chair before the woodstove, her guitar,  the wooden bars she had nailed up the wall of bark-covered logs to reach her sleeping loft, and more.  We made sure to absorb the scene and to incorporate it into the visions we had carried from Anne's books over the years.

Karen and I perused other buildings and exhibits at the Adirondack Experience, and then went to nearby Lake Durant to set up our campsite and have dinner, returning to the museum for the evening presentation.

We were captivated by the information shared with us by a panel of experts, again including Leslie Surprenant, friend and executrix of Anne's estate, and also a woman from the Adirondack Park Agency, another from the Adirondack Center for Writing, someone from the Adirondack Experience museum, and a man representing the Department of Environmental Conservation.  The hour-long program explained important aspects of Anne's will and estate planning.  Panelists discussed decisions that had been made to best preserve the essence of Anne's intentions.

Anne donated a large portion of her estate to Cornell University, from which she had received her bachelor's and doctoral degrees.  In addition, Anne wanted her cabin and 32 acres to become a writer's retreat.  In her first year as executrix, Leslie tried to distill a plan for how to do this.  Restoring the cabin would be expensive, and what modern writer would want to live without electricity, running water, road access, or internet?

(The Adirondack Experience is a beautiful and interesting museum)

In a perfect-timing scenario, the Twitchell Lake Inn offered space for rent, a first in  its more than 100 year history. The Inn is a beautifully restored lodge on Twitchell Lake across from Anne's property.  The Adirondack Center for Writing secured the location for the Anne La Bastille Residency Program, in which six carefully selected writers would spend two weeks writing and sharing in creative camaraderie.

Leslie and others felt that this residency fulfilled Anne's desire to offer writers a retreat during which they would have the opportunity to focus on honing their craft. The dilemma of how to satisfy Anne's desire to protect her cabin and land remained.  The Adirondack Museum asked to have the cabin, beginning the process of disassembly.  It was determined that Anne's 32 acres should be donated to the adjacent New York State Forest Preserve.

While this all sounds cut-and-dry, establishing how to fulfill Anne's will was far from it. Each of the panelists gave us an understanding of the huge 6-year project Leslie has had to deal with.  Although a close friend of Anne's, Leslie never expected to have this task.  Now, almost completed, the results show her conscientious care over a myriad of minute details and complexity, which have created a legacy Anne would be proud of.

(Cedar River Flow)

Karen and I spent the next day paddling the Cedar River Flow and thinking about our time at the museum.  The Flow and the Cedar River are wild and beautiful, with mountains rising from every side.  We reveled in the solitude and quiet.  We thought of Anne in her canoe, as we watched a bald eagle, loons, herons, and osprey. 

In the evening, I continued my reading of Woodswoman.  I came to the chapter "Animal Visitors," and was struck by its timelessness, as Anne described the call of loons, hearing an owl from her sleeping loft, being harassed by a nesting goshawk and kept awake by mice.  Perhaps I had been premature in thinking that Woodswoman showed its age.

(Karen, the only person I see on the Flow)

I was fascinated when I re-read her conversation with a ranger who spoke about overuse and erosion of trails in the Adirondack high peaks and the need for a permit system -- in 1972!  Their conversation could occur today.  Anne worried about motor boats disturbing the nests of loons, and we fight for non-motorized ponds in 2017.  Her battles against acid rain in the Adirondacks continue and were a prelude to the changes occurring from climate change right now.

Finishing my re-reading of Woodswoman, I looked back with affection at the details I had considered historical rather than timely.  As with Anne's will, all of the specifics could no longer apply as Anne envisioned them, but the essence is loud and clear.  Woodswoman remains an important and wonderful part of Anne La Bastille's ongoing inspiration and legacy.

(Anne La Bastille, Guilderland Library, 1993)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Lyme escape -- Mount Van Hoevenberg!

(Virginia on the summit of Mount Van Hoevenberg)
I knew that I was fortunate, having a clear-cut, rather than a vague, case of lyme disease.  I had the obvious bull's-eye rash, fever, headache, stiff neck -- no question that antibiotics would come my way.  I had one bad week, lingering fatigue, and not much else.

(The trail began through tall pines and low fern)

Still, I think it's okay to wallow in self-pity for a brief period, and I was very disappointed to have had to cancel all my hiking plans.  Meredith and I had four days scheduled to hike in New Hampshire, a new adventure for us, and I had been excited about another year of time together on the trail.  In addition, I had offered a women's backpacking trip into the high peaks, through the Adirondack Mountain Club.  I emailed my participants telling them that I would not be able to muster the high level of energy necessary for a backpack trip into demanding terrain.

(a wilderness pond made by a beaver dam, with Mt. Van Hoevenberg in the background)

As I felt better each day, I hatched a plan.  I would head north after my weekly trip to see my parents in Saratoga Springs, stay at the Keene Valley Hostel, and hike a very do-able hike the following day, returning to Albany before dinner.  I hung onto this idea and intended to make it happen rain or shine.  My environmental side felt a pang of guilt about driving a long distance with just one person, me, in the car, but I threw this off.  Getting to the mountains seemed a necessary part of my recovery.

(If all these berry bushes had had berries on them, I might have had some ursine companions!)

I love the Keene Valley Hostel.  It's well-kept, a hiker's retreat, and cheap.  I cooked my spaghetti dinner in the hostel's kitchen and went for a walk in the rain. In the 13-person bunk room, I chose the only top bunk.  The top offers privacy, and the light there was better for reading. Despite my fondness for the hostel, I don't sleep well. The room was nearly full and there were a couple of light snorers.

( Had I really thought I might not have classic Adirondack black mud on this hike?)

I was up and dressed by 6:15, and the sun shone.  A couple of other people were already having their breakfast when I arrived in the kitchen. 

(the trail begins its ascent)

I chose to hike Mount Van Hoevenberg, reported to have fabulous views of the peaks from a rocky summit.  For my first outdoor getaway in weeks, I thought the 4.4 miles round-trip with 750 feet of elevation gain, would provide a modest adventure that I felt up to at this point.

(This panorama greeted me as I arrived at the rocky summit)

I parked on the South Meadow Road, with no other cars in sight.  I knew that just 3/10ths of a mile away, the Adirondak Loj parking lot would be overflowing.  Not here.

The forecast predicted that sunny hours would only last until early afternoon, when rain would return.  I hit the trail by 8 a.m., and felt like an escapee.  I reveled in the solitude, woodsy aromas, and bird song.

(Mount Colden above the marshy South Meadow)

The first half-mile was fairly flat in woods edged by ferns between towering pines.  The mud hit as I arrived at an old beaver pond, and the ascent began.

(I watched the clouds lift off Mount Marcy, to the left)

With the temperature hovering around 60 degrees, I knew I had lucked out with the morning's weather on this day.

I began to think that the summit was near when the trail suddenly opened from a forested needle-covered path to open rock and an astounding view. A panorama of peaks from Gothics, across the Great Range, and to the ski jumps in Lake Placid, surpassed the descriptions I had read.

(Aren't these fir trees fascinating with their thin blue cones standing upright?)

Many people who hike the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, as Meredith and I had, leave the lesser mountains "for another time."  Today was one of those "other times."  Even at my relaxed pace, the hike had taken only an hour and 15 minutes.

(Gothics Mountain with its forbidding slides.)

Two overlooks offered variations on the same scene.  I chose one and spent the next hour there.  I took pictures, had a snack, compared my map to the mountains I could see in front of me, reminisced about being on the summits, and just sat, soaking it all in.

(I love summits that have white birches, weathered by wind and storms)

I was picking up my gear to leave, when the first people I had seen all day arrived.  A young couple from Chicago, trying to snatch a quick hike before leaving the area, joined me in expounding on the weather, the view, and the day. Then they were gone.

As I headed back towards the wooded trail, I turned around to remember how I had first seen the panorama when the trail opened from the forest.  I stood for a moment, and then walked back to the overlook, once again taking in the view of these mountains, that I loved and knew so well, for a final time before leaving.

(A last look before beginning the descent)

The hour-long descent went quickly.  I thought about when I would hike this trail again.  Maybe friends would snowshoe here with me.  I imagined the view of all those peaks in deep winter.

Five people passed me, as clouds began to roll in.  I arrived at my car and a few sprinkles fell.  I took my time heading home, stopping at other favorite spots along the way.  And I was home by dinnertime.

(the return on this serene path)